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Atherton Tablelands - Natural Wonders Day Trip from Cairns

Home > Queensland > Escape the City | National Parks | Outdoor | Parks | Walks
by Karina Bryer (subscribe)
I'm a mother of four with two coeliac children. I'm always on the lookout for great gluten-free spots around Brisbane and feature gluten-free cooking in my blog: I'm also a muso and enjoy live music around town.
Published July 1st 2020
Wonder at waterfalls and contemplate craters
Looking for a change from the tourist trips to the Reef from Cairns? A day trip which takes in some of the natural wonders to be found on the Atherton Tablelands might be just the ticket.

View Gillies Highway lookout
Take in the stunning views from the upper lookout from the Gillies

For a leisurely trip, which will take you to some of the best sights to be seen, depart Cairns at 8:30am, taking the Gillies up the range. A windy trip which is not for those with sensitive stomachs, the road offers fabulous views over the Cairns plateau. Make a brief stop at the lookout to take in the 180 degree views.

At the top of the range, turn immediately right onto Curtain Fig Tree Road to your first stop, the famous Curtain Fig Tree at Yungaburra. This strangler fig is one of the largest trees on the Atherton Tablelands and is thought to be 500 years old. The tree is 50 metres high and the trunk is approximately 39 metres in diameter. The canopy extends in a diameter of approximately 30 metres from the base of the tree. The host tree has long since vanished, leaving the fig to be free-standing, with its aerial roots forming a curtain which drops 15 metres to the ground. Access is via a boardwalk, which is only a short 50 metre walk from the car park to the tree. This is certainly one of the areas greatest natural wonders and is listed on the Queensland Heritage Register.

Lake Barrine
Lake Barrine is a tranquil crater lake

Next stop is Lake Barrine, the largest of the two natural Crater Lakes on the Tablelands, formed 17000 years ago when a volcanic eruption left a large crater which over time filled with water. There is a tea house overlooking the lake, and boat tours are available but will limit the time you have to explore other natural wonders. Feel free to explore the walking tracks which extend around the lake, although again you won't have time to do the full circuit if you intend to visit other locations on this trip. The shorter walk takes you to the giant Kauri trees and is worth exploring to see the ancient trees which are 50 metres high and are thought to be over 1000 years old.

Lake Eacham, fish, Atherton
Fish a clearly visible in the waters of Lake Eacham

From there travel further along the road to visit Lake Eacham. This is a great lake in which to take a dip or go canoeing, but do beware - there is one resident fresh-water crocodile! The clear waters are home to many species of native fish, which are visible from the jetty. Further around the lake is a spot for turtle watching.

Malanda Falls Atherton
The broad falls of the Malanda Falls are a fitting start to the waterfall section of your drive

Continue on the Lake Eacham Road and join back onto the main road, turning left to head towards Malanda. Head through the town to visit Malanda Falls. These wide falls tumble over an ancient basalt rock lava flow that spread from the Mount Hypipamee area 15km away. There are two short walks through the surrounding remnant rainforest. You can look for platypus, fish and turtles from the viewing deck over the river. You may like to stop here for a picnic lunch or head back into Malanda for a bite to eat at the historic Malanda Hotel.

Millaa Millaa Falls Atherton
A dramatic vertical drop fall with a great swimming hole at it's base

Next stop is the dramatic Millaa Millaa falls, with a great pool in which to swim at its base. This is a popular tourist spot and makes for excellent photos. The water tumbles 18.3 metres to the pool at the base. It is worth continuing further down Theresa Creek Road to visit Zillie Falls, a more dramatic plunge waterfall where the water cascades down 30 metres. There is a viewing platform from which to take in the falls. An unofficial track leads to the base of the falls, but it is a rough and slippery 35 minute walk.

Hypipamee Crater Atherton
This dramatic volcanic pipe was formed by a gas blast from below.

The next stop is approximately 30 minutes drive and will take you to perhaps the most dramatic wonder on the Tablelands. The Mount Hypipamee Crater is actually a volcanic pipe which was created when a gas build up from the molten rock below exploded upwards, sending volcanic bombs far across the landscape. The diameter of the crater is 61 metres, with the walls travelling straight up to the viewing platform 35 metres above. The walls travel straight down below the water's surface a further 85 metres.

Dinner Falls Atherton Tablelands
Dinner Falls at the start of the Barron River

From here you can walk a bit further to view Dinner Falls in the upper reaches of the Barron River. There is a steep track to the falls, which is a series of cascading falls, and if you have time you may like to explore the full length of the track. There are warning signs in the area advising that there are cassowaries in the park and some tips with what to do if you run across one, but there is plenty of other friendly wildlife to be seen in the area, including high altitude birds and possums.

For a different view on your return trip, pass through Kuranda, following the Kennedy Highway, with its views out to the ocean on your left-hand side. If you spend around half an hour at each stop and allow an hour for lunch, you should be back home by 5:30 pm.

This is a small portion of the Waterfall Circuit, and you can find out more information and discover more waterfalls by visiting the Tropical North Queensland website.
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Why? Discover natural wonders in the tropical rainforest
When: All year around
Where: Atherton Tablelands
Cost: Free
Your Comment
That sounds incredible! I really hope I can get there one day.
by Jennifer Muirhead (score: 3|1431) 1082 days ago
Great article Karina, and nice photos. I have never been that far north and probably never will, but I now know what I am missing. Neil.
by Neil Follett (score: 3|4782) 1082 days ago
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