A Guide to Rainbow Beach (Great Sandy National Park)

{Updated: October 2019}

The Cooloola Coast, part of Great Sandy National Park and most famously known for Rainbow Beach, is only about an hour’s drive north of the Sunshine Coast.

For anyone coming from around Brisbane or the Sunshine Coast, it’s an ideal camping weekend getaway for exploring the coloured sands. And of course, you can always go for longer than just a weekend.

Rainbow Beach

A Guide to Rainbow Beach and the Cooloola Recreation Area

Great Sandy National Park actually includes more than just Rainbow Beach. In fact, Rainbow Beach is really just sandwiched in between Inskip Peninsula Recreation Area, Fraser Island and the Cooloola Recreation Area. All three areas are very popular spots.

In some ways, that’s not really surprising given the endless beach driving that can be done around here.

I’m not a huge fan of driving along the beach just for the sake of it (the environmental impact alone makes me cringe) but, fortunately, there are plenty of free things to do around Rainbow Beach that you don’t need to be driving all day long anyway.

To explore Rainbow Beach, Double Island Point or Teewah Beach you will need a 4WD vehicle. There are a few spots, like the Carlo Sandblow, that you can get to without a 4WD but everything else will be impossible.

How to get to Rainbow Beach / Cooloola Recreation Reserve

The Cooloola Recreation Area, including Rainbow Beach, is quite a large area north of Noosa stretching all the way to Rainbow Beach (the township). It includes Teewah Beach on the eastern (ocean) side and the area around Noosa River and the Noosa Everglades.

North of Rainbow Beach is where the Inskip Peninsula Recreation Area starts.

Via Teewah Beach / Noosa North Shore

If you want to approach Rainbow Beach from Teewah Beach, take the car ferry across Noosa River in Tewantin. This is a tiny pulley-type ferry with a ride that lasts about 30 seconds. From there, you just follow the road and enter Teewah Beach at the third cutting (= entrance).

Driving along Teewah Beach

The beach is so flat and wide here that driving along it pretty much feels like driving on a highway – at least from the passenger’s point of view! 🙂 Almost at the end of the beach, take the sandy Leisha Track that connects across to Double Island Point and from to Rainbow Beach.

Vehicle access permit

For any beach driving on Rainbow Beach or along Teewah Beach, you will need a vehicle access permit. You need to organise the permit before driving on the beach.

You don’t need a permit for some sections of the Cooloola Recreation Reserve (mostly around Harry’s Hut and Poverty Point). Check the FAQ to see exactly where you can drive without a permit.

If it’s your first time driving on sand, check out the Driving on Sand Safety Guide by Queensland National Parks.

Via Gympie / Pomona

If you’re heading straight to Rainbow Beach or Inskip Point, take Tin Can Bay Road from Gympie. This turns into Rainbow Beach Road after the Tin Can Bay turnoff but you really can’t miss it.

Alternatively, travel via Pomona and Kin Kin if you prefer a more leisurely country drive. Follow the signs to Rainbow Beach.

Where to camp at Rainbow Beach

You can’t actually camp directly on Rainbow Beach but if you want to have a beach camping experience, you can camp along Teewah Beach (no facilities, bring your own toilet setup) or around Inskip Point (amenities available).

Instead of camping directly on the beach, we have stayed at the Freshwater camping area. The weekend we were there was relatively quiet except for the steady morning and evening traffic of cars rolling in to use the toilets and shower facilities. I can only imagine how insane the traffic would be during school holidays given that Teewah Beach caters for some 2,000 campers and has no amenities!

Another option is to camp at Harry’s Hut but that only makes sense if you want to paddle up and down the Noosa River, or do some of the walks in the area.

Lastly, you could always book yourself into one of the commercial caravan parks at Rainbow Beach (township) if you’d like to be close to Rainbow Beach (the beach) or have access to full amenities.

READ MORE: Camping guide to Rainbow Beach

Things to do at Rainbow Beach and surrounds

You can quite easily spend 2-3 days around the Rainbow Beach area. In fact, most of my ideas have sprung up from a number of trips to the Cooloola region, rather than just one trip.

There’s so much to do in the Cooloola section of Great Sandy National Park but I’ve restricted my list to things close to the beach, both Rainbow and Teewah (going from north to south, i.e. starting at Rainbow Beach to Teewah Beach.

1. Be amazed – or not – by the coloured sands of Rainbow Beach

Rainbow Beach is most famous for its coloured sands but to be honest, I was a bit disappointed. There are some nice cliffs and sand swirls but I’m not sure I’d exactly describe them as coloured.

Morning and evening are best as they just look washed out around lunch time.

The easiest way to see them is, of course, to drive along Rainbow Beach, starting at the Rainbow Beach entrance (from the township). Be mindful of the tides and check the tide schedule, you don’t want to run out of beach road or get stuck at Mudlo Rocks.

You could also walk from the Rainbow Beach entrance but it’s a bit of hike so I’m not sure I’d recommend that. Plus, you need to be very mindful of the cars along this beach, it’s not “pedestrian-friendly”.

2. Walk to the Carlo Sandblow (1.2km return)

The Carlo Sandblow is easily accessible from Rainbow Beach (township).

To get to the sandblow, leave your car at the Carlo carpark (Cooloola Drive) in Rainbow Beach, and just follow the track through scribbly gums to the edge of the Carlo Sandblow. It’s about 600m one way along the start of the Cooloola Great Walk.

From there you can see both Double Island Point to the west and across Tin Can Inlet to the east.

Hard to believe that I still haven’t made it out there!

3. Hike up to the Double Island Point Lighthouse (2.2km return)

At Double Island Point, you can go for a steep walk to the lighthouse at the top of the point. Since I love lighthouses, it’s always a nice surprise to see one.

You’ll get some great views up and down the coast here, both towards Teewah Beach and back around to Rainbow Beach. On clear days, you may even be able to see Fraser Island.

Looking towards Teewah Beach from Double Island Point

4. Relax or surf at Double Island Point

The area around Double Island Point (from the Rainbow Beach side) gets very busy with plenty of people setting up gazebos for the entire day (or as long as the tides allow). And it is a pretty gorgeous spot for fishing, surfing or just hanging out…

Keep in mind that it’s an unpatrolled beach and swimming here can be dangerous.

You can only get to Double Island Point at low tide so check the tide timetables to make sure you have enough time to get back. Every year cars are lost in the incoming tide here.

At Double Island Point, apparently named by Captain Cook

What fascinates me is that at Double Island Point Queensland habits are brought into full light: Queenslanders bring so much paraphernalia to a beach outing! surfboards, gazebos, BBQs, camping chairs, jetskies, fishing gear … It’s quite something to see, and something that I’ve never seen elsewhere.

5. Watch for wildlife off Double Island Point

I’ve never been lucky enough to see any but I’ve heard plenty of stories that revolve around people seeing whales from Double Island Point. Obviously, if you’re here over the summer, your chances are pretty much nil. Come during whale season (August to November) to catch a glimpse of one.

You can apparently also see dolphins and turtles around here. There are some kayak operators who’ll take you out to see dolphins. I reckon this would be really cool, and if I had more confidence in my swimming skills, I’d definitely give this one a go (but alas, I don’t).

6. Go for a walk around Freshwater camping area (2.8km return / 5km loop)

If you’re camping at the Freshwater camping area, or if you just fancy a walk, you could take the Freshwater Lake track (2.8km return). The track leads through open forest to a small lake.

There are no views on this walk and it’s not exactly the most exciting thing to do around here but if you want a bit of exercise, it’s certainly an option.

You could also combine this with the Freshwater Circuit (5km loop) for a longer hike but apart from seeing a small snake, nothing very exciting happened on this track either.

7. Climb around Red Canyon

Red Canyon is found along Teewah Beach, and which I probably appreciated a whole lot more than the coloured sands of Rainbow Beach. This area had previously been a meeting place for the local Aboriginal Gubbi Gubbi.

You can almost see the canyon from the beach, and it’s only a short climb to get into it.

In the afternoon, the light bathes the canyon in beautiful deep orange and red hues, it’s gorgeous. The coloured sands are the result of iron-rich minerals staining the sand into different tones of yellow, orange and red.

As you climb up Red Canyon, you’ll end up in massive sand dunes with great views over Teewah Beach. Plus, it’s lots of fun trying to climb around!

8. Go for a beach drive: Great Beach Drive

Teewah Beach and Rainbow Beach form part of the Great Beach Drive that goes from Noosa all the way to Fraser Island (K’gari). It’s quite an experience to drive on a smooth, wide beach highway if you’ve never done it!

To drive from Noosa North Shore to Inskip Point (not even including Fraser Island) is a big day. At the northern end of Teewah Beach, there’s a short (0.8km) track across to Double Island Point. From there you’ll see Rainbow Beach so just keep going north.

You’ll have to exit the beach at Rainbow Beach as most of the ocean beach at Inskip Peninsula is now closed for beach driving. Over the last few years, we’ve had more and more sink holes appearing and cars and even caravans have been swept away.

Remember that you’re dependent on the tides for doing any beach driving. The tides will dictate how much beach you have available (or not) for driving. Check the tides schedule before setting out. More than one car has been caught out and got stuck on rocks by the tide rushing in.

Summing Up…

There are plenty of walks, drives and spots to relax around Great Sandy National Park. The Cooloola and Rainbow Beach section alone offers plenty to do, especially if you’re into beach driving and camping for a few days.

While I don’t think that the coloured sands are totally amazing, they can look quite special in the right light. In any case, it’s fun to roam around sandblows.


There are a few options when it comes to camping around the Rainbow Beach area. Read more about the different camping areas around Rainbow Beach.

You can find a map of the Cooloola Recreation Area here, which includes Rainbow Beach and Inskip Point, or download the Cooloola Discovery Guide published by Queensland National Parks.

More posts on outdoor adventures on the Sunshine Coast

For more beach driving experiences, try Bribie Island or even Fraser Island (I know, not really on the Sunshine Coast).

Or go for a short walk, the Sunshine Coast has a fair few. Here’s a list of 17 of my favourite short hikes on the coast. For a longer hike, explore the stunning coastal track in Noosa National Park. The other option is to just visit some beach-y lookouts on the Sunshine Coast.

Pin me.

Guide to Rainbow Beach, Great Sandy National Park

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Beach driving along the Burrum Coast
Along the Discovery Coast: Eurimbula National Park
A Quick Guide to Deepwater National Park
Trying to find something exciting in Gympie’s forests
4WD-ing into the sunset: Rainbow Beach

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