Tropical Tablelands

Waterfalls, tranquil crater lakes, promordial forests and rich fertile soils - the Tropical Tablelands is a region of unsurpassed natural beauty where lush World Heritage rainforests laced with sparkling mountain streams and mist-shrouded waterfalls embrace and protect a substantial proportion of Australia's plant and animal species. 

Covering less that one thousandth of the Australian continent, the Tropical Tablelands is home to 62% of Australian butterfly species, 30% of Australian frog species, 60% of Australian bat species, plus incredible numbers of bird, reptile, marsupial, plant and fern species. 

A combination of ecology and lifestyle at its finest, the Tropical Tablelands blend a number of the best inland attractions of the tropics, connecting people not only with natural marvels, but some of Australia's richest agricultural lands and most charming small towns. This unique accident of geology spreads along a rich, fertile plateau 600 metres above sea level between the Great Dividing Range to the west and the Bellenden Ker Range which juts up from the coastal plain and includes Queensland's highest peak, Mt Bartle Frere at 1622 metres.

Climbing through one of the four main access routes which wind their way from the canefields and lowland forests, the visitor enters a truly different world. This sub-tropical haven in the tropics, only an hour's drive from the coastal humidity and heat of Cairns, is quieter, degrees cooler and quite simply spectacular. One notable experience when visiting the region is to take the 'waterfall circuit', which should include a visit to Australia's widest waterfall - Millstream Falls near Raveneshoe - that has been measured in full flood at an incredible 150 metres width.

It is here that the rush of crystal clear streams over waterfalls cleft in basalt, cascading over moss-covered rocks and disappearing in a mosaic of ferns and lush vegetation of every conceivable shape and form, brings one face to face with the forces of evolution that put so many different, and often unique, species of plant and animal in this small and special part of Australia. Primitive ferns, kauri pines bearing an uncanny structural resemblance to their prehistoric ancestors, and palms hundreds of years old give a profound perspective to the vibrant and dynamic forests in which myriad species are locked in the eternal battle of natural selection, climbing over each other in a life and death struggle for sunlight and nutrients.

The 'Tropical Tablelands' label actually refers to the Atherton Tablelands and often includes the slightly higher, Evelyn Tablelands, all of which resulted from dramatic block faulting of the earth's crust, an estimated 50 million years ago, and volcanic upheaval as recently as 10,000 years ago. A legacy of this action is the rich soil and the beautiful crater lakes, Eacham and Barrine, set amidst the rainforest.  The lakes are easily accessible with Lake Barrine famous not only for its forest walks surrounding the lake and rainforest cruises on the lake, but also its Devonshire teas at the teahouse on the shore. 

Another crater lake is Bromfield Swamp, a sought after destination by serious bird watchers. Thousands of magpie geese are joined by the brolgas and sarus cranes which, with their long, long legs extended behind them and their peculiar calls filling the air, make their annual journey from Normanton to the Greeba Tropical Savanna and Wetland Reserve, known locally as the Mareeba Wetlands - a protected area of over 5000 acres of grasslands and wetlands, providing a sanctuary for much of tropical Australia's savanna and wetland flora and fauna, and cultural heritage. The Reserve is a unique community conservation project combining valuable conservation work with environmental education and nature based tourism. 

Just outside Mareeba, Granite Gorge is a delightful spot where rock wallabies can be seen most of the day, but best experienced in the afternoon when up to 50 rock wallabies converge in a small area hungrily waiting to be fed. The wallabies have grown up with human contact, and as a result are tame, friendly and happy to be touched and photographed while being hand fed. A result of the volcanic activity, the acres of granite boulders give rise to a maze of walking tracks and safe swimming holes.

The colourful and statuesque cassowary, Victoria's rifle bird, golden and satin bower birds, wompoo pigeons, king parrots, kingfishers and many other beautiful and unusual birds are all found in this region. The creeks are frequented by platypus while the tree-climbing kangaroos, sugar-gliders, green possums and a diverse spectrum of other mammal species each occupy a niche in the unique and delicate cycle of life in these rainforest and woodland habitats.

Against this primordial backdrop of forests, volcanic cinder cones and tranquil crater lakes, this rich fertile plateau is known as the 'food bowl' of the tropical north, and yeilds a constant supply of tropical fruit such as papaws, mangoes, avocados, macadamia nuts (a Queensland native) and lychees, in addition to tea and coffee plantations close by temperate orchards of stone fruit and citrus. Amid these are fields crisscrossed with crops of peanuts, potatoes, maize, and fodder for beef and dairy cattle.

Located between Mareeba and Atherton, the Mt Uncle Distillery was established by Mt. Uncle Grazing Co at the  Co.Co. at the turn of the 21st century. The distillery has slowly and surely built an impeccable & incomparable reputation for crafting fine, award winning liqueurs using only the finest bananas, mulberries, citrus fruits and coffee beans grown in the region.  Mt. Uncle Distillery prides itself on producing 100% natural, pure and preservative free liqueurs that capture the true essence and life of the fruit.

Situated in one of the wettest areas of the Atherton Tablelands, Malanda is surrounded by pockets of rainforest and rolling hills covered with lush green grass where dairy cows graze. Freshwater creeks snake their way through the hills, culminating in waterfalls that cascade into refreshing swimming holes. It is here that the Tropical North Queensland's dairy industry is centred and one of the world's largest dairy factories is supported by over 190 local dairy farmers. The dairy products sourced from this town travel along the longest milk run in the world, reaching south to Townsville, west to Alice Springs, north to Darwin and overseas to New Guinea and South East Asia. 

A regular journey by locals and visitors alike takes in the various village markets that are periodically held throughout the region. The oldest is in the historic precinct of Yungaburra where turn-of-the-century buildings provide a picturesque backdrop for the quaint art and craft activities and monthly markets.

Atherton's history has a strong Chinese influence as can be seen at the Hou Wang Chinese Temple and Museum. The 'Atherton Chinatown', as it is locally known, is the actual site of the original Cedar Camp settlement that was established by the Chinese community during the 1880s. The people from Southern China had come to northern Australia in search of gold but as the gold ran out, many came to this area to develop the farming land for the European settlers and establish their own market gardens.

Just north of Atherton, in the tiny town of Tolga, craftsmen and woodworkers of Tolga Woodworks create the most stunning artwork and furniture using Australia's unique timbers. The café and gallery also showcase North Queensland's collective talents of artisans working with hand-forged iron, hammered steel, ceramics, glass and silver.

Visitors to the Tablelands, mindful of the strange geological features of the region, are sometimes drawn to the Main Street of Atherton to experience the  Crystal Caves, an experience described as adventurous, educational, fun, interactive and maybe a little bizarre!  Here Australia's most spectacular collection of natural crystals and real fossils, has been placed in an underground fairytale land, where the visitor can wander around between amazing crystal formations and petrified wood, lift the heavy meteorite and shake the giant water agate to see 80 million year old water move! 


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