Gold Coast to Rockhampton
Queensland is as diverse and delightful as it is magnificent and massive… and massive it certainly is!
Over the next few weeks we would travel well over 2700 kilometres from the Gold Coast to Cairns and beyond to the ‘The Tip’ of Cape York… throw in some national parks, some more beaches and a sprinkle of adventure and this journey soon turned into another amazing adventure I would love to share with you!
Brisbane was a pretty awesome city when we were there a few years back but this time we were heading straight for the Sunshine Coast and the beautiful town of Coolum where we planned our next stopover.
Brisbane has tons of great places to explore and things to do. Some of our favourites included a stroll through the Botanical Gardens and along South Bank or just relaxing on the Street Beach, visiting the Gallery of Modern Art and exploring the city of skyscrapers.
Over the next few hours we would touch our tyres on ancient volcanic peaks, lush rainforests and ocean-front National Parks with box-office views and pass over 100 kilometres of beautiful beaches stretching through the coastal towns of Caloundra, Mooloolaba and Maroochydore, Coolum Beach and Noosa.
We had holidayed at Mount Coolum at a friend’s house a few times and as we drove in we couldn’t help but notice the isolated, defining landmark of the volcanic dome of Mount Coolum, nestled in Mount Coolum National Park.
Taking a break we set off on an adventure along a rather steep path to the summit where we were privy to amazing views. We had had some amazing views over the past couple of weeks but I have to say only a few sights were as breathtaking as the scenery along this walking trail and at the summit.
Reaching the top we were greeted with gorgeous views… on one side we were treated to the coastline and sandy beaches that extend from Moreton Island to Double Island Point and the cane fields and wetlands encompassing the Maroochy River Valley. On the other side our photos were filled with hills and valleys… it was definitely worth the effort of the steep climb.
We loved Coolum in particular and on our last camping trip we stayed at the lovely Coolum Beach Holiday Park where we had direct access to the patrolled surf of the beautiful Coolum Beach. We were so looking forward to our stay at this park; just ride our bikes, explore the town, body surf and walk the lovely beach… but unfortunately, it wasn’t going to happen this visit as the caravan park site fees had risen considerably and at $60 a night for an unpowered site we decided to move on!
The Sunshine Coast Hinterland is the greenhouse of south-east Queensland and was just a 45 minute drive from Coolum Beach, and while laying on the beautiful sandy beaches is very much what the Sunshine Coast is famous for, the hinterland was just as beautiful.
This area was formed millions of years ago from a volcanic range that ran parallel just inland from the coastline creating rich soils from which a prosperous farming community evolved drawing many people to the region.
As we travelled away from the beaches we found ourselves in a lush and sometimes very tropical area that almost felt like we were in a totally different world. We were privy to beautiful views from the Blackall Range as we gazed down over wide beaches, with views stretching to Noosa all the way beyond Stradbroke Island, and inland over the picturesque Glasshouse Mountains. The drive took us to some ancient rainforest walks, along a bush track that was impossible to turn around on and through some beautiful little towns which had a real village feel and atmosphere with lots of local food, crafts and gifts stores… there was a little bit of something for everyone here.
Noosa was next on the map with the hope of finding a camp for the night. It was incredible to see how much Noosa had grown since our first visit to the Sunshine Coast and now it was a bustling place with lots of boutique shops, coffee shops and restaurants. It is known for a bit of sparkle and uptown flavour and is one of the most popular holiday places on the Sunshine Coast.
It is split into three sections; Noosa Heads, Noosa Junction and Noosaville and is surrounded by river, beach, hinterland, and national park and quite an incredible place to play. It is also the start of the Great Beach Drive along Rainbow Beach… a drive definitely on our bucket list.
The Noosa Heads National Park is situated right on the edge of town and we knew from a previous trip there was a great walking track so with a few hours to spare we headed straight there. We were looking forward to something a bit more energetic than a stroll and the Coastal Track, a 5.4 kilometre trail runs from the northern side of Noosa all the way to Sunshine Beach.
We had walked this track a couple of times and loved it. It took us to Tea Tree Bay, Winch Cove and Hell’s Gates, along to Alexandria Bay, Lion Rock/Devil’s Kitchen then on to Sunshine Beach. Just past Tea Tree Bay the bush track became a bit more rugged with rocky terrain and we were so thankful for our sturdy footwear and we were startled by a monitor lizard that rushed passed us which was a good indication the natural bush was alive with wildlife. This stunning park is home of the koala bear and Tea Tree Bay is apparently the place to spot them but unfortunately we didn’t get to see any.
Picnic Cove and Winch Cove further on form part of the Granite Bay area, a beach, which constantly changes between sand and large granite pebbles depending on storms and tides. At high tide the beach can totally disappear. This part of the track is high above the beach with several tracks leading down to the beach where some people were picnicing and swimming.
After Winch Cove we came to Hell’s Gate on the edge of the cliff. With a sheer drop down to the ocean and no barriers it was quite breathtaking… although a bit scary!
Next was Alexandria Bay and we were soon to find the Sunshine Coast’s unofficial ‘nudie beach’. This stretch of coastline was relatively uninhabited but it did provide the opportunity for those seeking a bit of solitude to remove shoes and socks (and clothes) for a cool dip in the water…. being caught unawares, we definitely didn’t attempt to take any photos here.
Devil’s Kitchen rocky outcrop was quite amazing and I should imagine spectacular during stormy weather with huge waves breaking over the top and from Lion Rock headland we were lucky enough to see turtles and dolphins in the crystal clear water.
The Queensland Parks and Wildlife Services had done a great job and installed emergency radios all along this coastal track, which gave us a sense of security and peace of mind especially when we realised we hadn’t passed many like-minded people. We did however pass a continual stream of dedicated surfers on the first part of the track carrying their surfboards quite a distance in search of a wave to ride.
After craning our necks for the majority of our walk to see the elusive koala, we were finally rewarded with a rare sighting of Australia’s favourite marsupial… right near the entrance gates! We had only ever seen them in koala sanctuaries or reserves – and we got to see two, happily sleeping in two different giant gum trees.
Back at Noosa the beautiful Main Beach was a height of activity. Amongst the gentle waves and surf lifesavers, people were learning to surf, others just visiting for a beach play day, some snorkelling and swimming and some just there to sight see… from all this it was only a hop, step and a jump away from the shopping frenzy in main street and the restaurants and cafes.
It only seemed we were there for a very short time but there was no need to spend any longer, as we had visited here before. It was now time to head to Noosa North Shore and our trip to Noosa wouldn’t be complete without checking out the start of the 40 kilometre stretch of white sand, which begins at the northern side of the mouth of the Noosa River and ends at Double Island Point, the stepping off point for Fraser Island.
To get to the North Shore we drove to Tewantin where we caught the ferry across Noosa River. This ferry crosses continuously and takes about 5 minutes, holding about 6 vehicles at a fee of $5 one way per vehicle.
We had already checked out CamperMate and Wiki Camps and knew this was where we would be camping for a few day and the Noosa North Shore Beach Campground was a great location right on the beach and surrounded by national park. The campground had basic amenities and was popular with campers who loved to get away from it all and enjoy fishing, surfing, bushwalking, beach walking or 4WDing. Here we could only revel in the abundance of untouched bushland and the picturesque beach overlooking Noosa Heads. The park was alive with very friendly birdlife, kangaroos and friendly campers… welcome to our blog Marlene and Barry from the Glasshouse Mountains and the guys from ‘GLO-X Powerless Illumination’… and what was only going to be a couple of nights turned into four.
GLO-X Powerless illumination, as the name suggests, are the world leaders in powerless illumination ‘light recycling technology’ and the guys at Noosa North Shore had some pretty impressive gear when we met up with them. They had come for the weekend with the intention of setting up a camper trailer (that was to be 1st prize in a competition with BFC), with all their gear and by the time they finished it looked like Christmas tree and very impressive. This lighting can be used as safety markers on bush walking tracks, in emergency situations in buildings, or in the home to light the way to the loo at night, as a night light or just to use to sit your water or specs on so they are easy found in the dark… and their products were great for camping too… to light a guide rope, mark a step or to lead us to the door of our tent in the dark of night! Useful for a multiple of tasks these were only a few. They are an Australian company so check out their gear at http://glo-x.com
Vehicle access to the beach was only a few hundred metres north of this campground and our plan from here was to begin the spectacular drive along Rainbow Beach. Only 4WDs are permitted access onto this beach and we were really vigilant about checking tide times before our journey. It wasn’t rocket science to know it was best to do the drive at low tide as we knew we could very easy become stranded by a swiftly incoming tide… and we didn’t want that to happen; we’d seen enough videos of 4WDs marooned and swallowed by the tide here!
It was a great drive along the beach come highway with even traffic signs with speeding limitations located along the way. We found this quite amusing at first to see road signs on a beach but we could see why when we met a few other 4WDs either travelling in the same direction or going the other way… and going slow wasn’t an option for them.
The speed limit is 80 kilometres on the beach and 45-50 near the camping areas and some stretches near Double Island Point… and don’t be surprised to hear the road rules are strictly enforced by Queensland Police here with frequent mobile speed cameras, random breath tests and drug detection units set up along the beach!
This beach was also a favourite with the locals of weekends… they would park up anywhere along the beach with a picnic table set up covered in cheese platters, a few stubbies and a bottle of bubbles!
Approximately 40 kilometres north of the 3rd cutting on the Noosa North Shore and set amongst scribbly gum woodland about 500 metres inland from the beach was Freshwater Camping Area and just a short drive from this camping area was the outstanding natural attraction of multi-coloured cliffs, which provided the perfect backdrop to 12 kilometres of coastline. The Coloured Sands (the colours caused by iron oxide deposits), stretch between Rainbow Beach (which is how this little town got its name) and Double Island Point… and dozens of sand colours can be seen on this stretch of beach with some of the striking sand cliffs towering to a height of 200 metres.
Rainbow Beach was formed originally for the sand mining industry and as the name suggests, was a very colourful beach in more ways than one. With only a small cluster of shops, pubs and accommodation facilities it was jam-packed with 4WDs and indeed a popular point of departure for Fraser Island. Taking the time out to have a cuppa and watch the vehicles driving on the beach was irresistible as was a walk along the walkway to the Carlo Sandblow;
a magnificent dune site with multiple viewpoints, which gave us the feeling we on top of the world; and a stroll along the beautiful isolated beach just see the spectacular dunes radiating 40 different colours of sand exposed in the cliff walls… it certainly was a slice of paradise.
The local Aboriginal people believe that…
Way back in Dreamtime, there lived on the banks of the Noosa River a beautiful black maiden named Murrawar, who fell in love with the Rainbow who came to visit her every evening in the sky. She would clap her hands and sing to this lovely rainbow.
One day, Burwilla, a bad man from a distant tribe stole Murrawar for his slave wife, often beating her cruelly and making her do all his work while he sat in the shade admiring his terrible killing boomerang. This boomerang was bigger than the biggest tree and full of evil spirits.
One day, Murrawar ran away and as she hurried along near the beach, which was then all flat, she looked back and saw Burwilla’s boomerang coming to kill her. Calling out for help she fell to the ground too frightened to run. Suddenly she heard a loud noise in the sky and saw her faithful Rainbow racing towards her across the sea.
The wicked Boomerang attacked the brave Rainbow and they met with a roar like thunder, killing the Boomerang instantly and shattering the Rainbow into many small pieces.
Alas, the poor sick and shattered Rainbow lay on the beach to die, and is still there with all its colours forming the hills along the beach.
Now no trip along the east coast of Australia would be complete without exploring the beautiful Fraser Island and there was something quite magical about first stepping foot on this island.
Stretching over 120 kilometres, it is the largest sand island in the world and is the only place in the world where rainforest grows on sand. With its beautiful beaches, towering old growth forests, pristine freshwater lakes, and an abundance of wild life including its most famous resident, the dingo (it is home to the purest dingo in Australia)… it was certainly worth the detour but don’t forget, if you’re driving on Fraser Island you’ll need the right permits to do so – it is a World Heritage Site after all!
A barge mantarayfraserislandbarge.com.au runs continuously between Inskip Point (where there is a great campground), and Fraser’s southern tip daily. The 10 minute journey costs $120 return per car.
Half the fun of visiting Fraser Island, which incidentally lacks any sealed roads, was the challenge of driving on the sandy beaches and trying not to get bogged in the sand… well, that was highly likely for us, especially when we didn’t have much experience driving on sand!
Driving a 4WD with low-range and high clearance on this island is the only way to travel on these bumpy roads… and apparently the bill is hefty if you have to be towed off.
From the peacefulness of the crystal clear water of Wanggoolba Creek that runs silently through the rugged heart of Fraser Island; to Lake Birrabeen with its gorgeous white sandy beaches and crystal clear waters that fall from the sky; Stonetool sandblow
where an ancient forest is being uncovered as the sand continues to move across the island; a beach drive to Champagne Pools for a dip, a swim in the iconic Lake McKenzie and Lake Wabby or Indian Head with spectacular golden beaches stretching as far as the eye can see… this island was so wonderfully diverse, one moment we’d be walking through lush green rainforests and then we would stumble onto a perfect white sandy beach with crystal clear water… some of the campsites were pretty remote too and there was no better place to get away from the suburbia and sleep under the stars!
We had heard so much about Fraser Island before going, and apart from being a little crowded, we can honestly say it definitely lived up to its reputation.
Back on mainland Australia we headed for Tin Can Bay. Now where is Tin Can Bay you might ask? And you might be forgiven for not knowing prior to reading this blog… but you have absolutely no idea what you are missing out on.
We found this sleepy little village last trip while travelling south. It is nestled just off the Bruce Highway, 50 kilometres from Gympie on the stunning Cooloola Coast. It has most services, a great caravan park, a beautiful harbour dotted with an array of yachts, fishing boats and houseboats all parked up and relaxing, and is a favourite fishing spot for the avid grey nomad travelling north to escape the cold winter months down south… the only downer, a patchy phone reception that some would say is a good thing when looking for somewhere to hide away on holiday.
Heading on, our next stop was Gympie where we stopped for a cuppa and stocked up on some groceries before heading on to Maryborough then Hervey Bay. We had already decided that we would spend the night in Bundaberg.
Gympie is where the famous Gympie Music Muster is held each year. Australia’s favourite outdoor country music and camping festival is held in Amamoor Creek State Forest Park and this iconic Aussie music festival brings music and mateship together under one big open roof, apparently offering an experience like no other.
There were plenty of roadwork happening along the Bruce Highway as we continued on consequently causing lots of delays but we weren’t complaining as we had plenty of time… it only slowed the traffic for a bit but in the interest of road safety it was probably a good thing because it gave us a chance to contemplate the signage along the highway, and interestingly enough a great road safety campaign made its first appearance about half an hour north of Gympie on the Bruce Highway with the aim of keeping the mind active to help avoid fatigue. The road signs which read ‘Fatigue Zone – trivia games help you stay alert’ were situated at intervals along the highway and asked trivia questions such as – ‘Rockhampton is famous for? Of course they gave us some time to think about it and decide on our answer and then 3 or 4 kilometres down the road the answer was displayed on the next sign.
For this particular question the correct answer would be – beef cattle, however someone thought they would alter the sign to read ‘beer cattle’ which bought a smile to our faces and at least for that period of time we certainly didn’t feel fatigued… and from then on we were constantly looking for the next sign. What a great initiative!
Next along the road was Hervey Bay. It had been a couple of years since we had visited Hervey Bay and it really hadn’t changed very much. This cosy little coastal city has earned the reputation as the whale watching capital of the world – but not at this time of year unfortunately! It is also known as the jewel of the Queensland crown. Fellow travellers had told us if it wasn’t whale season there really wasn’t much else there, and they were right!
Bundaberg is the largest town in the Fraser Coast region and is known across the land more for its rum and fruit-farming backpackers. It is famous for the Bundaberg Rum Distillery and it’s also the gateway to the beginning of the Southern Great Barrier Reef.
I was so excited to visit the Bundaberg Rum Distillery and take a photo of the Bundaberg Polar Bear who resides in a glass case there… and for me this was one of the main reasons to come to Bundaberg… it’s rum is famous, well in Australia it is anyway!
This company was started in 1888 by a group of sugar millers, led by Frederick Buss who had huge amounts of molasses from the sugar refining process, and no market for it. One of the mills, the Millaquin Sugar Mill, sits right next to the distillery and although Bundaberg is no longer owned by the group of sugar millers, it still has a strong relationship with this one. Steam from the mill is used in the distilling process and, of course, all the molasses comes from the mill.
It was getting late in the day when we pulled out of the distillery and headed for the first free camp we could find on ‘CamperMate’, which was only about 10 kilometres down the road. Sharon Gorge Nature Park Rest Area was located on the main Gin Gin to Bundy road and was a great one night stop, although there was a bit of traffic noise and it was very crowded with a few caravans and lots of backpackers… but it did have the added bonus of a bush walk just behind the rest area. The 2 kilometre walk (return) took us down a bush pathway and through a gorge that lead to a lookout over the Burnett River.
The amenities here were relatively clean, there were picnic tables and free BBQ’s, the parking area was level with plenty of room and there was a huge lawn area perfect for pitching a tent… but on the down side, it was a shame to see that many that stayed here were quite disrespectful, leaving rubbish everywhere. This was not acceptable especially when there were plenty of bins provided! It is sad to have to say this, but it is these people who ruin it for everyone and are the reason why many ‘free camping spots’ have been closed!
Continuing on early the next morning and approximately 1 ½ hours later we came to the beautiful Town of 1770 and Agnes Water.
1770 is Australia’s only town named after a number and is in fact the largest number that a town is named in the world. Google tells me that Kentucky USA has a town named Eighty Eight. Aside from this 1770 or Seventeen Seventy (which ever way you want to write it), is a sleepy little town situated on the Round Hill Creek, which is now a protected area, where amazingly all future building has ceased.
This area is saturated in Australian history and as its natural state has been relatively unchanged for thousands of years it is almost in the same pristine condition as it was when Captain Cook first sailed past Round Hill Headland in his ship the Endeavour and went ashore on his second landing in Australia. Originally called Round Hill the town had its name changed in 1936 to 1770 in honour of James Cook’s landing.
Sir Joseph Banks also collected plant species from this area, which were noted in his journals and I could only imagine the awe as he came across hundreds of species of plants he’d never seen before: pandanus palms, banksias, Eucalypts, hibiscus flowers, and small forested valleys filled with beautiful blue butterflies.
Agnes Water was a little gem also. It is about 8 kilometres south of 1770 with only one road leading in and out of town and the longer we stayed the longer we wanted to stay, it certainly was an idyllic part of the world where time seemed to stand still.
Workman’s Beach Campground was a great campground with a great beach, a great walk and where it was all about catching the sunrise over the water in Noosa, it’s all about catching the sunset over the water in Agnes Waters… a rare treat in Queensland thanks to a headland that faces west. This was also Queensland’s most northerly surf beach so we had lots of fun in the ocean knowing the further we headed north the more likely there were to be crocs!
Our next stop after Agnes Water and 1770 was Tannum Sands. Tannum Sands is so close to Gladstone it is practically one of it’s suburbs and we hadn’t expected it to be as stunning as it was with its endless pristine beaches.
Unlike the naming of most towns this one was quite unusual and a bit amusing. It originated from a group of children who returned quite sunburnt from a Sunday School picnic, the comment was made that ‘we can really tan ‘um over there’. One of the people present worked for the Queensland Land Department and thinking it would be a good name for the area, registered it.
Then came the industrial port of Gladstone and it’s industry could not be missed with all its power stations and refineries… and it appeared the majority of the population were employed at these workplaces, the dead give away… everyone seemed to be wearing high visibility jackets and work boots!
It’s major industries are Queensland Alumina, the NRG Power Station, Boyne Smelters, the Gladstone Ports Corporation, Rio Tinto Aluminium Yarwun and Cement Australia and it has a population of just under 30,000. This small industrial town is also the gateway to Heron Island which lies approximately 72 kilometres north east off the coast.
108 kilometres further on we came to Rockhampton, or Rocky, as it is referred to by the locals. We had been here before and Rocky was really quite lovely in its own sort of way. We had originally expected it to be similar to Gladstone but it didn’t take us long last trip to realise there was much more happening here and it was a much nicer town with its beautiful heritage buildings, wide streets, nice little shopping strip and a great free zoo!
Rockhampton is known as the beef capital of Australia, which was quite obvious when we were out and about… a large model steer greeted us at the ‘Welcome to Rockhampton’ sign, there were cattle transportation trucks, the local removal company had a cow statue on the roof labeled ‘remove-a-bull’ and people wore cowboy hats. The Central Queensland’s cattle industry is worth more than $900 million per year and there are 2.8 million cattle in the region.
We had booked into the Riverside Carvan Park which was just over the bridge as our car was in for a service the next day. We had booked into this same park four years earlier when we had our car serviced then too, but this time the park had changed quite a bit and the fact that the caravan park locked its gates after dark and most shops had steel bars for security said a lot about the crime rate in the area. Rockhampton also seemed to have a lot more homeless living under the bridge and it has always had a thriving Aboriginal community but sadly, according to a local security guard, a lot of trouble is caused by some of these people.
From Rockhampton, the 100 kilometre round trip to Yeppoon and Emu Park was a lovely seaside escape and it was so lovely to walk on warm sand again. Yeppoon, a bustling little town had plenty of shops and cafés whilst Emu Park was much smaller but offered gorgeous views over the Keppel Island group which are only 20 kilometres off the shore and very accessible.
Back at Rocky we hit the road heading north… we have so much more to explore and so many more places to see and if my blogs exploring our beautiful island continent by road haven’t got you packing the car by now, then the journey north to Cairns, Port Douglas and Cape York and beyond will…