The southern end of the Tablelands is lush and green, with rolling hills and waterfalls, and the climate is perfect for dairy farming. To get there, head south from Cairns and turn right at Gordonvale. Follow the winding road past Frog Rock for around 45 minutes and that will bring you to Yungaburra. Don’t forget to enjoy the scenery and stop to check out the Cathedral Fig Tree!
Cathedral Fig Tree
Our first stop on the way to Yungaburra was the Cathedral Fig Tree, a 500 year old strangler fig located in the Danbulla State forest about 15 minutes from the main road. It is a huge fig tree with roots that hang down and create an enclosed little area. It is certainly beautiful and makes for a great photo opportunity.
After a quick walk around town, we stopped for lunch at the Yungaburra Whistle Stop Café and were blown away by the great service, relaxed and familiar atmosphere, and the great value of the yummy meals. This quaint little heritage town gets its name from the local Yidinyji language and means place of questioning. It remains relatively unchanged since 1910 and acts as a hub to a few local attractions.
Curtain Fig Tree
The Curtain Fig Tree is one of the largest trees in Tropical North Queensland and is a species of tree that strangles host trees. The way the Curtain Fig got its name is when the host tree fell over onto a neighbouring tree, the fig decided that one tree wasn’t enough and started to grow around both trees. The result is a huge curtain of roots that are absolutely breathtaking.
A perfect stop for any cheese lover, Gallo Dairyland is a fairly new edition to the Tablelands, but it depends on how you look at it. The owners bought it in 1937 as a standard rotary dairy farm, but they had the dream of turning it into an ‘integrated educational dairy farm experience’. Seventy years later in 2007, Gallo Dairyland opened to the public and offers delicious cheeses, chocolate, ice cream, lactose free options and a cafe, as well as the opportunity to meet some animals in the nursery, see how cows are milked and how the milk is processed.
We sampled their range of cheeses, with our favourites being the luscious macadamia cheese and bitey ‘Gallozola’, and we also tasted a few of the gourmet chocolates – YUM!
This beautiful blue green lake is located within the Crater Lakes National Park. It was formed around 12,000 years ago when magma from the earth’s core moved towards the crust and heated up the water table. The resulting steam led to an explosion that created the crater. There are no streams that feed the volcanic lake – its water comes from rain and the water level fluctuates around 4 metres during the year.
It’s a great spot for locals and tourists alike – the location is ideal for swimming, canoeing and wildlife watching, and there is a large grassed area that is perfect for picnics. Fishing and motor boats are not allowed, which gives the fish and turtles that live in the lake some peace and quiet.
This small Tableland town was first developed in the 1900s after the discovery of copper and tin at nearby Herberton. It is known for producing dairy and their furthest milk run went as far north as Weipa and as far west as Wyndham and Kununarra in Western Australia. That’s around 3,000 km!
Malanda Dairy Centre
The best place to get more info about the history of the region is the Malanda Dairy Centre. Essentially, it’s a cafe, but it also has an art gallery and museum with local history and stories from the War era. Definitely worth a visit, if not for a slice of cake.
On the edge of town is the Malanda Falls Conservation Park. There is a small waterfall and swimming hole there that is a great place for a picnic.
This small town has a population of around 300 people and includes a post office, library, newsagency, pub and a cafe. The traditional owners of the area are the Mamu people, and the words Millaa Millaa mean plenty of water.
The massive Lions Park that takes up most of the main Street is a perfect spot for picnic or BBQ. There is also a playground, a display of giant Kauri Pine logs and historical statue of the explorer Christie Palmerston and his aboriginal sidekick Pompo. Christie (yes, girls name for a dude) was the first European to make a track from Herberton to Innisfail. He was also the first European to climb Bartle Frere.
De Millaa’s Cafe
By the time we got to Millaa Millaa, we were starving for lunch. We got a burger each and an iced coffee to share. The one thing that stood out as exceptionally tasty was the bread – nice and gummy with a beautiful flavour. We just wish they had some music playing – the tranquillity of Millaa Millaa town couldn’t compete with the sounds of us chewing our lunch.
Mungali Creek Dairy
A dairy producer of yoghurts, milk and cheeses, Mungali Creek is a familiar brand with their yoghurts available at most local supermarkets. Their cheeses are also available at an outlet at Rusty’s. They were open for tasting and also have a little cafe that overlooks the operations.
Millaa Millaa Waterfall Circuit
The area around Millaa Millaa is known for waterfalls, including the heritage-listed Millaa Millaa Falls. This popular swimming spot is easily accessible and includes a lovely grassed area for sunbaking and picnicking. The beautiful cascade of water runs over volcanic basalt that was formed around 1.5 million years ago. As the basalt cooled, it formed cracks which have produced the columns behind the falls that you see today.
Further along the circuit is Zillie Falls. The viewing platform is located at the top of the falls, but it isn’t hard for the adventurous to locate the unkempt track that leads down to the bottom. There is plenty of opportunity to explore the boulders and pools below, but please be careful about getting into rapid water, and of flooding during the Wet Season.
The last stop along the loop is Ellinjaa Falls, a wide and irregular cascade of water over lava columns. The pool at the bottom is fairly shallow and rumour has it that it is popular hangout for platypi and turtles.
On your way to Innisfail from Millaa Millaa, you can see Queensland’s highest mountain in the distance – Bartle Frere. Its elevation is 1,622 metres above sea level and was named after Sir Henry Bartle Frere, a British colonial administrator who was also the president of the Royal Geographical Society (NERD!). Of course, it had a name before the British came to Australia – Chooreechillum.
So there you have it – the Tablelands. Our main highlights include Coffee Works and Mt Uncles Distillery in Mareeba, the Crystal Caves in Atherton, and Gallo Dairyland near Yungaburra. We also loved the enormous fig trees and lush countryside, with the deep blue sky contrasting with the green hills. After around 6 months of travelling through central Australia, it was such a relief to be out of the dry Outback and Savannah scrub.