48 Hours in Cape Hillsborough and The Hibiscus Coast
Cape Hillsborough and the Hibiscus Coast is full of surprises. For a start, there are no hibiscus flowers on its namesake, and that’s only the beginning of this coastline’s curiosities.
Fifty kilometres north of Mackay, you’ll find ancient volcanoes, an island you can walk to, and a national park filled with hoop pines that grow right down to the beach.
If you’re looking for a holiday that will have you busting more myths than the TV show, then take a vacation au naturel, to discover the rugged mountains, secluded bays, and picture-perfect beach terrain of The Hibiscus Coast.
Got 48 hours to spare? Here’s how we suggest you sweeten your visit to the sugar capital:
9AM: Meet The Mackay Region
For a regional city, Mackay has the accessibility of one of Queensland’s majors. In fact, more than 65 flights arrive into the city each week from metropolitan centres.
Travellers more comfortable with four wheels on the ground will find The Hibiscus Coast in the middle of the Queensland coastline, (almost) the exact same drive distance (approx. 1000km) from Brisbane and from Cairns.
Regardless of whether you fly or drive, start this itinerary with a lay of the land, or at very least check out the Pioneer River, the Bluewater Lagoon and popular breakfast haunt, Coco Cubano, which serves Cuban food on exactly the same latitude as Cuba, in Mackay.
11AM: Hit the Hibiscus highway
There are 20 sugar cane-filled kilometres between the city centre and your first stop on this itinerary, The Leap.
This drive is undoubtedly one of the most picturesque stretches of the 1652km-long Bruce Highway, with verdant sugar cane country on either side of the bitumen.
The towering cane fields somehow manage to make this drive feel more like a rural country drive than a national highway, which is good news for people who prefer the road less travelled.
When you see signs for The Leap Hotel, head east, or coast bound, to sate your appetite for good stories and a menu that serves chicken a few ways – Kiev, parmigiana or grilled over a salad.
The Leap Hotel is a pub turned mini-museum and is the best place to hear how the area got its name.
Spoiler alert: The name came after a local tribe woman made the ultimate sacrifice atop Mt Mandarana Cliff, plummeting to the valley below in 1868… or so legend tells us.
1PM: Pick up supplies
Following lunch, check out the jewellery and trinkets at That Sapphire Place for the ultimate keepsake souvenir like a pendant necklace, ring or bracelet dripping in precious stones.
If you’re not literate in all things gemstones, a quick chat to owners Peter and Josephine will teach you the difference between “sapphires” and “Sapphires”, the latter of which are stocked aplenty at this store.
Or, to truly find your holiday spirit, choose to unwind with a little help from Avatar Country Day Spa and Spiritual Wellness Centre who’ll have you saluting The Hibiscus Coast sun with their range of short yoga and spiritual wellness courses.
Before leaving The Leap, pay a visit to organic heaven, The Organic & Natural Store, to pick up supplies to self-cater tonight, which is a must if you choose to stay at Cape Hillsborough Nature Tourist Park. The cabins come with a full kitchen, so don’t be shy when picking ingredients for stove top.
2PM: Onwards and further north upwards to Cape Hillsborough
From The Leap, continue getting acquainted with Bruce (Highway) until you spot the Seaforth Road and brown visitor information signs for Cape Hillsborough.
Head inland and watch the sugar cane dissolve into rugged Australian bushland, a contrast so diverse you’ll wonder why you didn’t go through Passport Control and Quarantine to make the turn.
Accommodation comes in a few forms near Cape Hillsborough National Park, from camping through to cabins.
Make Cape Hillsborough Nature Tourist Park your base to afford you the best chance of a sleep-in tomorrow – with mere steps between your cabin and Casuarina Beach.
3PM: Hike the headland
The best way to discover it is one of the four short walks through the park, which take you through dense native bushland and rainforest.
Walks range from 1.2 – 5.2kms so you have a choice, depending on your appetite for the great outdoors. Keep your eyes peeled for the 140 birds, 22 mammals and 500 plant species that make this national park such a diverse ecosystem and popular with researchers all over the world.
Binoculars, camera and a bottle of water are the only items you don’t want to forget to pack!
5PM: Start the walk to sunset
Sure, the sunrise might be what’s so famous about Cape Hillsborough but the sunset gives it a run for its money, especially when you catch it at Hidden Valley, on The Hibiscus Coast.
It turns out, this valley is not so hidden – it takes just 40 minutes to walk from the Cape Hillsborough Nature Tourist Park to the last bay, Hidden Valley – and hosts Ben and Renae will point it out on a map for you.
You’re promised a secluded sunset, with an amber glow that makes the sand glisten like someone spilt a bag of gold glitter all over the beach.
Every now and then you’ll see a flash of bright blue dotted against the golden sands – from the wings of Ulysses butterflies who add a pop of colour to this rugged setting.
7PM: Cook up a family favourite
With self-catered dinner waiting for you back at your cabin, you can take your time wandering back to your digs.
Get to bed early, though – the headline act at Cape Hillsborough only rewards early birds.
5:30AM Sunrise with the wallabies
This famous mob of macropods are quickly becoming the most famous animal encounter in Queensland. It’s so famous in fact, it even features on a Qantas in-flight safety briefing alongside Aussie-icon heavyweights like the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Uluru.
Aside from natural beauty, the best part is that this is a non-ticketed, wild event that plays out on Casuarina Beach, in Cape Hillsborough.
For reasons unknown, the mob of eastern grey and agile wallabies gather on the beach to fossick for seaweed and seed pods that have washed ashore. Mystery aside, you’ll be glad they choose to take their breakfast buffet here.
The wallabies create the perfect silhouette against the rising sun and don’t mind their photo being taken (just don’t get too close because these shy mammals don’t do encore appearances once scared off by tourists going in for the selfie).
Looking for more photogenic spots in Mackay? Check out this post.
With the main event of your day out of the way well before 7am, you can duck back to bed for a few extra zzz’s before joining the team at the Cape Hillsborough Nature Tourist Park Café for breakfast.
Or, make the most of the morning and squeeze in Andrews Lookout, which is 2.8km walk (return) from the beach.
Once you’ve finished the track, you’ll be in perfect position to cross the sand-flats to Wedge Island, tide permitting of course.
9AM: Walk to Wedge Island
How would you like to visit the most accessible island of the Great Barrier Reef? The commute time is 15 minutes, oh, and you can get there on foot (tides permitting) via sand and rock flats.
Strap on your reef shoes for a day of rock walking and reef exploration with a visit to Wedge Island, which you can see from the national park.
Once you grow weary of spotting crustaceans hiding in rock pools, visit the western side of the island to discover Wedge Beach, with 150m of sand to sunbathe upon.
Fishermen would be mad not to bring a line over to the island. The rock fishing is some of Australia’s best.
If you return early to the mainland, walk to the epicentre of the ancient volcano which created the landscape here, found at Pinnacle Rock just north of Cape Hillsborough beach. The owners at Cape Hillsborough Nature Tourist Park, Ben and Renae, will be all to happy to help guests find it on a map.
1PM: Take lunch at The Old Station Teahouse
Refuel after your hiking adventure with carbs and camellias in the beautiful gardens at The Old Station Teahouse.
Best known for their four different scone recipes, The Old Station Teahouse Devonshire Tea is what afternoon tea dreams are made of. If it’s a fine day, sit back, relax and take it in the gardens, which have been transformed from the old Marian railway station into Royal-Show worthy lawns.
If you’re looking for something more substantial, their wood-fired pizzas will hit the spot too.
3PM: Enjoy a few coldies at Seaforth Bowls Club
Head 11km north-east to discover a few quaint seaside villages.
The Hibiscus Coast can thank years of volcanic activity for dividing the once endless stretch of beach into secluded beaches and bays. Spend the afternoon driving the loop between Ball Bay Beach, Seaforth and Halliday Bay, which each have their own community by the bay.
Take a beach walk at Ball Bay if you want to experience that feeling of being the only person in the world.
Finish your self-guided town tour with a few coldies at the Seaforth Bowls Club, the best place to watch the afternoon light dance off the water, while enjoying a beer and piping hot, salty chips.
With your ions positively charged from natural encounters, make tracks back to Mackay.
Local favourite, BURP.eat.drink, opens from 5:30pm for dinner, wrapping this itinerary up into a neat little Mackay package.