There are few things more exciting than finding a new place to explore when you’re on holiday – a semi-secret paradise unknown to the normal traveller, but one that you have experienced. These locations are all the more rewarding when they’re away from the hustle and bustle of a city, and you can get a real sense of having the place to yourself.

Enter the Atherton Tablelands, a gorgeous region west of Cairns that showcases the best that Australia has on offer for the senses. It’s one of the undisputed highlights of northern Queensland, so don’t hesitate, rent a car in Cairns and discover the area.

a photo of cane fields and the road near cairns
Set out from Cairns on a great day trip into the Wet Tropics.

The drive from Cairns

Before you even arrive at the Tablelands, the journey is already well-worth it thanks to the incredible scenery provided by the drive itself. Taking about an hour and a half along Australia’s National Route 1, the trip by road is described by the Cairns Australia Travel Guide as akin to finding yourself in another country.

This change is due to the elevation of the area (500 to 1,280 metres), which results in a vastly different range of flora and fauna then the much lower-lying areas along the coastline. The landscape runs the gamut from lush forests to orchards and coffee plantations, providing an ever-shifting portrait of the Wet Tropics World Heritage area.

If you find yourself getting a bit restless behind the wheel, and in need of a pick-me-up, make a stop at Mareeba – the centre of Australia’s coffee industry – for a rejuvenating cup of joe. While you sip your coffee, you can absorb the fresh, clean air of a town which is considered by some to boast the best climate in the country. You may even like the coffee so much that you decide to pick up a bag or two of beans to take home, so make sure you’ve rented a car with enough space for your haul.

The Atherton Tablelands

Once you arrive at the Atherton Tablelands, you’ll be treated to yet more natural beauty in the so-called ‘food bowl of the tropics’ – which boasts more delicious gourmet products than you can shake a bottle of pinot noir at. That’s not all you’ll find in the region though, as the greenery hides a few hidden treasures just begging to be explored.


The empress of Uruguay. The hero of the show, she stands 3.5 meters tall.

A photo posted by The Crystal Caves (@crystalcaves) on

Aug 7, 2014 at 1:31am PDT

The first stop you’ll want to make is at the Tableland’s most famous attraction – the Crystal Caves. Built by rock and mineral enthusiast Rene Boissevain to house his incredible collection, the Caves extend underground for more than 250 square metres and hold hundreds of precious treasures from across the globe. The undisputed highlight, though, has to be the Empress of Uruguay. Over three metres tall, the Empress is the world’s largest amythest geode, and unlike at many museums you are more than welcome to get up close and even touch it.

Once you’ve finished at the Caves, it’s probably just about time to head back to Cairns, but make sure to stop in at the small town of Millaa Millaa on the way. It may not seem like much on first glance, but hosts three of the most incredible waterfalls in the Tablelands area, as well as as the well-known ‘waterfall circuit’ that travels between them and is one of the highlights of the region. They are absolutely not to be missed and mark the perfect way to cap off a great day trip.

For more information about car rental in Cairns and a day trip to the Atherton Tablelands, be sure to contact the team at East Coast Car Rentals today.