Mackay to Townsville With Kids – 3 Boredom Busting Stops You Must Make

Finch Hatton Gorge

By Karen Perry, Roadtrip Expert

While the direct journey from Mackay to Townsville spans nearly 5 hours, it is crucial to plan engaging stops along the way, especially when travelling with kids.  Back when we took the kids up the Queensland coast for the first time, they were still very small and very prone to backseat boredom.  We didn’t want their first taste of travel to be “road trips are boring” so we worked very hard to make sure they were always “going somewhere fun” and looking forward to the next stop.  It is how we ignited their spirit of adventure and as young adults now, they’re more adventurous than even we were!

If you’re transforming your drive into a memorable road trip, we’ve taken the initiative to identify an exciting itinerary for you. Explore enchanting spots such as Finch Hatton Gorge, renowned Airlie Beach, and of course, you cannot miss Bowen’s infamous Big Mango.

So, why wait any longer? Let’s embark on this adventure together and hit the road!


1. Finch Hatton Gorge – Waterfalls and Swimming Holes

Finch Hatton Gorge

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Nothing like starting a road trip with a relaxing visit to one of the most natural swimming holes and waterfalls in Queensland.  Located just over an hour from Mackay, this destination boasts breathtaking walking trails, abundant wildlife, pristine creeks, and inviting waterfalls for a refreshing swim. Consider packing a breakfast picnic for your first stop on the journey. Although an inland detour may be required, the experience is undoubtedly worth the effort.

If you’re towing a van, make sure you check the conditions at Finch Hatton Gorge before setting out.  There’s amazing places to discover for the passionate lover of caravans in Queensland.

Finch Hatton Gorge Map


Airlie Beach – A Family Friendly Must-See

Family picnic Airlie Beach | free things to do Airlie Beach

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Continuing your journey, a must-visit destination is Airlie Beach, just a two-hour drive away. This family-friendly spot caters to both toddlers and older children, offering a range of exciting activities. Consider starting your exploration with Just Tuk’n Around for hassle-free sightseeing in a Tuk-Tuk. The kids will love it!

Our first visit to Airlie Beach was fraught with drama after there’s been man-o-war jellyfish sitings on the day we arrived.  My top advice: advise your children that northern Queensland beaches have some crazy visitors. We turned the stop into an investigation of the wild things that can be found in the north.  These days there’s also a free and fun-for-kids waterpark in the centre of Proserpine for those pesky jellyfish days.

Airlie Beach features a lagoon for swimming, an expansive playground with a 10.5-meter high skywalk, sky cabins, mega slides, rope bridges, and a multi-level pirate ship. Additionally, if your timing is perfect, don’t miss the Saturday morning markets by the beach, offering local foods, homewares, and unique experiences like camel rides. If you can, extend your stay for an afternoon cruise to Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island, a breathtaking destination where you might find yourself wanting to stay overnight. Keep in mind, that this area is renowned for allowing families to slow down and unwind. It might just be what your family needs.


3. Bowen Big Mango


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As you resume your journey toward Townsville, just one hour north of Airlie Beach lies the iconic Bowen Big Mango. This roadside attraction offers a unique photo opportunity for the entire family. Situated in Bowen, halfway between Mackay and Townsville, this huge mango sculpture celebrates the region’s vibrant fruit industry. Standing over 10 meters tall, the Big Mango is a symbol of North Queensland. Kids will love posing next to the oversized fruit, creating unforgettable memories against its backdrop. If you’ve got time, make sure you pop into the Mango Information Centre, for some history of mango cultivation and of course, your chance to purchase mango-themed souvenirs.

We like to stop at the Big Mango for late afternoon tea when we’re doing the Queensland Coastal road.  I will admit, we’re both quite partial to a mango or two and Bowen is the original home of Australian mangoes.  Why wouldn’t you stop off and eat your fill?

As your journey comes to an end, time permitting, consider a visit to the Billabong Sanctuary. If your kids love animals this is a wildlife experience giving you the chance to get up close and personal with native Australian animals in their natural habitat. From koalas and kangaroos to crocodiles, the sanctuary provides wildlife presentations and hands-on experiences for kids. They can feed kangaroos, cuddle koalas, and even hold baby crocodiles. Imagine their next school show-and-tell opportunity after experiencing this!

From Mackay to Townsville, embrace the abundance of family-friendly adventures along the way, making your road trip through North Queensland truly unforgettable. Make a day out (or two!) for the kids and with so many interactive experiences, there are ample opportunities for memorable experiences. Add any of all of these boredom-busting stops to your journey and we guarantee your road trip through North Queensland will be one you’ll never forget.


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