Rainbow Beach

How to do the Great Beach Drive road trip in 5 days

With its endless stretches of coastline, World Heritage listed landscapes and quirky, colourful towns, Queensland is tailor-made for roadies. And they don’t come much better than the Great Beach Drive road trip: a 5-day, 380km off-the-beaten-track adventure from Noosa to Hervey Bay.

Accessible only by 4WD, the Great Beach Drive is no ordinary road trip. In fact, there’s barely a road in sight: you’ll be spending most of your driving hours cruising along the sand highways of the Great Sandy National Park and Fraser Island.

Whether you take your own wheels, rent a 4X4 or outsource the driving to an expert, this is one exhilarating ride you won’t want to miss.

Day 1: Take the beach highway from Noosa to Rainbow Beach

Bistro C Noosa Heads | Great Beach Drive road trip

Fly into Sunshine Coast Airport and (if you’re self-driving) pick up your hire car from Noosa2Fraser 4WD Hire.  Alternatively, hop on a tour with Great Beach Drive 4WD Tours or Discovery Fraser Island and let someone else do the hard work for you.

Head north to Noosa Heads and grab breakfast on famous Hastings Street (Bistro C on the beach is a must-visit). You’ll have just enough time to explore the walking tracks and clifftop trails of Noosa National Park before taking the vehicle ferry from Tewantin to Noosa North Shore.

Next stop is Teewah Beach: the entry point to the UNESCO Great Sandy biosphere. Taking in rainforest, marine parks and ancient sand dunes, this unique eco-reserve is home to countless rare and endangered animals, as well as over half of Australia’s bird species.

Cruise north for another 50 windswept kilometres to reach Double Island Point.  Catch some waves on the world’s longest right-hand surf break or take a well-earned dip in the sheltered lagoon at the base of the headland.

Finally, take the Leisha track on to Rainbow Beach. Marvel at the multi-coloured sand dunes, try your hand at beach fishing or saddle up for a horse ride along the sand.

Ready to rest your head? Options range from the luxurious Rainbow Ocean Palms Resort to the eco-friendly Rainbow Beach Ultimate Camping. For a truly authentic experience, go budget and bring your own gear.

Day 2: Surf sand dunes en route to Fraser Island

Carlo Sand Blow

Kick off your day with a sea kayak tour and make friends with the resident turtles and dolphins – over 400 are known to frequent the waters of the Double Island Point headland. If you’re visiting during the winter, you might even spot a few humpback whales and their calves frolicking in the bay.

On route to Inskip Point, stop off at Carlo Sand Blow, a sprawling, 15-hectare sand dune. From the carpark, take the 600m winding bush track to reach the top of the dune where you’ll be rewarded with sweeping views of Cooloola Cove and Tin Can Bay. Feeling adventurous? Bring your bodyboard and sand-toboggan your way back down to sea level.

From there, it’s a half an hour’s drive to Inskip Point, where you’ll board the barge and make the crossing over to Fraser Island – or K’gari as it’s known to its Traditional Owners, the Butchulla people.

Check in at Kingfisher Bay Resort – an immersive eco-retreat – and wrap up the day sampling bush-tucker inspired dishes at the resort’s Seabelle Restaurant. Prefer to keep it casual? Grab a poolside pizza at The Sand Bar.

Day 3: Explore the world’s largest sand island

Waddy Point champagne pools Fraser Island Great Beach Drive

You need at least a week to experience all of Fraser Island’s many charms,  but you can still cover plenty of ground in 24 hours.

Start your day with an off-roading voyage north along 75 Mile Beach and a dip in the fizzing foam of Fraser’s natural jacuzzi bath: the Waddy Point Champagne Pools. After a picnic lunch, head south to Indian Head and take the winding sand trail up to the rocky headland to soak up the 360 degree views.

On your way back to home base, stop off at Eli Creek: a freshwater river that pours around four million litres of fresh water into the ocean every hour. Bring your own inflatable tube and float down along the cool current – or be whisked down the creek on your back in under two minutes.

Day 4: Go wild-swimming and take a sunset sail

Lake McKenzie

Leave the 4WD behind this morning and explore the great hoop pines and strangler figs that surround Central Station, a former logging community near Woongoolba Creek. From here, it’s a short, 2.5 hour round hike to reach the aquamarine waters of Basin Lake.  More secluded and less well known than its big sister, Lake Mackenzie, Basin Lake is surrounded by white silica sand and lush rainforest, making it the perfect spot for some wild swimming.

It’s time to wave goodbye to K’gari and catch the 2pm barge from Kingfisher Bay to River Heads.  Back on the mainland, it’s just a half hour’s drive to the seaside town of Hervey Bay, where you’ll check in to Oaks Resort and Spa on the Esplanade.

Make the most of your evening with a champagne sunset sail on Blue Dolphin, a 40ft luxury catamaran that will take you on a 90 minute cruise around the Great Sandy Strait. Learn about the local marine life from your skipper (and seasoned whale expert) Pete – he’s been running whale watching tours in Hervey Bay for over 20 years.

Day 5: Cruise through verdant valleys and heritage towns

Eat at Dan and Steph's

Before heading home, grab breakfast at the coolest cafe in town, Eat. Owned and operated by local celebrity chefs Dan and Steph Mulheron, you won’t want to miss their banoffee waffles and BBQ pulled pork and sweet potato hash.

It’s a 2.5-hour drive from Hervey Bay to Sunshine Coast Airport in Marcoola, but the charming scenery of the Mary Valley will help pass the time.

Cruise past rolling hills and valleys, macadamia farms and grazing cattle as you pass through the Gympie region. If you’ve got an hour to spare, take a detour to the heritage town of Maryborough, home of Mary Poppins’ creator PL Travers. You can also follow the Mary Valley Scenic Drive to explore the quaint country villages of Amamoor and Kandanga.

Feeling inspired to get on the road? Here are 5 more must-do Queensland road trips.