7 Australian road trips everyone should take
Our picks of the most unforgettable drives that Australia has to offer.
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Australia is a country that begs to be travelled by road. Its landscape is made up of stretches of coastline, wide-open plains and unique flora and fauna and with a car, you'll be granted the flexibility of seeing highlights over a weekend or the whole shebang over a year.
Ready to roam Australia? These are our top picks of the best Aussie road trips per state to leave memories you won't soon forget.
What's in this guide?
NSW: The Pacific Coast
During the warmer months, a road trip along the NSW coastline is a must. The Pacific Coast takes you from Sydney to Brisbane and is a tried and true fave for holidaymakers and families. For the most part, these roads hug the east coast of New South Wales and Queensland and pass through coastal hotspots like Byron Bay, Coffs Coast, Port Macquarie, Port Stephens, Hunter Valley and the Central Coast. Each location has its own unique character and small, coastal town feel that makes them impossible not to fall in love with.
Driving from Sydney to Brisbane takes a little over 10 hours, which is best broken up into a trip of 3 days or more. However, you don't have to travel the whole Pacific Coast to experience its wonders. Instead, you can take comfortable weekend trips to the Hunter Valley, Central Coast and Coffs Harbour.
- Total distance: 977km (11 hours)
- Route: Sydney to Brisbane via Hunter Valley
- Highlights: Hunter Valley, Port Stephens, Port Macquarie, Coffs Coast, Byron Bay.
- Best time to drive: Spring and summer to catch the best of the beach weather.
- Things to do: cheese, wine and fudge tasting in the Hunter Valley, Whale watching in Coffs Harbour, practise your surfing skills in Byron Bay or visit the Byron Bay Hinterland.
- Stay at:Big Windmill Corporate and Family Motel in Coffs Harbour.
- Eat at: Hunters Quarter or Baume in Cessnock and BayGer or Byron Bay Brewery in Byron Bay.
Victoria: Great Ocean Road
The Great Ocean Road is one of the most iconic road trips in Australia, with a gorgeous stretch of coastline that runs for 243 kilometres between Torquay and Allansford. Having been built by returned World War I veterans in dedication of their fallen comrades, it is one of the largest war memorials in the world and bears a lot of significance for many Australians.
For a perfect three-day weekend trip, keep highlights including the Twelve Apostle, Bay of Islands, Cape Otway and Bells Beach at the top of your list when building your itinerary. Fill the rest of the days exploring sweet coastal villages like Lorne, Portland and Port Fairy, as well as the lush rainforest, wineries, caves and waterfalls scattered along your journey.
If you have more time on your hands, you can also take the Great Ocean Road as a scenic route between Melbourne and Adelaide.
- Total distance: 366km (5 hours and 45 minutes)
- Route: Melbourne to Allansford via the Great Ocean Road
- Highlights: Bells Beach, Teddys Lookout (Lorne), Cape Otway Lightstation, Twelve Apostles, The Grotto and Lord Ard. Read our full list.
- Best time to drive: Winter allows you to avoid the crowds and potentially spot migrating whales.
- Things to do: Learn to surf along the Great Ocean Road or skydive over the famous road trip.
- Stay at: Apollo Bay Waterfront Motor Inn.
- Eat at: Ipsos Restaurant and Bar in Lorne and alexo Pizza & Bistro in Port Fairy.
Tasmania: Hobart round trip
Tasmania is one of Australia's top scenic destinations and is a dream to drive. The state's small size means it's possible to drive from top to bottom within a couple of hours. The scenery along the way changes frequently, moving between cityscapes, farmland, mountainsides and coastlines, with enough sleepy villages along the way to keep the kids from getting stir crazy.
Ignore the direct routes and hug the coast, driving northward from Hobart to Launceston and via Freycinet for a hike to the famous Wineglass Bay. Continue westward through Launceston and onto Cradle Mountain for another stopover before heading west around Cradle Mountain and the Lake St Clair National Park. This drive will take you through the Great Lakes region and home again.
- Total distance: 982km (13.5 hours)
- Route: Hobart to Freycinet to Cradle Mountain to Hobart (anti-clockwise roundtrip)
- Highlights: Port Arthur, Wineglass Bay, St Clair National Park, Launceston/Tamar Valley, Cradle Mountain. See here for a full list.
- Best time to drive: December to March. This is summer however Tasmania never gets too hot so it's comfortable for a drive around the island.
- Things to do: Tour the Port Arthur Historic Site, go on a guided kayak through the Freycinet Peninsula, wine tasting in Tamar Valley and pay a visit to Tasmania devils at the Devils at Cradle Sanctuary.
- Stay at: Freycinet Lodge and Discovery Parks Cradle Mountain.
- Eat at: Lucky Ducks in Port Arthur, Samuel Pepys Cafe in Tamar Valley and Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge Tavern Bar & Bistro in Cradle Mountain.
Queensland: The Great Tropical Drive
Queensland's tropical region is unique in Australia, offering a diverse range of landscapes from reef and rainforest to beach and outback. The Great Tropical Drive takes you between Cairns and Townsville where you can make side trips to the Great Barrier Reef, Daintree Rainforest, Cape Tribulation, Hinchinbrook Island and Mission Beach.
This route also takes you through some spectacularly unique National Parks, including Wooroonooran National Park (filled with natural swimming pools), Paluma Range National Park (a lush rainforested area) and Eubenangee Swamp National Park (a coastal swampland teaming with waterbirds and crocodiles).
- Total distance: 487km (6 hours 40 minutes)
- Route: Cape Tribulation to Townsville via Cairns
- Highlights: Great Barrier Reef, Daintree Forest, Hinchinbrook Island, Mission Beach. See here for a full list.
- Best time to drive: April to September as the weather is cool and dry.
- Things to do: Snorkel the Great Barrier Reef, skydive over Mission Beach and Explore Townsville and Magnetic Island.
- Stay at: Cairns Harbour Lights.
- Eat at: Cairns Burger Cafe in Cairns and JAM in Townsville.
Western Australia: The Coral Coast Drive
A campervan and some good company is the ultimate combination when tackling this drive. It comes the coast and desert seamlessly. The colours themselves are worth the journey, with the red earthy tones of the landscape contrasting with the turquoise blues of the ocean - a combination that makes for the perfect Insta shot.
Need to shorten your trip? You can finish at Exmouth instead of Broome without sacrificing the highlights mentioned here. Though, you will miss out on the gorgeous rock formations of Karijini.
- Total distance: 3,119km (1 day, 10 hours)
- Route: Perth to Broome
- Highlights: Monkey Mia, Ningaloo Reef, the Pinnacles, Cape Range National Park and Carnarvon
- Best time to drive: Winter and spring provide cool and dry weather conditions for sightseeing.
- Things to do: Lancelin 4WD and sandboarding adventure, scenic flight to Monkey Mia with dolphin encounter from Kalbarri and a tour of Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek in Broome.
- Stay at: Sails Geraldton Accommodation in Geraldton, RAC Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort in Monkey Mia, Ningaloo Lighthouse Holiday Park in Exmouth and Hospitality Port Headland in Port Hedland.
- Eat at: Cafe Fleur in Geraldton, The Old Pearler Restaurant in Denham, Ningaloo Bakehouse & Cafe in Exmouth and Hedland Harbour Cafe in Port Hedland.
Northern Territory: The Stuart Highway Drive
Prepare to kick up some serious dust on this culturally rich exploration from the territory's capital to its sacred rock, Uluru. A 4WD and a pair of hiking boots are mandatory if you plan to do this right.
The Stuart Highway is one of Australia's main highways, taking you pretty much from the top to the tail of the country. It starts in Darwin and ends in Port Augusta, South Australia.
Stop by Kakadu National Park for a boat tour through this enormous wetland, then continue south to Alice Springs and onto the Red Centre. On your way to see Uluru and its neighbouring rock formation, the Olgas (Kata Tjuta), spend a day at King's Canyon to hike its rim and swim in the Garden of Eden - a green oasis of calm amidst the barren rocky landscape.
- Total distance: 2,383km (1 day and 30 minutes)
- Route: Darwin to Uluru via Alice Springs
- Highlights: Uluru, the Olgas, King's Canyon and Kakadu National Park.
- Best time to drive: Winter is best for the outback as the weather is cool. However, it's also prime time for travellers due to the comfortable temperatures.
- Things to do: Spend the day on an Uluru Tour with Sunset BBQ and Bubbles, catch the sun as it sets by camel ride and tour Alice Springs with a local guide.
- Stay at: Knotts Crossing Resort in Katherine, Desert Palms Alice Springs in Alice Springs, Kings Canyon Resort in Kings Canyon and Outback Pioneer Hotel.
- Eat at: Jabiru Sports and Social Club in Kakadu and Kalata Academy Cafe in Uluru.
South Australia: The Food and Wine Tour
Fine wine and food are the name of the game on this trip. Unlike other Aussie road trips, hiking boots are far from the required attire for this drive. Instead, a penchant for a good drop is ideal as you travel through some of Australia's finest wineries and historic buildings.
Barossa Valley, Adelaide Hills and McLaren Vale offer plenty of cellar doors for you to whet your whistle at. Barossa boasts over 160 wineries, including Penfolds and Yalumba, Adelaide Hills includes Bird In Hand and McLaren Vale delights with its Hardys and d'Arenberg's cellar doors.
Just don't forget to nominate your designated driver before you start on this one.
- Total distance: 234km (3.5 hours)
- Route: Adelaide to McLaren Valey to Adelaide Hills to Barossa Valley to Adelaide
- Highlights: Barossa Valley, Adelaide Hills, McLaren Vale and Hahndorf.
- Best time to drive: Visit in April to May for the vineyards as this is the end of harvest and is festival season at the wineries.
- Things to do: On top of the food and drink tasting, you can have a vineyard picnic, go on a scenic helicopter tour or learn the art of wine blending.
- Eat at: Hentley Farm Restaurant in Barossa Valley, Pike & Joyce in Adelaide Hills, Indii of Clare in Clare Valley and The Currant Shed in McLaren Vale.
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