The 4X4XMORE Team heads north on multiple occasions during the year. Just 150 kilometres from Brisbane is where the Cooloola Recreation Area starts and off-road enthusiasts dream comes true. Stretched out beaches, pristine ocean waters and enough attractions to explore and keep you busy for days.
Most people start at Noosa North Shore, head north to Double Island Point and eventually take the barge over to Fraser Island, but it would be a shame to not explore the Cooloola Recreation Area while passing through.
There are two ways of exploring the Cooloola Recreation Area: from the north or the south. The decision depends on the question if you want to drive the bitumen road between Noosa and Rainbow Beach before or after you’ve been at the beach. Choose the first and you’ll be – after a short ferry ride ($7, cash only) in Tewantin – on the beach within two hours. If you decide on the latter it will take you another hour from Brisbane, but you won’t have to drive that stretch on the way back.
It’s always good to check the tides before heading out on the beach, especially considering that you will have to pass Mudlo Rocks just south of Rainbow Beach and that you can only do so at low tide. They’re notorious for claiming many 4WD, so you better plan ahead or be prepared head back off the beach via the Freshwater Track, landing you just south of Double Island Point.
There is still enough to explore in the Cooloola Recreation Area even without going on the beach though, but you’ve got to be prepared to walk. A lot. There are heaps of different walk ranging from a short 200m (30 minutes return) to the 47.9 kilometre (one way) Cooloola Wilderness Trail that will take you anywhere between 3 and 5 days and the Cooloola Great Walk (102 kilometres) that stretches the entire length of Cooloola. The advantage is that you don’t need to pay to use your feet; if you want to drive from Noosa to Inskip Point you need a permit from the Department of National Parks – which you can purchase online or at any of the vendors listed on their website.
Considering you want to hit the beach as soon as possible, we begin exploring the Cooloola Recreation Area from the south. After the ferry ride you hit the beach on Noosa North Shore. Keep in mind that standard road rules apply and are enforced on all Queensland beaches and as you will pass through parts of a national park dogs are only allowed in certain areas. After the hour long drive up the beach to Double Island Point you’ll reach the Leisha track that leads to a quaint lighthouse, offering views as far as the eye can see. On a good day – in season – you can even spot whales and dolphins from here. In any case you’ll be rewarded with vistas reaching from Rainbow Beach to Noosa, and of course, the ocean as far as the eye can see.
On the other side of Double Island Point you’ll find the famous tidal lagoons. A perfect spot for the kids to play in the water or to have a picnic. Grown ups can face the ocean and throw out a line in the hope to catch some fish. Due to the wind generally prevailing from the south east this is a very protected spot with calm swells and therefore a good option to spend some time.
Head further up the beach and you’ll be passing the stunning coloured sand dunes and blows on one side, while the ocean waves crash right next to you on the other. Especially Red Canyon and the Carlo Sandblow are worth a stop. Explore these natural landmarks on foot, but beware of the glass. You used to be allowed to drive your 4WD into the sandblow and as a result, it was the place for many parties over the years. The result is a lot of broken bottles and cans that can cause a nasty cut.
Eventually, just before you’ll be able to exit the beach at Rainbow Beach, you’ll have to cross the infamous Mudlo Rocks. Proceed with caution and only attempt these pancake rocks if you’re sure you’re capable of traversing them without getting caught out by a wave or hung up on a rock. You wouldn’t be the first. The Rainbow Beach surf club is a perfect place to relax and have a cold drink after your beach adventure, unless you want to continue up to Inskip Point and catch the ferry to Fraser Island of course. Plenty of more sandy beaches will await you there.
To fully explore the Cooloola Recreation Area you will need a high clearance four wheel drive with low range capacity, though with the right beach conditions an all-wheel drive could do the trick. This is discouraged though, as you never know what you might encounter on the way. You definitely won’t clear Mudlo Rocks in one. Before you enter the beach remember to deflate your tyres to around 18-20 psi. Travelling 2 hours either side of low tide is always recommended for beach driving – this is when the maximum amount of hard sand will be exposed and make for comfortable and safe driving.
The key thing is to ensure your 4x4 is adequately equipped for the beach – this includes packing:
Recovery gear (snatch strap, d-shackles)
Tyre pressure gauge
It’s also smart to familiarize yourself with your (rated) recovery points and to pack a flat piece of timber to change a tyre on the beach. And don’t forget to fuel up; driving in 4WD on the beach is sure to increase your fuel consumption.
Though it’s not too far from Brisbane, it’s nice to make a trip to Cooloola Recreation Area a weekend away. You can either choose a place to stay in Noosa, Rainbow Beach, but the best way to experience it to the fullest is by setting up a tent on the beach. The most popular is Teewah Beach camping area, but you have to be fully self sufficient as there are no facilities. The same goes for Poverty Point camping area, on the other side of the park on the Tin Can Inlet. Along Freshwater Track you’ll find a camping area with the same name that offers shady sites and has hot showers for $1. A blessing in disguise after a day of off-roading on the beach.