Driving along Rainbow Beach at Sunset

How to do the Great Beach Drive with or without a car

Whoever named Queensland’s best drive routes was certainly a literal person, the clue is always in the name, and the Great Beach Drive through Fraser Island is no different.

It’s great. There’s a beach. And you’ll need a car to do it. Sorry, #spoileralert

But just because you need a car, doesn’t mean you need to be the driver. The Great Beach Drive is the kind of road trip where the driving can be outsourced. And once you see what’s on offer, you probably won’t want to be in the driver’s seat anyway.

Buckle up and follow our itinerary to discovering the Great Beach Drive.

Day 1: Noosa to Rainbow Beach

Fraser Island, Great Beach Drive | How to do the Great Beach Drive through Fraser Island

First things first, let’s talk about wheels. You’re about to embark on a 380km long adventure that packs more into its route than the mileage suggests. A triple threat of UNESCO Biosphere Reserves, a World Heritage Marine Park and the largest sand island in the world.

It goes with the territory that the Great Beach Drive is a 4WD destination. So, unless you have your own wheels, are happy to hire some and have experience sand driving (or willing to learn how to do it), you’ll be stuck to the same old bitumen roads that you’re used to.

That is, unless you take the back seat to one of the 4WD tours like Great Beach Drive 4WD Tours or The Discovery Group who can play captain for your adventure and do all the driving for you.

Whether you decide to DIY or go with a tour provider, from Noosa, swap bitumen for sandtacks, taking the third exit after Noosa North Shore to pop out on one of the most scenic highways in the world.

There’s just over 100km of sand tracks connecting Noosa to Rainbow Beach where we’d recommend basing yourself for the night.

The drive might be short, but it’s certainly scenic, passing the coloured sand cliffs that give Rainbow Beach its name in 72 different shades of red, yellow, orange, ochre and rust.

Work with the tides (or your 4WD hosts) to arrive at the Carlo Sand Blow in time for sunset. You’ll see the 15 hectare sand mass which acts as an inland sand desert above the town of Rainbow Beach turn a majestic colour of gold.

Tip: Before setting off, be sure to contact Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service to arrange your permit for the trip.

Where to stay

Rainbow Beach, Great Beach Drive | How to do the Great Beach Drive through Fraser Island

Rainbow Beach might be a tiny town, but has accommodation options that belie its size.

If you’re a camper, pull up the car at Inskip Peninsula Recreation Area. More than just a campsite, it’s an important wetland area that separates the surf from the sheltered estuary waters of Tin Can Bay and the Great Sandy Strait.

Are you a camping hater or not so into the DIY camp experience? Rainbow Beach Ultimate Camping can provide you with a fully set-up campsite if you don’t have your own gear. Kick back in a hammock and enjoy the sunset over the bay. Enjoy the views of Fraser Island just over the inlet while someone else does all the heavy lifting.

Alternatively, put a roof over your head and check into Rainbow Ocean Palms Resort, where hosts Mark and Tanya will provide a true local’s guide to the area.

Day 2: Rainbow Beach to Fraser Island

Fraser Island 4WD | How to do the Great Beach Drive through Fraser Island

From Inskip Point, wave goodbye to the mainland and take a vehicle barge to Fraser Island, the world’s largest sand island.

This sand pit of an island is undoubtedly a geographical oddity. Tall rainforests grow on sand dunes at elevations of over 200 metres.

The Manta Ray Fraser Island barge will drop you at the southern end of Fraser Island, which is the proverbial blocks to the iconic 75 Mile Beach, which runs the east coast of the island.

You’ll share the highway not just with fishermen and other drivers but Air Fraser Island. The pilots use the coveted sandy tracks as their tarmac too.

Since you’re on an abridged tour of the island, why not join Air Fraser Island to see what 1,840 km² of sand looks like from the air?

Back on solid ground, get Insta snappy at the infamous Maheno Shipwreck washed ashore at Happy Valley, before floating down Eli Creek in an inflatable tube (a la the floating bars in Thailand, minus the bars of course).

For more must see Fraser icons, consult your map or ask your host to take you to these hotspots.

Where to stay

Being a national park, this sand island is yours for the camping. Simply find your patch of sand at any of the designated Queensland Parks & Wildlife camping spots on Fraser Island. We even have a handy infographic to work out where you want to stay.

Not so into sleeping under the canvas? For a few more creature comforts, consider checking into Eurong Beach Resort, on the east side of the island.

Pssst – if you decide to stay an extra night, our 48 hour guide will keep you out of trouble.

Day Three: Fraser Island to Hervey Bay

Central Station, Fraser Island 4WD | How to do the Great Beach Drive through Fraser Island

Fraser Island might only be 22 kilometers wide at its widest point, but criss-crossing the island from east to west shouldn’t be dismissed as a quick trip when you’re down to 20km/hour.

Today’s plan is to take the bumpy inland tracks from the east side to Kingfisher Bay Resort, with some epic detours along the way.

As you cross the island, turn the history books back to the 1920s to see Central Station which was once home to 100 people when it was a logging station. Allow enough time to take some of these short walks through the rainforest to see crystal clear streams and basket ferns

From Central Station, swap the forest for the lake with a visit to Lake McKenzie, Fraser Island’s (K’Gari’s) most popular freshwater lake with its silica sand and bright blue water.

Continue to Kingfisher Bay Resort where your barge to the mainland’s Hervey Bay awaits.

Hervey Bay, isn’t just the end of this drive, it’s the start of new adventure. If you time your visit for winter, you’ll catch the migrating humpback whales.

Rather than turn the car back to Noosa, you may like to extend your stay for 48 hours in Hervey Bay and join one of the whale watching cruises to see an abundance of whales and their newborns. Click here to find out which whale watching tour is for you before you go.

A note on safety for this trip

Fraser Island, Great Beach Drive | How to do the Great Beach Drive through Fraser Island

Before you point your 4WD at the barge and make like a bronco behind the wheel, here’s a reality check. Driving on sand is tricky, and you need your wits about you at all times. If you’re worried, hire a driver so you can sit back and relax.

If you’re going to DIY, we’d recommend a short course with Australian Offroad Academy before setting off (here’s a snippet of what you’ll learn).

The Great Beach Drive is a designated road. Follow the road rules – 80km/hour on the beach, 50km/hour along beach camping areas.
• Check tide times. Only drive on low tide and, if you don’t feel like sailing to Fiji, get off the beach two hours either side of high tide.
• Lower your tyre pressures to 20psi (and remember to top it back up once you get off the beach!).
• Engage 4WD and/or diff locks immediately on leaving the Rainbow Beach barge at Inskip Point.
• Watch out for kids building sandcastles and fisherman reeling backwards. Driving on the beach means you need to be in super alert mode.
• Mid-week will be a quieter experience.