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Atherton Tablelands to Innisfail Chinese heritage trail

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The Atherton Tablelands, a 1.5 hour drive from Cairns, are a food lovers’ haven offering a range of local products. Local artisans produce hand-crafted timber products, paintings and jewellery.

The Tablelands were opened up by timber getters and tin miners. Landowners employed Chinese to clear the land and later leased property to them for cultivation.

The journey across the Tablelands to Innisfail offers beautiful natural attractions, including remnant volcanoes, crater lakes, waterfalls and amazing strangler fig trees, encapsulated in remnant rain forests.

On your way to Atherton, take a short detour via Kairi, driving past the maize silos. The Chinese initiated the maize industry here, although they were later displaced to provide land for returned WWI soldiers to farm.

The town of Atherton still retains Chinese shops, such as Jue Sue’s next to the Grand Hotel. Just south of the town are remarkable remnants of Chinese occupation, including the Hou Wang Miau Temple and the marked-out streetscape of the old Chinatown. A Chinese museum is housed in the old Atherton Post Office, relocated to the entrance of the former Chinatown (Cedar Town) site.

Continue to explore the beauty of the Atherton Tablelands on your way to Innisfail. The towns of Malanda and Millaa Millaa both have scenic waterfalls. Descend the range through the thick rainforest and make a stop at Crawford’s Lookout. Take in the commanding views of the steep ravine of the Johnstone River on your left. Both Chinese and European prospectors were busy panning for gold here in 1884.

As you leave the forest and head down towards Innisfail, the land now used for tea and bananas was cleared by Chinese labourers, who also worked on the big sugar plantations.

Innisfail evolved from a sugar plantation, established by James Fitzgerald in 1880. The Chinese community cultivated bananas and small crops for the township. Boats were built locally in traditional Chinese style and ferried bananas to ships anchored near the town.

The cyclone of March 1918 destroyed most buildings in Innisfail. The Lit Sing Gung Chinese temple, in the heart of Innisfail, was damaged and repaired, and eventually replaced by a new concrete building in Owen Street in 1941. The temple is now an important tourist attraction.


Listing 3 places within this trail.

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Last reviewed
1 July 2022
Last updated
28 February 2023