Come with me as I jump in a campervan and head up the Central Coast of QLD.
This time last year I did a 10 day road trip in a campervan with my friend Emma, all for the purpose of attending the four day CMC Rocks country music festival. Last time I put the entire trip into one post, but this time I'm breaking it up.
For this trip, Emma and I decided that we weren't going to do what we did last year which was to drive to QLD all the way from Melbourne. That was just waaaay too much driving and not enough sightseeing. This time round we booked our campervan to be picked up and dropped off in Brisbane. The company we go through, Cruisin Motorhomes, were taking advantage of the massive festival and had implemented a rule that meant if you wanted to hire a van you had to have it for a minimum of 8 days, so that left us with a few days to travel around.
After landing in Brisbane at 8am on the Monday morning, Emma and I grabbed a cab and headed over to the Cruisin depot. Our van was ready and waiting for us which was great as we were anxious to get on the road. We knew exactly what to expect this time and had already made our lists of stuff we needed to buy for the trip - food, drinks and a gazebo were at the top. The van did come with all the bedding, including sheets and towels, but I'm a bit funny about stuff like that so I bought a cheap sheet set and a couple of towels from Kmart. I also bought along my favourite pillow (because a good night sleep is invaluable when you have two people living in close quarters for a week - am I right?).
So after swinging past Bunnings to grab a cheap gazebo, we plugged in the GPS and headed off for our first camping ground of the trip. I'm the organiser when it comes to trips like this, I do countless hours of research figuring out where to stay, what to see and stuff to do. For this trip I'd made sure to pick camping locations that were remote, well liked online, or a little different. The first night we were booked in to stay at the Noosa North Shore Beach Campground. It looked lovely and secluded when I reviewed it online, with limited camping sites and only a handful of powered sites (I always book a powered site if possible).
But first we had a stop to make along the way - the Glasshouse Mountains.
The Glasshouse Mountains - Mt Ngungun
Emma likes to lurk on Instagram (as do I) and she'd seen photos of the Glasshouse Mountains come up on the Insta feed for @VisitSunshineCoast. We both agreed that the photos from the pinnacle of Mt Ngungun were the best and so we drove to the base carpark. Now it's important for me to point out here that it was about 38°C and the humidity was at about 90%. Looking back it was a completely stupid decision to try this hike in those conditions considering the level of fitness Emma and I have (or lack thereof). However, we were determined to see the view from the top and it was only 2.8km to the peak. How hard could it be?
Note: When you arrive at the car park there's an information board that details how long the climb is, what to expect and what to look out for (keep an eye out for snakes in the summer). There's a water tap so make sure you have a full water bottle before you head off. The information says to allow 2 hours for the return trip, which I'm assuming is to include time to enjoy the views at the summit. Under normal conditions it would be a challenging yet completely attainable walk, unfortunately these conditions were not ideal.
On top of that, there were a couple of guys that had just come back down and when I asked them how difficult it was they were like, "Oh it's really easy, only takes about 20 minutes." We were like, "Great!" The thing we should've realised was that these guys were in their early 20s, were really fit, and one of them was even wearing a weights vest. (Apparently the heat was already affecting our decision making skills because we took them at their word.)
An hour and a half later, and we were dying. I've never felt so sick from exercising. We were stopping every 10 feet to rest and we'd already drunk almost all our water and we weren't even half way. The track going up starts off fairly simple but eventually it becomes nothing but rocks to scramble over and tree roots to trip over. We soldiered on however and finally made it to the top. Once there, you need to walk along the crest of the mountain, climb over these huge boulders, and then make it up onto the peak rock to take that Instagram photo. Emma couldn't even get to that point and managed to find a sliver of shade to rest in while I clambered over and got some of the other hikers to take the below shot for me. I'd made it that far and there was no way in hell I wasn't getting that bloody Insta photo!
Climbing back down wasn't as hard as going up, obviously, but it was still a hell of a hike getting back over all those boulders and giant steps. By the time we reached the bottom our legs were like jelly and we could barely stand. Luckily they have a water tap installed so we stood there drinking our body weight in water (I'm pretty sure we were both suffering from dehydration at this point - keep in mind the heat and humidity). We got back in the campervan and pumped the air conditioning up to full while we tried to lower our core temperatures from internal-organ-melting-point to I'm-possibly-not-going-to-die-point.
After cooling down we got back on the road and headed off to Noosa to do our grocery shopping. We'd made a rough meal plan so we knew exactly what to buy so that we wouldn't be left with heaps of uneaten food at the end of the trip like last year. As a side note, it might've been 38°C and sunny, but in Noosa you can never be sure. It was sunny when we went into the shopping centre, and when we came out it was lightning, thunder and torrential rain!
Noosa North Shore Beach Campground
We hopped back in the van, set the GPS for Noosa North Shore Beach Campground and off we went. Everything was going great until we reached the end of the road, literally. Ahead of us was a barge across the river. Que instant panic attack. I'd done my research meticulously and I knew nothing about having to catch a barge to our campground! I checked Google Maps to be absolutely sure there wasn't another way across, but nope, the barge was it. What was making it worse was that I had no idea how often it ran, and every other vehicle we'd seen were 4WD and our poor old campervan was most definitely not a 4WD (hence the look of terror on my face below...)
Emma jumped out and spoke to the guy running the barge station and turns out that it was fine for all vehicles and we were on the right track. Also, luckily the barge runs all day every day so we only had to wait about 2 minutes for it to return and pick us up. So after paying for our $9 ticket, with a lot of hesitation I very carefully drove our van up onto the barge and parked.
Once we arrived safely on the other side, we set off for the campground. Now here's the thing, it looks like you're driving to the very end of the world and that you're going to get completely stuck without being able to get back out (if you have a 2WD like us). The truth is, the bitumen road takes you all the way to the campground. Just keep following it along and don't turn off! If you turn off for anything else you'll end up bogged in about 2 seconds flat. All the other camping areas are for 4WDs only for a reason. Below is a shot of what the road to the campground looks like, so if you see this you're on the right road.
After arriving at the grounds, we were directed to our site. Just an FYI here - the gate is locked at all times and you have to leave a $20 deposit with the office for one of the keys. I'd luckily done some research and chosen the perfect site, with the back of our van looking straight out onto the beach.
The whole campground is built on a flat behind the sand dunes so it's quite protected. It's a really short walk to the facilities, and as you can see in the pic above, you're right on the beach. There are only about 8 powered sites and then everything else is just free camping (basically you drive in and pick your site). I'd booked site 1 because I wanted to have the best view of the water, so if you're planning on staying on a powered site I would recommend you book the same site as it's really the only one where you can see the beach. There were only a few other campers there at the same time which was perfect.
We were absolutely desperate for showers after the boiling walk up the mountain, so that was our first point of call. The facilities aren't too bad, although everything uses bore water so the toilets look pretty gross.
There are heaps of kangaroos that come out to play at sunset and they come right up to the campers, and there are also huge toads but they tend to stick to the long grass (thank goodness).
Usually people are allowed to drive and camp on the beach, but luckily this section of the beach is no driving so you're guaranteed some peace and quiet.
The next morning after some breakfast and another walk on the beach, we headed off for our next adventure. Emma had some friends that were staying at a hotel in Noosa, so we snuck into their hotel pool area to hang around for a couple of hours. Afterwards we all drove down to Betty's Burgers for lunch. This place is on Hastings Street which is the main drag of Noosa, and it is one of the most iconic places to eat - famous for its burgers and shakes.
Noosa Fairy Pools
After gorging ourselves on food and chocolate shakes, it was time for the one thing I'd been hanging out for. Last year when we were in Noosa we tried to go out and see the Fairy Pools but we weren't able to get there because of the weather. So this time, I was determined to get my Insta-worthy photo!
The Noosa Fairy Pools are a huge tourist attraction and get extremely busy, so you need to plan ahead. To get the place to yourselves, avoid the middle of the day, public and school holidays, as well as weekends. These are all times when the crowds will be at their peak.
There's a boardwalk that you can take from right in the heart of Noosa that pretty much starts from Hastings St, however we were running low on time, so we drove out to the Noosa National Park car park and found a spot up the hill slightly to leave our van.
You'll be taking the Coastal Track, and at the very beginning you'll see a kiosk selling ice creams and drinks, as well as the information boards (see below).
From here it is a very easy walk to get to the Fairy Pools, but keep in mind that these pools aren't an official tourist spot - technically you have to break a few rules to get there. For this walk I would recommend you wear runners, although it's a fairly easy walk so you could wear thongs if you really wanted to (but beware you may blow a plug with the sandy/rocky paths).
To get to the pools, you walk along the Coastal Track past Tea Tree Bay and Granite Bay. All up the walk is just over 2 km and takes around 30-40 minutes, although there are a lot of places you'll want to stop at along the way because they're so beautiful. At the far end of Granite Bay, once you've passed Picnic Cove, there's a park bench under a tree as the track turns right around a large bend. There's a fence that's supposed to stop you from going down to the pools, but a little further along you'll see that there's a worn track leading around it and down to the pools. From here you need to climb, scramble and crawl down the rocks to the Fairy Pools.
Two things you need to keep in mind when visiting the pools - tide and crowds. The best time of day to visit is at low tide (or at least when the tide is going out), and the earlier in the day the better. This place is getting more and more famous on Instagram which means it is a hub for tourists meaning it gets really busy. When we visited it was mid afternoon on the receding tide, and there were about 20 other people (unfortunately we had no other time to go so we were stuck with the busy period).
Now for the all important photos... As I said, it was quite busy when we were there, and unfortunately Emma took a tumble on the rocks so she decided to wait for me back up at the top. That meant I didn't have anyone to take my photos for me. There was also the problem of trying to get photos that make it look like you're the only person there when in fact there are 30 other people wanting the exact same thing. Luckily, because most people are after the same thing - great photos - if you work together you can all get what you want. Basically we all agreed to keep out of the way one at a time (including taking photos of each other) so we could all get our photos one at a time - worked a treat.
Habitat Noosa Everglades Ecocamp
After the success of the Fairy Pools, it was on to our accommodation for the night. This time we were staying at a place I'd found that had rave reviews online - Habitat Noosa Everglades Ecocamp. Now before I get into the details of how gorgeous this place is, I need to issue a warning - the 2km driveway into the campground is horrendous! The dirt road is nothing but one giant pothole; I felt like my insides had been through a blender by the time we arrived. You'd probably be halfway ok in a 4WD but our poor campervan's suspension certainly suffered. Once we made it through to the actual campground though, it was all worth it.
We'd booked another powered site and it was right on sunset when we pulled in. The Reception desk gave us a swipe card to get in and out of the grounds, as well as a map and some info sheets. We drove to our assigned spot and discovered we were right in the middle of a group of grey nomads who were on their annual road trip together. For those of you who don't know what a grey nomad is, this is a great article that explains it. Instantly we were taken under their wing as they showed us where everything was and asked us numerous questions about our trip so far. I can't tell you how great it was to have a chat to them and listen to their stories. They were clearly living their best lives.
The next morning Emma and I decided to head off for a day trip to Rainbow Beach. I'd originally planned for us to stay at Inskip Point for the night (our last before the festival started), but we loved Habitat Noosa so much we decided to book in for another night. Luckily they had availability. The cost for a powered site was $48 per night twin share which is absolutely worth it for this fantastic campground.
The drive to Rainbow Beach from Noosa was about 2 hours in the van, but it was a very easy drive. I'd made a small list of a few things I wanted to do whilst we were there, which included visiting the beach (obviously), visiting the famous rainbow stairs, and checking out the Carlo Sand Blow. When we pulled into town, we were able to park right on the beach in a car park that is designed for people in campervans. We disembarked and started exploring.
Right away we realised that the town of Rainbow Beach is extremely small, with everything located in one small area on the main street. The best place to start off is at the local Rainbow Beach Tourist Centre, which also doubles as a gift shop. There you can buy gawdy stubby holders, sunscreen, snow globes and everything in between. We wanted to get our bearings and find out where the best part of the beach was, where the rainbow stairs and the sand blow were, as well as the best way to get up to Inskip Point for a look. The ladies behind the counter were extremely helpful, giving us maps of the area as well as instructions on the best places to visit (more on that in a minute).
First up were the rainbow stairs. I'm not sure if you've seen these before, but they're an Instagram favourite for a reason. The staircase leads down to the beach from the main street. If you're looking for them, just walk out of the car park to the left (when facing the beach) into the park, and it's the first staircase on your right. They're literally right there. We were fortunate enough as well that no-one else was using them at the time so I had a chance to get a couple of really good shots (thanks to Emma for playing photographer once again).
After this, we headed down to the actual beach. The ladies at the information centre had warned us that due to the cyclone that had gone through only days earlier, the beach was not as beautiful as it usually is. Unfortunately this turned out to be true and the lovely multi coloured sands we were expecting were not there. Still, the water was gorgeous and we had a lovely time enjoying the hot sun.
Next up it was time for lunch, and there was one clear choice! The Deck at Sea Salt is right on the corner and looks out directly across the ocean. It had a wide range of pub style meals (although for inexplicable reason chicken parmas weren't on the menu), as well as a full bar. Two medium steaks, half a kilo of chips and a couple of beers later, and we were feeling extremely mellow. But there was no time rest!
Carlo Sand Blow
Next up was the Carlo Sand Blow. Now this place is one of those "you have to see it to believe it" type places. "But what exactly is it?" I hear you ask. Named by Captain Cook after one of his deck crew, Carlo, the Carlo Sand Blow is a sand mass covering over 15 hectares and part of the Cooloola sand mass, one of the largest accumulations of wind-blown sand found along Queensland’s coastline. Dense Australian bushland breaks wide open to reveal this huge and unique "moonscape" sand mass. Overlooking the towering coloured sands and the coastline, the massive size of the Sand Blow is almost overwhelming (it's hard to do it justice in explaining it to you).
So how do you get there?
Good question. The Sand Blow is only about 1.5km from the centre of town, but it's a very steep walk. If you have a car I recommend you driving up and parking at the Carlo Carpark. It doesn't look like it when you're driving in, but the carpark is much bigger than it looks and there's plenty of room to turn around to get back out again. Make sure you put away your valuables and lock your vehicle before leaving (not saying anything will happen but it's always better to be safe than sorry).
From the carpark you take a short 600m walk along a very well maintained track. It's an easy walk but keep in mind there are a couple of sets of steps (the big square kind) and none of it is wheelchair accessible. You’ll ascend one last set of stairs before reaching a wooden platform with a guardrail, information about the Sand Blow and a small set of two or three steps leading down to it. We stopped here to take our shoes off and leave them behind heading out onto the Sand Blow. If you're looking out towards the ocean, you're in the best spot to watch the sun rise (if you get there early enough), and if you're facing inland you have a perfect view of Cooloola Cove and Tin Can Bay as the sun sets in the distance. We were there in the mid-afternoon so the sun was high in the sky, but I can tell you that it was absolutely incredible to see.
As I mentioned before, I'd originally planned on us staying at Inskip Point (just past Rainbow Beach) but decided that we like the Habitat Noosa Eco Everglades campground just too good to pass up - and let me just say, boy are we glad we made that decision! Don't get me wrong, Inskip Point is gorgeous, but it's so remote and so basic and so HOT!
Inskip Point has a number of difference campgrounds that you can choose from, and all but one of them are 4WD only. The only one suitable for 2WD vehicles (such as campervans) is the last one (called MV Sarawak), but the drive out there is easy. The thing to note though, if you're planning on staying there, is that there are pretty much no facilities outside a single long-drop toilet.
The beaches however, hoo-ee the beaches, they are stunning! I can't even put into words just how gorgeous it is out there, so I'm going to leave a few photos here to show you rather than try and tell you...
After all these incredible sights we were exhausted and it was time to head home. We drove the couple of hours back to the Habitat Noosa campground and reversed straight back into our previous spot from the night before, grey nomads clamouring to ask us about our day. After a dinner of spaghetti bolognese (made from scratch by yours truly, I might add) and a quick debrief with the neighbours about our day, we collapsed into bed because we had another very big day ahead of us the next morning.
Noosa Everglades Bar-B-Canoe Tour
Yep, you read that right, the Noosa Everglades Bar-B-Canoe Tour. That was what we were in for on our last morning before heading to the festival.
Here's the low-down: this tour runs from the main Noosa district but the actual tour starts right at the Habitat Noosa campground. (Side note, if you're booked to stay you also get a 15% discount on the price of the tour.) The attendees are from all over Noosa, not just the Habitat campground so be sure to book ahead because the tour was booked out every day we were there. You'll need to take with you - clothes to wear on the boat, bathers to wear in the canoe (and maybe some shorts and a tshirt as the sun gets really hot), thongs (or flip-flops for you non-Aussies) as well as sunscreen, insect repellent and a water bottle.
After a quick breakfast, Emma and I headed off to the Reception area at the campground to meet up with the busload of tourists coming in from around Noosa. We all headed down to the dock to get on board the boat that would take us across Lake Cootharaba and into the everglades. The first stop is at Fig Tree Point where you disembark and grab a canoe.
There were actually so many people on our trip that two couples had to canoe on the way back instead of on the way up (which we said we'd do). So those that were canoeing up the river set off (rather badly in some cases) for the next meetup point (tip - if the person in the front is paddling forwards on the left, then the person in back needs to paddle forward on the right, otherwise you just go round in circles). There were 2 British girls who had never paddled before and seriously just couldn't get the hang of it. In the end we had to tow them up the river with a rope to make sure they actually got there!
The next stop was Harry's Hut where we were treated to a delicious morning tea of cakes, biscuits, fruit, tea and coffee. It's also possible to swim in the river so Emma jumped in at the urging of our rather okker tour guide (if you're not sure what okker means, click here for a description). Much to Emma's (and everyone else's) horror, she was immediately surrounded by huge catfish! They were absolutely revolting and she screamed before scrambling back on board the boat. Lesson learned, don't fall in when canoeing!
Eventually the canoers arrived and Emma and I, as well as the other couple, set off for the paddle on the way back. Now here's the thing, the paddle is over 5km long, which doesn't sound like a lot but when you're not experienced or not very fit, it feels like a really long way! Luckily we did make it back and the boat arrived not long after. We stowed the canoes away and boarded the boat once more to take us back across the lake to the campground.
It was about 1pm by the time we arrived back and we were all ravenous. Luckily, we had a huge buffet lunch waiting for us. Roast port, vegetables, salads, freshly baked bread and roast potatoes were on offer and we absolutely gorged ourselves. The food was fantastic!
After some farewell hugs to the friends we'd made on the trip, as well as a thank you to our tour guide, we headed off. A quick shower to wash off the grime, sweat and river water, and we were packed and ready to head back down to Ipswich for the second part of our trip - CMC Rocks 2019.
To find out how the rest of our trip turned out, be sure to read my next post - CMC Rocks 2019.
Until next time,