Despite the fact that we have explored the destinations immediately above and below it many a time, Queensland’s Mackay Region is one of those places that we just seemed to keep missing. But a recent visit made us realise what a major oversight that has been.
From its Art deco buildings and pretty palm-tree lined streets, to gargantuan sugar cane farms, sprawling beaches, fish-filled reefs, wildlife-packed rainforests and fab food scene, Mackay is one of those places where our expectations were blown away by the reality. Add a stack of kid-friendly accommodation and beautiful weather all year round, and what you have is all the makings of a sure-fire family holiday hit.
Sure, we knew it had beach and bush. And plenty of wildlife to boot. But what we didn’t realise is just how much it has to offer visitors, or that it would become one of our new favourite family destinations. But don’t take my word for it. Here, Raffles (9) and Sugarpuff (6) share their thoughts on Mackay by kids.
The Mackay Region is totally wild, in the natural sense. Stroll through giant boulder scattered rainforest at Eungella National Park to soak up gorgeous views from the Sky Window or the cool waters of the swimming hole at Araluen Falls in breathtaking Finch Hatton Gorge. Or explore the volcanic landscape, rainforest and eucalypt forest on one of the many trails through incredible Cape Hillsborough National Park.
He said: “Jeez, they have a lot of nature in Mackay. There are awesome beaches and amazing reefs, lush rainforests and gorges and rivers. Plus, there is sugar cane growing everywhere, although I’m not sure if that’s technically nature because it has been planted by people. My favourite spot was Finch Hatton George in Eungella National Park. We had to drive over all these little streams to get there and took a really long hike up and down hills through the bush until we reached Araluen Falls. It was so tranquil and pretty, except for the screaming people leaping to their deaths into the waterhole. Well, they didn’t actually die, that’s just what mum said would happen and why she wouldn’t let me do it too.”
She Said: “This was the most bushwalkiest holiday we’ve ever had because there are so many bushes. And the beaches were really pretty, especially the kangaroo one.”
One of the most special things about Mackay is that there are so many places to see animals in the wild, which is the way we prefer to see them. There are the famous kangaroos and wallabies that arrive at Cape Hillsborough before sunrise every morning to forage on the beach, and platypus spotting at Broken River. One of the best spots in Australia to spot the shy platypus in the wild, there’s a 95% chance of spotting one of the quirky critters in the river during the day, and an even higher chance at dawn or dusk. You’ll also see whales galore during the migration season, and in the coastal waters of Clairview, there’s a Dugong sanctuary where you may even be lucky enough to spot one of the gorgeous creatures wallowing in the sea.
He said: “We saw a smallish lace monitor peeking through the trees and a giant one just strolling through picnic grounds like it owned the place, which I guess it kind of did. It was so huge it was like Aussie Godzilla (exaggerating much Raffles?). We also went searching for platypus and I’m pretty sure I spotted one but they’re sneaky little devils and can be a bit hard to spot. And watching the sunrise with the Kangaroos on Cape Hillsborough beach was epic. We also saw loads of enormous eagles, one even had a snake dangling from its claws as it flew away.”
She said: “The kangaroos on the beach (at Cape Hillsborough) were so cute and were hopping all over the place. One even jumped over my head.”
There’s no shortage of hiking, climbing, kayaking, boating and snorkelling to be found in Mackay. But junior adrenalin junkies can also get their thrills seeing Mackay from the sky on a joy flight, tandem skydiving over the beach, zip lining through the treetops or flying through the water at the cable water skiing park.
He said: “Climbing up through caves over spiky volcanic rocks at Cape Hillsborough was tricky but super cool. And I really wanted to jump from the rocks into Araluen Falls but mum wouldn’t let me because she’s so lame and thought I’d hurt myself. As if. The most exciting thing though was going in a three-seater plane on an epic flight over Mackay. We flew over extinct volcanoes and the bush and farms looked like a giant green jigsaw puzzle. The water and reef from up in the air was so blue I needed sunglasses, I think I may have even spotted a dugong swimming about. It’s so different to flying in a big plane and I loved bumping through the sky almost as much I loved watching mum freaking out because she’s a total wimp about flying”.
She said: “I missed out on flying in the little plane because I spewed a bit that morning and it made me sad but I did get to go rock climbing and bushwalking. And the slide at the BIG4 was so fun too because I could go so, so fast.”
With 31 beautiful beaches to comb, freshwater swimming holes and a kaleidoscope of coral and marine life to explore below the water, thanks to Mackay’s perfect location at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef, there’s no shortage of water fun in the Mackay region. If you want to explore the reef grab your snorkel or a kayak, or take a cruise to the extraordinarily pretty Brampton and Keswick Islands, which are just offshore.
But along with all the natural ways of getting wet, there’s accommodation with their own water parks and the manmade Bluewater Lagoon, a three-tiered swimming pool, with areas for all abilities, in the heart of the city.
He said: “We had lots of chances to get wet in Mackay, but my favourite spot was the natural pools at Araluen Falls in Finch Hatton Gorge, even though it was so freezing I’m surprised my toes didn’t fall off. It was a big hike to get there and then I made my dad blow up a giant pineapple, so he was a bit exhausted, but my sister and I had loads of fun floating around the waterhole, and playing on the rocks and in the falls.”
She said: “I liked the splash pad where we stayed (BIG4 Mackay Marina Village) but I loved the beach where the kangaroos lived the most. I went in the water with my dress on and my brother chased me until I burst from laughing. My dress was soaked and I was all drippy and it was fun. I also liked playing on the pineapple in the swimming hole because I love pineapples.”
One of the biggest surprises on our visit to Mackay was just how good the food is! With so many fab family friendly eateries serving up the freshest local produce from the sea and the land, it’s a good idea to factor in plenty of time for stuffing your face, along with all your bush and beach adventures, when planning your holiday.
He said: “We got to eat so much awesome food, I don’t know where to start. I should probably say dad’s barbecue was the best, but that would be fibbing. Sorry dad, it was good but you just can’t compete with all the other epic food we had. There were two standouts for me. The first was TurBARlance at the airport. This place rocked my world with a caramel crazy shake and a sticky pork salad that was sweet and salty and crunchy and yum. But my favourite dish of the entire trip was the Croc Burger at Platypus Lodge Restaurant. I wasn’t really expecting much because crocodile can sometimes be a bit dry but this was really juicy and packed with flavour and served on a soft toasted bun with a super crunchy salad and wads of tartar sauce. I think it may be the most epic burger I’ve ever eaten. I’ve been dreaming about it ever since.”
She said: “I really liked the scones at the Old Station Tea House because they were warm and I could put heaps and heaps of jam on them. Plus the restaurant was cool and pretty and I loved exploring all the special places. But the yummiest thing I got to eat on our holiday was fairy floss (at the Sarina Sugar Shed).”
From a gleaming new airport hotel and apartment stays, hotels and holiday parks to beachside wilderness retreats and island glamping, you’ll find accommodation that is sure to tick all the boxes for your family in the Mackay Region.
He Said: “I loved Cape Hillsborough Nature Resort, because of all the nature, of course. Plus there’s mini-golf, ping pong and a pool, cool walking trails in the bush, plus I got to climb up through the volcanic caves. Then there were the kangaroos and wallabies on the beach in the morning. It was worth the early start to see them, though one of them tried to jump over my head. But besides that, Ben and Renae who run the park, and their kids, were super-duper nice and made us all feel really welcome. I want to go back for longer next time.” She Said: “I really, really liked the BIG4 Mackay Marina Village because they had a jumping pillow and a splash park with worms squirting water everywhere and a really fast water slide. I liked splashing my dad when I landed in the water. I liked Cape Hillsborough Nature Park too because they played Boss Baby for us on movie night and we ate popcorn and it was really fun.”
Disclosure: The Eats Worlds were guest of Mackay Tourism, but as always, all opinions, roo wrangling, wilderness wandering and face stuffing are our own.