Stage 4 - The Cooloola Section

Rainbow Beach to Freshwater Creek (17.5km)

The sun was already quite fierce when we set off from Dingo's on the last stage of the Great Sandy Walk. We headed up through the residential streets of Rainbow Beach before entering the Great Sandy National Park at the end of Double Island Road. The track continued to climb steadily through eucalypt woodland, skirting the inner edge of the Carlo Sandblow, a steep wall of sand, in parts stabilised by trees and grass, in parts continuing its relentless push inland. Eventually we met up with the Old Telegraph Track, part of which had been buried by the drift, and, heading away from Carlo, we continued the steady climb upwards until a slight detour took us to the edge of the sand cliffs at the Murrawar Lookout; back to the north we could see our path - the long eastern coast of Fraser Island disappearing into the horizon, while closer in, the long beach from Inskip Point to Rainbow Beach formed a narrow white ribbon between land and sea. To the east, Double Island Point dominated the vista.


Carlo sandblow slowly swallowing
the track and the forest

Now if we were to live in the tropics, that not bad

A last look at Inskip Peninsula and distant Fraser Island

The old Telegraph Track

Every tree deserves a hug

Resuming our easterly journey on the Telegraph Track, we parallelled the cliffline, before turning south on a narrow walking trail and descending quickly into the rainforest. The track meandered through this beautiful patch of rainforest, at times barely differentiated from the leaf-carpeted forest floor. We wandered through groves of picabeen palms, past tall rainforest trees, some being slowly overgrown by the veinous root systems of strangler figs descending down their host trees to the forest floor. Above us heavy liana vines drooped across the path and the occasional staghorn, elkhorn or birds-nest fern perched high on the trunk of a rainforest giant.

Buttress roots and strangler figs

Rainforest clearing

Sunlight filtering through the rainforest canopy

Spot the goanna

Crossing a 4WD drive track, the path continued on through the rainforest, before again meeting a wider track that climbed steeply up a stony ridge of the high dunes - it was strange to be walking on a rocky surface again, but several times during the day we crossed these areas where there seemed to be a sandstone boulder bed within the sand. At the crest of the climb, a sign pointed off to Poona Lake, a kilometre from the main track. We turned off, full of expectations of this perched lake, and descended again through the myrtle forest.

Suddenly, the bush opened out and Poona Lake lay before us in all its splendour; set in a green forested bowl, its clear, dark, tannin-stained waters were ringed by a beach of pure white sand. A small spit of sand with a cluster of paperbark trees jutted out into the lake.

A cooling breeze rippled the lake surface and not a March fly was to be seen. We were not disappointed and, for a short while we had this beautiful lake to ourselves; enough time for a reviving swim to wash away the mornings effort. Soon we were joined by several other people - the lake absorbed us all into its tranquility!

Rimmed by white sand and forest, Poona Lake is one of the gems of Cooloola

White sand and paperbarks

The tranquil setting of Poona Lake

Always look up in a rain forest

We stayed for a long time and had a slow lunch break, but eventually we had to farewell this jewel of a lake and push on, climbing back up to the broad main track, we continued on a long slow descent through the tranquil shade of this superb forest. Suddenly, after a few kilometres, there was a marked change in vegetation, rainforest giving way to much drier eucalypt forest.

Elkhorn high in the rainforest canopy

Finally Freshwater

The hot sun broke through the sparse canopy, and we were glad that his section was only a short one, leading us past the dry, reedy bed of Freshwater Lake, and along the bracken covered gulley of Freshwater Creek to eventually emerge in the Freshwater Campsite - a mecca for 4WD enthusiasts on their weekend breaks.

Don't get me wrong, but can anyone explain why some people have to greet walkers with comments like "wotcha wanna walk here for when you coulda driven in" - it happens quite often when we share campgrounds with car-campers. Well, we would never have enjoyed Poona Lake if we hadn't walked for a start! Nonetheless, we found ourselves a shady, secluded site and set up camp, well content with the day, the beautiful rainforest, a wonderful lake, friendly bush turkeys and no biting insects!

Freshwater Creek to mid Teewah Beach (18km)

Today promised to be hard work. For the first time, there would be no fresh drinking water available at our camp, as our route would follow a beach with no stream outlets much beyond our starting point, and we needed to camp on the beach that night. Consequently, we loaded up our packs with 8 litres of water; I had forgotten just how heavy water was until I put the pack on for the first time that morning! Heading off, we quickly accessed the beach 800m to the east of the campsite and started south. Disappearing into the salt haze in the distance, it seemed such a long way - luckily we were not intending to walk its entire length.

Sunday morning peak hour on Teewah Beach

A passing flight of terns

Sandpipers piping

Brahminy kite

Gulls being gulls

Teewah Beach is a 50km long straight stretch of sand, Pacific Ocean to the east, and a long line of dunes or sandcliffs to the west. It is also a designated 4WD route, like the eastern side of Fraser Island. The one big difference is that there are many more vehicles on the Teewah Beach on a fine Sunday morning than ever we saw on the island. The people driving them were different from the island as well; gone the backpacker "troop carriers", replaced by all manner of smaller, zippier "fun" 4WDs and offroad motorbikes, all in a hurry ot get somewhere. The surf fishermen were joined by surfers, families on a day out and others out just to have a hooning good time driving on the sand. The occupants also seemed less friendly than on the island; a few waved, most ignored us or stared at us as we trudged down the beach with our water-heavy packs, some even stopped to give us the cheery advice "get a car!" to the amusement of their passengers. Aah, the wit of the four wheel driver - someone ought to write a book.

Part of a 15 km long tent city

Queenslanders at play on Teewah Beach

Nonetheless, the day was to prove fascinating; a chance to see the average Queenslander at play. Three kilometres down the beach we reached Little Freshwater Creek, the start of a 15km stretch where beach camping is permissible.

The not quite so magnificent surf kite

The magnificent Brahminy kite

It was a bit of a shock for those expecting a quiet stroll down the beach, as, for that entire length, a long string of tents, small, large or clustered like small cities lined the base of the dunes and cliffs in the shade of the grey, drooping casuarinas and pandanus palms.

The occupants were all out and about, enjoying the beautiful morning - some fishing, some surfing, some swimming or riding boogyboards, Mums and Dads with little kids laughing in the surf, teenagers skylarking, a bloke on a jet ski, a kite surfer flying over the waves, the two blokes sitting at their own portabar on the beach drinking cans of XXXX, a group of people lazing in a blow-up pool in the dunes, the boy being towed along the sand on a piece of board behind a 4WD - they were all there enjoying the sun, the cool breeze and the clear green-blue waters of the Pacific.

The tide rolled in and the tide rolled out as we headed slowly down the beach. Occasionally, a gash of erosion in the vegetation covered sand cliffs revealed some of the many shades of coloured sand for which this region is famous. However, it was not until we reached King's Bore and then Red Canyon, that the colours were revealed at their luminous best. Climbing up into Red Canyon, the orange-red of the sand contrasted magnificently against the deep blue of the ocean.

The brilliant colour of the Teewah Sandcliffs

Red + blue = Teewah

A second surprise at Red Canyon was a mobile food shop, where, upon hearing of our walking efforts, the owner promptly shouted us an ice-cream. How good it tasted and how nice it was to experience that small act of kindness - thanks mate!

View from the top of Red Canyon

Camped beneath the casuarinas

Pushing on, we stopped one more time for lunch in the shade of the casuarinas, before our last effort of the day. To be honest, the hard sand and heavy load were starting to wear on my ankles and it was time to find a place to camp for the night.

A small pocket of sand beneath a grove of casuarinas, covered with its soft needles, beckoned; above us, an eroded cliff of orange, yellow, cream and white sands, while out to sea the gentle roar of the surf.


The cliffs above our campsite

It was the perfect spot for the night. We watched the passing parade of 4WDs, packed up and heading back to work or school. Soon the last one passed and Teewah Beach fell silent in the evening light. After dinner, as we sat in a sandy seat carved into the dune and watched the brilliant flashes of bioluminescence as the waves broke and the lights of distant Noosa Heads twinkle, my how good that water tasted - the effort had undoubtedly made it just a little bit sweeter!


Peace returns to Teewah Beach

Teewah Beach to the Noosa River (15.5km)

This is being written up as I sit on the banks of the dark brooding Noosa River, in the shade of a gnarly old banksia at Camp 2. It is 32C and the air is heavy and humid - there is little energy left but to sit and wait for the evening cool. Inertia rules!

We had woken up to the sound of the surf and a brilliant sunrise over the Pacific (I confess to not often being the position of seeing these). However, soon the sun vanished under a band of cloud that seemed determined to keep the humidity high. We set off before 7am, moving quickly down the beach for another 5.5 km - the shedding of 6kg of water had given us extra spring in our step. Only a few hardy surf fisherman were already up, a couple of tour buses heading to Fraser Island from Noosa cruised by, and the icecream man gave a friendly wave as he drove past, heading north to set up shop for another day.


Teewah sunrise

Scribbly gum forest - cicada heaven

A bit of dense understorey

The different shades of sand on the Cooloola Sandpatch

Crossing the sandpatch

Soon we reached the point to start inland again - with the expert guidance of my GPS we found the unmarked and rarely used track heading up a pandanus-lined creek that had created a narrow valley through the sand cliffs. Soon the valley opened out into low scribbly gum forest with a dense understorey, in places a monoculture of 2-3m high bushes. The distant roar of the surf quickly gave way to the very proximate crescendo of cicadas. This grove of eucalypts seemed to be cicada heaven, such was their din! Finally, a kilometre inland, the forest thinned and then vanished, revealing the base of the Cooloola Sandpatch. Before us lay an enormous dune, the bare sand at its base sprinkled with onion skin fragments of sandstone. Climbing up, the fragments cleared leaving a broad steep sheet of powdery tan-coloured sand; but, disturb the surface and white, black or brown sands were often revealed just beneath.

Looking across the Sandpatch to the Noosa hinterland

This was a superb spot and we had the sandpatch to ourselves, climbing slowly up to its apex at 200m; one last look back over the sweeping dune to the V-shape of our access valley and the blue Pacific beyond. From here, we crossed to the western face of the sandpatch, found a nice shady tree on its edge and sat down to enjoy a grand vista across the pale gold sand over distant Lake Cootharaba and the Noosa hinterland beyond. It was a difficult spot to leave, but people began popping out of the bush onto the dune some 50m below us - a group of school girls, some canoeists doing a side trip - we were no longer alone and it seemed time to move on.

View across to the old volcanic plug
of Mt Cooroora


Looking across Coloola Sandpatch to Lake Cootharaba
and Lake Cooloola

Watching the world go by

Leaving the sandpatch at the western trailhead, we found ourselves meandering along a dry banksia / eucalyptus ridge, which eventually took us down to the flat heath-covered plain via a series of zig-zags. A short traverse of the sandy plain and we found ourselves at the Noosa River, the chance to rinse off the sand and grime that stuck to us on that hot and humid descent was quickly seized on when we reached the wooden jetty at Camp 3. The Noosa is a popular river for canoeists and a number of campsites have been set up for them. Its waters run still and dark, due to the tannins dissolved in them, and the banks are steep and densely vegetated with melaleucas, banksias, eucalypts and underbrush, with access often only possible at such canoe landings.

Noosa River at Camp 3

Track through the Wallum heathland

Grass trees in the swampy flats of the Noosa River

Camp 3 was set back from the river and was full of tents; we pushed on another 1.6 km, following a track between the river and the flat, swampy plain, punctuated by the flower-spears of a myriad of grass-trees, until the turn-off for Camp 2; a small intimate site and not a soul to be seen. We pitched tent only 5m from the edge of the river, leapt into the cool dark waters from the log-landing cut into the bank, brewed up a cuppa and retreated to the shade of the gnarly old banksia.

Our last and best campsite

Black cockatoo

Water dragon on the alert

It wouldn't be Queensland
without a cane toad

PS With the cool of the evening, came the stillness of air and magnificent reflections for which the Noosa is famous. It was great just to sit on the landing, watching the stars twinkle in the sky above and the river below as occasional soft circles of ripples expanded out when fish or insects disturbed the glassy water surface, and listening to the night sounds; the chirping of crickets and the mournful wails of the black cockatoos settling in nearby. What a great place to spend the last night of the Great Sandy Walk.

Time for another dip in the river and off to bed!

Canoeists on the Noosa River

Reflecting on reflections

Evening falls over the still dark waters

Camp 2 to Harry's Hut (5km)

We awoke to the sound of the dawn chorus of bush birds. It was a time for calm reflection - at least it was for the Noosa River, whose glassy surface perfectly mirrored the white-trunked eucalypts, callitris and paperbarks lining it banks. We lingered on its shores in the coolness of the early morning, enjoying our last bush breakfast and not wanting to leave on this last short stage of our walk.

Noosa River reflections

Early morning on the Noosa River

However, soon the heat and humidity of the day began to build up and we packed camp and set off down the track through the scrubby forest back from the river bank. As we ambled along , a large goanna slowly walked across our path; "get a car!" quipped the fair Nello, "runout of petrol didya?" I quickly added, as we headed on, well content with our newly acquired 4WD wit.

Soon we passed a cluster of canoeists tents at Camp 1, and were grateful for the solitude that we had had at our own campsite. The river gradually widened and suddenly a long wooden pier appeared on the far bank of the Noosa - we had arrived at Harry's Hut campground. Ony 40m of deep dark Noosa River water separated us from our destination.

Loading the electronic gear into water-tight bags, putting the raincovers on the packs and then placing each pack into a double layer of plastic garbage bag, we inflated the air mattress that had served us so well on our South Coast water crossings and, one by one, paddled the packs across the dark waters of the river.

Only 40m of river and the walk is over

The South Coast air mattress gets
another outing

2m long welcoming committee on the Harry's Hut pier

All that remained was a short stroll to the other end of the camp ground for a quick visit to the old wooden shack that lends its name to the Harry's Hut site, a change into clean clothes and time to brew a cuppa as we waited in the shade for the Noosa River Cruise Boat.

Soon, its orange shape appeared around a bend in the river and the friendly crew began to unload passengers, steaks, salad, chilled wine and beer. I had booked places on the cruise for our return before we left Rainbow Beach, and a delicious bush barbecue was an excellent way to celebrate the finish of The Great Sandy Walk, 19 days and 232km from our start at Waddy Point on Fraser Island.

Now there's something you rarely see;
a tawny frogmouth sitting on its nest

Harry's Hut - an old timbercutters' camp

At last - our taxi arrives!

Another rare sight - darter with
a speared fish

Lunch over, we found ourselves cruising back down the river under the low overhanging branches reflected in the dark waters and past the floating sedge masses that define the Noosa Everglades. We felt that curious mixed sense of relief, satisfaction and regret at the finish of a long walking adventure, as, physically and mentally, we slowly headed back towards civilisation. The trip had had its highs and lows, but as always, the low points were already beginning to fade in our memories.

A well-earned beer to celebrate the end of
The Great Sandy Walk