Offering welcome relief from the sweltering temperatures of Queensland’s tropical north, the sweeping plateaus of the Atherton Tablelands lie within easy day-trip distance of Cairns. Covering an area of 20,000 square miles (32,000 square kilometers), the lush landscapes also provide scenic terrain for bush walking and bird-watching.
The towns of Atherton, Yunaburra, and Malanda are the main gateways to the Tablelands region, and it’s possible to visit all three on a day trip from Cairns. Most tours combine a visit to the towns with one or more of the region’s waterfalls, such as Malanda Falls, Millaa Millaa Falls, Ellinjaa Falls, and Josephine Falls. Other popular activities include sunrise hot air balloon rides over the Tablelands and boat cruises on Lake Tinaroo.
The Tablelands form part of the UNESCO-listed Wet Tropics Rainforest. Guided night walks through the rainforest are available, offering a chance to see nocturnal creatures such as platypuses and Lumholtz tree kangaroos.
Things to Know Before You Go
Temperatures can reach over 30°C (86°F) in summer months, so be sure to pack water and sunscreen, as well as insect repellent and comfortable shoes.
Visitor Information Centers in Atherton, Yunaburra, and Malanda all offer maps, restrooms, charging stations, and free Wi-Fi.
Some natural attractions including the Babinda Boulders, the Curtain Fig Tree, and Josephine Falls are wheelchair accessible.
How to Get There
The town of Atherton is located 50 miles (80 kilometers) southwest of Cairns, about 1.5 hours away by car. Buses run to all the main towns from Cairns, but the best way to explore the region’s many attractions is to use your own transportation or join a guided tour.
When to Get There
The most popular time to visit the Atherton Tablelands is during the dry season (April to October), when the weather is cooler and less humid. However, the region’s waterfalls can be even more impressive during the wet season (November to March). Wildlife is most active during the early morning or late evening.
Atherton Tablelands for Foodies
The fertile lands of the Atherton Tablelands naturally lend themselves to agriculture, so this region is home to a number of farms, orchards, and plantations. Many have opened their doors to visitors, and a food-themed tour of the area might include cheese and chocolate tasting at a dairy farm, a coffee plantation tour, lunch at local pub, or a visit to a macadamia nut farm. Popular stops include Mt. Uncle Distillery, the region’s only gin distillery; De Brueys Tropical Winery, where the wines and liqueurs are made from a variety of tropical fruits; and Emerald Creek Ice-Creamery, where the gelatos and sorbets are all made using local ingredients.