Head inland from Cairns and discover the many attractions of the Atherton Tablelands, where the climate is cooler and there are interesting and quirky villages and towns to explore. Here are the 10 best things to do on the Atherton Tablelands when you’re on a driving holiday.
Hasties Swamp National Park is on the outskirts of Atherton. It’s a delight for bird watchers and provides a glimpse of the rich variety of wildlife to be seen in Tropical North Queensland.
Magpie geese, herons, ducks, pelicans and more flock to this oasis just outside the township.
There’s a two-level hide on the edge of the water, with plenty of information about what you’re seeing. Take your binoculars and camera and settle in to observe nature on the wing.
The magnificent Curtain and Cathedral fig trees are highlights of a trip to the Tablelands. The Curtain Fig is just outside Yungaburra and is well sign-posted.
The Cathedral Fig is in the Danbulla State Forest and is believed to be around 500 years old. Both trees are surrounded by boardwalks to give the best views, and have been overtaken by strangler vines that create the curtain effect.
3-Hou Wang Temple
The National Trust-listed Hou Wang Temple was built in 1903, and is a reminder that Atherton once had a large Chinese population during the gold rush days.
It is now one of only two of Australia’s remaining temples constructed of timber and tin. During years of disuse, three or four “gods” – including Hou Wang himself – were stolen or destroyed over the years by vandals and souvenir hunters.
Today, with a volunteer guide, you can now visit the temple and adjacent museum, former community hall and caretaker’s room, where dioramas recreate life as it once was.
4-Spy & Camera Museum
The quirky Spy & Camera Museum at Herberton is owned and operated by photographer Michael Petersen, who offers guided tours of his treasure trove of strange and interesting cameras and spy equipment.
Each one has a story. The collection was started by ex-special forces operative Roy Jaques and includes such interesting items as the “mousetrap camera” and the world’s smallest camera, The Petal. Be amazed.
5-Historic Village Herberton
The Historic Village Herberton is a tin-mining town where restored buildings dating back to the 1870s are filled with memorabilia.
There’s a pub, bank, chemist shop, grocer, printer, school, dress shop, jail and more. Around 50 buildings make up this slice of pioneer life, and on weekends and school holidays working exhibits are on show.
Once a year (May 2-3, 2015), there’s a re-enactment weekend with demonstrations of blacksmithing, tin panning and more, with horse and carriage rides and entertainment.
Two volcanic crater lakes, about 65 metres deep and thought to be around 10,000 years old, are popular places to cool off .
Take a dip in Lake Eacham or walk the 3.5 km track around the lake, which takes you through rainforest and grassy areas.
It offers all year swimming and has picnic grounds on the shore with barbecues and tables. Nearby Lake Barrine offers boat cruises from outside the historic tea-house, and a 6km circuit walking track.
Lake Tinaroo is a recreational dam, created in the 1950s, and a great spot for camping.
7-The Avenue of Honour
The new Afghanistan Avenue of Honour is a memorial to Australia’s fallen soldiers in Afghanistan.
The catalyst for this moving memorial was the death of one of the Tablelands’ sons, Private Benjamin Chuck, who was killed on active service with other commandos in Afghanistan in 2010.
Dedicated in 2013, the Avenue of Honour is located on the shores of Lake Tinaroo, 3km from Yungaburra.
8-Lake Eacham Hotel
The most famous of several great pubs on the Atherton Tablelands, the historic Lake Eacham Hotel has been serving thirsty travellers since 1910.
Also known as the Yungaburra Hotel, this lovely Federation-style hotel is known for its cedar and oak interiors and has an Art Deco extension.
There’s a popular beer garden and guest rooms upstairs.
9-Take Tea on the Atherton Tablelands
Throughout the Atherton Tablelands, tea plantations dot the landscape.
At the Nerada tea plantation, the sight of several rare Lumholtz’s tree-kangaroos high in the branches of trees is as welcome as the tea and scones served in the café.
The elusive creatures are regular visitors to the plantation.
Just 10km outside Malanda, the tea plantation runs tours of the factory, and the chance to relax in its garden or cafe over a cuppa.
The Waterfall Circuit starts near Millaa Millaa on the Palmerston Highway. Follow Theresa Creek Road to Millaa Millaa Falls – good for platypus spotting – then continue to Zillie, Ellinjaa Falls and Mungalli Falls.
On the way to Ravenshoe, visit Souita and Pepina Falls, making sure to stop at Australia’s widest waterfall, the Millstream Falls, just 5km outside the town.
Continue to Little Millstream Falls. Dinner Falls is in Mount Hypipamee National Park, and Malanda Falls is another place where you might be lucky enough to spot a Lumholtz’s tree-kangaroo. Malanda Falls also has an inviting pool to swim in.
Take a peek into the world of these rescued baby bats in Atherton.
Looking for more attractions in Northern Queensland? Read this post.
See the rainforest while on the Kuranda Scenic Railway on the way up to Kuranda.