14 things to do in Mackay on land, sea and sky

Australia’s sugar capital enjoys a sweet reputation for its proximity to the Whitsundays for quick getaways, and its gateway location between Cairns and Brisbane.

Mackay, which produces over one third of Australia’s sugar, is perched on the southern backyard of the Great Barrier Reef in close proximity to multiple tropical islands, making it a perfect meet-in-the-middle spot.

Our top things to do in Mackay take you from on the ground, to above and below the water as you get close to nature, switch your bedtime view to the night sky and connect with some friendly locals.

1. Get up close with a platypus

Platypus, Broken River, Mackay

In the waters of Eungella National Park (90 minutes’ drive west of Mackay) there are cheeky platypus that love to frolic.

Around dawn and dusk is when you can come to spot them playing and feeding in the water. Maximise your chances and spend the night at Broken River Mountain Resort – an eco-tourism retreat overlooking a platypus habitat. You’re not only likely to spot some of these elusive monotremes, but Eungella’s sub-tropical rainforest is also home to 225 species of birds, and an abundance of spectacular native wildlife.

2. Salute the sun on the beach

Cape Hillsborough kangaroos | 13 things to do in Mackay

Bring your camera and drink in the sunrise as you snap away and enjoy the view of the sun over the ocean at Cape Hillsborough National Park.

Not a morning person? Spend the night closer to the beach (better yet, directly opposite it) at Cape Hillsborough Nature Resort and virtually roll out of bed to catch the sunrise (and the wallabies who wander freely around the sand).

3. Fly through the forest

Eco tourism experience Forest Flying lets you feel like you’re a bird as you glide 25 metres above the forest floor and Finch Hatton Gorge.

Zip over lush tropical rainforest canopies and try to find the bats nestled upside-down in the trees as you silently fly by. Top tip: book in advance, as spots tend to fill up.

4. Hike your way to happiness

Finch Hatton Gorge, Mackay

Finch Hatton Gorge is a vast landscape of waterfalls, lush flora and volcanic boulder formations.

Discover spectacular walks and freshwater swimming holes to cool off in afterwards. Take a 4.2km stroll through dense tropical rainforest to see the spectacular Araluen and Wheel of Fire waterfalls. After working up a sweat, cool off in the clear rock pools.

5. Get a sugarcane hit

Pioneer Valley, Mackay

The Pioneer Valley is home to some sweet sugarcane fields surrounded by lush greenery, red earth and beautiful hills, perfect for some day photography.

Sugarcane harvest season is late May to November: a great time for photographing the machinery used to harvest the sugarcane.

6. Sample the sweet stuff

We mentioned the Mackay region produced over one third of Australia’s supply, but we didn’t say where to get some of it.

At the Sarina Sugar Shed, you’ll connect with the lifeblood of the region as you learn about the history and production of sugarcane while tasting butterscotch schnapps, rum liqueur, ginger beer, sauces and ice cream.

7. Eat like a local

BURP Restaurant, Mackay

The Dispensary, a popular kitchen and bar among locals is a concept by local chef Adrian Connors (of former B.U.R.P fame) offering coffee, eats and alcohol out of its pre-war building.

The place also hosts a variety of events in different spaces, has a menu brimming with local produce and lays claim to Mackay’s largest wine and whisky collection.

8. Go wakeboarding

Ever tried to master wakeboarding? Now’s your chance – pick up the new skill at the GoWake Cable Park.

From beginners to advanced riders honing their skills, everyone can enjoy wakeboarding in a controlled, safe environment. Afterwards, enjoy a well-deserved drink at the lakeside cafe and sunset bar.

9. Stand on the edge of the world

Sky Window Pioneer Valley, Mackay

The Pioneer Valley in Eungella National Park is a breathtaking place to explore for the day.

Discover one of Queensland’s most ecologically diverse spots – home to the Eungella dayfrog, Mackay tulip oak and Eungella honeyeater to name just a few.  Enjoy a picnic at Broken River before wandering down one of the nearby walking trails.

10. Get back to nature

Broken River Camp Ground, Mackay

Camp out under the ceiling of a million stars and pitch a tent in the Broken River Campground in Eungella National Park. Choose from 12 bush camping sites all positioned to spot platypuses in the nearby river. Camping rates start from $6.35 per person per night to $25.40 per family per night.

11. Spend a night with the birds

There should be more luxury bird retreats in the world: a free concert, anytime you want? Yes please. The Feathered Nest has its own private plunge pool and aviary, and is just 30 minutes’ drive north of Mackay.

Meet owner Gordon Lockie and have the chance to see some of his rare black cockatoos.

Gordon is a registered breeder of cockatoos and has a number of endangered species in his collection. If you’re lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of a hatchling.

12. Get airborne

If adrenaline pumping through your veins is your thing, then Mackay Skydive can deliver.

Take in jaw-dropping views of the Whitsunday Islands (Hamilton, Hayman and Daydream) as you soar over the patchwork quilt-like sugar cane fields, before landing on Mackay Town Beach.

13. Drop a line

Fishing | 13 things to do in Mackay

Set up your line for the day in one of the best fishing spots in Australia and come home with jewfish, mackerel and bream.

If you want some company, commercial fishing boats run daily from the marina. For whiting, flathead and smaller bream try the Pioneer River.

14. Go island-hopping

Keswick Island, 32km off the coast of Mackay, is a hidden gem and one of the southernmost Whitsunday islands. Almost the whole island is a national park surrounded by sandy beaches, coral gardens perfect for snorkelling in, and three shipwrecks.

Arrive in style at the private airstrip or arrive by boat at the jetty, then take time to explore the subtropical rainforest teeming with flora and fauna. Stare at the views across the Whitsunday water on one of the stunning bushwalks.