COOLOOLA Recreation Area (RA) is often viewed as a ‘smaller sibling’ to its more famous counterpart (Fraser Island) in Great Sandy NP.
However, it is a brilliant touring and camping destination in its own right, located just three hours’ drive north of Brisbane.
Accessed from the south via a vehicular ferry near Tewantin that takes you across the Noosa River (the RA is just north of the Sunshine Coast tourist mecca of the same name), Cooloola RA offers a brilliant weekend (or longer) escape from the city, with its mix of beach driving, loads of bushwalking tracks, inland lakes that host numerous native birdlife (for the birdwatchers among us; there has been up to 350 species recorded here), beach and river fishing, paddling (canoe or kayak) and a spread of sublime campsites that range from right on the beach to nestled beside Noosa River’s banks.
For a weekend adventure we recommend starting at the southern end of the RA, with access via the aforementioned ferry. Don’t forget to buy your vehicle access permit – $25.90 week or $41 month – and camping permits from the Great Sandy Information Centre, near the Noosa River ferry, before you get on the ferry (visit Queensland's Department of National Parks site for all the info).
Once you’re in the RA you will soon be at the first access track that leads to Teewah Beach. This beach runs the full length of the RA’s eastern border and is a great drive, with one caveat: be sure to check tide times and air-down your tyres before venturing onto the sand.
Surprisingly (or maybe not), Teewah Beach still claims a few vehicles each year, simply due to drivers not being aware of tide times – or becoming bogged at the turn of the tide. Either way, it’s easy to avoid an act of stupidity by simply checking tide times as part of your trip prep. Lecture over, it’s time to continue north – albeit with some caution.
Top 5 tips for beach driving
The fact that fishing is so popular here means you’re going to encounter any number of anglers (young and old) on the beach, so it pays to drive carefully and keep an eye out just in case.
Another reason Teewah Beach is so popular is the fact you can camp right on the beach; once you pass the 20km No Camping zone, the next 15km or so allows near-free reign when it comes to setting up camp.
Use common sense and camp back from the beach a bit and you’ll be rewarded with the chance to have a campfire (fire warnings permitted; and you need to bring firewood) and also wake up to one of this country’s best sunrises each morning – not a bad start to the day while you cook brekky. Not bad at all…
If you want a little bit more in regards to amenities, the Freshwater campground is the better option. With 59 sites and a toilet/shower block that even has hot water (you need to use $1 coins to get hot water, but it’s a cheap luxury!), this campground is excellent and is only 500m from the beach.
The Freshwater 4WD Track nearby runs for 15km and is a nice touring option for an hour or so, taking you past Freshwater Lake (one of the many freshwater lakes found in the RA) and linking onto Rainbow Beach Road, if you want to head to that northern village for supplies.
For off-roaders looking for challenging driving, you can opt to turn off Teewah Beach at Kings Bore Track. This 40km circuit is actually part of the RA’s fire management track network, but makes for a great four- to five-hour adventure as you negotiate the sandy track surface past huge eucalypts and the historical Camp Milo (this was part of the timber industry’s tramway built here in the late 1800s to assist in hauling timber out).
Another of the many drives here is the Cooloola Beach Drive, tracking along the northern coastline of the RA from the village of Rainbow Beach in the north and allowing tourers to access the walk to the historic Double Island Point Lighthouse – a must-do on your visit here. Be sure to do this drive at low tide and be careful negotiating Mudio Rocks near the village at the beginning of the drive. And don’t forget to check out the multi-coloured sands you find here.
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Another shorter off-road sojourn is the Harry’s Hut Road 4WD track, back down in the RA’s southern section. Harry’s Hut is an old timber workers’ shelter but is actually named after a Cooroy pharmacist, Harry Springs, who used to fish and camp here and bought the hut in the 1960s.
As you can see, for a relatively ‘small’ Recreation Area, Cooloola packs a mighty big punch, with plenty more to occupy those who opt to stay longer, including longer bushwalks, such as the Cooloola Great Walk (a 102km four-day journey, staying at walker-only camps), canoe/kayak trips along the Noosa River, and, of course, even more fishing. Yeah, we reckon it’d be hard to leave, too.