A HIDDEN TREASURE
The stunning coastal sanctuary of Tin Can Bay is a great spot for fishing, dolphins and waterside camping
WORDS BY JANNE HARDY, PHOTOGRAPHY BY JANNE AND GEOFF HARDY
Tin Can Bay is a true gem of the Wide Bay – Burnett Region. We’d always bypassed Tin Can Bay either heading north up the Bruce Highway or on to Rainbow Beach, so with a bit of time up our sleeves we decided to check it out and what we found can only be described as a hidden treasure!
There’s something for everyone in Tin Can Bay. Perhaps you’d like to park your RV under shady trees, on acres of lawn, or visit the beautiful sand flats – perfect for beach combing, and when you tire of that you can kick back with a picnic or enjoy some fishing right near your rig. Tin Can Bay’s population sits around 2000, so the town is big enough for resupplying, but still small enough to have a lovely and homely feel. If you require more than Tin Can offers, Cooloola Cove has a chain supermarket and is just around the corner.
There are three van parks in the Bay but I advise you to book ahead because this place is popular! Luckily for us, the last spot in town was also the best! Located beside the Yacht Club, the Ace Caravan Park has water on both sides and is thoughtfully sheltered from the winds. Attached to the Kingfisher Caravan Park, Ace Van Park is a little older, but spotless and full of friendly and helpful staff.
Previously known as Wallu or Toolara and re-named in 1937, Tin Can Bay was the southern access point for Fraser Island for the timber industry. The name is said to be a corruption of the Aboriginal Tuncanbar which refers to Dugongs. In 1870 timber was shipped from a settlement at Tin Can Bay and one of Queensland’s first railways came to Norman Point on the promontory, where the town is situated.
When we stepped out of the Ace Caravan Park, we found the Tin Can Bay Yacht Club. This place boasts a great restaurant with big brekkies and sunset dinners. We also really loved the Country Club. However, if you feel like gathering your own meal, there’s a great fish market in town. We tried it and the prices are good. Actually, in the 70s Tin Can Bay hosted a prawning and fishing fleet! There are still local fishing boats now, but the Bay has become a sleepy, idyllic holiday sanctuary.
A stroll up the road took us to Barnacles Café where you can feed wild dolphins every morning. Indo Pacific Humpback dolphins are fed daily at 8am. In the 1950s an injured dolphin, named Old Scarry, beached at the Café and locals nursed him back to health. Old Scarry knew he was onto a good thing and rocked up regularly for more goodies and brought his friends along too. In 2007 another dolphin was nursed by the locals and now several regulars are hand fed.
It costs just $5 to feed the wild Indo Pacific Humpback Dolphins at Barnacles Café, although you can watch from the wharf next to the boat ramp. Turtles swim by and Pelicans wait for the left overs. Just turn up and if the dolphins are late, enjoy a coffee at the café while you wait. “Dolphins don’t have watches.” A little boy told me as we waited. I asked him why and apparently it’s because they don’t have arms.
Tin Can Bay is also a mecca for walkers and bike riders, although don’t worry if you forgot yours, as you can hire bikes at Crab Creek. The four kilometres from Crab Creek to Norman Point leads you through landscaped parks and is accessible for bikes, wheelchairs and people on foot. You travel over little bridges and through bushy parts with mangroves, full of fluttering birdlife. Apparently there are 137 different varieties flying overhead or poking about in the scrub. There are thoughtful little identification plaques placed along the pathways, in case you spot a bird you want to know the name of. Aside from the birds, you’ll also find caravans and motorhomes parked here and there shaded by trees, enjoying the peace and lack of sand-flies.
In the 1850 s a Dugong station was built in the area and Dugongs were killed for their oil. Now, Tin Can Bay Inlet is a designated Dugong Sanctuary. Dugongs are shy and retiring creatures, considered to be rarer than whales. I had always wanted to see one, so we hired a canoe and floated over the reed beds for the sight of a lifetime.
If walking and cycling doesn’t interest you, Tin Can Bay also has a small cruise company – Dolphin Ferry Cruise. They offer three different tours for those who love to be on the water. The Dolphin Cruise costs $35 and runs daily between Carlo Point at Rainbow Beach and Tin Can Bay. Passengers depart from Carlo Point and are transported to the dolphin feeding area in the Tin Can Bay inlet. They also offer the Sunset Cruise for $25, a lovely ending to a beautiful day, the sunset cruise gently floats you around the Cooloola Coast as you watch the sun set over the water. The final cruise they have is the Great Sandy Straight Cruise – which takes you around the Great Sandy Strait, showcasing all the wonderful wildlife inhabiting the area. It’s recommended that you bring a picnic lunch and some drinks for the day.
Rainbow Beach and Inskip Point aren’t far away so one day we took a drive through nearby Cooloola Cove to explore some familiar territory, cutting 10 minutes off the drive along Tin Can Bay and Rainbow Beach Road. On a side note, we were very saddened to hear of the sinkhole at Rainbow Beach on Saturday, September 26. This is one of our favourite camping spots and we were just so glad that nobody was injured. Please be sure to do your research before camping in this beautiful area.
One of my favourite places at Rainbow Beach is the Carlo Sand Blow, named for a deckhand on Captain Cook’s ship. The dunes start on the hill above the town at the end of Cooloola Drive and have an ethereal moonscape feel about them, from far away it seems as though the sands will one day swallow up the local forest. From atop the Carlo Sand Blow there is a 360° view down to the coloured sands and Double Island Point, Fraser Island and Tin Can Bay Inlet. This is a great place to be at Sunset, but please make sure you don’t take a large motorhome or van up there as the parking is tight. The sand blow is 600m from the parking area.
Kids were sand sledding so take a garbage bag and go for it! The Blow is part of the Great Sandy National Park and rolls over to Rainbow Beach, so I slogged down through the soft sand and walked south to the coloured sand cliffs as 4WDs whooshed past.
The Cooloola Great walk is 102km long and links Noosa and Rainbow Beach via Lake Poona. We entered the track near Carlo Sand Blow and the quietness and coolness of the sandy forest was very pleasant. There are hills and dips with beautiful flowers and wildlife galore.
South down the beach past Double Island Point you can visit what’s left of the Cherry Venture which was wrecked in the 70’s and whose propeller is mounted above the main beach in town. Although soft, we love to use the tracks through the Great Sandy National Park and drive all the way to Noosa.
There are surf lessons at Double Island Point which has one of Australia’s longest waves. Surfers flock here, and as a three hour lesson only costs $60, we decided to take this excellent opportunity to make fools of ourselves. We were delighted to find our performance was better than some of our young backpacker friends. A 4WD beach-tour past the coloured sands is also included.
We have been camping at the Inskip Point’s National Park Camping area for years and highly recommend it. Just 15 minutes north of Rainbow Beach, you will need to book as this is a popular place. Reserving a spot is very easy, you can do it online, by phone or at the National Park’s office as you enter the town of Rainbow Beach. There are four dog friendly campsites throughout the park – named after ships that once plied local waters. Only the last one is recommended for RV’s. Entry is via the second last gate on your right and don’t worry if you overshoot as there’s a good turn around further on.
Clarkson Drive service point is a great place to grab maps, fill up on water and they even provide a dump point. There are also wheelchair friendly composting toilets at each camp site.
It’s first-in best-dressed along here and you can choose your own snug site under the She-Oaks and Pines right at the back of the beach. The sea side is more sheltered than the inland side.
There are endless kilometres of beach to explore and fishing is really good. The Ferry to Fraser Island leaves from the beach nearby and if you stay here it’s easy to hop aboard with the 4WD and spend time looking around this beautiful island with its crystal clear waters and towering Satinay Trees, once felled for their hardwood and shipped to Maryborough mills through Tin Can Bay.
This whole area is a must see and there are good facilities and wide open spaces for RVers ease and enjoyment. See you there sometime because we’re going back!