A Rental Car is the Best Way to Travel the Sunshine Coast and Hervey Bay
Top tips for road-tripping on the Sunshine and Fraser Coasts
It had been a long time since I'd stopped in to Brisbane. Usually the end of the flight from New Zealand has me picking up a car straight from Brisbane Airport, and heading along the M1 to see family on the Sunshine Coast. This time I wanted to revisit old haunts such as the Brisbane Botanic Gardens, and check out the riverside development of South Bank, as well as touch base with my VroomVroomVroom colleagues.
Travelling with a fashion-conscious teenager, who has no concept of packing light, meant we needed something with boot space. There were plenty of cars to choose from on VroomVroomVroom's comparison from Brisbane Airport. We decided on a Mitsubishi Outlander with all-wheel drive, provided by Thrifty, and booked at the best price through VroomVroomVroom. Just something to note here: Our planned trip was to include Fraser Island.
After a comprehensive breakfast buffet at the Royal on the Park hotel, we headed along the river. Unfortunately the much anticipated Queensland weather was a bit Auckland-ish: grey, overcast, with a sprinkling of rain. That didn't stop the kids hopping onto the Wheel of Brisbane to take in the view. We could see that the artificial beach and pool complex at South Bank would be the BOMB on a warm day, or the weekend, but it was quiet on this mid-week, mid-winter visit.
So it was time to jump back into the car and head out of the city. I made a quick stop into Chermside for lunch with Brisbane-based VroomVroomVroom marketing team, and of course, had to check for bargains at Chermside Mall. Luckily, we had all that boot space.
Sunshine-Coasters talk about how they know they are home when they get to the bridge that crosses the Maroochydore River. This is one of the lovely things about the Sunshine Coast, not only do you have fantastic beaches; you also have the recreational opportunities provided by rivers in the region. This time around we were staying at Marcoola Beach. It's a long and exposed beach; perfect for walking, surf-casting, and swimming and surfing for experienced swimmers. It's a very pet-friendly beach. Lots of accommodation providers in the area promote themselves as catering for pets.
On other occasions, I've enjoyed staying in Noosa. This is another town where you have the choice of beaches or rivers to play in. Noosa has been developed with a no-high-rise philosophy, and the main road, Hastings Street, remains leafy. You can choose the buzz of accommodation with easy access to the beach and cafes of Hastings Street, or go for the more affordable Noosaville which puts you closer to the river.
Wednesdays and Saturdays are market-days in the hinterland village of Eumundi. It's an easy thirty minute drive from Marcoola. The drive passes the base of Mt. Coolum, another great outing for active types. I've travelled to many corners of the world, and Eumundi market remains one of my favourite places. It's full of passionate artisans and traders who know the stories of all their products. The teenager disappeared down the row of stalls; the next time I saw her, she was henna-tattooed and carrying multiple bags of exotic attire and clinking with new earrings.
A bucket-list item for this trip was to drive further north, and spend some time on Fraser Island; the world's largest sand island. We drove the Bruce Highway north, through the historic town of Maryborough with its pretty, traditional Queenslander houses. Hervey Bay is the transit point for ferries to the island, so we had a quick lunch in view of its enormous pier. The total drive from Marcoola to Hervey Bay is around two and a half hours.
Now, there are no roads on Fraser Island, just sandy tracks that cross the island, and the eastern beach is considered a highway. Even though the Outlander was an all-wheel vehicle, it wasn't permitted to be driven on Fraser. There are specialist four-wheel vehicle hire providers in Hervey Bay, which offer secure parking for your mainland car. We've listed a few 4-wheel drive suppliers for you. It's a big deal to drive on Fraser; the hard-core rental 4-wheel drives you hire are brands such as Land Rovers, it's no place for soft-roaders. When you pick up your vehicle, you are briefed on the conditions of your rental; no driving at night, where you are allowed to drive. You also watch a kind of terrifying DVD of the dangers of sand-driving, and are fitted out with tools in case you get bogged.
The first test of my 4-wheel driving skills was backing my beast onto the barge. We stayed at the Kingfisher Bay resort, which is the only accommodation on the Western Beach. Here is where I can give you some good advice: As the only place to stay on the western side of Fraser, to get out and see anything else on the island, you have to drive for around 40 minutes on the inland track from Kingfisher to the eastern side, where most of the sights are. The first 20 minutes of that track is the most challenging driving on the whole island. If you meet traffic coming the other way, one of you has to back into a passing bay to let the other go.
So funny story. Our first morning on Fraser we woke up to rain, so decided the best thing to do was get out in our vehicle and explore. Leaving Kingfisher was like driving into a war zone, the track was hugely steep and rutted. Within 10 minutes, I met five vehicles coming the other way, and was quite stressed maneuvering my unfamiliar vehicle off the track. “I'm terrified!” I told the family.
“We don't blame you,” they agreed. So we took the vehicle back to our villa, and ended up going on a bus tour instead! On the tour, I got to have a good look at the tracks around the island, and we barely saw another vehicle the whole time. Now more confident, on our final day, I tackled the driving again and really enjoyed it. However, if I was visiting Fraser again, I wouldn't hire a car from the mainland. Kingfisher Bay Resort has a convenient baggage transfer system and secure parking at the ferry landing at River Heads; I would use that and go over as foot passenger, then do a tour such as we did. If you still really want to give driving a go yourself, you can hire a 4-wd at the resort. This would have been cheaper and less stressful.
The sun finally came out on our final day on Fraser. We drove to beautiful Lake Mckenzie, and put on our wetsuits for a polar temperature dip in the water. Whatever the weather, it's always great to achieve travel goals.