There's much been written about the drives around the world: the Road to Hana or the Route des Grandes Alpes but there's something surprisingly lovely about the drive from Mackay to Eungella. Ivy and I were busy talking and as I looked out the car window the greens and the sunlit grass covered mountains it struck me almost like a punch to the eye.
Our drive from Mackay's town up to the mountains of Eungella and Broken River is about one and a half hours that ends with tight curls around a fog covered mountain. We emerge from the car and immediately feel the light chill of about 5-7 degree cooler weather.
Austrian born chef Oskar Krobath from Platypus Lodge greets us. Before the day grows any longer, he immediately takes us to the platypus viewing platforms-these shy creatures are most active at dawn (4-8am) and dusk (3-7pm).
We are in luck. A young platypus is busy ducking in and popping out of the water. "He's showing off," says Oskar while snapping photos himself. Platypus or their plural platypie spend most of the waking day foraging for food and will consume between 15-80% of their body weight in food depending on their season. The tip to finding these shy creatures? Keep quiet and look for the bubbles on the surface of the water.
He then takes us to see the freshwater turtles-unlike the platypie they are in number and are easily seen from the viewing platform.
We adjourn back to Oskar's Platypus Lodge cafe where we have coffee and something for morning tea all served with the platypus theme. The waffles with chocolate sauce, cream and ice cream are crispy and appear as large as a mountain.
If you want something for lunch the Swiss Yodel mountain burger comes with a chicken fillet burger, bacon, Swiss cheese, aioli and salad and a side of chips. And if you visit during the winter months he will deliver it wearing lederhosen and a yodel!
Our next stop in the area is at Pinnacle, a township around 30 minutes away. Here Sicilian born pizzaiolo Giuseppe Buttice runs the Church Cafe at Pinnacle in a converted pastel shaded weatherboard church.
The food is Italian with entrees, mains and desserts or a feed me menu which is what he and his patrons prefer. There you get some of all of the entrees, you choose your main and then enjoy a dessert sampler. At $45 a person it is very good value.
It's a warm day (there really is no other kind in Mackay) and we start with an Italicus Sptriz made with Italicus Rosolio, Prosecco and olives. The Italicus Rosolio is made with bergamot which gives it a floral, earl grey aroma and the spritz has a nice bitterness to it. The Ciao Bella has limoncello, orzata (almonds and orange blossom), mint and soda and is sweeter and very drinkable.
The entree is comprehensive and could quite honestly do us for lunch by itself. The mixed bruschetta are all served on house made breads. There is a tomato, basil and mozzarella on black charcoal semolina bread; an artichoke and smoked scarmoza cheese on seeded bread and my favourite which is the tapenade on white Italian bread (the tapenade is hand chopped and has baby capers throughout it). There is also capocollo, prosciutto, pecorino, reggiano, Silician saffron arancini with slow cooked Bolognese ragu, a tender saucy meatball and a surprising favourite, the cabbage and sausage flan or crustless quiche with parmesan fondue and truffle oil.
Our mains come next and the pulled lamb ravioli is 6 large house made pasta squares filled with soft pulled lamb. It is served on a sweet potato ragu, beef jus and crispy sweet potato and pepitas. It's a very large serve and I particularly like the lamb filling although the pasta could be rolled a tad thinner.
We ordered the gnocchi allo speck because it sounded quite different. They use the black bread to make the gnocchi which gives it a firmer texture. It comes with a generous amount of finely chopped speck and dried plums and a brandy cream finish. It's very rich, I don't think either of us could actually finish a serve of this especially after the entree.
But as they say there's always room for dessert. There are three miniatures on the plate: a baby tiramisu, a coconut and dark chocolate panna cotta but my favourite is the zabaglione parfait with peanut brittle and marsala glaze.
In the area people also stop by Hatton Finch Gorge although access is best made using 4wd and with caution as there are several creeks along the way that may impede progress if water levels are high. The hike in to get to the picturesque waterfall is around 1.4kms and takes over an hour.
Instead we make our way to our final stop for the night in Cape Hillsborough, located along the beach. Cape Hillsborouogh was named by Captain Cook in 1770. It was formed over 30 million years ago and is the starting point of the Cosgrove volcano chain, the longest chain of volcanoes in the world which is three times the length of Yellowstone National park in the United States.
For nature lovers there are lots of animals to see here from 22 types of mammals, 6 types of wallabies and kangaroos, 25 reptiles and marine turtles, butterflies and birds. There are also several types of walks you can do of various lengths. The reason for our stop here is for a unique wild life experience in the morning.
Ivy and I relax for the rest of the night. There's no wifi and a little bit of internet (provided you're with Telstra) so we graze on our platter from Plattered up and have salad and wine before turning in. Our start in the morning the next day is at 5:40am or when dawn breaks.
That's the cue for our date with the wallabies. There is a group of wild Agile wallabies and 2 Grey Eastern kangaroos that feast on the seed pods washed up on the beach every morning as the sun comes up.
These seed pods aren't part of their natural diet nor are wallabies found to be eating them elsewhere but the wallabies and kangaroos feast on them here. Ranger Sam gives a short talk - people can't feed or touch the animals as they are truly wild. And don't approach the wallabies or kangaroos.
As if on cue, a large Grey Eastern kangaroo called Bridget suddenly bounds over to us. She is 16 years old and she is blind in one eye but she is gentle and comfortably stands right next to us. She is more comfortable with human contact because she was hand raised after her mother died. There is also another Grey Eastern kangaroo, 15 year old Emmy Lou. She contentedly stays alongside Ivy and I for a long time. The downpour comes, the wind falling diagonally chasing us to hide under the enormous Hoop Pines.
On our way back to Mackay for our flight home we stop by The Old Station Teahouse in Ball Bay. Michele Shea and her family had the former train station transported to its current location and is given a new lease on life in a tropical rainforest setting. "There's a green tree snake," she says pointing at the tree that Ivy has just walked past. Ivy is delighted to see one in the wild.
Everything is home made here and today they're serving us breakfast (although they're not usually open for that). It's a delicious breakfast of avocado, mushrooms, bacon, thin toast, eggs and baby spinach. We play with their husky Daisy.
And then it's our last stop in Mackay at TurbARlance at the Ibis hotel for lunch before our flights home. Now in most cities airport hotels aren't usually dining destinations but Mackay is pretty quirky and the restaurant apparently has quite a following among Mackay locals who will actually purposely go there for a meal even if they aren't flying.
We start with red curry chicken Thai spring rolls that are filled with flavoursome and slightly saucy red curry chicken and come with a house made sweet chilli sauce.
Then we segue into the worker's burger. The town of Mackay is still very much a mining town and a lot of the hotel's patrons are mining workers. This burger is an homage to them and has all the classic Australian burger toppings-beetroot, beef patty, cheese, tomato, lettuce and a fantastic tomato chutney on it that ties it all together and it's a really delicious burger. And did I mention that it is served on a shovel? Yes Mackay is quirky but with its charms!
So tell me Dear Reader, which animals have you encountered in the wild? Is there an animal you'd like to see?
NQN and Ivy were guests of Mackay Tourism but all opinions remain her own.
Platypus Lodge Cafe
534 Eungella Dam Rd, Eungella QLD 4757 Wednesday to Sunday 10am–3pm Monday & Tuesday Closed Phone: (07) 4958 4785 platypuslodgerestaurant.com.au
Church Cafe Pinnacle
4343 Mackay Eungella Rd, Pinnacle QLD 4741 Sunday 9:30am–5pm, 6–10pm Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday 9:30am–3pm Tuesday & Wednesday closed Phone: 0490 694 972 churchcafepinnacle.com.au
The Old Station Teahouse
231 Cape Hillsborough Rd, Ball Bay QLD 4741 Open 7 days 9am–3:30pm Phone: (07) 4959 0528
ibis Mackay, Christensen Circuit, Mackay QLD 4740 Open 7 days 5am-9pm Phone: (07) 4898 0025