Things to do in Rainbow Beach family travel guide
The sign of a brilliant holiday is that you never want to leave. While we all have to go home to reality at some time, one place our family keep coming back to each year is the small beachside town of Rainbow Beach on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Australia. For such a small town, there’s a huge amount of things to do in Rainbow Beach and we’ve got all the information you’ll need for a brilliant holiday.
So often people don’t consider holidaying at Rainbow Beach, as they head to the famous Fraser Island or to the bigger and more well known beaches of Caloundra, Mooloolaba, Noosa and the Gold Coast. But if you look closely at Rainbow Beach, you will find a paradise just waiting to be explored.
For the past five years we have spent ten days every summer discovering what Rainbow Beach has to offer. What draws us back each year to this tiny town? It’s the feeling of total relaxation you get as you drive through the national park and into town to see the first glimpse of the ocean. (And that’s a remarkable feat when you’ve been enclosed in a car with boys for over four hours.)
It’s the white sandy beaches, clear blue skies and rainbow coloured cliffs, which culminate in a spectacular backdrop for any holiday. We come for the easygoing lifestyle, mixed with unique activities like kayaking with dolphins. We love the friendly locals who are only too happy to help out with anything you need.
Rainbow Beach is small but it’s big enough to provide you with all the essentials a family needs.
Our favourite things to do in Rainbow Beach
1. Double Island Point
One of our favourite things to do in Rianbow Beach is to drive a 4WD car up the beach to Double Island Point and spend the day swimming in the calm waters, fishing, eating, drinking and just enjoying life. If you don’t have your own 4WD you can hire one. We prefer to go on a weekday, as it is much quieter.
2. Rainbow Beach coloured sands
Rich in Aboriginal legends and myths, and stunning to admire, no trip is complete without a visit to the Rainbow Beach coloured sands. With different shades of black, white, yellow, orange, red and brown sand, the kids will have lots of questions and fun.
Luckily the sands are really easy to get to. If you have a 4WD you can drive down the beach at low tide to witness the vibrant colours. If you don’t have one, you can walk down the beach, starting at the patrolled beach, and head south. You can’t miss them. Just watch out for cars.
3. Swim at Rainbow beach
In Australia we are blessed with some of the most spectacular beaches in the world and this is one of them. The water and sand at Rainbow Beach is perfect for swimming year round but it’s really important that you swim between the flags at the main patrolled beach.
Before you hit the beach, take a look at our Aussie beach survival guide for great tips and tricks, with everything from chafing to stingers, sand to sunburn.
4. Carlo Sandblow
If you’re after breathtaking views, Carlo Sandblow is hard to beat. 15 hectares of sand sits on top of the coloured sand cliffs and gives you 360-degree views of the ocean and the bay behind. The best times to visit are sunrise and sunset. It’s too hot in the middle of the day with all that sand. Although it looks tempting you can’t access the beach from the sandblow. Keep clear of the cliff edges. Get an idea of what it’s like in our 30-second video.
5. Kayak with the dolphins
I was lucky enough to take time out from the boys and go kayaking with Epic Ocean Adventures to view wild dolphins around Double Island Point. Seeing three dolphins and a few sea turtles was incredible and I had such a fun morning. What a great gift from my brother.
6. Learn to surf
The whole family got to spend time on our latest trip with Epic Ocean Adventures learning to surf on Australia’s longest wave. Of course the boys got the hang of it straight away but we the parents didn’t quite make the grade. We did however have lots of fun and were happy that we gave it a go.
Take a look at our full review of learning to surf on Australia’s longest wave with the boys. (Who do you think stood up first?)
7. Searys Creek Rainbow Beach
I’d seen the signs to Seary’s Creek on many previous visits but it took until now to visit and find out what all the fuss was about. It was beautiful. Fed by a natural spring, the creek is cold and clear but tea coloured in parts from the tea-tree tannin. It was busy but there were plenty of places to explore for an hour of fun.
8. Rainbow Beach Fishing
At Rainbow Beach you have a lot of options when it comes to fishing. You can head to the beach or the bay. You can even hire a boat. The boys love fishing and although I’m happy to cast the odd line, I usually try and leave it to them as an all male adventure, while I sit back and relax for a minute!
9. Rainbow Beach driving
Being surrounded by national park there are so many places you can explore. Hire or take your own 4WD and spend the day in paradise along the unspoilt beaches. Make sure you take recovery gear to get you out of trouble, and know the tide times. Then everyone will be happy. Most people will lend a hand if you get bogged but may not be so keen if you’ve done something totally stupid. It’s best to drive within two hours either side of the low tide. If you want to spend more time exploring then you can use the freshwater road as an alternative.
We recently bought a 4WD but before that we used to hire one from Rainbow Beach 4x4 Hire who were fantastic. 2 days hire costs around $400 and comes with a beach driving lesson and help planning your itinerary around tide times.
10. Tin Can Bay dolphin feeding
A great idea especially for younger kids is to head over to Tin Can Bay early one morning to feed wild dolphins. You can catch the ferry from Carlo Point at Rainbow Beach or drive yourself. It can get busy and there is only so much food, so our best advice is to arrive early.
Other things to do in Rainbow Beach
There is so much to do at Rainbow Beach that it will take a long time to experience it all. The great thing is that there is something for every age.
- Bush walking through the national park – walks lasting from 5 minutes to 5 hours
- Kayaking with the dolphins, whales or turtles (in season) – check latest prices
- Stand up paddleboard lessons or tour – check latest prices
- Beach horse rides (when the boys turn 10)
- Hire a boat or canoe in the bay
- Fraser Island day tour – check latest prices
- Diving at Wolf Rock, one of Australia’s top 10 dive spots (you need to have done a scuba dive course first)
- A tandem skydive – Kids have to be 12 or over – check latest prices
- 9 holes of golf
Do you need a 4WD?
No you don’t need a 4WD to get to Rainbow Beach but if you want to head out and do some driving on the sand it is essential. There are always a few people who disregard the 4WD only road signs and get bogged moments later.
If you have a 4WD and understand what you need to do to drive on sand, there are some incredible places to explore. You will need a vehicle permit from Queensland National Parks to 4WD through the Cooloola National Park.
How to get to Rainbow Beach
Rainbow Beach is on the coast of Queensland, Australia about 3 hours drive north of Brisbane. It is at the top end of the Sunshine Coast, just north of Noosa, and is the southern entry point to the world’s largest sand island, Fraser Island.
If you are driving (which we would recommend), you take the Bruce Highway to Gympie, and then head towards the coast with a picturesque drive through the Cooloola National Park. If you have a 4WD and it’s low tide, you can drive to Tewantin, take the ferry across the river and then drive all the way on the beach from Noosa North Shore to Rainbow Beach.
If you’re without a car then your only options are to take part in a tour leaving from Noosa, or catch a Greyhound Bus from Brisbane CBD or airports to Rainbow Beach via Mooloolaba and Noosa. The cost for the bus is around $49 return per adult and $44 per child.
Rainbow Beach Accommodation
We have always found accommodation at Rainbow Beach very reasonably priced and there is something for every budget. Luxury apartments, houses, beach shacks, hotel rooms and lots of camping. There are places for couples, small and large families and even big groups. At some places you can even bring your pet.
Where we stay in Rainbow Beach
Our favourite place to stay is a house with a pool at Rainbow Shores. The boys are still at the age where they spend a lot of time in the pool and here you don’t have to share the pool with a heap of strangers. We can sit back on the deck and watch them swim and join in when it suits. No matter which house you stay, it is only a 100 to 200-metre walk through a bush track to the beach.
A minor downside of staying at Rainbow Shores is it is 2km from the patrolled beach and township but parking is easy and what’s two minutes in the car for the peace and quiet of your own place. With the benefits of living amongst the trees does come a few sandflies and the odd goanna. These can easily be kept at bay with screens.
When looking for somewhere to stay, our must haves are fly screens on doors and windows, air-conditioning (check it has more than one unit), and a pool to keep the boys entertained for hours.
We use both Rainbow Beach Realty and Cooloola Coast Realty to book our Rainbow Beach accommodation depending on availability. When you are ready to book, work out what you are after, shortlist a couple of places and then phone or email the agent to see which one they would recommend. We have found them to be very helpful.
Top picks for family apartments – Rainbow Beach accommodation
Apartment Dee’s Retreat – one of the newest accommodation offerings in Rainbow Beach, Dee’s Retreat is the perfect getaway. Close to the beach and shops, with ocean views, a pool and plenty of space, this place is excellent. Check latest prices and reviews for Dee’s Retreat
Plantation Resort at Rainbow – this is perfect for those who want to be right across the road from the beach and swimming pool, and in amongst the restaurants and shops. Especially a hit with families with younger kids. Check latest prices and reviews for Plantation Resort
Rainbow Ocean Palms Resort – these highly rated boutique apartments close to Carlo Sandblow offer stunning views, an infinity pool and are a ten minute walk to the beach. Check latest prices and reviews for Ocean Palms
Rainbow Sea Resort – one of the few places in Rainbow Beach to offer ocean views plus views over the town, Rainbow Sea Resort provides luxury accommodation for families. It’s only 100m to the beach but is on top of the hill behind Carlos Sand Blow so it is a bit of a hike if you’re walking. Check latest prices and reviews for Rainbow Sea Resort
Debbie’s Place – close to the National Park and 500m to the beach, Debbie’s Place is well regarded and offers a number of different types of accommodation from one bed motel style suites to three bedroom self-contained apartement. Check latest prices and reviews for Debbie’s Place
Camping – if you’re into camping then you’ll have plenty of options of places to stay. If you’re bringing your own you’ll need to get a permit from Queensland National Parks or if you would rather just bring your clothes and arrive to a fully set up camp, then Rainbow Beach Ultimate Camping might be the answer.
Rainbow Beach restaurants and cafes
For such a small town, there are some fantastic dining options, all of which are family friendly. Our favourite places to eat are the beautiful Rainbow Beach Hotel for a really good pub meal, Arcobaleno on the Beach for pizza and pasta, Coffee Rocks for the best coffee and tapas, Café Jilarty for a good café meal, and Creme de la Crème for the obligatory ice-cream. There is also the surf lifesaving club, which was okay when we went there a few years ago.
When to visit Rainbow Beach?
Now is as good a time as any! During summer the temperature averages around 30°C maximum and 22°C minimum, while in winter it’s a balmy 22°C maximum and 11°C minimum.
Is Rainbow Beach for you?
If you are looking for a beach holiday where you can unwind, relax, let your kids run free, wear your togs (swimmers) and thongs (flip-flops) down the street, while having the option to undertake some amazing outdoor activities, then this is for you.
If you are looking to do a full update of your wardrobe, while keeping away from water and sand, then maybe one of Australia’s amazing cities might be a better fit.
Things to know before you go
- Peak times. Rainbow Beach gets really busy around the peak times of Christmas, Easter and Australia Day. The beaches don’t get packed like they do in Sydney, but it’s a small town, so doesn’t take much to get very busy.
- Supermarkets. There is no major supermarket at Rainbow Beach but there is a small IGA and a Foodworks which are perfect for picking up a few supplies. We typically try to take as much food and supplies as will fit in the car, and then buy our meat and bread locally. The butcher and two bakeries are fantastic. There is a Woolworths supermarket at Cooloola Cove which is about 20 minutes drive away.
- Insects. Beware the sandflies. I have never been bitten at the patrolled beach, however I always come back with a few bites from Rainbow Shores or when fishing at the bay. At the house we always make sure the place is screened and burn mozzie coils outside when we sit on the deck and never have a problem.
- Pharmacy. There is a good pharmacy in the main street which is open Monday to Friday 8.30 till 5.30, and Saturday mornings.
- Drinks. There is a small bottle shop attached to the Rainbow Beach Hotel.
Never leave home without…
- Sunscreen, zinc (for those of us who have fair skin), hat, and rashie to protect you against the sun
- Mozzie coils and insect repellent to keep away the mosquitos and sandflies, and Itch Eeze Plus (from the pharmacy) for when you do get bitten.
We hope you get to discover the beautiful Rainbow Beach for yourself one day.
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