What a pleasant surprise Mackay has been for a weekend escape.
Not somewhere that was high on our bucket list to visit, but when the opportunity came up, we jumped at the chance to explore somewhere new. After all, that is what we are all about.
Just a short 1.5 hour flight from Brisbane, Mackay is the start of the Whitsunday region and unlike other more popular areas, is a lot less over populated, “touristy” or commercial. The endless tropical beaches were virtually empty and in addition to this, there were plenty of places to explore and lots of great, local produce eateries.
By far, the number one thing to do if you visit Mackay is set an early alarm, take the 40 minute drive to Hillsborough beach just north of Mackay and watch the sunrise. Not only is it an amazing beach and location for sunrise, but it is renowned for the wallabies that come to the shore every morning to feed. You sit quietly in the pitch black on the beach and can sense movement around you as these gorgeous creatures venture from out of the trees to the beach. At the moment, even though a great tourism highlight of the local area, it was fairly well controlled and not too many people, although we suspect that in the future if this isn’t regulated somehow by local parks and tourism authorities, it could become a “circus” and loose its natural charm.
After the sun comes up, there are plenty of beautiful walks around the National Park in the Hillsborough area, with amazing views back to the beach and out to the Whitsundays. The hills in the area are full of caves and tracks to explore. We would highly suggest staying around for the day, or if you have the time, book a few nights at the local caravan park right on Hillsborough beach. Owned and run by husband and wife team Ben and Renae, they are a wealth of knowledge of the area and the wallabies at sunrise. That’s definitely what we will be doing next trip.
While in the area, make sure you have a car, or take a tour out to Pioneer Valley and the lookout at Eungella. Spectacular views back across the valley and to the ocean in the far distance.
In the same area is Finch Hatton Gorge and great rain forrest walks and waterfalls that make a welcome place to have a swim after a long walk. The water is crystal clear and very fresh. You can choose either Araluen Cascades (down the hill at the end of the path) or the Wheel of Fire (up the hill), both as good as each other although the Cascades are better if there hasn’t been much rain around.
There are some really incredible beaches in the Mackay area, we were so surprised at how gorgeous they are. Not sure what we were expecting, but not too much is really said about Mackay so to find how beautiful it was, we felt like we had found one of north Queenslands best kept secrets.
Some suggestions of beaches to visit in the area are Sunset Bay, Shoal Point (our favourite for sunset), Blacks Beach and even a visit to the marina and the beach next to it. In any case, we didn’t find any of the beaches over crowded which was something we loved.
As for food – WOW. Was so great. A lot of local little cafes and eateries using local produce that just blew us away. Some of our favourites were:
River Rock Cafe at Finch Hatton
Ulysses Garden Cafe at Finch Hatton – Lorraine and Rob were delightful and their food is all organic and locally produced. We would highly recommend the mango ice-cream. So good.
B.U.R.P. Eat and Drink in the main street of town is honestly one of the best restaurants we have eaten at anywhere. Not something we expected from a small country town. The food was exceptional, and a great bar next door for a drink or a cafe for something more casual. A little bit pricey but so worth it.
The Old Station Teahouse was another favourite in Cape Hillsborough. Our scones were literally fresh out of the oven with jam served straight from the pot on the stove. The place is as it says – an old Train Station, purchased by owners Michelle and Dwayne and transferred to this location set amongst the most beautiful gardens with tables set and quirky knick knacks everywhere you look. You can see why it is such a favourite for weddings.
Lastly, lunch at the Eimeo hotel high on the hill overlooking the Whitsundays. On the day we had lunch, we watched the whales slowly meandering past in the water to the cheers of the lunch crowd.
So all in all, our adventure to Mackay was a fantastic surprise. A region surrounded by the sweet smell of the sugar cane that fills every spare part of the land. Just a quick weekend visit but somewhere we will definitely venture back with more time on our hands to explore the area.