POSTED: 15 December 2018
While I have been living in Brisbane, I took a job for several months in the town of Mackay on the Whitsunday Coast on central Queensland. It was a great opportunity because I was provided with flights home every two weeks, accommodation, food allowance and a rental car. The car enabled me to not only get around the city but also explore the surrounding beaches and hinterland. I also took a weekend to go up to Airlie Beach and get out on a boat into the Whitsunday Islands.
Emerald beauty of Pioneer Valley
Mackay is essentially a town that caters for the agriculture and mining industries but it has some attractive art deco architecture and a pleasant setting beside the Pioneer River. The motel I stayed at was a relatively short walk from the pretty botanical gardens which has the river running through it. In the opposite direction near the city centre is the artificial Bluewater Lagoon which has lovely grassed picnic areas, fountains and a café. The town is a good base to do various day excursions from.
The best of these trips is a drive west through the beautiful Pioneer Valley. I did this trip a few times and made sure that I took time to explore the secluded and very picturesque Finch Hatton Gorge. There are a couple of relaxed rainforest walks here to waterfalls and refreshing swimming holes. The highlight of the valley though is the Eungella National Park. It contains the oldest and longest stretch of subtropical rainforest in Australia and is serenely beautiful.
Platypus spotting at Broken River
Aside from the rainforest and amazing views back down the valley, the big attraction of the national park is the opportunity to spot the reclusive but very cute platypus. Broken River is one of the few places that you’ll ever see one in their natural habitat but it takes some patience and luck. After hiking a trail up the river, I returned to the viewing platform near the car park and joined a group of others who were silently waiting. Voices were in whispers but you could feel the anticipation. As dusk approached we were rewarded with the appearance of several platypuses.
I spent several happy weekends at the beaches just north of Mackay and also made it to the Cape Hillsborough National Park. South of the city I took a day to visit the town of Sarina which has a beach and sugar cane museum. Not far from Sarina is the Hay Point coal terminal. From the viewpoint, I could see huge stockpiles of coal ready to be loaded onto huge ships that were waiting patiently off shore.
Together with my friend Jen, we drove up to Airlie Beach as soon as I finished work one Friday afternoon. This high-energy little town has a steady stream of backpackers and other tourists who use it as a stepping stone to the Whitsunday Islands. The following morning we made our way along the pleasant boardwalk to Abel Point Marina to catch the island ferry. Our chosen destination for the day would be Long Island because it has the best of everything. Aside from the beaches, there are also about 13km of walking tracks that lead to some fine lookouts.
Sheltered cove at Airlie Beach
Day trippers to the island can use the resort facilities so there was plenty for Jen to do while I went hiking. When I returned, we had a swim in the pool before getting the ferry back to the mainland. As the ferry arrived back into Airlie Bay I thought how I’d love to return to one day. The aqua blue ocean, secluded bays and white sand beaches make it the perfect playground and there are 74 islands that make up the stunning archipelago. Somehow, getting to just one of them doesn’t seem enough!