Discover a different side to Noosa on board the Great Beach Drive – one of Earth’s longest coastal paths.
The charms of Noosa are no secret, but did you know that just a few minutes north of town lies two UNESCO biospheres and a World Heritage-listed haven? The Great Beach Drive spans 380 kilometres of the most pristine and deserted beaches in Australia. All you’ll need is a 4WD (your own, or a hired variety) to unlock it all…
Noosa is the entrypoint of the Great Beach Drive. (Image: Tourism & Events Queensland)
While many visitors to Noosa stick to Hastings Street or the beach, the resort town is built on the edge of a 4000-hectare national park which offers a wonderous escape from civilisation. Twenty minutes north of town, a vehicle ferry from Tewantin takes you into the wilderness, where the bitumen stops and the sand starts.
Queensland’s Great Beach Drive is one of the longest beach drives on Earth. Where it differs from other iconic ocean drives is that this one requires you travel almost entirely on the beach – from Noosa, right along K’gari (formerly Fraser Island), and beyond to Hervey Bay. It takes in two UNESCO biosphere reserves (this is the only place on Earth where two biospheres connect) and the largest sand island in the world.
Reading between the lines, expect to spy extraordinary marine life including sea turtles and whales, unique bird species, ripper surf conditions and natural beauty beyond belief. One thing before you get moving – jump onto the Queensland Government’s Parks and Forests site to secure vehicle and camping permits if you’re winging it away from a guided 4WD tour.
Explore the sandy wilderness of the Great Beach Drive from Noosa. (Image: Tourism & Events Queensland)
Stop 1: Noosa to Rainbow Beach
Noosa North Shore Car Ferries is located at the river end of Moorindil Street in Tewantin, about a 15-minute drive from Hastings Street, and it transports adventure seekers over to the North Shore where the Great Beach Drive kicks off. Once you’ve hopped off the ferry, say hello to Teewah Beach: the entrance to the UNESCO Great Sandy Biosphere. This natural marvel is home to more than 40 per cent of Australia’s bird species and more marine and fish biodiversity than that of the entire Great Barrier Reef. It’s a lush mass of tropical rainforests, beaches, and marine parks.
Enter the UNESCO Great Sandy Biosphere at Teewah Beach. (Image: Tourism & Events Queensland/ Ming Nomchong)
Staying behind the wheel, don’t expect tar roads on the Great Beach Drive. We drive through coastal forest until we reach a wide, deserted beach. Welcome to the highway where the speed limit is 80 kilometres per hour. Watch out for fishermen casting fishing lines by the shore’s edge, and campers crossing the sand highway for a dip. You can camp all along these foreshores.
No bitumen in sight, just a great sandy expanse. (Image: Tourism & Events Queensland)
Pushing on, you’ll reach a rocky headland that Captain Cook named Double Island Point, and this is where you may even find Thor. Locals (and Instagram) reveal Chris Hemsworth holidays here with his family, and the man knows his waves: Double Island Point is one of Australia’s best point surf breaks.
Double Island Point is a swirl of creams and blues from above. (Image: Tourism & Events Queensland)
There’s a 150-year-old lighthouse up here and not much else. You can see forever, and come whale season, humpbacks travel just off the cape. There’s a dive site just offshore that’s home to the state’s largest colony of (harmless) grey nurse sharks.
Go for a dip at Honeymoon Bay on the northern side of the tip. (Image: Tourism & Events Queensland)
Drive to the northern side of the point and you’ll find one of the country’s top beaches, Honeymoon Bay. We pass thousands of blue soldier crabs beside a beach lagoon. Two old surfers ride waves that break slowly for hundreds of metres. For those of us who ever fancied a beach to ourselves, we’ve died and gone right to heaven.
The world-renowned coloured sand dunes of Rainbow Beach are a sight to behold. (Image: Tourism & Events Queensland)
The coloured sand dunes that continue north from here are world-famous. There are 72 visible colours in these enormous dunes that reside in Rainbow Beach, a sleepy coastal hamlet cut off from Queensland’s main highway. It’s a great hideaway for a Hollywood star because it works – we can’t find him.
Take time to explore the Red Canyon at Rainbow Beach. (Image: Tourism & Events Queensland)
Don’t miss Carlo Sand Blow while you’re here, too. The 15-hectare sand mass is best explored via its 600-metre nature walk, accessible at Cooloola Drive, which culminates in epic views across Cooloola Cove and the blue beyond.
Explore Carlo Sand Blow via the 600-metre nature walk. (Image: Tourism & Events Queensland)
The walk is rewarded with pic views across Cooloola Cove. (Image: Tourism & Events Queensland)
Stop 2: K’gari (Fraser Island)
Just north of Rainbow Beach, you’ll travel along the Great Beach Drive onto a sandy headland where a barge awaits. This is Inskip Point, the southern gateway to K’gari (Fraser Island), where its original inhabitants, the Butchulla community, gave it its name because K’gari means ‘paradise’. That it certainly is.
A barge at Inskip Point will deliver you and your car to K’gari to continue the drive.
Once you’re off the barge, you’ll find a 4WD enthusiast’s fantasy. There are 123 kilometres of coastline to drive along, though you’re never on it long – there are too many things to look out for once you detour off the drive and into sand tracks through coastal forest.
The pristine waters of Lake McKenzie call for a swim. (Image: Tourism & Events Queensland)
Everyone knows Lake McKenzie. It’s the electric blue of a Bora Bora lagoon, minus the over-water bungalows. There’s also the nearby Wabby Creek, offering unrivalled solitude and 70-metre-high sand dunes. The Wabby Point Champagne Pools on Seventy-Five Mile Beach are non-negotiable. Frothing up bubbles, hence ‘champagne’, and warm water surrounded and protected by rock formations, it exudes total zen.
The electric blue of Lake McKenzie is irresistible. (Image: Tourism & Events Queensland)
You needn’t rough it during this stretch of the Great Beach Drive. The four-star Kingfisher Bay Resort on K’gari’s west coast is a popular choice and looks across an inland waterway. Though you could camp instead – Inskip Point offers a sensational beach campsite.
Stop 3: Hervey Bay
Take a car ferry from K’gari across to the chilled-out seaside town of Hervey Bay as your journey along the Great Beach Drive winds down to a close. Hervey Bay is famed for its humpback whale sightings, so investigate your chances once you’re there and don’t forget that whale-watching season runs from July to October.
In search of whales in Hervey Bay. (Image: Tourism & Events Queensland)
You can also drive the empty roads between there and the quirky outpost of Tin Can Bay. It follows the Great Sandy Strait and there are sheltered bays and white sandy beaches all along the way. There are also dolphins and if you’re lucky, you might see a dugong.
Hervey Bay is one of the best places in Australia to spot whales. (Image: Tourism & Events Queensland)
Great Beach Drive 4WD Tours
Not overly thrilled about working with maps, or don’t own a 4WD? Take a backseat, literally, by booking a 4WD tour led by an experienced guide to help you discover even more of the Great Beach Drive.
Join a tour and leave the driving to someone else. (Image: Tourism & Events Queensland)
An action-packed eight-hour tour crammed with highlights is on offer from Great Beach Drive 4WD Tours, which picks guests up from their accommodation in Noosa. There’s also a half-day tour departing Rainbow Beach with Surf & Sand Safaris, while K’gari Fraser Island Adventures offers multi-day 4WD tours with pick-up from both Noosa and Rainbow Beach, and Fraser Experience Tours offers several one-day tours, too.