The Atherton Tablelands sit high up in the Great Dividing Range west of the tropical coast of Queensland, Australia. The popular attractions of the coast draw most of Australia's tourism – but inland, there are gems to be found.
In Atherton the sun is just as bright and the days are just as warm, but the humidity of the coast falls away and the land rolls gently in waves of green grass, unusual for the arid continent. The soil here is old volcanic, making the area unusually fertile farmland.
Indeed, it is teeming with food. Ignoring all the epic farm stands along the road offering amazing produce at well below market cost, there are an array of farms and other places open to visitors to experience via smell and taste.
Set amongst the sunshine and pastures are a network of rivers and waterfalls punctuated by picturesque swimming holes.
Millaa Millaa Falls is one of these. A perfect little hole in the jungle with a breathtaking waterfall feeding a pool of cool, refreshing water that sends up a haze of mist and a pleasant roar. I didn't want to leave, but my taste buds were calling me up the road.
My travel partner Michelle and I journeyed on to a dairy farm/chocolate factory set amongst the rolling green hills and three hundred happy cows. We taste-tested everything, then ordered a platter. We were not disappointed. A huge array of artisan cheeses and fruits with some crackers to complement. So much cheese that Michelle and I (both huge cheese lovers) couldn’t finish the whole thing. We left with a doggy bag and huge smiles.
Further up the river was a field of strawberries and a small building where the fruit was washed and packed. We opted to pick our own, and came out with about a kilogram of strawberries picked fresh from the vines for about $10 AUD. We couldn’t leave without some fresh strawberry jam as well. There’s something the cold-stored strawberries don’t have that the fresh do. You can always tell the difference between fresh-picked and store-bought produce, but nowhere does it appear more so than in these flavorful berries.
Other adventures in culinary delights over the next few days included visiting two very different tropical wineries. A tropical wine is made from tropical fruit obviously, with little or no grape content. They're often quite sweet and refreshing, with a potent alcohol content you don’t notice until it’s too late.
I bought a bottle made of lychee for its smell alone, and a bottle made from a blend of passionfruit and mango at a winery/distillery in Yungaburra.
Nearby we stopped at a peanut farm and mini-factory. They grew the nuts out back, then roasted and seasoned them right in the next room. A wide range of seasoning was available, and we tasted them all, but I was there for one thing: peanut butter! I'm a fiend for good peanut butter, and freshly made, organic, chunky, unsalted stuff is what I crave for most. Combined with some fresh-baked bread and the strawberry jam we bought the other day, a most gourmet PB&J was created. Delish.
Before heading down the twisting road out of the tablelands and into Cairns, we visited a roadside diner and ordered some exciting food: kangaroo burger with beet root and fresh endive on great bread, as well as an order of crocodile and chips. Both were well prepared and presented.
Crocodile is a unique meat. I can’t remember ever eating reptile before, and I’m fairly sure I never have. It had a very thick consistency and was not gamey at all. Somewhere in between fishy and chicken-like.
Kangaroo is gamey and quite lean. Not juicy, but not too dry if cooked delicately. A novel dish with a texture and taste all its own.
Finally we stopped in Kuranda, a touristy town right up in the hills behind Cairns and a popular getaway for visitors once they’ve had too much of the intense young-traveler-party vibe that the coastal city thrives on. This town is as far inland as many people go.
If only they knew all the flavors they were missing.