Here we explore all the fun and fabulous things to do in the Atherton Tablelands, a fertile plateau inland from Cairns in Northern Queensland.
When people think of Tropical North Queensland in Australia, they think of the Great Barrier Reef and the rainforest areas of the Daintree and Cape Tribulation.
But there is another enticing and utterly unique region of northern Queensland that is equally deserving of your tourist time and dime… and that is the Atherton Tablelands.
Famous for its waterfalls, fabulous fresh produce, wildlife and lava tubes, this lush fertile region of Queensland safeguards rainforest, wetland and savannah.
Starting around 90km inland from Cairns, the tablelands rise more than 800m above sea level, resulting in a temperate climate that makes for a fabulous year-round destination.
Read on to discover some of the best Atherton Tablelands attractions.
You can see more photos and coverage on our Instagram highlight of this trip.
Explore the Atherton Tablelands Waterfalls
There are a lot of beautiful waterfalls near Cairns and the Atherton Tablelands has the pick of the bunch.
The Atherton Tablelands waterfall circuit serves up a wonderful variety of waterfalls, creeks and lakes, perfect for swimming, hiking and picnics.
Millaa Millaa Falls is one of the most famous of all the waterfalls in the Atherton Tablelands, and is supposedly the most photographed waterfall in the whole of Australia.
Plunging 18m into a small swimming hole, this stunning waterfall is surrounded by towering greenery. It is also easily accessible, with a close by car park.
Fun fact: Peter Andre’s ‘Mysterious Girl’ video was filmed at Millaa Millaa Falls (apologies if you now have that song stuck in your head!)
Lake Eacham is another popular picnic spot. This stunning volcanic lake surrounded by rainforest was created 12,000 years ago. Jump in for a swim and a cool off, or hike the 3km walking track that surrounds the lake.
The Josephine Falls is another beautiful waterfall worth stopping off at.
Easily accessible just an hour’s drive from Cairns, the best thing about this waterfall is it’s natural waterslide you can whizz down! Kids will love scrambling on all the rocks here too.
Discover Paronella Park
I wasn’t sure what to expect when visiting a crumbling castle in a rainforest, but the Paronella Park history is a fascinating one and taking a Paronella Park tour was definitely one of the highlights of our Atherton Tablelands tour.
Built in the 1930s by Spanish entrepreneur, Jose Paronella, the park was once a popular entertainment destination.
With Northern Queensland’s first hydroelectric power, people flocked here to watch movies, dance and eat ice cream more than 20 years before the rest of the area had any electricity. The Park was also a popular picnic destination.
The owners were victims of several episodes of misfortune, including flooding, fire, cyclones and ill health.
The Park was abandoned through the 80s and early 90s but is once again attracting visitors thanks to its passionate new owners.
A real place of intrigue and beauty, it is well worth a visit. If you visit in the evening, you can also be entertained by the talented String Family, who play beautifully with the colourfully lit castle as a backdrop.
The Paronella Park prices include unlimited visits over a 24month period, a 45-minute guided walk through the park highlights, Darkness Falls tour (night time tour with highlights floodlit), and the String Family performance.
The Mena Creek Hotel across the road is a good stop off point for lunch or dinner before or after visiting Paronella Park.
The Mamu Tropical Skywalk, with its elevated walkways through the rainforest canopy is just next door.
Sample the Atherton Tablelands Produce
Known as the food bowl of Northern Queensland, the Atherton Tablelands is famous for its fabulous organic produce and so one of our favourite Atherton Tablelands things to do is eat!
Whether you are looking for fresh fruit and vegetables, locally produced dairy products, tea, coffee, wine or chocolate, you are not going to go hungry or thirsty in the Atherton Tablelands.
We stopped off at Mungalli Creek Dairy, which is not only organic but bio-dynamic too. Delicious cheeses, dips, milkshakes, yoghurts, and kefir make this an awesome lunch stop for the whole family.
Don’t miss the amazing quark cheesecakes… and they do afternoon tea with freshly baked scones too, which unfortunately we had no room for.
Another popular stop is Gallo Dairyland, a family owned dairy farm and café serving fabulous cheeses and also ice cream and chocolates. There is also a small animal nursery where kids can feed the baby animals.
We also called in at Nerada Tea, Australia’s largest tea producer, where you can take a look at the plantation and factory and enjoy a freshly brewed cup of tea. Keep a look out for tree kangaroos in the trees outside the tea room.
Explore the Lava Tubes at Undara Experience
One of the coolest things to do in Northern Queensland is to take a tour of the lava tubes at Undara Experience.
These lava tubes were formed by erupting volcanoes around 190,000 years ago, and today are waiting to be explored via guided tour.
David Attenborough described the lava tubes at Undara as “the most unexplored natural feature in the world” and said they should be the 8th Natural Wonder. And they really are incredible to see.
But there was more to our Undara Experience than just visiting the lava tubes, the whole experience was awesome and I would definitely recommend it as a highlight of the area if you are visiting with kids (or without).
Our Undara Experience kicked off with a dusk wildlife spotting tour, where we spotted wallabies, kangaroos and wallaroos and culminated in a spectacular sunset with a view.
After sunset we headed to the caves to see a gazillion bats flying out into the night… and the brown tree snakes waiting to pick them off as they flew by!
The bush breakfast is another highlight that kids will love. Toasting bread over an open fire, sitting on logs and listening to the birds is a special way to wake up in the morning.
And the other cool thing about Undara? You get to sleep in a train!
Meet the Atherton Tablelands Wildlife
There are only an estimated 4,000 cassowaries left in the wild, but if you want a chance to spot the third largest bird in the world, then you’ve come to the right place.
A great location to spot cassowaries is Etty Bay Beach. Etty Bay isn’t strictly on the tablelands, as it is on the coast but it is not far to drive (around 25 minutes from Paronella Park) and worth it if you want to see a cassowary.
The cassowaries here literally just wander along the beach. Keep an eye on your picnic if you don’t want to share! (ie. don’t feed the cassowaries)
Other good places to spot cassowaries include Mission Beach and at the Canopy Treehouses (see below). The Canopy Treehouses is also a great spot for seeing turtles, platypuses, pademelons and a wealth of birdlife.
For the best chance to see tree kangaroos, call in at Nerada tea plantation, where they have a family of treehouses living in the trees outside their tea house.
You can’t beat the Undara Experience for spotting wallabies, kangaroos and wallaroos, and we also saw loads of birdlife here, as well as a rather large black headed python.
Spend a Day in Kuranda
There are loads of things to do in Kuranda and it is the perfect place to end your tour of the Atherton Tablelands. Just 25km from Cairns, there is so much to do here to keep the whole family entertained.
From visiting the Koala Gardens and Birdworld, to browsing the heritage markets or spending some time learning about Aboriginal culture at Rainforestation Nature Park, Kuranda is definitely worth setting aside a day for.
Atherton Tablelands Itinerary
All of the above Atherton Tablelands highlights can easily be visited in a 4-day tour. This was the itinerary we followed, including meal stops and accommodation.
Picnic lunch at Josephine Falls
Etty Bay to search for cassowaries
Dinner at Mena Creek Hotel
Overnight at Castaways Resort & Spa, Mission Beach
Millaa Millaa Falls
Lunch at Mungalli Creek Farmhouse Café
Undara Experience: Wildlife at Sunset Tour
Dinner at Undara Experience
Overnight at Undara Experience
Undara Experience Bush Breakfast
Undara Experience Lava Tubes tour
Lunch at Gallo Dairyland
Dinner at Nick’s Swiss Italian, Yungaburra
Overnight Canopy Treehouses
Return to Cairns via Kuranda.
Atherton Tablelands Map
The following map of Atherton Tablelands shows where all of the above attractions are in relation to one another:
Accommodation in Atherton Tablelands
There is a wide choice of motels, lodges, caravan parks and campsites throughout the Atherton Tablelands. Following is our choice of Atherton Tablelands accommodation for our 3-night stay.
Castaways Resort & Spa, Mission Beach
Located on the gorgeous 14km long Mission Beach, around a 40-minute drive from Paronella Park, Castaways Resort offers beachfront accommodation in a range of hotel rooms and apartments.
There are 1- and 2-bedroom apartments and the 3-bedroom penthouse apartment has its own rooftop plunge pool. The resort family rooms are ideal for familles, with a second bedroom featuring two single beds.
The best rooms have direct access to the beautiful lap pool, which overlooks the expansive lawn and beachfront.
Staying overnight at Undara is an experience in itself. There is a range of accommodation on offer here, but the most exciting option is definitely the railway carriages.
These decommissioned Queensland railway carriages have been transformed into bedrooms, while maintaining their original features and charm. I guarantee the kids will love sleeping in a train!
In addition to the train carriages, there are also Pioneer cabins, glamping tents and if you are looking for Atherton Tablelands camping, they have a caravan park and camping ground too. So something to suit everyone!
The Canopy Treehouses are a great place to get away from it all and a fantastic opportunity for some fabulous wildlife spotting!
Set amongst 100 acres of protected rainforest, keep a look out for pademelon wallabies, cassowaries, platypuses, tree kangaroos and more as you explore the walking trails here.
There are six treehouses to choose from: five two-bedrooms and one three-bedroom treehouse. Each treehouse has a separate living area, fully fitted kitchen and balcony with barbecue.
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Mum on the Move was a guest of Tourism Tropical North Queensland for our Atherton Tablelands Tour. This in no way affected my article and all opinions expressed, as always, are honest and my own.