Renowned as the sugar capital of Australia, Mackay offers plenty of sweet treats for travellers looking to enjoy tropical ambience, natural beauty and cosmopolitan city pursuits.

Picturesque coastline, epic national parks, and incredible wildlife viewing are all within easy reach of the palm-lined streets of Mackay’s city centre, which is dotted with Art Deco architecture and opportunities for al fresco dining.

Here are some of the top things to do in Mackay. Book your stay with Choice Hotels.

1. Splash down at Bluewater Lagoon

This is Queensland, so the beaches are amazing. But you don’t even have to leave the city centre to enjoy a splash. Just head for Bluewater Lagoon. This family-friendly leisure facility is comprised of three tiered lagoons, a connecting waterfall and children’s water playground. Overlooking the picturesque Pioneer River, Bluewater Lagoon provides a stinger-free swimming environment all year round, and best of all, entry is free.

discover mackay
Cool off at Mackay’s Bluewater Lagoon. Image: Tourism and Events Queensland

2. Explore the city’s cultural scene

Culture vultures will find a lot to love about Mackay. Artspace Mackay is the city’s main cultural hub and hosts a diverse annual programme of exhibitions by both local and international artists. The award-winning architecturally designed building is a work of art in its own right. If you happen to be in town in July, the Mackay Festival of Arts is a ten day event that encompasses visual art, music, theatre, food and wine, and more.

3. Check out the Art Deco architecture

Mackay has a rich trove of Art Deco architecture, which came about in the 1920s, 30s and early 40s following a devastating cyclone. Download a self-guided walking tour map from the Mackay City Council website and tick off the old Post Office, the Pioneer Shire Office, the CWA building on Gordon Street, and many other gems from the period.

discover mackay
Discover Mackay’s Art Deco gems. Image: Tourism and Events Queensland/Brooke Miles

4. Relax on the Northern Beaches

A twenty-minute drive north of the city will bring you to the beautiful Northern Beaches. The longest beach in the region, Blacks Beach, stretches for more than six kilometres. Other popular options include Eimeo Beach and Bucasia Beach. Volunteer lifeguards patrol some of these beaches seasonally.

Tip: During the summer months, the Northern Beaches serve as a nesting site for marine turtles. You may spot turtle tracks (where a female has come in from the ocean to nest), and if you’re really lucky, baby turtles scurrying down to the water’s edge for the first time!

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5. Head out to Cape Hillsborough at dawn

For the ultimate Australian beach sunrise experience, you can’t go past a visit to Cape Hillsborough National Park. It’s a 45-minute drive north of Mackay, but well worth the early start. The park is home to agile wallabies and eastern grey kangaroos, and each morning they come down to the beach to feed on mangrove seed pods and seaweed that have washed ashore during the night. Be sure to bring your camera!

Top things to do in Mackay
Cape Hillsborough National Park

6. Soak up the beauty of Finch Hatton Gorge

If you love chasing waterfalls, put Finch Hatton Gorge on your Mackay itinerary. Finch Hatton is located 70 kilometres west of Mackay and is a great place to experience the beauty of the region’s sub-tropical rainforests. The two most popular waterfalls here are Araluen and the Wheel of Fire Cascades. Araluen is a 1.6-kilometre walk from the carpark, and the Wheel of Fire is a further 1.4 kilometres.

Tip: Bring good walking shoes and plenty of drinking water, as it can get very warm here during the summer months. If you decide to do the walk up to the Wheel of Fire, you will most likely need to do a small creek crossing. Your shoes will get wet, but don’t worry, they’ll soon dry out!

Top things to do in Mackay
Finch Hatton Gorge. Image: Tourism and Events Queensland

7. Go platypus spotting in Eungella National Park

A little further west from Finch Hatton, the winding road up the Clarke Range will bring you to the town of Eungella. From here, you can delve deep into the stunning Eungella National Park – part of Australia’s largest continuous stretch of sub-tropical rainforest. This is one of the best places in the country to observe a platypus in its natural habitat. There are viewing decks along the Broken River, and dawn and dusk are the optimal times to spot the locals.

Top things to do in Mackay
Broken River. Image: Tourism and Events Queensland

8. Visit Keswick Island

Mackay is the southern gateway to the Whitsunday Region, and there are endless ways to enjoy these 74 islands in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef. If you’re short on time, Keswick Island is just a 15-minute flight from Mackay. Surrounded by beautiful blue water, and fantastic fringing reefs, a day trip to the island offers a tantalising taste of the beauty of the Great Barrier Reef.

Need a place to stay?

Enjoy a resort-style home away from home 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 stunning Blacks Beach. With swaying palms and plenty of lawn recliners, you’ll find it mighty hard to tear yourself away from the glorious beachfront.

Comfortable, contemporary and within easy reach of the airport and CBD, Econo Lodge Beachside makes an ideal base for enjoying everything Mackay has to offer. Families will love this hotel. Children stay free in existing bedding and well-equipped Quota Park is located just across the road, along with the sandy expanse of Illawong Beach.

Words by Mark Fitz and Adam Ford

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