Rainbow Beach + Carlo Sand Blow

After Bundaberg, we drove back down the coast toward Brisbane, 4 days away from our relocation rental dropoff location. The next stop was Rainbow Beach and Carlo Sand Blow in the eponymously-named Great Sandy National Park.

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Fishing in the surf at Rainbow Beach

We got lucky and found a parking spot right above Rainbow Beach (next to the Life saving club), then hopped out and looked for directions to Carlo Sandblow. We’ve learned our lesson by now – hike before ocean swims, lest you want a lot of uncomfortable chafing. In retrospect, and if you’re doing this trip, drive to Carlo Sandblow first and bring water. It’s a long walk. For those of you who want to park at Rainbow Beach or got dropped off by the bus there, here’s how you get to the sandblow from the parking lot:

Head south from the parking lot through the grassy park with the playground, following the street. When the street turns inland, follow it for a few hundred meters and you’ll encounter a stair on your left side. Go up the stairs and follow the sandy path.

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The park you’ll walk through on the way to the sandblow. You could always stop a few minutes and rest in the shade.
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The stairway up to the Carlo Sandblow

When your path diverges, you can take either fork to the sandblow. The left will take you there via Mikado firebreak; the right takes you out to a cul-de-sac where you can walk the paved Cooloola Drive south to the start of the Carlo Walking Track. Either way, the walk is ~30 minutes.

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Walking through suburbia. If you end up walking on a paved street, don’t worry, you’re still on track to find Carlo Sandblow. Just keep heading south.

The Carlo Walking Track is a well-maintained path and we had no trouble following it, which is good because the trail is part of the much larger Cooloola Great Walk that spans ~100 km of the Australian coastline. This small portion winds through dry forest for roughly 20 minutes, filled with Australian birds and bugs.

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The dry forest trail on the way to Carlo Sandblow
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Ants found along the trail. They fold their abdomens above their bodies to keep cool and survive near-lethal ground temperatures.

Then breaks out onto the wavy, golden sands of Carlo Sandblow that span 15 hectares in every direction. There’s no shade from the sun and the intense heat on the dunes is unrelenting, so be prepared. But the windswept sandscapes are well worth it:

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Viewing the sandblow from the trail’s end. If you fancy a long hike, the trail picks up again on the south side of the sandblow. 
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The Queensland coastline, as seen from the sandblow.
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The blue-green surf of Rainbow Beach meets the golden-red sands of the dune. NOTE: No beach access is available from Carlo Sandblow, and any attempts would hurt the dune so don’t try.

Oh, and if you’re going, don’t be a weenie and hike all over the dune. Every person’s step shifts the sand, and too much human activity could destroy the dune’s structure. But fret not, the Queensland Government has provided a sign that tells you where the best views (and photos) are:

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The Queensland Government’s oh-so helpful sign indicating lookout points and other interesting info. 

After exploring the dry dunes for an hour, we hiked back to Rainbow Beach for a heavenly, refreshing swim. Being new to the area, we asked the local lifeguards about any hazards, but there were none beyond jellyfish. Since stingrays are a problem on a lot of California beaches, I asked the lifeguards about stingray risks and they were quick to reassure me. “That thing with Steve Irwin was a freak accident,” one guy said quickly. “Oh,” I replied. I hadn’t even thought of that, but the lifeguards probably field stingray questions several times a year because of it.

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A mummified juvenile triggerfish, about the size of an egg. Dozens of these little guys were scattered along the beach’s high tide line.

We saw neither stingrays nor jellyfish during our two hours of swimming, but there was an odd array of dead juvenile triggerfish, their little bodies mummifying in the sand and sun. The poor little guys probably got caught in a strong storm or current and got swept up here. But it’s just one more thing the tide can bring in Australia.

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Rainbow Beach, as seen from a windswept tunnel in the sandstone of the Carlos Sandblow.

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