Flying into Mackay, you just know you’re in Queensland. The turquoise blue water of the Coral Sea sparkling beneath you gradually gives way to long stretches of white sandy beaches and great swathes of emerald green sugar cane fields. Mackay is renowned as the cane capital of Queensland, but there’s a lot more to this bustling city that basks on the banks of the blue water Pioneer River. Book your stay with Choice Hotels and pick up a hire car at the airport. You’ll need one to experience the best of the region.
Here are some ideas for how to spend 48 hours in Mackay.
8am: Enjoy some CBD café culture
Head for the low-rise CBD and start your day with breaky at a very cool laneway café. 9th Lane Grind just off Wood Street offers a contemporary Scandi-inspired interior, a baked goods cabinet chock-a-block with tasty treats, and an awesome menu. Try the smashed pumpkin with Danish fetta, dukkha, pomegranate and a poached egg on sourdough. It’s an edible work of art!
10am: Step back in time on the Art Deco trail
Spend some time exploring the CBD, which is packed with surprises – not least of all the Art Deco-era architectural gems that are dotted across the city. Download a map from the Mackay Regional Council and do a self-guided step back in time. Some of the best examples are the Post Office on River Street, the charming Pioneer Shire Office (which dates back to 1935) and the tiny CWA Building on Gordon Street. Plaques in the sidewalk designate other heritage buildings of note.
2pm: Try the sweet sensations at Sarina Sugar Shed
Located just a 30-minute drive south of Mackay, the town of Sarina is the engine room of the region’s sugar industry and home to the Wilmar sugar mill. It’s not possible to tour the mill, but right next door is the next best thing. The Sarina Sugar Shed offers an engaging introduction to sugar production that will hold the interest of the whole family. Tours run for around 45 minutes and culminate in a tasting of preserves, sauces, liqueurs, schnapps and rums (all produced in-house) along with fairy floss for the kids. Leave enough time to explore the heritage buildings that make up the Field of Dreams Parkland and visit the excellent Mackay Region Visitor Information Centre in the refurbished Sarina railway station building.
5pm: Take a sunset coastal stroll
Choice Hotels has three properties in Mackay, and all of them offer a top option for a sunset stroll. At Clarion Hotel Mackay Marina, head out along the picturesque Mackay Breakwater, which offers great views of the marina and out to sea. At Comfort Resort Blue Pacific, stunning Blacks Beach is literally on your doorstep, while at Econo Lodge Beachside, you can walk on the beach or follow a section of the Bluewater Trail – a recreational pathway that encircles the entire CBD.
7pm: Wine and dine around Wood Street
Mackay has a diverse dining scene and you’ll find no shortage of great places to eat in the city centre. From biltong to barramundi, The Dispensary’s international menu features an array of tastes served in a sophisticated on-trend setting. Also check out funky Fusion128, which does Modern Australian with an Asian and European twist (leave room for the chocolate tasting plate!). For keen carnivores, The Paddock and Brew Company offers American-style smoked meat platters and a relaxed vibe.
6am: Meet the furry beach-loving locals in Cape Hillsborough National Park
The Mackay region provides plenty of wildlife viewing opportunities, but perhaps none as sublime as seeing kangaroos and wallabies on the beach at sunrise in Cape Hillsborough National Park. While anyone can go down onto the beach to see the eastern grey roos and agile wallabies grazing on mangrove seed pods, booking the Cape Hillsborough Sunrise with the Wallabies Tour with Ranger Sam adds an extra dimension to the experience.
9am: Relax over a lazy brunch
Recover from the early morning start with brunch at another of Wood Street’s cafes. The Dispensary has a great breakfast menu and outdoor seating that’s ideal for watching the world go by. Also check out The Grazing Goat Café, which gets great reviews.
11am: Get arty at Artspace Mackay
Time for a taste of local culture, starting with a stroll through the street art gallery in Fifth Lane. What was once a grungy no-go zone has been transformed into a vibrant urban canvas, and you’re quite likely to see mural artists at work.
Swing around onto Gordon Street and head over to Artspace Mackay – a regional art gallery which provides residents and visitors to the city with an inspiring program of exhibitions, activities and special events. There are three exhibition spaces to explore, along with a gallery shop and cafe.
1pm: Walk the Bluewater Trail
Pack a light picnic and set off to explore more of the fabulous Bluewater Trail, which winds its way along the course of the Pioneer River at the northern end of the CBD. There are several vantage points which offer sweeping views of the river, along with well-maintained parks and gardens and various public artworks to enjoy. Wind up the walk at the Bluewater Lagoon – a superb lagoon pool precinct that will keep you cool for the rest of the afternoon.
7pm: Get a taste of old Havana at Coco Cubano
It’s not every day that you get to kick back in a Cuban-style cocktail bar, but today is that day! Settle into the comfy wing-backed chairs at Coco Cubano on Wood Street, and order Cuban-inspired cocktails and tapas.
Need a place to stay?
Located north of the city, Clarion Hotel Mackay Marina offers a superb coastal location overlooking the boating bling berthed in the marina precinct. The hotel has a sophisticated feel and rooms are tastefully decorated with sort muted tones. Rooms include kitchenette facilities and Latitude 21 Restaurant serves up sumptuous poolside dining.
Enjoy a resort-style home away from home at Comfort Resort Blue Pacific in Mackay’s Northern Beaches. Choose from a variety of self-catering villa-style accommodation options, some just metres from stunning Blacks Beach. With swaying palms and plenty of lawn recliners, you’ll find it mighty hard to tear yourself away from the glorious beachfront.
Comfortable, contemporary and within easy reach of the airport and CBD, Econo Lodge Beachside makes an ideal base for enjoying everything Mackay has to offer. Families will love this hotel. Children stay fee in existing bedding and well-equipped Quota Park is located just across the road, along with the sandy expanse of Illawong Beach.
About the writer
Adam Ford is editor of The Big Bus tour and travel guide and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger and photographer. He has previously had the opportunity to travel the world as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten.
Cover image courtesy of Tourism and Events Queensland. Image: Brooke Miles