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Cape Hillsborough National Park

John Atkinson © Queensland Government

Cape Hillsborough National Park

Marvel at the volcanic power that has created and shaped this ruggedly beautiful and diverse park.

This ruggedly scenic park features rainforest, beaches and rocky headlands.
This ruggedly scenic park features rainforest, beaches and rocky headlands. © Mike Griinke
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Park Cape Hillsborough
Traditional Owner Traditional Owners
Park Ranger Park Ranger

Cape Hillsborough National Park is one of the most striking and peaceful places on the Central Queensland coast. It's teeming with life and diverse habitats—from rainforest and eucalypts, to mangroves, beaches and rocky headlands. It's a brilliant place to hike, picnic, boat, fish, relax and explore.

You'll need a few days to fully appreciate this magical part of the world so make Smalleys Beach camping area your home-away-from-home—it's just a stone's throw from the beach and walking tracks.

Dense rainforest meets the ocean and fine sandy beaches fringe the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. Make your way over the intricate stippled patterns created by sand bubbler crabs, and search tidal rock pools for sea creatures. Agile wallabies gather on the beach to search for food at sunrise and sundown. Grab your camera! This is a truly iconic Australian experience that you shouldn't miss.

The Yuibera Aboriginal people were a part of this country for thousands of years before explorer James Cook named Cape Hillsborough in 1770. Visit The Diversity boardwalk and Yuibera plant trail to fully appreciate the Yuibera's connection to this country, and their traditional way of life.

Keep discovering

Top things to see and do

Relax in large, shady camp sites just behind the beach at Smalleys Beach camping area.

Cape Hillsborough's camping ...

See Cape Hillsborough's camping area.

Learn about the Yuibera Aboriginal people's traditional use of plants on the coastal Yuibera plant trail.

Cape Hillsborough's journeys

See Cape Hillsborough's walks.

Cape Hillsborough day-use area is a shaded picnic spot fringed by sandy beach.

Cape Hillsborough's attracti...

See Cape Hillsborough's day-use area.

Getting there and getting around

Cape Hillsborough National Park is 50km north-west of Mackay, on the Central Queensland coast.

Access roads to the park are suitable for conventional vehicles. You will need a 4WD to access the Yuibera plant trail.

  • Read 4WD with care for important information on 4WD safety and minimal impact driving.

From Mackay

  • Travel north on the Bruce Highway for 20km and turn right onto Seaforth Road.
  • Travel a further 20km and turn right onto Cape Hillsborough Road.

From Proserpine (without caravan)

  • Travel south on the Bruce Highway for 79km to Mount Ossa.
  • Turn left onto the partly-unsealed Mount Ossa Road and travel 15km towards Seaforth.
  • Turn right onto Seaforth Road then left onto Cape Hillsborough Road.

From Proserpine (with caravan)

  • Travel south on the Bruce Highway for 104km and turn left onto Seaforth Road.
  • Travel a further 20km and turn right onto Cape Hillsborough Road.

Road conditions

  • There are some gravel roads in the park, suitable for 2WD access.
  • See traffic and travel information for road and travel conditions.
  • Check park alerts for the latest information on access, closures and conditions.

Fuel and supplies

Fuel and supplies are available at Mackay and Seaforth.

  • For tourism information for all regions in Queensland, see Queensland.com, and for friendly advice on how to get there, where to stay and what to do, find your closest accredited visitor information centre.

Wheelchair access

You can take wheelchairs along the first 300m of The Diversity boardwalk. There are no other wheelchair-accessible facilities in the park.

Camping

You can stay overnight in large, shady camp sites close to the beach at Smalleys Beach camping area.

Other accommodation

Walking

The best way for you to explore this diverse national park is on foot. You can choose from a variety of tracks that take you to secluded beaches, across exposed headlands, through constantly changing forests and into the traditional lives of the Yuibera Aboriginal people.

Map of walking tracks

Picnicking

A birdwatcher's delight, this shady day-use area is fringed by a sandy beach where you are welcomed by agile wallabies and tidal rock pools wait to be explored.

Viewing wildlife

Around the picnic area, you can quietly observe wildlife such as agile wallabies, orange-footed scrubfowl and Australian brush-turkeys. You will find birdwatching very rewarding—the park contains a wide variety of habitats and bird species.

Cultural and historic sites

Cape Hillsborough National Park is a living landscape for the Yuibera Aboriginal people and this spiritual connection continues today. Before European settlement, the Yuibera people lived in this area and thrived on its abundant resources.

  • You can see middens dotted throughout the park. Shellfish were collected from nearby mangroves, roasted over an open fire, and their shells discarded in these piles.
  • Other traces in the park include the remains of a stone fish trap, stone fireplaces, pieces of ochre apparently brought from other areas, and artefacts such as stone axe heads.
  • These sites are easily damaged and are irreplaceable. Look at them, enjoy them, but please do not touch or damage them.

  • Read more about the park's cultural history.

Canoeing and kayaking

You can explore Cape Hillsborough and Andrews Point by canoe or kayak and discover hidden bays and pebble beaches.

Swimming

Swimming outside patrolled beaches is not recommended. Cape Hillsborough National Park's beaches are not patrolled and do not have a stinger enclosure. You are entering the water at your own risk.

  • Beware of currents and big tides. When the tide is out, it may be quite a walk to the water.
  • Be croc-wise in croc country.
  • Beware marine stingers.
  • Read water safety for important information about staying safe in and near water and caring for parks.

Diving and snorkelling

You can dive and snorkel off the beaches and around nearby Wedge Island.

  • The beaches in Cape Hillsborough National Park are unpatrolled and do not have stinger enclosures.
  • Read about being safe around water in the park.

Fishing

Enjoy fishing along the coastline of the park and nearby Wedge Island by boat.

Boating

You will enjoy your time exploring the coastline of the park and nearby Wedge Island by boat.

Other things to do

Explore the tidal rock pools or spend time photographing the park's spectacular scenery.

When to visit

Opening hours

Cape Hillsborough National Park is open 24 hours a day.

  • Check park alerts for the latest information on access, closures and conditions.

Climate and weather

Winters are mild (13°C–25°C) while summers are warm to hot (23°C–30°C). Expect heavy rain from December to March.

Permits and fees

Camping permits

Organised events

  • If you are planning a school excursion or organising a group event such as a wedding, fun run or adventure training, you may need an organised event permit. Maximum group sizes and other conditions apply depending on location and activity type.

Pets

Domestic animals are not allowed here.

Staying in touch

Mobile phone coverage

Unreliable. Check with your service provider for more information.

Tourism information

Brochure

Download this brochure and take it with you:

Information provided in this guide is correct at the time of printing. Check park alerts for the latest details.

For tourism information for all regions in Queensland, see Queensland.com, and for friendly advice on how to get there, where to stay and what to do, find your closest accredited visitor information centre.

Be prepared

  • Parks are natural environments and conditions can be unpredictable. You are responsible for your own safety and for looking after the park.
  • Read stay safe and visit with care for important general information about safety, caring for parks and essentials to bring when you visit Queensland’s national parks.

Open fires

  • Open fires are not allowed.
  • In Smalleys Beach camping area, you can have a camp fire in a BYO off-ground fire container only. You need to bring your own clean, milled timber.
  • We recommend you bring a gas or fuel stove.
  • Read camp with care for tips on camping safely and camping softly.

Rubbish

  • There are no bins. Take your rubbish with you when you leave.

Drinking water

Walking

  • You will need to check tide times if planning to walk along the beaches.
  • Read walk with care for tips on walking safely and walking lightly.

Camping

  • Your vehicles and trailer may come into contact with roadside vegetation on the way to your camp site.
  • You can have a camp fire in a BYO off-ground fire containers only. You need to bring your own clean, milled timber.
  • We recommend you bring a gas or fuel stove.
  • Read camp with care for tips on camping safely and camping softly.

Boating and fishing

Around water

  • The beaches in Cape Hillsborough National Park are unpatrolled and do not have stinger enclosures.
  • Beware of currents and big tides. When the tide is out, it may be quite a walk to the water.
  • Be croc-wise in croc country.
  • Beware marine stingers.
  • Read water safety for important information about staying safe in and near water and caring for parks.

Natural environment

Geology

The Cape Hillsborough area is formed by geologically diverse volcanic landscapes. Limestone beds laid down in shallow freshwater lakes 33 million years ago contain fossils of ancient turtles and crocodiles. Nearby volcanic plugs indicate the sites day-use area, is the core of an extinct volcano. On the headlands and beaches you can see boulders formed of rhyolite, an acid volcanic rock.

Landscape

The park preserves a small but spectacular length of coastline with wide sandy beaches, steep rocky headlands and a dense cover of hoop pines. It has much in common with the landscapes of the Whitsunday islands, which were joined to the mainland at one time.

Plants and plant communities

The park conserves a range of plant communities representative of the Central Mackay Coast biogeographic region. Ten plant communities have been recorded in the park, including tall closed rainforest, littoral rainforest (growing just above the high-tide mark), tall closed forest dominated by hoop pines, melaleuca woodland, eucalyptus/casuarina woodland, and mangroves and saltpans. More than 500 species of plants have been identified at Cape Hillsborough, a remarkable number for an area of just over 1000ha.

Animals and habitats

Approximately 140 birds, 22 mammals, 25 reptiles and eight amphibians have been identified in the park. The six species of kangaroos and wallabies including eastern grey kangaroos, agile wallabies, whiptail wallabies, unadorned rock-wallabies, swamp wallabies and red-legged pademelons. The park is a significant refuge for these species as other habitats in the area have been cleared. Many tropical birds reach the southern limit of their natural distribution in the area between Mackay and Shoalwater Bay. Most of these are associated with tropical rainforest communities like those protected in the park. Species found in the park include the orange-footed scrubfowl, pied imperial-pigeons, metallic starlings, buff-breasted paradise-kingfishers and rufous owls.

Request a species list to see what plants and animals have been recorded here.

Culture and history

Before European settlement, the Yuibera Aboriginal people lived in this area and used its abundant natural resources. Shellfish were collected from nearby mangroves and roasted over open fires, with the discarded shells piled into middens, which still dot the park today. Other signs of Indigenous occupation of Cape Hillsborough include archaeological remains of a stone fish trap, stone fireplaces, pieces of ochre apparently brought from other areas, and artefacts such as stone axe heads. The spiritual connection of the Yuibera people continues today.

Explorer James Cook named Cape Hillsborough and the nearby Cape Palmerston and Cape Conway during his voyage up the Queensland coast in 1770. Cape Hillsborough was named after the Earl of Hillsborough, a member of the English and Irish parliaments who also served as Secretary of State for the American colonies. European settlement of the area began in 1867 when settlers McBryde and Finlayson selected 4000ha near the cape for breeding cattle.

Last updated: 22 March 2018
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