Guide | Noosa
Noosa, Queensland, Australia falls right in the middle of the country's east coast, about 2 hours north of Brisbane. It's one of the towns making up the aptly named Sunshine Coast region of Queensland. An upscale resort town full of boutiques and beautiful restaurants, one of Noosa's main draws is its beaches. Its the perfect place for affluent tourists looking for a weekend getaway and backpackers alike. The town melds nature with sophisticated attractions. Its located within the UNESCO-recognized Noosa Biosphere Reserve and is known for its incredible biodiversity. This means that whether you're looking for beautiful places to hike, surf, or just shop, there are plenty of things to do in Noosa. We spent a week there and fell in love. It helps that Noosa is the first safe place to actually swim if you're traveling down the coast from Cairns. It's also a popular stop for those departing for Fraser Island.
Choosing a place to stay in Noosa depends foremost on budget. As a resort town that caters to an affluent demographic, it's full of beautiful beachfront hotels and holiday apartments. Many choose to rent Airbnbs for a bit of privacy. As backpackers, we went the hostel route. This was the most affordable for us, and because we were there over Christmas, it was also crucial for making a good group of friends to be with over the holiday.
We booked a couple beds at Nomads, which turned out to be full of potential but also rules that made it a place I could never recommend. There's a pool in the center of the property and a nice deck area with tables close to the bar, but security kicks everyone out around 8 or 9 and forces them to either go inside the sad little bar or to their rooms. It's bizarre. Furthermore, the security guys walk around barging into people's rooms each night without knocking in an attempt to catch people drinking. I felt like I was in college again. Overall, it wasn't worth the hassle for a basically average hostel. If I had to do it over again, I would have chosen Dolphins Beach House or the slightly pricier Noosa Flashpackers.
Also consider which area of Noosa you prefer. The town has three main sections: Noosa Heads with upscale restaurants and shops by the beach; Noosaville, the more relaxed part of town along the Noosa River; and Noosa Junction, which is where you'll arrive if you're traveling by bus. While they're all basically in walking distance, Noosa Heads is likely where you'll want to be. It's close to the beaches, shopping, and the National Park.
Noosa National Park
The National Park was one of our favorite parts of Noosa. It's full of diverse wildlife including several endangered species. If you look careful, you may spot a koala while walking through. They tend to hang out high up in the trees along the paths. The park contains five walking trails of different difficulty levels that will take you through varied environments. There's a coastal walk that winds along the shore providing beautiful scenic views of the beaches that line the park, for example. You'll find access to tons of small little beaches throughout this track, although the surf can be pretty brutal and there are no lifeguards, so take caution. Tanglewood track carves itself through the lush rainforest with twisting branches and gnarled trees framing the path. We accidentally ended up walking both of these trails in the same day, which added up to a very exhausting but amazing 22km day.
The Coastal track ends at the Hell's Gates headlands, which is essentially a cliff with a massive drop off down to the sea. Below is a cavernous pit of rocks and crashing waves. Dolphins, sea turtles, and manta rays can often be spotted hunting down here. From Hell's Gates visitors can see Rainbow Beach and Fraser Island to the north and Alexandria Bay to the south. During winter, pods of Humpback Whales can often be spotted passing through on their way to the warm waters of Hervey Bay where they give birth each year. Even if you're not the most adventurous outdoorsman, it's worth spending a day in the park.
Noosa's a big surf town. There are tons of great spots where the waves can get pretty intense, both for surfers and those who like to play in the water. As I mentioned, it's safe to swim here. You no longer need to worry about jellyfish or crocodiles because the ocean is a bit cooler in this part of Queensland. Main Beach itself is full of families and it's sheltered, so the waves are low key. For anyone visiting Main Beach, try walking down as far as you can. It gets extremely crowded at the southeastern corner where everyone seems to enter, but walking even ten minutes down the sand gives you a bit of space to spread your wings.
If you venture through the National Park you'll find a few more cute little beaches along the Coastal track. Take the Tanglewood track or walk down the southern stairs from Hell's Gates to access our favorite, Alexandria Beach. It's just as big if not bigger than Main Beach, only no one's there. Because it takes more work to get to, it's a lot less crowded. Alexandria's an unofficial nude beach, so don't be surprised if you see a few naked people around. Emphasis on unofficial here. If you happened to get caught by the police they'll fine you. The waves are huge and the rip can be powerful but there's no lifeguard on duty here, so be careful . Otherwise, it's completely bordered by the rainforest on one side and the ocean to the other, so it's a beautiful place to spend an afternoon.
There are tons of high-end boutiques in Noosa Heads. Hastings Street is the main road that runs parallel to Main Beach. It's lined with designer shops and a few big brands mixed in with the occasional surf shop. If you like to shop, there's something for you. Bear in mind many of the stores are pretty pricey. Noosa Junction has some grocery stores and a few nice little bookshops and kitschy shops to explore. It's much more affordable and casual.
Food & Drink
Unfortunately we were trying to conserve money while there and cooked for ourselves mostly, but Noosa is known for its restaurants. There are plenty of high-end spots along the beachfront as well as lining Hastings Street, so just take a walk and you'll find all types of cuisine. Even when I'm broke I can't resist Mexican, so we treated ourselves to some guacamole and Corona's on the balcony at Montezuma's overlooking Hasting's. It was pretty delicious, but I'm sure you can find something more exciting if you're willing to spend a bit more.
You can find some nice bars in the same area along Hastings. The bar at Nomads is apparently a popular spot for the younger (read: backpacker) crowd, but I was not impressed. I'd much rather grab some beer and hang out on the beach. Save some money and enjoy the nature.
Most backpackers leave for Fraser Island from Rainbow Beach, while I noticed the older crowd was more likely to leave from Noosa. Technically Rainbow Beach is much closer to Fraser.--you actually have to backtrack from Noosa to get to Fraser. But from what we've heard there's really not much going on there, so we skipped it. We chose to stay in Noosa the whole time because there's much more to do and the town itself has a great vibe. We spent two or three days in Noosa, then went to Fraser for a couple days before coming back to spend Christmas night and another day or two in Noosa. It's also common to spend a couple days in Rainbow, head to Fraser, then continue on to Noosa.
It's possible to rent a 4WD and head to Fraser on your own, but the vast majority of people book with a tour company. Depending on which one you select, everything is typically taken care of from the camp site to food and sights. We went with Dropbear Adventures, which I cannot recommend enough. Because the island has very few actual inhabitants, most people camp while there. It's incredibly remote so expect to go without cell service and everything you need for the most part should be carried in an out. Read our full Fraser Island Guide!
Noosa was one of the most relaxing stretches of our trip down the east coast. If you're headed there soon, let us know in the comments below! We'd be happy to give you some recommendations.
Heading down the coast? Read our complete itinerary!