To complete our day trip and get back to Cairns, we took the Gillies highway to get down from Atherton back to the coast. As the road descends back to sea level, it has S-curve after S-curve after S-curve cutting through the rain forest. This was one of the twistiest roads I have ever been on and it was exhausting to drive it at the end of a long day. After each sinuous section, we'd pray (unsuccessfully) for a straightaway for a little while, and by the bottom, we were all begging the curves to stop! An interesting drive to make --- once!
Along the way, we made a couple more stops and there are plenty more sights to see, waterfalls to hike, and local food to sample, to merit spending a lot more time than we were able to. You get to experience an assortment of climates and terrains within a pretty short distance of one another, from the dry scrubland of the tablelands, to the lush rainforest on the slopes, to the fertile coastal plains.
One of our final stops on this drive was to see the enormous Curtain Fig Tree. It is a giant strangler fig with so many roots drooping down that they form a giant wooden stage curtain. The Curtain Fig is nicely marked in the forest off the main road and it is a short walk to the tree from the parking lot. There's another similar tree, named the Cathedral Fig, nearby, also.
We also stopped in Yungaburra, a small town which has a great spot that is famous for spotting platypus. The town has a friendly tourism information office who can direct you, but if they are closed, the platypus viewing area is a small pool in the creek just beside the bridge where the main road crosses the creek. There's a place to park you car, and then there is a little wooden blind, with viewing windows and benches where you can watch platypus swimming around in the water. It is nice and understated, and tries not to disturb the natural area so the platypus (platypusses?, platypi?) will stick around.
Seeing this unique indigenous Australian animal in the wild was one of the highlights of our day.
We were able to see a lot in our day in the Atherton Tablelands, and would highly recommend that any visitors to Cairns take the time to visit, hopefully for a longer time than we had.