It’s 5.45am, 20 minutes before sun-up, and our solitude is spoiled by two visitors who walk nonchalantly between us and position themselves between our cameras and the approaching sunrise. To think, here on the beach at Cape Hillsborough we were told we’d have no disturbances.
Of course, the fact they’re kangaroos makes a world of difference and right now I can’t imagine anywhere else on earth where you can watch the sun come up over the ocean with a pair of animals represented on your country’s coat of arms. At Cape Hillsborough, you’re guaranteed of watching a golden sunrise every morning with kangaroos for company.
What’s more, they’re not here to beg for food, they just seem to like the morning view. So do the kookaburras, and the dolphins that jump most mornings only metres from the shore, one morning we even had the good fortune to share the experience with a humpback whale and her calf.
The best part is Cape Hillsborough is just one small attraction in the Mackay region, Australia’s most under-rated tropical paradise.
Two mornings later I watch platypuses catch their dawn feed while Yura, a gigantic, and very lovable, western grey kangaroo keeps me company at Eungella National Park, an hour south-west of Hillsborough.
Another morning I catch a metre-long trevally on Keswick Island, an under-stated island paradise just 10 minutes flight time from Mackay airport.
Visiting the Mackay region of North Queensland is like discovering the most popular person at a high school disco has an even more gorgeous sibling, who’s completely available and desperate for company.
Each year millions of tourists visit North Queensland to escape the winter blues in either Cairns or Airlie Beach, what they don’t realise is what they’re flying over may have been the sun-drenched tropical oasis they were looking for all along.
Located half way between Brisbane and Cairns, the Mackay region is rich in diversity. It boasts Australia’s largest and oldest stretch of sub-tropical rainforest in Eungella National Park, an hour drive west of Mackay.
Half way to Eungella, take the turn-off to Finch Hatton Gorge, one of Australia’s most pristine forest areas and home to the gorgeous Wheel Of Fire Waterfall.
Eungella National Park
Eungella, an Aboriginal word meaning ‘land of the clouds’, lives up to its name, perched up high above the Pioneer Valley.
At dawn watch the sun rise through the Sky Window, one of the area’s most scenic rainforest walks.
Eungella is one of Queensland’s most popular national parks, covering over 52 000ha of rugged, unexplored land.
The Mackay region is also home to some of Australia’s most pristine off-shore islands. The Cumberland Island Group lie protected inside the Great Barrier Reef, many of the group are protected national parks and are home to rare birds, green turtles and koalas.
Brampton Island is also just an hour boat cruise from Mackay. It boasts seven gorgeous beaches and is almost entirely National Park.
Mackay also has one of Australia’s best marina complexes. The multi-million dollar project has introduced a whole new standard of living to the area, its location also makes it perfectly situated as the gateway to a piece of coast known as the ‘100 Magic Miles’.
There’s any number of world-class restaurants and cafes to choose from in Mackay and on Mackay’s picturesque northern beaches.
Mackay is also emerging as one of Queensland’s culturally aware cities, especially with the addition of North Queensland’s best art gallery, Artspace.
Mackay was built on the Pioneer River, the only city in Queensland built on a blue river, which flows past the city’s historical buildings. And, of course, there’s Cape Hillsborough, 45 minutes north of Mackay, an 816 hectare national park nestled into the coastline, home to the world’s only sunrise-loving kangaroos.
The good news is they stick around till seven, delighting early risers by posing for photographs. But don’t worry, for people who like to sleep in on holiday, they also love the sunset.