Atherton .. The heart of the Atherton Tablelands
Atherton was the first settlement on the Atherton Tablelands and was named after John Atherton a grazier explorer who drove cattle from his property near Mackay to the goldfields of the Palmer River in 1873, the town was originally a stopover point for miners and carters heading from Cairns to the tin mines in Herberton. John Atherton was the first to find tin deposits in Northern Queensland; local folklore is that Tinaroo Creek received its name from Atherton who shouted ‘Tin! Hurro!” when he made his first tin discovery with his two friends William Jack and John Newell. They found the lode which became famous as the Great Northern Tin Mine.
Atherton is on the northern end of Queensland’s Great Dividing Range the town is built on the side of Halloran’s Hill an extinct volcano, approximately 94 klms southwest of Cairns; the Atherton tablelands region ranges in altitude of between 500 to 1,280 meters (1,600-4,200ft) above sea level with a humid sub-tropical climate that differs from the surrounding tropical Savannah, temperature extremes range from 36.7C (98.1 F) to minus-0.6C (30.9F) the average annual rainfall is 1,378.8mm (54.3in). The Atherton Tablelands area covers 32,000 square kilometres, an area greater than the island state of Tasmania. Atherton is 753m above sea level.
Millaa Millaa a small town on the Far North Tropical Tablelands, is the Southern gateway to the Atherton Tableland. Settled in lush green hilly countryside, beside the Wooroonooran Wet Tropics National Park and at the top of the Palmerston Highway, Millaa Millaa and it is aptly named.
Only 5 minutes from Millaa Millaa you will find the world famous Millaa Millaa Waterfalls. Images of these falls have been used in Australian promotional material worldwide,
Atherton, the beating heart of the Atherton tablelands is blessed with many natural attractions including lakes, volcanic craters, streams, rainforest, massive fig trees, waterfalls, lookouts, swamps, wetlands, wildlife, flora and fauna, rolling hills, rich pastoral countryside, and man made Tinaroo Dam.
With so much to see one finds it difficult to choose a starting point for your journey, from the Crystal Caves in the main street where you will see the world’s biggest Amethyst geode ‘The Empress Of Uruguay’ and the newest additions the “magic spheres”. The man made cave exhibits over 600 specimens of rare gemstones and fossils.
Move on to learn about the earliest Chinese culture in Chinatown where you will find the fascinating Chinese History Museum, visit the only temple outside of China dedicated to Hou Wang, the temple is the only surviving timber and iron temple in Queensland, and one of the few reminders of the earliest settlers in Atherton, Chinese settlers moved from the Palmer River Goldfields in the early 1900’s and soon grew in number to over 1,000 to became one of the largest concentrations of Chinese people settled on the Atherton Tablelands, Chinatown bloomed in 1919 advancing from homes of rough straw huts to sawn timber houses with verandahs and corrugated iron roofs, as huge timber stands were cleared for farming, they were accredited as the pioneers of agriculture in North Queensland, rowing 80% of the tableland crops and produce, and playing a vital role in the district by opening up the area for farmland and dairying. Among the early Chinese settlers were doctors, herbalists, cooks, merchants and farmers,providing vital services to early Atherton.
Hallorans Hill Lookout And Walking Trail
Hallorans Hill is a volcanic crater with a 360 degree panoramic view, take a five minute drive from the Atherton Visitors Centre on Main Street or you may walk to the lookout, around 90 minutes for a return trip, the walking track starts at the environmental Park next to the Atherton hospital in Louise street. Walk up the side of this extinct volcano and you will see a curtain fig, miniature waterfalls, rock pools and rainforest, look for bush turkeys, birdlife, lizards, wildlife and on occasion the elusive tree-kangaroos, (a kangaroo that climbs trees), have been sighted. Take in the view of the Atherton Tablelands, Lake Tinaroo, The Seven Sisters, volcanic hills prominent on the flat plains recognisable as 45-60 meter high cinder cones, extinct volcanoes, and a splendid view of the western side of Queensland’s highest mountain, Mt Bartle Frere, and Bellenden Kerr, the second highest Mountain in Queensland, the Coastal Range and the Great Dividing Range. Relax with a picnic and utilise one of the covered BBQ’s at the site, for the children there is a lovely play area with fun interpretations of the much loved landmarks in the area. Toilets, universal access paths, native gardens and extensive trails to explore. Hallorans hill was named after two early settlers, Catherine and Michael Halloran who farmed the hill for around 16 years in 1890 the families moved on to own hotels in Atherton and Tolga. The Rainforest adjacent to the lookout park, Mabi Forest once covered much of the Tableland, north and west of Malanda, most of this Complex Notophyll Vine forest (Mabi Forest) has been cleared and only 3 % of its original area remains. The rainforest trail walk enters the old crater and passes a large curtain fig tree, and many spring fed gullies.
The rich volcanic soils and climate of the Atherton Tablelands is ideal for growing crops of bananas, sugarcane, corn/maize, beans, avocados, strawberries, macadamia nuts, peanuts, mangoes, citrus fruits, honey, and tobacco, the tobacco industry was ended by a Government buyout in October 2006. Just about any crop will flourish in the tableland; there are many country roadside stalls where fresh local produce may be purchased. Atherton owes its development to its large stands of red cedar, it was so valuable, it was called the “red gold” of the Atherton Tablelands. Other timbers included kauri pine, maple, walnut, black bean, white beech and red tulip oak, these massive trees were felled and milled, the timber was used for building homes, shops and sheds, and was exported by rail to Cairns.
On the outskirts of Atherton you will find the Gallo Dairy and Chocolate factory, a perfect opportunity to satisfy your chocoholic urges,sample heavenly chocolates and taste quality cheese, take the time to do the tour, it’s interesting to watch them being made at the factory.
Hasties Swamp (Nyleta Wetlands) is 1.8 klms south of Atherton on the Herberton Road, there are over 300 bird species living on the Atherton Tablelands, take the opportunity to see many of them from the two story Bird Hide, the hide is wheel chair accessible on the lower level, see the displays of the life of the swamp birds, the Bird Hide is part of the history of the old heritage trail. Twitchers call this area a hot spot; observe nesting behaviour, the Australian spotted crane, Australian wood duck and the black necked stork are just an example of some of the bird species you may see in such a large concentration of birds. There is no fee to visit the hide.
Atherton’s maize festival is held at the end of August, the festival features a Maize Queen pageant, children’s amusement rides, a parade with decorated floats, decorated shop windows, artwork competitions, and many activities including a tug- of- war and wood chopping events. Trans North offers a number of bus services within the region.
Atherton is surrounded by satellite towns from the historic mining town of Herberton in the west to Yungaburra, The Curtain Fig, Lake Eacham, and Peeramon in the east, southeast is Malanda, Tarzali and Milla Milla, to the north Tolga, Walkamin, Rocky Creek, Mareeba, the Cathedral Fig and the small town of Kairi is east of Toga on the road to the 45.1 meter high Tinaroo Dam wall, the submerged area of Danbulla on Robinsons creek was lost to dam waters and the last town to be flooded was the town of Kulara, in dry years when the water levels of Lake Tinaroo drop, some of the buildings of Kulara may be seen beneath the Tinaroo Lake waters.
All of the Atherton tablelands towns have market days, and display a diverse range of creative products, art, clothing, cottage items, jewellery, woodcraft, fresh produce, preservatives, homemade foods and beverages and unique gift items for loved ones, family and friends. You will be delighted and pleasantly surprised with some of the little treasures that may be found on a visit to one of the markets, the most notable being the Yungaburra markets, held on the third Saturday of every month and drawing regular market followers from Cairns and Innisfail. Yungaburra is 12 minutes 13.1 klms from Atherton and 14 minutes 13.9 klms from Malanda.