Seaside drives don’t get any better than this three day coastal touring route between Noosa and Hervey Bay via Fraser Island, on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. On this trip, the road is not just beside the beach, it actually is the beach.
It’s four wheel drive only, so you’ll need to reduce your tyre pressure and keep an eye on the tides – some sections are a no go zone when the water is high. A bonus for those in a hurry is that the beach road knocks about an hour off the travel time from Noosa to Rainbow Beach compared to taking the Bruce Highway, which makes it one of Australia’s best shortcuts.
Image credit: Tourism and Events Queensland
Day 1: Noosa to Rainbow Beach
2hr | 70km
The Great Beach Drive officially starts at Tewantin on the northern shore of the Noosa River, but before you leave Noosa Heads, take an early morning stroll around the headland of Noosa National Park and, if you can tear your eyes away from the wraparound ocean views, look up because you’ll often spot koalas in the treetops.
Time your trip to avoid driving on the beach two hours either side of high tide. The notorious Mudlo Rocks just south of Rainbow Beach is infamous for its soft sand, and many drivers have found themselves stranded in rapidly rising seawater. If in doubt, take the inland track around Freshwater Lake, a beautiful – but still very sandy – drive through rainforest, along with beautiful satinay and kauri trees and strangler figs.
Enjoy the views across Rainbow Beach and beyond to Fraser Island Rainbow Ocean Palms Resort. If you'd like to stay at Teewah Beach, which all have absolute ocean views stay at Sandy Feet; a beautiful holiday beach house close to the water.
Day 2: Rainbow Beach to Fraser Island
5hr 30min | 157km
Head north to Inskip Point for the 10 minute barge trip to the southern tip of World Heritage listed Fraser Island, the world’s largest sand island. All roads on the island are 4WD only, and the only way to get from one end to the other is along the island’s eastern edge. The Fraser Island Beach Track runs along 75 Mile Beach, past the rusting wreck of the Maheno which washed ashore during a cyclone in 1935, to Champagne Pools where the surf crashes over a series of rock walls into calm but bubbly rock pools below the headland on the northern tip.
It’s worth getting off the beach now and then, though, to explore the island’s rainforest clad interior. Take the 30km Central Lakes scenic drive (allow about two hours) to see the deepest lake in the island, Lake Wabby, then stop for a swim in Lake McKenzie – so crystal clear it’s practically invisible – and Eli Creek, where you can float with the current through the rainforest.
Kingfisher Bay Resort has a four star hotel, self contained villas and beach houses. There are also 45 campgrounds or camping zones on the island, including informal camping areas with no facilities behind the dunes on Eastern Beach and Western Beach.
Day 3: Fraser Island to Hervey Bay
1hr 30min | 44km
Take the barge or ferry back to River Heads on the mainland and drive 20 minutes north to Hervey Bay, but don’t forget to reinflate your tyres when you get back on the bitumen. Hervey Bay is one of the best places in the country to go whale watching – thousands of whales, often with calves, rest in the calm waters of the bay on their annual migration to and from the Antarctic. There are a number of whale watching operators who run cruises in the bay during the whale watching season between July and November – they depart from Hervey Bay Marina and you can choose from half, three quarter or full day cruises.
If you miss the whales, call into the Fraser Coast Discovery Sphere with its 12m sculpture of a breaching humpback whale out the front. Have an “underwater encounter” with humpbacks and see a full sized reproduction of a whale skeleton, then spend the afternoon relaxing over a long lunch with a water view.
Hervey Bay is renowned for its scallops, deep sea Fraser Island prawns and wild catch seafood. Try Coast Restaurant & Bar or, for great takeaway fish and chips, there’s Maddigan’s Seafood, also on the Esplanade. Walk off the calories along the beachfront walkway afterwards – a great way to finish one of the country’s best seaside road trips.
NRMA Woodgate Beach Holiday Park is a good base for exploring the Fraser Coast. Its accommodation ranges from deluxe family villas to ensuite caravan sites and unpowered camping. Keep an eye out for the resident kangaroos, black cockatoos and lorikeets.