Cape Hillsborough is a real Australian cliché. When you land in Mackay, you’ll straight away see images of Cape Hillsborough and its kangaroos. It appears like the must-do activity when you visit the Mackay region. Watching the sun rising on a beautiful beach, surrounded by the beautiful Cape Hillsborough national park and its kangaroos… it’s simply postcard perfect.
But after a bit of research, you may find controversial opinions about this touristy activity. Is the Cape Hillsborough kangaroo experience really what you’d expect?
It depends what you’re coming for. Visitors who are only after a photo of a wallaby on the beach will have a great time and will place the activity as a must do: it’s like being in a postcard.
But nature lovers may not enjoy the wildlife experience as much as they’d expect. So is it worth waking up early to see the kangaroos at Cape Hillsborough? I wouldn’t travel to the region just for this, but we still had a good time.
Our experience may help you make the best decisions to plan your encounter with wallabies and kangaroos at Cape Hillsborough. I’ve listed a few tips below.
1. Don’t expect a wild encounter with kangaroos
Cape Hillsborough kangaroos and wallabies are wild animals. You cannot argue that they aren’t kept in a fence. But they are highly used to seeing visitors and have adapted their behaviours to share the beach with humans.
I associate wildlife watching with patience. When we plan a wildlife watching trip, I always imagine feeling privileged and sharing the special time only with a few others. If you’ve got the same kinds of expectations, lower them down. You won’t be by yourself at all on the beach at all. With the campground a few metres away, it won’t feel like you’re into the wilderness.
I regretted how predictable the wildlife experience was. Because they are fed, wallabies come on the beach every morning. You’re guaranteed to see them. No patience needed. Some will find this awesome – it’s true that it makes it easier to organise.
But I found it took away a lot of the excitement. I remembered the surprise effect I had when I first saw kangaroos on Depot Beach (near Batemans Bay, south of NSW). No feeding, no crowd, no expectations. Cape Hillsborough is just not the same experience at all.
Cape Hillsborough kangaroos and wallabies are very popular and there will be more people than wallabies around you.
Because kangaroos aren’t shy anymore, visitors get the opportunity to get quite close. Make sure you keep your distances, for your and their safety. I was positively surprised by how respectful te small crowd was when we went there. We were lucky to be among people that show a lot of respect to the animals – even before any guidelines were given. I didn’t see anyone getting too close or in the way (except a kangaroo himself that sneaked from behind!).
2. Be aware of the regulations
With the number of visitors growing, regulation seems necessary to protect Cape Hillsborough’s wild kangaroos and wallabies.
That’s why the Mackay Region introduced a tour. As the sun was rising, a marine biologist dressed as a ranger arrived on the beach. She straight away installed cones to set a limit for visitors to approach the kangaroos and wallabies. It was actually closer than we all were so we happily moved forward a bit.
We heard about visitors being refused the access to the beach if they didn’t join the tour. There was nothing like that when we visited. The beach was free to access. But it’s worth checking how it evolves before you plan your trip there.
3. Don’t feed wild animals
The wild wallabies and kangaroos come to the beach to look for food. They love eating mangrove seed pods. But that’s not all they eat. You may be surprised to see that Cape Hillsborough’s kangaroos and wallabies are fed by the marine biologist who guides the tours on the beach.
Their point is that by feeding the wallabies and kangaroos with food that is good for their diet, it prevents visitors from doing it with food that isn’t good for them. Apparently, before they chose to do it that way, some visitors used to feed the wild animals to make them stay on the beach and take better photos.
I couldn’t stop wondering if this is done to benefit the animals or to ensure the attraction and visitors’ experience. I’m a firm believer that tourist activities should be thought to improve the environment rather than just limiting impacts. Wildlife disturbance can be hard to measure, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. However, I disliked the misleading fake ranger costume that the marine biologist was wearing.
But at least, I found her speech educating as she introduced the species (Eastern Grey Kangaroos and Agile Wallabies) and the behaviour to have near the wild animals.
4. Look for the babies
Make sure you take time to look at the wallabies’ front pockets. As you know, that’s where they carry their babies.
We were lucky to see a little head going out to get some seeds.
5. Don’t go at sunrise
You want to be there before sunrise. The earlier you go, the lesser people will be around. Although the lack of light isn’t the best for photography, it’s nice to watch the wallabies without the crowd when everything around is peaceful. The higher the sun gets, the more people will get to the beach. And the closer to sunrise you drive, the more risks you take to injure potential wildlife commuting from their night spot to their day spot.
If you miss sunrise and arrive later, you may not see the kangaroos on the beach. Shortly after being fed, they went to the small bushes between the beach and the camping or hanged around the rocks higher on the beach.
We saw a few again at sunset, but the colours were surely nowhere as good as the sunrise show.
6. Get down to their level
If you’re trying to take photos of the wallabies on the beach, you’ll get the best results by getting down to their level. This way, you can frame more sky than sun – which should give better results as the colours of the sunrise start showing.
Once the sun is up, it can become challenging to take photos with the backlight. Once again, the best results were from shots taken low on the ground. I dealt with the backlight by placing the wallabies directly inTo the sun. You can also walk to the right part of the beach and look back.
7. Don’t just go to Cape Hillsborough for the kangaroos
The beauty of Cape Hillsborough is not only about the kangaroos on the beach at sunrise. You can spend a lovely day exploring the rest of the national park.
Just walking along the beach between the two headlands – and all the way to Wedge Island if you’re there are alow tide – is already stunning. But if you venture on the paths nearby, you’ll get higher and the views are splendid. Plus, when we visited early May, there were butterflies everywhere on the walk.
Where to stay in Cape Hillsborough
The Cape Hillsborough Nature Park* is just a few
The closest accommodation that was available for our dates was in Halliday Bay, a short drive away from Cape Hillsborough. It was very peaceful and the beach was a fantastic spot to watch the sunset.
If you like camping and don’t mind driving on a gravel road, the small Smalleys Beach camping area could be the perfect option for you.
Where to find Cape Hillsborough kangaroos
The easiest way to find Cape Hillsborough kangaroos is to aim for Cape Hillsborough Nature Tourist Park, at the end of Cape Hillsborough Road. You can park just before the camping.
Once you’re on the beach, go to the left towards Wedge Island – and most likely a group of people. If you got the timing right, you’ll see Cape Hillsborough kangaroos there.
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Eloise lives in Brisbane (Australia), but you won’t find her often in the city. When she is not disconnected underwater or in a national park, she loves sharing her travel tips and inspiring her readers to take care of our beautiful planet. She considers every weekend as a two-day holiday break. Her approach: you don’t always need to go far to travel. Still, she also enjoys exploring the world and discovering new cultures. Eloise is originally from France and, before moving to Brisbane, she lived in Sydney, Istanbul and England.