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Mackay is the hub of central Queensland and the gateway to the stunning Whitsundays region. Mackay and the surrounds is a great family travel destination, with an array of natural scenery and coastal gems.
To help you plan your trip to the tropical Queensland destination, we have put together a Mackay travel guide to help you get the most out of your visit.
MACKAY TRAVEL GUIDE
Mackay sits in the centre of the Queensland East Coast, just under 1000kms from Brisbane. While located in central Queensland, the region is often referred to as part of North Queensland also, with tropical temperatures and a stunning coastline.
The temperatures remain fairly stable throughout the year, typically between 23-30 degrees celsius year round, making Mackay a great destination regardless of the season.
Wet season kicks off in December through to around March, and it should be noted that Mackay is at times impacted by tropical cyclones during the wet season.
As part of the Mackay-Whitsundays region, it is also the gateway to beautiful islands and natural scenery, beaches and mountain scapes.
And of course, sugar cane crops galore as Mackay is also affectionately referred to as Australia’s sugar capital, supplying more than a third of the country’s cane sugar.
How to Get To Mackay
To get to Mackay, your best option is to arrive at Mackay Airports. It is quite a sprawling city so private transport such as a hire car is recommended.
Trust us, we visited Mackay without a hire car many years ago and saw very little during that trip. A lesson well learned!
There is plenty of public transport available in the city though, with buses, taxis and Uber.
Mackay is a great destination for family travel with a variety of activities and natural attractions to suit travellers of all ages. While the usual safety precautions should be taken while travelling with kids anywhere in the world, you will find the atmosphere in Mackay is perfect for travelling with kids, with the laid back Queensland atmosphere and big country town vibe.
There are lots of park areas and open spaces around Mackay for kids to stretch their legs and enjoy the great outdoors. In fact, they have some incredible playgrounds such as the epic one at Queens Park which has play equipment for all ages.
Australia overall is a perfect family travel destination with facilities and services to accommodate families almost everywhere. You will find basic amenities such as baby change tables and parent rooms in shopping centres and public access buildings. It is also acceptable to breastfeed babies discreetly in most places.
Mackay’s supermarkets, department stores and chemists stock baby and toddler necessities such as nappies, wet wipes, formula and baby food. There is easy access to health care in case of emergencies or illness.
Strollers and prams are suitable for use in Mackay, with footpaths along all streets in the main part of town and ramp entrances to most buildings. They also have some fantastic walking trails through town.
BEST ATTRACTIONS IN MACKAY
1. Bluewater Lagoon
Located near the city centre, right next to Caneland Shopping Centre, the Bluewater Lagoon is a family attraction open daily, offering a safe and fun place to swim. There are 3 50 metre tiered pools, water slides and water play areas. Best of all… it is FREE! Free entry for everyone.
There are lifeguards on duty and it is fully fenced as well. There is a cafe on site if you want to make a day of it or BBQ areas for public use. This is a must do for the whole family when visiting Mackay! Check out the opening hours on the website. They change depending on the time of year and the Lagoon shuts down during part of winter.
2. Mackay Aqua Park
Keeping with the water theme, but adding some extra thrill seeking fun, the Mackay Aqua Park is a great activity for big kids and adults alike. Not only do you get water fun with slides, climbing and obstacles, but you get a work out too, which is always a great bonus!
This is a seasonal activity so make sure you check the website for opening times. They open mostly during weekends and school holidays, and some public holidays. The park is open to 4 years old and up, although I’d recommend for older kids who are competent swimmers so you can enjoy yourselves more!
Passes start at $20 for a session at the time of publishing. We didn’t get the chance to try on this visit as our girls aren’t confident in the water yet, but hopefully next visit!
3. Visit Lambert’s Beach
Of course you need to visit the beach when you’re in Mackay and Lambert’s Beach is our favourite. There is a great lookout to give you stunning views of the beach below and the beach itself is fairly quiet most of the time. However I think my favourite thing is the rock pools where you can explore the sealife in low tide, spotting sea snails, crabs and other things.
Our girls spent close to an hour investigating with us. As for the beach itself it is quite rocky in places, so not your perfect white sand beach but the rocks form little streams between the sand, which is fascinating too. Still a winner for kids though – sand for sand castles, water for swimming. Lambert’s Beach is located in Slade Point.
4. Queens Park
Playgrounds are always a hit when travelling with kids and Queens Park has something to suit the smallest to the biggest kids. In fact, even Simon got in on the action with some of the playground equipment. Sometimes I swear I have 3 kids!
The playground has been upgraded to have some pretty funky play areas, including the huge skywalk slide system with 3 slides that are not for the faint hearted. The big kids will love it! Although the biggest hit may have been the giant hamster wheel. I’m sure it has a better name but that’s what it resembled and it was loaded with kids the whole time. Fun!
There are also beautiful gardens, BBQs and picnic tables to enjoy a packed lunch or family day out. Queens Park is located in West Mackay.
5. Stroll Along the Bluewater Trail
If you enjoy taking in the sights and getting a bit of exercise and fresh air, the Bluewater Trail is an enjoyable walk. The walk has been upgraded to showcase points of interest and encourage 10000 steps, with fitness stops along the way in some places.
It leads past the Bluewater Lagoon and there are playgrounds and fun spots for kids along the walk too. The main thing though is walking off some of the overindulging you may have done at those Mackay restaurants! Or is that just me?
Caneland Central Shopping Centre is the largest in the region with most of the big chain stores in Australia – Myer, Big W, Target, Woolworths and plenty of other larger and smaller specialty stores too. If you’re keen for a shop, Caneland should have you covered for all the usual items.
There are also several other shopping centres in Mackay, including Mount Pleasant Shopping Centre, Sydney Street Markets, Parkside Plaza and Northern Beaches Central.
BEST PLACES TO EAT IN MACKAY
The family owned restaurant also incorporates The Dispensary bar next door and offers a fine dining experience and great atmosphere. The menu is full of amazing dishes and you won’t be disappointed!
Micro breweries are all the rage at the moment, popping up everywhere and some of them do some pretty amazing food too! The Paddock definitely ticks this box. We had chicken wings and their loaded fries off the entree menu between the 4 of us and we could not finish.
The mountain of fries was huge with the most amazing pulled pork on top. And the spicy wings definitely delivered on spice. The beer drinker among us, Simon, was happy with the range of beers and I was happy to see a great range of non beer beverages on the menu too. Definite winner!
3. Lighthouse Seafood Restaurant
Whenever you are near the coast, you need to have a feast of fish and chips by the water and the Lighthouse always delivers on great food, plus quick service! We always visit here when we are in Mackay. Located at the Marina, it is a great spot for lunch with a pleasant view. And if you have a sweet tooth, they have ice cream now too. You need to try the salted caramel. OMG!!
BEST PLACES TO STAY IN MACKAY
1. Big 4 Mackay Marine Tourist Park
This is where we stayed on our most recent trip in a budget family cabin and it was indeed simple as you would expect for a budget cabin, however we enjoyed our stay.
The Big 4 parks are all set up with families in mind so they have a wide range of accommodation options to suit each budget and traveller type, from tent or van sites to basic cabins or more luxurious deluxe cabins. Ours had a queen size bed, a bunk with a double at the bottom and a single, with a kitchenette, ensuite and dining table. Everything you need for a short stay.
But what is really great about the park is the activities. Mini golf, playground, a maze, the jumping pillow my kids couldn’t get enough of and of course, the swimming pool and water play area. They have a water playground with mini tipping buckets and jets, and a water slide that goes into one of the pools. A great option for a budget family holiday. The wifi can be a little sketchy, but you’re not there to spend your time on your phone, hopefully!
If you’re looking for a modern, centrally located place to stay, Mackay Oceanside Central Hotel delivers on this. One of the top rated hotels for Mackay, the hotel has friendly staff and mod cons to give you a comfortable and enjoyable stay for whatever reason you happen to be visiting Mackay.
SPECIAL EVENTS ON MACKAY
Mackay hosts an array of events, markets and festivals throughout the year, aimed at honouring arts, culture and history. There is always that holiday vibe when visiting central north Queensland.
1. River Street Twilight Markets
On the second Friday night each month, the River Street Twilight Markets is a food and drink market with lots of local produce and fresh food on offer. Enjoy the twilight on a picnic rug nearby or take a stroll to the nearby Paxton’s Night Market after you’ve eaten to check out some more artsy fares and local creations.
2. Happy Daze Festival
Happy Daze is a three day long music and arts Festival, located in the tropical paradise of the Whitsunday coast, having run over 7 years now. The festival has established itself in the Australian doof festival circuit, providing central Queensland an alternative lifestyle gathering, focused on music, art, family and the outdoors, whilst maintaining a strong community focus. A fantastic combination of locals and travellers come together to celebrate! Engage with workshops and classes designed to bring you joy and wellness and embrace the opportunities.
Mechanos is a mechanical technologies event presenting past, present and future technologies, and has been running for several years now. A combination of unique mechanical and technical exhibitions and shows to appeal to all ages, Mechanos is evolving from the foundations of the previous ‘Wings and Wheels Mackay’ event and has developed in size and offerings, with the inclusion of air displays of aerial excitement.
You can expect multiple planes and air related activities throughout the day to compliment the cars, trains, motorbikes, trucks etc on display. Mechanos is the only airshow in Queensland for 2018, making it a one-of-a-kind, unique event. Mechanos is a family friendly event with tickets prices on the low side and all kids entertainment and activities for free ensures all families can enjoy a day out together whilst learning about the equipment/machinery used in the air show.
There is also plenty of photo taking opportunities. With great entertainment and food outlets at the event, along with jumping castles, sensory circus and face painting for the kids, this is a fun day out in the perfect weather Mackay offers in winter time. Check the website for more details.
BEST DAY TRIPS FROM MACKAY
1. Airlie Beach
When visiting Mackay the first thing everyone seems to recommend is a trip to Airlie Beach. Airlie is the perfect Whitsundays destination to explore the surrounding islands and natural wonders. It is around 90 minutes from Mackay, and recommended you get there early if you are wanting to visit any of the islands. Whitehaven beach is one of the possible boat trips from Airlie Beach, named 3rd top beach in the world recently, but it also pays to do your research.
We winged it on our visit and didn’t do much advance planning so we missed a lot of these great opportunities. However there are some incredible Whitsundays tours available.
But that’s just a perfect reason to come back soon. There are beaches in Airlie worth visiting too and a zoo as well. There is plenty to fill your day and on Saturday there is a food and craft market on the waterfront. For the kiddies, the lagoon will be a popular spot to visit as well. Our girls loved their swim before lunch.
2. Eungella National Park
Eungella is about an hour and 20 minute drive from Mackay and sits up in the mountains of Eungella National Park. While most of the drive is cane fields and small towns, the incline to the top is a very scenic drive and part of the adventure. Once you reach the top, there are a few thing to do with your time.
We recommend a visit to The Eungella Chalet where you can enjoy a meal or just a drink with mountain views from their backyard.
If you are visiting early or later in the afternoon, there is a good chance you might spot Platypus in the wild in the nearby Broken River.
They are shy creatures although still need to come up for air every 10 minutes so if you are patient you will still see some heads pop up in the middle of the day too.
There are lots of bush walks to do as well if you are feeling energetic. Aside from our Broken River walk, we didn’t have the chance to do much walking. Small legs get tired quickly but Eungella is definitely a place worth exploring. Check out more at Eungella.
3. Finch Hatton Gorge
Finch Hatton Gorge is on the way to Eungella so you may decide to combine the two into one day trip. Although a tip before you do, make sure you have a 4WD or are up for a big walk up to the gorge. We weren’t too keen to risk our rental car part way into the drive up to the gorge as the dirt road is quite uneven in places.
You also have to cross several creek crossings although they are fine no matter the car as they are very shallow most of the time. It may be different after heavy rainfall. So instead, you can park at the picnic area and walk 1.6kms to the start of the waterfall track and work your way through the different tracks from there. Not so easy with a 3 year old in tow though, so make sure you have a few hours to enjoy the walks, or ideally a full day.
OTHER MUST DO’S AT MACKAY
Mackay is most known for it’s natural scenery rather than an abundance of attraction based activities, so the best thing to really enjoy this region is to get out there and explore.
Having your own transport is a must do, because the area is quite sprawling and there are plenty of natural wonders to experience, from beaches to national parks, cane fields and rainforests. So get the kids outdoors and experiencing what the world has to offer in the central north. Enjoy the warm weather and laid back country town vibe.
We hope you find our Mackay travel guide useful in planning your own family trip to the region. Our kids adored their time in Mackay so hopefully you will too.
Book your flights – We use Skyscanner to research and book flights. You can set up a price alert for your travel dates, plus it compares most major airlines in one place.
Book your Accommodation – We use Booking.com or Hotels Combined to book most of our hotel accommodation when we travel. We also use Airbnb for private rentals too. When you sign up, you will get free credit for your first stay.
Book your tours & attractions – Our favourite attraction and tour booking services are Get Your Guide and Viator. Booking ahead will mean you don’t miss out on popular tours!
Have you been to Mackay? If so, tell us your favourite things to see and do!