Besides my day trip along the coast (from Palm Cove to Mossman Gorge), I also had the chance to take my rental car for a drive up to the Atherton Tablelands. The Tablelands (as it is known locally) is made up of several townships, including Atherton, Mareeba, Malinda and Yungaburra, and is located just an hour drive away from Cairns in Far North Queensland, Australia.
The Tablelands is a fertile plateau and is a part of the Great Dividing Range in Queensland. Although the Tablelands sits in the tropical latitudes, it’s height rises between 500 to 1,100 metres above sea level. As a result of this altitudinal variation, the Tablelands have a cool tropical climate that is very suitable for dairy farming. It is also known as the ‘food bowl of the tropics’ due to the variety of agricultural produce here.
The roads heading up to the Tablelands were fairly straightforward (the directions that is, the roads were very winding as we were heading up to the Tablelands). I took the Bruce Highway, south from Cairns, passing by Gordonvale and Little Mulgrave.
The first place of interest that I visited was the Cathedral Fig Tree. It is located at the eastern end of Danbulla Road in the Danbulla National Park and State Forest. The tree is one of the most impressive strangler fig trees you will ever see. A boardwalk around it helps to protect the fragile roots and prevent soil compaction. We were practically able to walk inside the tree, looked up the trunk and into the canopy of this rainforest giant.
From the Cathedral Fig Tree, we headed to the Lake Barrine Tea House Restaurant for a quick break. Lake Barrine is a freshwater lake situated in the Crater Lakes National Park. It was formed over 17,000 years ago when a large volcano erupted, leaving a crater that over time filled up with water to create a lake. The largest of the natural volcanic lakes in the area, Lake Barrine is not fed by any streams or springs; it is filled only by rainwater. Sitting by the lake, there’s a certain sense of calmness and serenity coming over me.
The tea house has enjoyed a long association with Lake Barrine. Now into its fourth generation, it is owned by the same family who started it. We loved the beautiful setting and would highly recommend their prize winning Devonshire tea. The scones were simply delicious.
After recharging from our little break, we headed to the next famous tree in the Tablelands. The Curtain Fig Tree is one of the largest trees in Tropical North Queensland and located just out of Yungaburra in the Curtain Fig National Park. A wooden boardwalk led us from the car park to the tree, and you can walk around the tree on the boardwalk to see it from any angle.
The curtain effect results from one tree leaning against another tree on a 45-degree angle. The strangler vine then grew along the oblique angle of the leaning tree, dangling 15 metres to the ground to create the curtain affect. It’s pretty impressive in real life (check out the video)!
We also stopped by the Platypus Viewing Platform in Yungaburra to watch the resident platypus (a semiaquatic egg-laying mammal endemic to Australia). You can drive and park at the viewing area or take a pleasant stroll from town (we chose the former). Although the best viewing times are morning and dusk, we were able to spot several when we were there (maybe the rain and cloudy skies helped)!
By this time, it was already in the afternoon. Before we proceeded to the last leg of our journey on the Atherton Tablelands (i.e. the waterfall circuit), we dropped by Gallo Dairyland, a dairy farm that had opened the doors to the public.
It is a fully operational dairy farm; a gourmet cheese factory; a sensational cafe/restaurant; and last but not least, home of some of the best hand-crafted chocolate. We would have spent more time in the cafe had we been here earlier as it had a beautiful view of the wide expense of the grazing field. Nonetheless, we grabbed a handful of their cheese as they were really fantastic.
With time running out for the day, we headed to our next stop: the Waterfall Circuit!