SITUATED ROUGHLY HALFWAY between Brisbane and Cairns, Mackay is a very prosperous city, with large reserves of coal, as well as sugar cane, cattle and tourism. Fishing is also a big industry,with a couple of wholesale seafood outlets dotted around town.
The harbour has been developed into an impressive marina with apromenade backed by a number of restaurants, a hotel and apartment buildings. The old lighthouse from Pine Islet has been restored and moved next to the seafood restaurant. Enjoy some fish and chips at sunset, admire the yachts in the marina or just soak up the ambience. You can also drive along the breakwater to fish or view the marina.
Mackay has three national parks: Cape Palmerston beside the ocean to the south; Cape Hillsborough to the north; and Eungella to the west.
Cape Palmerston is a good run for 4WDs, while the other two have sealed roads. Eungella is cool, temperate rainforest with magnificent views, running streams, walking tracks and platypus viewing. It's one of the largest and oldest national parks in Qld. If you continue on past the park, you arrive at Eungella Dam, a top barra fishing spot, with camping also allowed.
Cape Hillsborough has good bush and beach walks with decent fishing, plus the Cape Hillsborough Nature Resort. Watching the kangaroos who visit the beach in the early morning and evening is a highlight.
If fishing is your thing, Mackay could definitely be for you. In addition to two islands just offshore, there is beach, river, lake and rock fishing, as well as a good supply of tasty mud crabs in the creeks and rivers. The four dams have all been stocked with barramundi and sooty grunter, and some huge barra have been taken out of Eungella and Peter Foust dams.
The newly-constructed Teemburra Dam is already producing good barra, while Kinchant Dam will also provide a good fishing experience. Beware of Kinchant on a Sunday, however, when the locals bring out their speed boats and jet skis. There is a small campground and Kinchant Dam is a great place for a quiet picnicduring the week.
The Pioneer River also has some good fishing for barra, queenfish, flathead, large bream and various other species. Try the breakwater, too.
IN AND AROUND TOWN
Mackay has been blessed with the sparkling blue Pioneer River,which runs close to the main street and has a pleasant riversidewalk. This leads to the new Bluewater Lagoon, with its three mainswimming pools, complete with huge water slide, waterfall and otherspecial water features for the kids.
As one of Australia's fastest-growing cities, Mackay has anabundance of shops and specialist industries. You will findeverything you need here, including three RV dealers. The mainstreets have been planted with tropical trees and shrubs, and twomore bridges are being built over the river.
Check out the Ken Burgess Orchid House, which has one of the finestcollections of orchids in Australia. The new Lagoons BotanicalGardens and café is also worth a visit.
For those who love markets, there is plenty of choice around town.Cars are prohibited during the Sunday markets along VictoriaStreet, and the tropical area quickly fills with stalls and livemusic, not to mention shoppers. Many locals head to the market atthe showgrounds for fresh produce on Saturday mornings, while everysecond Sunday of the month sees the Mt Pleasant Shopping Centreundercover car park turn into a great market. Check with the MackayTourism Information Centre for other local markets held onweekends.
There are several swimming beaches just a few clicks from the city.Harbour Beach and Eimeo are patrolled, but if you want somevariety, try the beaches north and south of the city. All havetheir own attractions. Bear in mind that Mackay's tides reach 6m,so it is usually better to time your visit to high tide.
A new cruise boat out of Mackay commenced operations around the middle of 2010, and this 30m 'wave piercer' will take you to the Barrier Reef, Scawfell Keswick and St Bees islands, fabulous Whitehaven Beach or Brampton Island. It also does evening cruises.
Reefstar Cruises' owner Ross Courtenay is a local with a background in national parks.
The company's emphasis is on eco tours and during our day cruise we anchored at the south side of Brampton Island at Dinghy Bay, with clear turquoise water, coral and a white-sand beach. Morning tea was served on the way.
After anchoring, a couple of the guests took the walking track before returning for lunch, some of us took advantage of the great snorkelling, coral viewing, kayaking and swimming, while others just lazed on the beach.
Given the trip was taken at the beginning of summer - jellyfish season - stinger suits and sun block were included in the price.
After a very filling lunch of salads, fruit and a range of cold meats, Ross took a group of us for a walk to Turtle Bay, explaining many features on the way. Brampton is one of the most beautiful islands in the Whitsundays, with rocky headlands covered in hoop pines guarding the white sandy beaches.
There was time for more swimming, kayaking, and relaxation, before retiring to the vessel for afternoon tea.
ANDERGROVE VAN PARK
While you're here, we can recommend staying at the Mackay Andergrove Van Park, a four-star Top Tourist Park. This award-winning spot is close to shopping, a bowls clubs, the Mackay Golf Club, and beaches.
There are ensuite and powered sites with concrete pads, unpowered sites, and various types of cabins. The small shop supplies gas refills.
Free morning tea is put on twice a week during the tourist season,while musical entertainment is also featured in the camp kitchen throughout the year. The resort-style pool is popular and has a sunshade for the summer. Bird feeding is another daily attraction.
At 21-acres, Andergrove is a large park that, importantly, boasts no sand flies (biting midges). We have found the amenities blocks to be spotless and disabled facilities are also available. This park is often full during the winter season, so it pays to book ahead.
The shoulder season - April-May and September-November - has very good weather, with strong south-east winds having generally died down and temperatures rarely getting hotter than 30°C. This is our preferred time to travel because the parks are quieter, tour prices may be cheaper and you don't have to share with so many others.
Mackay is approximately 970km from Brisbane and 730km from Cairns.
Andergrove Van Park is a Top Tourist Parks member and has a four-star rating. Contact resident manager/owner Phillipa Merson on(07) 4942 4922, 1800 424 922 or visit http://www.andergrovepark.com.au/
Contact Reefstar Cruises on (07) 4955 0393 or visit http://www.reefstarcruises.com.au/
Mackay Visitor Information Centre is located at 320 Nebo Road,Mackay. Call 1300 130 001 or visit http://www.mackayregion/