Ewan McDonald rolls along a road like no other.
If everything is famous for 15 minutes, Teewah Beach has overstayed its welcome. Its claims to fame may last millennia. It may be one of the most important places you've never heard of.
To get there, Craig manoeuvres his 4WD past Noosa's high-rise hotels, beachside boutiques, cafes and canal side mansions to an old-fashioned cable ferry that tugs us across the Noosa River.
Here, sands and swamps and forests are such a contrast to the 21st century resort that only a Queensland politician could try to turn them into apartments and gated communities.
Fortunately, they were out-campaigned. On this 4WD tour, we rumble along a back road that ends where marshes open to wide, wind-ruffled Teewah Beach.
Officially, this is a highway: the Great Beach Drive.
It's also the only place on Earth where two Unesco biospheres touch - Noosa Biosphere Reserve and The Great Sandy Biosphere. Biosphere: a land, sea and coastal ecosystem where locals combine conservation and sustainable use of natural resources in their community. The planet has 686 — think Galapagos, the Central Amazon, Florida Everglades.
Australia claims nine, including Noosa and adjoining Great Sandy; we have none. These ancient land and seascapes are home to 44 per cent of the continent's birds, 1365 plant varieties and 711 animal species. Throw a boomerang from Hastings St and just about anywhere it passes is protected and protecting.
As we motor along hard sand at sea's edge, we see few if any buildings, only be-flagged tents (the Broncos and Bundaberg Nation are favoured), fishers (Craig's keen eyes pick out the lines, and we skirt them), surfers ("best breaks anywhere") and birds.
Craig brakes, reaches for binoculars to point out an osprey on a tree stump. King of the shore, the black and white apex-predator obliges with a demonstration of fishing and flying.
First stop is Red Canyon, a cleft in the cliffs where I realise the rockfaces towering above the sand are not rocks: they are layer upon layer of eroding, reforming, scudding grains of sand.
A few clicks along the 80km drive it's morning tea time. Tea, ginger slice and culinary appropriate Anzac biscuits in a grassy reserve. Giant goannas eye crumbs; we don't feed animals from the table in my family.
The curving white sand and blue ocean reaches a dramatic full stop at Double Island Point (Cook's mistake: it's two cones of an onshore extinct volcano), one of the best and most popular surf spots and a magnet for marine life.
Craig has keys, so we open the gates and drive up to the 1884 lighthouse and extinguished lighthouse keepers' homes; it's solar-powered these days.
From the bluff, I can see for miles: 51km down Teewah Beach to Noosa Heads, north to Fraser Island, out to Wolf Rock where nurse sharks breed. The best view is down: languid turtles, gliding rays, tumbling dolphins. In the right season (June to October) humpbacks would be lumbering to Fraser Island breeding grounds.
Honeymoon Bay is an expanse of white silica broken by a small lagoon, testament to ever-shifting sands: "15 years ago, this beach didn't exist," Craig says.
Lunch. Craig unfolds an awning from the SUV's roof, pulls out camp chairs and tables and unpacks the esky.
On this remote beach, advanced Australian fare: rolls, fruit, sweets, chilled wine and beer.
On to the showstopper. Coloured Sands is a 200m-wide crescent of sand, hemmed by tall "cliffs", topped by forest. Those trees and mineral deposits have dyed the sands into layers of different colours: reds, yellows, browns, whites, greys, pinks. The number of colours depends on who's telling the story, but there are certainly 50 shades of orange.
Time for Craig's party trick. He digs out clods and draws pictures on the beach. It's easy to imagine the original campers doing the same thing over the past 20,000 years.
We're nearly at the end of this stretch of the road, but there are a couple more gawps — Mundlo Rocks and Carlo Sand Blow, huge 130m-high dunes that extend far inland. It almost feels like you're walking on the moon or across a dessert but you're right on the ocean's edge and the view is breathtaking. I'm told the best time to visit is sunrise or sunset.
Out-of-towners often drive unsuitable vehicles past the bluff at Mundlo Rocks as the tide comes in. Rainbow Beach's hotel bar has a photo wall of shame of $70,000 drowned off-roaders that weren't ("24 a year on average," Craig reckons).
Exhilarating, expansive and exotic, but this is the Lesser Great Beach Drive. The Really Great Beach Drive continues for 300 more kilometres, on to (literally) and around Fraser Island, returning to the mainland near Hervey Bay.
On my return, I head into nearby Cooloola National Park and a unique venture, Habitat Noosa. Its 1975 origins were as a minimalistic campground surrounding the idiosyncratic owner's homestead on 26ha of Noosa River waterfront — he would decide on first glance whether you pitched tent or p***ed off.
More enlightened owners have re-imagined it as a world-leading eco-tourism facility inside the national park, five minutes' boat ride from Noosa Everglades and a 25-minute shuttle ride from Noosa. It helped they already ran kayak and boat cruises on "the River of Mirrors", one of only two everglades systems on Earth.
Sensitively and imaginatively designed, there's camping, motorhome and glamping sites, education and conference facilities at standards required for power, water, sewerage and waste services in such a fragile area, while not upsetting the locals, a mob of kangaroos that's long lived onsite.
The restaurant's vast terrace sprawls out of the former owner's lounge; his bedroom is now the bar serving craft beer from the camp's artesian wells.
Glamping with an onsite micro-brewery?
That's my idea of roughing it.
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