|Mackay - Airlie Beach|
The magnificent Whitsunday Islands are the main feature of this journey. There are over 70 isles here, offering seclusion, white sandy beaches, bushwalks, birdlife and brilliant blue seas that form an aquatic paradise.
Continue on the Bruce Highway from Rockhampton, via sugar cane country around Sarina, where there is a large sugar mill as well as fishing and swimming at nearby Sarina Beach. The town of Mackay is Australia’s largest sugar centre, and informative tours of a sugar mill and sugar cane farm are available here.
Mackay’s other attractions include historic Greenmount Homestead and a heritage walk around town. There are some idyllic resort centres to the north, including Blacks Beach where you can enjoy fishing and relaxing on 5 km of beachfront.
An excursion west of Mackay will take in the Illawong Fauna Sanctuary and Eungella National Park - located high in the Clarke Range and a superb environment of rainforest, gorges and open forest - and Mackay Harbour is the access point for national park Brampton Island, part of the hilly Cumberland Group, where there is an intimate resort.
North of here, the highway reaches the sugar town of Proserpine and the turn-off for Airlie Beach, the ‘Gateway to the Whitsundays’. This small resort centre features dozens of diving and water sport companies, and you can hire anything from paddle-skis to yachts to explore the blue waters around these hilly, generally forested islands. Nearby Shute Harbour is the departure point for day trips to resort islands like Daydream, Hamilton, South Molle, Lindeman and national park Long Island - and also out to the Great Barrier Reef. You can either stay at Airlie Beach, where there are plenty of shops, cafes and nightspots, or on one of the islands.
Where to Stay
Time required: 2-3 days for a brief look: 7 days if you intend to stay on one of the islands.