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Hidden deep in the hinterland of the Atherton Tablelands lay some of the most beautiful waterfalls on the East Coast of Australia. There’s something about waterfalls that gets my adrenaline kicking and the sudden to jump in and feel the water is strong. If chasing waterfalls in Australia is on your bucket list then Far North Queensland has you covered. From natural water slides at Josephine falls to the picture perfect Millaa Millaa, the Atherton Tablelands is the place to catch your next waterfall fix!
With over ten incredible waterfalls to experience and only 48 hours in the tablelands, it’s no surprise we didn’t manage to jump in them all! We did, however, create our own little self-drive waterfall tour that I’ll be sharing with you today! We managed to spend a fair length of time in each of these waterfalls in just one day! So this guide is perfect for those who don’t have a lot of time to spend in this gorgeous part of Australia.
Top Tip: Pencil in as much time up here as you can. The Atherton Tablelands scream’s natural beauty and peace, it’s a far cry away from the backpacking hustle over in Cairns and actually one of my favourite places we explored on our East Coast Road Trip! If true nature is what you’re looking for then look no further.
I like to call the Tablelands my hidden Queensland gem. Of course, it isn’t hidden at all and is popular with visitors to Far North Queensland. Despite my in-depth research into the Australian East Coast, I mean one-year planning and reading every blog post on Australia kind of research! I just didn’t seem to come across the Atherton Tablelands very much and I guess I completely forgot about it!
It wasn’t until one of my work colleagues in Brisbane was raving on about how much we have to go visit. As in ‘this place will literally change your life’ that I started looking into the Tablelands a little more. All I have to say is thank you, Vanessa, because we loved it! I can’t wait to share my ultimate guide on the Atherton Tablelands with you guys soon!
But first back to stunning waterfalls! We visited three breathtaking waterfalls on our Atherton Tablelands self-drive waterfall Trail. It may not sound like much but if you’ve ever driven in Australia you’ll know how far apart everything is! Any more than three waterfalls on this day and we’d be rushing around, spending more time looking at the road in front of us rather than these natural splendours.
Atherton Tablelands Self-Drive Waterfall Trail
Before we get started if there’s one tip I can give it’s if you have a car or camper van then visits the waterfalls yourself! There are plenty of tours that offer waterfall tours from Cairns up to the Tablelands but there’s nothing like going at your own pace! We saw a couple of tours come in and out of the waterfalls and honestly? They really didn’t get much time to splash around and enjoy the water at all! They were in, took a few snaps, a quick dip and were off to the next place! I’m sure there are some brilliant tours out there but for us driving it ourselves gave us way more freedom and time to explore!
Atherton Tablelands Self-Drive Waterfall – Driving From Cairns
The Atherton Tables sits about an hour and a half inland from Cairns and about 50 miles or 80 kilometres. But obviously, you’re going to be taking a lot of detours to the falls. This round trip from Cairns to the waterfalls and back again will set you back almost 300 Kilometres so staying overnight after you finish the trail is by far your best option! Especially If you don’t want to be driving at night – which trust me in Australia you don’t! Besides, the Atherton Tablelands is home to some astounding lakeside camping that you’re going to want to check out!
First Stop, Josephine Falls
I remember this day and the feeling I got when we approached Josephine Falls like it was yesterday. The excitement that flowed through my veins was unimaginable. I had never seen anything like it. Both Dave and I were completely speechless, eyes wide opened staring at the beauty in front of us! Josephine falls is made of up three pure freshwater pools, the water is amazingly clear and I’ll warn you extremely cold! Located in Babinda it’s only around an hour from Cairns. See the map below for clear driving instructions!
Stop Off Point: As you drive out of the city and to the falls you will cross signs for ‘Babinda Boulders’ which is another great tourist spot that if you have time you should totally stop off at! We, unfortunately, didn’t have the time but when I got home and googled #babindaboulders on Instagram I was pretty gutted we didn’t get a glance!
Getting to Joesphine Falls
The walk up to Josephine Falls from the car park is a mere 700 metres which will take you through the rain forest. There is an easy path to follow which leads you up to the falls. The walk is actually lovely but watch out for those huge spider webs lurking in the trees! Once you arrive at the falls you’ll find three main lookout areas, for each stage of the waterfall! I recommend heading straight to the top, you get an overview of all the pools which are simply stunning. The best place to get your photographs is up here! Once you’re looking down from above you’ll probably be itching to join everyone else in the water! I literally couldn’t wait to get in!
Swimming in the Falls
Okay, so yes you are allowed to swim here at your own risk of course! There are no crocs so you’re not going to get eaten but I urge you to be very careful! Josephine Falls is made up of boulders which lay underneath the water surface. When these get wet they become very very slippery! You need to go extremely slowly when navigating around the falls! In the end, I found the best way to get around inside the falls was just to dunk right under and let the current take you!
Important: As much as I urge you to have fun in the falls you must read the warning signs! Josephine Falls is susceptible for flash flooding and when the waterfalls are flooded swimming is out of bounds. Over the years fourteen people have died because of going into the falls when they weren’t supposed to! So follow the signs and just be careful.
That said you’ll have an epic time swimming in these waters, I honestly had to pinch myself, I couldn’t how amazing this experience was! The top pool is extremely high and out of bounds for swimming but the bottom two are great to have a splash around in! There’s a small beach area where little ones can enjoy some shallow water! But the main attraction, drum roll, please…
Is the natural water slide! Granted this wasn’t built by nature intended to be an epic slide for us humans but that’s what it’s turned into. The last pool at the falls over the years has become famous for people taking to the small waterfall and you guessed it, sliding down! This was so much fun! You can see the video below for some hilarious video footage!
Don’t be fooled by how slow it looks on video – I was terrified!
Boring Bits! – Josephine Falls
Seen as the Atherton Tablelands is quite remote I thought it would be handy to let you know what facilities are at each of these waterfalls! Josephine Falls is really accessible with wheelchair access all the way to the viewing areas. It also has all the main facilities, toilets, water, picnic areas, and BBQ areas. Unfortunately, no camping is allowed in this National Park! See more on the facilities here!
Josephine Falls was 100% my favourite waterfall of the three that we visited! We spent almost three hours here, soaking up the sun and letting out our inner adventure! If you’ve been to Josephine Falls I would love to see your photos and if you’re going I would love to see them too! Make sure you subscribe to our mailing list in the footer and use the hashtag #aliciaoverseas on Instagram so I can see the fun you get up to here!
Atherton Tablelands Self-Drive Waterfall Trail Australia: Millaa Millaa Falls!
The next stop off on our waterfall chase was Millaa Millaa Falls, about an hour from Josephine Falls, 80 kilometres. You can find a map and clear driving instructions below. The walking route from the car park to the waterfall is easy but does involve stairs. If you are unable to negotiate stairs then follow the signs to the coach car park which takes you all the way down to the waterfall.
Now you may have heard of or in fact seen Millaa Millaa falls in a couple of places. On the television and all over Instagram. Millaa Millaa falls was where the famous Herbal Essences Advert came to life, you know the one where the drop gorgeous gals are flicking their hair in the waterfall like it’s the most natural thing to be doing! So yes, when you arrive you will be surrounded by Instagrammers trying to recreate the image! Lucky for you I don’t like to follow the world so I didn’t try my luck, instead, I went in the whole hog and swam right underneath the falls!
Swimming is also permitted at Millaa Millaa.
Again, a little like Josephine Falls the water is freezing and getting into the falls is quite difficult because of the slippery rocks at the surface! The water is also a lot less clear here and the place its self gives off a totally different vibe, think hidden in the tropical rainforest! In whole, Millaa Millaa was pretty beautiful.
Boring Bits! – Millaa Millaa Falls
Millaa Millaa has all the basic facilities that you would need. Including toilets, changing rooms, and picnic benches. Unfortunately, there is no fresh drinking water here so make sure you’re stocked up before arriving. Go here for more information on that!
Now the one thing that you simply cannot go without on this self-drive waterfall trail is an action camera! The big DSLR cameras are great for getting the ultimate nature shots here at the waterfalls but the real action happens in the water!
There is no other camera that I can suggest other than The GoPro! Waterproof and so compact it couldn’t be more perfect for adventure travel! We shoot all of our under and in water shots on our Go Pro Hero 5 Black! There are newer editions of the GoPro but why pay more when the 5 does everything you need and more? Click below to grab one for yourself!
I also highly recommend a selfie stick with a wrist strap! You do not want to lose this baby down the waterfalls!
Self-Drive Waterfall Trail Australia: The Crater and Dinner Falls
The final leg of our self-drive waterfalls trail took us over to Mount Hypipamee National Park, home to The Crater and Dinner Falls. This is your shortest journey as these landmarks sit only half an hour from Millaa Millaa, 30 kilometres or 19 miles. I guess this final stop is a little different to the others as you get to see the incredible Crater as well as Dinner Falls!
The waterfall at this gorgeous little spot is Dinner Falls which leads onto the Barron River. To get to Dinner Falls for the parking area it’s approx. a 1.2km walk where you can find a collection of three waterfalls. We didn’t spend too much time at Dinner falls because of the time we had and to be honest, the crater is way more impressive! We arrived near the end of our day and didn’t want to get all wet again, spoilsports I know, so we didn’t go swimming! You can do a loop walking circuit here on the Bitumen Path which will lead you to The Crater as well – go here and here for some more in-depth details on the walks!
The crater formed here at Mount Hypipamee National Park, which is a heritage listed wet tropics park, is like a volcanic pip way. The crate was created by heaps of pressure below the surface rocks which eventually exploded upwards sending volcanic bombs across the surrounding area. The crate is 61 metres wide and 82 metres deep, pretty impressive if you ask me! It’s one of the moments where what your looking at doesn’t even look real!
Again facilities are limited here with just toilets and picnic benches available!
After finishing exploring Mount Hypipamee National Park that was the end of our Atherton Tablelands Self-Drive Waterfall Trail! But don’t worry if you’ve got more time and want to smash out all of the waterfalls in the area then there are plenty more for you to choose from! It all depends on how long you want to spend at the falls! For us, we wanted to take it slow and just enjoy the beauty of the great outdoors. We spent a few hours at both Josephine and Millaa Millaa where if you wanted you could just take a quick photograph and move on – not our style!
If you want to drive back to Cairns then the drive from Mount Hypipamee National Park is about an hour and a half via the Gilles Highway see driving instructions below! A quick word of warning about the Gilles Highway, it is extremely windy! For me, I managed to drive it in a high top camper van and was fine! Don’t be put off by how windy it is as it’s manageable as long as you take your take and drive slowly!
Where to stay overnight after your Waterfall Tour
So if you’ve got some extra time to enjoy the beauty of the Tablelands then stay overnight! I recommend staying at Lake Tinaroo Holiday Park! Whether you’re in a camper van or are pitching up a tent this place is the perfect spot for the evening! This campsite offers lakeside camping with extraordinary views of Lake Tinaroo! One day we will 100% return for a couple of nights stay here! There are all sorts to get up to from hiring boats and kayaks to long walks around the lake! You can visit their website here for pricing and more details!
If you are heading to the East Coast of Australia soon then subscribe to our mailing list! Then you’ll be sure that you don’t miss any tips and tricks! You can also see my Cairns-Sydney post which goes through all the places we recommend visiting on the East Coast!
As always, thank you so much for reading! I couldn’t keep blogging if it wasn’t for my readers old and new! If are new here then don’t forget to head over to ‘start here’ to learn more about my life as a nurse and travel blogger!