Discover the roads less travelled when camping in Mackay
There’s nothing quite packing the car and taking a short trip to a new and undiscovered slice of Queensland to pull you from your routine and refocus. Camping in Mackay offers you a canvas in which to do just that. A town that’s built its foundations on sugar cane and packed with natural attractions, it’s not a region to be overlooked when shortlisting your options for a destination getaway.
From wildlife encounters on the beach, to the home of the much-loved platypus, Mackay is a living example that some of the lesser travelled nooks and campsites play host to some of Queensland’s most memorable sights and experiences.
Take a deliberate detour through to Smalleys Beach
A worthwhile detour on the way to Cape Hillsborough National Park (a must do on any journey through the Mackay Region) you’ll find a place to call home a few nights at Smalleys Beach. A living breathing mood board for camping in Mackay, Smalley’s Beach feels miles from civilisation with touches like flushing toilets and drinking water to keep things comfortable during your stay. Only 35 kilometres north of Mackay, this humble campground is a great base to explore surrounding beaches and walking trails.
Take the trip down Smalley’s Beach Road, a gravel access road, to uncover eleven campsites you can book on the Department of National Parks, each only around ten metres walk from the beachside. Famous for its multiple personalities, Smalley’s Beach is home to huge high and low tides, keeping the water at your fingertips for a portion of the day and vast stretches of sand to walk across the rest.
Go off the beaten track and venture to Broken River
A retreat of rainforest-shrouded camp spots beneath palm trees and Eungella National Park, Broken River is affectionately known for platypus spotting and the country’s largest stretch of continuous sub-tropical rainforest. It’s a local favourite to disconnect and dub home while you explore Queensland the way one would have thirty years ago, with very limited phone service and no WIFI. A patch of paradise where you’re encouraged to fully surrender to your surroundings.
Broken River is a little over an hour from Mackay and a beautiful spot to enjoy bush walks, nearby picnic grounds, BBQ areas and its famous platypus viewing deck. These little marsupial friends are most frequently spotted in the late afternoon and early mornings and easily identified by the ripples they make when visiting the water’s surface.
Campsite bookings and parking permits can be booked through the Department of National Parks, or you can call into the nearby Ranger’s Station for more information. The area is best suited to tent camping and can’t accommodate for camper trailers, caravans or motorhomes. There are public toilets and BBQ facilities available, but for a successful stay you’ll need to take drinking water, insect repellent, a reliable torch and sturdy rubbish bags along with you.
If you’re travelling in a 4WD, check out Diggings Campsite up Diggings Road, just outside of Broken River. The road crosses the river a few times but once you find a spot to set up, you can assume it’s yours and yours alone. Never attempt to cross the river when flooded and exercise caution during the wet season (November to April), as creek levels can rise quickly.
7200 hectares of opportunity at Cape Palmerston National Park
You’ll need a 4WD to discover this remote camping destination, but hold onto the handrail and carry on, it’s worth every bump. Head 60km south of Mackay and you’ll spot signs for Cape Palmerston, where you turn off road for the remainder of the journey.
Cape Palmerston National Park holds zero agenda for how to best explore or enjoy, it just guarantees that you will. Immerse yourself in nature at this remote and undeveloped piece of Queensland, with a little taste of our country’s best – sandy dunes, unspoilt beaches, rocky headlands and mangrove swamps, all within arms’ length.
Climb Cape Palmerston for second-to-none views toward Northumberland Islands and Mount Funnel. During winter, spot whales offshore from the cape. Launch your boat in the water for a spot of fishing – but remember to be crocodile wise during your visit to their neighbourhood.
Set up camp at Windmill Bay for the night. This earthy haven is all about nature with no side of amenities, so you’ll need to be self-sufficient and well prepared for bush camping to get the most from this destination while camping in Mackay.
South Cumberland Islands
South Cumberland Islands National Park includes the lands of Scawfell, Cockermouth, St. Bees, Penrith and Keswick Island. Each have their own distinct characteristics and can be visited for small trips. While some camping experiences in Mackay are full of action-packed discovery and adventure, the South Cumberland Islands are a place where time stands still (in a good way) and you return back to wilderness roots for a small moment.
Cockermouth Island is a great place to pitch a tent, but campers are warned, you’ll need to be self-sufficient to lay claim to a site. A secluded experience accessible only by boat, site numbers are limited and need to be purchased by permit in advance.
Explore the vast array of flora and fauna to befriend on the islands and part take in one of many incredibly rugged and rocky pine-dominated bushwalks that skirt the National Park. Turtle-spot off the headland. Read a book in a sheltered cove. Embrace your surroundings during your stay on the islands but be sure to brush up on local restrictions like spearfishing, anchoring, fishing and collecting for a sustainable stay.
Take a walk through the Mackay Highlands
If adventure lights your soul on fire, pack your swag and all the supplies you’d need for a 3-5 day journey and set off to discover the incredible Mackay Highlands Great Walk. If you’re novice to the concept of exploring lands by foot, there’s a few things to know before you set out, but this 56kms of terrain is (almost) completely flat making it an excellent introductory walk for first timers or those who require flatter conditions – especially when travelling from north to south.
If you carry your own tent, food, and equipment, you’re able to hike the length of the walk choosing where to rest the night. Camping permits can be purchased on the Department of National Parks website. For those happier to end their day with a warm shower, welcoming pub feed and authentic sense of North Queensland hospitality, you can book into Broken River Mountain Resort – they even offer pick-ups and drop-offs throughout the journey and a packed lunch for hikers. Drive to Eungella National Park to find the start of this one-of-a-kind experience while camping in Mackay.