Spend a weekend discovering QLD’s newest foodie haven, sourced from delectable local produce, before taking in the surrounding natural wonders and abundant culture and history.
Located on the sparkling stretch of Queensland coast between Rockhampton and Airlie Beach, the Mackay region ticks a mighty array of boxes as a holiday spot. If it’s nature you’re after, try your luck at catching a barramundi or spotting a platypus among the rainforests. Treat yourself to a meal at one of the leading restaurants in the region – you’ll be particularly spoilt for choice when it comes to delicious, local produce.
The food scene in Mackay has possibly been somewhat overlooked in favour of those in Australia’s capital cities, but this regional beauty offers way more delectable treats than just natural attractions. When it comes to wonderfully diverse delicacies, Mackay is a quiet achiever with world-class dining and drinking destinations.
The fresh produce of this region has been lauded by arbiters of good taste across the country, even picking up accolades at the Australian Food Awards. You can buy direct from local farmers at the Greater Whitsunday Farmers Market, with real paddock-to-plate experiences, or indulge in tantalising degustations created by highly skilled chefs at the other end of the scale.
Mackay is becoming well known as a food tourism destination, with local farms such as the award-winning Freckle Farm producing their free-range chickens, pastured Berkshire pigs, and Brahman-Nguni crossbred cattle. Keep an eye out for award-winning businesses such as Sarina Sugar Shed, now with ‘Hall of Fame’ status, which is notable for its rums, sauces and other produce.
The Mackay region is also home to a variety of seafood, with freshly caught barramundi (a local favourite), and the delicious mud crabs of Clairview, as well as St Lawrence (supplying five percent of Sydney Fish Markets’ total mud crab each year). It all comes down to whether you want to dine like royalty or take the family off the beaten track to experience the region’s incredible cuisine.
This part of the world has been home to a variety of multicultural tasting experiences for many years, complete with highly trained chefs (check out Frank Pham from The Austral’s Food Blog), so it’s no surprise that it welcomed yet another last year with the opening of Ashtart, a Lebanese-inspired restaurant – just another feather in the proverbial hat for the Mackay region. Other highlights of the region include The Dispensary, known for its wine cellar in excess of 5000 bottles and its ingenious degustation menu, and Church Café Pinnacle, notable for its authentic Italian cuisine and beautiful setting in a converted 20th-century church.
Visitors also can’t go past Platypus Lodge Restaurant, known for their signature ‘Yodel Burger’ (served with an authentic Austrian yodel, but of course), and 9th Lane Grind, which offers some of the most beautifully plated dishes in the Mackay region.
Soak up the culture
An entire host of historical outback mining towns in the Isaac region awaits your discovery, or just lose track of time exploring Mackay’s inner-city Art Deco buildings and public art displays.
Take yourself on a self-guided heritage walk through Mackay’s city centre, taking about 90 minutes, with all the information you need available at the Visitor Information Centre. Then mosey over to Greenmount Homestead, a heritage-listed Queensland homestead and historical collection of more than 20,000 items dating back to the early 1900s. If you’re interested in the art of the region, check out Artspace Mackay, which displays new artwork and features national, international and local artists. There are also more than 100 permanent artworks on display throughout Mackay’s city centre and Bluewater Trail.
The Mackay region has long been known as the Sugar Capital of Australia, and has a long and rich history of sugar-cane farming. Find out more about the large South Sea Islander population at the South Sea Islander Hut at the Mackay Region Botanic Gardens, or take a tour of Australia’s only miniature sugar mill to get an insight into how sugar cane is harvested, crushed and processed.
Get down with nature
You simply can’t visit this region without enjoying the glorious natural landscape and wildlife of the area. Catch sight of some of Australia’s most iconic animals feeding on the shoreline at Cape Hillsborough Beach (also known as the Casuarina Beach) as the sun rises over the Coral Sea, or spot elusive platypus in the wild at Broken River at Eungella National Park.
The bushwalking trails in the Mackay region take you from lush, green rainforests to rugged terrain and national parks bordering the beach, getting you up close and personal to any kind of natural beauty – there are even guided tours available throughout the Eungella National Park. After a long day of bushwalking, you’re clearly going to need a refreshing swim; popular spots include Araluen Cascades or the Wheel of Fire where you can find spectacular waterfalls and rock pools. If you prefer to stay out of the water, the Mackay region offers some of the best barra fishing in the world – top spots in the area include the Pioneer River and Kinchant Dam.