Halfway between Townsville and Mackay is the town of Bowen nestling prettily on the Coral Sea. Bowen was one of the first towns settled after Queensland became an independent colony in 1859 and was named for first governor Sir George Bowen.
Bowen’s fertile alluvial soil and warm, relatively dry climate makes it ideal for small market garden produce. This lookout near Queens Beach is to the north of the town looking west.
Cape Hillsborough is one of the hidden gems of the Mackay coastline, jutting out on a peninsula 40km north of the city. Cook named it in his 1770 voyage for Wills Hill, Earl of Hillsborough who was secretary of state for the colonies at the time. The area was formed by volcanic activity 32 million years ago which resulted in lava seams interbedded with layers of volcanic ash. The sand remains studded in mica debris. The highest point Pinnacle Rock is a trachyte plug – the core of an extinct volcano. The isolated beaches have become internationally renowned for the kangaroos and wallabies that forage there at sunrise for mangrove seed pods, seaweed and coral sand dollars (unfortunately non legal tender).
There are some great walks in the national park but I was frustrated in doing a complete loop which is only possible at low tide. This view looks south towards Mackay.
About an hour inland via a shortcut through the canefields of the town of Marian is another National Park at Eungella. I was drawn here by knowledge of the Eungella Chalet, which I’d heard had a hotel beer garden with some of the best views In Australia. Unfortunately as I carved a way through dancing fields of cane it was starting to rain and a glance up the mountain could only see clouds hovering above. I didn’t fancy my chances of scoring much of a view.
Despite the rain there was a clear view from the chalet beer garden in the Clarke Range down 680m below into the Pioneer River valley. Opened by former PM James Scullion in 1934, it was licensed as a hotel in the 1950s, and ripped apart by cyclone Ului in March 2010, taking six months to rebuild.
Having checked into my accommodation in Mackay, I decided to do the long coastal walk. The Bluewater Trail links the city, the river and sea via a lovely walking track through marshy dunes and the Sandfly Creek environmental walkway, complete with quirky sculptures that looked like refugees from the War of the Worlds.Mackay was originally home of the Yuipera, Toolginburra and Goolburra peoples. In 1871 George Bridgman established an Aboriginal Reserve at Mackay in an attempt to stop clashes with the growing sugarcane industry. It didn’t work and the land was quickly claimed by white settlers. One settler named John Mackay quickly saw the value of the port of Mackay at the entrance to the Pioneer River. The town was surveyed in 1863 – not long after Bowen. Today Mackay is the economic capital of the mineral rich Bowen Basin, which powered the Queensland economy until the Chinese need for Australian coal crashed in 2012. Mackay is trying to transform itself and could do worse than try to attract the tourist market to its many regional charms.