The waterfall circuit in the Atherton Tablelands is one of the most popular attractions in Tropical North Queensland. To save time and sample the best of the area, why not take an Atherton Tablelands Waterfalls Tour? This Atherton Tablelands Waterfalls Tour review breaks down what you might see on your tour and the best one to book.
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Where is the Atherton Tablelands?
Atherton Tablelands is part of the Great Dividing Range in Tropical North Queensland, on the east coast of Australia.
Most Atherton Tablelands tours depart from Cairns or the northern beaches.
Brief History of Atherton Tablelands
I would like to respectfully acknowledge The Yidinji and Djirrbal People, the Traditional Owners, and the First People of these lands. I would like to pay my respect to the Elders past, present, and future, for they hold the memories, the traditions, the culture, and hopes of The Yidinji and Djirrbal People.
The white settlers’ arrival resulted in conflict, starvation, and dislocation to the land’s traditional owners. There were instances of rape and massacres of local aboriginal people causing the estimated population in the Cairns-Tableland region to be reduced to less than 20% in just 20 years.
John Atherton was the first European to settle in the area in 1876. He brought his cattle and family from Rockhampton the following year. Tin mining became the most significant industry after Atherton found tin in 1880. The timber industry began, used primarily for construction and fuel.
Atherton Tablelands Waterfalls Tours Review
This 11-hour day tour includes transfers from your accommodation in Cairns.
The first stop is Babinda Boulders, an hour from Cairns along Bruce Highway. Huge boulders line Babinda Creek which is a place of spiritual significance for Aboriginal people. The cold water has flowed down the mountain slopes for hundreds of years, smoothing the giant granite boulders.
Take advice from your guide and only swim and walk in the designated areas here. After ignoring warnings, several people have died in the fast-flowing water after slipping on the boulders in the wet season.
According to Aboriginal legend, a beautiful young girl named Oolana married a respected elder from her tribe called Waroonoo. Not long after, another tribe came into the area, and she fell in love with Dyga, a handsome young man. Knowing they were adulterers, they fled into the valley, but elders captured them. Oolana escaped and jumped into the waters (known now as Babinda Boulders), calling for Dyga. As he jumped in, her cries turned the still waters into a fast cascade. The crying Oolana disappeared between the giant boulders.
Aboriginal legend says her spirit guards the boulders and that you can still hear calls for her lost sweetheart. This area is now known as Devil’s Pool.
Next up is Josephine Falls in Wooroonooran National Park. These falls are along a 600 m track from the car park through the lush rainforest. You may need to take some insect repellent as the March Flies were awful in September. Biting flies, also known as marsh flies, March flies, or horse flies, are often present during the warmer months (August to April). You may have the chance to take a dip at this popular swim spot, but listen to the tour guide and don’t go to restricted areas; severe injuries and deaths have occurred here too.
Rains feed the waterfall from Queensland’s highest peak, Bartle Frere. From here, it starts as a trickle but ends up as a roaring torrent after travelling the 7.5 km to the granite boulders (after heavy rains). Watching the water cascade over the smooth granite boulders is captivating.
If you are on the tour with family, the natural rock slide provides plenty of entertainment for the kids (as well as the adults).
Toilets are available near the car park.
The third stop on this tour is Millaa Millaa Falls, Australia’s most iconic waterfall. It was made famous by the Qantas and Herbal Essence hair shampoo commercials and is my favourite on the waterfall circuit.
In the Ma Mu Aboriginal peoples’ language, ‘Millaa Millaa’ refers to Elaeagnus triflora, the rainforest vine. The Ma Mu people are the traditional owners of this land, which holds significant cultural value to them.
At the falls, a sign reads: “The basalts that form the falls come from the Millaa Millaa shield volcano, which is believed to have erupted approximately 1 to 1.5 million years ago. As the lava spewed out, it flowed down, filling ancient valleys. Later weathering changed the black basalt to red soils, and erosion removed the crater and cut gullies into the lava mass.
The Millaa Millaa Falls wall is formed by the upstream erosion of Teresa Creek, which has removed much of the basalt in this location. As the lava surface cooled, it contracted and cracked, much like mud cracks form as the mud dries out. These cracks propagated down through the basalt flow as it cooled, producing the basalt columns, which can be seen in the rock wall behind the falls.”
The 18m high Millaa Millaa Falls was added to the Queensland Heritage Register on 5th December 2005 and is one of Australia’s most photographed waterfalls. Surrounded by tall gums and ferns, it’s a good place to spot birds, the stunning blue Ulysses Butterfly, turtles, the platypus (although generally in the late afternoon), and Lumholtz’s tree kangaroo.
The waterhole at the bottom of the falls is an ideal place to cool down, and you can try to replicate the famous hair flick. If you don’t want to swim, stand under the waterfall for a beautiful photo. Toilets are available at this stop too.
Included in the price of the tour is lunch at the historic Malanda Hotel. This pub was built in 1911 and is the largest timber hotel in Australia. You will see evidence of the timber as you enter the restaurant with the floorboards and the magnificent staircase (made from local Silky Oak). While waiting for your lunch to be served, have a look at the old photos lining the walls.
After lunch, the tour heads to Mount Hypipamee, located high on the southern Evelyn Tableland in the Hugh Nelson Range. A 400m walking track through the rainforest leads to a viewing platform with uninterrupted crater views. A massive gas explosion is thought to have created the 61m diameter granite crater. A deep lake covered with a green layer of native waterweed lies 58m below the rim. The crater is known as a diatreme, and is the only example in Far North Queensland.
You have the option to walk the 1.2 km Dinner Falls loop track, which leads to Dinner Falls. It’s an easy trail that is mostly flat with a couple of steeper sections. There are two locations to view the falls; Upper Dinner Falls (where water rushes through a gap in the basalt rock) and Lower Dinner Falls (where water cascades over the rock and drops 12m into a large pool). This is the Barron River’s start, which eventually leads to the Barron Falls, near Kuranda. You have the option to swim here too.
Due to its altitude and rich soils, it has many wildlife, including possums, bower birds, Lumholtz tree kangaroo, and the local Cassowary. You can find toilets near the car park.
Later in the afternoon, the Cairn’s Waterfall Tour heads to the giant Curtain Fig Tree in Curtain Fig Tree National Park. This fig tree is unique because the widespread aerial roots that fall 15 metres to the forest floor have formed a ‘curtain’ around the tree. It is estimated to be over 500-years old and started life from a seed being dropped high in the canopy. The strangler fig grew vertical roots, which strangled the host tree over hundreds of years. The fig roots then formed a curtain-like appearance, and the host tree died, leaving the freestanding fig tree. This tree is nearly 50 metres tall, with a trunk circumference of 39 metres. It was heritage-listed in 2009.
A boardwalk runs around Curtain Fig Tree, enabling a good view from all angles without disturbing its roots.
This park is part of the endangered Mabi Forest (‘Mabi’ comes from the Ngadjon word for the Lumholtz Tree Kangaroo). The Curtain Fig National Park has an extensive indigenous Aboriginal heritage. The Ngadjon-Jii Aboriginal people used land south of Curtain Fig National Park as camping grounds.
The last part of the tour includes trying your luck at platypus spotting in Yungaburra before a swim at Lake Eacham. This volcanic crater lake is 65m deep, filled with clear blue water, and surrounded by lush rainforest. Lake Eacham was formed by massive explosions from the superheating of groundwater and then filled by rain, which is why it is crystal clear.
Known as Yidyam or Wiinggina to the local Ngadjon-Jii people, Lake Eacham forms part of Crater Lakes National Park.
You can enjoy a swim in the constant 23-degree waters and try to spot turtles and freshwater fish. The fish have been known to provide a free foot spa by nibbling at feet.
Afternoon Tea is included, and there is plenty of time for relaxing, swimming, or exploring the boardwalks. It’s an excellent place for birdwatching, too, with over 180 different species.
This jam-packed day tour covers a lot of the Atherton Tablelands. It’s a wonderful experience to swim in the tablelands waterfalls and see the beauty of this area. You can read more reviews on the tour here.
Book tickets instantly with free cancellation (cancel up to 24 hours in advance to receive a full refund) and check prices here.
Other Atherton Tableland Tours
This Rainforest, Waterfalls, Farmlands & Volcanic Crater Lake Day Tour is a more personalised tour based on what your group wants to see. Some of the places you may visit include lookouts, Josephine Falls, Millaa Millaa Falls, Lake Eacham, Babinda Boulders, Henrietta Creek or Malanda Falls, and a Tea Plantation.
Some additional locations you may get to see are Elinnjaa Falls, Zillie Falls, Nandroya Falls, Silver Falls, Fairy Falls, Dinner Falls, Barron Falls, Yungaburra Platypus platform, or Malanda Falls.
Read more about the tour here.
What to bring on the Atherton Tablelands Waterfalls Tour
Here are a few items that I recommend you bring on your Atherton Tablelands Waterfalls Tour:
- Sunscreen (I like these from Nivea)
- Hat and Sunglasses
- Insect Repellent (we use either Bushman or Aeroguard) for the rainforest mosquitoes
- Camera (I love my Nikon D7500)
- Beach Towel – these microfibre sand-free towels are fantastic
- Thongs (Flip Flops)
- A warm jacket for the mountains
- Water Bottle like this Vacuum-Insulated Stainless-Steel one from Takeya keeps your water cold all day
- Motion sickness tablets if you suffer from motion sickness
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Travel Information & Guides
This Australia Travel Guide, which includes all essential information and tips, will help with the planning of your holiday to this beautiful country.
For more things to do in Queensland, check out this Queensland Travel Guide.
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