13 Things to do in Mackay, Queensland on Land, Sea and Sky
The sugar capital of Australia, Mackay, is renowned for its convenient location near the Whitsundays, making it an ideal destination for quick getaways. Positioned between Cairns and Brisbane, this city, responsible for producing over one-third of the country’s sugar, is situated on the southern border of the Great Barrier Reef. Its proximity to numerous tropical islands makes it a perfect midpoint for exploration.
Discovering & moving in Mackay involves diverse experiences, taking you from land to sea. Immerse yourself in nature, transition your bedtime view to the night sky, and engage with the amicable locals with our recommended activities. Here’s our curated list of the top fun things to do in Mackay.
1. Go platypus spotting in Eungella National Park
Venture to the scenic waters of Eungella National Park, just 90 minutes west of Mackay, and witness the playful antics of this cheeky platypus.
For the best viewing opportunities, visit during dawn and dusk when these fascinating creatures engage in playful activities and feeding rituals. Enhance your experience by staying overnight at Broken River Mountain Resort. This eco-tourism retreat offers a picturesque view of the platypus habitat. Here, you not only stand a good chance of spotting these elusive monotremes, but you’ll also find yourself surrounded by Eungella’s sub-tropical rainforest, home to an impressive array of 225 bird species and a diverse range of stunning native wildlife.
2. Chill out at the Bluewater Lagoon
As evidenced by the influx of grey nomads and their caravans in and around Mackay during June, July, and August, the region is undoubtedly a fantastic winter holiday destination. The weather during these months is delightful, with a balmy atmosphere (referring to the climate, not the grey nomads). While the Wet Season, from December to March, brings higher temperatures in the mid-30s, substantial afternoon rainfall, and increased humidity, the silver lining is the lower tourist numbers and the potential for excellent accommodation deals.
If you’re looking for a foolproof way to escape the heat, go to Mackay’s incredible Bluewater Lagoon. Situated on the northern edge of the CBD, this lagoon boasts two expansive tropical-style pool areas, a thrilling water slide, a water playground for kids complete with a drop-bucket, and ample shaded lawn areas for relaxation.
3. Immerse Yourself in Mackay's Cultural Tapestry
For culture enthusiasts, Mackay is a treasure trove waiting to be explored. At the heart of the city’s cultural offerings is Artspace Mackay, a premier hub that showcases a dynamic annual program featuring exhibitions by local and international artists. The award-winning, architecturally designed building itself is a masterpiece. If your visit aligns with July, don’t miss the Mackay Festival of Arts—an immersive ten-day event celebrating visual art, music, theatre, gastronomy, and more, promising an enriching cultural experience.
4. Get a Sugarcane Hit
Explore the scenic Pioneer Valley, where vast sugarcane fields are set against a backdrop of lush greenery, vibrant red earth, and picturesque hills—an ideal setting for captivating day photography.
The sugarcane harvest season, from late May to November, offers a prime opportunity to capture the intricate machinery employed in harvesting these sweet crops. Take the chance to immerse yourself in the beauty of the sugarcane landscape during this period.
5. Visit the Sarina Sugar Shed
We’ve highlighted that the Mackay region contributes to over one-third of Australia’s sugar production. Still, the question remains: Where can you taste some of this sweet bounty?
While mining plays a significant role, life in Mackay is predominantly centred around the sugar industry. Therefore, gaining insight into this crucial aspect during your visit is highly recommended. While touring the region’s sugar mills may not be feasible, the Sarina Sugar Shed provides an excellent alternative. Situated in the quaint town of Sarina, just a 30-minute drive south of Mackay, this award-winning tourist facility offers four tours daily. Here, you’ll delve into the evolution of the sugar industry over the decades and witness the production process in action, albeit on a smaller scale. The tour concludes with delectable treats, including house-made preserves, butterscotch schnapps, rum liqueur, ginger beer, sauces, fairy floss for the younger visitors, and irresistible ice cream.
6. Explore the Beautiful Beaches
Escape the ordinary and uncover some of the most enchanting and unspoiled spots above and below the ocean’s surface along Mackay’s coastline.
This unique, custom-built vessel is designed to offer guests of all ages the smoothest and fastest ride conceivable, maximising your time to immerse yourself in the beauty of pristine waters through activities like snorkelling and paddleboarding.(Here’s our selection of the top beaches in Mackay.)
7. Experience Sunrise over the ocean at Cape Hillsborough National Park
Set your sights on Cape Hillsborough National Park for an unparalleled Australian beach sunrise encounter. Although it’s a 45-minute drive north of Mackay, the early start is worthwhile. This park is a haven for agile wallabies and eastern grey kangaroos, and every morning, they gracefully descend to the beach to indulge in mangrove seed pods and seaweed washed ashore during the night. Don’t forget your camera, and bring the kids along – it’s an ideal school holiday activity!
8. Fly through the forest
Embark on an eco-tourism adventure with Forest Flying, which allows you to experience the sensation of being a bird, gliding 25 meters above the forest floor in Finch Hatton Gorge.
Zip through the verdant canopies of lush tropical rainforests, attempting to spot bats nestled upside-down in the trees as you gracefully fly by. A valuable tip is securing your spot by booking in advance, as these sought-after experiences tend to fill quickly.
9. Hike your way to Finch Hatton Gorge
For waterfall enthusiasts, visiting Finch Hatton Gorge is a must on your Mackay itinerary. Nestled 70 kilometres west of Mackay, Finch Hatton offers a captivating glimpse into the beauty of the region’s sub-tropical rainforests. The key attractions here are Araluen and the Wheel of Fire Cascades. Araluen, a 1.6-kilometer walk from the car park, and the Wheel of Fire, an additional 1.4 kilometres away, are the two most renowned waterfalls in the area.
Pro Tip: Equip yourself with sturdy walking shoes and an ample water supply, especially during the warmer summer. If you opt for the trek to the Wheel of Fire, be prepared for a small creek crossing. Your shoes might get wet, but fear not—they’ll dry out soon enough!
10. Explore the Bluewater Trail on Wheels or by Foot
Discover the scenic wonders of the Bluewater Trail, an extensive network of over 20km of walking and cycling paths that meander alongside the picturesque Pioneer River. This trail connects key attractions in Mackay, including the Botanic Gardens, Bluewater Lagoon, and the city’s inviting beaches. Along the way, encounter six captivating public art installations, each intricately portraying different facets of Mackay’s rich history.
Embark on the Catherine Freeman section of the trail, which leads through enchanting wetlands featuring a fishing pier. Additionally, the Sandfly Creek Environmental Walk unfolds as a designated conservation area, drawing avid bird watchers with its diverse avian inhabitants. Whether you ride or walk, the Bluewater Trail promises a delightful journey through Mackay’s natural beauty and historical significance.
11. Eat like a Local
Wood Street stands as Mackay’s epicentre of dining, offering an array of cafes and eateries that cater to diverse tastes. To kickstart your culinary exploration, consider these noteworthy recommendations. The Dispensary, exuding a slick and sassy vibe, welcomes patrons for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (Tuesday to Saturday). The establishment spares no expense in its fit-out, and the menu, with its broad offerings, caters to various preferences. Weekly evening specials, such as roast night on Wednesdays and steak night on Thursdays, add a touch of authenticity. Just a short stroll away, Coco Cubano, a Cuban-style cocktail bar, surprises and delights with its comfy wing-backed chairs and a selection of delectable tapas dishes.
Across the road in an arcade, 9th Lane Grind stands as a hip hideaway you’ll be grateful to have discovered. Its minimalist interior, innovative menu, and artful presentation create a unique dining experience.
Venturing to Victoria Street, Fusion 128 emerges as Mackay’s top-rated eatery on TripAdvisor. True to its name, Fusion 128 blends culinary styles, offering a modern Australian flair with a Pan-Asian twist. Owner David Ting, a charismatic character, adds a magical touch to the dining experience with surprising tricks.
In the Mackay Marina precinct, Latitude 21, the in-house restaurant at Mantra Mackay, beckons with its exquisite offerings. Even if you’re not a hotel guest, treating yourself to dinner here is worthwhile. Specialising in steaks and seafood, the restaurant boasts a casually elegant ambience overlooking the hotel’s pool area and the scenic marina adorned with luxurious boats. Conclude your evening with a stroll along the palm-fringed boardwalk.
12. Explore Artspace Mackay
Discover the charm of Mackay’s art scene with a visit to Artspace – a gallery that’s all about showcasing local talent. The gallery is in this awesome, award-winning building, and they change what’s on display quite often.
But, you know what’s really cool? Mackay has over 100 pieces of public art scattered around the city. Take one of the three self-guided art walks to check them out up close. And here’s a fun option – join the Sugar City Art Deco & Modernism Society’s Walking Tours, a local group dedicated to the preservation & celebration of Art Deco buildings in Mackay, QLD. They’ll show you around, telling you all about the cool Art Deco and Modernist styles in Mackay’s buildings and public spaces.
So, if you’re into art, Mackay’s got it all – from Artspace to these neat walks and tours. Dive into the artsy side of the city and enjoy the unique artwork they’ve got to offer!
13. Visit Keswick Island
As Mackay serves as the southern gateway to the Whitsunday Region, many opportunities await to indulge in the beauty of the 74 islands nestled in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef. If time is of the essence, consider a quick 15-minute flight to Keswick Island. Enveloped by azure waters and adorned with captivating fringing reefs, a day trip to Keswick Island provides a tantalising glimpse into the exquisite allure of the Great Barrier Reef.
Here, amid the breathtaking scenery, wildlife enthusiasts and beach lovers alike will find a paradise. White sandy beaches beckon for swimming, snorkelling, and scuba diving adventures, offering a chance to encounter the vibrant marine life of the region. Keep a keen eye out, and you might spot turtles gracefully gliding through the waters or majestic manta rays making an appearance, adding an extra touch of magic to your island experience.
Where to stay in Mackay
If you intend to explore the diverse attractions mentioned above, the optimal strategy is to secure accommodations in various locations throughout the Mackay area. Consider Mackay City Property to help you find a wide selection of rental properties across the Mackay real estate landscape. This allows you to tailor your stay to specific preferences, whether you prefer city living, proximity to beaches, or a tranquil retreat in the surrounding areas.
In conclusion, Mackay, Queensland, unfolds as a multifaceted gem offering diverse experiences on land, sea, and sky. From the enchanting platypus encounters in Eungella National Park to the rejuvenating Bluewater Lagoon, Mackay caters to varied tastes and preferences.
Delve into the rich cultural tapestry at Artspace Mackay, where the city’s artistic spirit comes to life, and explore the sugarcane landscapes of Pioneer Valley, a photographer’s delight during the harvest season.
Experience the unique thrill of forest flying in Finch Hatton Gorge and witness the mesmerising sunrise at Cape Hillsborough National Park alongside agile wallabies and kangaroos. For a culinary journey, Wood Street offers a gastronomic adventure, showcasing Mackay’s diverse dining scene.
Nature lovers can discover the beauty of Finch Hatton Gorge and Keswick Island, where white sandy beaches and vibrant marine life await exploration. With its intertwining paths, the Bluewater Trail leads you through the city’s history and natural wonders.
Mackay provides a harmonious blend of adventure, culture, and relaxation, from the bustling city centre to the tranquil beaches and lush rainforests. Whether you are soaring through the forest, immersing in local arts, or discovering the marine wonders, Mackay invites you to create lasting memories amidst its captivating landscapes.
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