5 Tips for Self Driving Tours of the Cairns Tablelands
Self driving tours of the Cairns Tablelands are a popular daytrip for travellers in Cairns wanting to explore beyond the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree Rainforest.
Hire a car, pick up a map, grab a handful of flyers and off you go. What could be easier?
The Cairns Tablelands lie inland to the west of Cairns. The area is at a higher altitude than Cairns but once you get to the top it plateau’s out, hence its more of a table top than a mountain range (although it’s a part of the Great Dividing Range).
It used to be known as the Atherton Tablelands and it is popular with bird watchers, outdoor enthusiasts and foodie’s.
There’s quite a lot to see but there are definitely a few things to know if you really want to get the most out of your trip.
tip number 1: take your time
When the locals come up to the Tablelands, they camp, bushwalk and find private places by creeks for a picnic and swim.
The whole point of coming here is to soak up the peace and quiet, spot some wildlife and appreciate nature.
So approach it with a relaxed mindset – think strolling rather than sprinting.
tip number 2: do some walking trails
There are many national park areas and walking trails in the Tablelands with beautiful views and look-outs. They vary in length so there is something for every fitness level from short flat lakeside walks to longer mountain trails.
tip number 3: focus on a particular area
The Tablelands cover quite a large area so it would be impossible to do it justice in one day. Choose an area to focus on that appeals to you most. Here’s an overview of to expect in each area:
- North Tablelands – Kuranda, Coffee plantations and museum, liqueur and wine tasting, hot air ballooning, feeding rock wallabies, Mareeba Wetlands (sunset cruise and bird watching)
- Central Tablelands – lakes, waterfalls, rainforest, Yungaburra (quaint village and platypus viewing), Herberton Historic Village
- Southern Tablelands – Mamu Rainforest Canopy Walk, waterfalls, lush scenery, walking trails, gourmet dairy produce (yummy cheeses), tea plantation and a side trip to Paronella Park
You could easily spend a day in each of these areas and find that it’s quite a full day if you’re driving back to Cairns.
tip number 4: avoid the weekends
If you time your visit for a weekday you will be able to enjoy the national parks pretty much all to yourself and get the best photos.
tip number 5: plan your lunch
There are quite a few nice places to stop for coffee, lunch and afternoon tea so if you’re a foodie, make sure you plan your itinerary around food stops.
Alternatively, take a picnic because there are lots of places where you might want to stop and enjoy the views.
Our recommendations for food stops would be:
- Mt. Uncle Distillery (near Mareeba) – nice pizzas for lunch with a bit of liqueur tasting thrown in
- Skybury Farmgate (near Mareeba) – beautiful views for afternoon tea (they don’t do lunch anymore)
- Jaques Coffee (near Mareeba) – a nice restaurant for lunch
- Lake Barrine Teahouse – Good for afternoon tea with gorgeous views over the lake
- Nick’s (Yungaburra) – good for lunch (Friday-Sunday only) and dinner
- Eden House Restaurant (Yungaburra) – award winning restaurant
- Gallo Dairyland – stop for a cheese tasting
Very few tourists to Far North Queensland stay overnight in the Tablelands (less than 5%) but there are some stunning retreats around Yungaburra so head for that area if you’re looking for hotels or accommodation. There are some beautiful nature retreats in that area.
travel nq fast facts:
- Self driving tours around the Cairns Tablelands are a great way to explore the area although there are local people who offer small group or private tours if you want to go off the beaten track or go wildlife spotting.
- There are many car hire companies in Cairns so unless you are travelling in peak season you may not need to book until you arrive.
- If you’re looking for somewhere to eat dinner in the Tablelands, head for Yungaburra (see above).