The Atherton Tablelands is one of the best-kept secrets in Australia and is full of attractions, natural wonders, charming towns and villages and plenty to see and do. The Atherton Tablelands waterfalls are one of the most popular highlights and this guide will help you work out which ones to see and how to get to them.
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Where is the Atherton Tablelands?
The Atherton Tablelands is a very fertile region located around 90 kilometres west of Cairns in Far North Queensland.
It covers almost 65,000 square kilometres from the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area in the east, the Einasleigh Uplands in the south, the Gulf Plains to the west and the Cape York Peninsula in the north. Its this expanse and its elevation that means it lacks the humidity of the coastal parts of FNQ and has a fairly temperate climate.
Much of the tablelands is also set on a volcanic plateau making the soil rich in nutrients and home to many thriving farms and producers. The area is known for its beef cattle, dairy products and crops such as bananas, mangoes, avocadoes, coffee, mixed vegetables and even tobacco.
The main towns on the Tablelands are Mareeba, Malanda, Millaa Millaa, Kuranda, Yungaburra and of course, Atherton.
When to visit the Atherton Tablelands
With such a temperate climate the Atherton Tablelands is actually great to visit year-round.
In summer it is significantly cooler than its neighbours in Cairns, Port Douglas, Palm Cove and other parts of Coastal North Queensland due to its altitude and can see many day trippers from those places coming to cool off in the many lakes, dams and waterfalls.
Spring – September through November
A very pleasant time to visit although things may be a little dry after winter. Expect day time temperatures to sit around 22-24 degrees.
Summer – December through February
This is when it is likely to rain and is also known as Green Season. Even if it does get a bit steamy during the day you can cool off in the many waterfalls, dams and swimming holes found in the area and it also means the waterfalls are quite spectacular. Summer is when the tropical areas really come alive and the whole tableland is revitalised.
Autumn – March through May
A beautiful time to visit with everything lush and green after the summer rain. Expect cool nights and temperatures go down to 12-15 degrees.
Winter – June to August
This is actually one of the more popular times to visit the Atherton Tablelands as people look for a cool break from their year-round warm weather in North Queensland. The Atherton Tablelands is the only part of North Queensland where you will actually find open log-fires blazing during winter. The skies will be iridescent blue and there can be a lot of frost. Expect night time temperatures to be below 10 degrees.
How to get the Atherton Tablelands
Most visitors will arrive on the Tablelands from the coastal towns of Cairns, Port Douglas and Palm Cove to the east by driving up the Kennedy Highway and through Kuranda or via the Gillies Range Road just south of Cairns. ( be warned the Gillies is very pretty but does have 263 turns in only 19 kilometres of road!).
Other visitors arrive from the South – Townsville and beyond – by driving up the Palmerston Highway from Innisfail which is a very easy drive and great if you want to stop and see incredible Paronella Park en route. You also may see a Cassowary or two!
There are small airports on the Tablelands but none that receive Commercial flights at this point.
Atherton Tablelands Accommodation
There are a lot of choices across the Tablelands although no big chain hotels or resorts, yet!
If you are visiting for the first time we recommend staying somewhere quite central and the pretty town of Yungaburra or nearby Atherton are perfect.
Yungaburra was established in 1890 and is listed by the National Trust of Queensland due to its many historic buildings. There are some very charming B&Bs in Yungaburra such as Eden House retreat and Crater Lakes Rainforest Cottages at nearby Lake Eacham.
Just outside Yungaburra perched on the edge of a volcanic crater is beautiful Mt Quincan Crater retreat with sweeping views across the plains.
For families and groups Rest House is a great 3 bedroom house within walking distance to the shops and restaurants and the historic pub. It’s pet friendly too!
Rest House Yungaburra
Mt Quincan Retreat
Things to do on the Atherton Tablelands
There is so much to see and do in this part of Australia!
The Atherton Tablelands waterfalls are of course very popular but further to that there are a number of other highlights. With the climate covering dry savannah thorough to wet tropics there is so much diversity and year round attractions and natural beauty.
Highlights of the Atherton Tablelands:
Atherton Tablelands Waterfalls
Millaa Millaa Falls
💙 18.3 meters high
💙 One of the most photographed waterfalls in Australia
💙 Easy roadside access
Millaa Millaa Falls are one of the most accessible on the Tablelands and the most photographed. These are heritage listed falls that were added to the Queensland Heritage Register in 2005.
‘Millaa Millaa’ is an aboriginal phrase that refers to the rainforest vine Elaeagnus Triflora, prolific across the tropics.
The falls are 18.3 metres high and have a wide pool at the base which is great for a dip that includes a concrete base for easy access. Like many waterfalls in the area, they are formed from volcanic basalt.
Where are Millaa Millaa Falls?
To access Millaa Millaa Falls turn on to Theresa Creek rd at The Falls Teahouse and you will soon come to Milla Falls Road where you will find a carpark, toilets and picnic facilities near the falls which is a short walk from the road.
Millaa Millaa Falls are often visited along with Ellinjaa Falls and Zillie Falls in what is known as the Millaa Millaa Waterfall Circuit.
💙 80 metre drop
💙 almost roadside access
Zillie Falls is on the Millaa Millaa Waterfalls Circuit and is one of the most impressive in the area.
It is a very high waterfall with thundering sound and not really suitable for swimming, but definitely worth seeing.
The walking path can get very muddy and is quite steep so be sure to wear appropriate footwear.
How to get to Zillie Falls
Located on the Elinjaa Falls-Theresa Creek rd, it is a 9-minute drive from Millaa Falls to Zillie Falls or 9.5kilometres from the town of Millaa Millaa.
💙 5 metre drop
💙 Roadside access
Malanda falls is a short but wide waterfall located outside the dairy town of Malanda. The pool is quite large and very popular during the summer months.
Malanda falls flow year-round and if you are staying at the adjacent caravan park there is private access from the park. The Malanda Falls Visitor Centre is also located right outside.
How to get to Malanda Falls
Malanda is located an hours drive west of Innisfail and 90 minutes South West of Cairns. Malanda Falls is located on the Malanda-Atherton rd and is well signed.
Big Millstream Falls
💙 around 80 metres wide in flood
💙 Australia’s widest single-drop waterfall
💙340 metre walk from the carpark
Big Millstream Falls is said to be Australia’s widest single-drop waterfall. Visitors cannot easily see all of it but you can certainly hear it!
It is located in the western part of the Tablelands near the town of Ravenshoe in a dry savannah region.
The water to the falls comes from the aptly named ‘Millstream’ and runs out over wide plates of eroded lava basalt which have cooled and hardened over millions of years.
There is a World War ll Heritage Walk in the area that the falls are part of. Between 1943 and 1945 over 1000 men camped in the area from Battalions of the 7th and 9th divisions.
How to get to Millstream Falls
From Millaa Millaa head west to the town of Evelyn and on to the Kennedy Highway south. After 4 kilometres you will see the signs for the falls and its carpark.
You will also see a separate entrance to the park that takes you to Little Millstream Falls some 500meters below.
Tchupala and Wallicher Falls
💙 2 kilometre round trip
💙 dense rainforest setting
Tchupala and Wallicher Falls share the same trailhead and are easy to visit together. Another waterfall, Nandroya Falls is located just above them. They are in the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area and are part of Palmerston ( Wooroonooran) National Park. The walking trails are easily accessible from the car park and are well maintained.
The trails take you through beautiful, dense rainforest which can actually get quite chilly especially in winter. There are no toilets or facilities.
How to get to Tchupala and Wallicher Falls
The falls are located close to the Palmerston Highway between Innisfail and Millaa Millaa – about a third of the way up the range driving to the Tablelands.
You can walk from Henrietta Campgrounds, where there are toilets, or park closer at the signed parking area.
Other North Queensland and Atherton Tablelands waterfalls
There are other waterfalls on the Tablelands and surrounding areas that are worth seeking out. There are also several you can stop and see on your way up to the Tablelands from Cairns, Port Douglas or even Townsville.
Barron Falls – near Cairns
Crystal Cascades – near Cairns
Davies Creek Falls – between Cairns and Mareeba
Josephine Falls – south of Babinda
Babinda Rock pools – Babinda
Mena Creek Falls – Paronella Park outside Innisfail
Caribou Falls – east of Malanda
Little Millstream Falls – right below Big Millstream Falls
Cardwell Spa Pool – Cardwell ( more of a pool than a fall)
Murray Falls – between Cardwell and Tully
Wallaman Falls – west of Ingham ( Australia’s tallest single drop)
Journama Falls – south of Ingham
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