Noosa National Park is one of the most visited National Parks in Australia. The Park is split up into several sections, but by far the most popular, and the subject of this guide, is the headland section with its rugged coastal scenery and beautiful beaches. Avid seascape photographers will find plenty here to keep them entertained.
A network of walking tracks criss-crosses the park, the most popular being the Coastal Track which closely follows the coastline from Noosa Heads around to Sunshine Beach, a distance of approximately 5.5km. Like any good walking track, there are some ups and downs, but the track is well made and won’t pose any problems to anyone with a moderate level of fitness. The one caveat to that is at the Sunshine Beach end where there is a long flight of concrete steps followed by a rocky, uneven section of track leading from the beach to the top of the headland – this will get your calf and thigh muscles burning, but there are some well placed seats along the way to give your legs a rest if they need it.
Special Photographic Features or Notes
The best place to begin your exploration of Noosa headland is at the main entrance to the National Park at the end of Park Road, Noosa Heads. From the car park, a 10 minute walk through coastal scrub and paperbark forest will bring you to the first of my favourite spots, Tea Tree Bay. The short sandy beach faces north/north-west, and at its eastern end is an area of beautifully smooth-polished boulders that make great foreground interest or subjects in themselves. This eastern end of the beach stays shaded until well after the sun has risen and in my experience is not ideal for a sunrise shoot, but I suspect it might be a good option at sunset.
From Tea Tree Bay, the track climbs quickly to the top of the next ridge which overlooks Dolphin Point. A rough track leads down on to the rock platforms which provide some great shapes and textures to frame the views of the coastline to the east and west.
Only 100m or so on from Dolphin Point, a narrow track to the left leads down to the rocky beach of Granite Bay. This is perhaps my favourite part of the National Park, with the most beautiful small granite boulders lining the beach. At high tide, waves wash right up among the boulders, while low tide exposes the sandy beach in front of them – both options present some great photographic opportunities, although the colours and smooth surfaces of the boulders are shown off to their best when they are wet. Sunrise is my preferred time for photographing the beach at Granite Bay – in summer, the headland to the east hides the rising sun and creates a bold backdrop for images; in winter, the sun rises over the tip of the headland.
Another 10-15 minute walk brings you to the steep cliffs and grand views of Hell’s Gates. I haven’t spent a lot of time exploring this spot, but my initial impression is that it is difficult to find a safe land-based location to photograph the Gates themselves – apart from pointing your camera straight down from the top of the cliff. With a little time it might be possible to find a place to safely scramble down and get a better angle on the deeply incised cove, but much care is needed at this location. A better option might be to hitch a ride on a boat on a calm day and photograph this spectacular feature from the sea.
From Hell’s Gates, the track winds down to the long, sweeping, sandy beach of Alexandria Bay. The beach runs approximately north-south, so a longshore shot at sunrise will be at right angles to the direction of the rising sun. Be aware too that Alexandria Bay is a popular nudist beach – while it’s unlikely you’ll come across any bare bodies if you’re there at sunrise, I was surprised by a naked gentleman strolling around the rocks at dawn at the southern end of the beach the first time I visited. I was careful to point my camera the other way!
The headland at the southern end of Alexandria Bay has several very photo-worthy features, the first being Lion Rock which lies only 15-20 metres off the mainland from which it is separated by a deep channel. You can scramble down the rocks to photograph Lion Rock in isolation or as part of a wider scene that includes part of the headland. The easiest access point places Lion Rock to your east so it can be photographed at sunrise with the sun rising behind it.
On the other side of the headland from Lion Rock is another steep-sided cove known as the Devil’s Kitchen. There are some great views available down into the Kitchen where waves smash against the sheer cliffs – but as with Hell’s Gates, the cliff edges are crumbly and a safe approach is necessary. The tip of the headland on the northern side of Devil’s Kitchen offers great views down the coast to the south and over Lion Rock to the north.
The next little cove to the south of Devil’s Kitchen is a gem, with a short secluded beach of sand and boulders, and an unusual, isolated rock column at its southern end. You can access this cove by scrambling around the rocks from the Kitchen, or by taking a steep and uneven path that leads down from the main track. The cove faces to the south-east and is a great spot for a sunrise photo session.
Another ten minutes walk to the south brings you to the southern boundary of the National Park and Paradise Caves. A rough track leads to a spot that overlooks the main cave which has been gouged out of the cliff face by wave action. It is tempting to climb down to the boulder-floored cave but the access is relatively steep and devoid of good hand-holds. I wouldn’t try it unless the tide was low, the swell small, and the rocks completely dry – and even then it’s not for everyone. But there are plenty of other photographic options at this spot, with views to the north and south and an interesting rock platform to the east.
Once you descend from the headland, it’s a ten minute walk along the beach to the nearest car-park at Sunshine Beach. When I’m targeting the southern part of the National Park from Paradise Caves to Alexandria Bay, I park at Sunshine Beach and walk from there. The other features to the north are more easily accessed from Noosa Heads.
Most of the locations described above are unaffected by any artificial light and so are good options for night landscape photography. Only at the southern end of the park near Sunshine Beach will you see the lights of suburbia, and these will only figure in your images when you are shooting towards the south.
As with any seascape photography, it pays to have a selection of neutral density filters handy to give you control over your shutterspeeds. If you use ND grads, they will certainly come into play at sunrise and sunset, and a polariser is useful for cutting glare once the sun is up and for seeing into rockpools. When the seas are up, there will be lots of saltspray flying around, so several spare cleaning cloths and a spray-proof bag to slip over your camera are a must. You should be prepared to get your feet wet when searching for compositions around the beaches and rocks – I use old sports shoes, but sandals are another good option. Biting insects can be a problem in summer so don’t forget the bug spray.
Best Time of The Day
There are good photographic options to be found at any time of day, but sunrise is the prime time especially in the southern area where the beaches face to the east.
Low or dropping tides provide the most options around the rocky headlands and are generally safer when the seas are rough. But there are enough high vantage points that you can find great images even when the sea is very rough and the tides high. Just be extra careful around the cliff edges.
Strong easterly winds will cause the most difficulties, but there are always protected areas behind headlands and on secluded beaches no matter what the wind is doing.
You can park either at the main park entrance at Park Road, Noosa Heads, or at the little carpark on Seaview Terrace, Sunshine Beach. The Coastal Track follows the coastline around between these two locations. There is a map of the walking tracks here.