13 things to do in Mackay on land, sea and sky
The sugar cane capital of Australia has been making global headlines as the best place to spot a platypus in the world, but what else can you do in Mackay?
The region is popping up on the bucket lists of travellers who want to get up close with nature and wildlife, camp out under the stars, wet a line and hang with some friendly locals.
We’ve pulled together a list of the best things you can do in Mackay that will leave you happier than a sugar hit on a Friday morning.
1. SPOT A PLATYPUS
These shy little cuties love the crystal clear waters of Eungella (pronounced “Yungulla”) National Park, around 90 minutes’ drive west of Mackay.
Come dawn or dusk you can watch the platypuses frolic and feed in the water from dedicated viewing platforms.
Broken River Mountain Resort is literally a hop, skip and a jump from the platypus viewing platforms, or you can try your luck at a face-to-face encounter with a SCUBA dive in freshwater streams with Rainforest SCUBA. Don’t believe us? Check out this video.
2. SUNRISE ON THE BEACH WITH AN AUSSIE ICON
Take your photography game to the next level and bag a pic that will make all of your Instagram buddies #jelly.
This is one of the only places in the world where the marsupials happily bounce their way down to the beach to chill out, nibble and pose for the odd photo or ten.
If you’re like me and hate early mornings, spend the night at Cape Hillsborough Nature Resort – located directly opposite the beach. You can hop (pun intended) out of bed at the crack of sparrow’s and take a few steps to be on the beach in time for sunrise and wallabies.
3. ZIPPITY DO DAH!
Release your inner rogue and zip through the lush tropical rainforest canopy like Tarzan (or Jane). At Forest Flying, you’ll be cruising along the flying-fox wire 25 metres above the forest floor.
Don’t forget your camera to take the ultimate bat selfie – you’ll spot hundreds of these flying mammals snuggled upside-down on the canopy as you make your way along the line.
4. HIKE YOUR WAY TO HAPPINESS
Venture to Finch Hatton Gorge to discover waterfalls, freshwater swimming holes and some great walks. Take a 4.2-km stroll through dense tropical rainforest to see the spectacular Araluen and Wheel of Fire waterfalls.
After working up a bit of a sweat, cool off in clear rock pools which are signed for swimming.
5. SNAP A SWEET PIC
Oozing sweet appeal, the sugarcane fields around Mackay are a favourite for photographers. The lush green growth, blue skies, red earth and gently rolling hills offer the perfect stage for avid snappers.
Head to the Pioneer Valley – a leisurely 45-minute drive west of Mackay – for some of the best spots.
Hot tip: Harvest season is from late May to November and is a great time to snap some of the big machines that harvest the crops.
6. SUGAR HIT
The ‘no sugar’ fad is blasphemy in this patch of the world with the Mackay region producing over one-third of the country’s supply of the sweet stuff. You can’t come to the sugar capital of Australia without trying it. My pick is the Sarina Sugar Shed.
This Willy Wonka tour will take you on an interactive journey to learn about the history and production of sugar in the region. Did I mention that this is the only distillery in Australia that produces its own massecuite and molasses? You’ll also have the opportunity to sample!
I’m talkin’ all things sweet and delicious from liqueurs, schnapps, ginger beer, gourmet sauces to wait for it… fairy floss! There’s also locally made ice-cream and rum for purchase. #sugarcoma
7. BURP LIKE A LOCAL
I’m not talking about belching! Follow the locals to eat at one of the coolest (and tastiest) haunts in town. B.U.R.P offers seasonal produce by local chef and kitchen whizz Adrian Connors.
Don’t forget to check out his other restaurant and bar – The Dispensary. Hot tip: Book ahead. This place is in high demand on Friday and Saturday nights with both locals and travellers.
8. CABLE SKI
Get wet and show off your knee-boarding skills at the GoWake Cable Park.
Beginners can learn to wakeboard here and advanced riders can master and hone their skills in the controlled environment.
9. STAND ON THE EDGE OF THE WORLD
There’s only one word for the views of the Pioneer Valley at Sky Window and Peases Lookout – breathtaking! Located in Eungella (indigenous for ‘land in the clouds’) National Park, these lookouts take in mountain-top views over Pioneer Valley – one of the richest sugarcane growing areas in Australia.
Best of all, both vantage points are less than 100 metres from the carpark.
10. GET BACK TO NATURE
Ever had the urge to pitch a tent and spend a night in a storybook setting? Broken River Campground, in Eungella National Park, has 12 bush camping sites that would make Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs envious.
This patch of paradise is perfectly positioned to spot platypuses in the nearby river. Camping rates are from $6.35 per person per night to $25.40 per family per night.
11. SPEND A NIGHT WITH THE BIRDS
Twitchers unite! It’s not every day you can spend a night in a luxe birding retreat that has its own private plunge pool and aviary.
Just 30 minutes’ drive north of Mackay, The Feathered Nest is for the birds as well as the guests. Meet owner Gordon Lockie and have the chance to see some of his rare black cockatoos.
Gordon is a registered breeder of cockatoos and has a number of endangered species in his collection. If you’re lucky you may even catch a glimpse of a hatchling.
12. GET HIGH
Nothing screams #YOLO like throwing yourself out of a perfectly safe plane. There’s no better place for the ultimate adrenalin rush than at Mackay Skydive.
The brave can take in jaw-dropping views of the Whitsunday Islands and the ‘patchwork quilt’ of the sugar cane properties of the Pioneer Valley before landing on Mackay Town Beach.
13. WET YOUR LINE
Mackay has some of the best fishing spots in Australia with commercial fishing boats running daily from the marina. Join one of the fishing groups as they head off for the day and come home with jewfish, mackerel and bream.
For whiting, flathead and smaller bream look no further than the Pioneer River, where you can drop a line for free. Check out Mackay’s top fishing spots here.
Have a great tip for things to do in Mackay? Tell us in the comments below.
*This post was originally published in 2015 and updated in April 2018.