Atherton Tablelands waterfall road trip
There’s no doubting that Queensland is a beautiful state. We realised this when we visited Mount Tamborine. But the deeper we went into the Far North it clearer it became that Queensland would be a big contender as our favourite part of Australia. After falling in love with Townsville, our road trip from Brisbane to Cairns took us inland to explore as many of Tropical Queensland’s waterfalls as possible, most notably, within the Atherton Tablelands.
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The Atherton Tablelands was our first taste of Tropical Queensland as we travelled from the south. It’s the starting point for the ‘Wet Tropics’ and a UNESCO World Heritage site that links to the Far Norths Daintree Rainforest. An Atherton Tableland waterfall road trip was an absolute must for us, especially after our visit to Mount Tamborine. If there’s anything we love more than road trips, it’s a road trip that includes waterfalls, so the Atherton Tablelands waterfall route was perfect for us and broke up our trip along the coast nicely. If you’re planning on doing a road trip to see the Atherton Tablelands waterfalls, here’s how we did it including which were our favourites and which of the Atherton Waterfall is a hidden gem (in our opinion).
Driving to Wallaman Falls took us away from the main route to Atherton, I was cautious at first as it meant doing a big detour then looping back on ourselves to get back on track but trust me, it’s worth it. The drive took us through open cattle fields where calves grazed along the roadside and wallabies laid sunning themselves, then just as you start getting used to dodging cows the road takes an incline and we were soon winding our way up the mountain watching the town below us gradually fade into the distance, stopping at each lookout point to fully appreciate what rolled out below us; views that opened up right out to the ocean.
At 286m tall, Wallaman Falls is Australia’s tallest single drop waterfall, it’s pool is over 20m deep and the whole area of Girringun National Park is hugely important to The Warrgamaygan people, who are connected to it both historically and spiritually. Wallaman Falls is roughly 50km inland from Ingham and was the first fall we visited during out Atherton Tablelands waterfall road trip.
We were nearing the end of the dry season when we visited Wallaman Falls so it wasn’t at it’s best, but it certainly wasn’t disappointing. 2 large viewing platforms have been built as well as several walking tracks that give visitors an opportunity to walk down into the gorge. Had Wallaman Falls been in full flow, we may have been tempted to take the long walk down and swim in its plunge pool but with plenty of others to see over the next few days, we chose not to.
If you do want to do the walk though, it begins next to the car park and is a 3.2km return – down on the way there, up on the way back.
- a short walk from the carpark
- longer walks available
- camping available nearby
- best seen just after the wet season
As we approached Nandroya falls from Innisfail the scenery changed quite quickly and before we knew it we were surrounded by rainforest, breathing in the hot humid air that goes hand in hand with jungle locations. From the carpark there’s a long winding track that takes you through the rainforest and down to the waterfall, this track has two options; take the same track in/out (2.4km return) or take the loop track from the waterfall (just over 5km return). Strangler figs towered over us, hugging us into their shade and ‘wait-o-whiles’ hung carelessly hoping to snatch their next victim, luckily the track is fairly well marked out making it easy to enjoy the views without risk of getting lost in the heart of the jungle.
Rain threatened above which made the tropical humidity very heavy while we rock hopped creeks but we didn’t let it stop us enjoy the walk, we even stopped off at Silver Falls along the way for a bit of a swim and a cool off. Once we reached Nandroya, we weren’t overly taken aback by this cluster of falls. Like with Wallaman, the dry season had taken its toll and the water was fading fast; I was sure another week without some serious rain would see these falls stop flowing. Even so, it was still worth the walk and the water was enticing. If it wasn’t for the mammoth amount of biting horse flies that harassed us, we would have stayed longer.
On the return journey we chose to take the short route and head back up the same track that bought us in, while some would say that’s lazy it turned out to be a blessing in disguise; within 5 minutes of leaving Nandroya the clouds opened up and we found ourselves in the middle of the rainforest in the rain. In England, I used to hate the rain, but here it’s a relief, especially after seeing how dry the land was, I couldn’t help but smile at the thought of Wallaman (and Nandroya) getting the much-needed downpour. Plus, it meant our next stop on our Atherton Tablelands waterfall road trip will hopefully have had a nice boost and be flowing nicely.
- 2.4km or 5+km return walk, depending on the track
- LOTS of biting flies not put off by bug repellent
- Creeks to cross, easily done unless there’s been lots of rain
- Best seen just after the rain
Be prepared for a dramatic change in surroundings at Mungalli Falls. As with all our road trips, we’re never really sure where they’re going to take us, but the road through to Mungalli was far from what we expected. After having a few hours in the middle of the towering rainforests, being out in the middle of open fields and rolling hills within a matter of minutes was something our mind couldn’t comprehend, the ever chaining landscape of Australia had surprised us again and showed us exactly why we love road tripping so much.
Mungalli Falls is one of the most accessible waterfalls on the Atherton Tablelands if you can figure out how to get to it. Getting to Mungalli Falls is a bit confusing as it’s tucked away behind private property. You’re allowed (and encouraged) to park at the Education Centre rather than on the road, something we hadn’t realised until after we drove past it. The walk from there is a relatively short easy one that actually goes through their property; including the restaurant if you want to see the lookout that has a view directly down onto the falls. It’s a clever set up really as it shows you the activities they put on for paying campers as well as their menu, something that we didn’t take advantage of, unfortunately.
Once we reached the falls we found a small wooden lookout that stopped you going down to the water, which is understandable because there’s a colony of glow worms living here too as well as the occasional sighting of Platypus in the plunge pool below the water.
Here’s our guide to finding platypus on the Atherton Tablelands, if you’re curious.
Before heading back to the car we decided to head over to the Mungalli Creek Platypus walk that runs away from the waterfall. This was before we’d managed to see them in the wild so we were eager to try our luck. We’d heard heaps of people say they’d managed to see them here so we got settled in a quiet corner by the bank and waited… and waited… we saw hundreds of freshwater turtles but unfortunately, no Platypus.
- Park at the education centre and follow their signs
- Short easy walk from the car park
- Platypus creek walk a fun addition
- Camping options nearby
Ellinjaa Falls is one of three that makes up a mini route called the Millaa Millaa waterfall circuit and it’s back inside the rainforest, not far from the small town ‘Millaa Millaa’. This is often visited as a waterfall day trip from Cairns as it’s a fairly quick and easy route to do as a self-drive tour if you’re like us and don’t like tour groups. Knowing this we got to Ellinjaa early to try and beat the crowds but we hadn’t have bothered.
While Ellinjaa lookout is again just a short walk from the carpark, it’s disappointing, to say the least. Not the waterfall, no, the recent rains had made sure Ellinjaa was at it’s best, well, close to her best; we’d not had that much rain. What was disappointing was how overgrown the lookout was. That’s nature though and thankfully hidden behind some more overgrown jungle was a set of steep slippery stairs, yep the rain had made sure that Ellinjaa was covered from all direction to stop her getting any tourist visitors that day.
We powered through though and the result was an entire morning at the base of the waterfall, just us! Who’d have thought we’d find that on the Millaa Millaa waterfall circuit! There were no evil biting flies there either which was a double bonus for us.
- A short walk from the car park
- Find the ‘hidden steps’ (next to the lookout) to access the base of the fall
- Slippery and steep steps on the route down
- Quietest waterfall on the Millaa Millaa waterfall circuit
The next stop on the Millaa Millaa waterfall circuit and the 5th for our Atherton Tablelands waterfall road trip were Zillie Falls. This is also located next to the car park but the view from the platform that goes alongside the falls is very restricted. Not really looking down at it, but not looking across it either it’s yet another view that doesn’t allow you to take in the waterfalls full beauty. However, just behind the viewing platform is a route suitable for those looking for adventure and a better view of Zillie Falls. I’m still not sure if this is, or ever has been, an official track to the base of the waterfall but if it is, it needs some serious maintenance. Definitely don’t try and get down after some heavy rain.
There isn’t anything to guide the way. No steps or handrails like we’d seen at other waterfalls, no tourist signs or marker points. Just a faded overgrown dirt path that zigzagged it’s way down the steep bank, over fallen trees and across boulders in the river. We’re not complaining, not at all, routes like this are great to explore and meant that not many people would bother to explore it. So for a waterfall that’s listed in hundreds of tourist brochures, it was weird.
Once at the bottom of the falls, there was still quite a bit of boulder climbing and rock hopping to do before we actually got a half decent view but the water was cool and we were the only ones there again; minus the onlookers from the platform above. We saw plenty of fresh water turtles here again, basking in the shallow creek that leads away from the falls.
We found an easier route on the way back up but to describe it would be pointless as nature has a way of changing and morphing as each day passes. Just know that getting to the bottom is possible, follow the faded track and you’ll get there; eventually.
- Awkward viewing platform close to the car park
- Difficult track to the base but worth it (not suitable after rain)
- Wildlife spotting at the bottom of the falls
- Rock hopping and boulder climbing required to get a good view
Millaa Millaa Falls
The mummy of all waterfalls, the namesake for this circuit and the busiest and most commercial waterfall I’ve ever seen. There’s a reason though. Millaa Millaa waterfall is the same fall used in the famous song by Peter Andre, you know the one, every 90’s kid had a poster featuring him topless under this waterfall… ’Mysterious Girl’. Not only that, it’s been featured in a famous Herbal Essences TV commercials.
I’m not sure if only UK + Aussie readers will know that brand and that commercial (?)… so for those who don’t, it’s a shampoo/conditioner brand that famously uses women over sexually washing there hair under waterfalls.
Alongside Millaa Millaa falls is also a block of toilets, a changing room and designated coach parking; just to give you an idea of just how busy this place gets. They’ve also added manicured lawn and built a concrete platform perfectly positioned for selfies and group photos. It was a little bit too touristy for us but we stayed to relax in the shade for a bit and try and wait out the crowds; it never happened. With each coach load that left two more would arrive along with a crowd of tourists all wanting to get ‘that shot’ in the waterfall; either the Peter Andre pose or a well-timed hair flick.
It is still worth seeing though, it’s not the prettiest waterfall from out Atherton Tablelands waterfall road trip but it’s the most iconic.
Ahh, Barron Falls. There waterfall that started this madness. We saw Barron Falls advertised on a poster somewhere and after some digging, we came up with this whole Atherton Tablelands road trip. Barron is a mammoth waterfall that would definitely rival Wallaman Falls is it was in full flow. It also rivals Millaa Millaa falls for the top spot as the most touristy waterfall!
Barron Falls is in the town Kuranda, we continued driving through Atherton, Peterson and Mareeba which gave us a big tour of what the rainforest has to offer, ya know, besides high humidity and lots of beautiful but weird trees – like the ‘wait-o-whiles’ I mentioned earlier that latch on to your skin as you pass… anyway… As we pulled in to Kuranda it was quite clear that Barron Falls was a big deal. Adverts for the sky rail were everywhere and the brown touristy signs got that bit bigger. The town its self didn’t seem too busy though.
Barron Falls is roughly a 10 to 15-minute walk from the big car park, via a sky deck that winds through the trees and down towards the waterfall. There are several ways of getting a closer look of waterfall though; There’s the sky rail, a network of cable cars that they like to up-sell at every corner, or there’s the steam train. The sky rail takes you above the treetops giving you an aerial view of the area while the train takes you up close and personal with Barron Falls. They’re also in the process of building a platform in front of the falls too, but I’m unsure on how that will distrust the view from other methods.
While Barron Falls is 100% set up for the tourists, we still enjoyed seeing it even during the dry season. There’s a lot of history here too, which is talked about as you walk through the Sky Deck
Atherton Tablelands waterfall road trip Falls awards:
- Fave: Barron
- Busiest: Millaa Millaa
- Hardest to get to: Zillie
- Hidden gem: Ellinjaa
I don’t think we’ll ever get bored of rock hopping to find waterfalls, and while this route can be done as a day trip from Cairns, it also makes the perfect 3-day detour from Townsville. Have you done this Atherton Tablelands waterfall road trip? We’d love to know if you found any others that need to be added to the list!!
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