Beyond the breathtaking highlands of Cairns lies the Atherton Tablelands. Another spectacular region that you must visit, the Tablelands are spread over a massive area of 32000 km2, which finds its fertile roots in the now extinct volcanoes that were spread around the region. And trust me when I say that you’ll want to spend more than a day exploring this vast, scenic area to truly appreciate all that it offers.
On the Atherton Tablelands you can admire the wide range of unique marsupials or go bird watching. Breathtaking waterfalls are scattered all around, along with several marvels of nature like the Curtain Fig Tree, Mt Hypipamee Crater, Lakes Barrine and Eacham – the twin crater lakes, Broomfield Swamp, and Lake Tinaroo.
To explore this region, follow this simple route on an itinerary that best fits your schedule. Start heading almost directly West out of Cairns towards Mareeba, Queensland.
Head North out of Cairns and once at Smithfield, take the Kuranda Range road. Traveling up the range, you'll see a spectacular view over all of Cairns and the Northern Beaches and beyond. You can even see Green Island in the distance.
Drive into the quaint village of Kuranda once you cross over the Barron River.
You can spend a whole day here shopping, visiting various animal sanctuaries and meeting the Kuranda train at the stunning Barron Falls.
Next stop after Kuranda is Mareeba.
The district offers several museums that you can visit, a great selection of coffee and wine, the opportunity and conditions to go flying, and of course the wildlife.
If you happen to be traveling in the winter months, make sure you witness the annual Mareeba Rodeo as well.
From Mareeba you should make your way further out East to the town of Chillagoe using the Wheelbarrow Way. A conventional Outback town, it offers a great authentic Australian experience. For those of you traveling in the month of May, try and catch the annual footrace with wheelbarrows that is held as a memorial for the gold miners that first used this road.
The next stop on your tour of the Atherton Tablelands is the highest town of Queensland – Ravenshoe.
The natural wildlife here is diverse with platypus, possums, the Tree-Kangaroo (amongst other marsupials), and a large number of bird species being the main attractions.
The Atherton Tablelands are known for their amazing natural wonders and Mount Hypipamee Crater is just one of these. Located just off the Kennedy Highway and about 25 kilometers from Atherton, this crater is a huge diatreme 61 meters in diameter and 82 meters deep.
As you drive closer towards Ravenshoe, you'll drive over a hill and suddenly in front of you, sitting tall and erect are twenty eerie wind turbines. These turbines generate enough power to supply electricity for 3,500 homes.
The Ravenshoe Visitor Center in town also offers great displays on several local professions, World War II and military operations then, the rainforest, and bats.
A noctarium lets you experience the night time wilderness right there as well. You can also learn about the region’s Jirrbal people and their language – the world’s oldest spoken language – at the Nganyaji Interpretive Centre.
About half an hour west from Ravenshoe is a little place called Innot Hot Springs. It consists of a quaint little pub, a caravan park, a few houses and that's it!
It's famous for it's very, very hot springs that bubbles forth from Nettle Creek and is well known for its healing properties. They also used to bottle the water and ship it off to Europe.
The caravan park has built six pools and filled them with the healing water from the creek.
We stayed overnight in the pub and it's very affordable with lovely home cooked meals. The rooms are very basic with not so comfortable bedding, but its clean and comfort isn't the major factor in why you stay here. It's right beside the creek, as is the caravan park, so take your pick!
Once you manage to break free from the spell of Ravenshoe, you should start heading out to the Herberton Historic Village. Situated on the outskirts of the town, is a recreation of vintage Australia. The exhibits cover more than two centuries of memorabilia, vehicles, and dwellings that have been resurrected with utmost care.
Some of the star attractions of this village include the first Herberton State School built in 1881, a 1926 rail ambulance that has been fully restored, and an original pioneer’s slab hut built in 1870!
The Herberton Mining Museum and Information Centre should also be on your itinerary; not just for the displays they have but also to try out tin panning. From there you can also go on several self-guided walks that are part of The Great Northern Walking Trails.
Those of you interested in things more contemporary should not skip the Spy & Camera Museum where you can see a unique array of spy cameras and rare tech from the past.
As you leave Herberton for Cairns, remember to swing by Malanda and Millaa Millaa to check out the breathtaking waterfalls. Each of the falls offers gorgeous rainforest settings where you can take some pretty spectacular pictures, or just take a dip in the cool waters.
On your way back to Cairns, choose the Gillies Range road. This road winds its way down the hill and ends at Gordonvale, the most southern suburb of Cairns.
On the way, you'll drive through Yungaburra, Queensland. Check out the famous Curtain Fig Tree, which is a must see if you're visiting the Tablelands and just another one of the natural wonders Atherton Tablelands has to showcase.
The village too makes for a good stopover as you replenish your energy at the Yungaburra Pub or at Nick’s Swiss-Italian Restaurant. You're also only a few minutes away from the foreshore of Lake Eacham, so don't forget to check it out.
There's quite a number of lakes around the the Tablelands and all have their own unique attractions. Why not check them all out while driving around? They're all within a few kilometers from each other.
While this tour of the Atherton Tablelands gives you a comprehensive experience of the region, feel free to meander around en route and experience cozy B&Bs, inns, timber tree-houses and holiday parks as well.
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