From its beginnings as a timbergetters’ camp and staging post between the outback tin mines and the coast, Atherton has blossomed like its trademark Jacaranda trees into a diverse regional centre. Well known to the locals as a highland getaway destination, Atherton is also famous for its rich soils, which grow superb produce and flowers. They achieve the rescue, rehabilitation and release of hundreds of bats each year and the facility is open seasonally to the public.
ATTRACTIONS The region has a
wealth of artists whose works are best seen at the Tablelands Regional Gallery. Check out the wonderful pre-war Barron Valley Hotel, browse through the town’s quaint shops like Atherton Antiques & Australiana and enjoy a picnic at Halloran’s Hill with a view of the Seven Sisters volcanic cones. Hasties Swamp (Nyleta Wetlands) is a seasonal wetland with an annual wet and dry cycle. The two-storey bird hide provides wheelchair access on the lower section only. Finally, take time to get to know the inhabitants at The Bat Hospital on the road to Herberton. Here, you can meet flying foxes and microbats at the visitor centre. This internationally renowned facility is operated by a not-for-profit group dedicated to the conservation of bats and their habitat.
THE CRYSTAL CAVES In the main street, you will find one of the most remarkable and novel attractions in the whole of Australia. The Crystal Caves are a spectacular private mineral collection with over 600 specimens made up of rare crystals, gemstones and fossils.
These gemstones have been brought together by one visionary who found love at first site more than 40 years ago after cracking his first geode along the banks of Agate Creek in North Queensland. Rene Boissevain, together with his wife Nelleke, have made it their life’s work to build one of the largest mineral collections in Australia. Today, the caves are a natural history adventure museum where visitors don a miner’s helmet complete with headlamp for a fun tour of this fairytale cavern. Marvel at the world’s largest amethyst geode, The Empress of Uruguay, and the gravity defying attraction, The Magic Spheres. The Fascinating Facets gift shop is also an attraction in itself. It features the largest collection of amethyst geodes in Australia, beautifully displayed under lights to create a glittering showpiece.
Back in the days of the pioneers, Atherton was a key town along the Mulligan Highway connecting the seaside port of Port Douglas to the newly opened tin deposits at Herberton. The highway passed through the present Main Street of Atherton, which was then known as Prior’s Pocket. Bullock teams hauled supplies up to Herberton and ore back to Port Douglas. The route also opened up the area to logging of magnificent rainforest timbers, and Cobb & Co ran a coach service up and over the Great Dividing Range. The road was named after James Venture Mulligan, as was the nearby Mount Mulligan. An adventurer and prospector, Mulligan was responsible for opening most of the North Queensland mining fields. John Atherton was another colourful local. A pioneer grazier and adventurer who lent his name to the town and the region, Atherton first discovered tin while prospecting in 1879, naming the site Tinaroo Creek, now the site of Tinaroo Dam.