The Great Sandy National Park on the Sunshine Coast has a wondrous variety of what nature can offer; rainforest, mangroves, freshwater lakes, and sand dunes. The park covers over 2000 km2 and is divided into 2 sections. The southern section lies on the coast starting from Noosa Heads and extends northwards to Rainbow Beach. The northern section (K’gari) covers almost all of Fraser Island. The entire park is a paradise which offers a remarkable variety of colours and landscapes.
As the name suggests, The Great Sandy National Park has a lot of sand. But not just your average sand. For 2 million years ocean currents have swept sand to this area and the rise and fall of sea levels has created amazing sand dunes. Some are over 500,000 years old which makes them the world’s oldest.
Over time the sand has mixed with clay and minerals which has created layers of different colours of sand. As the wind and rain erode sections of sand, it exposes some of these ancient layers. Spectacular colours of browns, reds and yellows can be seen at the huge dunes at Rainbow Gorge and Cathedrals on Fraser Island. Trekking through these huge ancient sand dunes is truly awe inspiring.
Freshwater dune lakes occur in the dip between the dunes and can be formed in various ways. Some dips fill up when organic matter blows in which then settles to form a firm base for water to sit. Some fill up with ground water, and others with fresh rain water which has run down from higher up. Yet others are formed when shifting sands has trapped water and formed a dam.
The Great Sandy National Park has over 40 fresh water dune lakes created in each of these ways. This has produced something extraordinary; every single lake has a unique colour! On Fraser Island the crescent moon shaped Lake Wabby has an inviting rich green colour and boasts both rain forest and sand at its edge. It’s a very popular swimming and fishing spot. Lake McKenzie, which is located right in the middle of the island, is Fraser Island’s most popular lake. It has stunning white silica sand and pure crystal clear water which makes swimming hard to resist.
In fact, the Great Sandy National Park is a very special place. Over half of the total known fresh water dune lakes in the world are found in this one area. Have fun exploring all the unique and natural beauties these lakes have to offer.
As you can imagine, the Great Sandy National Park has numerous walking tracks. Tracks are graded according to length and difficulty. In the Caloola Recreation Area, you can take an easy stroll with your family at Dundathu through beautiful rainforest on a Class 2 track, or do a slightly harder walk at Melaleuca on a Class 3 track which will take you up and down some hills through wetlands and a eucalypt forest. Both of these will only take about 30 minutes each.
If you like something a bit more challenging, you can do the Cooloola Sand Patch walk. It’s a 12km walk up a steady gradient and it’s a sand track all the way. It starts at Campsite 3 and finishes at the Cooloola Sand Patch on top of the hill. From the top you have stunning views of the ocean. It takes approximately 5 hours.
For serious hikers the Cooloola Wilderness trail hike covers around 48km (one way) and will take 3-5 days. This hike includes overnight walking. Camping is in the wilderness so you’ll have to rough it!
If roughing it in the bush is not for you and you prefer some modern conveniences, try the famous Cooloola Great Walk. It’s double the distance (around 100km one way) and takes around 5 days, but each night you can enjoy staying at a camp with toilets and picnic tables.
There are many other trails and tracks which fall between these extremes. They all vary in distance and time so there is something for everyone.
Please remember that many of these tracks are remote, so if you plan on doing a longer hike check Park alerts for park closures, or for current warnings about any floods, fires, road and walking track conditions. Observe the usual precautions such as carrying a map, dress appropriately, carry water, a first aid kit, sunscreen and insect repellent, and always walk in a group. Open camp fires are prohibited.
You can enjoy an exhilarating drive along the beach or inland through stunning scenery. It’s a wonderful way to see much of what Cooloola has to offer. However, there are things to be aware of.
Cooloola’s sand tracks and beaches are soft and rough. This makes them unsuitable for all-wheel-drive vehicles, caravans and motor homes as they do not have enough clearance. High clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicles with low range functions are strongly recommended.
All vehicles are required to stay on designated roads and vehicle tracks and must not be driven on or over vegetation including that of the foredunes. All speed limits, signs and barriers must be obeyed for your safety and to protect the delicate environment. Specific areas are designated for 4-wheel-driving. Vehicle access permits and fees apply.
The rules are there to protect you, your car, and the environment. But don’t let them put you off. Whether you are driving along a flat open beach or over dunes, the experience is intoxicating.
Naturally, being on the coast of Queensland means you can also enjoy what the ocean has to offer. If you like fishing, whiting, bream, and swallowtail are just a few of the species waiting to be caught. In fact, Fraser Island is one of the best surf fishing spots in Australia.
If you are in the Great Sandy between July and October you can watch humpback whales as they migrate. From the lookout at Indian Head on Fraser Island you might even spot a turtle.
If history is more your thing, there are also two shipwrecks; the SS Maheno and the Cherry Venture. At the end of SS Maheno’s working life in 1935, it was being towed to a ship breaking yard in Japan. However, it got caught in a cyclone and the towrope broke. The ship was found beached north of Eli Creek on Fraser Island where it has been ever since. Due to the severe level of corrosion, the ship is now off-limits, but it is still a fascinating sight and can be seen at low tide.
The Cherry Venture is the other wreck. It ran aground at Teewah Beach in 1973 after falling victim to a severe storm. The bulk of the ship was removed in 2007 amid asbestos concerns, but the ribs from the lower section of the hull can still be seen protruding from the sand.