The sand and salt will wash away…. but memories of our ‘Great Beach Highway’ journey will last forever!

Fraser Island is one of the most unique landscapes in the world and one of those magical places you will only find in Australia. It’s wild and rugged and will live long in my memory… and really does need to be put on your bucket list of places to visit!

For us, it was now time to head back to civilization and start making our way south!

Disembarking from the ferry at Inskip we weren’t surprised to see a healthy procession of adventure seekers waiting their turn to board the ferry for Fraser – their sand driving skills soon to be put to the test with their first hurdle….

… the short 300-metre drive from the bitumen!

Not only is this stretch of sand deep, soft and challenging for even the most experienced 4WDers – it is notorious for bringing many a 4WD to grief… and according to locals, being bogged here can easily result in the whole world knowing of your dilemma!

Throughout our travels we were often amused by grey nomads who like nothing better than to park up early, set themselves up with a glass of wine or a beer then sit back and watch the quarrels that emerge as late comers rock into free camps – many circumnavigating the camp area in search of an allusive campsite… others attempting in vain to reverse their caravan backwards and forwards into a small space and all the while more onlookers gathering to watch!

Being one of the departure and exit points for Fraser Island barges, Inskip Point attracts thousands of tourists a year thus bogged 4WDs are a common sight. So common, this spectator sport is rife in this part of the world also… only the onlookers here are not just happy to sit back and watch and sip their wine, they like to snap and post others little mishaps too!

For those who choose to visit Fraser Island under their own steam or camp at Inskip, be warned there is a dedicated Face book page called ‘I got bogged at Inskip Point’ that provides hours of video footage of spinning tyres, people out of their vehicles pushing, out come the max-traxs, next the winch is rolled out… and even the tow truck makes the occasional grand entrance!

Luckily for us we knew what to expect having successfully negoitiated this stretch of sand the week previously… and thankfully we made it safely to the other side once again.

Not so lucky were two fisherman in a flat tray or a family in a Pajero who were soon to become Facebook famous!

Inskip Point, situated in the wonderful and pristine Inskip Point Recreational Reserve 19-kilometres south of Rainbow Beach, has a very interesting history being the original settlement in this area.

The Cooloola Coast from Inskip Point to Noosa was once home to the Dulingbara, Kabi Kabi and Wakka Wakka Aboriginal People who lived just a little further inland from the peninsula. They knew Inskip as ‘Carah’ and frequented the area as a meeting place where tribal groups gathered and camped for ceremonies, trade and family business.

The peninsula and Fraser Island were first sighted by James Cook in 1770 when he named Carlo Sandblow and Double Island Point then it wasn’t until 1802 that it was explored by Matthew Flinders, whose initial impressions were not positive describing the surrounding area as ‘nothing can be imagined more barren than this peninsula’.

In 1842 explorer Andrew Petrie passed through and reported good pastoral lands and excellent forests then between 1846 to 1849 Inskip Point was named after Captain George Henry Inskip, a naval officer who served in HMS Rattlesnake and HMS Bramble. 

It wasn’t until after the Gympie gold rush of 1867 that the demand for timber attracted timber-getters to the region and so logging became the region’s major industry thus Inskip began as the location for a beacon for the port of Maryborough in the 1860s, to a pilot station in the late 1800s and a light and signal station in the early 1900s.

For more than a century this light station and the pilots were responsible for the safety of the ships at sea. Consequently a nearby settlement grew, which boasted a small school to cater for the children of the local timber getters and the lighthouse keeper.

After airing up, our first stop was the carwash on the outskirts of Rainbow Beach.

Everyone knows that salt water can be corrosive and cause serious damage to vehicles, as can salt spray and salty sand… and lucky for us, on the outskirts of town, there was an underbody wash facility complete with high pressure hoses to clean all the residue off Harry Hilux.

After braving the long queue that stretched back out onto the road and giving Harry a thorough rinse off our sights were then set on a relaxing day back at Inskip before heading over to Freshwater campground at Teewah Beach the following day.

With five camping areas to choose from at Inskip we felt sure we would be spoiled for choice for a campsite but we couldn’t have been more wrong… and our journey back proved just a little bit more difficult than we had first anticipated!

Our first drive through was ‘The Oaks’ campground, the closest camping area to the entrance of the recreation area, but with school holidays upon us both ‘The Oaks’ and S.S. Dorrigo (the next campground along) were full to overflowing.

SS Dorrigo and MV Sarawak are the only 2 campgrounds suitable for 2WD vehicles and caravan/campers so driving with our tyres still inflated was easy… but MV Natone, MV Beagle and ‘The Oaks’ camping areas are best suited to 4WD vehicles… and were just sandy enough to add a touch of drama to our camping experience at Inskip!

Having already mastered the deep sand in ‘The Oaks’ we decided against airing down with the hope of finding a spot close to the entrance of the recreation area – however it was MV Natone where we came undone and managed to get bogged for the first time on our trip!

Fortunately for us we had mistakenly entered at the wrong end of the campground and our online anonymity was protected from the embarrassing snapping phones of those campers who love to snap and post… and it didn’t take us long to air-down (out of sight of other the campers) and quickly move further up the road before becoming Instagram or Facebook famous!

The next campground was the very sandy MV Beagle where we had camped the week previously and after safely traverse Harry through the soft sand we eventually set ourselves up in a secluded setting amongst the trees… where, for the first time on our travels we decided to do what most other Grey Nomads seemed to delight in – kick back in our camp chairs and watch the comings and goings of other campers. An entertaining pastime indeed with many 4WDs doing laps in search of a spot, some spinning tyres and going nowhere, and others heading south into the sand very quickly thus needing to be helped from the bog!

For many families, camping at Inskip is an annual adventure and with campsites just metres from the stunning coastline it makes for the perfect location for those who love spending their days on the beach… but it pays to remember there are no defined camping areas here so it’s first in best dressed and a matter of setting up wherever you can find a spot!

There have been many amazing places all over Australia where we knew we could camp with the comfort of knowing we were safe, but I have to say we did think twice before pitching our tent at a place known for swallowing things.

If you read my last blog you will remember my mention of a massive sink hole at Inskip’s MV Sarawak camp area and a section of SS Dorrigo when a sizeable portion of coastline fell into the ocean taking a car, a caravan, a camper trailer and tents into its depths with it. To this day they are still buried under the sand!

Not one sink hole I might addd – it then happened again a few months later in 2016 and again in 2018 (only this time with a slightly bigger bite from the beach) resulting in the coastal sites at these campgrounds being moved back and fenced to prevent parking too close to the beach.

According to a local ranger Inskip seems to be notorious for sink holes with slips also occurring in 2011, 2012, and 2013… but regardless it was obvious the Aussies camped here were not going to let a little sink hole deter their love of camping and fishing along this beautiful stretch of coastline… even though it is regarded as a highly unpredictable strand.

Next morning, back out on the black tar and with tyres aired up, we left Inskip and headed for our final camp on the Cooloola coastline, Freshwater Campground… but not before spending a few hours in the layback village of Rainbow Beach.

Rainbow Beach was named after the coloured sands that adorn the area and came about when sandmining for rutile and zircon on Inskip Peninsula between 1965 and 1971 created the need for accommodation and an access road to inland service centres. The first allotments for the proposed Rainbow Beach resort town were sold in 1969, and a shop and motel soon followed. 

With sandmining in the Great Sandy region coming to and end in 1976 the once mining camp, fishing village and retirement getaway of Rainbow Beach soon became a bustling hub for tourism and today boasts plenty of shops, a post office, a couple of good eateries, a carwash, IGA and Foodworks supermarkets, a pub, a bottle shop, a great bakery… and accommodation including beachside apartments, rental houses, B&Bs, hotels and motels and a couple of caravan parks.

Named after the outstanding multi-coloured cliffs that provide the perfect backdrop to 12-kilometres of coastline it has an awesome holiday vibe and offers loads of things to do to keep visitors entertained from horse riding, taking a plunge in the waters of Poona Lake, exploring Carlo Sandblow (another huge dune system that extends from the ocean well inland, and is an easy 600-metre walk); the swirl of colours in the exposed cliffs of the Coloured Sands and Double Island Point Lighthouse, tackling the 4WD tracks, and of course a favourite pastime for many in the area – beach driving… so don’t be surprised to see this little village jam-packed with 4WDs heading to or coming from Fraser Island or Teewah Beach having completed the Cooloola Beach Drive… or just driving Rainbow Beach itself!

From the surf club, if you’re up for the challenge and the tide is right, you can enter at Rainbow Beach for a quick beach trip via the Leisha Track that connects Rainbow and Teewah beaches in a full day scenic drive from end to end, bypassing the rocky headland of Double Island Point.

However, you will need a Vehicle Access Permit on these beaches and it is strictly limited to 4WDs only. Vehicle Access Permits are $30 and along with free Rainbow Beach maps showing beach driving, camping and permit zones, can be obtained from the Tourist Centre or the National Parks office in town. 

You also need to be aware of a few clearly signed areas along Rainbow Beach where vehicles are not permitted at all, such as the patrolled beach area near the Surf Lifesaving Club.

Most importantly it pays to bear in mind this stretch of beach is well known for the undoing of many, many 4WDs and at the local pub and barge booking office there are great photo walls to check out those who didn’t quite make it… so just a word of warning before you brave this drive – check the tide chart!

At the northern end of the Teewah the scenic headland of Double Island Point offers a 2-kilometre hike to the lighthouse constructed in 1884, which will reward you with spectacular views overlooking Rainbow Beach and Fraser Island to the north, and Noosa to the south.

From here Freshwater Track (8-kilometres south of Double Island Point along Teewah Beach) bypasses Freshwater campground and day use area and leads back to town via a 22-kilometre narrow, winding, single-lane, very sandy but very pretty track through a forest of strangler figs and vines.

This track is also used as a detour by those (like us) tackling the Cooloola Beach Drive and needing to bypass the high tide mark of the beaches north of Double Island Point where conditions can be hazardous.

If you plan on stopping the night at Freshwater Campground make sure you have a permit also.

This campground offers over 50 shady sites, suitable for tents, camper trailers and offroad caravans. The facilities includes tap water (untreated), hot showers (so bring plenty of $1 coins) and flushing toilets.

Free gas barbecues, picnic shelters and a pay phone (there’s no mobile phone coverage in the area) are provided at the nearby day-use area… but generators and open fires are not permitted.

With the tide against us for our drive along Teewah Beach, Freshwater campground was our next camp, so after a couple of hours of checking out the sights around Rainbow Beach we turned onto Freshwater inland track just a few kilometres out of town.

3-kilometres down the track we stopped at the Bymien- Day-Use area to stretch our legs.

From here you can stroll along the Dandathu circuit through the surrounding rainforest of kauri and hoop pines, piccabeen palms and strangler figs, take the longer Poona Lake circuit over gentle inclines and descents for a swim and walk along the lakes white sandy shores or access the Cooloola Great Walk.

Deep in the Cooloola Recreation Area and located in the land of the Kabi Kabi people, Poona Lake sits high up on a hill ‘perched’ between the dunes and is just another beautiful oasis tucked away in this unique corner of the world.

Poona Lake is in actual fact a ‘Perched’ lake – and I don’t mean full of perch (fish).  I talked about ‘Perched lakes’ in my Fraser Island blog but in short they are formed when sand is cemented together with decomposed organic matter such as leaves, bark and dead plants and aluminium and iron creating a relatively impermeable layer well above sea level.

The walk in was steep in places but lovely and so worth going off the beaten track that extra kilometre or two just to find this hidden treasure.

Its banks are lined with twisted paperbarks and reeds, framed by a picturesque white sandy beach, and although the reddish-tinged waters, stained by the surrounding native tea trees at first didn’t appear that inviting for a swim, up close they were surprisingly clear and lined with a lovely sandy edge and bottom. 

Apart from the sheer natural beauty of this lake the other great thing about our visit was we had the whole place to ourselves – that was until we were about to leave and another couple wandered down.

Continuing towards the coast the next section of Freshwater Track was sandy, windy and narrow and only suitable for 4WDs… but it was a beautiful drive through tall forests and woodlands.

With high shoulders close to the track in some places and limited opportunities for head-on traffic to pass this track itself has long stretches of deep, loose sand and was quite rough… with the last hill above the campground a long, soft slope that I should imagine would be difficult to climb out of! 

Before long, we had arrived at Freshwater, had chosen our campsite, and soon enjoying the surrounds on a short walk to Freshwater Lake.

Access to this relatively short walk is near the Freshwater day-use area and meanders through a scribbly gum woodland that contrasts beautifully against very pretty bright green midyim bushes covered in white-speckled berries. 

Freshwater Lake is fringed with reeds and paperbarks and suitable for a swim from the small, cleared area on the lake’s banks but we decided to give it a miss preferring a dip in the ocean!

Freshwater campground itself is a protected camp area set amongst scribbly gum woodland, with many campsites to choose from, well-maintained toilets and showers… and only 500-metres through deep, soft sand to a wide-open beach where we spent most of the afternoon watching vehicles tackling the deep, sandy entrance/exit.

For the next part of our journey, it was time to wind down the windows, inhale the salty sea breeze and cruise the majestic sweep of Teewah Beach in the Great Sandy National Park.

This stretch of beach from Rainbow Beach to Noosa North Shore was to be the last stretch of our ‘Great Beach Highway’ journey in the Cooloola Recreation Area – a 50-kilometre remote beach driving experience aptly named ‘The Great Beach Drive’.

The bonus of this beach drive is that it knocks about an hour off travel time from Rainbow Beach to Tewatin compared to taking the Bruce Highway… making it one of Australia’s best known shortcuts – so next morning after checking tide times, checking the air in the tyres and tackling the deep, soft sand to the beach we were on our way.

It’s not rocket science to know it is best to drive a beach at low tide. You can very easy become stranded by a swiftly incoming tide… so take careful note of the tides if you’re tackling this drive as a high tide here sees many a 4WD bogged or swamped on this beach. The rule of thumb is to drive two hours either side of low tide.

Overall, aside from regular ‘wash outs’ where freshwater creeks seep across the sand and trickle out to sea and a bit of soft sand here and there, the 50-kilometre run to Noosa North Shore was smooth and easy – the only challenge was getting on and off the beach with the exit/entry points marred by deep, soft sand heavily rutted by constant traffic!

Teewah Beach may appear an isolated landscape at times, but it’s never truly deserted.

It is a favourite with the locals and 4WDers everyday of the week and it wasn’t unusual to see groups parked up anywhere along this coast with a picnic table set up, children playing in the sand and romping in the surf… horse riding groups enjoying a days outing and with fishing a very popular past-time, loads of ankle-deep anglers with their long surf poles cast into the open ocean!

Like Fraser Island Teewah Beach is also a designated highway and like any other Australian highway road rules apply. The speed limit is 80-kilometres, dropping to 50-kilometres in beach camping zones with road signs constantly reminding us the area was regularly policed.

Aside from the beach conditions, with so many people frequenting this strand this is just another reason why extra care should be taken, and the speed limit adhered to when driving this coastline.

Continuing south we passed the infamous ‘coloured sands’, where reds, browns, black and yellow sands made up multi–coloured walls. In some places where the dune was too steep to support plant-life the colours even stretched out onto the beach. This spill of deep red sand is the result of oxidisation and natural tree dyes colouring the dunes and was quite a spectacular sight with the morning sun on it!

The local Aboriginal people believe shattered pieces of a Rainbow form the colours of these hills along this beach.

The story goes that in the Dreamtime there lived, on the banks of the Noosa River, a beautiful black maiden by the name of Murrawar. Murrawar fell in love with a lovely Rainbow and would clap her hands and sing to this Rainbow when it came to visit her in the evening sky.

One day, Burwilla a bad man from a distant tribe stole Murrawar for his slave wife, often beating her cruelly, and making her do all his work while he sat in the shade admiring his terrible killing boomerang. This boomerang was bigger than the biggest tree and full of evil spirits.

One day, Murrawar ran away and as she hurried along the beach she looked back and saw Burwilla’s boomerang coming to kill her. Calling out for help she fell to the ground too frightened to run. Suddenly she heard a loud noise in the sky and saw her faithful Rainbow racing towards her across the sea.

The wicked Boomerang attacked the brave Rainbow and they met with a roar like thunder, killing the Boomerang instantly and shattering the Rainbow into many small pieces.

Around 3-kilometres south of Freshwater we came to a 15-kilometre strip of undefined beach- camping sites behind vegetated dunes suitable only for tents, offroad caravans and camper trailers with high clearance… then roughly half-way along this camping zone was the entrance to King Bore Circuit, a 40-kilometre circuit of challenging, sandy 4WD tracks only accessible from this section of beach.

Our plan had be to set up camp here for a night or two but we had been told when we purchased our permits this usually crowded stretch of beach camping was closed because of fires burning in the National Park over the past couple of weeks.

Like Fraser this usually popular camp area is normally packed with campers set up for the long stay with flags and decorations adorning their entrances but today it was void of any campers… just burnt out bush in places!

Constantly on this section of beach signs warned that exposed sand dunes and sand cliffs along Inskip, Rainbow and Teewah Beach were unstable and could collapse without warning.. most reading that ‘Climbing on, sliding down or digging into them was dangerous and could lead to serious injury or death’ – ‘Sand slips are silent’.

A path we would normally climb to the top of the dunes for an incredible view up and down the beach was off limits too due to the bushfires.

Around 17-kilometres on we reached Noosa North Shore exit where a sign directed us through more boggy sand from the beach. Sadly, the last stretch of our ‘Great Beach Highway’ journey was over!

We are unbelievably fortunate to have travelled this amazing part of Australian coastline and if you haven’t managed to see it yet, you really need to start planning! You won’t regret it.

Airing up we followed the road past Noosa North Shore Caravan Park (where we had camped on a previous trip) and headed straight for the car wash.  Harry Hilux was badly in need of a thorough clean before we continue our journey south.  

Surrounded by a national park, Noosa North Shore Beach Campground is a great location right on the beach – but unfortunately it was closed for renovations this trip!

We’ve had lots of fun at this campground over the years! Located on an the beautiful North Noosa beach and surrounded by an abundance of untouched bushland, it may be only basic, but has everything a camper could want.

It’s a fisherpersons paradise, home to colourful birdlife and beach bum kangaroos… but be warned, it is a very popular spot during peak periods so early bookings are essential. This is where we first met our friends from the Glasshouse Mountains. Welcome to our blog once again Marlene and Barry.

From Noosa North Shore the ferry to Tewantin cost $7. 

Tewantin is one of the Noosa areas earliest settled towns. 

In the late 1800s it was a small-town prospering on the local gold, fishing and timber industries.  

Today it is a small, friendly village located on the Noosa River and the launching point for the vehicular ferry to the Noosa North Shore, the Great Sandy National Park and Fraser Island. Its marina is a bustling complex on the river that offers coffee, alfresco meals, and incredible river views with the 40-berth marina also home to the Noosa Marina Visitor Information Centre, specialty shops, a private gallery and each Sunday the Noosa Marina Markets display craft and produce stalls on the boardwalk. 

After a stroll of Tewantin village and some grocery shopping and a visit to the Tourist Information Centre at Parkyn’s Hut to discover Tewantin’s history we sat on the lawns at the Memorial Park and admired views of the Noosa River while eating lunch… then it was time to head on and meet up with our friends from Rockhampton at Lake MacDonald!

Just up the road, Tewantin National Park has some of the Sunshine Coast’s best mountain bike trails, and the Mt Tinbeerwah lookout, which is easy to access and has stunning views of the coast and surrounding hinterland.

It almost goes without saying, but the Sunshine Coast Hinterland towns of MalenyMontville and Mapleton continue to be an endless source of adventure, no matter how many times you visit.

Come with us as we hit the country roads on our next adventure… and rest assured there’s plenty to see and do!

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