The Atherton Tablelands, Tropical North Queensland is the mountain hinterland region of the tropical city of Cairns.
The cool, elevated plateau of the Atherton Tablelands is well recognised for it’s beauty, the quality of its environment and abundant natural resources. The region is famous for spectacular waterfalls, tropical rainforests, outback escarpments, agriculture and gourmet produce, and getaway/short break accommodation.
The Atherton Tablelands is a diverse region, covering an area of 64,768 square kilometres – larger than the main island of the State of Tasmania – and home to 45,243 people (estimated resident population, Census 2011).
The main population centres on the Atherton Tablelands are Mareeba and Atherton. Smaller towns include Malanda, Herberton, Kuranda, Ravenshoe, Millaa Millaa, Chillagoe, Dimbulah, Mt Garnet, Mt Molloy, Tinaroo and Yungaburra.
The region spreads westwards and southwards from the coastal escarpment behind Cairns and incorporates parts of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area to the east, the Einasleigh Uplands to the south, the Gulf Plains to the west and the Cape York Peninsula bioregion to the north.
The Atherton Tablelands region is situated in the vicinity of 16-17º south latitude. Its elevation above sea level ranges from about 400 metres towards the north western end to 1,280 metres in the southern areas encompassing the former Herberton and Eacham Shires.
The mountainous region in the east reaches heights above 1600 metres, including Queensland’s highest mountain Mt Bartle Frere at 1622 metres.
Because of its altitude, the region does not suffer from temperature extremes or the high humidity experienced in coastal areas. The northern part of the region enjoys cool, dry winters and warm, wet summers with minimum daily temperatures in winter rarely falling below 15ºC and maximum daily summer temperatures rarely exceeding 35ºC. To the south, rainfall is much higher with the area around Topaz recording some of the highest annual rainfall in Australia. Temperatures are also lower with a range of between 17 and 25ºC from September to June and between 5 and 14ºC from July to August.
The considerable range in elevation, rainfall and soil types has produced an incredibly diverse and beautiful region. There is a prolific diversity in natural flora and fauna, ranging from tropical highland rainforests to dry tropical savannah.
Water, soils and diverse growing conditions have supported development of a wide range of agricultural and horticultural cropping operations. The region’s farmers and support services represent, in most cases, best international practice in farming in a tropical environment. Water supplied from Tinaroo Dam enables a tremendous range of fruit and vegetables to be grown to supply both the domestic and overseas markets.
The range of crops grown is truly amazing and includes avocados, bananas, cashews, citrus, coffee, cow pea, custard apples, dolichos, flowers, fresh herbs, grapes, grass seed, legume seed, lettuce, longans, lychees, macadamia, maize, mangoes, mixed vegetables, navy beans, potatoes, passionfruit, papaya, peaches, peanuts, pineapples, pumpkins, sorghum, sugar cane, sweet potatoes, tea tree, tomatoes, native trees, turf and watermelons.
The cattle industry also plays a significant role in the region’s economy and in recent years the value of animals produced in the region has been approximately $35 million per annum.
To the south, around the Malanda/Millaa Millaa area, the dairy industry is significant and the Atherton Tablelands dairy industry is the only tropical dairy industry in Australia and one of the few globally. Other agriculture based industries include poultry, fruit wineries, aquaculture and timber.
With its remarkable scenic qualities, the Atherton Tablelands is a popular tourist destination. Visually the region is stunning. It encompasses a myriad of waterfalls, broad mountain vistas, clear mountain streams, crater lakes, National Parks and freehold pristine rainforests, popular and attractive villages such as Kuranda and Yungaburra oriented to tourism, rich outback savannah wetlands teeming with bird life, historic mining towns, limestone caves, rich farming vistas and stark outback scenery reminiscent of Cape York and Kakadu.
The Atherton Tablelands’ history and landscape includes our rich and robust Aboriginal heritage. With its location within a World Heritage Area, adjacent to an international airport and within a region that is already a destination for some 2.2 million visitors per annum, it has unrealised tourism potential.