Bask in the warmth at Mackay.
Mackay is a respite – a sanctuary from the cold. While winter sun seekers think of escaping to Cairns or Port Douglas, the lesser-known Mackay offers an array of radiant new experiences.
Mackay Airport Beach Racing Festival
Only in its third year, this is already one of the top events on North Queensland’s social calendar. Women adorn themselves in cocktail dresses and fascinators, but thongs are the footwear of choice. While men look stylish on top in dress shirts and bow ties, which are paired with board shorts.
There are up to eight horse races along the glorious sweep of white-sand coastline, but cutest by far are the Shetland ponies looking like the next wave will carry them off.
Some ticket prices come with an endless flow of champagne, wine or beer and circulating platters of food including tandoori French-trimmed lamb cutlets and gourmet pizzas. Fresh oysters are shucked in front of you by a knightly metallic-gloved hand and served with a squirt of Bloody Mary.
Mackay Beach Horse Racing Festival: www.mackaybeachhorseracing.com.au
Nightclubs & Food
Mackay is a wonderful mix of glamour and gung-ho. Dining at the Bridge Restaurant, chandeliers hang from canvas ceilings and rolled up sides means air-conditioning comes from the gentle breeze gliding off the Pioneer River. This is the place for fish sliders and platters of oyster Kilpatrick washed down by jugs of sangria floating with icebergs of tropical fruit.
Bridge Restaurant: 07 4953 2703 / www.facebook.com/bridges.mackay
This town knows how to party. By day the Ambassador Hotel is on the itinerary of the weekly winter Art Deco tours. But at night it’s home to Mojos – a rooftop bar where you can look down at the zipping headlights of passing motorists below.
Ambassador Hotel: 07 4953 3233 / www.ambassadorhotel.net.au
Mackay gives new meaning to the phrase “the world is your oyster.” At The Dispensary oysters are served with champagne granita or Manuka salmon and lime crème fraîche. This sophisticated tapas bar has vertical walled gardens and Steampunk artwork. Here you can drink your way around the globe with offerings ranging from an Aussie beer ($7.50) to bottles of French vintage champagne ($1,500) with stop-offs for whiskeys from India, Scotland, Ireland and Japan.
The Dispensary: 07 4951 3546 / www.burp.net.au/
If you need to soak up the alcohol swilling around in your belly the next morning, try Oscars, which has substantial but gourmet breakfasts.
Oscars: 07 49440173 / www.facebook.com/pages/Oscars-on-Sydney-Cafe-Bar/164359860327242
At Cape Hillsborough National Park wallabies join you for an early morning stroll along the beach.
Eugnella comes from an Aboriginal word meaning Land in the Clouds. The Eugnella National Park has Australia’s largest unbroken stretch of sub-tropical rainforest with everything from five-day bush treks to 10-minute flat walks, where you feel almost guilty for being rewarded with such spectacular views.
Part of the fun at Finch Hatton Gorge is splashing your way in, as regular vehicles must navigate the safe fords over streams. This brings you to a wooded wonderland, River Rock Café, an open-walled construction where furniture seems carved from ancient tree trunks. They serve home-cooked meals including mountainous plates of red throat emperor fish with a rainbow of salads.
They also own four self-contained cabins on the banks overlooking the rock pools where you can enjoy a secluded dip.
Finch Hatton Gorge: 07 4958 3281 / www.finchhattongorgecabins.com.au
Or try whizzing 25 metres above the forest floor with Forest Flying – an overhead cable and pulley system. You can manoeuvre yourself 340 metres through the rainforest canopy without leaving a footprint on the forest floor.
Forest Flying: 07 4958 3359 / www.forestflying.com
At Broken River you are almost guaranteed a sighting of a cheeky little platypus. In a world first experience, you can even scuba dive with the dainty creatures on organised dives with Rainforest Scuba.
Broken River: 0434 455 040 / w: www.rainforestscuba.com
Staying at the Airport
Tumble off your flight and straight into bed. Mackay’s newest accommodation is the ibis at the airport. Forget any preconception you might hold about airport hotels – the food here is remarkable and rather than bustling, the hotel is surrounded by fields of sugar cane. Picture windows offer panoramic views over this carpet of greenery – the foreground for blue-tinged mountain ranges and crimson sunsets. Staff wear vivid red shirts and huge smiles, while the hotel interior is bright and contemporary.
There’s an excellent gym, and beauty sleep is assured with blackout blinds, sound proofing and luxurious beds. Sprucing up is easy as all rooms have an ironing boards, iron, hair dryer, full-length mirror and makeup mirror in a well-lit bathroom. Staying at the airport also means easy access to flights and helicopter services to Keswick and Brampton Islands, so you can be whisked off to an island resort within 20 minutes. Alternatively, you can pick up an airport hire car. Flying into Mackay is an entry point for the whole of the Whitsundays.
ibis Mackay Airport: 07 489 80000 / www.ibis.com/gb/hotel-9266-ibis-mackay-airport
Virgin has flights to Mackay from Brisbane, Newcastle/Port Stephens, Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Perth.
For more information on Mackay:
t: 1300 130 001 (toll-free)
By Nadine Cresswell Myatt