Cairns and tropical north Queensland

Cairns: 48-hour itinerary

Cairns Insider
Stay in Lake Eacham Hotel stopping at the lake for a swim in the purest water in the world. (AAP Image/Jordan Baker)
Stay in Lake Eacham Hotel before swiming Lake Eacham, the purest water in the world. (AAP/Jordan Baker)
"Follow the sign to Mt Uncle distillery and taste banana and mango liqueurs."
Cairns Insider

If a weekend's all you have, don't despair — you can see a surprising amount of Cairns and the Atherton Tablelands in a short time.

Day one

Leave Cairns driving north on Sheridan St which becomes the Captain Cook Highway north of the city limits – to the Kuranda Range. Follow the winding range road (25km) to Kuranda, known worldwide as the village in the rainforest. Kuranda made its reputation as an artist enclave in the early 1970’s. Visit the Kuranda markets for vestiges of those halcyon days of handmade craft.

Visit Kuranda’s first class nature based sanctuaries koalas, butterflies, native and exotic birds, kangaroos and reptiles. See the mighty Barron Falls or traditional Aboriginal dancers perform at Rainforest Station, travel on the Barron Queen Riverboat on the Barron River. Any of these will take a two to three hour stop.

From Kuranda drive west on the Kennedy Highway to Mareeba, agricultural hub of the Atherton Tablelands. Turn right and drive along Byrnes Street though the town. To the north of Mareeba the road becomes the Peninsula Development Road. Travel 7 km north to the town of Biboohra and take a left at Pickford Road opposite the Biboohra Store. Travel the graded gravel surface 7km to the Mareeba Wetlands 5000 unparalleled sq kilometers of sanctuary of wetland birdlife at the foot the Hann Tablelands.

Leave the wetlands turning south toward Mareeba turn right on the Dimbulah Road. Travel 9km and turning right on Ivicevic Road to Skybury Coffee Plantation. Perched on the Great Dividing Range 550m above sea level, 300 hectares of coffee and tropical fruit tree plantations flourishes. Tour the plantation watch a movie on coffee production. Ideal place for lunch in the restaurant on the huge open deck overlooking the plantation, the landscaped waterfall gardens with a breathtaking view to the Hann range. Continue west along the Burke Development Road — known as the Wheelbarrow Way — in honour of miners who fit their worldly possessions in a wheelbarrow to transport from dig to dig — through the cattle and horse breeding towns of Mulchilba and Dimbulah. Stop at the quaint old pub at Almadeen and continue to the town of Chillagoe. Stop at the Hub Information Centre on Queen Street for tours and information on nearby Chillagoe-Mungana National Park. Chillagoe is known for caves of breathtaking beauty. Laid down 400 million years ago, the limestone has been weathered, dissolved and reformed by water to create caverns and passages like nowhere else in Australia. Join a ranger on a guided cave tour to view splendid limestone formations or explore some of the caves on your own. Drive the historic interpretive trail at the Chillagoe smelters.

For your stay visit Chillagoe Tourist Village, Queens St for budget cabins or Chillagoe Observatory and Eco Lodge Hospital Av., and Post Office Hotel Queens Street for a traditional pub meal.

Day two

Retrace your journey along the Wheelbarrow Way , turning south on the Peninsula Development Road through Mareeba continue on the Kennedy Highway 10 min to the small village of Walkamin turn left at the Mt Uncle distillery sign and follow Chewko Road approximately 2km to the Distillery — taste banana, mango liqueurs. Drive on turning right into Pgiatta Road and follow the signs to Granite Gorge Nature Park. Buy feed and hand feed wild wallabies. Walk amongst huge granite boulders of Granit creek. Retrace journey turning south on the Kennedy Highway 17km to Tolga. Stop at the Tolga Woodworks to see the most beautiful handmade art and craft and have the best home style lunch on the Tablelands.

From Tolga drive to Atherton through the Tolga scrub; a stand of trees representative of the once majestic rainforests of the Atherton Tablelands. Drive through the town through the roundabout on the southern end of the street travel approximately 1km to the Hou Wang Temple at Atherton's Chinatown — wonderful history of Chinese settlers in North Queensland attracted by the gold rush of the 1800’s.

For a side trip take the Atherton- Herberton Road 15km to Herberton. Herberton Historical Village claims to be the largest collection of Australiana in Queensland with 32 buildings, including an old school, a coach and livery stable, a miner's hut, a slab hut dating from 1870, a bank, a presbytery, a telephone exchange and a pub. Entry is free. Try the Australian or Royal Hotel for a cold one on.

Follow the road out of town 15km past Wondecla. At the t-junction turn right and travel 22km on to Ravenshoe, Queensland’s highest town at 930m above sea-level home to the state’s highest pub. In 1987 the government declared the 900,000 hectares of surrounding rainforest as world heritage listed the town’s industry changed from timber mills to tourism, beef and dairy farming

Return following the Kennedy Highway a few kilometres out of town to the Crater National Park at Mount Hypipamee. A short walk of 400 metres leads to the extinct volcanic vent hole estimated to be 95 000 years old. The sheer sides drop of 56 m is to the pool 82.3 m – walk the track to Dinner Falls.

Follow the Kennedy to the roundabout at Atherton and turn right to Yungaburra Village to spend your second night on the tablelands. Try the Lake Eacham Historic Hotel, Birds‘n’Bloom Cottages for luxury or McLean Ridge Guest House, McLean Road for self service accommodation just out of town. Try Eden House Restaurant for the sophisticated culinary using Tableland produce or Nick’s for the old style European cuisine and local bonhomie.

Watch Platypus and walk along the newly reforested Petersen Creek. Take a Yungaburra Heritage Walk in a town with the highest proportion of heritage listed buildings in rural Queensland. Drive the Gillies Highway stopping at Lake Eacham for a swim in the purest water in the world. Lunch at the Lake Barrine Tea House and cruise in the afternoon with a wildlife tour around the crater lake.

Drive the scenic Gillies highway back to Cairns.

Have you tried any of the places on this itinerary? Got any ideas we haven't thought of? Have your say using the comments form below.

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User comments
I tried to find the Cascade falls, but no clear directions? Sorry I missed it.