Sunshine Coast 4WD Tours
Travelling along the open beach, our driver Bert suddenly braked and the four-wheel drive slid to a stop on the hard sand.
Bert had spotted a beach fisherman standing in the shallows, straining under a very bent rod. Bert jumped from the vehicle, camera in hand, as the fisherman hauled in a one metre long shovel-nosed shark.
"Can you eat it?" someone asked nervously.
"Of course you can!" Bert shouted back, as the fisherman proudly held up his catch for Bert to capture on film.
Bert's photograph was for his website, the public face of Noosa 4WD Ecotours the company Bert (Schutte) and his wife Lyn have been operating for 21 years. From the northern end of the Sunshine Coast, they offer "real Aussie" off-road adventures along the Coloured Sands beaches and, behind the beaches, on the sandy rainforest tracks of the Cooloola National Park.
While Bert's tours usually cover the same route, Bert said every day was different for him. At the end of our day with Bert, we could see why. After seeing the shark, we passed a black dingo foraging at the waters edge, and watched a group of paragliders catching thermals above the dunes. Bert said he sometimes saw whales and dolphins offshore, and even manta rays.
We met Bert at the Noosa River ferry at Tewantin, and climbed into his well appointed Toyota Landcruiser to cross to the North Shore. The ferry is the only way vehicles can cross the river, so the North Shore has none of the high density tourist development to the south.
We were told there were people living on the North Shore, but it was hard to spot them. Much of the area is banksia-shrouded wetland, and all the roads are gravel, and hard on standard cars.
We headed for the beach where Bert engaged the Toyota's four-wheel drive, barged across the soft sand to the hard surface near the shallows, and turned north. Ahead of us was Teewah Beach, 54km long of four-wheel driving heaven, all the way from the Noosa River to the township of Rainbow Beach.
While the beach was quite remote, it wasn't deserted. The beach is a registered road and there were plenty of other 4WD traffic, as well as lots of campers in the dunes behind the beach. Some campers were fishing, or playing beach cricket. Others were just relaxing. A sign outside one campsite read: "Exercise-free zone. Gentle lifting of stubbies allowed."
At the Teewah Coloured Sands, it's not the beach that's coloured: it's the dunes. They range in colour from light orange/almost yellow to dark brown - or in all the colours of the red spectrum, according to Bert.
This collation of reds was evident at Red Canyon, a wide fissure in the dunes about halfway along the beach. Inside the canyon were spectacular formations of sand, in outcrops, cliffs and recesses. We clambered up a steep, sandy path to the top of the dunes. The view was outstanding. We could see up and down the entire beach and across to Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world.
We stopped for morning tea at the remains of the MV Cherry Venture. She ran aground there during a cyclone in 1973, and her wreck has long been a landmark on Teewah Beach, although recently she lost her distinctive profile when her rusting superstructure was removed for safety reasons.
Soon after our Cherry Venture stop, Bert turned off the beach and crossed the sand dunes into Cooloola National Park. The park is noted for having large tracts of sub-tropical rainforest growing in huge sand masses. As we followed the sandy track inland, the surrounding vegetation changed from banksia scrub to scribbly gum forest and then to rainforest. This transition in the vegetation was marked by the gradual increase in the numbers of grass trees beside the track. The grass tree has a distinctive stalk, rising from a trunk which has a fringe of grass-like fronds. Bert said he had seen parrots lying under these grass trees, drunk. He explained that, in summer, the stalks are covered in fruit. The birds over-indulge, the fruit ferments in the birds' stomachs; and they end up worse for wear.
The track headed down into a valley, where the rainforest was more prolific. Thick stands of piccabeen palms, strung with liana vines, lined the track while strangler figs and quandong trees rose to form a canopy over them. Standing alone among the tangled forest were huge kauri pines, growing column-like into the sky. Very slow growing, these kauri pines are up to 800 years old, Bert said.
At the bottom of the valley, we left the vehicle to take a bushwalk down a winding track while Bert drove ahead to barbeque lunch at a picnic ground at the end of the track. During the walk, at Bert's suggestion, we took note of what was close up and saw amazing detail in the mosses, ferns, lichens and fungi on the forest floor, and in the orchids, staghorns and elkhorns in the branches above. Around us we could hear the wildlife; noisy pitta birds feeding on snails, wampoo pigeons whose call sounds like fruit falling, native bush rats rustling in the ferns and a lone bush turkey.
After lunch, it was a short drive to the township of Rainbow Beach, and to a remarkable example of what nature can do, given time - the Carlo Sand Blow. The sand blow is a huge plateau of sand gradually moving inland from the beach, pushed by the prevailing winds. Like a glacier, the face of the dune advances about a metre a year, slowly engulfing the forest in its path. At its inland face, the sand slopes 33% into the forest. This is as steep as sand can lie. On the surface of the sand blow, dead tree trunks poked through the sand, as evidence of trees buried years ago.
After a short tour around Rainbow Beach, it was time to head back down the beach to the Noosa River. In the gathering dusk, we passed fishermen silhouetted against surf, oyster birds digging for pippies, and seagulls and sea eagles hovering above. The still pink sky was reflected in the shallows ahead of us.
Back in the dunes, campfires glowed as campers settled in for the night and the coloured sands faded to black against the western sky. The day was complete!
Noosa 4WD Ecotours offers half and full-day tours from the Noosa River ferry. All tours are ecotourism-accredited.
For more information
Noosa 4WD Ecotours
Tel +61 7 5449 1400