Saturday, May 9, 2009

Rainbow Beach

When you spend a year in one place, you start to make mental lists of the things you would do or have if you lived there permanently. If I lived on the Sunshine Coast, I would have a four-wheel drive.

It's not that you need one to get around. But owning a 4x4 allows you to camp in places others can't.

Last weekend we went to one of those places, Inskip Point near the town of Rainbow Beach. Inskip is a state park about two hours drive from here, very close to Fraser Island which is one of the big tourist attractions in the region. When you register to camp at Inskip you have to indicate the usual details -- how many people, how many nights, etc. -- as well as whether you're driving a car or a four wheel drive. That's because only two of the park's four campgrounds are accessible by two wheel drive, and even those are a bit dodgy in parts. The whole place is sand, and those with a four wheel drive can plow through it to camp right on the edge of the beach. More than that, they can drive down the beach at low tide, roaring along as far as Noosa if they wish and enjoying the sand cliffs that give Rainbow Beach its name.

Even with just a two-wheel-drive car, though, Rainbow Beach is a pretty special place. The town itself is rather laid back and funky, a mix of backpacker hotels and a couple of newish resorts, a few surf shops and souvenir stands, and of course a long beach. The real attraction, though, is the cliffs south of town, miles of them that gleam in the sun. The sand is an astonishing range of colours -- reds, golds, yellows, browns, whites, and the views are breathtaking.

Almost by accident we came upon the Carlo Sand Blow, a massive dune that stretches far inland from the ocean. It's so big that Captain Cook commented on it in his log when he sailed up the coast in 1770, naming it for a member of his crew. (I told you Cook named everything in Australia!) It's like walking across a sandy saddle a couple of hundred metres wide, and is the sort of place where you just get mesmerized by the views.

We were also mesmerized by the sight of a film crew at work. About 30 people with three trucks full of equipment, they had apparently been there for four days. A crew member told us they were then heading down to the Gold Coast for another day of filming. At the end of all this, they would have a 15 second beer commercial for Japanese television.

Apart from seeing the star leap down the sand cliffs, the biggest thrill of the weekend was an early morning trip to another village, Tin Can Bay. There's very little there -- a marina and a few shops -- but it's a popular destination thanks to a small family of dolphins. They come in to the marina every morning and swim in to shallow water to be fed. Apparently their grandfather showed up at the marina in the 1950s, injured and unable to hunt. The fishermen took pity on him and fed him until he recovered. He has since taught his family to come in for food too. It's all very low key -- volunteers give a little talk on the dolphins, you pay $2 for a fish, and stand in thigh-deep water to feed them. Great fun, and we didn't even need a four wheel drive to do it!

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