But it’s so much more than just a tick off the ol’ road trip bucket list on Queensland’s Pacific Coast Way: beneath its aesthetic lure, you’ll find a community of locals who’ve discovered that when it comes to nature, there’s no limit to what you’ll find.
Follow our tracks as we take you on a journey through Mackay’s iconic blessings, dotted by lesser-known treats and secrets along the way.
If you think this low-key city lacks a foodie scene akin to the big guns, then boy, are you mistaken.
Start your culinary journey with a 30-minute scenic drive to the small cane-farming community of Sarina for brekkie at Third Ground Coffee House. Since opening in 2015, it’s quickly become a favourite haunt for the locals, and for good reason – not only have they nailed the cosy country-slash-modern-industrial decor to a tee, but all their produce is sourced locally and they do gluten-free.
Lunch is best served as a two-meal affair, at least, that’s what you’ll say to yourself when hitting up 9th Lane Grind in the CBD. The food tastes as good as it looks on Instagram, and while tempting to go straight for their in-house made sweets cabinet, the savoury menu is just as drool-worthy, with a focus on quality over quantity offering just a handful of options.
Once you’ve pulled your eyes away from the gorgeous stained glass windows and high ceilings of The Church on Palmer Street, you’ll soon discover that their menu is packing some divine delights of its own, serving up hearty meals that definitely call for your best pair of stretchy pants. (Deep-fried pistachio nut camembert or pork belly with butterscotch sauce and toffee poached pears, anyone?)
Eating out with kids? We know the drill.
Tuesday burger nights at Sweet Spot Bake Shoppe are a must for little one with big appetites (plus the casual environment is perfect for not so quiet diners!). For classic pub-style food, grab a schnitty and beer at Mount Pleasant Tavern, which you can enjoy in peace while the kids are kept busy in the playroom.
For something a lil’ more fancy (and light on the tummy), fine dine at BURP with their modern Australian à la carte and degustation menus.
Coffee connoisseurs rejoice because the caffeinated game is strong thanks to Woodman’s Axe Espresso. If you’re a non-coffee drinker, prepare to have your life changed by these coffee snobs (and we mean that as a total compliment) who are so passionate about their grinds, they continually source current trends in the speciality coffee industry as well as serving up the liquid gold of award-winning Axil Coffee Roasters in Melbourne. (FYI the chai is also pretty damn tasty.)
When night falls, put on your swanky best and mosey on down to The Dispensary – the only place to be and be seen in the city. With funky booths, an eclectic vibe, and bar menu of boutique beers, whiskies and cocktails – plus an extensive wine list – you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re in downtown Manhattan, let alone Mackay.
Cape Hillsborough should be numero uno on the Mackay bucket list because, as we mentioned before, it’s home to one of the most iconic photo opportunities in Australia.
Wake up at the crack of dawn to meet the famous ‘roos on the beach at sunrise. The national park also has some of our favourite hiking trails, including Andrew’s Point Track taking you up to Turtle Lookout where you can spot turtles feeding on the grass beds in the cove below.
Inland, the Pioneer Valley is a source of endless adventures. Take your time winding through the range along the scenic route, keeping your camera handy for the incredible views back over Mackay.
On a hot day, you can’t beat the rock pools of Finch Hatton Gorge. If you’ve got little ones with you, park up and take the short bushwalk to the bottom where most of the family’s hang out; keen walkers can hit up the more challenging Araluen Cascades and Wheel of Fire tracks to work up a sweat.
For something a little different, take to the treetops with Forest Flying and glide through the rainforest canopy for a unique angle on the gorge.
Further up the range is the bushwalking haven known as Eungella National Park, with tracks ranging from easy 10-minute strolls to butt-burning workouts through layers of bright piccabeen and Alexandra palms.
On the way, make sure you include a visit to Broken River to spot the elusive platypus in the wild. It’s one of the most reliable places in Australia to see this duck-billed critter in its natural habitat, with your best chances being early morning or afternoon. Better still, you can come face-to-face with these cuties on a rainforest scuba dive. (This is totally on our bucket lists!)