Queensland’s Great Sandy Region, which extends from Noosa north to Hervey Bay, is regarded by many as the ultimate coastal destination in Australia. It has spectacular scenery, great biodiversity, a colourful and varied history and a wide variety of recreational opportunities ranging from water sports and fishing through to walking and 4WD challenges.
Fraser Island, which in many ways dominates the region, is regarded by many as the ultimate 4WD destination. Combine this with some of Australia’s best fishing and you have the ingredients for a great holiday experience.
And then there is the fantastic diversity of vegetation, lakes and beaches which make for some of the very best 4WD touring you can find in Australia. Walking the many bush tracks and extensive beaches, canoeing the inlets and creeks, sailing the Great Sandy Straits, joining organised eco-tours – the list goes on – but all these activities allow the visitor to the region to enjoy this region including the World Heritage Fraser Island.
To really enjoy the region and its activities, you need a 4WD, whether owned, rented or as part of an organised tour. The great majority of people come to the region in their own 4WDs, taking with them their own bush camping gear or off-road camper/caravan, boat or canoe and, of course, the fishing gear.
Fraser Island dominates the region in physical attractions and tourism and is a great drawcard, as all islands are. But the southern section of the Great Sandy Region in many ways offers all that Fraser Island has in terms of geological and biodiversity as well as plenty of activities and camping/accommodation. This Cooloola region is focus of the following articles.
Like Fraser Island, the Cooloola region is dominated by sand – beaches, ancient and more recent dunes, extensive wetlands, creeks and lakes and residual hills and volcanic landforms.
Unlike Fraser Island, when sea level rose about 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, it remained attached to the mainland but only just, as is evidenced by low-lying lakes Cooroibah, Cootharaba, Como and Cooloola and Teewah Creek and the Noosa River which mark the western section of the region.
All these areas are close to sea level while the ancient and complex high dune belt separates these features from the coast marked by Teewah and Rainbow beaches which form the eastern boundary.
Double Island Point forms the geological linchpin – it is the remnant of past volcanic activity rising above a broad and shallow former coastal plain. Sand derived from the many rivers to the south was deposited around Double Island Point to form the beaches and ancient dunes we see today.
Cooloola (the name is derived from the Aboriginal word describing the low crooning of the wind through the foliage of the coastal casuarinas), is bound by the Pacific Ocean to the east (Teewah and Rainbow Beaches), Tin Can Bay and the Great Sandy Straits to the north, the residual hills, escarpments and volcanic mountains forming the watershed for the Noosa River and its tributaries to the west, and Lakes Cootharaba and Cooroibah and the Noosa River Estuary to the south.
Cooloola can be accessed via the Gympie-Rainbow Beach Road in the north, the Cooloola Way from Boreen Point and Pomona in the south-west, and via the Teewah-Rainbow Beach Highway from Noosa.
The main commercial centres are Gympie, Rainbow Beach and Tin Can Bay in the north, and Noosa and Tewantin in the south. All these centres provide a full range of services and amenities and form the jumping-off points for visitors.
The favourite destinations include:
• Beaches at Teewah, Rainbow Beaches and Double Island Point.
• Inskip Point.
• Poverty Point.
• Carlo Sandblow.
• The Freshwater Track.
• Camp Milo, the upper Noosa River and the Kings Bore Track.
This drive is arguably one of the top 10 4WD experiences in Australia and when combined with the trip up the eastern beaches of Fraser Island to Sandy Cape, one of the best in the world. One drives a seemingly endless beach that curves over the horizon and is backed by massive sand dunes that dwarfing the vehicle.
The spectacular coloured sands reflect aeons of weathering and erosion, exposed where the coastal vegetation has been undercut or eroded by runoff or coastal currents and waves.
Cross the Noosa River at Tewantin. Drive out to Teewah Beach and just turn north in your 4WD. It is best driven either side of low tide and the beach is generally firm and broad at these times.
Beach access zones can be rutted and soft so deflate your tyres (about22psi), engage 4WD (high or low depending on conditions and momentum requirements) and observe all Queensland road rules and posted speed limits – the beach is patrolled by police.
Just cruise and take in the view and enjoy the sense of freedom from urban grind. Drop a line in one of the many gutters or just stop and take it all in.
You drive past the small village of Teewah past Seawah Hill, past the Alpine Valley or ‘Snow on the Mountains’ to stop at Red Canyon and take in the coloured sand formations – spectacular!
Driving north, you pass the exit of the Kings Bore Track (more about this later) and take in the huge variety of excellent beach camping spots at the bases of the ancient high dunes and just behind the current foredunes.
These camps are great, with their beach and ocean vistas and their shady hollows protected by casuarinas, banksias and pandanus. Crossing Little Freshwater Creek with its information board and camp registration facility, continue north to the National Parks Freshwater Creek camping area – an excellent campsite for those seeking a bushland setting, shade and shelter from the winds.
Just before reaching Freshwater you may see the ‘Bubbler’, a freshwater spring bubbling to the surface below the dunes about a kilometre south of Freshwater. This spring runs only sporadically these days.
You will have crossed many small watercourses crossing the beach as you travel north – all issuing from the base of the dunes as springs.
If desired, and if the beach route is blocked on the Rainbow Beach side of Double Island Point, you can exit at Freshwater and follow the Freshwater Track through to the Rainbow Beach Road. This road has been upgraded since the removal of the wreck of the cargo ship Cherry Venture from the beach and is in general a smooth drive out. We will return to this track later.
About 5km north of Freshwater, a series of excellent signboards trace the history of the Cherry Venture, driven ashore during a cyclone in 1973. Over the years this wreck was dismantled and left to and rust until about a year ago, when the wreck was finally removed.
Many really miss the wreck as we have witnessed its decline over the years and remember the many visits with family and friends, However, you will still find a van in the vicinity most days, selling ice creams and pies.
About 2km north you encounter the Leisha Track on the left, crossing the isthmus of sand separating Teewah and Rainbow beaches and joining then to the volcanic residual which is Double Island Point – named by James Cook in 1770. The volcanic residual and the large dune behind led him to believe that there were two islands.
The Leisha Track is boarded for much of its length and is easily traversed. Watch the access point on the rainbow Beach side as it can be soft and steep, especially after storms and king tides. Early in 2007 there was a 2m drop and all vehicles had to retreat to the Freshwater Track.
You can travel past the Leisha Track north to Double island Point. This is very worthwhile as you can walk up the old service road from the beach to the lighthouse.
Just past the lighthouse, you can descend to the cliffs to stare down at the clear waters below which usually reveal a passing parade of fish, sharks, dugong, manta rays, dolphins and turtles. This vantage point can also be accessed by the service road on the northern side at the end of Rainbow Beach.
Once you have crossed the Leisha Track, you access Rainbow Beach, which arcs to north, backed by the massive, ancient, coloured sand dunes which give the beach its name.
Once on Rainbow Beach you can turn east and drive to the base of Double Island Point and the lighthouse service road. Three is some great rock fishing around the base of the Point but great care must be exercised because of the rough rock formations and waves.
There is usually a large lagoon on the northern side of Double Island Point although this can disappear due to storm activity. Commercial fishers net the lagoon, which is backed by sand dunes which create soft yellow reflections.
West of the Leisha Track you travel towards Rainbow Beach township. This section of our journey can become hazardous because storms over the past decade have eroded the beach and dunes right back to the base of the coloured high dunes. The trees have been undercut and many of these form barriers across the beach.
So you need to take care – low tide is the go, with fallen trees rounded between waves until you are able to regain the unobstructed broader beach. Be patient and take it easy. No one wants to swamp their vehicle although I never cease to be amazed by those drivers, in many cases in new 4WDs, who choose to drive through surf half-way up their doors!
If in doubt, turn back to the Leisha Track and drive to rainbow Beach via the Freshwater Track.
The drive along Rainbow Beach is magnificent. It is best experienced early in the morning or later in the evening when the winds are down and the colours intense.
You drive past numerous small canyons and landslides and small sand cliffs. Photographic opportunities abound.
Eventually you drive below a massive basin in the sand dunes above known as Carlo Sandblow. You can climb up to it from the beach but it is better to access the Carlo Sandblow walking track from Rainbow Beach township via Cooloola Drive.
A short walk takes you to the middle of the sand blow (and the hang-glider launching platform) through open scribbly gum forest. To the west you gain magnificent view across Tin Can Bay while a walk to the eastern edge provides panoramic views across Wide Bay towards Double island Point to the east and Fraser Island to the north.
Just before reaching Rainbow Beach township, you encounter another major and natural obstacle – Mudlo Rocks. These sand rocks exposed at the base of the high dunes are not to be taken lightly as the many photos in local stores of wrecked 4WDs attest.
They should be negotiated only at low tide and if waves wash around their bases, wait until the sets of larger waves recede, When a smaller set follows, wait until the backwash of the larger waves backs up the incoming waves and then quickly go around the rocks. Once committed, do not hesitate!
On the northern side of Mudlo Rocks, a well-marked exit road takes you off the beach into Rainbow Beach township with its variety of shops, cafés and an excellent bakery.
There is a caravan park at Rainbow Beach as well as at Rainbow Shores (the latter quiet and tranquil on the shores of Tin Can Bay but subject to more mozzies and sand flies). Rainbow Beach is a great little township. It’s known its ups and downs as well as its continuing factions but remains a great place to visit and use as a base to see Cooloola.Reads: 1642