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21. Australian Road Trip: Between the Rocks and the Rainbow (Snapper Rocks,Cooangatta, to Rainbow Beach)

Updated on January 31, 2013

Salty's Nuts

Salty tightening his wheel nuts
Salty tightening his wheel nuts

North from Snapper Rocks to Rainbow Beach

We are driving down a long, steep hill, heading north out of Mullumbimby, (another cool village in the Volcano region), when our rear wheel almost falls off. In the heat of the early afternoon I spend a couple of hours putting it back on and tightening the nuts with every ounce of my strength. From then on, for the rest of the day, I am stopping every few miles to make sure those nuts are still tight. I’m not happy, as you can imagine.

Snapper Rocks

The Super Bank peeling off Snapper Rocks at Greenmount/Coolangatta
The Super Bank peeling off Snapper Rocks at Greenmount/Coolangatta | Source

Enough about us, how about the countryside, the scenery, the attractions? This is, after all, a travelogue.

The heat is palpable and the vistas are wide, as are the rivers. Cane fields sway like green seas in the breeze. The Aquarian lifestyle of the Byron/Volcano region gradually transmogrifies into the Goldcoast, same country, same climate, same ocean; slightly different people living a similar dream – 'same same but different'. There are more people here, crammed into suburban tracts and soaring highrises.

Tweed Heads/Coolangatta – the Twin Towns. The former is in New South Wales, the latter across the street in Queensland. I have a soft spot for this bit of the country. Not only does my Aunty Mary live here, but in 1982 I surfed here, got drunk here, got into a fight with some Locals (more about ‘Locals’ in another blog) and high-tailed it out of town halfway through a Canned Heat gig in a local nightspot… happy days.

Tweed Heads hosts the Twin Towns Service Club, one of the biggest RSLs in the country – lots of pokies, cheap food, cheap beer, glitzy bling. It also has the mouth of the Tweed River and Duranbah surfing beach. The big headland with black volcanic boulders - Norfolk pines and pandanus palms overlook Snapper Rocks, home of one of Australia’s great surf spots –The Super Bank. Over recent years the sand has been dredged from the mouth of the Tweed and deposited on the other side of the headland. This has had the effect of creating mega sand bars upon which awesome tubes often break. Even on small surf days the waves here are fast and tight – on big days they are spectacular, and still fast and tight. I understand one downside of the dredging programme has been the loss of perfect surf at famous Kirra, a couple of miles further along the beach.

Compared to the rest of the Gold Coast, (also known as Surfer’s Paradise), Coolangatta town is positively gentile. There are shops, restaurants and pubs along the beachside strip, which is a great place to pose, cruise or misbehave. Tall Norfolk pines line the promenade and every evening at about six, thousands of Rainbow Lorikeets create a maelstrom of noise – screeching and squawking as they roost for the night. These are the same Lorikeets you can see and feed earlier in the day at the nearby, world famous Currumbin Bird Sanctuary – worth a visit.


From Coolangatta looking toward The Towers of Mordor... no, actually it's Surfer's Paradise.
From Coolangatta looking toward The Towers of Mordor... no, actually it's Surfer's Paradise.

Nice folks, crazy place

The Gold Coast/Surfer’s Paradise strip is many kilometres long and in the distance it resembles a huge futuristic metropolis - high rises hazed by surf mist stand like mysterious Kubrickesque monoliths – quite a sight. Up close the illusion remains. The high rises, the shopping malls, there is even a monorail. Burger joints, crazy golf, bingo and more bling abounds. The coast highway runs behind the seafront strip of towers and beyond the highway there is a maze of inland waterways and canals and nice homes inhabited by nice people who have fled the cities to live in the near perfect climate, and enjoy the bling and the golf. In the hinterland, back a few dozen or more kilometres are the mountains of the Great Dividing Range where yet more folks live out their sub-tropical fantasies on the verdant, jungle clad slopes, enjoying of course, a different type of bling.

We stop to visit Aunt Mary for an evening and have our rear wheel checked at a garage. The next day we hightail it north - the Gold Coast is not for us on this journey, no matter how good the surf is at Snapper Rocks. (Believe me it is good – huge, fast tubes, the product of an earlier cyclone further north are roaring along the break from Snapper all the way to bloody Kirra, and there are hundreds of surfers out there vying for slots in the tubes.

So we trundle along past it all. Eventually we see Brisbane, the Capital of Queensland, up ahead, but our current lack of interest in big cities, and the size and unmanouverability of our truck, convinces us to drive right past the turn off to Brissie – I can’t tell you what it’s like, you have to go there yourself!

Glasshouse Rocks

We detour up to the Glasshouse Mountains, distinctive volcanic spires that jut out of the forest in the bushy region north of Brisbane. This is where you will go if you want to visit Steve Irwin’s (RIP) Australia Zoo, which we didn’t, but I understand it’s a good attraction. Go there. We leave the Glasshouse region and head back towards the sea. After a long day on the road, battling traffic and side-of-the road-bling, we definitely need to hit the coast again. For me there is only one destination – Noosa Heads. In my memory, possibly the best surf place and coolest hangout I’ve ever been too, perhaps it even beats Byron Bay. The Sunshine Coast along which we drive to get to fabled Noosa is just like another Gold Coast, ie: too many people living the dream, too many burger joints, too much Bling (no more use of the ‘B’ word, I promise). Eventually you come over a hill and there is fabulous Noosa.

Noosa Heads

A markerNoosa -
Noosa National Park, Noosa Heads QLD 4567, Australia
get directions

Noosa began as a rural township but superb waves and weather drew adventurous surfers during the 60s and 70s. Today, Noosa is a high end resort town.

Not the Noosa I'm Usta

Maybe not as fab as I remember it. A lot more people. A lot more cars, and carparks and one-way systems and roundabouts and houses, and where’s the pub on the hill where we used to play space invaders on those tabletop video games? Where is the little campground behind the beach next to the lagoon? And, oh my God, it looks like a cross between Cannes, Oxford Street in London and Honolulu – with gum trees. Beautiful people slink effortlessly about the shady lanes near the beach, even the bloody men are wearing designer speedos . There are no prices on the menus outside the restaurants and diamonds sparkle in the jewellery shops like sunshine on the sea. We somehow get lucky by finding a place to park our ramshackle hillbilly-mobile, right at the beach, squeezed in between a merc and a beemer, no wait, it’s a Bentley with boardracks. I don’t care. I’m not proud. I unhitch my board from the back of the truck and take to the waves while Sheila shops. The surf is small, perfectly formed and moderately crowded but Noosa often has waves to die for. There are a series of rocky points that jut out of the headland, each providing a place for great waves to break. You see, even if the town has been done over by developers the headland is a National Park and the waves will always stay the same – surfing is fundamentally a classless pursuit .

After indulging in a few waves for me and a fruitless and unsatisfying shop for Sheila, we manage to find the nearest campground to the beach – several kilometres and countless roundabouts away on the far shore of the lagoon which is streaked with waterskiers and day sailors. It’s sad for me as I’d so hoped that Noosa would be unchanged since I was last there in the 80’s. Not to be, silly me.

That evening, at twilight, as I sit forlornly on our slab, sucking on a tinnie and a fag, I look up and there are bats; thousands of them, silently flying across the sky on their nightly forage, no doubt 30 kilometres from their roost. There is an English family in the fancy rental Winnebago parked next to us and I go and knock them up in the middle of their tea. Look up there folks – Bats. They have never seen a sight like in their lives. I did good for them. The bats are flying north. Tomorrow that is where we are going. On our map I trace the route towards a beach which our Rough Guide reckons is a good place to go. Perhaps we'll find our pot of gold at the end of Rainbow Beach.

Sub-tropical sunset
Sub-tropical sunset


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