One of the most recognized and talked about features of Australia is the Great Barrier Reef which runs some 2,300 kilometres along the east coast and is composed of over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands.

Impossible to imagine coming to Australia and not visiting one of the natural wonders of the modern world…

So, after leaving the bright lights of Sydney Sam and I flew north, via Brisbane (capital of Queensland) to the city of Mackay. Not a well known jump off point for the Great Barrier Reef, but meaningful for Sam and I as neither of us had visited Mackay… a first for both of us!

You see it was in the mid 1950’s that my mum and dad met at a pub just outside Mackay. Mum was working as a cook and barmaid at the Leap Hotel (situated some 20 km west of Mackay) whilst dad was a young, fit cane cutter working on the local farms just a little further west.

Part of our adventure was to go visit some of the better known places that have been passed down through family stories about Mackay, plus it’s off the grid in terms of tourism, a lovely secluded part of Australia’s east coast.

After locating the address of where mum lived all those years ago in town, we stopped and took a few photos for my sister, who I then promptly emailed them to. Unfortunately, the house looks nothing like the old black and white photos she has of her childhood home…

It’s impossible to know when the old asbestos sided bungalow was demolished to make way for the more modern version that now sits on the block.

Next up, we set off to find the Leap Hotel (yep, it’s still there after all these years, but has a troubling past on how the hotel got its name…), pulling up to the pub it seems that little has changed over the ensuing 60+ years.

Ordering a beer for me and a lemon squash for Sam we sat on the front verandah and raised a toast to my parents (unfortunately both long gone – mum in 1987 and dad in 2011), but it was a special moment to be able to pay tribute to them with Sam.

Our destination for the afternoon was the Eungella National Park, which is well known for its wild Platypus habitat in the local waterway (Broken River). The Park lay some 75 km’s from the Leap and takes you through some of the most beautiful farm country in Australia.

The National Park is situated near the top of Mount Dalrymple in the Clarke Range, and as we made our way up the steep approaches we were completely enveloped by a magnificent rain forest…just incredible!

We waited patiently by the rivers edge for well over an hour toward the end of the day, but with no luck locating any of our little marsupial friends. However, all was not lost in that we were very popular with the local turtle population! 🙂

The vast majority of visitors to Australia generally fly to Cairns (800 km north of Mackay) in Queensland’s far north to get their opportunity to experience the majesty of the Great Barrier Reef.

Our reef adventure was set to leave from the well known town of Airlie Beach, which is situated some 140 km’s north of Mackay. Famous as the gateway to the world renowned Whitsundays, it truly is a picture perfect location to start your day of snorkeling or diving on the reef!

We took the recommendation from Tripadvisor and booked with Ocean Rafting. Our skipper Joshy and his first mate Benny were awesome, transporting us out to Whitehaven beach (the most photographed beach in Australia by the way) with only a drenching or two as we pounded through the light swell towards our destination.

The sand on Whitehaven is so soft and reflective, a fun fact is that it only ever gets to a maximum temperature of 26C, so not too hot on the feet. However, once you leave the beach and walk along the track to the lookout the path through the thick scrub turns into an absolute blast furnace hot (definitely take flip flops/sandals) for the walk. 🙂

After a short hike to the lookout it was time to head back to the beach on the other side of the island (don’t worry, they’re very close) and onto our snorkeling adventure.

The reef where we dove was in a channel between two islands where the pacific ocean deposits enormous amounts of plankton, and nutrients onto a sandbar, that over the years has turned into a beautiful, and large coral reef. This coral reef has such an abundance of sea life, (both large and small schools of fish), brightly colored sunfish, moray eels, giant clams, sea slugs – you name it, it was there…

Seriously it felt like I was swimming in a large aquarium!

What I found interesting is that the fish weren’t afraid of us, in fact they were more curious than anything else, and playfully swam around us in their schools, darting this way and that as they maneuvered over the reef.

Such a fabulous day out on the reef and would always recommend it to anyone visiting Australia. It was the highlight of Sam’s trip to Australia…just sayin!

Our three days in Mackay was a perfect amount of time to explore and unwind after our whirlwind trip to Sydney.

We stayed at the Riviera Mackay in a two bed, two bathroom apartment, including good sized kitchen, lounge, balcony plus a washer and dryer which was awesome. Perfectly located by the Caneland Shopping center and with easy access to the airport and downtown, it truly was an awesome spot to stay.

It was also a great time to to take a break from hotels as we were able to stock up the fridge with breakfast foods and snacks. Nothing like a complete relax! 🙂

Next up was to another place I’d never been – Canberra. Australia’s national capital.

Until next time!