Ultimate road trip: Great Beach Drive to Fraser Island
A road trip like no other, here the bitumen is replaced by sand, the traffic lights swapped for endless vistas of coastline and any chances of “I’m bored” wafting from the back seat, obliterated.
Ditching the Bruce Highway for the beach – and running between Noosa on the Sunshine Coast and Maryborough on the Fraser Coast – its ease of access and rich diversity makes it an incredible adventure for the 4WD obsessed, and even those just wanting a touch of beauty and fun.
We might be biassed, but we’re sensing the Great Beach Drive will quickly rival the Great Ocean Road as one of Australia’s best drives.
Things to see and do on the Great Beach Drive
Your Great Beach Drive starts with the car ferry with Noosa North Shore Ferries from Tewantin to Teewah Beach. The ferry costs $7 and operates seven days a week, though we reckon your best bet is to hit the beach between Monday and Friday.
(Got a weekend to spare in Noosa before you head off? Follow this itinerary.)
Teewah Beach to Double Island Point
This sandy stretch of white-washed road stretches for 50km to Double Island Point and has some of the best beachfront camping in the country.
Stop off at Double Island Point for a picnic and a two-kilometre-return walk up the headland to the lighthouse. Not only will you get stunning views of the Great Beach Drive, but whales and dolphins often pop up for a spouting hello.
There’s a track that cuts across the point to the most spectacular stretch of the Great Beach Drive to Rainbow Beach. Here you cross multi-hued patches of sand while hemmed in by the surf on one side and, on the other, rainbow-coloured cliffs painted in 72 different shades of red, yellow, orange, ochre and rust.
Things to do in Rainbow Beach
Rainbow Beach is a tiny town with an awesome holiday vibe at the base of the Inskip Peninsula.
- If you’re a surfer, pull up the car and ride Double Island Point’s longest, and very clean, right-hand break.
- Swap your motorised wheels for the four-legged variety and enjoy a two-hour horse ride along the water’s edge. It’s the only stretch of beach where vehicles are not allowed. Rainbow Beach Horse Rides offers beach, full moon, swimming, night and country rides.
- Throw out your line and catch yourself some snapper or sweet lip for dinner.
Where to stay in Rainbow Beach
- Camp at the Inskip Peninsula Recreation Area, an important wetland area that separates the surf from the sheltered estuary waters of Tin Can Bay and the Great Sandy Strait.
- Rainbow Beach Ultimate Camping can provide you with a fully set-up campsite if you don’t have your own gear. Kick back in a hammock and enjoy the sunset over the bay, and views of Fraser Island just over the inlet.
Where to eat in Rainbow Beach
- You can’t beat Rainbow Beach Surf Club for its ocean views.
- Or give the Rainbow Beach Hotel a whirl.
From Inskip Point, take the barge (starts $175 return) to Fraser Island, a World Heritage site and the only place in the world where tall rainforests grow on sand dunes at elevations of over 200 metres. It’s also one of Australia’s most epic 4×4 adventures on the sand.
Things to do on Fraser Island
- Drive the iconic 75 Mile Beach and watch for breaching whales out your car window.
- Explore the inland lakes – Lake McKenzie usually receives most attention for its silica white sand, but don’t forget the smaller, lesser known lakes that are just as stunning and much quieter.
- Explore the adventurous inland 4WD tracks.
- Gawk at Fraser Island from above on a scenic flight with Air Fraser Island.
- Get Insta snappy at the infamous Maheno Shipwreck washed ashore at Happy Valley.
- Take a refreshing dip in Champagne Pools – the only safe place for beach swimming.
- Float down Eli Creek in an inflatable tube.
- Immerse yourself in the rainforest on the short Wanggoolba Creek boardwalk at Central Station.
- Take in the view from Indian Head at the northern end of 75 Mile Beach – you’re sure to see whales and get that famous photo of the Great Beach Drive.
- Sip on a sunset champagne at Kingfisher Bay Resort.
Where to stay on Fraser Island
- Find your patch of sand at any of the designated camping spots on Fraser. (This guide will tell you everything you need to know before you pitch your tent!)
- For a few more creature comforts consider the resorts, Kingfisher Bay or Eurong Beach.
Where to eat on Fraser Island
- For a quick lunch bite, stop in at Cathedrals on Fraser. For a remote convenience store, we were surprised at the quality of food.
- Learn about indigenous food at the Bush Tucker Taste and Talk experience at Kingfisher Bay Resort.
Finish your Great Beach Drive at Hervey Bay, home of the migrating humpback whales.
Catch the ferry from either Kingfisher Bay or Wanggoolba Creek to River Heads.
Things to do in Hervey Bay
- Join the folks from Hervey Bay Whale Watch and their boat Quick Cat II to see an abundance of whales and their newborns.
- Cycle or walk the 14km pathway from Urangan Harbour to Gatakers Bay at Point Vernon.
- Take in the sunset at Scarness beach jetty.
- Sunrise stroll at the Urangan Pier.
Places to eat in Hervey Bay
- Enzos On The Beach is a local’s favourite for breakfast and chillin’ on the bean bags at sunset.
- Eat at Dan and Steph’s (former champs of My Kitchen Rules) for coffee and Dan’s famous sausages.
Places to stay in Hervey Bay
- The Bay Apartments are ideally located on the esplanade across from the beach.
- Fraser Lodge Holiday Park for your caravan and camping needs.
The Great Beach Drive Logistics
4WD Beach Permits
A permit is required to drive the Cooloola and Fraser Island Recreation Areas. You can buy a separate permit for each region or a 20% discount applies if you buy a combined permit.
- Combined – 1 month or less: $80.00
- Fraser Island – 1 month or less: $49.50
- Cooloola – Start from $12.55 for a day permit purchased online
To rent a 4WD with a thorough safety briefing included try:
- Fleet Crew in Brisbane
- Atlas 4WD Hire in River Head
Before your point your 4WD at the barge and make like a bronco behind the wheel, here’s a reality check: Driving on sand is tricky, and you need your wits about you at all times.
If you’ve never heard of washout, you won’t want to learn about it while you’re burning along at 80km/hr, trust us.
- The Great Beach Drive is a designated road. Follow the road rules – 80km/hour on the beach, 50km/hour along beach camping areas.
- Check tide times. Only drive on low tide and, if you don’t feel like sailing to Fiji, get off the beach two hours either side of high tide.
- Lower your tyre pressures to 20psi (and remember to top it back up once you get off the beach!).
- Engage 4WD and/or diff locks immediately on leaving the Rainbow Beach barge at Inskip Point.
- Watch out for kids building sandcastles and fisherman reeling backwards. Driving on the beach means you need to be in super alert mode.
- Mid-week will be a quieter experience.