Nestled in the highlands of Northern Queensland is a world unlike no other. A place of lush tropical rainforest, grandiose mountains, cascading waterfalls, volcanic lakes, 385-million-year-old fossils, and some of the best natural scenery in all of Australia. A storied past surrounds this wonderful little slice of heaven at just over an hour’s drive southwest of Cairns. Join us as we run you through some of the best things to do on your journey to the Atherton Tablelands.
The otherworldly 17-kilometre Millaa Millaa Waterfall Circuit is a breath of fresh air, boasting some of Northern Queensland’s most spectacular waterfalls set within the serene surrounds of lush tropical rainforest. Mist-filled rainbows luminate the sky, a stunning contrast against the weathered volcanic basalt that helped shape these lands over a million years ago. Tackle the circuit at your own pace, with visitors treated to 3 breath-taking waterfalls – Millaa Millaa Falls, Ellinjaa Falls, and Zillie Falls. Millaa Millaa Falls is the region’s most famous attraction, an 18m cascading waterfall elegantly tumbling into the emerald-green plunge pool patiently waiting below. All 3 waterfalls are easily accessible and aesthetically pleasing, attracting visitors far and wide, striving to get a glimpse of Australia’s most photographed waterfall. Enjoy a picnic lunch on the beautifully manicured lawns that straddle the anterior of the Millaa Millaa Falls, one of the best day trips from Cairns and the ultimate Atherton Tablelands adventure.
One of the more bizarre attractions to grace the Atherton Tablelands is the man-made Crystal Caves built by Queensland’s very own Indiana Jones - Rene Boissevain. Rene’s passion for nature’s jewels made him a force to be reckoned with, single handedly carving out a labyrinth of intricate caves and grottos to display his most prized possessions for the entire world to see. With over 600 items precariously positioned within the 300 sqm confines of this convoluted cavern system, visitors will be in awe of Rene’s extensive collection of natural crystals, gemstones, and prehistoric fossils. Rene’s most treasured artefacts include – A 385-million-year-old marine fossil, an 80-million-year-old agate, fossilised dinosaur eggs (from China), and the jawbone of an Ice Age woolly mammoth. Open 7 days a week from 9 am – 5 pm, the Crystal Caves are a great place to stop if you have a few hours to kill.
The depth of nature’s beauty is something to behold with none more spectacular than the crater lakes of the Atherton region. Residing in the confines of Crater Lakes National Park, these mysterious freshwater lakes are remnants of an extinct volcano that erupted over 10,000 years ago. A chain of volcanic explosions exposed a massive crater, slowly filling with rainwater over time to create Lake Eacham & Lake Barrine. Nowadays the lakes are used primarily for recreational purposes, set amongst the striking bull kauri pine trees that envelop the lakes sparkling azure waters. Enjoy a fun-filled day of swimming, stand-up paddle boarding, kayaking, birdwatching, hiking, or a picnic lunch on the beautifully manicured lawns. Trails weave through the verdant rainforest around the lakes, capturing each lake in a different light the further you wander its shores. The enchanting Lake Barrine Teahouse lies on the border of Lake Barrine with its delicious homemade-inspired menu that’s been in the family for over 4 generations.
The small rural village of Yungaburra in the shire of Eacham lies under 70kms southwest of Cairns and is one of the oldest towns in the Atherton region. A gorgeous country town with a big heart, Yungaburra oozes charm remaining largely unchanged since its inception in 1890. A popular tourist destination, the lands that encompass the village has been largely shaped and moulded by geological activity creating a volcanic wonderland of eye-catching formations. Scale the boardwalk of the incredible 500-year-old Curtain Fig Tree at Curtain Fig Tree National Park, spot the ever-elusive native platypus along the banks of Peterson Creek, set off for a swim in the tranquil waters of Lake Tinaroo or tackle the 3km self-guided Yungaburra Heritage Walk past 29 historical sites in this quaint country village.
Wooroonooran National Park on the outskirts of the Tablelands region is one of the most scenic national parks in all of Queensland. High rainfall and rich soils are the cornerstones of this angelic rainforest, deriving its fertility from basalt rocks dotted throughout the forest. A biodiversity hotspot, more than 500 rainforest tree species call the park home along with numerous birds, snakes, and an array of nocturnal mammals. Dramatic landscapes headline proceedings with a number of the park’s premier attractions centred around these breath-taking natural wonders. The uber-popular Josephine Falls is the definition of a paradise flowing from the summit of Queensland’s tallest mountain (Mt Bartle Frere) and one of 8 epic waterfalls residing in the park. Other blockbuster activities include – the Windin Falls Trailhead (11.5km return) to Windin Falls, Babinda Boulders & Devil’s Pool, the Bartle Frere trail to the summit of Mt Bartle Frere, and the Mamu Tropical Skywalk through the canopy of the stunning vine rainforest.
Hire a car from Cairns to explore the Atherton Tablelands today!