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4WD beach-driving adventure in Great Sandy National Park, Qld

  • By Bruce McMahon
  • 29 May 2018
  • 17 min read
  • Medium
    Hard-packed sand, slight to medium hills with minor obstacles in all weather.
  • Medium
    Hard-packed sand, slight to medium hills with minor obstacles in all weather.

Sand is both friend and foe to off-road drivers. Hard-packed surfaces at low tides mean easy running, while that soft chewed-up exit off the beach can halt your progress. Be prepared.

For all that, and even when digging the family wagon out of hot summer sands, Australian beaches forever offer magic drives. With the sun glaring off white sands and blue waters, windows open to the salt air, a drive alongside a lapping tide is a great way to inhale the outdoors.

Queensland has any number of great beaches, from Coolangatta to Cape York. Not all are open to vehicles but the family doesn’t have to venture too far from the state's south-east corner to spend a weekend on the sand, maybe camping out, maybe headed for a holiday house or cabin.

Today we’re headed for Teewah Beach, just north of Noosa on the Sunshine Coast yet a million miles away from the Hastings Street glitz. Part of the Great Sandy National Park, this beach runs past the Coloured Sand cliffs towards Double Island Point and is only for high clearance vehicles with a dual-range transfer case; off-road camper trailers are recommended if looking to stay over alongside the South Pacific here.

Teewah Beach is just north of Noosa on the Sunshine Coast and is yet a million miles away from the Hastings Street glitz. Teewah Beach is just north of Noosa on the Sunshine Coast and is yet a million miles away from the Hastings Street glitz.

Our Toyota Fortuner’s been loaded up in Brisbane, making sure there’s a tyre-pressure gauge, snatch strap, MaxTrax recovery boards and a little shovel aboard. The Teewah sands are, by and large, an easy-medium outing for a four-wheel drive but who knows? Conditions are subject to the whims of the weather. Anyway, gear could be needed to extract a stranger. (And make sure there’s a spare towel for kneeling, or sitting, on hot sand or throwing over a snatch strap if working on vehicle recovery.)

Also needed for this part of the world is a vehicle permit. If sorted out online, these start from $12.55 per vehicle per day through Queensland government websites; camping permits for Teewah cost extra. Remember: check tide times before planning your weekend. Carry a little cash for the ferryman and check fuel tank levels before you head off because sand work can easily double fuel consumption.

The Teewah sands are, by and large, an easy-medium outing for a four-wheel drive. (image credit: Nathan Duff) The Teewah sands are, by and large, an easy-medium outing for a four-wheel drive. (image credit: Nathan Duff)

From Brisbane to Rainbow Beach

It’s up the mighty Bruce Highway, taking exit 224 onto the Eumundi-Noosa Road and into Tewantin. Allow two hours from the centre of Brisbane before pulling up near the Royal Mail Hotel at 120 Poinciana Avenue, Tewantin; here in the manicured avenue are a couple of good spots for a late breakfast or the morning’s second coffee.

Day one: from Brisbane to Rainbow Beach via Teewah Beach. Day one: from Brisbane to Rainbow Beach via Teewah Beach.

From here head westish and turn right at the second roundabout – opposite the Shell servo – onto Moorindil Street. Follow to the end, about 2.3km from the coffee shops, to find the Noosa Northshore Ferry for a short, $7 one-way ride across the Noosa River. Cash only.

Once on the other side follow the bitumen road, past the Noosa North Shore Retreat, for about 7.5km to the Third Cutting to access the beach. (The First Cutting gives limited access to the south, looking back toward Noosa.)

Somewhere along here before the beach entry, pull over where it’s safe (there is one designated spot), and drop tyre pressures. We like to start a beach run at 20psi (pounds per square inch; about 138kpa), figuring we have a tad extra pressure to experiment with if there’s real trouble down the track; if not, then at 20 psi tyres are that little more confident on harder surfaces before re-inflation.

Somewhere before the beach entry, pull over where it’s safe and drop tyre pressures. (image credit: Nathan Duff) Somewhere before the beach entry, pull over where it’s safe and drop tyre pressures. (image credit: Nathan Duff)

Now turn left onto the beach. Double Island Point is about 45km to the north; mileages here depend on stopping and starting and doubling back for photographs.

At low tide this is an easy run but be aware – there are speed limits posted (maximum is 80km/h), there are fisherfolk engrossed in their rods and there may be kids running from camps down to the water’s edge. Headlights on is a good idea, as is using indicators to show which part of the beach you’re using.

At low tide this is an easy run but be aware – there are speed limits posted. (image credit: Nathan Duff) At low tide this is an easy run but be aware – there are speed limits posted. (image credit: Nathan Duff)

Around 10km along is the start of the Coloured Sands with cliffs of red, yellow, black and white sands. Watch out for little washouts made from fresh waters running down to the sea; some look innocent enough but have hard edges that’ll jolt wagon and passengers.

Most of this is easy going in high-range 4WD but don’t forget to turn traction control off – it’s a momentum-sapping system when sand can be quite unforgiving as wheels are slowed. Best to keep a constant speed and avoid abrupt gear changes, roll to stops without braking and stop with wheels facing the water; automatic transmissions are great for beach work.

There are limited beach camp sites not long before the Freshwater Track and another designated camping area about 38km from the Third Cutting.

From Freshwater it’s another 8km to Double Island Point and a fair walk up to the lighthouse.

Now there is a track here to get to the northern side of Double Island Point and then, in theory, another beach run into Rainbow. Thing is there is a tidal lagoon to contend with and then the infamous Mudlo Rocks, the downfall of any number of four-wheelers; these two spots need care, low tides and local advice.

Most of this is easy going in high-range 4WD but don’t forget to turn traction control off. (image credit: Nathan Duff) Most of this is easy going in high-range 4WD but don’t forget to turn traction control off. (image credit: Nathan Duff)

So today we’ve headed back to the Freshwater Road and turned inland onto a narrow, but two-way, sand and gravel track that takes us 16km through a coastal forest to the bitumen. It can be a rough ride if a mob of summer traffic’s been through and keep your speed down to watch for oncoming vehicles.

At the end of this road it’s a right turn at a T-junction and four kilometres into Rainbow Beach.

Here we’ve elected to stay overnight at Rainbow Beach Holiday Park, a little out of town at Carlo Point but a quiet and relaxed spot by the water. Down in the laid-back village of Rainbow there are a number of eating-out options plus surf club and hotel.

We elected to stay at Rainbow Beach Holiday Park, a quiet and relaxed spot by the water. (image credit: Nathan Duff) We elected to stay at Rainbow Beach Holiday Park, a quiet and relaxed spot by the water. (image credit: Nathan Duff)

From Rainbow Beach to Kin Kin

UP and early out of the holiday park cabin and down to Rainbow’s main street for breakfast. Re-inflate the wagon’s tyres, top up the fuel and clean the wagon’s windscreen.

Day two: from Rainbow Beach to Kin Kin. Day two: from Rainbow Beach to Kin Kin.

There are three options from here: back down Teewah Beach, the way we came; or head across to Gympie and back down the highway all on bitumen; or take the rough-and-ready Cooloola Way, a dirt and sand and gravel back-track through scrub and forest to Kin Kin.

So today we’ll add the Cooloola bush drive to yesterday’s beach outing, maybe needing some different skills behind the wheel.

Unlike the sand drive, this Cooloola Way offers a tad more 4WD adventure. (image credit: Nathan Duff) Unlike the sand drive, this Cooloola Way offers a tad more 4WD adventure. (image credit: Nathan Duff)

As with yesterday’s run up the beach, this is a straightforward sort of trek with no great directions needed. But, unlike the sand drive, this Cooloola Way offers a tad more 4WD adventure and a few more lumps and bumps; it too needs a proper four-wheel drive and is not recommended in wet weather.

Leaving Rainbow we head out on the bitumen toward Gympie for 16km or so before a left turn onto Coooloola Way.

Leaving Rainbow we head out on the bitumen toward Gympie for 16km. (image credit: Nathan Duff) Leaving Rainbow we head out on the bitumen toward Gympie for 16km. (image credit: Nathan Duff)

From here it is a matter of following the main track. At a steady pace please, for surfaces here vary from rock-strewn little ridges to stretches of clinging clay and, after rain, holes full of water and washed-out hillocks. There are also blind corners where you wouldn’t want to meet an oncoming four-wheeler sliding sideways through a puddle.

At 22km from Rainbow Beach it’s straight on over a narrow bridge and at 33km we’re out of the Cooloola Park and into state forest – but the road does not necessarily improve. At around 42km it’s straight on past the left turn to Harry’s Hut, at 45km veer left and at 46km turn left at the T-junction.

This Cooloola Way offers a tad more 4WD adventure and a few more lumps and bumps. (image credit: Nathan Duff) This Cooloola Way offers a tad more 4WD adventure and a few more lumps and bumps. (image credit: Nathan Duff)

We hit the bitumen and farm lands at just over 48km from Rainbow and at 56.5km we turn right to Kin Kin’s charming Country Life Hotel, established in 1914 and still serving cold beer.

While the Cooloola Way isn’t a long trek, allow two hours from Rainbow Beach to Kin Kin because this can be a rough and steady stretch of four-wheel driving, most of it in high-range but with need for decent ground clearances in many spots if the route hasn’t been maintained for a while.

From here it’s around two hours back to the Big Smoke – and a big bath for the Toyota Fortuner.

Note: Always travel in a group if possible. Always take vehicle-recovery equipment. Our track ratings apply to travel during dry weather only; track conditions will change in wet weather.

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