We all have them, our easy 'I-need-a-break' spots, places you head when you don't want to think about logistics, where you know the way and what to pack, where a good time can be pretty much guaranteed.
I'm almost certain that ours is the same for thousands of others who reside in Queensland's Southeast. You hear a lot of names tossed around, depending on where exactly that particular persons favourite spot is. Our favourite getaway encompasses the entire coastline between the Noosa River and Tin Can Bay – Noosa Northshore, Teewah Beach, Cooloola, Double Island Point, The Great Sandy National Park, Rainbow Beach, Inskip Point... pick a name from that list and we've stayed there.
It wasn't until our most recent trip that we realised we've visited well over a dozen times in the last couple of years alone. So much so, that trips had started to blur together. This post, and the photos compiled within it - are just that, they're moments from our trips over the years, and there's almost no way I could date them, they've blended together to form one huge happy memory attached to a wonderful place.
So what does a quick weekend getaway in this part of the world look like? Well, let's start at the beginning.
We're big fans of getting away on a Friday, and making that 'weekend feeling' last as long as possible. The Thursday evening before a trip we have two lists, one for packing and another for shopping, and we log on to Queensland National Parks and book our vehicle and camping permits. This means that come Friday afternoon we're fully prepped and free to take off as soon as the working day is done.
Some might fear traffic at this time, and truthfully every time we do too, but I think we've only hit bad traffic once... we're almost always surprised by just how well the roads are flowing. If we're with mates we always have a UHF channel selected, and the journey is spent catching up, making inside jokes and slinging insults at one another. Road trips are not the same without radios!
There's a few ways to reach this part of the world, we like to stop somewhere and grab a quick dinner near Noosaville – you could always go out for a lovely meal, but we're always too eager to feel the sand beneath our feet. Sometimes we even stop at the local Bunnings and grab some last minute gas or firewood. Handy!
After a bite, we head north through Tewantin, and just a few hundred metres out from the ferry we stop at the QPWS Great Sandy Information Centre. At this time of night it's closed, but always has stacks of vehicle permit stickers and campsite tags for you to copy down the details of the online booking you made earlier. You can print your own tags online, but we just find that this is easier - they're waterproof and ready to go. At this point the anticipation is palpable. We're always so excited to reach the ocean, and we're so close now.
Onwards to the ferry! The ferry is an old cable style one, and operates from 5.30am to 12.20am on Fridays and Sundays, and is $7 per crossing for a standard car. You don't need a booking, and all-in-all it takes less then 5 minutes, unless there's a queue. Just make sure you have some spare change at the ready for the operator!
Once we disembark the ferry, we follow the stretch of winding road, past a backpackers, an underbody wash, over some speed bumps and through a paperbark forest towards the 'cutting' to the beach. Eventually we come across the final stop before the beach, the last corner on solid road. It's not unusual to find a few other cars here, also airing down their tyres before they hit the beach.
Tip: We purchased a set of Staun Tyre Deflators from Supercheap a few years ago and can't recommend them enough. The pack of four brass deflators means that all your tyres pressures are lowering at the same time (literally quartering air down time) and that they all reach a consistent psi. Worth. every. cent.
We hop back in the car, start the engines and jump back on the road. There's often complete silence as we round this final bend towards the cutting. One by one, the cars speed up, gaining momentum to take on the soft sand. Then, to a chorus of squeaking tyres in fine white sand, the ocean comes into sight, illuminated by several headlights, spotlights and light bars, and you can almost feel the collective sigh.
Sometimes we get lucky, the stars align and the tide times land us on the beach when it's low when the sand closer to the shore is firm (and probably of a higher grade than many QLD roads). But, we're not always so fortunate. We've made the trek in king tides and low tides, and whilst both are possible, the former will definitely challenge your patience and your cars. It also greatly affects how long it takes us to reach camp!
After the cutting (we always go in at the third cutting), there's a 20km stretch of beach where no camping is permitted. At night the signs can be hard to spot in the darkness, so it's helpful to reset your trip meter at the cutting so you know how far you have to go! We normally find regardless of the tide that we reach the beginning of Teewah's 15km long camping zone within an hour, never more.
Tip: This map is invaluable for first timers, showing the cuttings, zonings etc - definitely download a copy!
Once you reach the Teewah, the hardest part is picking a site in the dark. We know it's not optimum trying to do this all under the cover of night, but it's definitely worth it come the morning - trust us. Generally we try and find a site that is semi-protected, with a small dune to block the wind, trees to provide shade, and away from other campers.
We have had the odd night when we've struggled to find the 'perfect' site, but we always get there in the end.
Tip: A quality torch and/or headlamp is invaluable here, but what we've found works even better is to install some small lights on the sides of our roof racks. We can flick them on when we drive up alongside the dunes to see if the site looks suitable, AND they are so helpful for setting up camp when you have decided on a spot.
Once we have a site we set up our swags, tents and maybe a marquee (the rest can wait until morning), start a fire, grab our chairs and sit back to enjoy the stars.
You may not be an early riser, but I often find I'm the first awake at camp... and I love it. I'll make a coffee and go and sit quietly in the dunes, watching the sun rise over the ocean, the breeze rippling through the spinifex grass and the waves glowing a bright turquoise at their very tips.
Often I'll restart the fire, then grab the camera – after all the light at this time is hard to beat. Normally once the rest of the campsite is up we'll start cooking up bacon and eggs on the cast hotplate and figure out what everyone wants to do for the day.
It's generally about this time that we head towards either Double Island Point or Rainbow Beach, and often the tides are what make this decision for us.
If it's high tide in the morning we'll often go to Rainbow via Freshwater Road, a 15km inland track that winds through the Great Sandy National Park. It often surprises me how few people have done this track, forgoing it for beach-driving alone.
It begins at a day-use area / set of toilets at Teewah Beach, amongst huge Paperbarks, Banksias and Eucalypts set in a soft sandy bed. After a while it starts to climb, and before you know it the sandy coastal bush has transformed into an ancient Rainforest. The trees here are staggering, I can still recall my reaction the first time we drove beneath the tall canopy, to the tune of "This looks like something out of Avatar". Overall the drive takes about an hour of solid offroading through sand and corrugations, but it's well worth it for the scenery alone. Conveniently enough, it brings you out at the road that leads into Rainbow from Gympie.
By this point everyone's quite happy to wander around a bit, maybe try on a straw hat or beach dress in one of the well-stocked gift stores that line the main street of Rainbow Beach. We'll even stop in at the bakery for a sneaky pie or the convenience store for an ice cream.
We've had lunch at the Hotel and the Lifesaving club before, and can attest to both providing a good meal. The Surf Life Saving Club has the added bonus of a wall of louvres that provide a stunning view of Double Island Point.
Sometimes we'll head North to Inskip point and drive the small section of beach driving there, the end of which leads you to the barge to Fraser Island... but that's an adventure for another time ;).
A few times we've driven up through the residential part of town to Carlo Sand Blow, a huge sand dune that covers over 15 hectares and provides views both out to the east over the ocean, and west over Tin Can Bay. The walk to the Sand Blow is an easy 600m from the carpark, and once reached how much you want to explore is up to you! We've walked to the ocean side before and watched a thunderstorm roll in, a very impressive sight. We've seen a proposal here too, which I think is a testament to how beautiful a spot it is.
By this stage, we're ready to head back to the beach. We'll often enter through the cutting at Rainbow Beach, near the infamous Mudlow Rocks at the base of the Lifesaving Clubhouse. This can be impassable depending on the tide (the reason for it's infamy: it's known for claiming errant vehicles), so if it is - back to Freshwater Rd we go. Fortunately, we've only encountered this once. Normally we pass it no worries and are driving alongside Rainbow Beach's namesake sands in no time.
At the end of the rainbow coloured cliffs is Double Island Point, and this is where you'll find most people stop and set up for the day, it's not hard to see why. A vast inland saltwater 'pool' forms at low tide, enabling kids and adults alike to swim in its still waters. Others launch their jet skis into the water, exploring the point itself or towing shrieking friends on various contraptions. We, like the others before us, park along the shoreline, unfold our awnings before grabbing a drink and practically running into the water.
It's worth noting there's no lifeguards here, so you definitely shouldn't go deep into the water. Thankfully the water here is shallow for quite a while, and isn't rough surf, more calm waves. We stay about hip-height or shallower, sipping our drinks and opportunistically splashing one another (in the face of course). If you have some huge, vulgar, amazing inflatable (like we do) this is your moment. The more outlandish the better ;-)
At some point we generally pull ourselves from the water to cook lunch or enjoy a feast of cheese, dip and crackers, before returning to the water again for the afternoon.
By this time we're thoroughly pruny and collectively agree it's time to head back. Taking the nearby short Leisha's Track, we are on Teewah Beach within minutes, and decide that rather than head south towards camp just yet, we'll go north towards the tip of Double Island. At the tip there's a picturesque rocky beach, and a short but steep walk up to Double Island Point Conservation Park, which provides stunning views of Teewah. If you're feeling adventurous you can even keep walking all the way out to the lighthouse, it's a lovely walk - especially in wonderful afternoon light.
Back at camp we light the fire so we can cook dinner soon, and often someone will pull out the Bocce. Those who don't join in sit up on the dune, drink in hand, watching the light fade, fishermen cast their rods into the surf and the odd car drive by. Surprisingly, it makes for a brilliant spot to people-watch.
Once night falls we cook dinner over the goals, swap stories and stargaze well into the evening. When we're finally all ready for bed we're exhausted, but with full hearts from a day well spent.
Tip: Those who love to stargaze should download Skyview Lite - it's a brilliant app that uses your gps settings to determine the location of constellations and planets in the sky by simply pointing your screen in their direction.
Another morning, another sunrise, another coffee, another breakky. Generally after we've eaten an easy breakfast we'll tidy our site, pack up our gear and hit the sand again. Depending on your preferences you can spend another day exploring and head home late, but knowing that the Ferry can sometimes have quite a queue, and the Bruce Hwy can be a nightmare, we try and leave by mid-morning.
On our way back down Teewah Beach towards Noosa we sometimes stop in at Red Canyon, a beautiful red valley in amongst the huge dunes. If you're up for a bit of huffing and puffing you can climb up quite high, and the view is pretty magnificent once you reach the top – just make sure you follow the footprints of others and keep the dunes intact!
After retracing the journey from Friday we're always home by midday, with enough time to unpack, clean up and prepare for the week ahead.
After two nights on the beach under the stars we're relaxed and restored, the kind of feeling only time spent outdoors can bestow upon you. We're so lucky to have such an amazing part of the world right on our doorstep.
What's your favourite spot to get away for a weekend?
What a weekend in Rainbow will cost you:
Per Night in the Cooloola Recreation Area via QPWS
Per Person: $6.35
Per Family: $25.40
Per Vehicle permit for Cooloola Recreation Area via QPWS
Noosa North Shore Ferry
2WD or 4WD: $7.00 one way
Standard cars with caravans or trailers: $14.00 - $16.00 one way
Brisbane-based lover of travel, off-roading, camping and photography.