Let’s get one thing straight: tearing yourself away from the city of Mackay itself to do a day trip is no mean feat. As the southern gateway to the Whitsunday Coast, the city offers easy access to palm-fringed beaches that beguile, while the CBD’s three-tiered Bluewater Lagoon acts like a giant magnet for those travelling with kids. There’s the Art Deco architecture to enjoy, galleries to browse in, and cool cafes in which to sip and savour the sweet life in Queensland’s sugar capital. But if you do decide to venture further afield, you’ll be richly rewarded with some of the best outdoor experiences on offer anywhere in Queensland.
Big call? You be the judge. Here are five of the best day trip destinations from Mackay.
Cape Hillsborough National Park
Strictly speaking, this is more of a ‘dawn’ trip than a ‘day’ one, but hey, you can always stay on afterwards and spend the whole day exploring what is a truly stunning natural landscape. Cape Hillsborough National Park is located 40 minutes’ drive north of Mackay and the main reason visitors brush the sleep from their eyes at 5am and head out to Cape Hillsborough Beach is to see the eastern grey kangaroos and agile wallabies that come down onto the sand at dawn to feast on mangrove seed pods washed up along the shoreline. The roos are generally perfectly positioned for a photo with the sun rising from the ocean horizon behind them. Now if getting that pic for Instagram isn’t worth the early start, we don’t know what is!
Eungella National Park
Sitting high on the Clarke Range, an hour or so’s drive directly west of Mackay, Eungella National Park is truly sublime. The views from the top of the range would be reason enough to make the trip (drop into the Eungella Chalet and prepare to be wowed), but an even more enthralling experience awaits you at Broken River – the chance to see platypuses in the wild. These usually super-shy critters are most active at dawn and dusk, but it is possible to spot them doing their thing throughout the day. Patience is key, so if you’re travelling with kids, plan ahead for ways to keep them engaged. There’s a series of short walks and three or four viewing platforms to move between.
Mackay Highlands Great Walk
This one takes planning and preparation, but the rewards for walking enthusiasts are huge. Technically rated a Grade 5 walk under the Australian Walking Track Grading System (‘super tough’ in layman’s terms), the 56 kilometre Mackay Highlands Great Walk starts in Eungella National Park and continues south down the spine of the Great Dividing Range. The entire stretch takes around five days to do, but for day trippers with a good level of fitness, the initial tracks in Eungella are more than doable. And who knows, they may inspire you to come back and take on the entire trek!
Finch Hatton Gorge National Park
Gorgeous gorges are always a hit with day trippers, and Finch Hatton Gorge National Park – just over an hour’s drive west of Mackay – is no exception to the rule. A variety of well-maintained walking tracks leads you through a lush landscape of rainforest foliage, ancient boulders, dappled sunlight, and glistening cascades and waterfalls, all backgrounded by tranquil birdsong. The water generally looks way too inviting and plenty of people swim here, but be aware of the risks (particularly the slippery rocks). On your way back to Mackay, reward yourself for all that walking with what is, I promise you, the finest meat pie in all the land – courtesy of the Pinnacle Pub in the tiny town of the same name.
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As mentioned, Mackay is located at the southern end of the Whitsunday Coast, so take the opportunity to cruise up to famous Airlie Beach – 150 kilometres north of the city. The drive takes under two hours each way, leaving you plenty of time to soak up the vibe of this relaxed holiday retreat overlooking Pioneer Bay and the Coral Sea. Swim in the Airlie Beach Lagoon, stroll along a section of the Bicentennial Walk, ride a camel on the beach, book a jet ski tour, or browse in the beachy boutiques and surf stores. Hook yourself the catch of the day for lunch at fabulous Fish D’Vine, or tuck into a juicy fish taco at the Fat Frog Beach Café.
Need a place to stay? Enjoy a resort-style stay at Comfort Resort Blue Pacific in Mackay’s Northern Beaches. Choose from a variety of self-catering villa-style accommodation options, some just metres from Blacks Beach.
Comfortable, contemporary and within easy reach of the airport and CBD, Econo Lodge Beachside makes an ideal base for enjoying everything central Mackay has to offer. The sandy expanse of Illawong Beach is a stone’s throw from the hotel.
About the writer
Adam Ford is editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. He has previously had the opportunity to travel the world as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten.
Cover image: Finch Hatton Gorge. Image courtesy of Tourism and Events Queensland