Fun in the tropics: the best things to do in Mackay

With a bounty of rainforests and beaches, urban lagoons and knockout architecture, Mackay sure has a lot of jewels in its crown.

Kangaroo on the beach at Cape Hillsborough, Mackay. Image credit: Tourism and Events Queensland
  • Jetstar
  • July 2021

Halfway between Cairns and Brisbane, Mackay is a laidback tropical town. It’s both family friendly and suited to those flying with friends. It has sub-tropical rainforests and incredible national parks, amazing architecture and urban lagoons. Mackay is also prime fishing territory, so pack your rods and start planning that trip. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Hit the Bluewater Trail

Mackay’s Bluewater Trail is a 20-km shared bicycle and pedestrian walkway that links the city’s key attractions including the Botanical Gardens, the Bluewater Lagoon, Pioneer River and Town Beach. You’ll spot some fascinating public art installations on the way. Hire a bike to ride the trail, aiming for Bluewater Lagoon to cool off. This fabulous collection of three cascading pools is the perfect place for tropical relaxation. If you’re in the area on a Wednesday morning, you’ll also catch the Greater Whitsunday Farmers’ Market.

A palm-tree lined swimming pool at Bluewater Lagoon, Mackay. Image credit: Jackson Stock Photography/
Cool off at Bluewater Lagoon. Image credit: Jackson Stock Photography/

See kangaroos at sunrise at Cape Hillsborough

Not only kangaroos, but wallabies too. The serene Cape Hillsborough beach is about 50km from Mackay. It’s part of the stunning Cape Hillsborough National Park, well worth visiting for its walking tracks and sensational blend of rainforest and ocean. Get up early and you’ll see kangaroos and wallabies on the beach at sunrise, snacking on seaweed and mangrove seedpods. The sunrises are spectacular and seeing the native animals against it makes for a vision you’ll never forget. (Here are some tips on how to best capture that vision!)

Four kangaroos on the beach at Cape Hillsborough at sunrise. Image credit: Tourism and Events Queensland
Hop up early for the best wildlife shots at Cape Hillsborough. Image credit: Tourism and Events Queensland

Check out Mackay’s historic architecture

Mackay is brimming with immaculate Art Deco buildings. It’s like Mackay meets Miami. There’s also a bit of Spanish Mission style going on. The city was rebuilt in the 1930s after a cyclone, so the Art Deco style is on display in the major buildings like the Town Hall and the Court House. Head to the Mackay Visitor Information Centre and go on a Heritage Walk, an informative 90-minute wander through Mackay's Central Business District. Or, pick up a map and take a self-guided tour.

The exterior of Mackay Customs House, with columns and Queensland coat of arms. Image credit: IngeBlessas/
Mackay’s Customs House is a prime example of the local historic architecture. Image credit: IngeBlessas/

Wander in wonder at the Botanic Gardens

The Mackay Regional Botanic Gardens are an explosion of local tropical flora and exotic plants from similar climates around the world. They’re just outside the CBD and have three kilometres of walking and cycling trails, wetland boardwalks, interesting birds to spot and lagoons filled with wildlife. Plus a whole bunch of activities. Explore the feature gardens, including the lush Fernery, the Regional Forest and the tropical Shade Garden, and relax at the gallery and cafe overlooking the lagoon.

A comb-crested jacana balances on waterlilies in the sun at Mackay Botanic Gardens.
Just one of many natural beauties to spot at the Botanic Gardens.

Kiteboard on Town Beach

Hey, you’re in the tropics, you have to hit the beach. Town Beach, just outside of the city centre, is famous for its knockout sunrises and beautiful views of nearby islands. It’s also equally lovely for a late afternoon walk, and a popular fishing spot. But the south-easterly winds make it especially good for kiteboarding. Hire a kiteboard and get that adrenaline pumping, tropical style. The beach is surrounded by a park with a playground, picnic tables and barbecues.

A silhouette of a person kiteboarding against a golden sunset sky.
Kiteboarding at sunset – a Mackay must-do.