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Top 10 things to do in Mackay Queensland (how to make the most of your visit)

Discover the coastal Queensland city of Mackay in this essential guide including what to see and do, where to eat and recommended accommodation options for a range of budgets.

Whether you are a grey nomad planning to visit the Mackay Region, a couple or family on a road trip along the east coast of Australia or a prospective ex-pat looking to relocate to central Queensland you will find plenty to do and see in Mackay.

Having spent over 3 months living and travelling extensively around the region I have identified the top 10 things to do in Mackay. These are must-dos to add to your itinerary.

If you are driving the Queensland coastal route do stay in Mackay for a few days at least and explore the area. I have also added my recommended places to stay and eat in Mackay at the bottom of the post.

Where is Mackay?

Aerial view of Mackay Qeensland
Aerial view of the Pioneer River and Mackay

Mackay is located over 900 km (and a 10 hour plus drive) north of Brisbane in the heart of Queensland’s tropical coast. It has a population of approximately 117,000 people and stands on either side of the Pioneer River – one of only a few blue water rivers in Queensland.

Often called Australia’s sugar cane capital due to the predominance of its production in the area Mackay also offers visitors a choice of 31 beaches along the warm waters of the Coral Sea.

Map of Australia

Top 10 things to do in Mackay and surrounds

1. Take a walk (or cycle) around the Riverside Bluewater trail

Enjoy a stroll through the centre of the city and spot the numerous Art Deco buildings before heading down the riverside to follow the Bluewater trail.

Take a bike ride along the trail, past the lagoon and if you feel energetic continue on to the botanical gardens.

Riverside Bluewater trail in Mackay.
Riverside Bluewater trail in Mackay.

2. Visit the Bluewater Lagoon

If you are visiting Mackay with kids or are looking for somewhere to cool off on a hot and humid summer’s day head to the Bluewater Lagoon.

The lagoon is free and is open all year round bar a few weeks in July and the month of August.

Bluewater Lagoon Mackay.
Bluewater Lagoon Mackay.
Bluewater lagoon in Mackay Queensland.

3. Visit the Botanical Gardens

Take a walk through the botanical gardens and stop off in the Lagoons cafe for a cuppa!

Make sure to walk carefully though as snakes can be found in the gardens!

Sign saying watch for snakes.

4. Visit some of the 31 beaches

There are many stunning beaches to choose from in Mackay. Beautiful soft sand, the warm waters of the Coral Sea and fringed with palm trees take a picnic with you and enjoy a day at the beach!

The most popular beaches are the Northern Beaches made up of Eimeo Beach, Dolphin Heads and Bucasia Beach.

Beaches in Mackay.
Eimeo Beach
Harbour Beach in Mackay Qeensland
Harbour Beach
Blacks Beach in Mackay Qeensland
Blacks Beach

5. Expore Eungella National Park and look for platypus

Drive 80 km west of Mackay to the end of the Pioneer Valley and you will discover Eungella National Park. As well as being the home of that strangest of Australian creatures the platypus Eungella has 22 km of bushwalks to enjoy.

Home to a diversity of birdlife and wildlife Eungella is a great weekend destination.

LEARN MORE – How to spot platypus in the wild at Eungella National Park

Platypus 1
You have to be patient but chances are you will see at least one platypus!
Eungella National Park.

6. Visit Cape Hillsborough to see the kangaroos on the beach at dawn

Our favourite destination at a weekend is Cape Hillsborough about 50 km north of Mackay. Get up early to arrive at dawn when the kangaroos and wallabies come down to the beach to feed. (Be careful of kangaroos on the roads if you are driving at sunrise)

There are accommodation options at Cape Hillsborough if you prefer to stay a little closer.

LEARN MORE – How to see kangaroos on the beach at dawn in Cape Hillsborough

Kangaroo on the beach at Cape Hillsborough.
Kangaroos on a beach.
Kangaroo with a joey peeking out from her pouch on a beach at dawn - this is one of the best things to do in Mackay.

7. Visit Finch Hatton Gorge

At Finch Hatton Gorge you will find many walking tracks which take you through the sub-tropical rainforest. Take the 1.6 km walk to Aruluen waterfall and a further 1.4 km to the Wheel of Fire Cascades where you can take a dip in one of the rock pools.

Finch Hatton is 60 km to the west of Mackay and on the same road that takes you to Eungella.

Finch Hatton Gorge.
Cattle Creek near Finch Hatton Gorge
Cattle Creek near Finch Hatton Gorge

8. Discover how sugar is made at the Sarina Sugar Shed

Ever wondered how the sugar we buy from the supermarket is made? In the Mackay region you will see fields and fields full of  sugar cane fields and refineries in the area.

We spent a fantastic day at my friend’s brother’s sugar cane farm finding out all about how it is grown before heading to the Sarina Sugar Shed to see how the cane becomes sugar.

LEARN MORE – Visiting a sugar cane farm in Queensland

Sugar cane fields in Queensland.
Sarina Sugar Shed.

9. Spot whales from Slade Point

During the months of July to November humpback whales migrate to the warm waters of the Coral Sea to give birth. The best place to see the whales from Mackay is at Slade Point.

The viewing platform provides a sweeping view of the Coral Sea. Keep your eyes peeled for the whales as they swim up (and down) the coast!

Slade Point lookout in Mackay

10. Take a stroll along the marina

There are some great restaurants at the marina. Head there at the weekend for lunch and check out all the boats moored in the harbour and experience a bit of boat envy!

Boats moored in Mackay Harbour.

Plan your visit to Mackay

Best places to eat in Mackay

After living in Mackay for over 3 months these were our favourite restaurants. Both serve good food that won’t cost a fortune.

The Deck Steakhouse

A great destination for Saturday lunch offering beautiful views of the Mackay marina as well as great food at a reasonable price.

I recommend trying the specials which usually include fish/steak options.  Budget around $60 for 2 adults with 2 soft drinks.

Where – Mackay Marina

The Deck restaurant Mackay.

Mt Pleasant Tavern

The ultimate destination in Mackay for schnitzel is the Mt Pleasant Tavern (House of Schnitzel). They offer a tempting choice of toppings for their chicken or pork schnitzel. The food is excellent and the staff friendly.

This is a popular choice for Mackay residents so can get busy. Budget  around 60 dollars for 2 (one soft drink/one alcoholic)

Where – Malcomson Street, North Mackay 

House of Schnitzel in Mackay.

Accommodation options in Mackay and surrounds

There are lots of accommodation options in Mackay to suit everyone’s budget.

These are our top picks

Casa Nostra Motel Mackay

We recently spent a night at the Casa Nostra in Rockhampton and have no hesitation in recommending its sister motel in Mackay.

If you are looking for a home away from home the Castra Nostra Motel in Mackay offers exactly that. Recently renovated the motel is conveniently located on the Bruce Highway.

Each room has free Wifi, undercover parking and an ensuite bathroom.



Lanai Apartments

Although we were housesitting for 3 months in Mackay we spent our first week at the Lanai Apartments.

The apartments are not cheap but they are central and the staff were excellent.

Well equipped apartments and good facilities make these a sure bet for a stay in Mackay.


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Enjoy your visit to Mackay

So there you have it – 10 great things to do in Mackay. If you are planning to relocate to Mackay do check out my complete guide which details everything you need to know before you move!

If you are driving along the coast up to Cairns or perhaps down to Brisbane or Sydney do check out these other great posts: