1. Beached roos at dawn
Often when people head down to the beach at Cape Hillsborough Nature Tourist Park just before the sun rises in the semi-dark, they presume that the dark shapes in front of the ocean are large rounded rocks. Then the sun begins its magnificent rise and before a jaw-dropping backdrop of soft oranges, reds, purples and pinks, kangaroos come to light — chilling out, having a scratch, playfully boxing, nibbling at minerals and other bits in the sand, and perhaps, enjoying the calming sunrise as much as the tourists gathered in awe. You don't get more Aussie than that.
2. Butterfly bonanza
Usually walking among tens of thousands of butterflies is an experience to be had in a wildlife park enclosure. Not in this part of the world. At Cape Hillsborough Nature Tourist Park, a walk along one of the many winding walking tracks through beautiful rainforest leads you into patches of towering trees where Blue Tiger butterflies swarm in their thousands. There are so many of them at such close proximity that the air thrums with the flapping of their fragile wings. It’s a magical experience that doesn’t cost a penny, so pop on your walking shoes and be entertained by Mother Nature.
3. Beach Horseracing
Once a year, Mackay bursts into a bonanza of fascinators, fancy frocks, champagne, beer and horses. It's far from your typical horseracing event because here, the horses race along a stretch of beautiful beach in front of the tideline, to be viewed from a grandstand or the surrounding eateries and bar areas. You can even set up your own picnic spot. The day has so many classic Aussie moments to be enjoyed – such as beer and ice being delivered by happy Akubra-sporting lads in boardshorts atop ATVs, zooming through the crowds to the sound of music and well-managed mayhem.
4. Diving with platypus
You need patience, persistence and in particular a passion for Australia’s weirdest animal — the platypus — if you want to see one. In Mackay's surrounds, in rainforest regions with pristine waters, not only can you spot the famously elusive platypus – you can scuba dive with them too. Diving instructor and platypus lover, Luana Royle, takes her guests out on half- or full-day tours into waterways near Eungella National Park, which is the largest continuous stretch of subtropical rainforest in Australia. Although it’s not guaranteed that you see a platypus on your rainforest scuba dive, the lucky ones will get fleeting glimpses of Luana’s favourite duck-billed ladies. It’s Luana’s passion for her niche profession that makes the experience so exciting – and she’s right in saying that this experience can’t be had in any other part of the world.