The Mackay Botanic Gardens in Australia are some of Queensland’s newest botanic gardens. They were opened to the public in 2003 after a 15-year construction period. I’ve visited many a botanic garden over the years and I can honestly say Mackay’s are some of the best.
The gardens focus on flora from the Central Queensland Coast, as well as many other Australian native and exotic plants from similar climates around the world. A particular favorite of ours is the Tropical Shade Garden; a lush forest of ferns, palms, ground orchids, and trickling waterfalls. You can feel yourself relaxing amongst the greenery here, and it remains a lovely temperature, even on the hot days we experience in Queensland.
Visiting the Mackay Botanic Gardens
The Mackay Botanic Gardens are part of the Queensland Botanic Trail, which would make a wonderful holiday for garden lovers, visiting 20 botanic gardens in total. The trail starts as far south as Goondiwindi, Myall Park near Glenmorgan, and Brisbane. It then travels through places like Emerald, Rockhampton, Mackay, and the Whitsunday Botanic Gardens, ending as far north as Cairns and Cooktown. What a specular way to see the best Queensland has to offer.
The Mackay Botanic Gardens cover 126 acres of gardens, wetlands, and open space. A big lagoon lays in the center of the gardens, providing a home for many birds and other animals. The lagoon was the location of Mackay’s first settlement and water supply.
Many years of development and agriculture have led to water problems for the lagoon, but the Botanic Gardens are working hard to improve the water quality by planting native trees for habitat and food for wildlife, and removing exotic water weeds.
The Different Gardens at Mackay Botanic
The gardens focus mainly on local native plants from the Central Queensland Coast around Mackay, but you can find other varieties, too. There are several themed areas, either representing flora from a particular area like the Finch Hatton Gorge Waterway and the Sarina Lowlands Garden, or flora of similar requirements like the shade-loving plants in the Tropical Shade Garden.
Many of the gardens are designed to show what you can do with plant varieties and gardens in your own backyard. They show what can be done with Australian native plants, not just in a botanic garden setting, but at home as well.
Various paths, ramps, bridges, and boardwalks allow you to wander through the gardens, getting up-close with the plant varieties and the wildlife in the lagoon. Many people use the gardens daily for their 10000-steps-a-day program, and there are signs stating how far you’ve walked to help you with this goal.
Our Favorite Gardens at the Mackay Botanic Gardens
The Gymnosperm Garden
This is one of our favorite gardens because it meanders along the lagoon and displays an amazing area of cycads and ancient pine trees. Gymnosperms are plants that do not flower, but they do bear seed. Botanists believe they are the modern-day representation of ancient flora.
These gardens take you through the evolution of plants from prehistoric times and are actually marked with “cretaceous” and “Jurassic”, something dinosaur lovers will enjoy! It showcases plants like the Wollemi pine, Bunya pine, Queensland Kauri, and Gingko biloba. Some of the cycads are incredible.
The Malta Garden
We love the Malta Garden for its color. Colorful flowers, colorful foliage, and colorful pergolas. This garden is a tribute to immigrants from Malta who came to Australia in the 1900s. Many of them settled around Mackay to work in the sugar cane industry, and many of their descendants still live around Mackay to this day.
You’ll find yourself wandering through amazing flowers and a world of color. There is an impressive solid stone viaduct structure and a sand bocce court. Bocce is a ball game that was traditionally played on sand and you can rent a bocce ball set from the information center in the gardens.
Some of the plants you’ll find here are the carob tree, an amazing specimen of desert Rose (Adenium), and huge Bismarck palms.
Tropical Shade Gardens and Fernery
If you love tropical, lush plants as I do, you can’t miss this part of the gardens. It is a very protected part covered with shade cloth, located right next to, and around, the administration building. The gardens are actually fenced and protected with black panels, creating an almost surreal atmosphere inside.
There are no sealed paths in this garden, just gravel and riverstone pathways. You are right in amongst the greenery, ambling past plants like Heliconia’s, Etlingera gingers, Beehive Gingers, big-leafed palm trees, and incredible ferns.
The Mackay Botanic Gardens make for a wonderful day out where you can view an array of native and exotic plant varieties, waterfalls, the lagoon, and have a coffee at the cafe overlooking the lagoon. Kids will love the playground, the birds, and the special events organized by the gardens from time to time.
WHEN YOU GO:
The Mackay region in Australia is a great place to visit with stunning beaches, parks, the lush Pioneer Valley to the west, and the Whitsunday Islands of its coast.
Things to know before and during your visit to the Mackay Botanic Gardens.
– Bring insect repellent.
– Recommended visiting is from 5am to 9pm daily. The tropical shade gardens are open between 9am to 5pm on weekdays. The administration building is open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.
– The Botanic Gardens Cafe is open Wednesday to Friday, 9am to 3pm, and from 8am to 4pm in weekends. It is closed on public holidays.
– There are monthly exhibitions with environmental or cultural themes in the art gallery, situated near the information center.
– There are drinking fountains near the administration building, the Matsuura Sister City Garden, the playground, and the Forest Arbor Garden.
– You are welcome to bring your dogs for a relaxing walk, but they must be on a leash at all times. There are no off-lead areas. Dogs aren’t allowed to swim in the lagoon, however much they might like to, to protect the habitat and breeding areas of a great variety of birds and other wildlife. Doggy bags are provided at the entrances.
– Bike riding is allowed, but remember to slow down as paths are shared by many other people. There are “no bicycle’ signs in some areas, where you must walk your bike rather than ride it.
– Horses are not allowed in the gardens.
– Unauthorized vehicles aren’t allowed within the gardens, and parking is in designated areas only.
– You can book the gardens for a wedding or event by contacting the garden’s administration.
At the time of our visit, there was a gnome treasure hunt; several gnomes were hidden throughout the gardens with letters. Finding all the letters would lead you to discover a secret sentence. There was also a find-the-birds activity to discover around 20 different varieties of birds. The kids had a great time.
Featured image – Malta garden / Elle Meager
Elle Meager lives in the Pioneer Valley, to the west of Mackay. She’s a former plant nursery owner, specializing in tropical plants and creating self-sufficient gardens (https://www.outdoorhappens.com/how-to-grow-a-wild-food-forest-self-sufficiency-garden/). She grows more than 50 different varieties of fruit trees and edible plants, as well as providing a home for 4 horses, 10 chickens, 3 dogs, and many varieties of wildlife. You can find Elle’s gardening, homesteading, and backyard inspiration articles in her blog, Outdoor Happens, on Facebook and Pinterest.