Atherton Tablelands - Things To Do In Cairns | Cairns Tours

The Atherton Tablelands

The stunning expanse of the Atherton tablelands is located in part of the Great Dividing Range, and is about 108 km from beautiful Cairns. This tropical environment is a highly fertile plateau due to its volcanic origins, and the land radiates plant-life. Its 32,000-km² terrain has a varying altitude that ranges from 500 to 1,280 m, making this rugged mountainous region a perfect walking destination.  The Barron River is the principal flowing river that runs through this majestic landscape; this river was dammed to form an irrigation reservoir called Lake Tinaroo, which holds host to a small 1.6MW hydroelectric plant.


The area was first explored in 1875 by a man named JV Mulligan; however, it was John Atherton – the area’s first settler – who had the pleasure of being the town’s namesake. The original settlement transpired because of the rich deposits of tin and small veins of gold that permeated the area. According to legend, Tinaroo Creek was named when Atherton found tin there, shouting ‘Tin! Hurroo!’ upon his discovery. When Atherton – along with his companions, William Jack and John Newell – discovered the now famous Great Northern Tin Mine, an influx of Hodgkinson’s Goldfields miners arrived, paving the way for the eventual arrival of timber cutters and other settlers. It was the large amount of quality timber within the area that boosted the Atherton population and industrial strength.

Prior to the development of the town of Atherton, Chinese pioneers established the agricultural lands within the area, opening up this amazing space to settlement by others. The Chinese are credited with playing a vitally important role in establishing this region’s farmland, as well as the town itself. These days, the Atherton area sustains dairy, grazing and poultry, as well as sugarcane, banana, corn, strawberries, avocadoes, macadamia nuts, citrus, mangoes and tobacco crops.

On the tourism front, the Atherton Tablelands are an exceedingly popular location for visitors wishing to explore this region from the Cairns gateway. The primary natural attraction is the Tinaroo Dam – an amazing body of water, 3/4 the size of Sydney Harbour (a capacity of 407,000 mega litres) and a dam wall that reaches 45.1 metres high. The largest towns within the region are Atherton and Mareeba, but towns such as Kuranda and Yungaburra are certainly attractive options for visitors. Kuranda, in particular, is a major tourist drawcard, with access from Cairns through either the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway or the Kuranda Scenic Railway – both attractions within themselves. This stunning little village is situated on the top of the gorgeous McAlister Range, right in the heart of the rainforest. The rainforests covering parts of the Atherton Tablelands are considered extremely important wildlife and birdlife areas, supporting over one percent of the world’s bird population and housing quite a few rare and endangered species.


With areas, such as Lake Barrine, Lake Eacham, the Undara Volcanic National Park, the Hann Tableland National Park, the Curtain Fig Tree near Yungaburra and Mount Hypipamee Crater and Dinner Falls, there is much to see and do in this glorious region. The Atherton Tablelands are definitely a must-do when visiting the Cairns region, as this area really emanates the true beauty of the Australian landscape.

Cairns Tours provides a whole range of Cairns based day tours and aims to help provide the best information about other things to do in Cairns.