Think Tropical North Queensland and you’ll undoubtedly think lush, waterfall littered rainforest fringed by the world’s most famous reef. Me? I think about food.
In fairness, it could be argued that I rarely think about much else, but after my recent sojourn into the the traditional lands of the Djirrbal, Ngadjonji, Jidabal, Barbarum and Yidinji people, located a little south of Cairns and now known collectively as the Atherton Tablelands, my stomach is bigger than my eyes. Sure, you’ll find eye-popping rocky ranges, stunning ochre savannah, lush dairy country, mesmerising waterfalls and leafy national parks, and they’re all absolutely gorgeous. And the Atherton Tablelands accommodation offerings are just as lovely. But it is tasting my way through the area’s impressive food and wine on an entertaining and educational tour with Brett’s Outback Tasting Adventures that has left me hooked.
From tropical fruits and Indigenous plants to local cheese and native proteins, washed down with tablelands coffee and a spot of locally distilled boutique vodka and gin, we hop from farm to restaurant on a paddock-to-plate adventure that has my tastebuds dancing.
From the moment we’re picked up from our hotel (the equally tasty Riley Cairns), the crew from Brett’s Outback Tasting Adventures share their incredible knowledge of the Atherton Tablelands, Tropical North Queensland’s Food Bowl. We learn that as well as jaw-dropping scenery, its lower temps and rich volcanic soil provides the perfect conditions farmers to grow everything from coffee and sugar cane to avocados, mangoes, macadamia nuts, bananas, citrus and more. Not to mention an abundance of tasty Indigenous ingredients.
Here are just ten tasty reasons’ foodies should visit the Atherton Tablelands on their next Tropical North Queensland break.
1. Enjoy a fruity start to an Atherton Tablelands tour at Sunset Ridge
Starting the day at Sunset Ridge Farm (a private property which can be accessed only via a Atherton Tablelands Tour with Brett’s Outback Adventures) is pure perfection. You can soak up the views of green rolling hills and lush rainforest over a breakfast of delicious Davidson plum sausages and corn fritters plus creamy yoghurt topped with native fruit.
2. You can uncover native genius at Rainforest Bounty
Rainforest Bounty sustainably grows native wet tropic fruits using organic farming methods, while restoring the ecosystem for native wildlife. Their Davidson (Ooray) plum, lemon aspen (rainforest citrus), lilly pilly (rainforest berries) and rainforest (Boonjie) tamarind produce a range of savoury and sweet condiments that are so addictive, I may need intervention. The good news, considering I’ve gone through two jars of their sweet, fiery roasted Ooray Plum Jeowbong chilli paste in six weeks, is that the products are packed with antioxidants and micro nutrients making this an addiction that comes guilt free.
For those who prefer their foodie experiences hands on, Rainforest Bounty also offer a unique “forest to fork” cooking class incorporating seasonal rainforest fruits, plus produce from local organic farmers, fishermen, gardeners and artisanal producers and Rainforest Bounty condiments.
3. You can go nuts at The Humpy
The Humpy is a must stop on an Atherton Tablelands tour. It’s the place to stock up on a variety of freshly harvested local fresh fruit and vegetables as well as locally produced jams, sauces, teas and coffee and confectionary, as well as a huge selection of nuts and dried fruit and organic produce.
Enjoy tropical fruit and nut tastings and be sure to bring your shopping bags because you’re going to want to fill them up with all the Atherton Tablelands goodness on offer.
4. You can visit Jacque’s bean stalk
Coffee beans that is. An artisan barista made coffee using Jacques Coffee Plantation’s house roast espresso roasted coffee beans will give visitors just the kick needed for a self-guided tour or a fully guided tour of this pioneering, family owned and operated Tablelands coffee plantation. Afterwards, enjoy lunch created from local and seasonal produce and what has to be the best homemade scones in the area.
5. You’ll get spirited away
Head to Mt Uncle for Tropical North Queensland’s first and only distillery. Nestled at the foothills of Mount Uncle itself amongst beautiful landscaped gardens and a Banana plantation, geese, alpacas, donkeys and goats and peacocks roam free. But it is the Mt Uncle’s Liqueurs & Spirits that are the main attraction. While there’s delightful rum, vodka and even a marshmallow flavoured liqueur on offer, do yourself a flavour and take a sip on their Botanic Australis ‘Bushfire’ Smoked Gin. It’s amazing.
6. You can squeeze in some cheese
Head to Gallo Dairyland to show the kids the ins and outs of a working dairy farm. When you’re not making eyes with the resident bovines meandering happily about 404 hectares of rolling hills, you can also treat yourself to a tasting of their 16 award-winning cheeses.
Just don’t forget to leave room for dessert as Gallo Dairyland also sources, blends and tempers some of the finest couvertures in the world.
7. The papaya will twist your melon
Skybury, perched high above the Great Dividing Range, not only ethically grows and master roasts world famous Skybury Coffee, the farming alchemists at Skybury Tropical Plantation produce the best sweet red papaya this melon head has ever devoured. Head out to the veranda of the Café and Roastery for a selection of great papaya-infused dishes or just to soak up the views, a cold brew coffee and a platter of their irresistible fruit.
8. You can dine Alpine style
The last thing you’d expect to stumble across in the tropical north Queensland is an quirky alpine style chalet specialising in Swiss cuisine, but Nick’s Swiss-Italian Restaurant in Yungaburra does just that, with an Aussie twist. While we visited separately as it wasn’t part of our Atherton Tablelands Tour, we made the most of some of the gorgeous Atherton Tablelands accommodation on offer and stopped in for dinner.
This quirky place is a joy and visitors will enjoy German style roasts, Italian pastas and Swiss specialities all whipped up using local produce and fresh herbs from the Chef’s own garden and served with a good selection of local draught beers, imported German beers and wine. If you’re lucky, Nick himself might even strap on his accordion and serenade you with a few tunes.
9. You can play eye spy with a platypi
After spotting a few of the quirky critters that reside in the spring fed ponds at the Australian Platypus Park in Tazarli Lakes, head to the Smokehouse Cafe for gourmet treats including crocodile, red claw yabby and kangaroo.
And don’t miss the indigenous fruit flavoured cakes and biscuits, all washed down with a Tarzali Lakes boutique beer, Lemon Myrtle tea and a splash of fruity Murdering Point Wines.
10. You can sleep amongst the trees in eco certified Atherton Tablelands accommodation
If you want to stay longer to enjoy the Tablelands numerous delights, there is no lovelier Atherton Tablelands accommodation than The Canopy Treehouses, an eco rainforest resort where boutique accommodation is perched high in the rainforest canopy on the banks of the Ithaca River.
The self-contained treehouses have two bedrooms, a kitchen, and BBQ, perfect for cooking up the collection of Atherton Tableland treats we’ve hunted and gathered. A highlight is the the fluffy pancakes our hosts cooked up at breakfast.
The Treehouses also boast a spa bath and a sprawling balcony which is the perfect spot to watch the roaming wildlife, including cassowaries, tree kangaroos, red-legged pademelon wallabies, endangered green possums and a variety of colourful birdlife. Go for a hike and you might even spot platypus and turtles splashing about in the river.