Explore the Atherton Tablelands in a Week
Immerse yourself in a different dimension by swimming in pristine waters, eating food cooked with local ingredients, drinking coffee in the coffee plantation, chasing waterfalls, hiking in tropical rainforests, taking photos of the unique wildlife and relaxing in front of breathtaking sunsets.
The Atherton Tablelands is a magnificent region in Far North Queensland, southwest of Cairns in the Great Dividing Range. Located in the tropics, it receives rain and sun and it is protected from the cyclones that sometimes ravage the coastal areas. About 3 million years ago basalt volcanos spewed lava and today the red, deep, rich fertile basaltic soil supports a large variety of crops and farming. Many beautiful places are remaining of prehistoric volcanic activities, like Lake Barrine, Lake Eacham, the Crater in Hypipamee National Park and Bromfield Swamp.
Before the arrival of the settlers, the Atherton Tableland was covered in a dense rainforest called mabi forest, which name derives from the Ngadjon word for Lumholtz tree kangaroo. Precious trees were cut and hauled away by bullocks. Then there were not many trees left in the forest and it was decided to use the fertile soil of the Atherton Tableland for crops. Today the area is a mosaic of patches of land dedicated to sugar cane, banana plantations, citrus-like limes, macadamia nuts, mangos, pawpaws, peanuts, coffee and tea. Dairy farms produce fresh milk to make cheese, ice creams and chocolate. The Atherton Tablelands is a food bowl!
People have been visiting the Atherton Tablelands for a long time, driven into the area by luscious rainforests, beautiful freshwater lakes, dreamlike waterfalls and unique wildlife. The Atherton Tablelands offers an incredible array of activities to do, from food tasting, hiking, exploring, swimming, sightseeing and certainly wildlife spotting, birding and photography. The visitors of the Tablelands can enjoy the real and genuine taste of local and fresh products, swim in an ancient volcanic lake at Eacham and hike in the rainforests. The many National Parks protect the wilderness and unique wildlife and they can be explored by hiking the many beautiful trails. The wildlife is abundant and unique, especially marsupials and birds, but in this place, even the butterflies and the frogs are especially beautiful. It is possible to spot the unique and rare Lumholtz tree kangaroos if you get to know the right places where they hang around.
The Atherton Tablelands is an extraordinary region to visit with many natural attractions like forests, waterfalls and wildlife. In the photo is Josephine Falls.
What needs to be booked.
If you decide to fly to Cairns you have to buy the plane tickets. Virgin and Jetstar have flights to Cairns.
Book a rental car, an option is Right Price Car Rentals, 436 Sheridan Street, phone (07) 40 321064.
Prebook Tolga Bat Hospital, 134 Carrington Rd, Carrington QLD 4883, (07) 4091 2683.
Prebook Kuranda Scenic Railway, for bookings, call 1800 577 245 in Australia, +61 7 4231 9045 outside Australia.
Book a budget room in Goondi Hill Hotel for two nights, 173 Edith St, Innisfail QLD 4860, Phone: (07) 42230699.
Book accommodation in Malanda for four nights.
Book accommodation in Cairns for one night.
The forests of the Atherton Tablelands are rich in an incredible variety of plants and fungi.
Land in Cairns
Collect rental car
Shop for provisions
Have dinner in Innisfail
Land in Cairns and after collecting the luggage at the carousel, catch a taxi to pick up your rental car at Right Price Car Rentals, 436 Sheridan Street, phone (07) 40 321064. Consider that the rental car business has a $2000 deposit that you get refunded when you return the car. It is recommended to buy travelling insurance which includes the cover for the excess fee. Also, make sure to take photos or a video of your rental car to make sure to record possible scratches or marks.
You can head to the local supermarket and stock up on essential provisions, depending on how many meals you want to cook for yourself. Not far is the Cairns Central Shopping Centre. You can buy bottles of water to keep in the car to have them handy at all times on your trip, snacks, fruit and other food.
Then head south toward Innisfail travelling on the Bruce Hwy. At the sign turn right into Babinda Town and visit Babinda Boulders, an iconic attraction of the region. Babinda Boulders is beautiful with a natural pool which waters originating from Mount Bartle Frere. You can swim in the pool which has a slide and a rail to make it easier to access the water.
Babinda Boulders is a stunning place with the crystal waters of Babinda Creek. It is a natural swimming spot very popular in summer when lots of visitors want to find solace in the fresh waters.
Continue travelling to your accommodation in Goondi Hill Hotel in Goondi Hill, just outside Innisfail. Goondi Hill Hotel offers basic accommodation, with rooms upstairs. Our room had double bad, a sink, a fridge and shared facilities. The shower was nice and warm, towels were supplied, and you have to bring your own soap. Upstairs there is a large verandah where you can have your meals and chill out. Downstairs there is a small kitchenette where you can boil hot water with Kettle for your hot drinks. You have to have your own tea, coffee, sugar and milk. There are also a few pieces of crockery and cooking facilities. If you like you can have meals in the hotel which has a restaurant, a pub and a liquor store.
Goondi is a small town on the west side of Innisfail, for your supplies head to Innisfail where there are shops, supermarkets and food outlets. We had fish and chips at Innisfail Seafood, 51 Fitzgerald Esplanade. It is a traditional shop with fresh seafood, good portions and reasonable prices.
Goondi Hill Hotel offers budget rooms, a restaurant and a pub.
Hike Mount Bartle Frere
Eubenangee Swamp National Park
In the morning head to the Josephine Falls parking area in the Wooroonooran National Park.
Josephine Falls originates from the summit of Bartle Frere and tumble down for 7.5km at high speed over granite boulders. The trail to Josephine Falls leads into the tropical rainforest. There are decks to admire the falls and take photos while staying safe. The waters of Josephine Falls can be very dangerous and very serious incidents have happened there. Flash floods can occur without any warnings, crushing unaware people in the water. Remain on the trail and do not enter the restricted areas.
In the waters there is a mark to signal the level of water and when the level of water raises the lights at the gate start to flash. Despite the wild beauty of the place, the waters are very dangerous due to the sudden flash flooding.
Hiking Mount Bartle Frere is for experienced hikers, but there are options. It is possible to hike to the first campground site, the Big Rock camping area. The hike is about 7 km return, allow 5 hours. The trail can be slippery, and muddy with leeches. There are creek crossings and if it is raining the creek may swell and become difficult to pass.
Josephine Creek was born from the summit of Bartle Frere and descended in the thick forest. The weather can change rapidly on Mount Bartle Frere.
Broken Nose is a difficult hike, after the Big Rock camping area the trail starts to climb a steep ascend. The trail is 10km return, allow 8 hours.
The hike to the summit of Bartle Frere is hard, a 15 km return, it can take up to 12 hours or more, allow all day.
Once you arrived at the small remote camping site you can see a sign indicating the direction to Broken Nose and the Summit of Mount Bartle Frere.
Mount Bartle Frere is the highest mountain in Queensland, with an elevation of 1,611 metres above sea level. Climbing the summit of Bartle Frere can be very challenging and it is for experienced hikers. It is best to leave very early in the morning and be very well equipped with water, food, the right clothes and torches when hiking the mountain.
In 1886 Christie Palmerston was the first European to climb the mountain and left a mark in the tree at the summit: “P October 26, ‘86”.
The trail to the summit of Bartle Frere is hard, you must be very well prepared.
The trail to the summit of Mount Bartle Frere is in the forest for a fair distance.
Back in the car park, we decided to visit the bakery in Babinda, a charming town with a lovely atmosphere. In Babinda there is the State Hotel, a library, a police station and a great information centre.
The town is crossed by a sugar cane railway line and when the trains are approaching the signals turn red. Pay attention to the flashing lights and stop.
Trains run in the middle of Babinda many times a day, especially during the busy season of harvesting sugar cane.
Not far from Babinda is Eubenangee Swamp National Park. A short walk, 1.5 km return leads the walkers to a wetland where there are many species of birds and also saltwater crocodiles.
Saltwater crocodiles are dangerous predators. Do not enter the water even if you don't see crocodiles.
The trail follows Alice River in the rainforest before reaching the grassy hill with views of the swamp. There are signs indicating the presence of crocodiles, stay away from the edge of the water.
Eubenangee Swamp is an important habitat for many species of animals.
Tchupala and Wallicher Falls
Have lunch at Millaa Millaa town
Head to Malanda
After breakfast check out Goondi Hill Hotel and head to Johnstone Lookout in Wooroonooran National Park. It is about 25 minutes drive, 32km, from Goondi Hill Hotel driving on the Palmerston Hwy. The walk is 4 km return, allow 1.5 hours, the trail is steep and can be slippery.
The roots of the forest trees extend themselves.
Stay on the Palmerston Hwy and reach the carpark where there is the trailhead for Tchupala and Wallicher Falls. The trail splits after 200m, the right one goes to Tchupala Falls and the left one goes to Wallicher Falls. The trails together are about 3km long, allow about 1 hour.
Tchupala Falls in the Wooroonooran National Park. The falls are formed by Henrietta Creek. The place is always humid supporting the growth of ferns and mosses.
Wallicher Falls is a wide waterfall along Henrietta Creek in the Wooroonooran National Park, reached via a short bushwalking track at the intersection with the trail to Tchupala Falls.
At Henrietta camping ground there is the trailhead for Nandroya Falls. The trail is a loop of about 6 km, allow 2.5 hours. The trail is relatively easy, it is classified as Grade 3 by the Wooroonooran National Park. It is Douglas Creek forming Nandroya Falls, with a 50 m fall from the basalt rocks.
Douglas Creek tumbles a few times from basalt rocks to form a few beautiful waterfalls.
Head to Millaa Millaa town and have lunch at Rumours Diner, 19 Main Street. Rumours Diner is a hybrid business incorporating a cafe, restaurant and giftware. The menu comprises a great selection of food with sandwiches, fish and chips. burgers, coffee and much more. While you wait for your order to be prepared, you can enjoy looking at the selection of clothes and the many gift ideas.
Rumours Diner in Millaa Millaa town has tables for guests surrounded by clothes and gift items.
Millaa Millaa town is very pretty with accommodations, a hotel, an estate agency and a supermarket with a fuel pump, besides other businesses. In Lions Park, there is a big playground, a statue dedicated to Christie Palmerston and Pompo. In the shed, you can take a photo with the 800 years old giant Kauri Pine logs, that were taken down by a cyclone. Burkies Place is a small tropical garden where it is possible to walk through different vegetation.
The statue of Christie Palmerston and Pompo is erected in Lions Park in Millaa Millaa town. Palmerston was a skilled bushman and had a rare insight into the life and habits of North Queensland Aboriginals
The Millaa Millaa Falls Circuit comprises Millaa Millaa Falls, Zillie Falls and Ellinjas Falls off Theresa Creek Road, over 17 km. Millaa Millaa is very well known because of its swimmable pool and there are toilet facilities. To reach Zillie Falls there is a 500m return trail in the forest. Ellinjas Falls has a trail of 300m return.
Millaa Millaa waterfall is very iconic for its shape and its swimmable pool. It is surrounded by lush rainforest located on the Waterfalls Circuit, along with Zillie and Ellinjaa Falls.
After visiting the three falls’, head to Malanda town. We spent four nights in Malanda in an accommodation booked via Airbnb. Kisler Cottage is privately owned and it stands on a piece of land with lemon trees that nobody seems to care to pick it is in a strategic position to enjoy sunsets, with the silhouette of the trees projecting in the sky. There are also many birds judging by the different calls we heard during our stay.
Malanda is a very pretty town which offers accommodations, a café, Malanda Hotel, a bakery and a supermarket. Malanda is famous for the production of milk and for Malanda Falls.
Malanda is a very pretty town in the Atherton Tablelands with many attractions, including Malanda Falls. It is also famous for its milk.
Cathedral Fig Tree
Craters Lake National Park
Have lunch at Lake Barrine Tea House
Gallo Dairyland to taste cheeses and chocolate
Afghanistan Avenue of Honour
Sunset on the Lake Tinaroo
Start the day visiting Cathedral Fig Tree, just north of Malanda, 24 minutes drive. The spectacular tree is a green fig. Like many other strangler figs in the forest, it started its life as a seed dropped onto a host tree by a bird or a bat. Then the seed germinated surviving on little food and raining water. The seedling grew and extended its roots down the host tree to reach the ground for more nutrients. Some branches started to embrace the host tree, which eventually died. Strangler figs are very important to support other life, including animals and plants in the forests.
The spectacular green fig provides food and shelter for many birds, insects, bats and mammals. It supports also many other plants.
Drive back on Boar Pocket Road and Gillies Range Road and reach Lake Barrine, which is a picturesque crater lake surrounded by world heritage rainforest. Lake Barrine is a very popular spot for visitors due to the many activities on the lake. People can enjoy a picnic, a guided boat cruise, a hike around the lake and a swim.
The Lake Barrine Tea House is a lovely place to have meals and drinks, offering a famous high tea and welcoming guests from four generations.
A short walk from the day-use area takes the visitors to the two giant kauri trees. The hike around Lake Barrine is 5km long, very easy, allows 1.5 hours. On the walk is possible to see many birds and other wildlife.
Lake Barrine is a beautiful lake originated from a crater and it is filled solely with rainwater.
Driving south on Gillies Road is Lake Eacham, a blue lake with a walking trail in the forest. The trail around Lake Eacham is only 3km long, allow 1 hour. Lake Eacham is great for swimming and for activities like stand-up paddle boarding or kayaking. A freshwater crocodile lives in the lake, if you spot the crocodile move away.
Lake Eacham is a great place where to swim and spot wildlife.
After visiting Crater Lake National Park, head to Gallo Dairyland, 9E Barron Road, East Barron.
Gallo Dairyland is a short drive away from the town of Yungaburra. It offers a great café and the restaurant’s menu features food made up of fresh ingredients sourced directly from the farm. The cheeses are made with fresh milk obtained from the dairy cows on the farm, which are milked every day and you can savour the cheeses on platters made on orders.
If you like chocolate you are certainly in the right place! Every single chocolate is handcrafted with the finest ingredients according to the Swiss method. There are many incredible flavours! We had the Cointreau truffles, a real symphony of nuances with melting-in-mouth chocolate.
Gallo chocolates are handcrafted on-site by expert chocolatiers.
Not far is Atherton, a rural town in the heart of the Atherton Tablelands. There are not many attractions in the town itself, apart from a few old buildings and the Crystal Cave shop. Atherton is a service town with businesses, accommodations and places where to eat.
Crystal Cave is the place where you can find natural stones, crystals and prehistoric fossils.
From Atherton retrace your step back to stop at Yungaburra, an attractive old rural town in the Tablelands. In the centre of the town is Yungaburra Hotel, Whistle Stop is very good for coffee and food. All of the town is decorated with beautiful, huge baskets of flowers. Yungaburra has a library, an information centre and many areas dedicated to urban parks.
In 1910 Yungaburra railway station was officially opened and it was in use for a few years, then the station closed on July 1964. Today there are no remains of the railway line in the town, except for a board with information.
Yungaburra welcomes visitors and travellers with beautiful flowers.
Along Rankine Avenue is possible to see a derelict steam-powered sawmill, circa 1910. From the road it looks like an abandoned old space vessel, Yungaburra Sawmill was damaged by fire in December 1987. In 1988 the Commonwealth Government declared the tropical forest World Heritage Area. The logging activities ceased. Then in March 2006, cyclone Larry ravaged the abandoned mill, destroying parts of it and weakening others.
When the logging was banned the Yungaburra sawmill was retired and ravaged by fire and by a cyclone.
On the shore of Lake Tinaroo is the Afghanistan Avenue of Honour. Australian military role in Afghanistan was to support NATO-led operations in the conflict against violent extremists.
The Afghanistan Avenue of Honour is dedicated to the memory of all who served in the fight against terror in Afghanistan. The trees along the path are the native flame trees which have stunning red flowers covering all the trees when are leafless.
Time for a sunset on the waters of Lake Tinaroo. The lake was created when the dam was built in 1953 across Barron River and completed in 1958. The dam has the purpose to provide water for irrigation in the Tablelands, for generating electricity and for recreation.
Lake Tinaroo is an outstanding area with open spaces, trees and plenty of activities to do.
Historic Village in Herberton
Mount Hypipamee National Park
Nerada Tea Factory
Visit the Historic Village in Herberton, certainly one of the main attractions in the Tablelands. Explore the 16 acres of the Village which has 62 dedicated buildings. Watch the blacksmith forging different items using the fire, beating the hot metal on the anvil to shape it. Visit the old pub, the old school, the old post office, the tool shed and the printery. At lunchtime head to the shed where a fresh stew is cooked on fire, fresh damper is ready to be served with butter and honey and you can have real billy tea. Coffee came on the scene much later in the region, so no coffee is served at the shed! There is lots to see in the Village, the ticket allows you to come back a second time and also includes the visit to the Herberton Mining Museum. You can also enjoy a ride on the steam train, you have to buy a ticket at the reception. Make sure to dedicate up to several hours to exploring the Herberton Historic Village.
Herberton Historical Village has plenty of interactive and interesting activities, like the blacksmith workshop.
It's time to explore Mount Hypipamee National Park, 20 km southeast of Herberton. There are two walking tracks in Mount Hypipamee National Park, which can be walked independently or as a circuit. Crater Track is an easy trail 800m return, allow 30 minutes of walking time. There is a platform overlooking the crater which is filled up with water and covered with green vegetation. Then you can take the trail to Dinner Falls.
The crater is 73m deep and it is filled with water and covered with native duckweed. Incredibly the lake is home to unique shrimp, possibly found nowhere else.
Dinner Falls Circuit is a moderate walk, with uneven surface and exposed roots, it can be slippery when wet. The trail is 1.2km long, allow 45 minutes.
The path to the crater adjoins the walk to Dinner Falls at Mount Hypipamee National Park.
On the way back to Malanda, stop at Bromfield Swamp, just off Upper Barron Road. Bromfield Swamp takes its origin from an old volcanic crater, one of many that can be found in the Atherton Tablelands. The European settlers arrived more than 120 years ago and cleared the rainforest to make way for pastures and crops. Bromfield Swamp is an important habitat for wildlife, especially birds including brolgas, sarus cranes, geese and other water birds.
Bromfield Swamp is an old volcanic crater that was occupied by different types of forests, according to the different pollens that fell in the swamp during the past thousand years.
From Bromfield Swamp Drive to Nerada Tea Factory, passing in Malanda, and travel on Glen Allyn Road; the address is 921 Glen Allyn Rd, Malanda QLD 4885.
Nerada Tea closed the tea room in December 2022 due to difficulties in finding staff, a decline in international visitors and the rising cost of supplies. In May 2023 Nerada stopped the production of tea because of rising costs, especially of fertilisers and a drop in demand for black tea on supermarket shelves. Nerada is trying to transition into producing higher-value products such as tea extracts and aromas.
On the other side, Nerada has been producing for years amazing tea for the nation, with a focus on sustainability and quality. The plantation of tea is pesticides free and it is Rainforest Alliance certified. Nerada's very high-quality tea has won for two years in a row the nomination for best black tea. Nerada has stocked up a large amount of tea and it is still possible to find Nerada at the shops for the next few months.
Sunset on the Nerada tea plantation, east of Malanda town.
Drive to Mareeba.
Heritage Museum and Visitor Information Centre in Mareeba.
Jaques Café and Restaurant and coffee plantation.
Skybury Cafe & Roastery, have lunch, coffee and taste their liquors.
Stop at The Humpy to stock up on fresh produce and nuts.
Tolga Bat Hospital, discover the life of native bats and how they get rescued.
Hasties Swamp National Park.
Curtain Fig Nation Park
Mareeba is a rural town, 40 minutes, 54 Km northwest of Malanda, which a population of 22,858, according to the 2021 Census. In the Aboriginal language, Mareeba means “Meeting of the waters”, referring to the point where Barron River is joined by the Granite Creek.
Mareeba was settled by John Atherton when he arrived in 1887 with the cattle there. The town was then connected to Port Douglas and Herberton by the coach Cobb & Co. The railway was completed in 1893 and Mareeba became a busy town.
Today Mareeba has many services and it is an important starting point for visiting the Atherton Tablelands and to go further north. Mareeba has a Heritage Museum and Visitor Information Centre, accommodations, cafes, food outlets, hotels, shops and supermarkets.
Inside the Mareeba Museum, there is an interesting exhibit about Australian Indigenous.
Mareeba Heritage Museum and Visitor Information Centre has a museum, an information centre, free parking, free WIFI, a lovely coffee house and a gift shop. The museum has many displays, exhibits and many items where you can learn about Aboriginal culture, the life of the settlers; about Australian Light Horse troop, mining, early communication devices and much more. The Visitor Information Centre can help you to organise your trip and the personnel is very knowledgeable and helpful.
Inside Mareeba Museum there is a section dedicated to communications, radio and gramophones.
Drive to Jaques coffee plantation where you can have fresh coffee and great food. There are also coffee tours starting from $15 per adult. Please note that Jaques Café is closed on Monday and Tuesday. Jaques is at 137 Leotta Rd, Mareeba Qld 4880, phone (07) 40933284.
On the way to Jaques coffee plantation, northeast of Mareeba.
After visiting Jaques, drive back to Mareeba and take the road to Dimbulah, on Mareeba Dimbulah Road to visit Skybury farm, the oldest coffee plantation in Australia. Rich-flavoured coffee and sweet red papaya have been grown by Skybury since 1987.
The café is open every day and its high-quality products and food attract locals and visitors. It is possible to buy many varieties of blends of coffee, ground coffee and amazing spirits and liquors of different flavours.
The coffee cherries are harvested when they turn red. The crop is harvested by a machine that combs the trees with special “fingers”. Then the seeds get roasted to perfection to reach the best taste and then it gets turned into black gold.
The menu of the café showcases the beautiful fruit of the papaya tree, which is harvested all year round. The ingredients are sourced locally, buttermilk scones are baked in-house and served with papaya jam, and also banana bread is baked in-house.
The coffee cherries are harvested when they turned red. It is possible to eat them as they are but they are not very tasty.
Continue the journey on the Tablelands heading south to Tolga Bat Hospital. Along the Kennedy Hwy, there is a specialized store called The Humpy, 1 Kennedy Hwy, Tolga Qld 4882, phone (07) 40954102. The Humpy has a great variety of fresh produce and nuts locally grown, besides carrying Centuries Ahead Spices which are produced in the Gold Coast near Nerang, and locally made products like biscuits.
The Humpy has a great variety of food, including fresh local produce.
Tolga Bat Hospital began in 1990 rescuing and caring for bats, especially babies whose parents were affected by tick paralysis. Tolga Bats works with all native bats, megabats and microbats. Unfortunately, when bats fly lower to get food, they risk picking up the paralysis ticks. Also, bats are likely to get caught in barbed wires in fruit netting and, occasionally, in discarded fishing lines and hooks left hanging on trees.
In Tolga Bat Hospital, bats are kept in different cages according to their stage of recovery and species. Most of them get released when they have recovered, but not all bats get better. Some have wings or legs badly injured and won’t be able to survive in the wild. The injured bats remain in their wide cage hanging down from the ceiling, feeding at dusk, and still reproducing and raising offspring.
Flying foxes have an essential role in pollinating many different trees. They eat fruit to extract juice and nectar and spread the seeds. They chew the fruit and then squeeze it against the roof of their mouth with the tongue to get the juice.
People older than 21 years old can apply to work as a volunteer at the Tolga Bat Hospital. Volunteers need to genuinely care for the bats, be vaccinated for Australian Bat Lyssavirus and be fit.
The Tolga Bat Hospital looks after all the native bats which are injured or orphaned. In the photo is an extremely cute tube-nosed bat.
On the way to Malanda, explore Hasties Swamp National Park, Koci Road, Atherton Qld 4883. Hasties Swamp is a natural wetland important for many species of birds, residents and migratory. Park your car near the two-storey bird hide. Take with you a binocular to observe the different birds. More than 220 species of birds have been recorded in the wetland which offers open water, reeds and muddy edges and it changes with the cycle of wet and dry season. There are information boards with the description of many birds.
Hasties Swamp National Park is called Nyleta in the Aboriginal language. It is a refuge for many birds.
Travel on Malanda Road and at the intersection with Curtain Fig Tree Road turn left to visit the Curtain Fig Nation Park. The park protects the mabi forest and a large beautiful green fig tree, Ficus Virens. The fig tree took its unique shape when it started to grow on a host tree and sent its roots down to the ground. Then the host tree fell against a nearby tree and the strangler fig kept growing his roots forming the curtain-like appearance. Gradually the host tree disappeared over the years, leaving only the fig tree which today is about 50 metres tall, with a trunk circumference of 39 metres and it is probably over 500 years old.
The Curtain Fig Tree is in one of the few pockets of mabi forest left in the Atherton Tablelands. Mabi forest's unique feature is made up of trees that lose their leaves, allowing more sun to filter through the canopy of the forest. In this way, plants have the possibility to grow in the understory, which does not happen in other types of forests. The Mabi Forest is endangered because it has been mostly cleared to make the land available for farming.
The Curtain Fig Tree is in one of the few pockets of Mabi Forest which remain today. The large basalt boulders are found everywhere in this forest floor and probably this is the reason why this bit of forest wasn't converted into farmland.
Drive to Malanda to see Malanda Falls on the North Johnstone River which tumbles over basalt rocks formed by lava ages ago. There is a man-made swimming pool and it is generally a very popular spot. There are also two walking trails near Malanda Falls, Tulip Oak and Rainforest. The Tulip Oak walk is easy, only 1 km return, allow 30 minutes. There are signs about the local Aboriginal people's culture and lifestyle. The Rainforest walk is also easy, only 1.5km return. Many of the trees in the forest are labelled.
Head to your accommodation in Malanda just in time to enjoy a sunset from the verandah.
The Indigenous people of this area are called Malanda Falls Tutamonlin. Malanda Falls have been popular with visitors for many years and Malanda Falls Swimming Pool is heritage-listed. It was built from 1906 onwards for recreational purposes and become a great tourist attraction for the Atherton.
What best is to conclude a fabulous day in the Atherton Tablelands with an awesome sunset from Kinsler Cottage.
Check out accommodation in Malanda.
Travel to Cairns.
Kuranda Rail Scenic departs at 9:30 am from Cairns and arrives at Kuranda at 11:25 am.
Have lunch in one of the many cafés in Kuranda.
See The Original Markets.
Departure from Kuranda at 3:30 pm.
Check in the accommodation in Cairns.
It is time to pack the luggage again and drive to Cairns to the railway station to embark on the iconic Kuranda Scenic Ride. Cairn’s railway station is located under the covered carpark in the Cairns Central Shopping Centre. Collect and pay your pre-booked tickets and go to the departing platform. When it is time to board the train, make sure to go on the right carriage and to the assigned seat.
The Kuranda rail showcases the beauty of nature and the great achievements of the workers who were involved in its construction with the force of their own arms and hands.
Kuranda rail was built to connect the coast to the gold fields in the mountains. It was legendary bushman Christie Palmerston who find a suitable route for the railway line. In 1886 began the construction of the Cairns to Kuranda railway. It was an ambitious and very difficult project and still today is considered a great achievement. Mainly Irish and Italian men were involved in the project, enduring hardship, diseases and carrying out extremely dangerous tasks.
The railway line was completed in 1891 after five years of construction with 33 kilometres of track from Cairns to Kuranda ascending 328 metres above sea level and including 15 tunnels, 55 bridges and 98 curves.
The train stops at Barron Gorge station for 10 minutes, the time to take photos of the Barron waterfall plunging into the Barron Gorge.
Barron River was dammed to build in 1958 the Lake Tinaroo. Only after heavy rains, it runs in the gorge creating a very impressive waterfall.
Today Kuranda is a lovely town with hundreds of different shops, places where to eat and drink, cafés and it has interesting attractions. Have lunch at Malanda Café, 20 Coondoo St, Kuranda QLD 4881, where food is prepared using locally sourced fresh ingredients, the service is good and friendly. Have a cup of coffee at Kuranda Rainforest Coffee, next to the supermarket, Shop 10/17 Coondoo St, Kuranda QLD 4881. The Kuranda Rainforest Coffee offers only 100% locally grown and roasted Arabica coffee since 2007 and it has hand-made cranberry brownies and Kuranda real coffee cookies.
Kuranda Rainforest Coffee offers 1005 Australian-grown and roasted coffee. The cafe only handles select small batches and roasts with great care to ultimately present a coffee full of freshness and aroma.
Stroll in the Kuranda Original Market between Thoree and Therwine Street. The markets are absolutely charming, preserving their rustic and hippy origin, with lots of stalls offering handmade products.
Make sure to stroll in the Kuranda Original Market which has an incredible atmosphere, candle-scented air and an amazing selection of products.
Visit the Butterfly Sanctuary, the largest lepidopterarium in Australia, which hosts many spectacular butterflies, including Red Lacewing Butterfly, Cairns Birdwing and Orchard Swallowtail Butterfly. There is also the Hercules Moth, the largest moth in the world, native of North Queensland and New Guinea. Unfortunately, the lepidopterarium did not have the iconic Ulysses Butterfly. Apparently, the laboratory had difficulties obtaining the Ulysses Butterfly’s caterpillars since the plant they feed on has changed chemical composition due to the drought. The Butterfly Sanctuary is AT 8 Rob Veivers Dr, Kuranda QLD 4881, in Rotary Park. There are many other attractions near the Butterfly Sanctuary in Rotary Park, like Birdworld Kuranda and Kuranda Koala Gardens.
The glorious Blue-banded eggfly is very popular in the lepidopterarium.
Time to catch the train back to Cairns just take a few minutes to look at the café in the Kuranda Station with memorabilia displayed. Enjoy the ride back to Cairns.
Once back in Cairns, drive to your accommodation. We chose a budget accommodation in Parramatta booked through Airbnb, a private house converted into a hostel for travellers.
Sunset on a sugar cane field just before entering Cairns railway station.
Check out accommodation in Cairns.
Visit the Botanic Gardens
Have lunch at the Botanic Gardens
Return the rental car.
Head to the airport.
This is the last day of the trip so it can be more relaxed. Spend the morning at the Botanic Gardens in Cairns which are renowned for the many beautiful sections dedicated to Australian and tropical plants.
Head to Collins Avenue where it is possible to park the car and start to explore the Botanic Gardens. There are big tanks coming into view straight away and signs explain they were tanks used as fuel storage in WWII. Today the tanks have been converted into venues for art exhibitions and celebrations.
The old tanks have been converted into a venue for art exhibitions and functions.
There is also an attractive Visitor Centre ad Gift Shop. Next to the Visitor Centre is a nice café with a great set-up.
The Information Centre can help you to find your way around in the gardens. Also, it features amazing products ideal to take home as a souvenir or for gifts.
The Botanic Gardens feature amazing exhibitions of tropical plants from Australia and abroad. Explore the Gondwana Evolution Garden and the Heritage-listed Flecker Gardens. Watkins Munro Martin Conservatory structure was inspired by a leaf and houses a magnificent collection of palms, carnivorous plants, orchids and cycads. The Botanic Gardens have also a section dedicated to plants used by Aboriginal people for food, medications and for the construction of items.
It’s time to return the rental car and head to the airport.
A splendid flower produced by the trunk of a tree in the forest of South America.
We spent a week in the lovely Atherton Tablelands and we managed to cover only a small part of the region. There is more to explore and many interesting activities to do in the Tablelands.
When we visited the Tablelands, we were transported in a different dimension, in a land rich in history from the indigenous people, the arrival of the settlers, the mining and the logging. The towns of the Tablelands are pretty and small, many of them maintain the original set-up with a road passing through and all the buildings on both sides. Babinda, Millaa Millaa, Malanda and Yungaburra are very nice and offer different attractions to the visitors. There are lots of farms spread out in the territory with acres and acres of land around them cultivated with different crops. There are gentle rolling green hills forming beautiful and idyllic landscapes. Prehistoric volcanos originated in pristine lakes and wetlands and forged the landscape.
After exploring Josephine Falls, we took the trail to the summit of Mount Bartle Frere. We climbed the trail of Bartle Frere up to Big Rock camping ground. It was a wet day, with light rain and the humidity was very high. The trail was muddy, probably from the rain of the previous night too, the rocks were slippery and there were many leeches. Once we reached the small remote camping ground, we had a snack and then we descended on the same trail. The level of water in the creek did not change.
We stepped back in time in the Herberton Historic Village and we saw how the people’s life was in the past and we enjoyed billy tea. We ate chicken in pawpaw sauce at Skybury Café where they have their own papaya plantations and we had coffee in Kuranda town which beans come from the coffee plantations in the Tablelands. We rode the train from Cairns to Kuranda on the historic railway line that opened in June 1891 and it took a few years to be built with huge human effort and great engineering.
We visited the Butterfly Sanctuary in Kuranda where the most beautiful butterflies get bred and released in the lepidopterarium. In the Tolga Hospital, we learnt about how bats use echolocation and we could hear their calls through a special device.
In Mareeba Museum we appreciated a section dedicated to Indigenous culture which included tools for cutting, stones for grinding, weapons, didgeridoos and how Aboriginal people had the knowledge to eat the seeds and fruits from the forest and to use plants for medical purposes.
We encountered a wild crocodile, a colourful cassowary and we saw many birds in the National Parks.
The roads on the Atherton Tablelands were good and there are signs to indicate directions to the main towns and attractions. We visited the Tablelands at the end of June and the temperatures were an average of 16 degrees overnight and 24 degrees max during the day. It was very pleasant! It was warmer in Cairns where we wore shirts and a T-shirt, with daily temperatures up to 27 degrees.
We booked an economic Hyundai Accent for $70 per day, it worked great. The car may have been basic, but it was right for us and it was very fuel efficient and we saved lots of money on petrol.
Stopping to take a photo of the gentle hills not far from Malanda.
How much does it cost to spend a week in the Atherton Tablelands?
The cost of a week away in the Atherton Tablelands can vary a lot depending on the type of accommodations, rental car and food. Choosing budget accommodations can certainly reduce costs. Search for Airbnb, hotels, and motels and compare the prices.
Eating outside all the time can be expensive, visiting the supermarket and preparing your own food can reduce the expenses. A small rental car cost less than a big car and it uses less fuel. Flights are cheaper on certain days of the week and at certain hours of the day, so it is better to keep that in mind when buying plane tickets.
Shop around for good travel insurance, for example, the post office offers good prices including the excess fee for the rental car.
It is harder to budget for the activities since they have fixed prices. If you have a concession card or a senior card a discount may be applied.
Other expenses may include transfers to and from the airports, you may get to the airport in Brisbane by taxi or Airtrain. If you have a friend or a family member who can give you a lift it is certainly cheaper. Uber can make you save a few dollars.
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