Cape Hillsborough at dawn.
Cape Hillsborough at dawn. Rowan Hunnam

Find plenty of attractions in Mackay

IT MIGHT be slightly confused about whether it's part of north or central Queensland but, viewing Mackay from a helicopter, somehow it is clear what this place is.

It is its own destination, unlike anywhere else; made up of pieces of the magic of the tropical north, but with good roots in farming and a convenient and practical connection to industry. The industry and ports infrastructure is impressive, but unlike other industry towns, here it doesn't dominate the landscape. That's owned by the beaches, the water, the farmland and the valley.

A work-life offering, at a far slower (better) pace than major centres? For visitors, perceptions are often thrown; perhaps the brief was to expect a mining town. But here, the lifestyle - the revamped city centre, the water, the national parks, the farmland, the facilities - takes over.

The region has come off the back of a boom, and times are certainly less wildly prosperous than they have been, but there's a buoyancy in the attitude of many that is infectious. Young people who grew up in Mackay aren't desperate to flee and young professionals are choosing to come "home" after studying in Sydney or Brisbane.

It's a place where people can come to live. And because of that, there's a sense of vibrancy. Bearing in mind there's a list of 101 things to do in the Mackay region, here are five:

The rainforest meets the sea

Cape Hillsborough is a rugged natural landscape where the rainforest meets the sea, as in one of my favourite childhood books by Jeannie Baker. Kangaroos stroll onto the beach there, so there are plenty of fairly spectacular photo opportunities, particularly at dawn. There are some great trails, too, if bush walking is more your thing.

 

Cape Hillsborough, where the kangaroos spend dawn on the beach.
Cape Hillsborough, where the kangaroos spend dawn on the beach. Rowan Hunnam

Explore Eungella and the Pioneer Valley

Eungella is a wonderful area to explore and guaranteed to be a couple of degrees cooler than Mackay. It is still home to a couple of dairy farms. While it is hard to imagine the milk trucks getting up the range road at the top of the Pioneer Valley, it really is a fantastic drive. You cannot go past a couple of the best food spots, including the world famous pies at the Pinnacle Hotel.

 

Its magical sitting in a helicopter above Eungella, with the Pioneer Valley lurching away down below.
Its magical sitting in a helicopter above Eungella, with the Pioneer Valley lurching away down below. Rowan Hunnam

Watch horses race on the beach

The events calendar here during the cooler months is impressive and the annual Mackay Airport Beach Horse Racing festival has become a legendary event on the Queensland calendar. Thousands pack the beach for the afternoon as the horses thunder across the beach flats at low tide. Hooves slapping the wet sand make a sound quite unlike any other.

Eat good food on a farm

Freckle Farm, which is 40km from Mackay, is a refreshing example of good food, produced well and sold well. The farm hosts guided tours for people and families to demonstrate how holistic farming can produce healthy, nutritious food. The best part is that kids aged under five go free.

Get out on the water

This is an outdoorsy city like nowhere else. There's some of the best fishing off the Queensland coast, the unique (one of only two in the state) blue water Pioneer River to explore, diving and snorkelling, and the Whitsunday islands just a few nautical miles up the coast.

 

There are more than 30 beaches to explore around Mackay, including a few good surf beaches (when the south-easterlies are blowing hard).
There are more than 30 beaches to explore around Mackay, including a few good surf beaches (when the south-easterlies are blowing hard). Rowan Hunnam

The writer lives in Mackay, and admits to having a biased view.


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