Sponsored by Sunshine Coast Tourism and Tourism Queensland
Of the 55,000 kilometres we drove around Australia on our 18-month road trip, only once did we venture onto the beach in our vehicle.
We didn’t have a four-wheel drive, therefore beach driving wasn’t an option and we had to stick to bitumen or solid dirt roads.
So, jumping in a four-wheel drive hire car and taking on Australia’s Sunshine Coast Great Beach Drive from Noosa’s North Shore to Rainbow Beach confirmed there’s only one way to do a lap of Australia next time – with a 4×4!
But what is the Great Beach Drive and how can you do it yourself? In this guide, we’ll tell you everything you need to know!
- Is the Great Beach Drive Worth It?
- Where is the Great Beach Drive?
- How to Get To The Great Beach Drive
- Best Time to Do The Great Beach Drive
- Stops on the Great Beach Drive
- What else is there to do near the Great Beach Drive?
- FAQs About The Great Beach Drive
- Final Thoughts on the Great Beach Drive
Is the Great Beach Drive Worth It?
The Great Beach Drive is not just a way to get off the conventional way of travel and experience the thrill of adventure, but it also puts you closer to nature, having been surrounded by an abundance of wildlife that is native to Australia, such as Kangaroos, turtles, whales, dolphins and thousands of bird species.
As well as this, you get to stop at white sandy beaches and camp next to the ocean, sipping beer while stargazing in a space that is unpolluted with street lights.
Wake up at sunrise and see migrating whales swimming off the shore (if you travel between July and November).
For many, it’s a once in a lifetime experience. So for these reasons, it’s absolutely worth it to do the Great Beach Drive.
Where is the Great Beach Drive?
The Great Beach Drive is known as one of Australia’s best shortcuts because instead of taking the M1 (Bruce Highway) from the Sunshine Coast to Rainbow Beach via Gympie, you take the prettier and quicker Beach Highway.
On one side you have miles of sparkling Pacific Ocean and on the other the Great Sandy National Park.
Why take the busy and boring M1 when you can take Australia’s nature coast expressway?! This is my kind of commute.
We picked up our 4×4 at Fleet Crew in Brisbane and drove from there. If you are leaving from Brisbane or The Gold Coast, it’s a 3.5-hour drive to the gateway to the Great Beach Drive at Teewah.
Teewah Beach is the entry point to the UNESCO Great Sandy biosphere, which takes in rainforest, marine parks and ancient sand dunes, and is home to countless rare and endangered animals, as well as over half of Australia’s bird species.
Before commencing your beach drive be sure to purchase a daily vehicle access permit for Cooloola Recreation Area. It’s a small fee and can be purchased online here. Or, you can head to The Great Sandy Information Centre located at 240 Moorindil Street, Tewantin.
Once you pass Noosa North Shore, your adventure begins at Tewantin, down the road from Noosaville on the Sunshine Coast.
How to Get To The Great Beach Drive
To get to the beach, you must take a ferry. The Noosa North Shore Car Ferry dropped us across the river heads to Noosa’s North Shore.
The ferry costs around $10 for a standard car and operates seven days a week.
Once you drive off the ferry follow the road all the way to the coastline and take the third sand exit onto the beach.
You’ve just entered paradise.
The Great Beach Drive stretches for 50 kilometres and is also known as the Cooloola Coast, a remote strip of beach backed by the Great Sandy Biosphere Reserves, one of the few UNESCO biosphere reserves in the world.
No traffic lights on this road, and if you avoid the peak Christmas and Easter holidays, little traffic.
This long stretch of beach is also known as Teewah Beach and even though you’re driving on sand, normal road rules apply, including a speed limit of 60 km/hr.
Another important thing to note is when low and high tide is, as you only want to be driving along this stretch for two hours on either side of LOW tide!
On the way up the beach take the opportunity to stop (safely) and take some ocean shots and photos of the bordering National Park.
While we highly recommend you do the Great Beach Drive yourself, we know that is not always a possibility. This 6-hour 4WD tour from Noosa can take care of all those challenging travel logistics for you. Just show up and enjoy the views. And if you don’t like groups, you can opt for this small, private tour that allows for customization for your itinerary.
Best Time to Do The Great Beach Drive
The best time to visit the Great Beach Drive is between the months of July to September as there’s the chance of spotting migrating whales who head north to warmer waters along Australia’s East Coast.
We were a little early for whales but were having so much fun making tracks in the yellow sands and exploring a unique part of Australia we had yet to visit.
Stops on the Great Beach Drive
Of course, driving on the Great Beach Drive is an experience in itself. If you’ve never driven on a beach before there’s something about the soothing sound of the waves close by and the fresh air on your face.
But it’s not all about the drive. There are plenty of stops along the way that you should take to break up the journey.
Here are some places we recommend you visit.
The Red Canyon is one of the most impressive spots on The Great Beach Drive.
The canyon is made up of vibrant red and yellow rock formations, which were once used as a meeting place by the indigenous Gubbi Gubbi people. It is said it was a secret meeting place for women of the tribe.
You can hike up to the top of the canyon and get incredible views of the Teawah Beach below.
Double Island Point
At the end of Teewah Beach is Double Island Point, and we timed our stop perfectly to coincide with a lunch break.
We parked our car at the bottom and did the two-kilometre walk up the headland to the Double Island Point Lighthouse, which offered spectacular ocean and beach views over Teewah Beach and all the way to the Fraser Coast.
It was a great opportunity to get out of the car and stretch our legs. We took a light lunch and let the kids run off some energy around the base of the lighthouse.
If you don’t do lunch here, at least take a bottle of water on the walk, especially in the summer months! And keep your eyes peeled for a pod of dolphins surfing the waves.
You can also take the short Leisha Track, an inland track from Double Island Point to the Teewah coast. This track takes you into the sand dunes for a bit of dune bashing fun!
And of course, look out for those migrating whales in season (July – November)!
Back in our car we drove along the short access road from Double Island Point and entered Rainbow Beach, and were like wow!
Another whole world of paradise opened up before our eyes.
We headed towards the town of Rainbow Beach passing the famous multi-coloured sands with different shades of yellow, oranges and reds, as well as cliffs with the same colours along the way.
It was possibly the most spectacular stretch of the whole beach drive.
Time your drive with the tide is super important here as the water comes right in against the cliffs. It was getting on in the day and the tide was coming in, so we had to time our moments with the water retreating after the waves had come in.
We made it around the bend to town and grabbed a coffee whilst the kids played at the playground overlooking the beach below.
Rainbow Beach is a tiny town with a holiday vibe at the base of the Inskip Peninsula. If you want to, you can even continue your Great Beach Drive with easy access to Fraser Island, only another 10 minutes away by barge.
But our drive ended here, it was time to switch from the motorised version of 4×4 for a four-legged animal. We were taking on Rainbow Beach on horseback.
Horse Riding on Rainbow Beach
Rainbow Beach is special in more ways than one, being one of the only places in the State where you can go horse riding on a beach.
This was going to be a unique family experience for us. We’d ridden horses before along trails, but never along the edge of the surf on a pristine stretch of beach.
Andrew, owner of Rainbow Beach Horse Rides enthusiastically mentioned that Rainbow Beach had been featured on the front cover of the 2012 publication of “101 best beaches of Australia”. And the Huffington Post ranked it at number 5 in their article “Nine of the Most Incredible Beaches in the World”
That’s some pretty good creds right there!
Andrew and his crew carefully matched us up with our horses, and little three-year-old Savannah even had her own horse, which was so cute, and was led along the beach by Andrew on his horse. She did awesomely!
As did Kalyra who was also safely led.
Of course, we declined the opportunity to trot or canter, and simply relaxed as we rode for 90 minutes up and down the beach.
The area in which they conduct their rides is the only stretch of beach between Noosa and the Northern tip of Fraser Island (about 300 kilometres) where vehicles are not allowed.
Again, if you time your visit right for whale season, being on horseback gives you extra elevation for spotting whales and dolphins.
But if you don’t visit in whale season there’s every chance you’ll be treated to another show like us, as Rainbow Beach lived up to its name and displayed a beautiful rainbow that framed our family photo.
Not only that, but across the water, you have World Heritage-listed Fraser Island as your backdrop.
Can it get much better?
Rainbow Beach Horse Rides offers beach rides, full moon rides, swimming rides, night rides, and country rides. Tell Andrew we said hi and you heard about them from us!
Inskip Point Camping
On that trip around Australia, one of the drawbacks was the countless setting up and packing up of our camper trailer. It wears thin after a while, especially if you’re constantly moving around.
So it was a refreshing change to just rock up to our campsite on the Inskip Peninsula and literally have everything already set up.
The tent, the beds, the large tarp containing the kitchen and dining area, the portable shower and toilet, the tables and chairs, and all the food and drink chilling in the big esky.
You name it, it was ready to go!
All we had to do was kick back in our camp chair, Caz claimed the hammock, with a cold drink in hand as the kids played on the beach in front of us.
Did I mention we had absolute beach frontage and a fire pit ready to go for toasting marshmallows later in the evening?
Although I did have to get up out of my camp chair to take a snappy of the sun going down. And to drag Caz out of her hammock to help prepare our dinner, lol.
After dinner, we sat mesmerized around the fire, toasted up those marshmallows with the kids, enjoyed a few red wines, and fell asleep to the calming sound of the ocean.
The next morning we simply rolled out of bed, took a morning walk along the beach, and ate breakfast by the ocean.
This is stress-free camping all the way and would be an awesome option for a large family or group of friends who don’t own their own equipment or don’t have the time and energy for set up.
Rainbow Beach Hire a Camp is owned and operated by the friendly Rachel who leaves nothing to spare. How about these benefits:
- the ultimate in Australian beach camping accommodation.
- a camp ready and waiting for you – all you need to do is arrive.
- Camping or glamping? You choose – from a basic setup to one with all the luxuries.
- Absolute beach frontage with Fraser Island views.
- 10 minutes from Rainbow Beach.
Rachel says camping is for everyone – young or old, there is no discrimination against having fun!
The Inskip Peninsula Protected area overlooks World Heritage Listed Fraser Island and the Great Sandy Biosphere. You can catch a small barge from Inskip point across to the southern tip of Fraser Island.
If you don’t want to camp, you can stay in the small community at Rainbow Beach. You may like the Rainbow Sea Resort or the Rainbow Ocean Palms Resort.
From here, you can either return back to Noosa along the beach or highway or continue on to Fraser Island – yes you should!
What else is there to do near the Great Beach Drive?
The Great Beach Drive is sandwiched between the Sunshine Coast and the Fraser Coast, two of the most pristine and spectacular areas in Queensland. Here are a few other things we recommend you fit into your Great Beach Drive Itinerary
We decided to make it an extra-long weekend away and the day before we started our Great Beach Drive, we stopped off at Australia Zoo on the way up to Noosaville from our home on the Gold Coast.
Australia Zoo is an hour’s drive north of Brisbane, and after picking up our hire car arrived in time to catch the famed Wildlife Warriors Show at the Crocoseum, brought to life by the late great Steve Irwin himself.
This show was Steve’s dream, a way to show and educate people about crocs and how they behave in the wild. We’ve seen a few croc shows around the country and this one is still the best.
The large salty put on a death roll display and launches itself full body from the water snapping at its prey.
Also on display are free-flight birds, snakes, and dingoes.
From the crocoseum, we ducked next door to see the koalas, and one mummy had a baby cuddled up with her and crawled onto her back. We’ve never seen a baby koala before, this was amazing and so cute!!
We passed through the kangaroo enclosure and then close by was the majestic Sumatran tigers at the Tiger Temple. The girls were in awe of the size of these big cats and their power and leaping ability.
A new addition at the zoo is Bindi’s Island – an island wildlife haven where ring-tailed lemurs roam free and you can see giant Aldabra tortoises, macaws, boa constrictors, and an alligator snapping turtle. Climb up into Bindi’s three-story treehouse for sweeping views of the zoo.
Next up we headed to the African Savannah section to see the family of giraffes, white rhinos, zebras, and cheetahs.
Our half-day zoo visit concluded at the Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital next door in the main car park where for a $2 donation you can take a sneak peek inside the hospital.
This facility treats injured native wildlife from around the region, and so far over 58,000 native animals have been treated here in its 11-year history!
Little Savannah was precious as she sat caringly next to a sick koala who was still under anesthetic after surgery.
We stayed overnight in Noosaville at the Ivory Palms, a tropical resort 90 minutes north of Brisbane, before starting our Great Beach Drive early the next day.
Noosaville is located along the picturesque Noosa river with plenty of cafes, and parks and is a quieter alternative to staying in Noosa itself. Be sure to take a walk along the foreshore.
If you time your visit right, we like the Sunday Farmer’s Market in Noosa. The absolute best smoothie we’ve ever had was from The Sunflower Hotel store.
We had a delicious dinner at the Boat House Restaurant right on the water, which would be even better in the daytime so you could appreciate the beautiful view.
Kayak the Noosa Everglades
The Noosa everglades are a series of waterways and tropical wetland and swampy land that connect the Northern Noosa River system to the ocean near the Sunshine Coast.
The everglades are nestled among two UNESCO Biosphere Reserves, the Noosa and the Cooloola region of the Great Sandy National Park.
We decided to kayak a 16 km round trip from Lake Cootharaba, which took us out into the middle of nowhere in a pristine natural environment with only the sounds of the birds flying and the water lapping against our boat and the lily pads.
Or you can combine a short kayaking trip with a boat tour, if you don’t fancy paddling for too long.
Want to experience a boat cruise and try your hand at kayaking or canoeing? Then check out this boat cruise and kayak tour of the Noosa Everglades!
Although it’s located a little further north of the Great Beach Drive, you should definitely consider taking a trip over to Hervey Bay once you completed the trip.
It’s one of the number one beaches in Australia to see humpback whales during whale migrating season, because the waters are protected and calm – so they love to swim here to play in the warm waters.
We saw whales from Hervey Bay on a whale-watching tour and it was one of the highlights of our Australia road trip.
Fraser Island (K’gari)
No doubt one of the main reasons to do the Great Beach Drive from the Sunshine Coast is to eventually end up at Fraser Island, or K’gari as it’s known to the aboriginal people.
Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world and is where you can continue the 4×4 beach drive adventures, since the only road on the island is the 75 mile beach highway.
Stop off at the freshwater lakes such as Lake McKenzie or Lake Wabby for a swim in the crystal-clear cool waters, hunt for shipwrecks on the ocean shoreline, take a trip to the Champagne Pools or Eli Creek, look out for dingoes who live on the island, or take a scenic flight to spot whales off the coast.
Fraser Island is packed full of adventurous attractions and endless fun, so it would be a shame to complete this Great Beach Drive and not take the vehicle ferry across the most exciting island in Australia!
FAQs About The Great Beach Drive
Here’s what people usually ask us about the Great Beach Drive…
How long is the beach drive from Noosa to Rainbow Beach?
The Great Beach Drive is 85.1 miles or 137 kilometers, and takes approximately 2 hours to drive the whole stretch. However, there are plenty of stops along the way so don’t rush it.
How many days to do the Great Beach Drive?
You can do the Great Beach Drive in a day but you would miss a lot of the highlights. We recommend taking it slow and setting aside 2-3 days.
Do you need a 4WD for Rainbow Beach?
Yes, you need a four-wheel drive vehicle. A normal car would not be able to get through the sand, so make sure to hire a 4×4.
Final Thoughts on the Great Beach Drive
So there you have it, this is everything you need to know about the Great Beach Drive, and as you can see, there is so much to see and do besides just driving for the thrill and pure exhilaration of four-wheel driving.
If you have time, I recommend you do the full Great Beach Drive connecting the Noosa North Shore to the township of Rainbow Beach section and adding on the 75 Mile Beach section of Fraser Island.
Queensland, you keep adding to my list of things to do!
Disclaimer: Our Great Beach Drive adventure was in partnership with Sunshine Coast Tourism and Tourism Queensland, but all thoughts and ideas in this guide are our own. For more info on this region click here.
Have you done the Great Beach Drive? Share any tips or experiences with us in the comments below!