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.
As you know 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 a few weekends ago and taking on Australia’s best shortcut, the 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!
Leaving from our home on the Gold Coast we picked up our 4×4 at Fleet Crew in Brisbane, so if you’re in that area, they’ll get you beach ready too.
I’m calling it Australia’s best shortcut 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 nature’s expressway?! This is my kind of commute.
Our adventure started at Tewantin, down the road from Noosaville on the Sunshine Coast. The Noosa North Shore Car Ferry dropped us across the river to Noosa’s North Shore.
The ferry costs $7 and operates seven days a week. 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.
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 National Park.
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 in your face.
No traffic lights on this road, and if you avoid the peak Christmas and Easter holidays, little traffic.
Or visit between the months of July to September and there’s even 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 sand and exploring a unique part of Australia we had yet to visit.
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 two hours either side if 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.
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 lighthouse, which offered spectacular ocean and beach views over Teewah Beach and all the way to Fraser Island.
It’s 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 dolphins surfing the waves – Double Island point is a famous surfing spot.
And of course, look out for those migrating whales in season!
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 sand cliffs along the way, and 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 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 of “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 awesome!
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, 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!
Camping at Inskip Point
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 camp site 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 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.
On the menu was:
Marinated steaks and marinated chicken skewers, bbq potatoes and salads (all part of the package).
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 set up 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 on having fun!
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 hours 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 puts 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 dingos.
From the crocoseum we ducked next door to see the koalas, and one mummy had a baby cuddled up with her and crawling 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 Aldabran tortoises, macaws, boa constrictors and an alligator snapping turtle. Climb up into Bindi’s three-storey 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 carpark where for a $2 donation you can take a sneak peak 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 anaesthetic 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, parks and is a quieter alternative to staying in Noosa itself. Be sure to take a walk along the foreshore.
We had a delicious dinner at the Boat House Restaurant right on the water, which would be even better in the day time so you could appreciate the beautiful view.
I would love to take a week or more and do the full Great Beach Drive connecting the Noosa North Shore to Rainbow Beach section with the 75 Mile Beach section of Fraser Island.
Queensland, you keep adding to my list of things to do!
Have you done the Great Beach Drive?
Share any tips or experiences with us in the comments below!