Despite the excitement that comes from a big international holiday overseas, sometimes a trip close to home can bring new insight and experiences, not to mention relaxation, without enduring long hours on an airplane. While Cairns is a popular destination for visitors to Australia from all over the world looking to experience the beautiful Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef, the Atherton Tablelands provide a different experience off the beaten path. The high elevation of the Atherton Tablelands makes it much cooler than Tropical North Queensland's coastal areas; it has been known to snow occasionally in this part of the state, and winter frost crunching underfoot is a normal part of life here. Amid the plateau's beautiful rolling hills, reminiscent of Ireland if not for the stands of eucalyptus trees, is a number of attractions worthy of a visit.
Back then as now, Queensland was big on mining, but before bauxite and uranium there was gold. The lure of instant riches caught the attention of people all over the world who made their way to Queensland in search of their fortunes. Few people today, though, are aware that this part of Australia was home to a large Chinese population who came to the Tablelands to work the gold mines in the late 1800s. As the reality of daily life came to supersede the hope of getting rich quickly, the migrants turned to other professions to earn their living, and the current bounty of fruits and vegetables that grow in abundance on the Atherton Tablelands nowadays can be attributed in no small part to the hard work of would-be miners.
Among the many immigrants to the Atherton Tablelands were the Chinese. The town of Atherton was the centre of the region's Chinese community thanks to the presence of the Hou Wang Miau (miau means temple), which still exists today under the aegis of the National Trust Queensland. Constructed in 1903, the Hou Wang Miau is the only surviving Australian example of the so-called timber and tin construction of temples that existed both in Australia and in China. Behind the simple façade is what seems to be a simple interior, but closer examination of the items on display reveal the details of the fine workmanship of Chinese artisans who honoured the temple with their expertise.
The Hou Wang Miau is located at a site in Atherton that used to be a thriving commercial district for the region's Chinese inhabitants. Though the original main street of the community is demarcated on the ground, today the temple is the only building of the era left standing. On the grounds now is the excellent Chinese Heritage Museum dedicated to the Chinese community of the Atherton Tablelands offering interesting insight into life as it was for the community back when the world was far less tolerant of 'outsiders' than it is today.
Near Atherton is the small town of Tolga. Outdoor markets are popular with the local residents as real places to make necessary purchases. The region’s markets usually take place once a month, rotating between area locations over the course of the month. The Tolga Markets take place on the first Sunday and are among the most authentic, with a mix of food, collectibles, hardware, and other items ranging from homemade candles to professional telescopes. Lovers of tropical foods should visit in the month of April, when such fruits as persimmon and custard apple that cost several dollars each in the city are sold at the same prices―for a kilo though, not for one piece of fruit.
Natural attractions abound in the Atherton Tablelands, with water featuring in most of them. Near the town of Ravenshoe, at 930 metres above sea level Queensland's highest town, Millstream Falls and the even more picturesque Little Millstream Falls National Park present the perfect pictures of Australian waterfalls. In the same general area is Mount Hypipamee National Park, 110km southwest of Cairns, which is home to the Mount Hypipamee Crater, a small crater formed by the explosion of gases from the centre of the Earth. The crater is now filled with water, making a small but very deep lake. Another beautiful lake, this one manmade by a dam rather than an earthly explosion, is the lovely Lake Tinaroo, a peaceful place for families to enjoy calm waters in a tranquil setting.
More information about the sights and activities of the Atherton Tablelands can be found on the Tropical Tablelands Tourism website.