Cooloola Great Walk from Rainbow Beach to Tewantin

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Posted 2023-09-21 by Roz Glazebrookfollow

I was very lucky recently to go on a five-day walk from Rainbow Beach to Tewantin on the Cooloola Great Walk.

The Cooloola Recreation Area lies between the coastal towns of Tewantin, near Noosa, and Rainbow Beach just south of K'gari (formerly Fraser Island). Tewantin is approximately 155km—about 2 hours drive—north of Brisbane. Rainbow Beach is 240km—about 3 hours drive—north of Brisbane.

A lot of people do the walk from South to North, but our small group of five decided to do it from North to South. We drove in two cars to Tewantin. We parked our cars at the National Park office and then the two drivers walked back to the bus stop where we caught the 4pm Premier bus to Rainbow Beach. The bus stop was across the road from the primary school.

The bus stopped right in the middle of Rainbow Beach and we checked into the Freedom Hostel before going to dinner at the local hotel.

The next morning we had breakfast at the Parliament cafe before heading off on our hike. After walking up the hill from town we walked across the 200m Carlo Sandblow. I had done this part of the walk on a previous trip when a group of us walked in and camped overnight at Freshwater.

On this trip, we stayed on the Great Walk track and walked past Poona Lake to our first night camp at Kauri Walker’s Camp, which sits on a ridge of rainforest. Some of us had a quick swim in the Lake. There was a beautiful goanna walking by the Lakeside. The walk was 15.2 kilometres. Poona Lake is the largest perched lake in Cooloola over 160m above sea level. I have visited there when there was a wide sandy beach, but nowadays after lots of rain there is the very little beach.

Our packs were heavy with 5 days of food, but they did get lighter every day as we ate our food.

On Day 2 we walked from Kauri Walkers Camp to Litoria Walkers Camp a distance of 20.5 kilometres. We passed through a variety of habitats, including rainforests and gigantic Kauri pines.

Along the way, we passed Lake Cooloomera. This lake is acidic and a perfect habitat for little acid frogs (litoria cooloolensis), which are, restricted to these reedy areas in Cooloola and Fraser Island National Parks. It is advised not to walk into the Lake as it destroys the reeds and frog-breeding habitat.

We mostly had the campsite to ourselves, but did meet one girl walking alone from South to North. She asked us to look out for her phone charger at our next campsite at Dutgee as she thought she must have left it there. Luckily we found it along the track the next morning and managed to get it back to her in Brisbane. She was very happy.

We had some drama overnight that night at Litoria Walker’s camp, which is set in the middle of the eucalypt forest. Barbara, who is Canadian, was sleeping in her lightweight Dan Durston tent. She told us something woke her at about 1.30am. She wrote about her experience

“Many overseas friends ask me about hiking and if I am afraid of dingoes. My response is “usually we don’t see them often and take precautions having food boxes etc. “ Well … I was asleep in my tent but woke up and was just lying there very still when I thought I felt something. I was on my side and my bottom was against the outer tent wall. It felt as if something was very, very gently poking me. I thought about it, then felt it again! I let out the most terrifying guttural scream that I have ever heard before. It was a dingo-smelling me! It took off, although I didn’t hear it go because I was frantically getting myself together. I eventually laid down again with a torch on, listening to every sound. Not much sleep that night. That morning I asked my hiking buddies if they heard anything. They did hear someone’s scream but were waiting for the second scream… haha that‘s reassuring! I’m in my tent writing this…if they scream I’m staying in my tent. HA”

I didn’t hear her screams at all. The other three heard it, but said they seemed a long way away. We were pretty spread out, as there weren’t many other campers there that night. I usually get as far away as possible because I snore and don’t want to disturb my friends. They admitted they were waiting for the second scream. We didn’t see any dingoes so I’m not sure if it was a dingo or some other animal. I have seen dingoes walking towards us along the track while bushwalking on K’Gari (Fraser Island).

Barbara did get quite a few comments on the Durston Gearheads Facebook page from people all over the world talking about their scary camping stories. I had a lion growling outside my tent once in the Masai Mara National Park in Africa, which was my scariest experience. There was a dead wildebeest beside our campsite the next day. Some other people talked about their own encounters while camping with jaguars, dingoes, bears, wombats, wallabies, Tasmanian devils, snakes and mice.

On day 3 we walked from Litoria campsite to Dutgee Walker’s Camp, a distance of 14.8 kilometres.

We walked past the entrance to the remains of Ramsay’s old hut, which is an old timber cutter’s hut. The hut was abandoned before the area was declared a National Park in 1975. It is advised not to enter this site.

There were lots of beautiful boronia flowers along this walk. Dutgee is the Aboriginal word for the boronia flower near the campsite. There were also lovely reflections on the Noosa River as we walked by. It was lovely to do this walk in spring to see all the wildflowers. It could get very hot to do it in summer.

National Park rangers have done a lot of work on the tracks by digging under large logs so you can walk under without having to climb across them.

Day 4 we walked from Dutgee to Brahminy walker’s camp. On this day we walked a distance of 20.3 kilometres and crossed the 1 kilometre Cooloola sand patch. I was glad we were walking down and across the sand patch, rather than up it, which you would do if you were doing the walk from South to North.

I had previously walked up to the sand patch from campsite 3 on kayaking trips on the Noosa River, but this was the first time I had walked right across it. The track was well marked with a map at each end, but I guess some people could get confused, as it is a very large sand mass. It would be useful to have a compass. It was very beautiful seeing the sea. It was windy while we were there and could be very hot. We had left our previous campsite early at 6.30am to get across the sand before it got too hot.

We walked through scribbly gum Eucalyptus racemosa woodland and blackbutt (Eucalyptus pilularis) forest and heath plains.

The Cooloola sandmass is one of the largest accumulations of wind-blown sand found along the Queensland coast. Built up during the last 500,000 years, it conserves unique dune, lake and vegetation systems. This 61,750-hectare section of the Great Sandy National Park is one of the best-conserved landscapes of its kind in eastern Australia.

We had a beautiful sunset from this campsite over Lake Cootharaba. Some of our group did the short detour to climb Mount Seawah the next morning before we hit the beach. The detour is a short 300m return.

I loved the walk along the beach seeing the sea birds and enjoying the sea breeze. It was a highlight of the walk for me. We saw horse riders along the beach. It is good to wear gaiters to keep sand out of your socks, which can rub and give you blisters. I just used some short, cheap ones from Bunnings.

The whole walk was very beautiful with lots of different environments from rainforests, huge sandblows, sea views, lake views, perched lakes, rainforests, tall eucalypt forests, the beautiful Noosa River Everglades, wildlife, wildflowers, long deserted sandy beaches, dry coastal woodland and heath plains.

One day we passed an inquisitive wallaby along the track looking at us and wondering what we were doing before he hopped off the track. I was also excited to see my first giant burrowing cockroach. These cockroaches are native to Australia and are mostly found in tropical and subtropical areas. It gives birth to live young, hisses and builds intricate nests. Luckily this one didn’t hiss at me.

On our last day, we left early at 6.30am and headed to Tewantin. We made it to the hotel by about 11.15am, but unfortunately, the kitchen didn’t start cooking until midday so we just had some coffee and potato chips before heading across on the boat to our cars and headed home. On this day we walked about 20 kilometres.

It was 17.3 kilometres to the official end of the walk at the Arthur Harold Nature Reserve, but then another 2.4 kilometres along the road to the Noosa River car ferry. The whole walk was about 91 kilometres, including the road walking bits at both ends.

I had more food than I needed, but other than that I didn’t have any excess things in my pack. I did manage to give away some wraps and chocolates to save carrying them. I did take a small bottle of wine for my first night. I had 4 dehydrated meals but bought one home. I didn’t get very hungry and just had soup and a wrap for dinner one night. We were very lucky with the weather and didn’t have any rain. The wildflowers throughout the walk were absolutely gorgeous. I did get into trouble a bit for being slow because I kept stopping to take photos. I ended up withover 400 photos.

We only passed a few other walkers along the way and most of the campsites were fairly empty. All the other walkers we saw were heading the other way to us. There was plenty of water in the tanks, but no toilet paper in the toilets so make sure you take plenty. You do need to treat the water. I just used tablets and boiled mine. Some of my friends used filters. Some people must have been desperate because they left a book with pages torn out of it in one of the toilets.

The walk could get very hot in summer so it is probably best to avoid the hot summer months. A lot of it is under cover of the forest, but some sections are out in the open and would be very hot.

Overall, the Cooloola Great Walk is a wonderful walk and I really recommend it. You need $1 cash to pay for the ferry across the Noosa River to Tewantin. There were metal food boxes at each campsite to secure your food from animals. You could hear creatures around your tent at night, but nothing too scary apart from Barb’s experience. The stars at night were amazing and the views along the way were spectacular. There were lots of birds.

We were fairly warm most nights, except the last night at Brahminy campsite got a lot cooler because it is high and exposed so you do need some warm thermals.

You need to book the campsites through National Parks and the maximum is 6. We started with 6 of us but lost one at the start because she had to return home unexpectedly due to a family issue. It is good to get your pack as light as possible. The track is well-marked, but it is useful to have a map. I bought mine at Paddy Pallin in the Valley. Unfortunately, most of the maps describe the walk from South to North, so you have to read it all backwards.


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