Rainbow Beach isn’t the kind of place that you stumble upon by accident, which is a massive bonus. The weeny seaside village not only channels the surf-side town of yesteryear vibe, but it is also spoilt for outdoorsy options, from huge dunes to sub-tropical rainforest.
Just across the point from Fraser Island’s southern tip, and an hour and a half’s drive north from Noosa, Rainbow gives you a small taste of Fraser-Island-style adventure, but without the accessibility issues (and expense). Come along for 36 energetic hours at Rainbow…
Day 1: Getting to know Rainbow
12.30pm: Who needs a carpark? It’s only a relatively short walk from the asphalt carpark at Rainbow Beach Surf Life Saving Club to the breakers, but don’t bother with all that effort, if you have a 4WD. After all, there aren’t too many beaches in Australia where you can cruise along the beach (legally) and park up right next to the flags for a dip. Welcome to Rainbow. (Never driven in the sand before? Read our 15 sand-driving tips now.)
2:45pm: The secret rainforest revelation Rainbow Ocean Palms Resort manager Mark Beech (does he have any siblings named Rainbow?) whispers a local secret in my ear: Poona Lake. A short drive later (see below), I park up at Bymien picnic area, where gigantic ferns look like Jurassic Park props.
The coastal humidity takes a breather as I begin the easy 90-minute loop to the ‘perched’ lake. The rainforest’s canopy closes in, tries to communicate with its barely discernible collective sough. Psychedelic orange fungi gather on the muscular buttress roots of trees engulfed with strangler figs.
Above and behind me, to my left and right, birdsong softly ricochets: catbirds express their miaow-like call and the woompoo pigeon clicks and, as the name suggests, ‘woompoos’. I only pass a couple of bushwalkers along the way, but the tannin-stained waters and white sands of Lake Poona are mine alone when the forest eventually chooses to reveal it.
[To get there: Head four kilometres inland along Rainbow Beach Road, turn left onto (unsealed) Freshwater Road for Bymien picnic area, two kilometres further].
4:45pm: Drowning jalopies If you know your tides, it’s certainly possible to drive from Noosa to Rainbow along the beach, via the Teewah Beach and Leisha tracks, with permits (see the Great Beach Drive). However, if you don’t know (or respect) the tides, and try to navigate around infamous Mudlo Rocks just before the town at high tide, expect to be the subject of Rainbow Beach’s favourite spectator sport.
Locals sit (often with a cold beverage) at Phil Rogers Park to watch novices try their luck when the water’s up. Apparently, up to five cars a year are ‘lost’ on the rocks and swallowed by the tide. There’s a photo wall of shame of wrecked cars at Rainbow Beach Hotel (and even a Facebook group), documenting the carnage. Of course, the local tow truck drivers watch with interest but they can’t do much until the tide goes out again.
7pm: Not just surf and turf Rainbow Beach’s culinary scene is more quality-pub-grub than Michelin star, but there are exciting flavours sprouting up in unlikely places. It’s Friday night and the unpretentious Rainbow Beach SLSC is jumping (its cute logo harks back to a ’70s surf culture). Predictably, the tap beers cascade endlessly, and the meat tray raffles go off in clusters.
Tucked away at the end of the laminated menu, I notice a ‘gourmet’ section. I take a punt on Chefs [sic] Catch: grilled barra’ on a cannellini bean purée with sauté bok choy drizzled with oregano butter. It is a supreme feed, buttery on the way down but somehow light in the stomach. I nickname it the yeah/nah meal. Yeah for taste, nah for regret.
6:45pm: A quick dip in the Palms The bushwalk back up the track from town to Rainbow Ocean Palms Resort deserves a pre-slumber dip in the private pool. In daylight the low-key resort offers bush-beach-and-breaker views, which arch all the way up to Fraser, from its huge light-drinking windows and ample balconies. It’s very ‘big city’ for little Rainbow, but I cope.
Day 2: Let’s get beach fit
8am: Big day, big brekkie Cafe Jilarty at Rainbow’s mango smoothies are rich and almost thick-shake like, while my breakfast burrito soaks up the final few glasses of white sunk last night while watching live band The Vibe bring a little oomph into the laid-back Rainbow Beach Hotel’s main bar.
It’s not only the best cafe and breakfast option in town, but the gift shop next door is the most browse-worthy in town; for its beautiful multi-hued cast iron tea pots (from Gift House), for its light batik summer dresses, and for its seascapes from local artist Robin Hines.
10:30am: Kayaking the technicolour dream coast I can’t quite fathom why Mother Nature has put such a random spectrum of hues on the cliffs to the south of Rainbow, but the world is certainly glad she has. From afar, the coloured sand cliffs seem only a deep ochre red, but as we bounce past them in Epic Ocean Adventures’ troopie, infinite shades of brown, yellows and maroons materialise. We park up at Double Island Point with scores of 4WDers, some fishing, others just drinking in the Great Sandy National Park’s vastness.
Some wetsuit-up for surf lessons off the point, while I plop into a big yellow double kayak with Epic’s co-owner Sean Permezel and paddle through the rolling swell, a 19th-century lighthouse our on-shore marker. Loggerhead turtles lazily stick up their heads to suss us out; a flock of terns survey their fish market below.
Waves explode on Wolf Rock, way further out to sea. Below the outcrop is a grey nurse shark sanctuary, which makes for sublime scuba diving. Perhaps another time. We sit in silence, the white noise of the wind and the swell, as we wait for mass movement or the sound of a tail slap.
Today we’ll see no playful bottlenose dolphins, however, despite our patience. Sean tells me this is only the fourth time this year he’s failed to spot dolphins. I’m disappointed but all the elements of the day, from the funky pandanus palms on shore to the blubbery jellyfish below us, conspire to soothe me. We surf the fulsome waves into shore, Sean’s seamanship ensuring we stay upright.
1:30pm: Late lunch surprise The $15 lunch specials at the Rainbow Hotel’s Plantation Bar and Bistro are simple but spot-hitting. Of course, there’s a schnitty option, and a fish one too, but there’s one or two surprises on the menu as well, such as a chicken and mango pie. It’s a grand spot to while away the afternoon, in the cockles of the big but beckoning space of this modern ‘Queenslander’, but sandboarding beckons louder.
4:15pm: Dune boogie After requisitioning a sandboard (which is actually just a battered boogie board) from Rainbow Beach Hostel & Backpackers, I head up to Carlo Sand Blow, a 15-hectare dune system that opens up from the coastal vegetation less than two kilometres south. It’s undoubtedly the premier sunrise spot in the area, offering an elevated sea-sand aspect, and also a fairly forgiving place to surf the sand.
On my first attempt, I climb the highest and steepest section that retreats back into the undergrowth. At the top, I run a few steps then flop face-first onto the board. Momentum momentarily sluggish, the pace picks up to ‘holy ****’ as the worn track falls way. Some say Carlo is a little taste of Fraser Island. It’s ironic then that I get a big taste of Carlo (a mouthful of sand) as I ungraciously headplant at speed at the end of my first ever sandboard experiment.
6:30pm: It all comes together, Italian-style Luckily, there are few things that remove the taste of sand from your mouth like a good Italian meal. And Arcobaleno on the Beach (which is actually a couple of hundred metres back from the beach, down a lane off the main street) is that. In fact, it’s the best dining that Rainbow Beach has to offer.
The décor is surreal, the walls emblazoned with Picasso-like ‘Brazilian Samba themed’ murals, and there’s a variety of spaces in which to perch yourself under the white-raftered high ceiling, including a breezy terrace and comfy booths in the rear. The wood-fired pizzas are good, but the house-made pasta is better; the likes of the salmon gnocchi and seafood linguini stand out and proud. If you plan to order a third course, take note: the Zonzelle portion (cinnamon- and sugar-coated Italian-style doughnuts drizzled with Nutella) is fit for a kingdom.