The Cooloola Coast, part of Great Sandy National Park and most famously known for Rainbow Beach, is only 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. And of course, you can always go for longer than just a weekend.
Rainbow Beach and the Cooloola region is a very popular spot, 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.
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 the Teewah Beach area on the eastern (ocean) side and the area around Noosa River and the Noosa Everglades.
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).
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, you then take the sandy (inland) Freshwater Road that connects across to Rainbow Beach.
Vehicle access permit
For any beach driving along Teewah Beach or Rainbow Beach, you will need a vehicle access permit so don’t forget to organise that beforehand.
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 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 country drive.
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
(Free) Outdoor Things to Do at Rainbow Beach
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 section, rather than just one trip.
1. Be amazed – or not – by the coloured cliffs 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. 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.
2. Hike up to the lighthouse at Double Island Point
At Double Island Point, you could go for a relatively uninteresting walk except for the lighthouse at the top of the point and the view towards Teewah Beach. 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.
3. 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…
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.
Being Double Island Point brings Queensland habits into full light: It always amazes me how much the paraphernalia Queenslanders bring 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.
4. Watch for wildlife off Double Island Point
I’ve never been lucky enough to see any but I’ve heard plenty of stories that you can see whales from Double Island Point. Obviously, if you’re here over the summer, your chances are pretty much nil. Come during whale season (Aug to November) to catch a glimpse.
You can apparently also see dolphins and turtles around here. There are some kayak operators who’ll take you out to see dolphins. That would be so cool, and if I was a stronger swimmer, I’d definitely give this one a go!
5. Climb around Red Canyon
On our way home the next day we stopped at Red Canyon along Teewah Beach, which I probably appreciated a whole lot more than the coloured cliffs at Rainbow Beach. We had quite a bit of fun trying to climb up the massive sand dunes! 🙂