Calling all animal lovers: There is a menagerie of amazing creatures in the Mackay region of Queensland, hiding out in rainforest streams, on white sands, atop majestic cliffs, in turquoise waters and island passages. So grab your paddle, strap on your scuba gear, rev up the buggy or dig out those walking boots to see some of the country’s finest animals, in some of its finest settings.
If you’ve always wanted to see a mermaid, head to the coastal waters of Clairview (about 1.5 hours south of Mackay). This marine sanctuary is home to protected dugongs, commonly thought to have been the inspiration for the mermaid myth.
You can stand on the shore and spot them surfacing to breathe (they must do so every one to three minutes), or get a little closer in a kayak. But do proceed carefully – their seagrass habitat is very fragile and they are vulnerable to boat strikes.
Keswick Island is a stone’s throw from Mackay and makes for a stunning base – think rainforests, coral reefs and white-sand beaches – to watch the annual humpback whale migration through the Whitsundays from July to September. These waters are the ideal calving ground and nursery for baby whales. Try to spot a mum and bub only metres from the shore as they travel through the Egremont Passage between Keswick and St Bees islands – a major whale thoroughfare.
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If you’re visiting Keswick Island, make sure you bring your bird checklist with you – 33 different birds have been documented on this tiny island, which is only about five square kilometres in size. Look for sea eagle nests around Langton Point and near Singapore Bay (best viewed from a boat), as well as regal sulphur-crested cockatoos, colourful rainbow lorikeets, white-faced herons and beach stone curlews. Book a golf buggy from Keswick Kiosk and explore – happy twitching.
Early European scientists thought platypuses were so improbable that they must be a hoax, when the pelts were brought back to the mother land. If you still need convincing that these native beauties are real, why not dive underwater in the rainforest to see them with your own eyes? Head to Rainforest Scuba at Finch Hatton, where you can dive with the monotremes or try Eungella National Park’s Broken River trail, which has a platypus viewing platform.
Warning – the sand can get crowded at Cape Hillsborough Beach (aka Casuarina Beach). Crowded with wallabies, that is.
Situated in Cape Hillsborough National Park, which is about 45 minutes north of Mackay, the beach is the place to be at sunrise, where wild kangaroos and wallabies bound up and down the sand in search of seed pods, seaweed and sand dollars. For photographers, this is a dream come true.