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About Cairns Highlands - Accommodation - Tours & what to do - Transport & car hire - Photos - Map

Atherton Tablelands / Cairns Highlands

The Millaa Millaa Falls, one of the many spectacular waterfalls in the Cairns Highlands

The Atherton Tablelands, also known as the Cairns Highlands, is located west of Cairns, but despite being at a sub-tropical latitude its elevation means that the climate here is pleasantly cool when the coast is hot during the summer, and it can get frosty at night in the winter.
This area is popular with tourists and local weekend trippers, attractions include beautiful waterfalls, patches of rainforest, hiking tracks around lakes, wildlife that includes the platypus, tree kangaroo and the cassowary, tropical fruitwineries, amazing huge strangler fig trees, historic villages and a friendly laid back population.

The Cairns Highlands are a fertile plateau which is part of the Great Dividing Range, a mountain range that runs along the coast of Queensland. Although the area has no sharply defined boundaries it is considered to be around 32,000 km² in size and incorporates the towns of Atherton, Dimbulah, Herberton, Kairi, Kuranda, Mareeba, Malanda, Millaa Millaa, Mutchilba, Ravenshoe, Tinaroo, Tolga, Walkamin and the most famous of all; Yungaburra.

The fertile volcanic soil and high elevation of this area that ranges from 600 to 900 metres and they provide excellent conditions for agriculture and dairy farming, especially Malanda is famous for its cheese, milk and other dairy products.
The area was originally explored for its mining potential and deposits of tin and some gold were found, but the only remains of this industry nowadays are found further to the east in towns like Herberton and Irvinebank. In 2006, the Atherton Tableland region was devastated by the Category 4 Cyclone Larry but you will see little damage from this today,although the Giant Red Cedar Tree is no longer there as this enormous old tree fell over in the strong winds.
Cyclones normally weaken when the reach the coast but this one was most unusual and kept its strength as it went further inland and many of the Tableland towns and the Peeramon Pub sustained severe damage.
For tourists the area around Yungaburra holds most attractions, being close to the giant fig trees and the lakes and forests.
Below are some of the main towns of the Atherton Tablelands, other attractions and localities like the lakes are described on our Tours and Things to do page.

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This is the town that this whole area was named after, it is now a thriving business centre for the farming district.
Although the Atherton area was first explored by JV Mulligan in 1875 it received its name from John Atherton who settled near here in 1877 and was the first to find tin deposits in North Queensland, which led to a big rush of miners.
Some time later the building of a road through the Tableland caused a second rush, this time timber was the target.
The rolling green hills with dairy cows that you see now used to be covered in rainforests filled with huge trees like red cedar, kauri, maple, black bean, walnut, white beech and red tulip oak.
Before Atherton had developed, there was already a full-blown Chinatown. The Chinese had moved from the Palmer River Goldfields when the rush there was over. They were the pioneers of agriculture and grew 80% of crop production on the Tablelands. After the crops, they turned to dairying. As the population of Chinatown increased, small shops appeared, wells were sunk to supply water, there were cooks, herbalists, doctors and merchants etc. The rough straw huts were replaced by sawn timber houses with verandahs and corrugated iron roofs. By 1909, Chinatown had become the largest concentration of Chinese on the Tablelands with a population on 1100. Today, you can still find the Hou Wang Temple that remains as one of the few reminders of the former Chinese population of the Atherton Tablelands.

World War 2 changed Atherton when the population from the coast found this a safer place, and the army set up their facilities in this area. Crops grown in and around Atherton include banana, sugarcane, corn/maize, avocados, strawberries, macadamia nuts and mangoes and citrus. Tobacco was also grown for many years.
Average temperatures around here vary from 17–35 °C in summer tor 5–22 °C in winter.


Malanda is famous for its dairy industry of milk and cheese products

Malanda is a medium-sized town that is nowadays well known for its dairy industry of milk and cheese, but it was first developed in the 1880s when the discovery of tin and copper at Herberton saw a steady stream of miners and engineers moving over the mountains from the coast. In 1886 a decision was made to bring a railway into the area but the problems of construction were enormous and it did not reach Malanda until 1911 and closed again in 1964.
The town Malanda has a few attractions worth visiting such as;
- the dairy museum
- the Malanda Falls, compared to other water falls in the area not very spectacular but you can go there for a crocodile-free swim and there is supposed platypus in there as well.
- the Malanda Environmental Park — just opposite the Malanda Falls the park offers a short walk through the rainforest and an opportunity to see a wide range of rainforest trees.
- the Majestic Theatre is said to be the oldest continually operating cinema in Australia and has potato sack seating.
- the Malanda Hotel has a grand ballroom and beautiful timber staircase and is claimed to be the largest wooden structure in Australia, there is accommodation available upstairs and meals and drinks downstairs in the bar.
- the Malanda Art Trail, starting at the town library.


Kuranda is a thriving tourist town of around 650 people that swells to a few thousand every morning when the tourists roll in on buses, the historic train and the Skyrail, to see the famous markets. It is located 25 kilometres from Cairns at an elevation of 330 metres and is surrounded by rainforest so it has a very pleasant climate.
Before the European settlers arrived the rainforests around Kuranda had been home to the Djabugay people for over 10,000 years. Europeans started exploring the area in the nineteenth century and Kuranda was settled in 1885.
Construction of the now famous railway from Cairns started in 1887 and the line reached Kuranda in 1891.
The current railway station where tourists arrive now was built in 1915.
Although coffee was grown around Kuranda in the early twentieth century, timber was the town's primary industry for years, throughout the '60s and '70s Kuranda was popular with alternative lifestylers and nowadays tourism is driving the economy.
Attractions in the town include several markets, consisting of a range of arts and crafts stalls as well as cafes and restaurants. Kuranda is a major centre for opals and didgeridoos. It was also the first home of the Tjapukai Indigenous Dance Theatre, established by former New Yorkers Judy and Don Freeman, together with indigenous dancer and actor David Hudson.
The theatre was later relocated and now sits next to the Skyrail base station at Caravonica near Cairns.
Kuranda is also home to a bird park, butterfly sanctuary, a bat rehabilitation centre, snake and venom park and koala sanctuary. As the town is surrounded by rainforest there are numerous walks and lookouts.
Most tourists arrive in the town on the Kuranda Scenic Railway from Cairns, the Skyrail gondola cableway, or by coach over the Kuranda Range road.

Millaa Millaa

red cedar logs art work in millaa millaa

The town of Millaa Millaa is nearby the stunning Millaa Millaa waterfall that you see at the top of this page, and also hosts some other interesting displays, like the red cedar log above that shows you what giant trees once covered this landscape of green hills and dairy cows , and also the interesting artwork on the right, what's this guy doing?


The classic old Lake Eecham Hotel in the centre of Yungaburra

Yungaburra is a charming historic little town of only a 1000 or so people, more pleasant and attractive to tourists than some other towns that are more business centres for the surrounding farming district.
At an elevation of 750 metres above sea level it has a pleasant cool climate in summer but can have cold nights in the winter time, fire places and hot spas are standard equipment in many rooms here, making this a popular place for romantic weekends away for the Cairns locals too.

The Yungaburra Markets, held on the fourth weekend of each month, are one of the largest in Far North Queensland, and each year around the end of October, Yungaburra holds the two-day Yungaburra Folk Festival, featuring concerts from Australian (and sometimes international) folk musicians.

The town got started off in the mining boom days but nowadays its economy today revolves around tourism, and the town contains a primary school, post office, library/telecentre and a range of businesses and services for the use of residents and visitors. Yungaburra has 18 Heritage Listed buildings, and is the largest National Trust village in Queensland.

The landscape around Yungaburra has been shaped by millennia of volcanic activity. The most recent eruptions were over 12000 years ago and created some interesting geological features such as Mount Hypipamee Crater, Lake Eacham and Lake Barrine, Tinaroo Dam is a man-made dam in the Barron River, now used by water skiers and for recreation.

There are a number of places to dine, from Keddies Takeaway to fine dining to Nicks Restaurant. Nick's is a German style restaurant/bar that also used to do yodelling performances, not sure if they still happen, good for homesick Swiss tourists but probably not what most people come for to this region. Not sure how good the food is as we walked out not being able to get any service after 15 minutes, most times we stay in Yungaburra we get cheese and wine at the shop anyway to make the most out of the rooms with fireplaces and spas.
Near Nick's restaurant is a platform built on the river where you can spot platypus swimming around at dusk.




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About Cairns Highlands - Accommodation - Tours & what to do - Transport & car hire - Photos - Map

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