Even if there was no Great Barrier Reef (God forbid!), no sandy beaches (forgive me for what I say!), and no pristine islands (I can't even imagine!), Tropical North Queensland would still be a top tourist destination, for the natural beauty and diversity of the Cairns Highlands, otherwise known as the Atherton Tablelands. This relaxing six day itinerary will take you through some of Australia's richest goldrush history, passing a variety of terrain, ranging from lush rainforest and cascading waterfalls to arid grassland and ancient volcanos.
This is an itinerary for travellers who appreciate a bit of variety, for those who don't mind weaving a little fine food, art, culture and history into their holiday, mixed with some of the country's most inspiring natural beauty, rich in unique wildlife. You won't just be viewing it from behind the steering wheel, you'll be experinecing the spleadour of the Atherton Tablelands from above and from underneath. We recommend you open a MAP of the Atherton Tablelands, so you can refer to it from time to time while you're reading.


From Cairns or Port Douglas, make your way to Mareeba. You'll want to get started early, because even though this is a fairly relaxed itinerary, there's still lots to see and do. If driving from Port Douglas, the inland route via Julatten is very scenic, or if coming from Cairns, Kuranda is definitely worth a stop, a pleasant spot for breakfast or brunch, and a wander. Mind you, we do suggest you make Kuranda a whole day adventure - separate from this itinerary - since GETTING TO KURANDA is half the fun!

Mareeba is the centre for a rich agricultural industry - the food bowl of the north in many ways - and the farmlands surrounding the town provide some of the country's best quality fresh produce. In fact, 'food tourism' is becoming extremely popular in Mareeba, visitors following a well blazed trail around the mango and pineapple farms, coffee plantations, and wineries. For more information about the farms and plantations or the wineries, please visit our CAIRNS HIGHLANDS FOOD TRAIL page or our WINERIES page (or both of them, why not). It wouldn't be difficult (or unpleasant!) to while away your day doing just this. But if you've a yen for some local history, you should check out the Mareeba Heritage Museum in Byrnes Street. It's open from 8.00 to 4.00 daily, and is an interesting starting point for further information on the Wheelbarrow Way, which you will be embarking on the next day. (Speaking of the next day, don't forget that Mareeba is the hot air ballooning capital of Australia, and you'll want to have your early morning balloon ride organized in advance.)

If you're more into wildlife than museums, there's a wonderful place just 12 km from Mareeba on Chewko Road, where you can hand feed gorgeous Rock Wallabies. Follow the signs to Granite Gorge Nature Park. Or take a stroll around Mareeba Tropical Savanna and Wetlands Reserve, a 5000 hectare bird and wildlife refuge which boasts over 200 species of birds. Of course, there's much more to do and see in Mareeba, but you'll have to choose, because you won't have time to do everything. You'll find more details on the range of attractions and activities on our MAREEBA TO CHILLAGOE page.

Overnight in Mareeba. We will come back with recommendations as to where to stay in Mareeba. In the meantime, you can visit all the accommodation available in our MAREEBA TO CHILLAGOE page.


Well, you won't have much choice about sleeping in this morning. Your balloon ride won't wait. Buy boy, are you in for a treat. With 300 sunny days a year, the odds are in your favour for a crisp, clear morning floating over the mountains and farmland of the beautiful Atherton Tablelands. Be sure to take lots of photographs, your friends will be green with envy!

Once you're back on solid ground, it's time to set off on the historic 'Wheelbarrow Way' to Chillagoe. Don't worry, it's only 140 kilometres, so you're not going to spend all afternoon behind the wheel. But once again, there are plenty of distractions along the way, so don't expect to get to Chillagoe real early. You'll pass through some wonderful little country villages -Mutchilba, Dimbulah, Petford - mere dots on the map in some cases. 27 kilometres north of Dimbulah, you can tour the restored Tyrconnell Historic Gold Mine, and even pan for your own gold.

If you've worked up a thirst, you can stop for a drink at the Espanol Hotel in Lappa Junction, just a few kilometres past Petford. But you won't have to worry about drink driving, because it's the only pub in Queensland with no beer!

The Chillagoe Smelter is one of the most visited attractions in Chillagoe, in the Cairns Highlands.Chillagoe is an old mining town, and the first sign of the town will be the massive chimney of the now abandoned smelter. But the big attraction in Chillagoe is the caves; a massive system of more than 600 caves, the only place in North Queensland that offers this kind of caving experience. The limestone bluffs and massive underground cave system are known as the "Reef of the Outback". The caves are the remains of coral that lived in the inland sea covering this area about 450 million years ago. The National Parks Authority conduct tours with experienced guides at 9.00 am, 11.00am and 1.30pm daily. You won't get there intime to do a tour today, but be ready for the 9.00am tour tommorow, okay? You can buy your tickets at the Chillagoe Interpretive Centre (the 'Hub').

If you've got time for a wander around town, there's a display of arts and crafts and souvenirs at the laundromat (of course!), a collection of vintage Fords at the BP fuel depot on airpot road, and an interesting historical display at the Chillagoe Creek Homestead and Fossil House.

Overnight in Chillagoe. We will come back with recommendations as to where to stay in Chillagoe. In the meantime, you can visit all the accommodation available in our MAREEBA TO CHILLAGOE page.


Return to Petford along the Wheelbarrow Way, and turn right on the Herberton-Petford Road. At Emuford, you can inspect one of the oldest mining batteries in Australia, with restored vintage vehicles and horse drawn carriages. From Emuford the road meanders up to Irvinebank, a quaint mountain village filled with character and outback folklore. It was from here that Scottish entrepreneur, John Moffat, once ruled over his vast outback mining empire. Irvinebank has been described as a 'living museum', and in fact it can feel very much like time has stood still as you stroll by the Heritage listed buildings, and cast a gaze over the old tin mill and railway station. A number of the historic buildings are open to the public, and photo opportunities abound. Budding botanists among you may also be interested to know that Irvinebank is home to two rare plant species, including a purple flowering wattle, which can be found nowhere else in the world.

Pay a visit to Loudoun House Museum, the 115 year old home of John Moffat. There is an interesting art gallery as well, with works from talented local artists on display. You can take your pick from a number of scenic and historic walks around the town. You'll find more details on our HERBERTON TO IRVINEBANK page.

But we'll keep moving, and overnight in nearby Herberton tonight. It's only about 30 kilometres away, and it makes an interesting stopover. There's a tin mining museum in Herberton, and a camera museum with displays of rare historic cameras, including the first Russian spy camera ever made. Even the local cemetery is an interesting spot for a wander, and tells the story of the hardships of the early pioneers. Even if you're not a history buff, you're sure to love Herberton. Its streets are lined with Jacaranda trees, and from points around town there are sweeping views to both sides of the Great Dividing Range.

Just a short drive southeast of Herberton is the Mount Hypipamee National Park which includes scenic Dinner Falls and the dramatic Mount Hypipamee Crater, 82 metres deep, and 61 metres across. Try to fit in a visit this afternoon if you can, or else in the morning before you rejoin the trail.

Herberton is where you'll find Australia's only tropical vineyard, so you'll be able to pick up a bottle of locally produced wine to watch the sunset by. But if you want to get out and rub shoulders with the locals, there are two pubs in town, and they are the oldest continuously licensed and operating hotels in Queensland.

Overnight in Herberton. We will come back with recommendations as to where to stay in Herberton. In the meantime, you can visit all the accommodation available in our HERBERTON TO IRVINEBANK page.


Is 8.30am too early to get started? Okay, make it 9.00am, but don't be tardy. You've got a little bit more driving today than usual - about three hours - and we promise it will be worthwhile. Today, we're bound for Undara Volcanic National Park, truly one of the region's prehistoric treasures. Undara is the largest and longest lava tube system on the planet, with a lava field that extended up to 160 kilometres from the crater. The route will take you through the towns of Ravenshoe and Mount Garnet, which will probably tempt you to stop, but keep going. We don't want to rush you, but the afternoon tours at Undara start at 1.00pm. You'll be coming back this way tomorrow, and will have more time then.

There are a choice of tours at Undara. Of course, if you wanted to do the full day tour, you would have to add a day to your itinerary. But starting at 1.00pm you can choose between an extensive 3.5 hour tour, or an easier 2 hour tour. Then, if you've still got enough energy, there's the option of a 2 hour 'wildlife at sunset' tour. Accommodation tonight is in luxuriously renovated historic railway carriages in Undara's Lava Lodge, and there's generally a programme of free evening activities in the saloon car; maybe bush poetry, slide shows, sing-a-longs, nature talks, Aussie heritage show, or a nocturnal spotlighting walk.

If you want to find out more about your unique accommodation, or what you'll see on your tour, it's all on our UNDARA page. But come back, won't you? Just click 'back' on your browser to return to this page.

Overnight in Undara. Please visit our UNDARA page for a list of all the accommodation available in the area.


The Millaa Millaa Falls, in the Cairns Highlands.Today, you can have a lot to do, or as little as you want. We're going to do the 'waterfall circuit'. You'll be making your way back to the central Atherton Tablelands via Mount Garnet and Ravenshoe which you passed through yesterday. Along the way, you'll pass by Millstream Falls, a magnificent sight in the wet season, when it is Australia's widest waterfall. Also, you will see signs to Innot Hot Springs, which has indoor and outdoor hot pools to soak away your aches and pains. Stop at your leisure. There's a number of interesting things to do along the way, as you'll see on our RAVENSHOE TO MOUNT GARNET page, and our destination for the day is just 45 minutes northeast of Ravenshoe, a peaceful littl edairy town called Millaa Millaa.

The popular waterfall circuit is a 17 kilometre scenic drive, starting (and ending) just a few kilometres south of Millaa Millaa. The most impressive waterfalls on the circuit are Mungalli Falls, Millaa Millaa Falls, Zillie Falls, Ellinjaa Falls, but there are others in the area if you have time. Ellinja Falls are the best spot for a refreshing swim.

Millaa Millaa is a lovely spot to overnight, with a choice of country style accommodations. But if you want to squeeze that little bit more into your last full day on the Tablelands, you might choose to drive another 30 minutes north to Malanda, and spend the night there. Just outside Malanda is small waterfall and swimming hole, which is one of the many places between there and MIllaa Millaa where you might be lucky enough to spot a platypus. Malanda has Australia's oldest operating picture theatre, complete with canvas 'potato sack' seats - and the Malanda pub is recognized as the largest all-timber building in the southern hemisphere, so if that's not an excuse for a cold beer at the end of a long day, I don't know what is.

If you think these towns sound interesting (and you'd be right), read a little more on our RAVENSHOE TO MOUNT GARNET page.

Overnight in Malanda or Millaa Millaa. We will come back with recommendations as to where to stay in Malanda or Millaa Millaa. In the meantime, you can visit all the accommodation available in our MALANDA TO MILLAA MILLAA page.


Now, try to be too disappointed that today is your last day. We've saved some of the best till last. If you look at the map, you'll see a kind of triangle formed by the towns of Malanda, Atherton, and Yungaburra. That's your stomping grounds for today. Take it in any order you like, the distances are short. If you plan to return to Cairns on the inland route via Mareeba (a 1.5 hour drive) then perhaps start your day at the Crater Lakes National Park. If you choose to return to Cairns via Gordonvale (just over an hour), leave the Crater Lakes till last and check out Atherton first thing in the morning.

Atherton is an attractive town, lively and prosperous, with a fascinating history which you can easily explore at the Hou Wang Temple and the Chinese Interpretive Centre. Sweeping views of the Tablelands can be had from just outside the town centre. Lake Tinaroo, to the north of town, provides opportunities for all sorts of watersports. If you still haven't seen a platypus, then Platypus Park, just five minutes outside Atherton, and Peterson's Creek in Yungaburra, are two of your best chances. There are plenty of historical sites, and opportunities for viewing wildlife. More details can be found on our ATHERTON TO LAKE TINAROO page.

Yungaburra is a delightful little town, with a thriving local art and music scene. The nature around Yungaburra is really breathtaking. The pristine crater lakes of Barrine and Eacham offering a perfect spot for a picnic or a short rainforest walk, or even a cruise. Within walking distance of the town, you will find the Curtain Fig Tree, with its peculiar curtain of aerial roots hanging 15 metres to the ground. If it's big trees you're after, there's a giant Red Cedar near Lake Eacham, and another extraordinary Fig Tree, known as the Cathedral Fig, on Boar Pocket Road, just off the Lake Tinaroo circuit road. Phew! There's almost too much, isn't there? Well, I think you know what we're going to say... you can find more details... you know how it goes by now... go to our YUNGABURRA TO CRATER LAKES page.

And whenever you're ready to make your way back to Cairns...

Ballooning over the Atherton Tablelands.
Mareeba's famous annual rodeo.
Neatly trimmed tea plantation... and another perfect day in the Atherton Tablelands.
The imposing starkness of Mount Hypipamee Crater.
scenic Ellinjaa Falls, one of the many waterfalls on the Atherton Tablelands' 'Waterfall Circuit'.
Zillie Falls
Views like this are everywhere around the Atherton Tablelands.
You can understand why Millaa Millaa falls are probably the most photgraphed waterfalls in North Queensland..
Cathedral Fig tree is over 50 metres tall, and 800 years old.
Deep blue Lake Barrine, in the Crater Lakes National Park, near Yungaburra.
Yungaburra's wild Curtain Fig Tree.