Rainbow Beach is a gorgeous, tiny, sleepy coastal beach town situated between the Sunshine Coast and Hervey Bay. While Rainbow Beach is often considered a place to stop either before or after heading to Fraser Island, there are plenty of great things to do in Rainbow Beach itself, making it well worth a stopover for at least a few days.
Rainbow Beach is part of the Great Beach Drive, a beach drive stretching from Noosa in the south to Fraser Island in the north. The town is part of the larger Great Sandy National Park which includes two different sections – one section being the Cooloola Recreation Area which includes Teewah Beach, parts of the Noosa River, parts of Tin Can Bay and of course the other section being K’gari (Fraser Island).
While Rainbow Beach is most famous for its coloured sand cliffs it is also home to a host of other nature based experiences, along with endless stretches of beach, Rainbow Beach is the ideal place for water lovers. Things to do at Rainbow Beach include relaxing on the beach or partaking in other water activities such as swimming, kayaking, surfing or fishing.
Other Rainbow Beach things to do include exploring the Great Sandy National Park and it’s the perfect place for day trips to nearby places such as Double Island Point, Tin Can Bay and even the World Heritage listed Fraser Island.
If you’re planning a trip to Rainbow Beach and wondering exactly what to do in Rainbow Beach, then, this is the perfect guide for you. In this things to do Rainbow Beach guide, we cover all the awesome Rainbow Beach activities, information about beach permits and how to get there.
If you like to camp in Queensland, join our Queensland Camping FB group where you can talk with other campers, ask for advice and share your own camping experiences.
This post may contain compensated links. Please refer to my disclaimer here for more information.
Camping / Beach Permits
If you plan on driving on Rainbow Beach (which I highly recommend – but it is not necessary for exploring Rainbow Beach), you will need a high clearance 4WD and a few permits. If you plan on camping in the Cooloola Recreation Area or the Inskip Peninsula Recreation Area (not private caravan parks in Rainbow Beach), you will also need a camping permit.
Below is a brief overview of the various permits, how much they cost and where you can get them from:
- Vehicle Access Permit: Regardless of whether you’re a day visitor or camping in the Cooloola Recreation Area, you will need a Vehicle Access Permit. Vehicle Permits are $13.40 per day, $34.10 per week, $53.65 per month or $270 per year. If you plan on going to Fraser Island, you can also get a combined Fraser and Cooloola permit, which works out better if you intend to visit both areas.
- Camping Permits: If you plan on camping anywhere in the Cooloola Recreation Centre, you will need to book your camping permits. Please note that these are not required if you’re camping in any private campgrounds around Rainbow Beach.
All permits can be purchased/booked here.
Getting to Rainbow Beach
If you want to take the picturesque route to Rainbow Beach, it’s highly recommended you take the Great Beach Drive, starting in Noosa. Of course, this won’t make sense though if you’re coming from the north.
However, if you’re coming from somewhere in South East Queensland AND have a high clearance 4WD AND the required permits as discussed above, then below are the directions you need to reach Rainbow Beach via The Great Beach Drive.
To get to the Great Beach Drive’s starting point, you’ll need to make your way to Noosa. It is recommended that from the Bruce Highway you take the Noosa turnoff at Cooroy. You’ll note plenty of signs for Noosa, but don’t follow these signs, instead look for signs that take you to Tewantin.
Once you’re in Tewantin turn left at the Shell Service Station onto Moorindil Road – this will take you to the Noosa River Ferry. It is $8 for a car or $16 if you have a van/trailer up to 4.75m and $17 for a van/trailer up to 7.75m. No bookings can be made, just turn up and make you have the cash to pay. The ferry operates 7 days from 5.30 am to 10.20 pm Sunday to Thursday and until 12.20 am Friday and Saturdays.
After you take the ferry across the river, continue straight onto Maximillian Road for around 2.2km and then turn right onto Beach Road. Drive another 2.1kms on the bitumen road and then left past the first beach access cutting and continue north on the Wilderness Track. Drive another 2.8kms to the end of the bitumen road and take the third beach cutting which is just past Noosa North Shore campground. Don’t take any of the previous beach cuttings as they don’t allow you to drive north too far.
Make sure BEFORE you go onto the beach to stop and reduce your tyre pressure to around 16 psi.
Now you can make your way onto the beach and turn left. Woohoo, welcome to the Great Beach Drive – one of the most beautiful beach drives in the world!!!!!
From Noosa to Rainbow Beach is around 70kms via the beach. For the most part, it’s just straight up the beach; however once you reach the southern side of Double Island Point, you’ll turn left and take the Leisha Track across to the northern side.
Once you make across to the north side of Double Island Point, continue north along the beach. Just before you reach the town you’ll find the Mudlo Rocks Rainbow Beach is so famous for. These rocks are only passable at low tide. If you can pass Mudlo Rocks, you can continue the short drive up to Rainbow Beach and then exit the beach just as you pass the Surf Life Saving Club.
If you cannot make your timing work or Mudlo Rocks is not passable for any reason, then you’ll need to backtrack to the southern side of Double Island Point and take the Freshwater Track. The Freshwater track starts about 10 kilometres south of Double Island Point. The entrance is clearly signposted. This track brings you out onto the main road to Gympie, at the end of the track turn right onto the bitumen road and from here it’s just a short drive onto Rainbow Beach.
Things to do in Rainbow Beach
Below we’ve listed some of the very best things to do around Rainbow Beach.
Coloured Sands – Rainbow Beach
One of the most popular Rainbow Beach attractions is the coloured sands. These magnificent colours are actually an effect the minerals in the rock have created over thousands of years in the beachside cliffs. Here you can spot colours such as white, black, yellow, pink, orange and brown.
According to Aboriginal legend, these coloured sands were formed when a beautiful Aboriginal girl named Murrawar fell in love with the Rainbow. While trying to protect Murrawar from an evil man who stole her for his slave wife, the Rainbow shattered during the fight, and his colourful spirits were spread across the cliffs.
The coloured sands are located about 2kms south of the Rainbow Beach Surf Club. You can either walk here or drive if you have a 4WD, take the beach access from Griffin Esplanade.
The Rainbow Stairs
If you’re looking for a great photo opportunity, then head on over to the vibrant Rainbow Stairs. These stairs were painted the LGBTIQ pride rainbow colours as part of the 2018 Pride House Commonwealth Games.
The bottom of the Rainbow Stairs is located in the beach car park, just by the amenities block.
Carlo Sand Blow, Rainbow Beach
When you’re wondering what to do at Rainbow Beach, you can’t miss a stroll along the magnificent Carlo Sand Blow. The Carlo Sand Blow is a huge sand mass covering over 15 hectares, which overlooks the towering coloured sands and the coastline from Double Island Point to Inskip Peninsula and the southern tip of Fraser Island.
The sand blow is a result of sand being driven inland by strong winds over thousands and thousands of years. You’ll notice tree stumps across the dunes, which is an indication of the vegetation that once grew here, now buried under a huge mass of sand.
The best way to get to Carlo Sand Blow is to drive into the car park located at the end of Cooloola Drive. From here there is a 600m track to the sand blow. It is all uphill there with numerous steps, but an easy downhill walk back.
If you’re keen, from the viewing platform, walk out across the sand and check out the paragliders who fly from the edge of the sand blow.
Surfing or Learn to Surf – Rainbow Beach
If you’re looking for the best place to go surfing near Rainbow Beach, it doesn’t get any better then at Double Island Point. Said to be one of Australia’s longest waves, Double Island Point is popular among locals and visitors due to its long right hand point break. It’s also in an absolutely stunning location which is only accessible by 4WD.
If you need to brush up on your surf skills or figure it’s about time to learn, then you’re in luck as there are two surf schools in Rainbow Beach – either the Rainbow Beach Learn to Surf or Rainbow Beach Surf School. Both schools offer lessons down at Rainbow Beach, while Rainbow Beach Surf School also offers surf lessons at Double Island Point.
Boogie Boarding, Swimming and Snorkeling – Rainbow Beach
If you’re looking for a swim or boogie board, then head to the patrolled beach at Rainbow Beach. Not only is the beach here patrolled year round it’s also netted for peace of mind. Depending on the conditions, you can also bring your 4WD down on the beach and set up for the day, just outside the flags.
It is recommended not to swim in the central or northern beach (which isn’t patrolled) as these areas are known for rips which can be quite dangerous.
There isn’t a lot to see off Rainbow Beach for those wanting to snorkel, but the kids might enjoy snorkelling and spotting small fish around Inskip Point or at Double Island Point.
Diving – Rainbow Beach – Wolf Rock Dive Centre
If you’re keen on doing some diving while you’re in Rainbow Beach, then you’re in luck because Wolf Rock, located just off Double Island Point, is said to be one of the best dive sites in Australia! Part of the Great Sandy Marine Park, Wolf Rock, is the endangered grey nurse’s natural habitat and is for experienced divers only.
Besides grey nurse sharks, other marine life in the area includes manta rays, humpback whales, leopard sharks, giant gropers, eagle rays, turtles, octopus, pelagic fish and other varieties of tropical fish.
Wolf Rock is a deep dive site and so to do this dive, you will need to hold an Advanced Open Water Certification or take a Deep Dive Course first.
Horse Riding – Rainbow Beach
A nice way to explore Rainbow Beach is on horseback! Rainbow Beach Horse Rides offer a range of different riding options, including beach rides, country rides and even full moon rides.
Anyone can go horse riding, from complete beginners to those more experienced. The horses are calm and gentle so perfect for complete novices and the guides are professionally trained and experienced riders, so you are in safe hands.
Children from the age of 10 can also go horse riding unless they are experienced riders in which case any age is fine. If you want to take little inexperienced children for a ride, they offer short rides from their yards.
Inskip Point is the gateway to Fraser Island and a popular camping spot for those that want to camp close to Rainbow Beach. The area is a long narrow sandy strip of land built up by wind and waves over time. It forms a natural break with the Great Sandy Strait on one side and Tin Can Inlet on the other side.
Inskip Point is a popular place for those who enjoy beach fishing and water activities such as kayaking and swimming. Although if swimming here, keep in mind that the beach is not patrolled and the area is known for its strong tidal currents so be sure to stay close to the shore.
If you’re keen on camping at Inskip Point, you can read our full guide here.
Searys Creek – Rainbow Beach
Just a short 7.5kms drive from Rainbow Beach’s township is Seary’s Creek, a gorgeous swimming hole. The creek is fed from rainwater which seeps through the old Cooloola sand mass and although clear, has a subtle orange, tea-tree stain. The creek’s bottom is sandy, so it’s perfect for strolling or wading through the shallow waters.
There is a 100m wheelchair accessible boardwalk that passes through the Australian bush to the creek from the day use area. From here, you can easily get into the water. The creek is not overly deep, but there are a few areas in the creek where you can lie down and submerge yourself in the water.
The area has toilets and picnic tables, so it is the perfect place to spend a few hours.
Poona Lake – Rainbow Beach
Another place for a swim close to Rainbow Beach is at Poona Lake. The lake is a tea coloured freshwater lake with a sandy white beach and nothing short of a gorgeous hidden oasis.
To reach the lake, you’ll need to drive to the Bymien picnic area via Freshwater Track – no permit is required for this section of the track and any vehicle can drive it. From here it’s a 4.2 km return trip to the lake which takes around 1.5 hours.
There are no facilities at the lake itself, however there are toilets and picnic tables at the Bymien picnic area.
Another lake worth visiting, which is not too far from Poona Lake is Freshwater Lake. The lake is located a short walk from Teewah Beach or the Freshwater Camping Area.
You can start the walk from the day use car park on the opposite side of Freshwater Road from the Freshwater camping area. The walk is 2.4km return and it is recommended to allow around an hour. If you’d like to walk the lake’s full circuit, it’s an additional 2.3km return and you’ll need to allow an additional hour.
Swimming at Freshwater Lake is not recommended, however it is a great place to spot local birds such as kingfishers, brahminy kites and the eastern yellow robin.
To reach Freshwater Lake, you will need to take the Freshwater Track which requires a 4WD and you will also require a permit.
Day Trip to Double Island Point
An absolute must do while staying at Rainbow Beach is to take a day trip or two down to Double Island Point. Here you will find pristine clear blue seas and miles and miles of gorgeous beach. The ocean here is home to dolphins and other marine life, and the fact that there is no accommodation, not even camping allowed, makes the place even more picturesque.
Double Island Point is actually not an island at all; rather it’s a long sandy spit with huge dunes. However some say from a distance the point appears to be separated by the sea – hence the name.
It is only accessible by 4WD though and you will need a permit to drive there – but the effort is well worth it. You’ll need to check the tides before coming and only travel two to three hours either side of high tide.
There are toilets at Double Island Point, just to the right as you come out of Leisha Track towards Rainbow Beach – however there are no other facilities here and the toilets can be quite a hike depending on where you park, so you’ll need to bring everything with you. Of course, make sure you take everything back with you as well.
Located on the northern side of the headland, Honeymoon Bay is the perfect spot to spend the day. The area has some of Australia’s most picturesque tidal lagoons, the perfect place for a dip. It is also at Honeymoon Bay where you will find one of Australia’s longest right hand breaks – so it’s the perfect place for surfing or bodyboarding too.
Please note that this area is not patrolled though, so please take care when swimming here.
A walk to the lighthouse is well worth it for some spectacular 360 degree views. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Noosa in the south and Rainbow Beach and Fraser Island in the north. Depending on the time of the year, you should also see dolphins, turtles, manta rays, and whales during the migration season.
The lighthouse was actually built in England in 1884 and shipped to Double Island Point. The lighthouse was fully automated in 1991 and remains an active working lighthouse today.
To access the lighthouse walk, you’ll need to make your way to the southern side of the Double Island Point Headland. So if you’re coming from Rainbow Beach, you’ll need to drive onto the Leisha Track and then turn left on the southern beach. Then drive a further 2km north up the beach to the walk entrance.
The walk is 2.2km return and it is recommended that you allow 1 hour for the return journey.
Visit Fraser Island
While it’s highly recommended to spend a few days over on Fraser Island, you can take a day trip there if you’re short on time. If you have a 4WD you can take the barge over from Inskip Point otherwise you can join an organised day tour.
If taking your own 4WD, be sure to purchase the appropriate vehicle permits and you’ll also need to pay for the return barge journey. This can work out to be expensive and depending on how many people are in your group; it may well be cheaper and easier to join a day tour. Click here for more information about getting to Fraser Island.
There is, of course plenty to do and see over on Fraser Island, too many things to mention in this guide. So if you’re keen to go over to Fraser Island, I recommend you check out this guide we wrote on things to do on Fraser Island (coming soon). You can also check out our guide to camping on Fraser Island here.
If you decide to join one of the Fraser Island day tours from Rainbow Beach, consider this one arranged by The Discovery Group, which includes all the highlights and lunch.
Tin Can Bay: Barnacles Dolphin Centre
While you’re in Rainbow Beach, it’s worthwhile visiting Tin Can Bay to see the dolphins. A favourite activity for many visiting Tin Can Bay is feeding the dolphins at Barnacles Cafe. Barnacles Cafe is located on Snapper Creek and here each morning several resident humpback dolphins come for a feed from the local volunteers.
The centre opens each morning from 7 am and there is a dolphin viewing session between 7 am and 8 am. During this time, the volunteers provide information about the dolphins and answer any questions visitors may have. The feeding session then commences at 8 am. For a $10 per person, visitors are welcome to join the volunteers in the water and assist with feeding the volunteers.
It is recommended to arrive well before 8 am for the feeding session. Remember these are wild animals so they can arrive at any time. The dolphin feeding is also fairly popular and there is a quota of 3kg of fish which can be fed to each dolphin. So if only a few dolphins turn up that day, only a few visitors will be able to take part.
The Barnacles Cafe is open each day from 7 am to 3 pm, so it’s the perfect place to enjoy breakfast before or after the dolphin feeding or for a meal during the day.
Hopefully, you found this guide on things to do in Rainbow Beach helpful. If you want to camp in Rainbow Beach, check out our guide to Rainbow Beach campsites here or check out this Rainbow Beach accommodation guide.