As I drive through the peppermint green rolling hills filled with farms and grazing cows I could easily be fooled into thinking I am in the English countryside… Well, until I see the rich, red soil adorning the roadside, budding banana plantations and lush tropical rainforests towering above me.
I’ve arrived in the Atherton Tablelands, tropical Queensland’s very own food bowl where the scenery changes by the minute. At only a 45-minute drive inland from Cairns, the region spreads westwards and southwards from the coastal escarpment of the city. The weather is cooler with a light breeze, giving visitors a touch of relief in the summer months. For me, spring was the perfect time to visit.
Perhaps known best for its stunning waterfall circuit (home to one of Australia’s most photographed attractions, the Millaa Millaa Falls), the region has so much to offer beyond its beautiful location. The Atherton Tablelands are a foodie’s paradise, where you can indulge in the freshest gourmet food from farm to plate, epic wine trails and coffee plantations as far as the eye can see.
Do yourself a favour and spend more than a day here to really take in the beauty of the region and the diversity of its landscapes. Whether you want to bushwalk around a crater lake, swim in cascading falls, visit tropical fruit farms or just eat fantastic produce, this is the place to come for the ultimate gourmet weekender. Here’s a guide for getting the most out of your visit. Just make sure you bring your appetite!
First stop, coffee
Over 70% of Australia’s coffee crop is grown in the Atherton Tablelands so you can expect some serious caffeine overload in the region. Stop at Coffee Works in Mareeba for a perfect flat white and a tasting tour where you can learn the secrets behind the perfect cup and have a tour of the facilities. For a double dose of caffeine, head to Jacques Coffee Plantation (for specially created house blends) or the 360-acre Skybury Café and Roastery nestled in the heart of Australia’s coffee-growing region in Mareeba, known for its pure Australian Arabica Coffee. Coffee is roasted fresh each day.
Get lost in a tea plantation
Nestled in the foothills of the Tablelands, just 10 minutes out of Malanda is Nerada Tea, where you can discover how tea is grown and processed, or just sample the tea in the visitor centre. Over one thousand acres of bright green tea plants contrast brilliantly with the red volcanic soil underneath. If Devonshire style is more your cup of tea, visit the Falls Teahouse, or the Lake Barrine Teahouse where you can enjoy a sumptuous feast of tea and scones in the 80-year-old building.
Follow the winery road… with a twist
Ten minutes north of the Mareeba township is family-owned Golden Drop Winery, a working mango plantation where you can sample tropical mango wines, coupled with Citrus Cellos, Mango Port, and Golden Mango liqueur-style wine.
Over at de Brueys Boutique Winery, visitors can sample fermentations of lychee, mango, jaboticaba, bush cherry, mulberry, passionfruit and star apple. Venture a little further afield to the foothills of Mount Uncle and you will find Mt. Uncle Distillery, known for their award-winning premium spirits and liqueurs specialising in native ingredients. Feeling peckish? There is also a Bridges Bar and Restaurant on site serving a selection of wood-fired pizzas and slow-cooked meats.
Indulge in dairy
Eat and drink to your heart’s content at the picturesque Mungali Creek Dairy, where you can feast on award-winning bio-dynamic cheeses, milks and yogurt. The dairy’s cows and chickens graze on lush biodynamic mountain pastures, which impart a distinctive flavour and goodness to the milk.
Perch on the verandah of the Whey “Cheesery and Teahouse” and soak in the beauty of the Tablelands while enjoying Devonshire tea served with Rainforest Jam and Jersey Cream. Don’t go past their famous Quark cheesecakes – trust me!
Over in East Barron, you can see a dairy at work at Gallo Dairyland, while Emerald Creek Ice-Creamery just east of Mareeba is the perfect spot to finish your day on a sweet note with a delicious range of exotic flavoured ice-cream, sorbets, gelato and frozen yoghurt.
Sample tropical fruit
At the Rainforest Heart Orchard you can wander through native fruit orchards deep in a valley on the edge of the world heritage listed rainforest near Mungali. Here you can sample some of Queensland’s most famous exotic fruits like Davidsons plum, lemon aspen, rainforest cherry and rainforest lychee. Enjoy a cup of refreshing Davidsons plum tea or a native fruit spritzer while you hear the history of the first settlers in this valley and their relationship with the indigenous people.
Experience the waterfall circuit
The 17 kilometre Waterfall Circuit begins just east of the town of Millaa Millaa off the Palmerston Highway. Start at the Millaa Millaa Falls on Teresa Creek Road, the gateway to the Southern Tablelands, then follow the circuit onto Zillie and Elinjaa Falls which majestically cascade over a series of lava columns. All the falls have their own individual appeal, but make sure you bring your walking shoes to Zillie Falls as it’s a bit harder to get to. At Millaa Millaa Falls, you can enjoy a refreshing swim in the cool watering hole below after a long days’ hike.
Be one with nature
Shaped by volcanic activities, the Tablelands are a nature lover’s paradise and visitors can immerse themselves in activities ranging from bushwalking and fishing to hot ballooning and wildlife viewing. Hiking tracks are plentiful in the region, including a particular favourite: Lake Eacham. With a clear blue lake filling the former volcanic crater, it’s the perfect spot for a barbeque or picnic. For a bird’s eye view over the rainforest below, visit the elevated walkway, the Mamu Rainforest Canopy, or see it all from above in the early hours by taking a sunrise hot air balloon flight. Don’t miss the Cathedral Fig in Yungaburra which has canopy cover that spans two hectares.