The Atherton Tablelands- one of North QLD’s most popular tourist destinations. Stretching from Kuranda in the east, Mareeba in the north and Ravenshoe to the south, this tropical plateau has so much on offer that you will find it hard to leave. In fact, the general population on the Tablelands is growing very rapidly with many travellers making the decision for a ‘tree-change’ and relocate to the region after visiting and falling in love with the place- its easily done!
Mareeba’s handy location, less than an hours scenic drive from Cairns makes it within easy reach for day trips if you choose to base yourself closer to the coast. Alternatively, there are plenty of accommodation options in the hinterland, including a range of holiday parks that will have you closer to the main attractions.
Kuranda Scenic Railway and Skyrail Rainforest Cableway
We begin our journey heading towards the mountain village of Kuranda on the Kennedy Highway. The most popular activity in Kuranda are the two markets that are open daily where you can wander through over 100 different stalls of fashion, craft, produce and street food. A trip to Kuranda wouldn’t be complete without a ride on the Scenic Railway and Sky-rail. The Kuranda Scenic Railway is a trip through the rainforest passing picturesque waterfalls and steep ravines. The trip takes approximately 1 hour and 50 minutes to wind its way through 15 hand constructed tunnels, cross the mighty bridge over Stoney Creek Falls and chug pass the spectacular Barron Falls, then finishing in Kuranda. This railway is over 120 years old and remains a remarkable piece of engineering. To complete the Kuranda experience you can step onto the Sky-rail. The cable way spans 7.5kms over a tropical rainforest. Gliding just meters above the canopy before descending through the rainforest layers deep into the heart of the forest, where you can hop off and explore the two mid-stations. This trip takes around 1 ½ hours with cable cars leaving at various times throughout the day. Packages are available for both the railway and skyrail and bookings are recommend.
Also in this area is Barron Falls National Park which has many different walking tracks and of course the magnificent Barron Falls. From the car park it is an easy 1.2km return walk that is along a wheelchair accessible board-walk suspended above the forest floor.
Mareeba Coffee Works
As you walk through the doors of Mareeba Coffee Works, your senses are instantly aroused by the aromas of freshly roasted coffee. You will be amazed by the range of coffee, tea, hot chocolate and liqueurs available for you to sample. They make their own range of chocolates on site (in an impressive assortment of flavours) and you are welcomed to sample them and of course purchase some to take home. As you enjoy your coffee you can wander through the coffee museum on a self guided tour learning about the history of coffee from all around the world. With displays of old fashioned coffee machines, roasters, teapots and alike. Take advantage of their on-site cafe to enjoy lunch or one of their famous deserts. If you LOVE coffee, make sure you don’t miss this one!
De Brueys Boutique Wines
A great way to sample flavours of some of the exotic fruits from the area is to head to De Brueys Boutique Wines. Set on a 15ha mango farm, this winery first opened it’s cellar door in July 2003 originally specialising in Mango Wines that were sourced from the mangos grown on site. Their range has since been expanded and now includes such flavours as Lychee and Bush Cherry wines, Mulberry and Mango Ports, Tropical, Coffee, Strawberry, Melon and a Rum & Chocolate liqueurs. This award winning boutique winery is considered a ‘must do’ place to visit when out exploring the hinterland.
If you are into ‘good old fashioned rodeo’ entertainment then make sure your visit to the tablelands coincides with Mareeba’s Annual Rodeo. The Rodeo Festival runs for two weeks in early July each year, which includes the Mareeba Agricultural Show. There are street parades, a Rodeo Ball, Rodeo Queens, Horses, Bulls and of course the rough and tumble of the Rodeo. Two action packed weeks that brings visitors to the area from far and wide. Yeeehaaa!
Hot Air Cairns
If taking a hot air balloon ride has been on your ‘to do list’ for a while then there is simply no better place in Australia to give it a go than on the Atherton Tablelands- the hot air balloon capital of Australia. Hot Air Cairns are they guys to talk to- They will take you high up and away on the early morning breeze in one of their first class balloons. The crew pick you up from your accommodation or meet you at the pick up point shortly before sunrise and take you to the launch site. This is where you get your first glance at the balloons being filled with hot air ready for flight. As you climb into the basket and meet your pilot, its normal to start having those nervous thoughts about leaving the ground, but before you know it you have been gently lifted off the ground and are floating away in the breeze. As you float gently over the countryside you are able to get a great view of the many farms, crops and fruit orchards that give this area such a great reputation as the major ‘food bowl’ of northern QLD. The sun rises and you look down over Mareeba as the town starts to wake up for the day. Your pilot will choose a landing spot and you brace yourself for a bumpy landing as your pilot glides the basket safely to the ground.
Located around 40kms from Mareeba,Lake Tinaroo is a real hotspot for families and waters enthusiasts (especially during school holidays). Completed in 1958 by damming the Barron River, the dam was built mainly for irrigation purposes. Today, it is now a multi-purpose dam providing water to the tableland towns, incorporates a hydro power generator, still used for irrigation, stock watering and is very popular for recreation. With many areas available to enjoy picnics, fishing and other water activities such as canoeing. The nearby Lake Tinaroo Holiday Park is a perfect spot to stay and enjoy the water-based activities on offer and of course a great base to explore the region too.
Kuranda Scenic Railway
Skyrail Rainforest Cableway
Mareeba Coffee Works
De Brueys Boutique Winery
Hot Air Cairns
Photos J. Archibald & Tourism Events Queensland