Spot the elusive platypus and other wildlife while camping near Queensland's "sugar city."
Mackay is best known for producing one-third of Australia’s sugar crop, but aside from the sweets, the area features plenty of natural attractions with access to the Great Barrier Reef and inland national parks. Leave the city centre’s Art Deco buildings and Bluewater Quay waterfront behind and venture out to area island national parks—Brampton, Newry, Smith, and South Cumberland are all within easy reach, while Cape Hillsborough and Eungella are best for wildlife.
Wake up early at Cape Hillsborough and head to the beach to see wallabies feeding at sunrise. Cape Hillsborough National Park is 50 kilometres (31 miles) north of Mackay, with the Smalleys Beach camping area right on the beachfront. The cape is known for its dramatic rocky shores, remnants of an ancient volcano, as well as area walking tracks that lead to mangrove forests and lookouts.
About 50 kilometres (31 miles) west of Mackay, Eungella is known as the habitat of the elusive and unique platypus, and you can try to spot them from the viewing platform at Broken River. Popular activities include kayaking at Eungella Dam and hitting the more than 20 kilometres (12 miles) of walking trails in the park. By day, birdlife is rich and varied, but at night, wildlife spotting might reveal gliders, possums, frogs, and tawny frogmouths. The park’s Finch Hatton Gorge section is also renowned for its waterfalls and swimming holes. Camping can be found in the townships of Eungella, Finch Hatton, and Broken River.
The South Cumberland Islands are a group of nine islands reachable by water taxi, many of which make up an important turtle rookery. Although there are no facilities, camping is allowed on most of the islands. In exchange for creature comforts, you’ll be treated to abundant wildlife, including a small population of koalas on St. Bees Island and birdlife such as beach stone-curlews, white-bellied sea-eagles, and osprey. The waters of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park are also home to dolphins, dugongs, and migrating whales.
The cooler months of April to September are the best times to visit, as summer daytime temperatures can hit 35°C (95°F) and higher. Daytime temperatures and humidity can be high at any time of the year, while nights are generally cool. The area sometimes draws cyclones between November and April.