Sometimes you can’t help but paint a picture of a destination in your mind after drooling over thousands of amazing photos (taken by professional photographers who happened to be there at the exact right moment on the exact right day with the exact right filter). But then you arrive at said destination and well, the place is meh, at best, and leaves you entirely underwhelmed.
Let me assure you, Cape Hillsborough, about a 45-minute drive from Mackay, is definitely NOT one of those places. In fact, it’s the kind of place that exceeds every expectation and leaves you wanting more, and wondering why more people aren’t shouting about it very loudly from the rooftops.
So let me set that to rights by climbing on to my own virtual rooftop and shouting, very loudly, Cape Hillsborough with kids is extraordinary!
Why? Well let’s start with its scones. Yes, scones. This is us after all and if we’re not shovelling food in our copious traps, we’re not happy. Our first stop is the Old Station Tea House, a converted 110-year old former railway station hidden amongst rainforest, that is famous for its Devonshire teas.
And they don’t disappoint with their fluffy golden scones, served still warm, and loaded with lashings of homemade jam and cream. Add gorgeous gardens, hidden corners packed with bric-a-brac and antiques, and loads of space to run and play and several hours disappear as the kids squeal, scoff and explore the magical space.
Wildlife and wilderness
Of course, Cape Hillsborough is better known for the forested slopes of rugged Cape Hillsborough National Park. This wilderness wonderland is home to creeks, beaches, caves, waterfalls and Wedge Island, the most accessible island of the Great Barrier Reef, which you can reach on foot when tides permit.
There’s also an abundance of wildlife, including around 140 species of native birds, snakes and lizards. Something dramatically demonstrated by the white-bellied sea-eagle who swoops down into the bush not 50-metres from us to scoop up a snake in its talons and fly off into the sunset, its slithery prey dangling unhappily below.
You’ll also see possums, a variety of butterflies, wallabies and two not-so-native rogue Eastern Grey Kangaroos, who I’ll talk more about later.
And, if you time your visit right, you may even spot a whale or encounter flatback and green turtles laying their eggs on Casuarina Beach, and their hatchlings heading off to the ocean. Oh, and then there’s the estuarine crocodiles and box jelly fish, so you may want to keep your wits about you.
To make the most of our visit we’re staying overnight at the Cape Hillsborough Nature Tourist Park, right on Casuarina beach. Run by the warm and welcoming Renae and Ben and their three kids, this place is a rustic haven for families. When the kids aren’t mini golfing or splashing in the pool, we head off on a series of wilderness walking trails, before strolling down to to explore the long stretch of Casuarina beach in the golden afternoon light.
This is Sugarpuff’s idea of paradise and she is soon lost in her own world, excitedly collecting shells and rocks, and unable to resist the siren song of the sea, frolicking in the waves with all the eagerness of a modern-day Moana.
Fully. Bloody. Clothed.
Luckily super sibling Raffles is but one step behind ready to herd her safely out of the surf.
We trip over a random roo or two on our way back to the Tourist Park’s well stocked store to nab a barbecue pack (plus a six pack and some wine, pretty much guaranteeing we’ll be totally witless if confronted by any box jelly fish or estuarine crocs who happen to be barbecuing dinner for their families that night).
Mr Eats World cooks it up on the conveniently croc-free communal barbecue located right outside our cabin, while I whip up a little salad in our kitchenette and set the table on the verandah. The kids gobble the food down at lightning speed because, rumour has it, it is movie night at the Cape Hillsborough Nature Tourist Park. My boss babies soon have us marching up to the outdoor cinema where, after nabbing some popcorn, they settle down to watch the celluloid Boss Baby with the new friends they’ve made during our day at the family friendly park and we natter with ours over a little more wine.
Roo much fun
While Cape Hillsborough Nature Tourist Park is exceptionally convenient, don’t expect a sleep in because you’ll be getting up early, very bloody early, to see Cape Hillsborough’s star attraction, a famous mob of marsupials.
Headlined by the spotlight hogging Emmy-Lou and Bridget, these megastar macropods arrive at Casuarina Beach every morning at sunrise to forage for seaweed and seed pods as the sun pokes its radiant face out over the horizon to breathtaking effect.
The girls, and their co-stars, a couple of dozen Agile Wallabies, are used to people but they are still wild animals, so don’t touch and remember that any interaction should be entirely left to them.
Sugarpuff/Moana proves adept at ignoring them, immediately returning to the sea for more splash dancing but it doesn’t take long before kanga curiousity gets the better of her and she joins us on the sand to meet the roo crew.
While the wallabies are a little shy, Emmy-Lou and Bridget are anything but! After they’ve had their fill, they waltz straight into the crowd, stopping only to pose for photos like they are walking the red carpet. Again, we don’t approach them, but like true professionals they stop for their fans.
They wax philosophic with Raffles.
They strike a pose with Sugarpuff.
And even come in for a few extreme close ups while I snap away (I guess they don’t have to worry so much about wrinkles or bad pores).
In fact, Bridget and Emmy-Lou are so blasé I half expect them to start signing autographs. These girls love the limelight so much, they even photobomb the kids while they dig in the sand.
Along with Emmy-Lou, Bridget and friends, expect to find a paparazzi pack, especially during school holidays, to be photographing the girls and their co-stars. Thankfully resort staff are on the beach each morning to offer advice and deter visitors who think snogging a kangaroo or feeding them will make for a great selfie.
And for goodness sake, please do not bring food to the beach. The signs are there for a reason. Feeding native animals anything other than their natural diet can seriously damage their health and make them aggressive towards people when they want another fix of what is the wildlife equivalent of crack. Your precious selfie is not worth potentially harming an animal or another person. You’ll nab awesome shots without the need of props.
More to explore
With the main event of our day out of the way before 7am, we toss-up between exploring Casuarina’s volcanic caves, spotting crustaceans hiding in rock pools, and clambering over dramatic rock formations … or heading back to bed. Exploring wins.
At least until it does until a couple of rumbly bellies suggest it might be time for us to head up to the Cape Hillsborough Nature Tourist Park Café for some foraging of the human kind.
So, is this place heaven on earth? Well if you love wildlife, a laugh, can live without Wi-Fi for a couple of days (the park has virtually no mobile phone reception and zero internet) and aren’t concerned by the occasional waft of roo poo, then yeah, I reckon it is.
Disclosure: The Eats Worlds were guest of Mackay Tourism, but as always, all opinions, roo wrangling, wilderness wandering and seaside antics are our own.