One of my absolute favourite things about Australia is the wildlife. So much of it is unique to Australia, which makes it infinitely more fascinating than… say, the squirrels and rabbits back home. So when I found out that the Mackay region has a beach where you can hang out with kangaroos, I instantly added it to my list. When I discovered you can spot wild platypus in a creek inland, you can bet I made sure we were going to have time for that, too!!
Our final few days of our Aussie road trip were spent speeding back down the coast (not literally – fines in Australia are actually ridiculous. A friend of ours was fined almost $500 for going 20km over the limit!) with pit stops in small towns like Bundaberg and 1770.
Our main stop, however, was actually the Mackay region.
From the outside, Mackay looks pretty dull. At the start of our trip, a colleague of mine from Mackay even told me not to stop there, rather than showing off her hometown. And nevertheless, we did actually stop for lunch in their botanic gardens, which was nice but admittedly nothing else seemed appealing in the town centre itself. Indeed, we still haven’t been.
Instead, it’s the surrounding area that holds some real gems, and two of these involve both of my ultimate wildlife spotting experiences in Australia.
Searching for platypuses at Broken River
First we headed inland to Eungella National Park, which included a gravel track road because we didn’t come off the highway onto the main road, and a spectacular winding road up a mountain to the top.
This was where we were headed – to Broken River, to find ourselves some platypus.
The platypus is notoriously elusive, and I had been so excited to see one at Lone Pine in Brisbane because they are rarely found even in captivity (Australia Zoo doesn’t even have one). They are easily one of my favourite animals because they’re just so bizarre! In fact, their discovery was thought to be a hoax because no one believed such a strange animal could exist!
We read that dawn and dusk are the best times to view them in action, and we arrived at 3.30pm unsure of whether we would be too early. Turns out – it was the perfect time and I was beyond delighted to see not one, but THREE platypuses swimming around the creek!
They are impossibly hard to get a good picture of, though. They come up to the surface for mere seconds before diving deep into the water again to forage.
We even saw wild turtles sunning themselves on tree branches and swimming lazily alongside the platypus.
This place was one of the highlights of our road trip and I’m so glad we made time to visit. Plus the whole area is really stunning with views like this to top off the day.
FYI that’s the valley you have to drive through to get to Broken River – not bad, really!
That night, we free-camped at The Leap hotel, buying ourselves a couple of drinks so we could have a look around. I’d read about The Leap and it sounded much like the outback pub I worked at except with an interesting history. In actual fact, I didn’t find it that great – the décor was nowhere near as impressive as where I worked, and there wasn’t really a lot about the history, either.
The people also weren’t all that friendly, and we didn’t experience the Australian hospitality we’d come to know and love. As we walked in, I flashed a smile and the barmaid eyed us up with a sour look.
“Looking to camp here?” she asked begrudgingly.
“Thinking about it,” I replied as cheerily as I could. “We wanted a drink first though, and a look around.”
She rolled her eyes. “Yeah yeah, sure you do. You just want to camp here.” An older gentleman with a wizened face sat at the bar chuckling.
…well, okay then. Unfortunately, I had read reviews that backpackers had been less than savoury on a regular basis, leaving behind mess and destruction in their wake in exchange for free hospitality. I could see why they were being less than welcoming, but it was sad to me because I had chosen the place out of genuine interest rather than a free place to bunk for a night.
The hotel is named after the story behind it. Legend has it that in 1867, an Aboriginal woman named Kowaha leapt off a nearby cliff to save her child from certain death from attackers. She died in her sacrifice, but the child, thought to have been around three years old, somehow survived.
I’m glad we made the stop there and it turned out to be a decent place to camp, plus it took us closer to our next destination in the area for the following morning: Cape Hillsborough.
Finding kangaroos on the beach at sunrise
We had stopped at Cape Hillsborough on the way up and loved the beach, though the main reason we visited was to see the kangaroos, and they were nowhere to be seen. We did see some wallabies though. On further research, I found that the best time to spot them is at sunrise.
And so, at 5.30am, we were off along the narrow winding road towards the coast. And at 6am, we were watching these guys nibbling their way along the beach with an incredible sunrise in the background.
Ash was convinced that you only see wallabies; I was insistent that a kangaroo would make an appearance.
And I was right – after a while, someone spotted a kangaroo in the trees lining the beach, and the wallabies were left in peace.
A few of us were quite content taking pictures of her chomping away, but suddenly she bounded onto the beach, over to a lovely little old lady who was absolutely thrilled about her new companion!
She also came over to me, but I didn’t get a picture because I was too enthralled!
She’s quite the poser, don’t you think?
After she went back to her breakfast, I chatted to an English lady when suddenly a second kangaroo bounded right past us at breakneck speed! This was a male – I’m not sure if the roos are “together” or just friends??
Eventually, both kangaroos settled down amongst the bushes as the sun was in full force, and the small crowd quickly dissipated. It had been 100% worth getting up at 5am for, and it was probably the best (free and “self-guided”) wildlife experience we’ve ever had.
And if you know me, you’ll know I LOVE seeing wildlife. If you plan on doing a similar road trip, make sure you put the Mackay region on your itinerary!
Want to read more about our east coast Australia road trip? Here are some of the highlights:
⭐ Driving On Beaches & Swimming In Lakes On Fraser Island
⭐ All Aboard The Freight Train: Sailing The Whitsundays
⭐ Surrounding Cairns: Beaches, Rainforests & Waterfalls
⭐ Cairns And Snorkelling The Great Barrier Reef
⭐ Starting Our Australian East Coast Road Trip In Noosa
⭐ I Thought Magnetic Island Was Supposed To Be Sunny
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