Visit the Atherton Tablelands Waterfalls Circuit

If you are passionate about waterfalls, a visit to the Atherton Tablelands, in the Cairns hinterland, will leave you spoilt for choice. There are several waterfalls, some are wide rivers flowing over low falls, while others cascade from vast heights surrounded by rainforest foliage. Many are tucked away and feel like well kept secrets, while others are in bright open locations and even have facilities. You could say there’s a waterfall for everyone!

One of my favourite things about Far North Queensland is the fact that it is a place where the rainforest meets the reef. Generally I’m all about the reef, but I love the rainforest too. It is a great place to observe local wildlife in its natural habitat (tree kangaroos are seriously cute). These two contrasting environments provide a magical backdrop to some great adventures. It is also beautifully cool beneath the tree canopy, which can be a welcome break from the heat down on the coast.

Atherton Tablelands

High above Cairns and the reef, but only a short drive away, the Cairns hinterland offers other contrasts. The volcanic rolling hills provide fertile land for agriculture, but in the valleys and gulleys between the hills, patches of rainforest thrive. The waterfalls are the ultimate enhancement of such a lush tropical environment.

Waterfall Circuit

The clever tourism folk in the region have embraced the appeal of waterfalls and have branded one area as a ‘Waterfall Circuit’. This loop of road is just outside Millaa Millaa. The Waterfall Circuit begins about 2 kilometres east of the small settlement of Millaa Millaa, along the Palmerstone Highway (Highway 25), when you turn onto Theresa Creek Road. This 17 kilometre circuit features three waterfalls, and can be completed in roughly an hour, depending how long you stay at each waterfall.

Millaa Millaa Falls

The first of the three falls is Millaa Millaa Falls, and it is one of the most photographed waterfalls in Australia. When you arrive you can see why. The falls are very pretty, with a narrow stream plunging 18 metres into a swimmable pool, and a beautiful grassy bank to enjoy the view from. It is also very accessible, being only a few steps from the car park. There are information panels about the local wildlife (it is possible to see Ulysses butterflies, dragonflies and platypus) and toilet facilities. If the area looks familiar, that may be because a Herbal Essences shampoo advert was filmed there.

Millaa Millaa Falls, Atherton Tablelands, Cairns, QLD, Australia

Zillie Falls

The next waterfall is seven kilometres along the same road. Zillie Falls is magnificent with a strong rush of water plummeting out of sight, over a high edge. From the viewing platform at the top level of the falls you can see the water falling away dramatically (pictured at the start of this post), and also look back along the river rushing towards the falls.

Ellinjaa Falls

After another three kilometres you arrive at Ellinjaa Falls, which is one of the more hidden waterfalls. A zigzagging footpath leads steeply down a hill from the car park, through the rainforest, and towards the bottom of the falls. Approaching the waterfall you feel like an intrepid explorer discovering a secret place. The falls plunge 15 metres into a small pool surrounded by lush green tree ferns. Keep an eye out for platypus in the pool.

Ellinjaa Falls, Atherton Tablelands, Cairns, QLD, Australia

Other waterfalls

The Waterfall Circuit waterfalls are only three of the many falls in the surrounding area. Depending which way you go when you leave the circuit, you can easily fit in another waterfall on the way home.

Malanda Falls on the North Johnstone River just outside Malanda is easily visited if you’re taking the Gillies Highway (Highway 52) to Cairns. The pool is great for swimming and rainforest walks provide the opportunity to look for tree kangaroos nearby.

Other options include Mungali Falls on the Palmerston Highway on the way to Innisfail and Pepina Falls on the Old Palmerston Highway on the way to Ravenhoe.

Have you visited the waterfalls in the Atherton Tablelands? Please share your experiences in the comments below (especially if your favourite is not on this list!)

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