48 hours of grazing on the Atherton Tablelands
Since the early 1970s, Cairns has been Australia’s pin-up for long languorous getaways, where trips to the reef go hand in hand with pina coladas. But if you climb the impressive range that sits behind the town, you’ll be surprised to find rolling hills, populations of fat, happy cows and verdant coffee and cane farms.
Welcome to farm country, where the local residents (both two and four-legged types) are earthbound, artistic, laid back and ready to crack a chat. This is the perfect 48 hours of grazing on the Atherton Tablelands.
DAY 1: HEAD FOR THE HILLS
Warning! The itinerary below is F1 fast. If your holiday allows it, kick into tropical time, slow down and spend an extra night at Bushland Cottages or Eden House Retreat in the small village of Yungaburra, giving you time to have a drink at the pub and then check out the bohemian designer clothes at Global Freestyle and one-off locally crafted homewares at Artistree Gallery.
If time is short, strap yourself in for fast food, Tableland style.
8am: Cairns to Yungaburra (67km, 70 mins)
The Gillies Highway is not a road for the faint hearted, with heady turns and narrow roads, but the views during this 67km trail are certainly worth every tummy flip.
9:15am: Arrive at Lake Barrine
Wash down the drive with a 45 minute cruise around the pristine lake starting from Lake Barrine Rainforest and Wildlife Cruise and Teahouse followed by freshly made scones slathered with double clotted cream. Worried about your weight? Don’t be. You can always walk off the calories with a 6.5km hike around the lake or a short stroll to the 1,100 year old Twin Kauri Pines.
The Teahouse is open from 08:30 am-2.00pm daily (season depending) while cruises depart at 9:30am sharp! Make sure you check the website for times first.
Fifteen minutes further along is the quaint one-pub town of Yungaburra, and the perfect place to stop off for a cool brew at the grand Queenslander pub that lords over the lake. It’s too early for a beer with this schedule, but there are a few coffee shops in town.
11:30am: Gallo Dairyland (7km, 7 mins)
There’s no hiding where the milk comes from to make the award-winning dreamy cheeses sold here. From the moment you turn off the highway, you can see (and smell) the 500 or so resident bovines lowing happily in the 1000 acres of rolling hills.
Check out the cheese-making factory and sample the products. If you’re up for something robust, the local blue cheese is my pick of the lineup. Time your visit for the 3pm milking of the Fresian Cows. Gallo Dairyland is open from 9:30am until 4.30pm.
1:30 pm: Falls Teahouse (3km, 34 mins)
Whoever said you can never have too much Devonshire Tea has not been to the Atherton Tablelands. The Falls Teahouse, on Theresa Creek Road at the turnoff to the picturesque Millaa Millaa Falls, serves Devonshire Tea and some darned good lunch too.
If you want to slow the tour down, park yourself overnight in the original Queenslander federation house and enjoy a misty morning walk to the falls. Open daily from 10am until 5pm.
Or continue on to Mungalli Creek Dairy (another 9km, 9 mins at Brooks Road), known for its gluten-, preservative- and colour-free range of products and a brood of what is possibly the “most blessed free-range chickens in the world”. Here you can taste fresh milk, cheese, yoghurt and eggs or stay for lunch at the Out of the Whey Cheesery & Teahouse and sit in the shadows of Queensland’s tallest mountain – Mt Bartle Frere.
Tip: Try the Davidson Plum Yoghurt and taste the jammy flavours of a native fruit with freshly set yoghurt. Open: 10am – 4pm daily (except Christmas).
3pm: Tarzali Lakes Aqua Culture Centre (10km, 9 mins)
Jerky takes on a new flavour here with freshly-smoked and barbecued barramundi, crocodile and chicken, all created by third-generation butcher and smokehouse master, Dave Hoffman. This laid-back 40-acre aquaculture centre is stocked with 500,000 fish and the signboard guarantees you can even spot the elusive platypus, particularly if you stay until sundown.
Tarzali Lakes is open 10am to 4pm, five days a week (closed Monday and Friday).
4pm: Rose Gum Wilderness Retreat (30km, 43 mins)
Okay, so you wanted a real food trail? Well, here it is. Rose Gum Wilderness Retreat is a former dairy plunked in the midst of a newly generated rainforest which means that every stay comes with an orchestra of cicadas and a splash of primary colours as native birds dart around.
The 11 tree-top cottages offer floor to ceiling glass doors that open up onto a breathtaking rainforest canopy, making this retreat the modern version of Tarzan and Jane’s tree house.
LEAF restaurant doesn’t disappoint either. Bradley, one half of the live-in management team, happens to have blue-ribbon kitchen credentials and is a former chef with Hilton and Sofitel hotels. Beware! Servings are huge and the local scallops come with lashings of pureed cauliflower.
Like everywhere on the Atherton Tablelands, you can walk that off, this time on nine kilometres of marked trails. Amblers should book in for a morning guided wildlife tour to feed the rainbow lorikeets and the world’s smallest ‘roo, the Musky Rat-Kangaroo.
DAY 2: MAREEBA BOUND
10am: Tolga Woodworks (35km, 49 mins from Rose Gum Cottages)
Stop for a cup of fresh brew and shop for hand-crafted and designer homewares made from recycled local timber and steel. Located on the corner of Kennedy Highway and Tostevin Street, Tolga Woodworks is open daily from 9am to 5pm.
11:30am: Mt Uncle Distillery and lunch (16km, 13 mins)
It has to be cocktail hour somewhere! Sandwiched between rows and rows of banana trees in a picture-perfect plantation, Mt Uncle Distillery on Chewko Road, Walkamin is a stylish café built from local timber and the ubiquitous corrugated iron.
Open for lunch or coffee, most people are drawn here for the award-winning rum, yummy gins and a very fiery vodka. Open seven days from 10am till 4.30pm.
Tip: Save some tummy space for Sexy Cat, one puffy shot of marshmallow liqueur that goes down like pink velvet. It makes a great gift for the girls.
1:30pm: Coffee Time, Mareeba (27km, 21 mins)
Did we tell you Australians love their coffee? Set your GPS for Mareeba, home to Skybury Farmgate (open 9am to 4pm daily), Australia’s oldest producing plantation nestled in one of the nation’s richest food bowls west of Mareeba.
Alternatively, try Coffee Works (open 9am until 3pm), a riot of crazy colour and activity all housed in a massive industrial shed. Here, you can discover the history of the coffee machine, take a plantation tour and taste a flight of coffee. And if you are not into coffee, there’s also chocolate, liqueurs and teas.
Tip: For the perfect gift, we say buy the ‘Flavours of Australia’ gift pack featuring local Black Mountain and Queensland Blue beans roasted on-site and flavoured up.
4pm: Port Douglas (91km, 75mins)
Tropical North Queensland is billed as the only place on the planet where two UNESCO World Heritage-listed areas collide: It’s where the world’s oldest rainforest meets the Great Barrier Reef. In the middle of that is Port Douglas the swanky, celeb-filled town that has a long list of hotels and it’s own food trail worthy of a postcard or two back home.
There’s the contemporary Executive Retreats homes, the fun and funky QT Port Douglas and the family-friendly Mantra properties.
But, if you truly want to be in the middle of all that natural ‘carnage’ then book a few nights at Thala Beach Lodge. The world may be ‘mashing’ all around you, but the only thing you will experience here is bliss.
Located on a pretty summit just 10-minutes’ drive south of Port Douglas (overlooking the beach where Natalie Imbruglia married), this privately-owned resort is home to Ospreys restaurant, where the battered ocean barramundi with scallops and prawns is worthy of the last supper.