Road trips don’t come more epic than this: 5-day Great Beach Drive
“Riding in the back, cruising down the street, waving to the girls, feeling out of sight.”
We’re not talking about driving in a Pink Cadillac like Bruce Springsteen – this is a 4×4 off-road adventure, coasting down a 200km sand highway, where rolling tyres mirror the ebbs and flows of the ocean.
This is Queensland’s Great Beach Drive: an adventurous, off-the-beaten-track journey from Noosa to Rainbow Beach, venturing onto Fraser Island and ending in Hervey Bay. Ditch the endless white lines and make tracks through a pocket of paradise, weaving magic through the Great Sandy National Park of the Sunshine and Fraser Coasts.
If you’re a keen surfer, an avid nature-lover, or just want to feel the sea breeze ruffle your hair, pack your bags! This is one exhilarating ride you won’t want to miss.
Day 1: Noosa to Rainbow Beach
Fly into Sunshine Coast Airport (the earlier the better) and pick up your hire 4WD from Noosa2Fraser 4WD Hire; you’ll be geared up with plenty of sand-driving knowledge and all permits required.
Head north to discover the laidback elegance of Noosa Heads, where a stroll through the Noosa National Park is essential. Discover tucked-away beaches, lined with long boarders hanging 10, and return for a beachfront seafood lunch at Bistro C.
Then, make your way to Noosa North Shore Ferries to begin your epic beach highway adventure from Tewantin.
Before you can say “holiday”, you’ve arrived at Teewah Beach, the entry point where two UNESCO biospheres meet. When you forge 50 windswept kilometres ahead, you’ll unearth some kind of magic known as Double Island Point – the perfect place to catch some waves on the right-hand surf break or pitch a tarp for a beach picnic.
Colourful sand dunes of 72 natural tones greet you at the Rainbow Beach gateway. Paired with sweeping green bushland and ocean blue, you’re every bit immersed in a kaleidoscope of colours.
This tiny town (population: 1103) boasts ‘maxo relaxo’ vibes and a raft of seaside activities for mermaids and mermen. Dive in for a surf (or lesson if you’re without the know-how), catch a snapper or sweet lip, ride a horse along the beach, or simply unfurl the towel and unwind on pristine sand.
Rainbow Beach Surf Club’s impressive sunset view demands a drinks and dinner reservation, and you can choose to sleep luxe at Rainbow Ocean Palms Resort, get in touch with your wild side with Rainbow Beach Ultimate Camping, or go budget and BYO gear.
Day 2: Rainbow Beach to Fraser Island
Take marine life spotting from the bedroom balcony to a sea kayak with Epic Ocean Adventures, chasing dolphins or turtles, and maybe a whale or two in the migration season. Some 400 dolphins live around the Double Island Point headland, so they’re likely to poke up their snouts or burst their blowholes to greet paddlers.
Back on dry land, the Carlo Sand Blow is alive with the sound of joyful screams. A sand desert spanning 15 hectares, atop this ‘moonscape’ mass awaits a north-to-south view of your road trip route. If you don’t sling yourself down the sandy strip on a toboggan, did your trip to Rainbow Beach even really happen?
Make tracks to Inskip Point and board the Manta Ray barge over to Hook Point before the sun goes down. Ooh’s and aah’s break the silence as you enter the gateway to the World Heritage-listed Fraser Island.
Check in and unwind at Kingfisher Bay Resort, where you’ll feel at one with local flora and fauna in a modern tree-house style room.
Dining options aren’t an issue; discover tastes of native bush tucker at Seabelle Restaurant, go casual with a pizza or burger at The Sand Bar, and Maheno Restaurant has a bit of everything on their Buffet Carte menu.
Day 3: Fraser Island
A day on the largest sand island in the world reflects a day spent in an aqua playground – much adventure and little time. Voyage north along 75 Mile Beach to the Waddy Point Champagne Pools, where the sun-drenched water between the rocks bubbles and shimmers.
South of this is Indian Head; a sand trail winds up the rocky headland to reveal serious ‘wow-factor’ views of an endless, glistening coastline.
Admiring those blue hues will have you pleading for a salty dip, but a freshwater cleanse in Eli Creek is worth the wait. Just 90 minutes south, around four million litres of fresh water flows into the ocean every hour, and the cool current whisks you down the creek on your back (or blow-up tube) in under two minutes.
Day 4: Fraser Island to Hervey Bay
Ditch the four wheels for two legs as you wander off-the-beaten-track through great hoop pines and lush rainforest, around the old logging community, Central Station, and through Pile Valley.
Eastern whipbirds call, palm trees sway and water calmly flows through Woongoolba Creek. The water is so clear, it’s Houdini-like (now you see it, now you don’t). Look for the glimmering effect when the light is cast over, or when the water catches and builds in between logs and tree debris.
Completion of this 4km circuit deserves a dip in the ombré blue waters of Lake McKenzie – an inland perched lake skirted by white silica sand. A 30-minute drive is met by awe-inspiring beauty, freshwater and sand so soft, you feel like you’re walking on a cloud.
Day 5: Hervey Bay to Marcoola
Foodie lovers rejoice – there’s a hip brekkie haunt serving up the classics, but with a modern twist.
Eat at Dan & Steph’s is operated by My Kitchen Rules 2013 winners, Dan and Steph Mulheron. Their menu speaks to the adventurous and easily pleased, with delights like a scallop, pea and bacon omelette, banoffee waffles and a BBQ pulled pork and sweet potato hash.
Roll your full belly down to Scarness Beach and wave farewell to the Fraser Coast.
The 2.5-hour drive to Sunshine Coast Airport, past Gympie and the Mary Valley, proves a picture-perfect backdrop. Think rolling mountains, varied shades of sweeping greenery, quaint Queenslanders and grazing cattle.
- If self-driving your own 4WD, ensure you obtain all required permits
- 80km/hr speed limits apply and 50km/hr along beach camping areas
- Check the tides and only drive during low tide
- Lower tyre pressure to 20spi and top up when off the beach
- Bring a hat, sunscreen and insect repellent
WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE QUEENSLAND ROAD TRIP?
If you’re up for more driving adventures, check out these Great Queensland Drives.