Atherton Tablelands Food Trail

Photo by Fiona Harper

The highlands are known as the food bowl of north Queensland for good reason

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In the mountain range west of Cairns lie the Atherton Tablelands, a rich, fertile horticultural region almost 1,000 metres above the coastal plain. Gourmands and foodies will find much to get excited about in these parts – prepare your tastebuds for titillation! We’re talking green rolling pastures, deep red volcanic soil, abundant sunshine and tropical rain. Toss the whole lot into the pot together and you’ve a charming lushness that lures food fiends to the Atherton Tablelands.

If you can’t sate your appetite in the high country west of Cairns, well, you’re seriously not trying. To claim that the region is the food bowl of north Queensland is a well worn cliché. But like any cliché worth its salt (or sugarcane in this case), this one is based on fact, so let’s lay a few of them on the table.

Fact 1: Atherton Tableland cows’ annual milk production could fill an Olympic swimming pool 22 times. Perhaps Cleopatra was onto to something with those milk baths?

Fact 2: The number of chickens farmed annually is equivalent to the human population of Sweden. Seriously!

But enough with the facts, let’s get into the food!

Photo by Tropical Tourism North Queensland

Where to eat on the Atherton Tablelands

Tarzali Lakes Smokehouse Café – The oversized barramundi poking above green pastures on the Kennedy Highway is the first sign you’ve reached fish-frenzied nirvana. The second is aquaculture ponds stocked with half a million fish. Catch your own barramundi or if that sounds too hard simply order the catch of the day from the cafe.

Flynns Restaurant, Yungaburra – With a trophy cabinet filled with awards, passionate foodie, Chef and owner Liam Flynn melds the best of the Tablelands in a beguiling mix of French and northern Italian flavours.

A glorious old teahouse on the banks of Lake Barrine, itself a former volcanic crater, the Lake Barrine Teahouse serves up one of the best Devonshire Teas on the Tablelands. Afterwards, walk off cream-laden calories on the rainforest trail circling the lake or take your swimmers and have a dip in cool clear fresh water.

Go nuts (sorry for the obvious pun!) at The Peanut Place. You won’t miss the tell-tale Big Peanut on the Kennedy Highway just out of Tolga. Not just peanuts, bag a batch of macadamias (the area is famous for these creamy nuts), pecans and cashews too.

Chocolate lovers this one is for you. Daintree Estates audacious ambition to grow the first Australian cocoa crop ten years ago has resulted in some of Australia’s finest chocolate. It helps being surrounded by sugarcane plantations and dairy farms at the top of their game. All self-respecting stores on the Tablelands stock Daintree’s little bundles of chocolate goodness.

Malanda Dairy Centre cleverly combines café, museum, Taste of the Tablelands goodies and an art gallery in the heart of Malanda. Go here for fine coffee, exquisite lunches, impeccable friendly service and dinner if you’re in Malanda on a Friday night.

Stop by Gallo Dairyland for lunch, morning or afternoon tea in a dairy farm café or take home delicious house made chocolate and cheese. Cheese addicts can linger in the Cheese Factory to check out the cheese making process.

Mungalli Creek Dairy and Teahouse for bio-dynamic (as in unpasteurised) yoghurt, cheese and milk that comes with a decadent layer of cream (even the low fat variety!). Call in for lunch on the verandah overlooking implausibly green dairy pastures.

The Falls Teehouse – A gorgeous old Queenslander oozing high country charisma plopped on top of a hill just outside Millaa Millaa, go here for lunch or Devonshire teas on the way to the Waterfall Circuit.

Photo by Tourism Tropical North Queensland

More Cairns Itineraries

Best Picnicking near Cairns … Favourites within easy reach
Best Road Trips from Cairns … From day trips to epic multi-day adventures
Cairns for Romantics … Perfect spots to bring a picnic and bottle of bubbly
Cairns in 3 Days … It’s all action in this sunny, sophisticated coastal city
Cairns: Where to Eat, Play and Stay … Top picks for making the most of Cairns and the northern beaches

Where to drink on the Atherton Tablelands

Get your caffeine fix at The Coffee Works in Mareeba while learning about growing, roasting, savouring, trading and drinking the enticingly pungent brew we can’t seem to get enough of. Not into coffee? They’re into hand-crafted chocolate too!

Serving up aromatic Australian Arabica Coffee as well as bananas and papayas plucked straight from the farm, Skybury Coffee is Australia’s oldest coffee plantation. Linger over lunch or take home your preferred blend coffee capsules which are compatible with Nespresso machines.

Originally a tobacco plantation that diversified from the weed that kills to the fruit that nurtures, Golden Drop Winery was the first commercial mango winery in the world, using luscious Kensington red mangoes to produce still and sparkling wines.

Mt Uncle Distillery & Bridges Restaurant specialises in serving teas from across the world amidst a macadamia, avocado and banana plantation. But let’s face it, the real reason to visit is for a tipple of top tier spirits and liqueurs such as their Platinum White Rum.

One of Australia’s best loved tea brands, Nerada Tea plantation’s tendrils reach as far back as the 1880’s. Pop in for a factory tour before lingering over Devonshire tea – you can be sure the tea is fabulous!

About the author: Fiona Harper is a Queensland-based travel writer – follow Fiona at Travel Boating Lifestyle

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