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Mackay is a beautiful coastal town in Queensland, Australia. If you’re looking for things to do in Mackay, you’ll be spoiled for choice! There are so many family attractions and outdoor activities, from beaches to rainforests and much more. 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 is the hub of central Queensland and the gateway to the stunning Whitsundays region. It’s a great family travel destination, with an array of natural scenery and coastal gems and an essential stop on any Queensland road trip!
This complete guide to visiting Mackay includes tips for planning to visit, from where to eat, play and stay and of course, all the best things to do in Mackay. We have also included a guide on the best things to do in Mackay with kids, since it is a perfect family destination in central Queensland!
As part of the Mackay-Whitsundays region, it is also the gateway to beautiful islands, rainforests and natural scenery, beaches and mountainscapes.
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.
Where Is Mackay?
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.
How To Get To Mackay
Mackay can be reached by road, rail or air. The Bruce Highway is the main road that runs along the Queensland coast and Mackay is located just off this highway.
The Mackay Airport services regular flights from Brisbane and many other Australian cities including Townsville, Cairns and Proserpine. You can also reach Mackay by bus or train.
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.
The 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.
How To Get Around In Mackay
The easiest way to get around Mackay is by car. You can hire a car at Mackay airport or within the city centre. This makes it easy to not only enjoy the city itself, which is quite sprawling but also to make the most of the many day trip opportunities nearby.
After all, Mackay is a popular option for visiting the Whitsundays region of Queensland! We visited without a hire car many years ago and felt that it made it much harder to really appreciate the city.
Alternatively, there are buses, taxis and ride-share options available in Mackay.
Visiting Mackay With Kids
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 families, 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.
There are also plenty of other things to do in Mackay with kids, such as nature walks, beach visits and the usual family fun you find in major cities!
Best Things To Do In Mackay
Whether you’re looking for the best things to do in Mackay with kids or without, our list of top things to do in Mackay has got you covered! Here are our picks for the best Mackay attractions and activities:
Visit The Beaches
Of course, you need to visit the beach when you’re in Mackay and Lambert’s Beach is our favourite.
There is a great view from Lamberts 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 sea life at low tide, spot sea snails, crabs and other things.
Our girls spent close to an hour investigating the rock pools.
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.
Other popular Mackay beaches that are patrolled include Eimeo Beach, Bucasia Beach, Harbour Beach and Sarina Beach. These beaches have lifeguard patrols between late September and early May during weekends, school holidays and public holidays.
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?
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 three 50-metre tiered pools, water slides and water play areas. Best of all this outdoor pool is FREE! Free entry for everyone.
There is a children’s water playground perfect for the younger kids!
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.
Mackay Aqua Park
Keeping with the water theme, but adding some extra thrill-seeking fun, the Aqua Park Mackay 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 workout 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 it 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!
Visit The Botanic Gardens
The Mackay Regional Botanic Gardens are definitely worth a visit, especially if appreciate learning about the different exotic plants in the area.
The Gardens are huge and there is so much to see and do. There are several kilometres of walking trails (stroller-friendly), boardwalks, open play areas, a cafe and a lagoon to watch the wildlife.
You could easily spend half a day here, especially if you take a packed lunch to eat in the picnic areas.
The best time to visit is probably in the morning as it can get quite hot later in the day.
Play At 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, barbeque facilities and picnic tables to enjoy a packed lunch or family day out. Queens Park is located in West Mackay.
Eat Fish And Chips At The Mackay Marina
You can’t come to Mackay and not eat fish and chips by the water, right? We love getting takeaway fish and chips and eating them down by the marina.
There are a few places to choose from but Lighthouse Seafood Restaurant is a great option if you want to dine in or take away your meal, located at the Marina.
This is a great place to enjoy a stroll with an ice cream in hand afterwards. On weekends, there is often live music and other activities going on.
Spot Kangaroos At Cape Hillsborough
Nearby Cape Hillsborough National Park is best known for its kangaroos and wallabies that come down to the beach to find mangrove seed pods early each morning.
You will spot them on Casurina Beach, also known as Cape Hillsborough beach, but they don’t linger long so you either want to arrive really early or ou can stay overnight at the Cape Hillsborough Nature Tourist Park
This is a pretty amazing sight, especially if you’ve never seen anything like it before!
With so many photos depicting kangaroos on beaches, this may seem like a common occurrence in Australia however it only happens in a couple of places around the country.
Afterwards, enjoy exploring the many walking tracks around this lovely area. Some of the most popular walking trails include Beachcomber Cove, Andrew’s Point track and Diversity Boardwalk.
Cape Hillsborough is around 40 minutes from Mackay.
Visit Wedge Island
While you’re in the Cape Hillsborough National Park area, make sure you visit Wedge Island. It’s a small island located just offshore and can be reached by kayak.
Although, it’s only an island during high tide!
During low tide and for around 2 hours each day around that time, you can access the island on foot when the sandbar is revealed. There are some cool rock pools to explore, making it a fun thing to do with kids in Mackay!
If you’re feeling more adventurous, there are also some great snorkelling opportunities. Just take care during stinger season to make sure you have the correct protection!
Other Fun Things To Do In Mackay Or Nearby
If that’s still not enough fun to keep you and the family busy, check out these Mackay attractions and other great things to do together while visiting:
Mackay Orchid House
Bluewater Sculpture trail
Memorial Swim Centre
J.M Mulherin Memorial Park
Mackay Leisure Centre
Escape Rooms Mackay
Gooseponds walking trail
Melba House museum
Sugar Shed Mackay
Best Day Trips From Mackay
Get beyond the centre of Mackay and take a day trip to some of the most beautiful places nearby, from tropical rainforests to unique wildlife encounters and of course, a gateway to the Coral Sea! Here are some of the best Mackay day trips to take:
Airlie is the perfect Whitsunday 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 Whitsunday Islands, coral reefs or Great Barrier Reef experiences.
The famous 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. It is definitely one of the most beautiful beaches in Queensland and one not to be missed!
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.
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.
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.
Two of the most popular attractions within Finch Hatton Gorge are Araluen Cascades and Wheel of Fire Cascades. Both of these popular waterfalls are great areas to swim and admire the surrounding sub-tropical rainforest areas.
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.
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
1. The Dispensary
The family-owned restaurant, The Dispensary, incorporates a bar, kitchen and coffee all in one spot and offers a fine dining experience and great atmosphere. The menu is full of amazing dishes and you won’t be disappointed!
Microbreweries 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
If you are looking for family-friendly accommodation in Mackay, there are several great options and holiday parks that are perfect for spending one night or many.
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!
2. Mackay Oceanside Central Hotel
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 3-day-long music and arts festival, located in the tropical paradise of the Whitsunday coast, having run for over 7 years now.
The festival has established itself in the Australian doof festival circuit, providing central Queensland with 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.
OTHER MUST DO’S AT MACKAY
Mackay is most known for it’s natural scenery rather than an abundance of attractions and 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 experience what the world has to offer in the central north. Enjoy the warm weather and laidback country town vibe.
We hope you find our Mackay travel guide useful in planning your own family trip to the region. There are so many great things to do in Mackay! Our kids adored their time in Mackay so hopefully, you will too.