Better known in recent years for cane farming and mining, the grand Queensland regional city is getting its tourism groove back.
By Chris Ashton
For those bold enough to explore Australia’s spectacular Whitsunday tropics back in the 1950s, Mackay was usually the main starting point for adventure.
Local operators Roylen Cruises ran day trips and charters to Brampton Island and the Great Barrier Reef and for a while it briefly transformed the charming art deco city into a tourism hotspot.
Then when fleets of larger, swifter craft set up operations in Shute Harbour via Airlie Beach just to the north, Mackay suddenly lost its biggest drawcard. In the subsequent years tourism was pushed aside for mining and other things.
Board shorts and bikinis were all but replaced with hi-vis jackets and Mackay was simply a place to pass through as tourists headed north or south.
Fast-forward to today and Mackay is re-discovering its tourism heritage.
With diverse experiences from platypus diving in the Eungella National Park to an annual Beach Horse Racing Festival, the city has also found a new sense of fun.
One of the first things you’ll notice as you drive into town are the cane fields stretching far out to the horizon, a reminder that Mackay is still the country’s third largest sugar cane producing region.
Although settled in the 1860s, much of the town was rebuilt after the great cyclone of 1918. As a result, Mackay has one of Queensland’s best art deco era streetscapes.
The best way to see the buildings is by foot on one of the volunteer-led heritage walks from Paxton’s Warehouse. These take place on Wednesdays from May to September.
The 90-minute walk takes in sites listed with the National Trust, including the grand Mackay Court House and Town Hall. A self-guided tour is also offered.
After the walking tour, it’s worth making a beeline for Bluewater Trail – an award-winning walking and cycling route that travels around the perimeter of town.
Take in the impressive public art as you wander the trail, stop in a waterfront cafe for lunch, and then cap the afternoon off with a dip at Bluewater Lagoon.
Mackay Botanic Gardens, one of the stops on the trail, is also worth a visit.
The big-ticket item is the vast Eungella National Park, about an hour inland from the city, where you can see platypus emerge around dawn and dusk.
Broken River, found within the park, is the best places in Australia to spot platypus with two dedicated platypus-viewing platforms and a number of rainforest trails.
Further down the valley you’ll find Finch Hatton Gorge, an oft-overlooked gem.
With waterfalls cascading into cool swimming pools and walking trails through the towering sub-tropical rainforest, Finch Hatton is all about nature.
One of the most popular walking trails starts at the Finch Hatton picnic area, and winds on a 1.6km journey through the beautiful Araluen Waterfall.
Mackay’s northern beaches are also a great option for a day or more.
Only 45-minutes north of Mackay is the famed Cape Hillsborough National Park, where you can witness kangaroos feeding on the beachfront at sunset.
With safe swimming and volcanic rocky outcrops to explore, the National Park is also a fantastic spot to witness turtle hatchings and passing migratory whales.
Visit mackayregion.com for more info.