Trip around Tablelands in Far North Queensland

Small outback town attractions in Atherton Tablelands

A self-drive to small country towns in Atherton Tablelands exploring their own unique characters and lifestyle with a little touch of modern.

By i.c Golina


My drive from Cairns to Atherton Tablelands was supposed to be an easy and a nice day but the mother nature thought otherwise.

“Dear Mother Nature, get back on your meds, pop open a bottle of wine, and start thinking war, happy thoughts…”

Author: Unknown

Around late May to October, the weather in tropical Far North Queensland becomes a perfect temperature for southerners. Many tourists folk the area, every year, chasing sun, beach and tropical warm weather. Many Grey-Nomads, make their annual pilgrimage journey to the Far North Queensland for the warmer climate. For the locals, it is time to take out warm outfits out of the wardrobe. It was a beautiful day in Cairns, with no sign of rain expected, I planned to take an over-night road trip to Atherton, Tablelands. Taking over-night trips to Tablelands has become part of my routine in the last 12 months and I love it. The Atherton, Tablelands is a fertile plateau which is part of the Great Dividing Range in Queensland, Australia. The Atherton Tablelands is a diverse region. The majority of the population live in the township of Mareeba and Atherton. There are smaller towns which include Kuranda, Malanda, Herberton, Ravenshoe, Milla Milla, Yungaburra, Mt Molloy, Tinaroo, Dimbulah, Chillagoe and Mt Garnet. 

It was a crystal clear blue sky with few clouds hoovering above as I put my over-night suitcase at the back of the car boot. The sun was beginning to penetrate through my summer outfit as I left home. I could feel the strong cool breeze, which made me realise that winter has arrived earlier than expected.

My first hurdle was driving up 19km windy road up Gillies range without any accident. Safely, I made it to the top of the range and onto the open lush green farmland country hills and landscapes. Driving up this Gillies windy road is dangerous (if your not caution) and is even more dangerous during winter months. During winter time the fogs are still floating around without any breeze to sweep it away, it creates thick fogs which restricts visibility and impossible to see ahead. As I headed towards Malanda township, I could see the sudden change of weather pattern from nice sunny morning to thick dark clouds hoovering above in the skies. Within few minutes before arriving into Malanda township, the flood gates of heaven opened up. The rain kept coming down and very heavy.


With the road condition almost in high waters, made the drive from Malanda to Ravenshoe very slow – travelling at a snail phase. It took me almost 2 hours to get there, normally it would just take a 40-minutes drive there. This unexpected bad weather condition created havoc – road conditions, visibility, very slow drive with caution and continuously wiping the front screen of the car. Finally, arriving in Ravenshoe. This country town of Ravenshoe is Queensland’s highest town. During winter periods, it is more likely to experience very cold both at night and day time. Ravenshoe township is a very laid back life-style with almost every locals know each other, very friendly and locals know who is new in town. With very little tourism activity, except grey-nomads passing by or staying for few days in the caravan park located right in town. This town is furthest from Cairns. As you drive further away to west of Ravenshoe, you began to see the changes in the scenery from lush green area to dry and dusty country side.

Main street of Ravenshoe township
Beuatiful plants right towns main street
Inactive Railway with nicely manicured area

This was the town where I was spending my night before heading back to Cairns the following day. I planned to visit the township of Herberton, Atherton, Yungaburra and through Malanda township again before arriving back at Ravenshoe. After unpacking few tools and other accessories, I took a back road drive to the historical township of Herberton. By then, it stopped raining. It was back to its clear blue sky, sunny and great day for spending time outdoors. 

The distance from Ravenshoe to Herberton township taking the back road is about 20 kilometres with bitumen road.This township was once a booming town with mining decades back but now a sleepy and laid-back town with very little business industry. This town has a very interesting character with one main street with few older style buildings from both side of the street.  The only way to recognise the main street of the town is slow down. Otherwise, you think, it is just a country town suburban street. This main street certainly takes you back in time and felt like a deserted western-movie style town. Though, it was early afternoon, the main street was almost empty, except few school kids gathering in front of the candy shop. Here I wanted to see the historical village centre. As I stepped out of the car, making my way to the entrance, the lady was letting out the last visitors of the exit of the centre for the day. Without being disappointed, I decided to take some photographs of the front and surrounding area of the historic village before making my way to Atherton township as there was nothing to see at that time of the afternoon in Herberton.

To drive from Herberton to Atherton is 30 kilometres. I headed east to Atherton about 30-40 minutes drive from Herberton along newly widen constructed bitumen road. Atherton township is well-established town and probably the biggest town in Tablelands. It has a large hospital with major grocery shops like Woolworths, Coles and IGA. It also has major banks like ANZ, Westpac, Commonwealth and many other variety of shops and cafes including a courthouse. The township of Atherton does not have any major tourism activities and most of the tourist attractions are located outside the town and are limited. It wasn’t a perfect day for outdoors, the moment I arrived, it was overcast with constant drizzling of rain. Again, the unpredictable weather made it very unpleasant for outdoor photography. I decided to take a short walk along a creek to take some photographs of ducks before I headed to Atherton Lookout about 3 mins drive from the town’s CBD centre. With the poor weather conditions, it made it impossible for me to capture some of the stunning sunsets like on a good clear day. Every little opportunity, I had were worth a try.


Waiting for an hour or more on top of Atherton township lookout, hoping for a change in the weather didn’t turn out the way I wanted but the views over-looking Atherton Tablelands farm lands, mountains and Lake Tinaroo were at least stunning. From Atherton township I drove to see the curtain fig-tree just a kilometre out of Yungaburra township. This tiny town is the main hub for tourists and locals that want to get away to a more quite, secluded and relaxed atmosphere. It offers a variety of accommodations that suits your needs from camping to motel-cottages compared to other towns around Atherton Tablelands. From there I just had a short drive to Malanda township to capture the Malanda Falls. This small township’s major tourist drawcard is the Malanda Falls. Otherwise, most tourist pass through this town to Milla Milla Falls or Lake Eacham and Lake Barrine.

Curtain Fig-tree in Yungaburra

From Malanda, I drove back to Ravenshoe township where I spent the night there at my country cottage home. The next day, I continued my Tablelands exploration and sight-seeing in the early hours of the morning. The first town to visit on my second day was Milla Milla township – to see the MillaMilla Falls. Driving around Atherton Tablelands in the early hours of morning, the road can be difficult to see ahead due to thick fogs and misty.

The township of MillaMilla is very small. Once you drive into the town with one shop, one motel-pub and a cafe, you feel the sense of a small village in country-sides of England, especially the topography – natural surrounding hills and landscape. This is the starting of the misty-mountains which is the gateway to the wilderness walking tracks Misty Mountain Trails. The main tourist attraction to the area is the MillaMilla Falls, also known as the curtain waterfalls. Many visitors, including locals from Cairns and surrounding area flood the area to have a glimpse of the waterfall and a perfect natural wonder for photographers.

After taking this spectacular view of the waterfall, I headed south to Innisfail along Palmerston Highway, where I caught up with a friend of mine that I haven’t seen for few years. Along the way, I stopped at a lookout to take a photograph of this amazing view.

Along this Palmerston Highway scenic drive, there are quite a few walking trails, lookouts, numerous camping spots and water-holes for refreshing swims in freshwater.
Without making any phone call arrangements to visit my friends, I just turned up at the front door with a plastic full of mandarine. Yes, they were quite very surprised to see me with open arms which I love about this person. He is just an amazing and very hospitable person. As I stepped inside the main entrance, the first thing I noticed was the beautifully crafted by hand “bilum” meticulously displayed on the wall. It is a sign that your with your own country people. The laughter and fun began in “island time and ways”

After spending fabulous time with my friends – with morning tea, I drove few kilometres further south to the township of Innisfail – a visit to the nature parklands in Innisfail township area. I wanted to take some photographs of the water-lilies that I missed during my last visit to the area. They were certainly in their glory. What a beautiful sight.

After taking this amazing pictures of the lilies, I  headed back to Cairns along Bruce Highway, without stopping along the way. Between Innisfail and Cairns, there are many major tourist attractions along the way. This includes, Josephine Falls, Queensland’s Highest mountain – Mt Bartle Frer, Babinda Boulders, Fishery Falls and many more. Finally, I made it home to Cairns safely to a very welcoming warmer climate compared to Tablelands. 

From a personal perspective: As you travel to various places, you tend to experience and explore unexpected sceneries and views along the way. This make our road trips very enjoyable and exciting for me.

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Categories: AUSTRALIA

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