Sink your teeth into one of Australia’s richest tourism experiences, the haven of gourmet grazing and stirring travel that is the Atherton Tablelands.
No Tropical North Queensland visit is complete without some time spent roaming the Atherton Tablelands, the fertile and beautiful region at a cool elevation above the steamy Great Barrier Reef coast.
Easily reached as a day trip from Cairns, Port Douglas and Mission Beach, the Tablelands are a food-lover’s paradise in an ancient and wildlife-rich landscape ranging from World Heritage Site rainforest and tumbling waterfalls to savannah. Even better, allow yourself a couple of days to truly savour the Tablelands using well-preserved historic towns like Kuranda, Atherton or Yungaburra as charming overnight bases.
Tastes of the Tablelands
Roadside “honesty” stalls, enticing village cafes, farmhouse kitchens and quality restaurants all offer local produce ranging from juicy tropical fruit to cheese, chocolate, native charcuterie and some of the world’s finest coffee. The temptations are endless and the Tablelands cover a big area, so if you’re self-driving, plan lunch and dinner destinations (make reservations on weekends), map out a rambling route and take your sweet time.
A self-drive waterfalls trail, for example, might start with breakfast at Petals and Pinecones, Atherton, for smoothies, shakes and excellent coffee, then on to fascinating mining museum town Herberton for a morning’s exploring. Head south to link up with the Waterfall Circuit and homestyle lunch at The Falls Teahouse, Millaa Millaa. Take a cooling dip at one of the pretty waterholes then mosey to Mungalli Creek Biodynamic Dairy for what’s claimed to be the world’s best cheesecake. Then it’s back to Atherton for platypus viewing and to sharpen the appetite for dinner at heritage-listed Eden House Retreat, Yungaburra.
Image credit: Petals and Pinecones, Facebook
Farm-to-table favourites, international flavours
If you’re in the market for a milestone meal, premium lunch or dinner options abound. In Yungaburra, try award-winning Flynn’s for local produce with French and Italian accents, Obi’s with its upmarket menu and wicked house-made desserts, or alpine-style Nick’s Restaurant (don’t miss the Tablelands antipasto platter). Smokehouse Café in Malanda is the place to go for sparkling fresh barramundi and freshwater crayfish, while Kuranda institution Frogs puts on a jungle vibe and native delights. Reservations for all are essential.
On weekends, look out for food and craft markets. The biggest and best, with about 320 regular stalls, is Yungaburra market on the fourth Saturday of the month.
Walks, wildlife and waterfalls
Balance all this epicurean indulgence with an array of activities taking in the magnificent beauty of Tablelands trails, mountains, virgin rainforest and abundant wildlife. Ease into a walk, bike or horse ride on the flat Atherton Tablelands Rail Trail from Platypus Park, Atherton to Walkamin. Do the full 20 kilometres or choose a short, easy stage.
As well as the elusive platypus, many Tablelands tours take you in search of rare and special animal inhabitants including tree kangaroos, bats, frogs, and the local birdlife king, the cassowary.
Rise early for spectacular hot-air ballooning over Mareeba at sunrise, and farewell the day with a sunset rainforest cruise in Crater Lakes National Park. In between, navigate the drivable Waterfall Circuit of picturesque cascades with perfect swimming holes, like pretty Josephine Falls and its natural waterslide. For more physical adventures try kayaking on Lake Barrine, whitewater rafting on Barron River and mountain biking the high-altitude rainforest tracks of the Misty Mountains.
With most Tablelands visitors making day trips from the coast, those who opt to linger and wander earn the plentiful rewards offered by this amazing and diverse ecological wonderland. Just bring a big appetite.
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