If you are planning a trip to the Atherton Tablelands there’s no shortage of things to do and see. If dancing birds and kangaroos that climb trees aren’t enough; the picturesque area rich in birds, wildlife, history, national parks, magical waterfalls, local food and wine will convince you to plan the perfect getaway.
Spot a Tree Kangaroo
Kangaroos living in trees sound like a Dreamtime Story and many people have never heard of them. The elusive Lumholtz tree kangaroo is found only in North Queensland’s high-altitude rainforest. They belong in the same family as other kangaroos. The difference is they climb trees and spend most of their time in the tree tops. This makes them hard to spot. With patience you have an opportunity to see them in the following locations.
- Nerada Tea Plantation – Call in for a cuppa and you may spot one of the resident tree kangaroos. (No 1 site for almost a guaranteed sighting).
- Malanda Falls
- Peterson Creek – Walk around the creek to spot platypus and tree kangaroos.
- Curtain Fig National Park – Check out the magnificent Fig tree and keep an eye out as many sightings here.
- Check out the Mt Hypipamee volcanic crater and Dinner Falls. The high-altitude rainforest supports a population of tree kangaroos, possums and gliders. The park is also home to the rare Golden bower bird.
One of the most popular natural attractions in the Atherton Tablelands is Windin Falls. Lose yourself in this infinity pool that plummets to eternal depths below. Witness the sunrise over the mountains and magical valley views. This means an early start of 3 am or camp up here the night before. The moderate 7 km one way walk through the rainforest takes about 90 minutes. Keep your eyes out as you may meet a cassowary foraging for fallen fruit and seeds on the track! About 300 metres before you get to the falls you can camp the night in a large clearing. From here the steepest part of the hike leads to the falls. Heavy rain makes the track muddy and the strong flow of water can make it too dangerous to enter the pool. Always exercise caution and common sense in fast flowing water and edges. Incidents and a fatality occurred here due to the fast-flowing water and long drop off. These falls are not suitable for young children due to the nature of the falls and no mobile phone service.
There is some confusion how to get to the falls as two tracks go up either side of the falls. The following is the official track to Windin Falls.
- From Malanda travel 6.2 km on the Lake Barrine Rd towards Cairns highway and turn right on Topas Rd.
- Travel about 9.5 km along Topas Rd and pass the State School. Turn left onto Old Cairns Track. Proceed for 0.6 km and then turn right on Gourka Rd.
- Continue on Gourka Rd for 6.5km and you will arrive at the car park for Windin Falls.
- The alternative track is to continue on the Old Cairns Track for about 7 km and the entrance is on the right (not recommended). The road is rough and there is no car park. Google and GPS may take you this way.
- If you plan to trek up here for sunrise or stay for sunset remember to take a torch.
Catch sight of the dinosaur-like cassowary. With some estimates of less than 1000 in the wild, sightings are infrequent but you may spot one when you least expect it. Their bright blue neck, brilliant blues, purples, orange and pink wattles are hard not to miss! Kuranda is a good place to see them, especially on the outskirts of town. We always see one or two at Mt Hypipamee. Etty Bay on the coast is one of the best places to see them and they are used to humans here. Keep an eye out for poo with their favourite rainforest fruits. The purple cassowary plum and the bright red quandong berries! Always be Cass-O-wary. While not aggressive, Dad is protective of his chicks. He can inflict serious injury if he thinks his babies are threatened. Never feed cassowaries. This encourages aggressive behavior and stops Dads teaching their chicks self-reliance in the rainforest.
The Waterfall Circuit
This 10 km loop leads to three tropical waterfalls. The first is the famous Millaa Millaa Falls, the most photographed in Queensland. The creek flows through lush rainforest before gushing into a pool below. Get here early and soak yourself in the refreshing pools before the crowds arrive. A short drive from here is the more natural Zillie Falls and the cascading Ellinjaa Falls. You may even glimpse platypus hunting for freshwater shrimp here. The waterfalls on the circuit are all easy access and a short walk to get to. The best time to visit the waterfalls is mid-end of wet season. Contrary to what you hear they are not beautiful all year round. During the dry season waterfalls trickle and swimming holes can turn to stagnant ponds.
Spot the nocturnal platypus at Peterson Creek in Yungaburra. It was first thought as a mystical creature due to the unusual combination of the duck bill and webbed feet. The semi-aquatic animal belongs in an exclusive group with the echidna. They are the only egg laying mammals in the world. Shy and suspicious they are hard to spot but you may see them here. There is a viewing platform at the bridge but most of the sightings are on the walking track around the creek.
- Platypus have excellent hearing, so stay quiet as possible.
- The best viewing times are early morning and late afternoon but there is a chance to observe them anytime of the day especially on a cloudy day.
- Watch for circular ripple and bubbles which indicates a platypus below.
- Look for a V shaped bow wave caused from their front feet paddling.
- Look for visible burrows in the riverbank just along the water’s edge.
The canopy of the rainforest opens up to reveal a single drop 50 metre waterfall that descends a vertical cliff. Foliage and moss decorate the walls of the serenity pool where the cold mountain water is pure bliss after the humid hike. Nandroya is off the touristy trail and you will likely find it deserted. Take a picnic and be at one with the tranquility. The 3 km rainforest track and longer loops start at the Henrietta Creek campground and passes Silver Falls. Henrietta Creek is a great place to camp with amenities, walks and waterfalls. Watch the captivating light show as thousands of fireflies dance and twinkle throughout the night. It’s also not far from other attractions. The Mamu Skywalk’s tropical walk in the clouds with sweeping views of the rainforest and Crawford’s Lookout. The 1.5 km track leads to stunning views of the Johnstone River.
Atherton Tablelands has an ecosystem like nowhere else in the world. Endemic birds such as the Bridled honeyeater and the Tooth billed bowerbird make it a bird watchers’ destination. Discover the amphitheatre of bird songs. The whip crack sound of the Eastern whip bird. Cat-like wailing cry of the Spotted cat bird. Haunting calls of the chowchilla. At night the bomb falling whistle of the Lesser sooty owl echoes through the rainforest like a falling star. Catch sight of the Double-eyed fig parrot, Australia’s tiniest parrot feeding on native berries and figs. Follow the “womp” “woo” calls and find the most beautiful and colourful dove in the world, the Wompoo fruit dove.
The Tablelands has its very own Bird of Paradise, the Victoria rifle bird. Be spellbound when he performs a dramatic mating dance. Admire the rare Golden bowerbird as he decorates his nest with rainforest flowers to attract the females. Dancing Brolgas and Sarus cranes migrate here during the months of May and December. Feel the love as they reinforce their lifelong bond by dancing with each other. Often seen in the open paddocks on the Tablelands they are a sight to behold.
As the sun sets watch the Magpie geese and Whistling ducks return to Hasties Swamp for the night. Buff-breasted Paradise kingfishers and Blue-Face parrot finches migrate to Mt Lewis National park every year. The kingfishers migrate from Papua New Guinea every year to nest in special termite mounds in the high altitude rainforest. Once the chicks hatch and learn to fly they make the arduous journey back to PNG. The park is a special place above the clouds where more than 40 unique and threatened species exist.
Local Bird Watching Tours that operate in the Atherton Tablelands
- Sicklebill Safaris A local Birding and Photography tour operator offering local, Australian and worldwide excursions.
- Tropical North Queensland Bird Safaris Birding tours with Del Richards from the outback to the high altitude of Mount Lewis.
Explore the woodlands, rocky ridges, creeks, waterfalls and the natural infinity pool. This is a special place on the Atherton Tablelands if you seek a peaceful few days in native bushland. Pitch a tent under shady Eucalyptus trees beside the creek. Camping is available at Lower and Upper Davies creek. Our tent at Site 2 Upper Davies was beside the creek and had its own waterfall. If you book Site 1 and 2 at Upper Davies you will have the whole place to yourself. We spent a couple of days here with only the company of birds, a pair of Rufous bettongs and Brushtail possums. The campsites have toilets and BBQs but you need to bring your own firewood. Camping spots here are sought-after especially during school holidays so book in advance. The starting point for the Kahlpahlim Rock trail also starts at Davies Creek.
For a guaranteed sighting of one of Australia’s iconic animals head to Mareeba Golf Course. Enticed by the green grass and shady trees, mobs of Grey kangaroos commune here. About 400 of them! Hire a buggy and get close to them in their natural environment. In the late afternoon they rest in the shade and you can watch the friendly boxing matches between the boys. Adorable babies poke their heads out of mum’s pouch, and older babies put their feet on the ground for the first time in wonder of the world around them. Keep an eye out for other wildlife such as frilled necked lizards and birds.
Emerald Creek Falls
Like a mirage in the dry eucalyptus landscape the picturesque falls spill down gold and cream granite rock into a cool dark pool where you can swim out under the waterfall. Other swimming holes start at the carpark and run along the track to the waterfalls. Make use of the facilities and spend the day here. Bring lunch and fire up one of the wooden BBQs. Be careful on the slippery rocks around the waterfall as it’s dangerous especially in the wet. Emerald Escape Camping is a private campground near the creek. With camp fires allowed and private sites, it’s an ideal location to explore the area from.
Mareeba Rock Wallabies
These cute and endangered Rock wallabies are only found at Granite Gorge, a privately owned nature park. Here you can buy packets of pellets and the wallabies will eat from your hand. The unlimited food can discourage them to forage for their own food and make them reliant on the tourists, so we recommend that you don’t buy the pellets or only one packet. You can still get close to them in their natural environment without the food. We are also not a fan of birds and animals kept in small cages at reception.
However Granite Gorge is a special place, rich in wildlife, walking trails and swimming holes. Cabins and camping sites in a bush setting, amenities, and campfires permitted makes this a popular place to camp. Sitting with the rock wallabies and their babies on the giant granite boulders dusted with molten gold, watching the sunset change to a hundred shades of pink was the icing on the cake for us here.
Australia’s widest single drop waterfall is a magnificent sight after rainfall. The water tumbles over the ledge of basalt lava and surges into the freshwater river as the sparkly spray covers you in mist from the viewing platform. Though officially no camping it’s a great place to pull up for a while. The park has toilets and picnic tables. Kookaburras in the lemon scented eucalyptus gums may be your only company in the dry open woodland. There are also historic trails here due to the zone being an army training camp in World War II. There is no safe access to the base for swimming but you can swim at Little Millstream Falls. Though only about 500 metres upstream from here it’s about a 10-minute drive. Go back into Ravenshoe and you will see a signpost for Little Millstream Falls. The waterfalls feature a trio of falls that plunge into a large deep swimming hole. Walking trails into the Misty Mountains also start from here.
Atherton Tablelands is a biodiverse hotspot and one of David Attenborough’s favourite places on the planet! Here you can see the endemic wildlife and birds in his documentaries. Lumholtz tree kangaroos, Yellow-bellied gliders, and Rufous bettongs to name a few. Tree kangaroos are not the only kangaroos that live in the high-altitude rainforest here. Red legged pademelons and the smallest kangaroo in the world, the prehistoric Musky-rat kangaroo also call the rainforest home. Both of these are evasive and secretive. The best chance of seeing them is at local accommodation places.
More varieties of possums and gliders live here than anywhere else in the world. They include the Striped possum, Pygmy possum, Greater glider, Sugar glider, Feather tail glider, Yellow bellied glider, Lemuroid ringtail possum, Green ringtail possum, Herbert River ringtail and of course the charismatic Brushtail possum. It’s possums galore at Mt Hypipamee and Curtain Fig National Park. You can spot all the possums and gliders here.
To improve your chances of spotting wildlife go on a specialized local tour
- Eyes on Wildlife Patrick is an eco-operator with a variety of tours available, including Birding tours, Nocturnal and Mammals Galore tours.
- FNQ Nature Tours Small group, private and custom tours specialising in the endemic wildlife of the Atherton Tableland and Daintree areas.
- Alan’s Wildlife Tours A naturalist guide focusing on tree kangaroos, birds and nocturnal wildlife on the Atherton Tablelands.
Formed by volcanic eruptions thousands of years ago the lakes are the main attractions in Crater Lake National Park. Picnic tables and BBQs make Lake Eacham the perfect place to bring lunch and splash in the deep emerald water. Keep your eye out as you may see a Victoria rifle bird practice the mating dance on a post! At Lake Barrine join a lake cruise. Finish off with a Devonshire tea in the historic teahouse above the lake. Another lake to swim, waterski, kayak or camp is Lake Tinaroo, a man-made lake. It offers accommodation and camping. Danbulla National Park has camp sites such as Platypus Bay where sites overlook the lake. Curri Curri bush camping, accessible only by boat or canoe has private lakeside sites. The sites have fire rings and a visit from a Brushtail possum and other wildlife is likely!
Treasure a unique wildlife experience at the award winning Tolga Bat Hospital. Meet the cute bats. Watch them feed and interact with each other. Learn about their lives and their significance to the environment. Thousands of injured and sick adults, babies and orphans come into care here with most of them released back into the wild successfully. This place is a gem and you will come away with a new appreciation of these beautiful and intelligent animals. The tour from the passionate owner and staff is informative and fascinating. A rewarding experience is volunteering here. The hospital always needs help especially during the months of October to February. They can have up to 200 babies at one time!
A picturesque drive through the Atherton Tablelands takes you to the Nerada Tea Plantation. Book in for their famous Devonshire tea or a special high tea. Spoil yourself with a cup of tea and freshly made scones with native plum jam and fresh cream while admiring the views across the tea estate. Have a look behind the scenes with a farm tour or tea blending experience. The Nerada Tea plantation is friendly to the environment and local wildlife. It is pesticide free, irrigates from the rainfall and participates in tree regenerating. You may see one of the resident Lumholtz tree kangaroos that call the plantation home.
Trek where wild ginger grows rampant, giant trees stretch upwards drinking in rays of sunshine, streams run crystal clear and wildlife thrives. Most of the wildlife in the rainforest is nocturnal but you may spot a Musky rat-kangaroo foraging on the forest floor, a snoozing Green ringtail possum or a dancing bird while hiking. There are walks for every level of fitness, from family friendly to challenging. Reward yourself with an invigorating dip at the end of a waterfall trail. Walk around Lake Eacham and Lake Barrine on the shady tracks under giant fig trees. Visit the Information Centre at Malanda Falls and find out about the recent wildlife sightings on the trails. For the adventurous, plan a trek to the Kahlpahlim Rock, Mount Bartle Frere or the Misty Mountains.
Our choice of walks
- The Crawfords Lookout 3 km circuit which offers spectacular views of the North Johnstone River
- The Misty Mountains Wilderness Trails
- The walks to Windin and Nandroya Falls
Enjoy a meal and a few cold drinks at Yungaburra Hotel, one of the Tablelands historic pubs. Unravel the history with the antique photographs displayed throughout the Federation architecture. Not far away stands the 1911 Malanda Hotel, the largest wooden hotel in Australia. The grand dining room, classical ball-room, silky oak staircase will make you feel like you’re stepping into another era. Relax on the verandah with a few drinks while the sun sets over the valley at the Peeramon Pub. In a picturesque location and built around 1908 the pub is friendly and popular with locals. We had the pleasure of meeting locals from Imrie Creek Koolies and Allambie Koolies. The bewitching blue-eyed working dogs were the main attraction at the pub that day!
No pub crawl can go without a visit to Ravenshoe Hotel. A magnificent timber hotel, famous for being the highest pub in Queensland. Experience the old-world charm and dine on a home-cooked meal in the historic dining room. Another pub is the Mt Malloy National Hotel. One of the oldest pubs in North Queensland with a beer garden and a country pub atmosphere. It’s a great place to stay if doing a birding tour around Julatten or Mount Lewis.
Atherton Tablelands is known for its tropical fruit plantations, farms, wineries, and cafes that use local and seasonal products with vegetarian options. Though not the hip cafe culture of Melbourne, foodies will be at home with the Kuranda outdoor dining and the heritage buildings of the Tablelands.
Try the omelets for breakfast voted as the worlds best at Cafe Azur or a smoothie bowl at Cafe Mandala that use as much fresh and local ingredients they can find. How about traditional savory or sweet French crepes at the Petit Cafe. For an authentic spicy Indian dahl visit Kanh’s Curries in Atherton for a takeaway. Relish a burger and beer at one of the historic pubs or a gourmet pizza after a day exploring the waterfalls.
Freshly bakes scones with rainforest plum jam are hard to resist while visiting a volcanic crater lake and a visit to a cheese and chocolate factory is on the list for many. Get your sugar fix with Atherton’s famous outrageous creation jars loaded with desserts, sweets and sprinkles at Petals and Pinecones. Take one of their fresh platters, a bottle of local wine and picnic at one of Atherton Tablelands scenic locations.
Shop at the local markets and fresh farm stores for fresh vegetables and tropical fruits. Avocados, mangoes, bananas, peanuts and macadamia nuts are available most of the year. Brunch or lunch in the cosy heritage cottage at Mist & Moss in Malanda. The cafe is plant based with a choice of simple vegetarian, vegan and gluten free homemade food.
Pick fresh strawberries at Shaylee Strawberry Farm and try their delectable strawberry ice-cream and jam. Taste a smorgasbord of food and wine on tasting trail with Brett’s Outback Tasting Adventures. Breakfast in the outdoor garden at Whistle Stop Café in Yungaburra. They have the most scrumptious pancakes!
The choices of camping at Atherton Tablelands is never ending. Wake up with an early morning dip at Malanda Falls or Lake Eacham before breakfast. Bush camp with wildlife at Granite Gorge. Sleep under the stars at Davies Creek or camp on the waterfront at Lake Tinaroo. Rise and shine in the misty rainforest with the chorus of bird songs. Camp on the remote treks of the Misty Mountains or start the day with stunning views on top of Queensland’s highest mountain, Mount Bartle Frere. Book campsites and camping permits before you arrive. Plan in advance for long weekends and school holidays as sites go quick.
Information on camping and walking in the National Parks
Our ideal camping spots
Drink fresh coffee direct from the plantations. Go on a tour and savor every sip of barista coffee with beans fresh from the estate. Cherish an enticing mocha mudslide cocktail garnished with rich chocolate at Jaques Coffee. Brunch on the deck from the menus that use local and fresh produce at Skybury Café and Roastery. Indulge yourself at Coffee Works expresso bar. Take in the flavours and aromas of roasted coffee, handmade cakes, chocolates, liqueurs and teas. Browse the gift shop for coffee, liqueurs and coffee flavored chocolates.
Kuranda is a village made famous for its markets, cafes, sky rail, scenic railway, Indigenous arts, natural attractions and award winning wildlife parks. If you dream of close encounters with Australian wildlife this is the place for you. Cuddle koalas at Koala Gardens and hand feed adorable kangaroos at Rainforest Nature Park. Interact with beautiful and friendly free flying birds at Birdworld. Be mesmerized by fluttering blue Ulysses and Birdwing butterflies at the Butterfly Sanctuary. Travel on the sky rail from Cairns and return by train to experience Kuranda and the best views of the rainforest. Kuranda is a tourist town for the day and almost closes down after 3 pm. If you stay overnight check your accommodation has all the facilities you need.
From Wooroonooran National Park, a pristine world heritage site filled with waterfalls to the open eucalyptus woodlands of Davies Creek and the dramatic Tully Gorge. Atherton Tablelands is blessed with many protected national parks. Discover bushland, mountains, rivers, sparkling lakes and waterfalls. Spot the unique wildlife and birds of the area. Count the species of kangaroos and spot gliders, possums, parrots and owls in the hollows of flowering eucalyptus tree trunks.
You may have to give way to an Amethystine python while its crossing a track! They can grow up to seven metres! Marvel at spiritual landscapes, towering fig trees, prehistoric fern trees and never-ending gorges and green valleys. Trek or bike on world class mountain bike trails that meander through rainforest, eucalyptus gums, mahogany trees and open savannah. Canoe or kayak on glistening volcanic lakes and afterwards surround yourself in total isolation while camping under the umbrella canopy of the oldest rainforest in the world.
Wineries in the Atherton Tablelands produce wines from a diversity of tropical fruits. The celler doors are not as sophisticated as the southern wineries but they are worth a visit to do a tasting or buy a bottle. Sample the world class fruit wine at De Brueys Boutique Wines. Taste the mango, lychee and the award-winning passion fruit wine. Our preference is their native bush cherry wine and decadent chocolate and rum liquor. If you love mangos, visit the family-owned Golden Drop Winery. Famous for their mango wines; a dry, sweet and a sparkly mango. Try their exotic dragon fruit wine and luscious fruit liquors. Buy the mango one and make your own mango daiquiri! Another one to have on the list is the award-winning Mt Uncle Distillery. Uniquely set amongst leafy gardens and fruit trees, with an adorable menagerie of animals, here you can taste the botanic inspired liquors, gins, whiskeys and vodkas or buy a bottle. Try the world’s first and only marshmallow liquor. Yum!
History of the Atherton Tablelands
Step back in time and immerse yourself in the rich history of the area. The Herberton Historic Village features 50 original buildings packed with interesting artifacts and antiques. Unearth the stories of the agriculture, tin mining and gold rush days of the region. The exhibits are some of the most significant in Queensland. They include rare antiques, horse drawn carriages, milk carts, and the 1883 Cobb & Co Coach. The Colonial furniture made from local red cedar and silky oak at Elderslie House is a highlight. Go on a train ride on the Tinlander. Imagine the bygone era when leaving the 107-year-old historic railway station. Every year the past comes alive at the Pioneer weekend. Demonstrations, entertainment and fashions of the Victorian era will make you feel nostalgic. For history buffs the Malanda Dairy Museum also displays pictorial and interesting relics of the early pioneer days. The Mareeba Heritage Centre is a special place that takes you on a classical journey with historical displays and exhibits. After delving into the history visit their lovely cafe for local coffee and tasty food.
Stay in Unique Accommodation
Accommodation places on the Atherton Tablelands that cater for wildlife enthusiasts and bird watchers
- Lumholtz Lodge Margit the host cares for wildlife and as a guest you have an opportunity to see the resident wildlife such as tree kangaroos, pademelons, bettongs and possums. If you’re lucky Nelson the tree kangaroo may visit the guesthouse during your stay.
- Crater Lakes Rainforest Cottages Romantic Cottages in the rainforest with fireplaces. Wildlife abounds on your doorstep. Pademelons and Musky-rat kangaroos are regular visitors and you can feed them special food from your private veranda. Home to Victoria rifle birds and during the mating season you have a chance to see them dance.
- The Canopy Tree Houses Gorgeous tree houses snuggled in the rainforest beside the creek. During our stay the resident cassowaries and possums did visit us.
- Rose Gums Wilderness Retreat Secluded rainforest retreat with morning visits from lorikeets, parrots and an opportunity to spot other wildlife.
- Chambers Wildlife Rainforest Lodges Simple accommodation including cottages and a five bedroom house in the rainforest and close to Lake Eacham. At night join the viewing platform for pademelons, possums and sugar gliders. A walking path from here leads to platypus ponds.
- Atherton Bird Watchers Cottage A cabin in peaceful rainforest and woodlands. A special place that supports rich flora and fauna. Birds, tree kangaroos, possums and gliders abound here. A great place to see the rifle birds dancing during the mating season.
- Mt Quincan Crater Retreat Luxury and romantic cabins with a fireplace and a possibility of seeing tree kangaroos and other wildlife. From here you can walk to the top of the crater and watch the sunset.
- Possum Valley Rainforest Cottages Rustic cottages in the rainforest. Friendly possums visit at night and pademelons graze in front of the cottages. Home to seven species of possums, birds, tree kangaroos and platypus.
- Kingfisher Park Birdwatchers Lodge Famous for its population of Buff-breasted Paradise kingfishers during November and April.
- Sweetwater Lodge Premier lodge in the Mount Lewis rainforest with abundant birdlife.