The Leap Hotel, Mackay QLD

🍺 The Leap Hotel, Mackay (Free Camping & History)

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Located 20km North of Mackay, along the Bruce Highway you will find The Leap Hotel. This iconic pub offers a well-rounded mix of both character and local history.

Stop in on your journey up or down the Queensland coast to enjoy a nice meal and a cold drink, plus learn about the story behind where The Leap Hotel’s name originated from.

For the weary travellers passing through Mackay, The Leap Hotel also offers 24-hours free camping for those who support the pub (buy a meal, a drink or both!).

The exchange is a good old fashioned, “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.”

Read the full history of The Leap Hotel, take advantage of the Free Camping and then head up to The Leap Lookout to see where this whole story began over 150 years ago.

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The Story Behind The Leap Hotel

The Leap Hotel, Mackay QLD

Tribes vs. Early Settlers

The story behind The Leap Hotel tells of how the early settlers in 1866 – 1867 had reached the end of their tether with the local tribes spearing their cattle and stealing farming equipment.

After one particularly destructive raid in July 1867, things came to a head, with the police and farmers setting out to track down the Aboriginals.

The tribes (including men, women and children) had retreated to the peak of Mount Manadarana, which wasn’t easily accessible to the white fellas, so they thought they were safe. However, the troopers were so determined that they eventually made it to the top.

By that point, the Aboriginals had dispersed, except for one woman (Kowaha) and her baby, who were left cornered by the white men.

Kowaha & Her Baby

Kowaha, of the Lindeman Island tribe, was left alone and cornered with her baby in her arms. She was presented with only two choices at this point, both particularly grim.

Either surrender and have the white men take her baby away… or jump over the cliff to her death.

Sadly, both choices would lead Kowaha to tragedy, so she took the leap off the cliff and died on the rocks below.

In a strange sort of miracle, Kowaha’s baby got caught up in the bushes during the fall and survived.

A local farmer rode through the surrounding wall of spears to rescue the baby, which his family later adopted. That baby went on to be Judith Johannesburg and went on to her life in the area until she passed away in 1923.

Additional Stories

Inside The Leap Hotel pub is a poem recounting how the five local tribes were recruited by white police to enforce white laws. Eventually, the tribes were pitted off against each other and then ended up getting pegged for the murders they were initially instructed to commit.

The local history of Mackay and its surrounding areas is incredibly sad.

The Leap Hotel, Mackay QLD

How The Leap Hotel Got it’s Name

The looming 360-metre-tall mountain that sits behind the The Leap Hotel and plays a central part in the story of the area, is called Mount Manadarana.

By the time a few decades had passed after the tragic event of Kowaha and her baby leaping off the cliff, the story had become folklore.

The locals often called the mountain ‘Gin’s Leap’ or ‘The Leap,’ so when the pub opened in 1882, it made sense to name it ‘The Leap Hotel.’

History of The Leap Hotel

Francis “Frank” George Fooks was the first to take out a licence for a new pub at the base of Mount Manadarana on 16 May, 1882. He and his wife Henrietta ran the pub together for a few years until Henrietta died of a stroke in 1888.

In 1891, the Hunter family took over the pub and continued on there for 50 years. Charles Hunter (age 47) took on the pub with his wife Amy and their two teenage sons, Arthur and William.

In its day, the pub was remote, but served as a busy local watering hole for employees from surrounding fruit plantations and stations.

The Leap Hotel and the surrounding area has a string of dark moments throughout its history. Maybe the energy of the death of Kowaha and her baby still lingers in the land.

The Leap Hotel’s Timeline


Suicide #1

Kowaha is cornered atop Mount Manadarana & forced to leap to her death.


Death #1

Henrietta Fooks (first publican’s wife) dies of a stroke.


Mysterious Ending

Fate of Frank Fooks (first publican) is mysterious. He either returned to England in 1896 or died of thirst at age 80 (1935) near his camp in Quilpie.


Legal Battle

Maria Cain (servant) sued Mrs. Charles Hunter (second publican’s wife) over a dispute & tells of a man trying to open her door on her first night there.



Isabella McLean (age 55) was murdered at the foot of The Leap with an axe (allegedly by her husband John, age 79, although charges were later dismissed due to lack of evidence).


Police Entrapment

Charles Hunter (second publican) entrapped by local police & charged with selling liquor on a Sunday.


Change of Publican

Charles Hunter fell ill & transferred the pub licence to his wife Amy.


Suicide #2

A servant committed suicide on the front verandah of the pub.


Death #2

Charles Hunter (age 59) died of a stroke at the pub.


Change of Publican

Amy Hunter transferred the licence to her son Arthur (age 32).


Death #3

Amy Hunter died. Arthur & his wife Mary hosted the pub for the next 28 years.


Death #4

Arthur died (age 58), with Mary taking over the licence.


Death #5

Mary died (age 65).


Current Days

These days, The Leap Hotel still continues to operate in the original building, which was constructed over 130 years ago in 1882.

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The Leap Hotel Free Camping

The Leap Hotel, Mackay QLD

The Leap Hotel camping area sits to the left on a large expanse of beautiful, green grass with the rocky Mount Mandarana cliff face as a backdrop. Down along the back of the camping area is a gorgeous running creek, which sounds lovely.

Be aware that you’re right alongside the Bruce Highway, so it can be a noisy camp. We found the staff to be friendly and were happy to leave the toilet open all night for those who need it.

Two Camping Sections:

  • Top flat area – caravan & motorhomes
  • Down around the banana patch – tents, cars, trailers, campervans
The Leap Hotel Camping, Mackay QLD

Camp Features

💲 FREE when you support the pub (24 hours)
🚻 Toilets
🐶 Pet friendly
🍞 Picnic table
📶 Telstra reception
⛺️ Tents, campers & caravans allowed
🚗 2WD access
🚌 Big Rig access
❌ No rubbish bins or showers provided. No fires.

VIDEO: The Leap Hotel Camping

The Leap Hotel Location

The Leap Hotel is located 21 km northwest of Mackay along the Bruce Highway in Queensland.

Addess1954 Bruce Highway, The Leap QLD 4740
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The Leap Lookout

The Leap Lookout trail is a popular for walkers, runners and hikers. It’s considered moderately challenging and will take 1 – 1.5 hours return for those with a good level of fitness.

It is a formed track, although very steep with branches and rocks to climb over along the way.

Getting to The Leap Lookout

  1. Drive to the end of Westlake Drive and park the car
  2. Walk along the dirt walking trail as it veers right and heads east
  3. Follow for 1.1 km and pass The Leap (15 metres on your left)
  4. Continue another 80 metres to the end
  5. Turn around and retrace your steps for 1.2 km to return to the car
Distance2.4 km return
Time1 – 1.5 hours
DifficultyClass 4/ 6

If you’re sticking around the area, here are some things to do in Mackay while you’re visiting.

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The BIG Aboriginal Woman & Baby

The Leap Hotel

Many travellers love to tick off the iconic Australian BIG Things as they travel.

If you’re on the Big Things hunt, you’ll need to stop in at The Leap Hotel and tick off The BIG Aboriginal Woman & Baby, which stands out the front of the pub.

For the full list (including street addresses), download the QLD Big Things Checklist below.

QLD Big Things Checklist

QLD Big Things Checklist

See how many Big Things you can find around Queensland!

  • 17-page checklist
  • Pre-filled with 150+ items
  • Categorised into 6 regions
  • QLD Regional Map
  • Full street addresses
  • Record finds & dates
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