Looking for things to do in Atherton Tablelands? Even if you’re looking for things to do in Cairns, I have to say it was nearby Atherton Tablelands which was the place in Tropical North Queensland that totally blew us away. Expect absolutely insanely amazing waterfalls, swimming holes, lush rainforest and so much more.
The countryside is mind-blowing, even the locals have compared it to the Scottish Highlands. Although I’ve not been to Scotland, when I posted about it on our Instagram page, some of our Scottish followers agreed that it resembled it too.
We loved our time in Atherton Tablelands that we seriously talked about whether to move to this slice of paradise. In the meantime, we absolutely cannot wait to go back to this unbelievably special part of Queensland for the holidays soon! We hope our Atherton Tablelands guide will spark inspiration for you to visit this exciting part of Australia as soon as possible!
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Where Is Atherton Tablelands?
Atherton Tablelands is situated about 1h30m drive from Cairns. We recommend hiring a car to make the most of your trip, although there are plenty of day trips from Cairns you can easily jump on.
If you’re flying, you’ll need to fly into Cairns airport and hire a car to get there.
And if you’re driving, it takes a good 26 hours from Sydney, 20 hours from Brisbane, 4h30m from Townsville and 2 hours from Mission Beach.
Why You Should Visit Atherton Tablelands
I think we kept wondering why we didn’t visit Atherton Tablelands last time we were up in Tropical North Queensland. As people who love the countryside, waterfalls, wild swimming spots, rainforests and beautiful little towns with character, this has to be one of the most incredible places we’ve been to in Australia.
While most people might do a day trip from Cairns to the waterfall circuit to see the famous and absolutely beautiful Millaa Millaa Falls, there’s so much more you need to discover. Think of crater lakes you can swim in, waterfalls with natural slides, a Spanish castle in the rainforest, and much more.
We actually stayed in Mission Beach on our way up the East Coast of Australia and made our way up to Atherton Tablelands early in the morning because we knew how much we had to see. This was the main part of our East Coast road trip we were looking forward to the most. We also came back at the end of our trip and stayed another night because we loved it so much!
To give you some context about the area, the main town is unsurprisingly called Atherton which, to be honest, we thought would be nicer than it is. The nearby town of Yungaburra is a gorgeous little town, which we just loved. You’ll notice a lot of little towns or indeed villages surrounding Atherton. Herberton is a tiny little town with a fascinating historic village which everyone should visit. We stayed in Malanda at a gorgeous little homestay which is a slightly bigger town than a lot of others in the area.
You can come from either the north side of Cairns and stop by Kurranda on the way to Atherton Tablelands or go south to Innisfail and stop off at the incredible waterfalls along the way. If you try to do a loop in one day, you’d be pushing it as there’s just too much to see.
Best Time Of Year To Visit Atherton Tablelands
You know what? We actually went to Atherton Tablelands during the Christmas holidays. One of our writers, Sarah Melrose, asked me for advice about Cairns as she was going at that time too, and all I could say to her was how hot it would be. With the closing of the state borders at the time, we had to make a beeline back to Queensland and decided on a last-minute trip to Cairns. Luckily Sarah literally kept us up to date during her trip about how much rain there was and more importantly how hot it was.
Basically, it may have rained during most of our trip, but my god it was incredible. All we could think of is, if we’re loving it in the rain, imagine how much more incredible it would be with blue skies? The point is, although most people visit Cairns and Atherton Tablelands during the dry season between July – September, if you visit in the wet season, you’ll see the rainforests and waterfalls come alive. Both times of the year would be spectacular.
With so many highlights to consider, it’s actually quite hard to pick a couple that you really shouldn’t miss. For us, there was something sublimely special about Lake Eacham. I didn’t really get it completely until I swam in the water which certainly feels amazing. Honestly, our skin felt soft when we got out. It’s also mind-blowing to comprehend that when you get in, it just drops down to 65m!
Other highlights include swimming in the stunningly beautiful Babinda Boulders and the magical Josephine Falls, photographing the incredible Paronella Park and Curtain Fig Tree, and of course you can’t miss Millaa Millaa Falls. If visiting during rainy season, you can’t miss Barron Falls, it’s insane! And being British, you have to get afternoon tea at Lake Barrine. Most of all, drive around and take in the beauty of the rolling hills, it’s absolutely beautiful!
Best Day Trips From Cairns To Atherton Tablelands
Waterfall, Wildlife and Rainforest Tour from Cairns: This day trip ticks off a lot of our personal favourites such as Josephine Falls, Milla Milla Falls, Mount Hypipamee Crater, Curtain Fig Tree and Lake Eacham.
2-Day Atherton Tablelands, Mossman Gorge and Daintree Tour: Similar to the above tour, you’ll spend another day exploring Mossman Gorge and the mind-blowing Daintree Rainforest.
Things To Do In Atherton Tablelands
We’ll break this section up so you know what to look out for with sections including Atherton Tablelands waterfalls, things to do in Atherton Tablelands and where to stay. Let’s start with a map of all of the places mentioned in this post so you can plan your trip!
Atherton Tablelands Waterfalls
As you can see, there are so many Atherton Tablelands waterfalls to consider. We’re going to talk about some of the best one’s to consider visiting during your trip. I reckon you could easily spend about a month in this area exploring waterfalls everyday!
One thing to consider is, if it’s raining when you get to the waterfalls, make the effort to get out of your car and go see them. Although most of the waterfalls mentioned in this post are located within five minutes from the carpark, when we went, there were plenty of times we nearly didn’t get out of the car, but we did. When you start walking in the rainforest, you forget it’s raining because you’re almost protected. Then when you get to the falls, you it honestly won’t matter if it’s raining.
Most people come to Atherton Tablelands to visit the Waterfall Circuit. There are three of the most famous Cairns waterfalls to visit all that don’t require any walking, in a ring road around the tablelands that make up the circuit. The most famous and arguably the best waterfall in Australia is Millaa Millaa Waterfall. Not far down the road, you’ll come to Elinjaa Falls and then Zillie Falls. Let’s talk about them in a bit more detail.
1. Millaa Millaa Waterfall
Millaa Millaa Waterfall in Cairns is absolutely stunning! This picture perfect Atherton Tablelands waterfall makes for one of the best day trips from Cairns. You’ll find loads of Millaa Millaa tours and coaches here, making it the most popular waterfall in Cairns that we personally visited. We can see why though! It’s so gorgeous, it almost looks un-real!
Random fact! Did you know Peter Andre filmed his Mysterious Girl video at Millaa Millaa Waterfall?
If you want to get the most amazing photograph of Millaa Milla Waterfall, come at sunrise before the crowds get here. There are some walking tracks around the edge of the falls so you could spend hours photographing it from different angles. When we visited it was raining but hot and busy.
It felt like Elinjaa Falls was a bit more of a hidden gem compared to Millaa Millaa Waterfall down the road. When we arrived it was raining and there was a family at the car park wondering whether they could be bothered to walk down to the Atherton Tablelands waterfall. It looks like it’s a longish walk but it takes literally five minutes to walk down to the falls. When you get to the bottom, it’s really beautiful and definitely worth a visit for sure.
3. Zillie Falls
When we arrived at Zillie Falls the rain was pelting down. I had seen some awesome photos online but we decided not to walk to the bottom. When we arrived at this Atherton Waterfall, there weren’t many people here. The car park is just over the road from the waterfall but it takes about 10-15 minutes to walk to the bottom of Zillie Falls. Make sure you wear hiking boots for this walk as the rocks are slippery and it won’t be fun in thongs.
Other Nearby Waterfalls In Atherton Tablelands
There are so many Cairns waterfalls to visit, but in this post, we’ll just mention some of the best waterfalls in Atherton Tablelands to visit.
4. Barron Falls
Barron Falls is actually in the popular touristy town of Kuranda, located about an hour north of Atherton, and 40 minutes from Cairns. When we visited during Christmas time, this is easily the most impressive waterfall in Australia. Because it was the wet season, I have never seen a waterfall this large in Australia before. It’s an amazing sight and would be seen even better from the cable car. You can book your Skyrail Rainforest Cableway tickets here to make sure you don’t miss out.
5. Windin Falls
Windin Falls must be one of the most popular waterfalls in Atherton Tablelands, thanks to becoming popular on Instagram. A lot of our followers recommended this Cairns hike and even though it’s totally on our bucket list, we just ran out of time to do it. Plus! It was raining then, so it wouldn’t have been fun as the hike takes about 1h30m to get there.
Located near to Malanda in Wooroonooran National Park, it’s famous for having spectacular views and almost an infinity pool at the top of the falls. Be very careful and don’t get into the water the top of the falls, nothing will stop you from being swept over the top of the falls.
To get to the car park for Windin Falls, you’ll need to follow signs to Lamins Hill Lookout before turning left onto the Old Cairns Track. Continue on this track to the Old Windin Falls Trailhead.
6. Millstream Falls
I so wish we visited Millstream Falls as it looks incredible! As the widest single-drop waterfall in Australia, it’s an impressive spot you’ll want to come to. There’s two waterfalls here, Big Millstream Falls and Little Millstream Falls. Both falls are right near to the carpark and not much walking is required. This waterfall in Cairns is located just outside of Ravenshoe, the highest town in Queensland.
7. Tully Falls
About 35 minutes past Millstream falls is Tully Falls in the beautiful Tully Falls National Park. It is more of a hidden gem than Windin Falls and it takes less time to get to. Simply follow the signs to Tully Gorge Lookout, which should take about a 1 hour drive from Atherton. At the end of the road, it’s just a 10 minute walk to Tully Falls.
8. Nandroya Falls
I really wanted to go to Nandroya Falls but unfortunately it was the one we had to leave off our list. Considering you can literally park up and visit most of the Cairns waterfalls without too much walking involved, Nandroya Falls takes about 40 minutes to walk to. It’s recommended to leave a good couple of hours aside to get to and from the waterfall to enjoy it. To me, it looks like one of the prettiest waterfalls in Atherton Tablelands.
You’ll need to head to Henrietta Campground which is not far from the waterfall circuit to start the this hike which you should be able to get to in a normal car.
9. Clamshell Falls In Behana Gorge
If you continue down the road from Walsh’s Pyramid which we talk more about in this article, you’ll come to the car park for Clamshell Falls in Behana Gorge. We were about to embark on a walk to the Atherton Tablelands waterfall, until we came across a couple returning from it.
Unfortunately, because we were visiting during cyclone season in Tropical North Queensland, they said that they hiked for 45 minutes, hoping to go for a swim. Because the force of the water gushing down the waterfall was too strong, they couldn’t get the photos or experience they were hoping for.
We decided not to do the hike and got back in the car because it was raining, but I regret that now as it was definitely a waterfall I really wanted to see in person.
There’s a popular Cairns tour to Behana Gorge you should check out, which includes canyoning, swimming and walking through the rainforest!
10. Babinda Boulders & Devils Pool
I was really surprised how much I really loved Babinda Boulders. I was expecting it to be similar to Mossman Gorge in popularity, and although it was busier than other places we went to, there’s something just gorgeous about this stunning swimming spot. The turquoise water is so beautiful, you’ll feel like you’ve found somewhere so special you could spend all day here. Plus you can simply park up and the swimming spot is right there in front of you. There are toilet facilities and picnic benches here as well.
There is a track on the right of the playground which will take you a bit more upstream away from the crowds. I discovered it as we were leaving, and would have loved to check out the whole area if we had more time.
There’s also another track to Devils Pool which I was looking forward to seeing. It only takes about five minutes to walk to but it’s a great spot to take some drone photos. Don’t jump the fence to swim in, there have been accidents here and it’s not safe.
11. Josephine Falls
Josephine Falls was another one of those moments that we wondered whether to walk the 700m from the carpark to the falls because it was pouring with rain. As soon as we started walking through the rainforest, it really didn’t matter. When we arrived at Josephine Falls, we were totally blown away. This is an incredible waterfall everyone should put on their list to visit. You can climb up on the boulder and slide down the waterfall!
There’s a couple of viewing platforms up to the waterfall although we only went to the bottom one, it’s a truely special place to visit.
More Things To Do In Atherton Tablelands
While we’ve covered some of the best waterfalls in Atherton Tablelands to visit, let’s crack on with more things to do in Atherton Tablelands. There’s a lot going on here so be prepared to put aside a couple of days to make the most of it.
12. Take A Hot Air Balloon Flight Over Atherton Tablelands
If you’re staying in Cairns, definitely experience a hot air balloon flight over Atherton Tablelands. It’s something we 100% would have done if we had more time, now knowing how stunning the countryside truly is there. I think this would be a really memorable experience! You’ll be picked up from your Cairns accommodation and driven to the site to take a bucket list experience over the Atherton Tablelands.
13. Paronella Park
I have wanted to visit Paronella Park for a few years now. This amazing Spanish castle was built by Jose Paronella in 1935. With a long-running history of battling cyclones, Jose’s dream lives on in this incredible place which was once an entertainment park complete with lawn bowls, swimming pool and a ballroom with a large crystal ball. I’ve never seen anything like it anywhere before, it’s no wonder it’s known as the best tourist attraction in Cairns! Plus! If you love taking photos for Instagram, you’ll absolutely love this place!
We saw the sign to Mamu Tropical Sky Walk and just spontaneously decided to check it out. It actually became a highlight for us as we loved this gorgeous walk amongst the tree tops. We were the only people there at the time walking in the rain, but there felt something kinda magical about it.
If you’re visiting Paronella Park, you can get a combo ticket with Mamu Tropical Skywalk and save a few dollars. I highly recommend doing both if you can.
15. Crawfords Lookout
I remember seeing Crawford’s Lookout on Instagram and couldn’t believe it was in Australia. I honestly thought it looked like somewhere in The Amazon, so I was really looking forward to visiting this magical spot. There’s a trail which will take you out to catch glimpses of the spectacular Wet Tropics World Heritage Area.
Crawford’s Lookout is located not far from Mamu Skywalk and Paronella Park, and makes a quick stop before you head up to the Waterfall Circuit.
16. Hypipamee Crater
We had no idea Hypipamee Crater existed until we randomly saw a sign to it and we just felt intrigued to check it out. It’s often the spontaneous places we go to end up being pretty spectacular, and this one is no exception. It’s about a 5-minute walk from the car park to this huge crater in Cairns! We couldn’t believe how amazing it really is so we flew our drone up to get a better view.
The sheer granite walls and bright green water which is 72m deep is enough for anyone to have a wow moment. It was completely unexpected and a joy to discover. Apparently, freshwater shrimp live in this crater lake!
There is a walk onto Dinner Falls but we didn’t do it as it was pouring with rain. The Mount Hypipamee Crater is just a 20 minute drive from Atherton and 30 minute drive from Millaa Millaa Falls.
17. Swim In Lake Eacham
One of our absolute favourite things to do in Atherton Tablelands is to swim in Lake Eacham. This massive crater lake is a World Heritage Listed landmark, dating back to around 12,000 years. At nearly 5 square-kilometres, and 65m deep, the lake changes colour throughout the day from deep blue to turquoise green.
There’s a sign up asking you to watch out for a crocodile but to be honest, when we asked the locals they all said it was rubbish! We visited late in the afternoon and early morning and both times were just stunning. A local told us how loads of oldies living in the area will go for their morning swim across the entire length of the lake and back. I was gobsmacked because to me, there’s no way I could do that with it being 65m deep. When you walk into the lake, it literally just drops. By the edge, you can sit down, but you’ll probably have a fish foot spa as they like to nibble your feet!
The drive into Lake Eacham is absolutely beautiful too. The rainforest looks so old, it makes you feel like you’re entering into a proper gem, which it is. If you walk to the left path of the car park, you’ll come to a pontoon which kids love to jump off. Continue walking around the path and you’ll notice the colour of the lake turning more green.
It’s a wonderful place we would come back to time and time again. I’m sure it must get super busy during the day, but regardless of the crowds, it’s a swim you must do. Before I jumped into the water, I didn’t fully appreciate it so make sure you do!
18. Lake Barrine Tea House For Afternoon Tea
When I read you can go for afternoon tea at Lake Barrine, obviously I knew I had to check it out. This family run restaurant has been open for the last 80 years, serving up the same delicious scone recipe! We loved it here and totally felt like we could have been in the Scottish Highlands. There’s something very peaceful about it too. The scones are good but it comes with whipped cream, not clotted cream :(. Also, you can’t swim in this lake.
19. The Curtain Fig Tree
We had no idea how incredible The Curtain Fig Tree in Atherton Tablelands would truly be. We were speechless when we decided to pull over to see what it was all about and couldn’t believe how remarkable it honestly is. Put this on your list for things to do in Atherton Tablelands! It’s located just outside of the gorgeous town of Yungaburra.
20. Visit Yungaburra
As we said at the beginning of this article we weren’t exactly blown over by the town of Atherton. Thankfully Yungaburra made up for it as it’s a gorgeous little town, and one of the oldest towns in Atherton Tablelands.
We popped into the Spender And Murphy Bookstore and met Tony who was a real character. He was actually born in Wales and was the first person to mention the similarities with the rolling hills as the Scottish Highlands. We bought a cool book called 100 things to do in Tropical North Queensland which came in handy during our trip. You might like to check it out when you’re planning your trip too!
We recommend checking out Our Place Restaurant in Yungaburra which serves up fantastic food. We also ate at the historic Yungaburra Hotel and had a classic chicken parmie. It’s worth popping into this pub as they have loads of photos dating back to nearly 100 years.
It’s also worth noting the annual Tablelands Folk Festival which takes place in October and brings in large crowds for a fun weekend.
21. Check Out The Wacky Crystal Caves
If there’s one thing you should do in the town of Atherton, you must visit the Crystal Caves! We thought it was going to be rubbish but we ended up having so much fun there, we got completely sucked in and ended up buying some crystals at the end in the shop. The point is, as someone who has never been into crystals before, it’s a fascinating place. Founded by a Dutch guy called Rene Boissevain, it’s literally a museum of his personal crystal collection which he brought to life nearly 40 years ago. He still lives in the area and comes into the shop daily.
Although it looks confusing because it honestly looks like a shop from the outside, you’ll wonder where the caves are when you walk in. Before you know it, you’ll be given a torch and hard hat before entering an underground man-made interactive cave. We loved it, but if you have kids, they’ll probably love it more! I think we were just so surprised because we had such low expectations. Go visit this place, you’ll never see anything else like it in the world!
22. Hou Wang Temple
The Hou Wang Temple was built in 1903 when a large population of Chinese residents living and working at Cedar Camp. Apparently this is the only temple dedicated to Hou Wang outside of China itself. A lot of the fittings were made in China and brought to Australia so it could be built and it’s now a museum.
Address: Hou Wang Temple, 86 Herberton Road, Atherton, Queensland, 4883
23. Atherton Tablelands Food Trail
Make sure you check out the Atherton Tablelands Food Trail! With so many unique places to stop to support local businesses, some of the best produce can be found at the following places:
Start with Skybury Coffee Plantation and you’ll never try a better cup of fresh coffee from Australia’s oldest coffee plantation. Head over to the Malanda Dairy Centre or Gallo Dairyland and pick up local cheeses and milk. Mungalli Creek Dairy and Teahouse is also a popular choice, serving up excellent cheese boards overlooking the stunnginly gorgeous rolling hills.
Pop over to Nerada Tea which has been serving up some of Australia’s best loved teas since 1880s. Decide between strawberry picking, ice cream or jam at Shaylee’s Strawberries and meet some farm animals while trying the local spirits and liquers at the fun Mt. Uncle Distillery.
24. Historic Village Herberton
We were blown away by the Historic Village Herberton! Just outside of the small town lies an amazing collection of houses and buildings preserved from 1800-1900s. Set on 16 acres, you could literally spend the day stepping back in time and looking at more than 50 restored buildings.
It’s no wonder this is the most significant museum in Queensland, and I’m sure it’s up there as one of the best museums in Australia. You’ll find old workers cottages complete with clothing and items, antique machinery, a pub, school and so much more. The amount of detail that’s gone into this museum in Atherton Tablelands is unbelievable. I loved seeing the newspapers from the day man stepped on the moon, to noticing the details in the shops and pharmacy and seeing the old cars.
Regardless of whether you have children, it would be hard not to be fascinated with this place. We ended up spending about three hours here, although we could have spent longer to be honest! Book your entry ticket to Herberton Historic Village before you arrive here.
25. Spy & Camera Museum Herberton
Up the road from the Historic Museum Herberton is the Spy & Camera museum in Herberton. Although the town is tiny and comprises of one street, this is kinda random but super cool. You have to pay $20pp for a guided tour to see the owner’s personal collection of some of the rarest spy cameras in the world. You won’t find anywhere else like it in Australia!
Although it’s a campground, Granite Gorge brings in tourists from Cairns. It’s major drawcard are the resident rock wallabies. It’s also home to a swimming hole and some walking paths.
27. Walsh’s Pyramid
Did you know Cairns is home to the highest free standing pyramid in the world? Walsh’s Pyramid in Cairns has become one of those Instagram attractions. When we went to visit it, there are loads of signs up along the road saying private property. If you want to get the shot, simply head toward Behana Gorge capark and turn around back on yourself. Then you’ll realise this is the spot where everyone takes the photo. Unluckily for us, the weather wasn’t great so our insta reality didn’t match up!
You can also hike up to the top of the 922m tall pyramid which should take around 3 hours return.
28. Visit Chillagoe Caves
Although Chillagoe Caves are a two hour drive west of Atherton Tablelands, it’s worth mentioning because they look so amazing! Apparently, there are between 600 to 1000 caves in the Chillagoe-Mungana area. It’s been known that Chillagoe Caves has the most diverse geology in the world and is one of the best day trips from Cairns. Luckily you can jump on a day trip from Cairns to Cillagoe Caves and learn from the locals!
Where To Stay In Atherton Tablelands
Families: The Lake House in Yungaburra is a gorgeous holiday home for up to six people. Expect views of the sun setting over the lake in the backyard. Doesn’t get more beautiful than this! Ninium of two night stay.
Luxury couples only retreat:Mt Quincan Crater Retreat has exceptional views, spa bath, a fire place and jaw dropping views over Atherton Tablelands.
Affordable resort:Tinaroo Lake Resort is a popular option and offers 1, 2 or 3 bed apartments complete with a swimming pool and all resort mod cons.