Cooloola Recreation Area, Great Sandy National Park Sunshine Coast

Four-wheel drive past towering coastal sand cliffs and coloured sands in the paradise of Cooloola Recreation Area. Photo credit: © Tomek Z Genek

Visiting Cooloola Recreation Area safely

    Visitors require a COVID-19 RESTRICTED ACCESS AREA AUTHORITY

    Visitors please note much of the Cooloola Recreation Area has been designated a Restricted Access Area (PDF, 2.1MB) under the Recreation Areas Management Act 2006 to assist with managing visitor numbers and community safety as part of the government’s COVID-19 response.

    You must secure a COVID-19 RESTRICTED ACCESS AREA AUTHORITY to enter this Restricted Access Area before travelling – even if you already hold a valid vehicle access permit. The COVID-19 Restricted Access Authority is available at no cost. Information on how to obtain this authority is available.

    Cooloola is widely accessible by walking, canoeing, boating or four-wheel-drive vehicle. Photo: Robert Ashdown, Queensland Government

    Cooloola is widely accessible by walking, canoeing, boating or four-wheel-drive vehicle. Photo: Robert Ashdown, Queensland Government

    The Cooloola sandmass, one of the largest accumulations of sand built up over the past 500,000 years, is best appreciated by walking or driving. Photo: Robert Ashdown, Queensland Government

    The Cooloola sandmass, one of the largest accumulations of sand built up over the past 500,000 years, is best appreciated by walking or driving. Photo: Robert Ashdown, Queensland Government

    Carlo Sandblow is an easily accessible, high vantage point on the Cooloola sandmass offering great views of Double Island Point. Photos: Marc Dargusch, Queensland Government

    Carlo Sandblow is an easily accessible, high vantage point on the Cooloola sandmass offering great views of Double Island Point. Photos: Marc Dargusch, Queensland Government

    Getting there and getting around

    Cooloola lies between the coastal towns of Noosa Heads and Rainbow Beach. Noosa Heads is about 155km (about a 3hr drive) and Rainbow Beach is about 240km (about a 3hr drive) north of Brisbane. Access by conventional vehicles (two-wheel drives) to Cooloola is limited to the outer extremities. The best way to see Cooloola is by walking or four-wheel-driving. Vehicle access permits (VAPs) are required when traversing beaches and some inland tracks within the Cooloola Recreation Area.

    Two-wheel-drive (2WD) access

    Conventional or 2WD vehicles can access Elanda Point, just north of Boreen Point, and Bymien picnic area from Rainbow Beach Road. For Bymien, turn off 4km south of Rainbow Beach, onto 3km of unsealed road. The 16km sand road from Bymien to Freshwater camping and day-use areas, and beyond to Teewah Beach, is 4WD only. Inland tracks are not suitable for caravans. Camper trailers must have good clearance.

    Four-wheel-drive (4WD) access

    Cooloola’s sand tracks are rough, and are suitable for high clearance 4WD vehicles only. All vehicles must be registered and have a valid Cooloola Recreation Area vehicle access permit (VAP) displayed on their windscreen when traversing designated tracks and beach areas.

    Coastal areas

    Beach access is possible from Rainbow Beach or Tewantin (near Noosa). Access from Tewantin is across the Noosa River ferry at the end of Moorindil Street, Tewantin and then via the beach access points at Noosa North Shore. These are called 1st cutting and 3rd cutting.

    Vehicles are not permitted on the beach between 1st and 3rd cutting.

    You can travel a little way south from 1st cutting, but it is an offence to drive, ride or take animals into the Exclusion Zone near the Noosa River mouth, which protects the habitat of 43 species of local and migratory birds that shelter in the estuary. This local government-regulated Exclusion Zone prohibits all motorised vehicles—4WDs, quad bikes, trail bikes—and domestic animals including dogs, cats and horses. Rangers patrol regularly and penalties apply for non-compliance.

    You can travel north from 3rd cutting along Teewah Beach to Freshwater, Double Island Point and Rainbow Beach.

    Take care! Mudlo Rocks (in front of Rainbow Beach township) and the ongoing erosion to the sand cliffs between Rainbow Beach and Double Island Point may impede travel.

    Inland tracks

    Cooloola Way, another access road into Cooloola, links Rainbow Beach Road with Kin Kin-Wolvi Road. Some sections may be impassable after wet weather. Check local conditions before traversing this council-maintained road. Check track conditions (PDF, 1.2MB) before going.

    River access

    Commercial boat tours, up the Noosa River, operate frequently from Noosa and Tewantin.

    Canoes, kayaks and small power boats can be hired from Boreen Point and Elanda Point private camping area. Power boats can be launched from the boat ramp at Boreen Point. Canoe and kayak launching facilities are only available at Elanda Point and Harrys camping and day-use areas.

    Wheelchair accessibility

    Wheelchair-accessible facilities are available at Freshwater camping and day-use areas, Bymien picnic area, Fig Tree Point and Harrys camping and day-use areas.

    Most areas in Cooloola are remote. Mobile phone reception is intermittent or non-existent in places. Help can be hours away. Factor in good communication and navigation equipment when planning to visit. Photo: Queensland Government

    Most areas in Cooloola are remote. Mobile phone reception is intermittent or non-existent in places. Help can be hours away. Factor in good communication and navigation equipment when planning to visit. Photo: Queensland Government

    Serious accidents have occurred in Cooloola. Stay informed and stay safe; don't let a trip turn in to a tragedy. Photo: René Burgess, Queensland Government

    Serious accidents have occurred in Cooloola. Stay informed and stay safe; don't let a trip turn in to a tragedy. Photo: René Burgess, Queensland Government

    A car that has been wrecked by the incoming tide after getting stuck on Mudlo Rocks. Photo: Alana Kippers, Queensland Government

    A car that has been wrecked by the incoming tide after getting stuck on Mudlo Rocks. Photo: Alana Kippers, Queensland Government

    Look out for and slow down when driving past people on the beach. They often cannot hear vehicles over the sounds of wind and surf. Photo: René Burgess, Queensland Government

    Look out for and slow down when driving past people on the beach. They often cannot hear vehicles over the sounds of wind and surf. Photo: René Burgess, Queensland Government

    Exposed sand cliffs can collapse without warning. Keep your distance and supervise children at all times. Photo: Rob Cameron, Queensland Government

    Exposed sand cliffs can collapse without warning. Keep your distance and supervise children at all times. Photo: Rob Cameron, Queensland Government

    Staying safe

    The rocks in front of Rainbow Beach township may be impassable at times. Conditions change daily. Always check first.

    In an emergency

    Phone Triple Zero (000) for all life threatening, critical or serious emergencies, or for reporting a bushfire or acts of arson.

    Be prepared for disaster

    Tsunami, cyclones and extremely high tides may occur along coastal areas. The Noosa River is also susceptible to flooding, cutting off escape routes.

    For comprehensive information on preparing for floods, cyclones, tsunami and severe storms, visit Queensland Disaster Management Services.

    • Before leaving home, check Bureau of Meteorology weather forecasts and warnings.
    • Tune into a local radio station for updated warnings and advice.
    • Check for up-to-date Tsunami warnings; telephone 1300 TSUNAMI (1300 878 6264) or visit www.bom.gov.au/tsunami.
    • Be aware that an Emergency Alert may be received at any time.

    Check for park alerts

    For more information, check park alerts and read the guidelines on safety in parks and forests.

    Pack good communication gear

    Recommended:

    Optional extra:

    • Handheld Global Positioning System (GPS) device and spare batteries
    • satellite phone.

    Prepare an emergency kit

    This could include:

    • portable transistor radio and spare batteries
    • torch and spare batteries
    • extra warm clothing
    • first-aid kit (and be trained in first aid)
    • list of emergency contact numbers.

    Safety is our concern, but your responsibility.

    Walking safety

    Stay alert when on the beach. Approaching vehicles are difficult to hear over the sounds of the surf and wind.

    Drinking water

    Fresh water is available from most camping and day-use areas in the Cooloola Recreation Area. Treat all water collected in the recreation area before drinking.

    Water obtained from pools, creeks or sub-surface supplies on Teewah Beach is not suitable for drinking, cooking, showering or swimming. The use of portable sand spears to collect sub-surface water from the foredune areas is an offence and is not permitted. Obtain fresh water at the nearby Freshwater day-use area, but treat before drinking.

    Water safety

    • The river system, lakes and coastal beaches are not patrolled and swimming is not recommended.
    • Sharks are common in the river system and ocean beaches.
    • Do not dive or jump into the water; submerged obstacles can be anywhere.
    • Do not dam or swim in creeks or soaks along Teewah Beach.
    • Be aware of and stay clear of power boats travelling along the river.
    • If fishing at night, wear a high visibility vest and use glow sticks to alert approaching vessels on the river, or vehicles on Teewah Beach.

    Sand safety

    Exposed sand dunes and sand cliffs along Teewah and Rainbow beaches are unstable and can collapse without warning. Climbing on, sliding down or digging into them is dangerous and can lead to serious injury or death. Do not park close to dunes. Never allow children to play near or on sand dunes and sand cliffs.

    Driving safety

    All Queensland road rules apply on all roads, vehicle tracks and beaches in Cooloola. Police patrol all areas of Cooloola. Speed checks and breath testing can happen at any time.

    Speed limits in Cooloola are generally:

    • 80km/hr maximum speed on the eastern beach unless otherwise signposted
    • 50km/hr speed limit on all beaches adjacent to camping and day-use areas
    • 20km/hr recommended on all other inland roads, unless otherwise signposted
    • 10–20km/hr maximum in camping areas.

    Read the Driving on sand safety guide (PDF, 2.0MB) for more detailed information on rules, preparation, hazards and other handy sand driving tips. Before leaving home, check the Cooloola Conditions Report (PDF, 1.2MB) (updated regularly) for beach and track conditions.

    The following are essential guidelines to remember when driving in Cooloola.

    • Avoid travelling at night; washouts and rocks can be difficult to see.
    • Always use established or formed tracks when accessing designated beach camp sites behind the foredunes.
    • Use existing tracks when accessing the Teewah Beach camping area.
    • Do not drive over vegetation, park vehicles or set up camp on a vegetated foredune. Penalties apply.
    • Slow down around pedestrians as approaching vehicles are difficult to hear above the sounds of surf and wind.
    • Take extra care and slow down around busy meeting spots, such as Double Island Point and Teewah Beach camping area.
    • Mudlo Rocks, just south of the beach ramp at Rainbow Beach, are generally impassable at high tide and often at low tide as well, depending on conditions. Use extreme caution; only experienced drivers should attempt the crossing. Conditions change daily. Always check first.
    • Leisha Track northern entrance is subjected to continuing natural erosion and at times this can impede travel. The track may become totally inaccessible on or around high tide so plan to travel at or near low tide.
    • Do not park on the Leisha Track.

    Hazards mentioned in the safety guide can occur within the Cooloola Recreation Area and change on a daily basis:

    • Deep washouts can happen at any time, particularly after heavy rain and rough seas.
    • Wave action can expose dangerous rocks overnight, including Mudlo Rocks.
    • Debris, such as tree trunks and coffee rock, is often exposed in the intertidal zone— between high and low tide marks—following severe weather events.

    Use extreme caution; only experienced drivers should attempt crossing Mudlo Rocks if conditions are good enough—don’t let a trip turn into a tragedy. Use Freshwater Road as an alternative route.

    Campfire safety

    Campfires are prohibited in Cooloola, except in the camping areas at Teewah Beach and Poverty Point or in QPWS-provided fire rings. Fires are not permitted anywhere during periods of fire prohibitions. Check before going (PDF, 1.2MB) . Penalties apply.

    Always be vigilant with fuel stoves, gas lights and lanterns.

    Never leave a campfire unattended and extinguish all campfires completely with water, not sand, before leaving the area. Embers under sand stay extremely hot for hours and can cause serious burns. Campfires that are covered with sand not only keep their heat for longer, but are also disguised and can look like a sand-pit or sandcastle to small children. Do not dispose of non-combustible or toxic material (e.g. glass, cans, plastics) in a campfire. Penalties apply.

    Bushfires

    Bushfires can pose a threat to walkers and remote campers. They can occur without warning, so be aware of, and prepare for the dangers.

    Walkers stay alert! If there is a bushfire, follow the walking track to the nearest set-down or pick-up point (generally an intersection between the walking track and a road), road, beach, lake or creek for refuge. Large logs, a ditch or burnt ground can also provide protection. Avoid areas of heavy fuel, such as deep leaf litter, and stay low to the ground where the air is coolest and contains the least smoke.

    In extreme conditions, the walking track and camping areas may be closed at short notice for safety reasons.

    Planned fires

    Rangers carry out planned fuel-reduction burning. Please observe all signs. Report a fire by calling Triple Zero (000) as soon as possible and try to alert rangers in the area.

    Report suspected arson

    Help stop arson by reporting the time, location and description of the suspected arsonist/s or the vehicle (including registration number) they are in. Early reporting can save lives and property.

    In all emergencies dial triple Zero (000).

    For more information, please read the QPWS Fire management brochure and guidelines on safety in parks and forests.

    Take extra drinking water when walking or visiting Cooloola's sandblows. There is no shade. Photo: Briony Masters, Queensland Government

    Take extra drinking water when walking or visiting Cooloola's sandblows. There is no shade. Photo: Briony Masters, Queensland Government

    Bring fuel stoves for cooking. Campfires are prohibited in most areas, and everywhere when fire prohibitions are in place. Check before going. Photo: Photo: Briony Masters, Queensland Government

    Bring fuel stoves for cooking. Campfires are prohibited in most areas, and everywhere when fire prohibitions are in place. Check before going. Photo: Photo: Briony Masters, Queensland Government

    A camping tag with booking number must be displayed at all camp sites for rangers to check. Photo: Alyssa Muller, Queensland Government

    A camping tag with booking number must be displayed at all camp sites for rangers to check. Photo: Alyssa Muller, Queensland Government

    Before you visit

    Essentials to bring

    First-aid kit and prescription medicines

    Bring adequate supplies of prescription drugs needed and a well-equipped first-aid kit.

    It's wise for at least one person in a visiting group to have a current first-aid certificate.

    Drinking water

    Water is available at some locations including Harrys day-use area and Freshwater camping and day-use areas.

    Treat all water collected before drinking.

    Use water treatment tablets or boil for at least 5–10mins.

    Fuel stoves preferred

    Bring fuel stoves for cooking.

    Test them before leaving home and never use them in confined spaces, such as tents.

    Firewood

    Firewood is not provided.

    Collecting bush wood, including twigs and leaves, from Cooloola is illegal.

    Please do not bring bush wood from other places as there is a risk of introducing pests and plant diseases.

    Bring only clean firewood, such as milled, untreated timber off-cuts.
    Also note: campfires are only permitted at Poverty Point and Teewah Beach camping areas unless a fire prohibition is in place, when all fires are banned. Check before going (PDF, 1.2MB) .

    Extra hints

    • Pack sealable garbage bags so you can take all rubbish out.
    • Reduce packaging at home and limit the amount of rubbish brought onto the park.
    • Bring small sealable canisters for cigarette butts. Don't discard butts in the park.
    • Pick up and read a current visitor guide, and a Cooloola Conditions Report.

    Seriously consider bringing:

    • portable toilets for beach camping
    • Personal Locator Beacon (PLB), especially if travelling into remote areas
    • mobile phone and spare battery if needed
    • sunscreen and insect repellent
    • torch and spare batteries
    • toilet paper and trowel for areas without toilet facilities
    • wet weather gear
    • sand pegs, tarpaulins, extra poles and ropes
    • $2 coins for a hot shower at Freshwater camping area. No other coins will be accepted.

    Permits and fees

    All camping areas within the Cooloola Recreation Area, Great Sandy National Park are e-permit camping areas. Camping in these areas is only available to those who have obtained a camping permit for the specific camping areas and for the dates booked. Fees apply.

    On-the-spot fines apply for camping without a permit, driving in designated areas without a valid vehicle access permit (VAP) or for not displaying a valid permit.

    Camping areas are accessible only through the Cooloola Recreation Area and drivers need current vehicle access permits (VAPs) to traverse some areas. Permits must be obtained prior to arrival.

    Schools and other organised groups

    Organised event permits are required for weddings and large, organised group activities such as school excursions and adventure training. Visit ecoaccess for more information. Maximum group sizes and other conditions apply depending on location and activity type.

    It is recommended group leaders view the Teachers' and group leaders' package (PDF, 247.3KB) for planning hints and safety information.

    Permit refunds

    For information on permit refunds, please read: Camping and vehicle access permit fee and gift card refunds operational policy (PDF, 132.6KB) .

    To apply for a refund please email: qpws@des.qld.gov.au.

    Opening hours

    The Cooloola Recreation Area, Great Sandy National Park is open 24 hours a day, except for periods of scheduled maintenance or during severe weather events. See permit issuing centre locations and operating hours for more information.

    Pets

    Domestic animals are not permitted in the Cooloola Recreation Area, except under permit or authority, including travelling in vehicles, vessels and trailers through the recreation area.

    Dogs

    Dogs are only permitted on the beach in a designated dog-friendly area on Teewah Beach, between the 1st beach access cutting on Noosa North Shore and on the beach at the northern end of Teewah township.

    Access to the dog-friendly area is only via the beach access cuttings—1st or 3rd cutting—at Noosa North Shore. These conditions apply in the dog-friendly area:

    • Dogs must be on leads and under control at all times.
    • Dogs must stay in the intertidal zone—between the low and high tide mark.
    • Wrap or bag dog droppings and remove them from the Recreation Area.
    • Do not allow your pet to chase birds or other wildlife.
    • Please ensure that your dog does not prevent Ranger access to view permits.
    • See map of this area (PDF, 4.7MB) (refer to page 2).

    Be aware! Dogs are not permitted and penalties apply:

    • in the Exclusion Zone at the mouth of the Noosa River
    • anywhere in the Cooloola Recreation Area, including travelling in vehicles through the area, except in the designated dog-friendly area.

    If you're travelling with a dog and heading north to Inskip Peninsula Recreation Area you cannot travel through the Cooloola Recreation Area. However you can get to Inskip via the Cooloola Way or on the Tin Can Bay and Rainbow Beach roads.

    Horses

    Horseriding is only permitted on the beach between the beach closure area at the mouth of the Noosa River to the northern end of Teewah township. The beach access cuttings at Noosa North Shore are the only access points to the horseriding trail.

    • Horses are not permitted within the Exclusion Zone at the mouth of the Noosa River. Penalties apply.
    • Observe all signage.
    • On the beach, horses must stay in the intertidal zone—between the low and high tide mark.
    • Wrap or bag horse manure and remove it from the recreation area.
    • Horses must not exceed walking pace between the 1st and 3rd beach cuttings.
    • Horses can still access the Noosa Shire Council's designated horse trail, but must not traverse the beach north of Teewah township or other walking tracks and firebreaks in the Cooloola Recreation Area, including the Cooloola Great Walk.

    Climate and weather

    The Cooloola region enjoys a mild, sub-tropical climate. The average daily temperature range is 22–30°C in summer and 12–22°C in winter.

    Always check weather warnings before heading off. Tsunami, cyclones and extremely high tides may occur in coastal areas. Visit the Bureau of Meteorology website for weather forecasts or tsunami updates and stay tuned to a local radio station for weather updates.

    Park closures and warnings

    Prior to arrival, check Park Alerts and the Cooloola Conditions Report (PDF, 1.2MB) (updated regularly) for park closures or warnings about issues, such as floods, fires, road and walking track conditions and scheduled maintenance.

    Fuel and supplies

    Fuel and supplies are available at Rainbow Beach, Tewantin, Noosa and other nearby towns. Boreen Point has only limited supplies.