· Lakes and waterfalls
· Rainforest walks
· Fishing and red claw crayfish
· The Hou Wang temple
We left Cairns about 7.30am on a Sunday morning because we wanted to miss the traffic as we towed our van up Queensland’s Kuranda Range to Atherton’s Halloran’s Leisure Park. Between Mareeba and Atherton, there are many good buys from the fruit and veggie stalls on the roadside. We picked up some good bargains as a wide variety of produce grows in the rich red volcanic soil.
If you’re travelling to Atherton from the south, turn west from Innisfail and travel up the Palmerston Highway.
Atherton lies 1750km north of Brisbane and 80km south-west of Cairns. The town has a population of about 6300 and is the service centre for the Tableland area (but don’t tell anyone in Mareeba I said that). There is a wide variety of shops, discount fuel, hardware stores and car dealers.
We were keen to visit the historic Hou Wang Temple, situated in what was once Atherton’s Chinatown. The temple was constructed in 1903 from corrugated iron and black bean, but was in various stages of construction for many years prior. Many of the artefacts came from China and it was the focal point for Chinese people living in the area. It is now a National Trust property and you can inspect it only on a guided tour. Our tour guide, Jim, gave a very insightful and thought-provoking commentary while storyboards and the adjacent museum tell the history of Chinese immigration to the district in the late 1800s.
On the western side of Atherton, about 5km out of town, is Hastie’s Swamp National Park. Here you will find a two-storey bird hide and a multitude of water birds. When we visited, a large, friendly dog kept watch and insisted on showing us each level, staying there even after we left. There is a house opposite, and I guess he just loves friendly people.
Other nearby attractions are the Crystal Caves and the Bat Hospital. Behind our van park was a lookout on Halloran’s Hill, which has a picnic area and toilets plus panoramic views of the Seven Sisters range and the pastoral countryside.
If you want to see a stunning sunset, this is the place to come.
On this trip, we focused on the natural wonders close to Atherton, rather than trying to include the whole Tableland area.
Nearby is the massive Curtain Fig Tree. The host tree trunk fell over to about a 45-degree angle while the roots of a strangler fig tree were growing, resulting in a most impressive curtain of roots. There is a walkway around it and early morning, before the tourist buses arrive, is the best time to visit. We had the place to ourselves and heard many interesting forest birds, including a whip bird.
Continue east on the Gillies Highway to the well-preserved, historic town of Yungaburra, a good place for a morning coffee. There is a road leading down to a launching ramp and picnic area beside Lake Tinaroo.
Lake Tinaroo is home to some of the largest barramundi in the country and holds the record for the heaviest barra ever landed in a lake. Huge red claw crayfish are also caught here. A tourist drive takes you right around the lake to several interesting historic places.
The Tableland area is known for its waterfalls and lakes. Lake Barrine is a small crater lake within Crater Lakes NP and there is a walk around the lake, through the rainforest. We saw a large amethystine (scrub) python on our walk. There is also a cruise departing from the 80-year-old restaurant/coffee house. You will find a picnic area and toilets, and canoes are allowed on the lake.
Lake Eacham is a larger crater lake south of Lake Barrine, in a dense rainforest setting with a bush walk around its perimeter. There is a grassy picnic and swimming area, a pontoon from which you should see jungle perch and tortoises, and barbecues and toilets. The drive in is through overhanging tropical rainforest and you may spot a cassowary if you’re lucky.
It’s a short drive from here to Malanda where the North Johnston River falls over a basalt wall into a large swimming hole. This is a very popular swimming hole with toilets, a picnic area and changing sheds.
From Malanda we drove down past Tarzali Lakes to Millaa Millaa, where the 15km lakes circuit begins. This circuit visits the Millaa Millaa, Ellinjaa and Zillie falls, and the Mungalli Falls are nearby. Even if you don’t drive the full circuit, take the 1.5km road to Millaa Millaa falls as they are definitely worth seeing.
If you are feeling peckish, return to Millaa Millaa, and you will find very good homemade pies at the cafe on the right.
Rather than return to Atherton the same way, turn off on route 24 to visit the McHugh (Millaa Millaa) lookout. This must be one of the most outstanding views of the Tableland. It was a clear day when we were there and we could see forever.
You can then drive back via the Dinner Falls and Mt Hypipamee crater. Take the 1km circuit walk, visiting the crater first. This huge, deep hole was created by an exploding gas vent back in the volcanic era. The track then leads down to the Dinner Falls, an impressive group of three waterfalls, before returning to the car park.
Not far from here you will come to Bromfield’s Crater and Swamp, where hundreds of sarus cranes come to roost in the evening.
HALLORAN’S LEISURE PARK
We first stayed at this park in Atherton several years ago and remembered it as a very quiet place, so we decided to base ourselves there for this trip. The park is family-owned and operated, with the owners living on-site, and is located quite close to town. All roads in the park are sealed. There is a landscaped pool for those warmer days and a children’s playground beside it.
While the park is not a member of a group, it does give a 10 per cent discount to seniors’ card holders who stay two days or longer. Dogs are not welcome.
It is on a hillside and is set on different levels, with the cabins and villas on the top section, powered sites on two terraced levels in the middle sector, and camping and tents on the bottom level. The sites are large and drive-through, each with a good view over the countryside to the background hills. Powered sites have some shade and concrete slabs.
We found the amenities very clean with ample hot water, well-maintained washing machines and dryers. A dump point is beside the amenities. The camp kitchen and barbecues were also very clean. Internet access was available and there is a small kiosk.
We had excellent TV reception, plus Telstra Next G mobile phone and wireless broadband, but our neighbours had poor reception with Optus.
Don’t be tempted to try to cover the Atherton Tableland on a day trip from Cairns or Innisfail. It is a scenically spectacular area that deserves a much longer stay.
* Atherton is 1750km north of Brisbane and 95km from Cairns via the Kuranda Range.
* Halloran’s Leisure Park is 3.5 stars and is located at 152 Roberts Street, Atherton, Qld 4883, (07) 4091 4144, 1800 88 50 30, email@example.com, www.halloransleisurepark.com
* Atherton Tableland Information Centre: (07) 4091 4222.
* Hou Wang Temple, Atherton: (07) 4091 6945.
Originally published in Caravan World #511, February 2013.