A year like no other, 2020 has seen us all counting down to something – to the easing of restrictions, to the reopening of our favourite pubs, to the day the kids head back to school, or the day the grandkids are able to visit.
One countdown we all seem to have in common is crossing off the days until we can hit the open road again and travel free from border restrictions or worry.
That day is now closer than it has been all year, so we thought we’d dream a little, plan a little, and count down the top 10 road trips Australia has to offer.
From vast alpine vistas to turquoise reefs – and every winery, bay, gorge, desert and snowfield in between – Australia is a land of contrasts brimming with plant and animal life seen nowhere else on Earth. Read on to be inspired.
10. Coastal Classic- The Great Ocean Road
Famous the world over, this beauty takes 10th spot only because it’s the road most travelled. Don’t let that stop you, though!
Described as ‘dramatic’ and ‘unmissable’ by travel writers the world over, your adventure begins just 90 minutes from Melbourne, in the laid-back beach town of Torquay, and takes you through to Nelson on the South Australian border.
Along the way, you can catch some of the nation’s best surf breaks at Bells Beach, take a step back in time at the quaint fishing village of Port Fairy, and visit Australia’s oldest lighthouse at Cape Otway.
For some time out from behind the wheel, don’t miss the chance to take a helicopter ride over the awe-inspiring 12 Apostles – an imposing limestone feature that rises up from the Southern Ocean – then wind down on The Great Ocean Walk, or with a spot of berry picking at Pennyroyal Raspberry Farm.
Need to know: With so much to do, you’ll want to take your time travelling this 400-kilometre stretch of south-eastern coastline. Make sure you have plenty of memory for photos because each view is better than the last.
9. Dreamtime Escape – The Red Centre Way
If you’ve ever wanted your car to sport the red dust blush that proves you’ve really explored our great southern land, this is the trip for you. Over five days, you’ll travel in a loop from Alice Springs in the heart of Central Australia.
This journey allows you to experience the grandeur of Uluru and Kings Canyon, where a satisfying hike offers views of the beautiful Watarrka National Park. See the soaring rocks of Kata Tjuta, a sacred site as beautiful as it is important.
As night falls, the red centre offers sky views unlike anywhere on Earth – the sunsets are simply breathtaking, and the desert darkness allows our Milky Way to truly sparkle.
Few trips are as culturally rich as The Red Centre Way, which offers a chance to learn about Aboriginal culture while exploring fauna and flora unique to this part of the world.
If you’re thinking of doing The Red Centre Way road trip, you might also want to check out these three amazing outback holiday locations.
Need to know: The loop is 1135 kilometres of 4WD adventure. Give yourself time to explore the watering holes and trails – don’t forget your hiking shoes!
8. Picturesque Pinnacles – The Great Alpine Road
Starting in Wangaratta and building to a beautiful climax before trailing into the heritage-rich Gippsland region, The Great Alpine Road gifts intrepid travellers with just over 330 kilometres of breathtaking scenery and enjoyable driving, peppered with a myriad of mini-adventures.
Mount Buffalo Park, an alpine paradise where you can hike and rock climb in summer and ski in winter, is just one highlight of this trip.
Not only will you enjoy coastal views and lakeside scenes on your way to the panoramic peak some 1750 metres above the often-snow-capped Mount Hotham, but the region also offers some of the best dining and finest cold-climate wines, too!
Need to know: While the road is usually open in the winter months, you’ll need diamond-pattern snow chains between Harrietville and Omeo if driving in the official snow season.
7. Wild, Wild West – The Munja Track
When wanderlust sees you pining for a Western Australian adventure, The Gibb River Road is usually the first drive that comes to mind, but, equally enjoyable – and often less crowded – is The Munja Track.
To complete this trip, you’ll need a 4WD and about 3 to 6 days up your sleeve, but the rewards are plentiful. Starting at Mount Elizabeth Station and heading west to Walcott Inlet, this drive delivers the best of The Kimberly, including Jameson Arch, a window to Blythe Creek Valley.
Immerse yourself in sacred Aboriginal art sites, and visit the tranquil Drysdale River, stunning waterfalls like Bachsten Fall, and gorgeous gorges, like Magpie Wren Gorge, which showcases beautiful indigenous rock art.
Need to know: It’s important to carry a UHF radio so you can communicate with others along the track – and if you’re playing in the water or camping by the lakes, watch out for curious crocs!
6. Winding Through Wonders – Gillies Highway
Half an hour south of Cairns (to the Atherton Tablelands) lies a winding, wonderful adventure for those seeking a taste of Far North Queensland.
Threading its way around a reputed 263 corners, this track takes you through misty mountain ranges and lush rainforest reminiscent of Jurassic Park.
Picturesque lookouts abound, offering vast views of Goldsborough Valley, and if you make a pitstop at Etty beach, you just might spot one of the Cassowaries known to sunbathe there. Take a break in Yungaburra to marvel at the heritage-listed Curtain Fig Tree, a natural wonder as old as the dinosaurs.
Need to know: Gillies Highway runs for 60 kilometres, Gordonvale to Atherton, with an ear-popping elevation change of 800 metres along the way. With so many twists and turns, you’ll want to pack travel sickness meds if you’re prone to motion sickness!
5. East Coast Cool – The Legendary Pacific Coast
Known as one of the world’s most scenic drives, this route is hard to top when it comes to scenery and general ‘holiday vibe’ and is one of the most satisfying road trips from Sydney you can take.
Stretching from the New South Wales capital to the Queensland border, and hugging the magnificent East Coast, the trip will see you winding through Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park before heading up through Port Macquarie, Coffs Harbour, and the idyllic Ballina Region. You can even Skydive over Byron Bay at sunrise – a thrilling way to stretch your legs!
Surf, snorkel, fish and dine at one of the many laid-back cafes or enjoy local art galleries and Northern New South Wales’ eclectic music scene.
Need to know: Covering over 800 kilometres, this drive can take as few as 5 days, or as long as a fortnight to cover. It truly is a trip to be taken at your own pace.
4. Driving Through The Plains – Kosciuszko Alpine Way
Want to crest some of the south’s most magnificent mountains and drink in unspoilt vistas below, stopping only to walk – or mountain bike – pristine trails along the way? Then Kosciuszko Alpine Way is the drive for you.
Travelling from Canberra to Mount Kosciuszko National Park, this winding, history-soaked drive is a sure-fire way to fill your Instagram feed with envy-making shots of the best nature has to offer.
Ambling through snowfields where wild horses run free along river banks, it’s easy to see why Poet Banjo Paterson waxed lyrical about this corner of the world, where the air truly is ‘clear as crystal’. The season will dictate whether you relax in rivers or play in the snow, and it can be a glorious chance to take your time.
Need to Know: Kosciuszko Alpine Way is a three-day drive and the steep descents make it unsuitable for vehicles towing large caravans. National Park fees apply.
3. Coral and Canopy – Great Barrier Reef Drive
When you’re choosing which Australia road trip to take, you can’t really go past one flanked by World Heritage-listed icons.
With the vast aquatic glory of the Great Barrier Reef out one window and the Wet Tropics rainforest stretching out from the other, this drive, which winds from Cairns to Cape Tribulation via Port Douglas is tough to beat.
Soak up the sun and sea at one of the many coves and bays along the way (including the famous Palm Cove, where you can snorkel with a sea turtle if you’re lucky ) and lose yourself in an emerald swathe of birdsong in the dense Daintree Rainforest. When you arrive in Cape Tribulation, you won’t want to leave – it’s a remote paradise home to dugongs, stingrays and whales.
While you’re in Queensland, you might want to take a look at some of the state’s best 4WD tracks.
Need to know: The trip is only 140 kilometres, but with so much to explore, it’s a good idea to give yourself three days to complete the journey so you don’t miss the chance to experience the relaxed pace of Queensland coastal life.
2. From Port to Peninsula – The Savannah Way
If you want to escape for a longer trip, and it’s a bucket list-style adventure you’re after, you can’t go past Australia’s longest drive, the Savannah Way as one of the best road trips in Australia.
Encompassing a mind-boggling 15 national parks and five World Heritage areas, this journey from tropical Cairns to the beautiful pearling town of Broome is an epic undertaking you will never forget.
Along the way, you’ll encounter famous fishing hubs, historic sites and cattle stations where a warm welcome (and a cold drink) always await weary wanderers.
Over 3,700 kilometres long, you’ll gain a new sense of awe for Australia as you explore the world’s longest lava tube system in Undara, kayak to the magnificent Indari Falls, fossick for semi-precious gems in Georgetown, and spot spectacular birdlife at Karumba.
When you arrive in Broome, make time for Cable Beach and Town Beach – home to the ‘Staircase to the Moon’, where the tide and moon combine to create natural art.
Need to know: Unsealed sections of road are one challenge on this drive, which is also popular with adventurous cyclists, so be vigilant!
1. The Whole Island – The Big Lap
In the spirit of saving the most epic trip for last, we’re placing The Big Lap in the top spot.
A bucket-list-worthy adventure that will ensure no great Australian sight is overlooked, you can start and end this route wherever you wish. If you’ve got the time (people can and do spend years on this trip, although it can be completed in a month) exploring your own back yard doesn’t get any better than this.
After deciding in which direction to travel (heading south in summer and north in winter is recommended), and ensuring you have the right gear (maps, water, and a satellite phone are essentials) you’re ready to begin. For reference, the route described here assumes you’re taking a road trip from Sydney, and heading clockwise on Highway One, which will see you checking in at every state capital.
To truly make the trip complete, pop the 4WD on a ferry in Melbourne and head to Launceston to add a circuit of beautiful Tasmania to your itinerary!
On this journey, you can swim in idyllic bays, hike through lush forests, camp under a million stars, and experience the true grandeur of Australia.
For a fun challenge on your travels, make sure to visit everything big – from lobsters to merino sheep, bananas to Ned Kelly, no trip around Australia is complete without an album full of our oversize landmarks.
Good to know: Australia is rich in unsealed roads, so a 4WD is recommended to ensure you get the most from this adventure.
Ok, so we know this list of the best road trips in Australia didn’t exactly help ease the FOMO everyone is feeling thanks to recent restrictions. But, with more and more places opening up and small businesses and tourist spots around our beautiful country needing your patronage more than ever, now is the ideal time to start planning how you’ll shake off the quarantine cobwebs on your next adventure.
All you need to start your own Australian road trip is a dream, a plan, a comfy vehicle and a great playlist.
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