Stage 3 - South to Rainbow Beach

Dilli Village to Inskip Point (27.5km)

The air was cool and the sky overcast as we set out - it was 5.45 am, the earliest that we have ever started a walk. However, it was to be a long transit day - 26km across the flat south-eastern corner of Fraser Island to the barge landing area at Hook Point, plus a bit more on the mainland. We decided to take advantage of the island taxi service and sent our packs down to the barge with him. Taking only water and food, we planned on a quick push through to the southern tip of the island.

It was with regret that we left the peaceful green oasis of Dilli Village, with its cool dark waterhole, the lilting call of the butcherbird and song thrush, and the opalescent flashes of the bee-eaters hawking for dragonflies. However, soon we were following an old, overgrown fire trail along the flat and swampy eastern verge of the dunes. For several kilometres, we shared the track with the fresh footprints of a lone dingo in the wet sand, but then it went its way.

For the first 10 km, the firetrail stayed close to the edge of the swamp, passing through dense thickets of acacia, banksia, casuarina, paperbark and other shrubs; at times the wet shrubs encroached almost completely across the trail, while bracken and small woody shrubs and trees were germinating en masse in its sandy trace. According to the manager at Dilli Village, we were the first walkers to pass this way in three months; our impression was that in another 3 months sections of this track might soon become impassable.

Paperbarks on the swamp verge


Old firetrail through acacia / banksia heath



Dawn light over the Jabiru Swamp

Hello EPA - the track is rapidly
disappearing in places!

A quick break at the Jabiru Swamp

The camp site at Jabiru Swamp, set back amongst the grass trees and scrubby eucalypts provided a welcome opportunity for a rest. Pushing on, the firetrail seemed to open up and, after another four kilometres, we abandoned our views across the sedge and banksia filled open swamplands for the drier eucalypt woodland. Here the path undulated and meandered across low sandy rises and depressions.

Not long after entering the woodland, the sun broke through and with it a ullulating chorus of cicadas serenaded our passing. The sun disappeared behind the clouds again and the chorus ceased almost immediately, and so it went for another several kilometres. Eventually, we briefly revisited the swampy area, before heading back into the forest to emerge at Hook Point and the broad sandy beach on the southern tip of Fraser Island.


Last glimpse of Jabiru Swamp

Wandering along the beach, our fears turned to the food cache - a ranger at Dundubara had virtually assured us that , despite the attention we took to packing etc, a dingo would be bound to dig it up and scatter its contents to the four winds. With trepidation, I found the marker on the beach and crept inland behind the dunes. X marked the spot and with a couple of quick digs, it was there, intact, our buried treasure of water and food. We would eat well at Inskip Point tonight! It had been a speedy trip down to the barge, 26km in just over 6 hours, and we still felt a lot fitter than on shorter days with a heavy pack.

Back on the beach, we barely had time to celebrate the treasure chest, when the "MantaRay" barge pulled up. We boarded to find our packs waiting for us. Ten minutes later, we were back on the mainland, barely having had time to farewell Fraser Island. Loaded up with our packs again plus the food box, we trudged off the barge, but soon found ourselves in a pleasant campground on the northern edge of the Inskip Point sand spit.

Our transport to the mainland arrives

Contents of the Hook Point
treasure chest

Camped in the shade of a Callitris grove

"Fossilised" 4WD tracks in the
windswept sand of Inskip Point
We pitched tent in the shade of a grove of Callitris pines, which sheltered us from the strong south-easterly winds. From there we could look out across whitecaps of the strait to Fraser Island and reminisce on our walks just completed, as the bush turkeys wandered by and the songbirds sang.

Sunset over Tin Can Bay

That night, we sat on the southern shore of Inskip Point and watched a golden sunset over Tin Can Bay, while behind us a full moon rose simultaneously from the Pacific on the eastern horizon. It was a beautiful sight, but something niggled at my brain - there was some significance to such a solar/lunar confluence. Never mind, it will come to me soon.

Inskip Point to Rainbow Beach (12.5km)

It came to me the next day as we set out for our planned stroll along the beach from Inskip Point to Rainbow Beach. What beach? - it had vanished under a surging tide that lapped the very edge of the campround. Now I remembered - the conjunction of rising moon and setting sun meant "king tide" - and what a monster tide it was!

For the first part of our trip we stayed on sandy access tracks inside a series of campgrounds that dot this narrow spit of sand, reaching the corner of the Point, where the waters draining out of the Great Sandy Strait met the strong coastal current. Here the seas were in absolute torment, with big waves surging in at right angles to each other, creating a boiling washing machine of foam and water. The turbulence extended well out to sea following the sweeping arc of the Wide Bay bar out towards Fraser Island. Several times, while lining up a photo, I found myself leaping back higher up the dune to avoid a tidal surge.

Pushing on from the point we turned south towards Rainbow Beach. At first we could still follow a track through the grey casuarinas between the sea and the heathland interior. However, eventually the track stopped and we picked our way along the remnants of the foredunes as the tidal surges swept in, taking great bites out of the dunes from right under our feet. From the lengths of dune grass left exposed and hanging, a good 2m of sand had been ripped away by the king tide. At a couple of places where the edges became too steep, we were forced further back behind the dunes to pass, but eventually the tide began to recede sufficiently to allow us back on the beach for the last couple of kilometres before Rainbow Beach.


Wild seas at Inskip Point

The big surge swallows the beach

King tide ripping sand away from the dunes

Back of the dunes

Track through the grey casuarinas

Pushing along the beach, we struggled against a strong headwind, that whipped fine dry sand in an ankle-biting spray along the wet, firm sand left by the retreating tide. It was not the most pleasant stroll on the beach that we have ever done, but was certainly one of the more fascinating in terms of seeing first hand the forces that shape and evolve the sand mass systems that we have been exploring. It looked like the sand taken from the coastline was being dumped at the turbulent sand bar and spit of Inskip Point, the "growing edge" of the Cooloola sandmass.

Low plumes of white sand whipped across the beach by the wind

The homely comfort of Dingo's Backpackers

Rainbow Beach seemed to have been named well; like a rainbow, the more we walked towards it, the further away it seemed! Nonetheless, we finally reached the town beach, right in the middle of a schoolies day out to celebrate the end of their exams. Climbing up the steps, we found ourselves in a pleasant park and only a few hundred metres from Dingo's Backpackers, our home for the next two nights. A little rest and relaxation in the comfort of a proper bed would not go astray at all.

Rainbow Beach (7.5km)

Rainbow Beach is a pretty little tourist town where 90% of the houses seem to be available for holiday letting. Consequently it was quiet in town in this low tourist season, apart from Dingo's Backpackers, where young traveller from all corners of the world gather before heading off to Fraser Island and swap stories upon their return. It is a community unto itself and provides a fascinating glimpse into the life of the backpacker downunder. While having breakfast, we saw a line of 6 "troop-carriers" (large 10-seater 4WDs with two bench seats down each side behind the front seat) lined up in a row and being fitted out for another foray to the island while groups of backpackers were being briefed on how to drive on sand etc - at last we knew where all these convoys of backpackers whose paths we had crossed on the island came from! The hostel itself, with its muralled walls, cheap evening meals and entertainment, bar and pool in a great tropical setting provides a great place to recuperate from whatever adventures the incoming horde have been up to.

Apart from access to Fraser Island and surf fishing, Rainbow Beach boasts a few attractions of its own, notably the tall cliffs of coloured sand (from whence it derived its name) and the Carlo Sandblow. Although a detour from the main itinerary, a visit to both is definite a part of the Great Sandy Walk.

An evening stroll on the Carlo Sandblow


Last rays of sun over the Carlo Sandblow

Wind ripples in the sand

We visited the Carlo Sandblow in the evening of the day we arrived, as the soft light of the low western sun highlighted the ripples in the sand. Wandering down the soft cool, sand of the dune, the vista of Double Island Point expanded out in front of us across the deep blue of the sea. At the edge of the sand, the various colours of the jagged sandstone edges provide one last barrier before the cliffs plunged down to the ocean below. As we climbed back up to the access track, the strong south-easterly blew low sheets of sand ahead of us - towards the far end where they dropped over the edge, slowly but surely extending the sandblow into the forest, grain by grain.

The next morning, we headed south from town along the beach to check out the coloured cliffs from below; or at least that was the plan. However, the tides were still enormous and we were forced to traverse a steep-sided dune to round some rocks before being able to drop down onto the beach to wander beneath the red, cream and white cliff slopes.

At the base of the dunes, large black blocks of soft sandstone were being pounded by the rolling surf. Feeling adventurous, we wandered back along the beach past the infamous Mudlo Rocks, graveyard of many 4WDs driven by inexperienced or unwary beach drivers (over 200 vehicles have been wrecked on the beach along this coastline in the past five years according to the local "Wall of Shame"). We played "chicken" with the surf as it surged against the dunes and rocks, leaving no room to manoeuvre, and returned drenched, but happy - childhood relived! Time for a swim in the pool of backpackers.

Rock-hopping in a king tide

Crossing the dunes behind the Mudlo Rocks

Base of the ochre-coloured sand cliffs of Rainbow Beach

Black sandstone silhouette of Mudlo Rocks

Carlo Sandblow was such a inspiring spot, that I returned after lunch to try and capture a different mood and light of the Carlo Sandblow. The contrast between sand and deep blue of the sea was even more striking and the colours of the cliff edge seemed bolder. It had been a great "rest day" and a counter tea at the Rainbow Beach pub overlooking the ocean, listening to the mellow music of "Mojo Soul", topped it off very nicely.

View north across the pastel sandstone cliff edges

view south along the sand cliffs from
the Carlo Sandblow