The first time I laid eyes on the Carlo Sand Blow it took my breath away. Dense Australian bushland breaks open to reveal a sprawling moonscape of golden sand. Curling up into a half-pipe before you it momentarily distracts as your mind tries to process the sheer depth of the space in front of you. Then you look left and the vast expanse of rippled sand, broken only by footprints, gives way to unimpeded views of the water. As you wander down it only gets better until you’re standing on the edge of a cliff, waves beating down on the shore below, marvelling at how beautiful and special it really is.
If you’re planning a trip to Rainbow Beach, a visit to the Carlo Sand Blow is essential. If you haven’t thought of visiting before, I wholeheartedly recommend you visit both Rainbow Beach and the Sand Blow. To help you prepare, here’s everything you need to know about visiting the Carlo Sand Blow.
WTF is the Carlo Sand Blow?
Great question! Located in Rainbow Beach, the Carlo Sand Blow is a sand mass covering over 15 hectares and part of the Cooloola sand mass, one of the largest accumulations of wind-blown sand found along Queensland’s coastline. Named by Captain Cook after one of his deck crew, Carlo, it offers exceptional views of the area that never ceases to take my breath away. From the inland side of the Sand Blow, you’re treated to sweeping views of Cooloola Cove and Tin Can Bay out toward the horizon and mountains jutting up from the earth. It’s the perfect spot to sit and watch the sunset. From the coast side of the Sand Blow are unimpeded views from Double Island Point to Inskip Peninsula and the southern tip of Fraser Island. To the right, the stunning beauty of the Coloured Sands. The shape of the coastline is dramatic and humbling, sharing the sheer size and raw beauty of Queensland’s coastline.
Why the heck is it called Rainbow Beach? (Are there lots of Rainbows?!)
Many moons ago the area was known as Back Beach but was renamed Rainbow Beach after the stunning Coloured Sands I mentioned above. The story of how the Coloured Sands came to be named dates back to the Aboriginal Dreamtime when a beautiful Indigenous maiden, Murrawar, fell in love with the rainbow who visited her. Murrawar lived on the banks of the Noosa River and would clap her hands and sing to the lovely rainbow when it came visiting each day.
One day Burwilla, a terrible and wicked man from a faraway tribe, stole Murrawar to be his slave. Murrawar would work all day while Burwilla would sit in the shade admiring his killing boomerang, larger than the largest tree in the forest and filled with evil spirit. Desperate to be free, Murrawar finally managed to run away and took off along the beach as fast as she could. As Burwilla’s boomerang chased her Murrawar cried out for help, falling to the ground, too frightened to run. Suddenly, she heard a loud noise in the sky and Murrawar’s faithful rainbow raced towards her from across the sea. The evil spirited boomerang attacked the brave rainbow and they collided in a loud roar and clap of thunder, killing the boomerang and shattering the rainbow into thousands of tiny pieces. As the rainbow’s coloured pieces landed on the beach the sand dunes began to transform into the beautiful coloured sands they are today.
How to get to Rainbow Beach
It takes just shy of three hours to drive to Rainbow Beach from the heart of Brisbane, which sits around 100km north of Noosa. The closest international airport is Brisbane International but visitors could also fly into Sunshine Coast Airport at Marcoola or Hervey Bay Airport. The drive from Hervey Bay Airport is around 1 hour 30 minutes or 1 hour 45 minutes from Sunshine Coast Airport. If you aren’t local, you’ll most likely be looking to hire a car from the airport to your destination.
You can also catch a bus to Rainbow Beach with Greyhound operating twice daily services from Brisbane and other departure points. The journey takes 5 hours 15 minutes with fares around $50AU per person one-way. There are also some shuttle services which offer rates of around $100AU per person one-way.
How to get to the Carlo Sand Blow
Once you arrive in Rainbow Beach you’ll find the Carlo Sand Blow located around 1.5km from the centre of town. If you don’t have a car you can walk from town up to the Sand Blow but keep in mind you’ll need to walk up a steep hill to get there. If you do have a car you can drive up to the Sand Blow easily and park in the Carlo Carpark. Be sure to lock your car and secure or hide your valuables before you leave. We’ve never had an issue but it’s always best to be safe in the first instance, just in case.
The Carlo Walking Track is a well-maintained, 600m path winding through the Australian bushland to the Sand Blow. It isn’t a difficult walk but there are some stairs you’ll need to go up. To give you an idea, my Nana would have no problem getting out there, she’d just need to take her time with the stairs (they’re those big, square steps and she only has little Grandma-sized legs).
What do I do once I get there?
You’ll ascend one last set of stairs before reaching a wooden platform with a guardrail, information about the Sand Blow and a small set of two or three steps leading down to it. We stop here to take our shoes off and leave them behind as we set off onto the Sand Blow. If you want to watch the sunset you should head to the inland side of the Sand Blow and stake out a patch of sand to watch the sunset the sky alive with brilliant shades of orange, yellow and pink. If you want to watch the sunrise you should head to the coast side and wander down to the edge of the cliffs to take in the views. It’s important to be extremely careful on the cliffs as they can crumble and fall away. Do not try to access the beach from the Sand Blow under any circumstances. For sunrise or sunset views I recommend getting there earlier than you think you need to be there as the sunset and sunrise happen quickly! You don’t want to show up late and miss it.
There’s a great spot for sand boarding if you’re up for it! You’ll see it on your left as you head down toward the coast side of the Sand Blow, a steep incline usually with track marks from previous sand boarding attempts. Your best bet is to bring an actual sandboard but you can also get stuck into it with a bodyboard or a good size piece of cardboard.
What to take with you to the Carlo Sand Blow
For sunrise or sunset, are you may like to take some snacks and a drink with you. I’ve never done it but I would really love to spread out a picnic blanket and enjoy a bite to eat with a coffee while the sun comes up on the coast side. If you do this, please make sure you take whatever you bring including food, rubbish, empty bottles etc.
I would also recommend visitors have adequate protection from the sun, bug spray and plenty of water. The water and sun protection is especially important if you are visiting during the Australian summer as it is extremely hot and you may get heatstroke if you aren’t familiar with the conditions. As above, you can bring a sandboard, bodyboard or good size piece of cardboard for a spot of sandboarding. As you can’t access the beach from the Sand Blow you won’t need your swimming gear. I find it quite glary up there with the sun bouncing off all that bright sand so a pair of sunglasses always come in handy.
Best time to visit Rainbow Beach
The weather in Rainbow Beach is stunning pretty much all year round. We have visited at different times throughout the year and always had a wonderful time. Our most recent visit was in May and the weather was perfect – warm during the day but not too hot, cool in the evening but not too cold. Local resort owner, Mark, also told us May is the quietest time of year for the resort – perfect for anyone looking for a quiet escape. Rainbow Beach is usually a quiet little town but does swell with visitors during school holiday breaks. Honestly, I don’t think you can really go wrong with what time you visit. If you feel the cold (my mum!) you may find June, July and August slightly too cool for swimming but other than that, the weather is just stunning. It’s even gorgeous when it’s overcast. If you’re keen to spot migrating whales, you should plan your visit between June and November.
Where to stay in Rainbow Beach
We’ve visited so many times it feels like we’ve done it all from camping and budget accommodation to luxury digs. Without a doubt, our favourite place to stay is at Rainbow Ocean Palms Resort. Owners, Mark and Tanya, are lovely and will make you feel welcome to the resort and Rainbow Beach. With such great local knowledge, they can help you with any insider tips like the best spots to get your car on the beach and where to avoid. Rainbow Ocean Palms is a very short walk to the Carlo Carpark and Carlo Walking Track. From door to trailhead usually takes under a minute!
There are a lot of things I love about the accommodation at Rainbow Ocean Palms. The apartments are fully self-contained so you can wash your clothes, lounge on the couch and watch movies or fix a bite to eat when you feel like it. There are some great spots to eat in Rainbow but the list isn’t endless like it is in a big city so I find the apartment’s kitchen comes in especially handy, especially outside peak season. We’ve stayed in two apartments and they are just fantastic, really well thought out with everything you could possibly need, loads of space, comfortable furniture and bedding as well as great bathrooms. I just love staying there.
The most impressive thing about Rainbow Ocean Palms is the incredible views from the apartments. Each time we’ve visited our apartment has opened up to a huge private balcony and the most fantastic views of Rainbow Beach, the water and beyond. The table and chairs on the balcony are the perfect spot to sit with a cup of coffee or glass of wine and just soak in those million-dollar views. This is where everything really comes together because when you have an apartment that offers the best views of the place you’re visiting, you’ve got no need to go out looking for them! As the apartment is fully self-contained, you can stay in and enjoy them with everything you need at your fingertips.
Know before you go
If this is your first time visiting Australia, Queensland or Rainbow Beach there are a few things you should know before you go:
- We care a lot about our environment and expect visitors to show respect for beautiful places like Rainbow Beach and the Carlo Sand Blow. It’s important to leave it as you found it or in better condition. Don’t break things or walk in places you aren’t supposed to, destroying local vegetation in the process. Take out what you brought in, including food, rubbish, empty bottles etc.
- You may like to cover yourself with good quality bug spray before visiting the Sand Blow.
- The walk up from the coast side of the Sand Blow is quite steep and it’s easy to underestimate just how tough it is to walk back up, especially in soft sand. If you’re visiting with little kids or anyone with a heart condition or poor health be sure to take it very slow and walk back up little by little. It’s important to assess your health before setting off down the Sand Blow and, if it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it!
- Be respectful of those who call Rainbow Beach home both human and animal! Refrain from touching any local wildlife, no matter how cute they may look (we know, they’re almost irresistibly gorgeous!)
- The heat is no joke! If you’re visiting from a cooler climate please take care of yourself by drinking enough water, resting appropriately and avoiding the hottest parts of the day. You should also be sure to wear sunscreen, a hat and long-sleeve shirt where necessary. Heat stroke is real, my friends, don’t let it ruin your vacay.
Phoebe is a travel writer and photographer with a love for storytelling and making people laugh. Matt is a videographer and photographer with a passion for the great outdoors and big adventures. Together we inspire big adventures through our guides, videos, vlogs and photographs. Find out more about us here.