Rainbow Beach is a lovely little beachside town in QLD, Australia, full of so many great things to do!
Known as being the gateway to Fraser Island (K’gari), as well as having incredible sand dunes and sand of so many colours (hence the name ‘Rainbow Beach’!), great 4×4 beach driving and being just a short drive away from the famous wild dolphin feeding at Tin Can Bay, there’s plenty to keep you occupied in Rainbow Beach!
This article shows you all the best things to do in Rainbow Beach so you can spend less time planning your trip and more time having fun!
Where Is Rainbow Beach Located?
Rainbow Beach is located in the Gympie Region of Queensland, between the Fraser Coast and The Sunshine Coast. It lies just above the Great Sandy National Park and just below Fraser Island.
Here is the Google maps location of Rainbow Beach.
Is Rainbow Beach Worth Visiting?
Rainbow Beach is absolutely worth visiting and is truly a hidden gem! The scenery is truly breathtaking, with the stunningly coloured sand dunes making this place so special and unique.
Despite there being so much to do in Rainbow Beach, and around 70,000 visitors coming each year, it still remains a traditional quiet laid-back surf town and hasn’t lost any of its charm or become too commercialised.
Therefore it makes for a fantastic option for a weekend getaway or a few days stop-off on an East Coast Australia road trip itinerary, whether you’re here for outdoor adventures such as surfing, hiking, exploring, 4wd or just relaxing on the beach!
Do you need a 4WD to get to Rainbow Beach?
You do not need a 4WD to get to Rainbow Beach as all the main roads in are sealed roads. Additionally, all the roads in Rainbow Beach are suitable for standard two-wheel drive vehicles.
To drive along the beaches at Rainbow Beach you will need a 4wd.
Best Free Things to Do in Rainbow Beach
1. The Coloured Sands Beach Walk
First things first – when at Rainbow Beach you need to check out the rainbow-coloured sands that the area is named after!
The Coloured Sands Beach Walk will take you along the incredible naturally sculptured cliffs full of coloured sands. The cliffs are so impressive and pretty mesmerising, with some almost 200 metres high.
It’s believed they have been here for millions of years! You’ll see a beautiful and vast range of coloured sands, from reds to oranges, yellows and browns and even white sands.
There are actually 72 different shades of these colours in the sand, so it’s like ‘earthy’ rainbow shades, not actual rainbow colours of blues, pinks, purples etc!
These coloured sands at Rainbow Beach are all natural and there are so many different colours due to the iron-rich materials and vegetable dyes that have stained the sand over thousands of years.
To reach the rainbow-coloured sands and the start of the beach walk, just walk south from Rainbow Beach along the beach, and soon enough you’ll see the cliffs with their coloured sands.
The walk heads towards Double Island Point and is 8 kilometres return, so it should take around 3 hours to walk. However, the great thing is that you can walk back any time you wish if you don’t want to do the whole walk!
Additionally, as it is a long walk you may prefer to drive it if you have a 4wd.
It’s very important when you are on the walk to ensure you don’t climb the sand dunes or carve any holes in them as they are not stable! Also be aware that 4wds drive along the beach here so always be alert.
2. See The Millions Of Soldier Crabs Marching Down The Beach At Low Tide!
If you continue past the Coloured Sands Beach Walk towards Double Island Point you’ll get to experience something very unique if you visit at low tide – millions of soldier crabs marching down the beach!
It is really quite impressive to see, like a giant moving carpet! It’s quite a way down the beach, so it’s best to bring your 4wd as opposed to walking.
You’ll also get to see some caves, as well as freshwater springs and tidal rock pools along the way.
3. Carlo Sand Blow
The Carlo Sand Blow is a highlight of Rainbow Beach and is incredibly unique! The Carlo Sand Blow is a really big area of sand (over 15 hectares), which shape is constantly changing.
It offers some great aerial views over the famous rainbow-coloured sand dunes and the beach, and despite it being a popular place there is so much space here.
Lots of people like to come up for sunset with a picnic, and sunrise is also a great time to enjoy the stunning views. Some people also bring a board with them and go tobogganing down the dunes!
Drive to the end of Cooloola Drive and a short walk through the bush will take you to the Carlo Sand Blow platform.
Alternatively you can do the walk from the Stairway To Carlo Circle stairway, located on Ocean View Parade. It’s a nice shaded walk along the Mikado Firebreak track, and it should take around 15 minutes walk (800 metres each way).
This is a great option as the car park at the end of Cooloola Drive gets full quickly.
At the platform take in the incredible views of the vast sand dunes, and head down onto the sand to enjoy the views overlooking the beach.
Not only can you enjoy the views of the rainbow-coloured sand dunes, but you also get great views across to Inskip Point and the south of Fraser Island!
Here at the Carlo Sand Blow is actually the starting point for the Cooloola Great Walk – the 155km trek from Rainbow Beach to Noosa! If you’re a keen walker and are up for multi-day hikes then this is definitely worth doing.
4. The Small Carlo Sand Blow
In addition to the Carlo Sand Blow, there is also the Small Carlo Sand Blow – a smaller version that is closer to the town! I personally love the Small Carlo Sand Blow as not many people know it exists and so it is a lot quieter!
To reach the Small Carlo Sand Blow, follow the Stairway to Carlo Circle stairway up from Ocean View Parade – the same as if you are starting the walk to the Carlo Sand Blow.
Not long after you start the walk along the Mikado Firebreak you’ll see a sign pointing towards the left that leads to the way to the Small Carlo Sand Blow. The walk is much shorter, and it’s also a great spot to watch the sunset or sunrise.
5. Rainbow Stairs
Connecting the Laurie Hanson Park and the Rainbow Beach beach car park are the Rainbow Stairs. It’s a big staircase with the steps painted in different colours of the rainbow and is a lovely spot to stop for a photo!
6. Surf & Swim On Rainbow Beach
Rainbow Beach has one of the most extended surf breaks in the whole of Australia, so it’s a great place to go for a surf, or even learn to surf!
If you aren’t keen on surfing, Rainbow Beach is a great place to go for a swim, with lifeguards patrolling the beach (remember to swim between the flags).
Always remember to keep an eye out for 4wds that are driving down the beach!
Best Tours To Do From Rainbow Beach
7. Fraser Island
Along with Hervey Bay, Rainbow Beach is one of the gateway points to the world-famous Fraser Island (K’gari). Fraser Island (K’gari) is the world’s largest sand island at 123km long and 22km wide.
It is also World Heritage Listed and is an incredibly beautiful place, full of freshwater lakes, ancient rainforests and unbelievably clear creeks. A visit to Fraser Island is an absolute must when you are in the area.
Visitors to Fraser Island (K’gari) can either take a 4wd vehicle across on the ferry, or visit the island on a one or two-day tour from Hervey Bay or Rainbow Beach.
You can NOT take a 2wd car across to Fraser Island. The island is made completely of sand and your car will get stuck in the sand.
Fraser Island (K’gari) Tours:
You can do one and two day tours of Fraser Island (K’gari). Several tours operate from Hervey Bay and Rainbow Beach daily. You can check the tours departing from Rainbow Beach here:
- From Rainbow Beach: K’gari Fraser Island Full-Day Coach Tour
- From Rainbow Beach: K’gari Fraser Island Two Day Coach Tour
The tours will pick you up from your accommodation, and they also include meals, as well as accommodation on Fraser Island if you’ll be doing a two day tour.
If you’re limited with time and only have one day, the day tour will show you the main highlights of Fraser Island such as Lake Mackenzie, Champagne Pools and SS Maheno Shipwreck.
The two day tours however will show you more of the island and are a better option if you have the time.
The tours from both Hervey Bay and Rainbow Beach go to pretty much the same spots on Fraser Island (K’gari), so just pick a tour from whichever base will be more convenient for you.
Note that if you’ll be doing a tour they often ask for you to leave any big suitcases/backpacks on the mainland and just travel with a small bag, so it’s a good idea to check with your accommodation in Hervey Bay/Rainbow Beach if they can look after any big items of luggage whilst you do the trip to Fraser Island (K’gari).
Should I Do A Tour Or Bring My Vehicle Across To Fraser Island (K’gari)?
In terms of what is best – bringing a vehicle across or going on a tour, I would say a tour is definitely easier, more convenient and you’ll most likely get to see more places in a shorter amount of time, which is great if you’re limited for time.
If you’ve never driven on sand before, it does get a bit of getting used to!
If you’re confident with 4wds and driving on the sand, travelling in your own vehicle offers you more flexibility and you don’t have to stick to the times of the tour.
Just definitely be sure to check your insurance beforehand that you are actually covered to drive on Fraser Island. There aren’t sealed roads on the island, it is literally a giant sand island.
If you’re taking a hire car across, there are restrictions as to where you can drive on Fraser Island.
You are only allowed to drive on certain parts of the island (mainly just the east side – no hire cars are allowed on the western side of Fraser Island as too many kept ending up in the sea as tourists weren’t familiar with the tide times and cars would wash out to sea!).
Also remember if you’ll be travelling around Fraser Island independently, you’ll need to sort out your accommodation. There are a couple of resorts on Fraser Island, or you can stay at one of the campgrounds on Fraser Island.
If you choose to stay at a campground you must book a permit beforehand! Some of the most popular campgrounds with good facilities include the ones at Lake McKenzie and Central Stations.
If you just need basic facilities and are after a more secluded camping experience, you can camp on the beach and behind the dunes (there are designated spots!).
8. Feed The Wild Dolphins At Tin Can Bay!
A 30 minute drive from Rainbow Beach will take you to the small fishing town of Tin Can Bay – famous for its wild dolphins that come to shore each morning to say hi and have their breakfast!
These wild dolphins at Tin Can Bay have been coming here for years and you are able to hand-feed them some fish! It’s a really fun and popular experience for young and old to enjoy!
Volunteers lead the experience here, and each visitor pays a $10 donation. This covers the cost of the food for the dolphins and the rest goes towards research.
The dolphin experience starts at 8am every morning, so make sure to arrive on time!
9. Wolf Rock Diving
Going on a diving trip to Wolf Rock dive site is an absoulute must-do if you are a keen diver.
At Wolf Rock you’ll find the gentle grey nurse sharks years round, plus you may even spot manta rays and even humpback whales in the cooler months!
10. 4WD Beach Drive & Kayaking Tours
Another fun day trip to do in Rainbow Beach is the 4WD beach tour with kayaking. It’s a 3-hour trip that will show you the highlights of Rainbow Beach and The Great Sandy National Park.
Plus, you might even get to spot some dolphins kayaking in the waters around Rainbow Beach! This is a great tour to do if you don’t have your own 4wd!
4WD Activities To Do At Rainbow Beach
11. 4 Wheel Driving Along The Beach
A 4wd along the beach at low tide is a great way to experience Rainbow Beach!
Note that you will need to access a Cooloola vehicle access permit for any beach driving between Rainbow Beach and Noosa, plus you must only drive at low tide.
To access the beach on 4wd you’ll need to drive down Griffin Esplanade, where you can then turn right and drive on the beach past the Coloured Sands towards Double Island Point.
You can then even continue along Leisha Track to Cooloola Beach and Teewah Beach before arriving at Noosa.
You can also just do sections of the drive, for example you can turn off at Cooloola Beach or Teewah Beach by the camping zones (such as Freshwater Road ar Cooloola Beach) and do a loop back to Rainbow Beach.
It is an incredible drive but make sure to always plan your camping spots ahead of time and check tide times. You must only drive at low tide!
Driving at the wrong time can be disastrous, and many people have got bogged or even had their 4wds wash out to sea if they have been here when it’s not low tide, so always assess the environment and drive slowly!
The landscape here does change daily so if you aren’t confident you’ll be able to get past a certain area just head back.
A great way to still have a 4wd experience if you don’t have a 4wd or aren’t comfortable driving one is to take a tour from Noosa to Rainbow Beach along the Great Sandy National Park.
Someone else will be doing the driving and you’ll get to enjoy the fantastic views along the way!
12. 4WD To Double Island Point
Those with a 4wd can drive across to the headland known as Double Island Point and visit the lighthouse, where you’ll be rewarded with stunning views.
Double Island Point is also a great spot to go swimming, surfing and fishing.
Places To Visit Near To Rainbow Beach
13. Inskip Point
Just north of Rainbow Beach is Inskip Point, which is where the vehicle ferry goes across to Fraser Island. There are also some great fishing spots here, as well as several campgrounds.
14. Seary’s Creek
8km from Rainbow Beach is the Seary’s Creek day use area, which can be accessed by 2wds. It’s very easy to get to and it’s a nice place to spend a couple of hours.
From the car park it’s just a 2 minute walk on the boardwalk across the creek to get to the pools. The water is fairly shallow, albeit on the cool side but it’s a great place for families to enjoy.
The car park is small, and there are also bathrooms and picnic tables here.
15. Poona Lake
Another lovely place near to Rainbow Beach is Poona Lake. Located inside the Great Sandy National Park, it is a 4.2km return hike through rainforest to the stunning blue freshwater lake that is lined with powdery white sands.
To get to Poona Lake, turn off Rainbow Beach Road at Freshwater Road, and then continue a couple of kilometres to get to Bymien Car Park. From there the hike is signposted.
Rainbow Beach Accommodation
As Rainbow Beach is the gateway to Fraser Island there are lots of accommodation choices here, ranging from campgrounds to hotels, motels, caravan parks, hostels, Airbnbs and everything in between to suit all types of travellers!
Here are some recommended Rainbow Beach accommodation options:
Rainbow Ocean Palms Resort – stunning apartments with balconies that offer incredible views.
Plantation Resort At Rainbow – luxury resort with apartments and a pool, with direct access to the beach.
Debbie’s Place – Lovely modern rooms and apartments, with a bbq area outside.
Pippies Beachhouse Backpackers – a lovely hostel in Rainbow Beach perfect for backpackers! They have 4-bed and 6-bed dorms, as well as private apartments for larger groups.
Rainbow Beach Caravan Parks
There are 2 Holiday Parks in Rainbow Beach:
Rainbow Beach Holiday Village Powered and unpowered campsites, including beachfront sites. There are also some villas and chalets available.
Rainbow Beach Breeze Holiday Park Powered sites starting at $40/night, unpowered camping sites starting at $30/night. There are also powered caravan sites, as well as 1 and 2 bedroom cabins.
The park caters well for families, with a playground and jumping pillow for the children.
Rainbow Beach Camping
There are lots of campsites around Inskip Point, and the sites operate on first-come first-served as sites can’t be booked.
4wds are recommended for the campsites around Inskip Point, if you have a 2wd you can set up near the road at the SS Dorrigo Campground.
If there are no spaces there, there are spots on the side of the road to park your 2wd, and then you can walk the short distance to set up camp.
There are also some available in the Great Sandy National Park but you will need a 4wd to access these. Additionally a camping permit must be obtained.
How To Obtain A Rainbow Beach Beach Permit & Camping Permit?
4-wheel driving permits for Rainbow beach can be purchased online through the Qld National Parks website. Camping permits must be added through the same website as they are separate to the driving permits.
Is Rainbow Beach or Hervey Bay better?
I’ve been to Hervey Bay and Rainbow Beach several times and they both are very unique. Besides being able to reach Fraser Island from both of them, they are actually very different.
Surfing is much better at Rainbow Beach as the waters in Hervey Bay are very calm. Hervey Bay is the whale-watching capital of Australia and if you are here over the summer months then you must do a whale-watching trip.
Rainbow Beach is a lot more compact, whereas Hervey Bay is quite spread out, and so it’s harder to get around there if you don’t have a car.