Mackay often appeared on the top of the list of cheap flights exiting Brisbane. I flew to Mackay a few times but always used the destination for a getaway to the Whitsundays Islands as Airlie Beach is only 1.5 hours away. But I was wrong not to spend more time exploring the Mackay region itself; it’s an amazing Queensland holiday destination! Here’s an idea of day trips from Mackay or a weekend itinerary for nature lovers. You’ll spot wildlife and spend time away from the town!

There are excellent day trips from Mackay that nature lovers visiting Australia should not miss.

Wallabies on the beach at Cape Hillsborough
Cape Hillsborough

You may decide to stay in Mackay and take day trips to explore the region. But many great things in the Mackay region happen at dusk and dawn, so it’s better to spend the night as close to the attraction as you can. That’s why I have transformed these day trips from Mackay into a weekend itinerary to visit the Mackay Region, filled up with activities to please nature lovers.

Day 1: Cape Hillsborough

Less than one hour away from Mackay, Cape Hillsborough is the perfect Australian cliché and an easy day trip from Mackay. At sunrise, wallabies come on the beautiful beach to feed.

If you’re in Mackay for a few days only, the best is to drive up there just after you land in Mackay and spend the night nearby. You can wake up early the next day to share the beach with the most iconic animal in Australia. You cannot stay closer to the beach than Cape Hillsborough Tourist Park* for the accommodation. But they may be fully booked or not allow short stays. That’s why we decided to stay in Halliday Bay* instead.

If you prefer to stay for the night in Mackay, you’ll have to get up early to visit Cape Hillsborough as a day trip.


Responsible travel tip: Wallabies on the beach at Cape Hillsborough are used to seeing visitors. However, it’s always better to keep your distance when watching wild animals. And remember to never feed wildlife as it can put them in danger.

You could choose to visit Cape Hillsborough just for this special time on the beach. But I’d recommend staying a bit longer.

There are a few short, interesting walks nearby. You’ll get a good opportunity to learn more about the local Aboriginal culture, to be surrounded by a plethora of colourful butterflies or to walk through a mangrove forest.

Discovery boardwalk

In the late afternoon, you can drive back to Mackay if you were just looking for a day trip. But if you’re spending the weekend in the Mackay Region, then you could also drive directly up to Broken River to get there before sunset so you can try your luck at spotting platypuses.

If you arrive early enough in Cape Hillsborough the night before going to the sunrise with the wallabies, I recommend heading to Halliday Bay for sunset. Or if you are closer to Mackay, Shoal Point is a fantastic spot too at the end of the day.

Halliday Bay

Day 2: Eungella National Park

Our main reason to visit Eungella National Park was to get a chance to spot a platypus.

Eungella National Park (incl. Broken River and Finch Hatton) is an easy day trip from Mackay. It takes about 1.5 hours to drive there from Mackay.

There are many platypuses in the water of Broken River, so our expectations were high. And Broken River didn’t disappoint. Although the animals are known to be shy and hard to spot, we got super lucky and saw about a dozen. Just a short walk from Broken River Mountain Resort*, they have created a boardwalk with a few platforms made to spot a platypus. You’ll have higher chances of seeing them early in the morning or after 3 pm: we were told that 98% of platypuses go out to hunt at dusk and dawn. As it had rained a lot a few days before and the river looked murky, we were lucky to see them in the middle of the morning, which made our trip a lot easier.

Responsible travel tip: Like many native animals in Australiaplatypuses face conservation threats. Drought, land clearing, polluted waterways, predators… They struggle in some places. But if you like spotting platypuses, you can help! Have you ever heard of citizen science? During your travels, you can help researchers by providing data. Check this out: platypusSPOT

Eungella National Park is the only place in the world where you can scuba dive in platypus waters. But don’t get your expectations too high: seeing a platypus underwater rarely (never?) happens. As they describe when they sell the tour*, you don’t have the chance to see one but the “chance of being in the water at the same time as a platypus”. Still, we enjoyed the dive. The experience was a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the extraordinary animal and visit its underwater world.

Broken River Mackay Platypus

We also loved the couple of hikes we did in Eungella National Park.

From the platypus boardwalk, we walked the short Rainforest Discovery and Granite Bent Circuits for about one hour. We didn’t have time to explore the longer hikes as we spent too much time watching the platypuses. If you choose to spend a night at Broken River Mountain Resort*, you should be able to organise a lift to the end of the track so you’d only need to walk one way. It’s a brilliant idea and I wish I knew this when I organised the trip!

Finch Hatton Gorge is still part of Eungella National Park, but a short drive away from Broken River, on the way back to Mackay. After walking for a little while in the rainforest, along a river and lovely gorges, the Wheel of Fire Track (4.2 km return) lead us to a beautiful pool. The river crossing and the 300 steps can impress those who aren’t used to hiking, but we found it worth the effort. Walking poles can help those with a weak balance that don’t want to get wet! Araluen Cascades is just a short 10-minute detour from the Wheel of Fire track.

End of Wheel of Fire Track (Finch Hatton)
Granite Bent Circuit (Broken River)

Where to stay during your Mackay visit

To make the most of the destinations in the Mackay region and reduce your driving time, I recommend changing accommodation every night during your weekend in Mackay. But you may find it inconvenient to pack and unpack every day and may prefer to visit these two places as two day trips from Mackay.

If you don’t mind driving and want to stay in only one hotel during your weekend and go for day trips from Mackay:

Staying in the same hotel for all your nights means making two day trips from Mackay to explore the region. Distances aren’t that long, but you’d need to leave early to make it for sunrise.

There are many accommodation options in Mackay.

When we landed on Friday night, we spent one night at Alara Motor Inn* as they offered a fantastic deal and late check-in near the airport, with a private spa. I wouldn’t recommend staying there if you plan to hang around and sleep in as the noise from the planes is disturbing. But we were impressed by the size of the room and the quality of the bathroom for that budget.

The night before flying out, we stayed at the Ibis*. We could not have been closer to the airport – which was perfect to drop off the rental car and catch one of the many early morning flights back to Brisbane. Unlike at the Alara Motor Inn*, we didn’t hear the planes at all as the noise isolation was excellent.

If you don’t mind moving every day and want to stay outside of Mackay:

I believe it’s the best way to enjoy a weekend in the Mackay region and see more of Queensland. I really enjoyed the few hours of extra sleep in the morning that we wouldn’t have had if our accommodation was further away.

We visited Mackay for a long weekend, so we had two nights out of town:

  • To visit Eungella National Park, we stayed at Broken River Mountain Resort*. They have a restaurant on site but we could also cook simple things in our room with the microwave and the kettle.
  • Near Cape Hillsborough, we chose to stay in Halliday Bay*. It was very quiet, and we had the beach to ourselves for sunset. Be careful when you drive around at dusk and dawn – wildlife is everywhere.

Have you explored the Mackay region? Share your tips in the comments below!

Map of this Mackay weekend itinerary

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Eloise is the creator and writer of She writes about her experiences exploring exotic destinations and finding hidden gems closer to home. Her goal is to share tips and stories to inspire and encourage others to go on their own adventures. She loves outdoor and nature-based activities like scuba diving, hiking, kayaking, and sailing. She grew up in France and has lived in England and Turkey before calling Australia home for the past decade. So let's get ready for another adventure!

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