The seven best journeys in the world’s greatest country for a road trip

Advice

From the flame-coloured red centre to the vibrant greens of Queenland’s tropical north, there’s a huge variety of hues to discover in Australia. And the best way to really get under the skin of this vast and epic country is by car.

Australians drive on the same side of the road as us, but with the UK fitting into Australia over 31 times, this is not a task for the fair-weather driver. You’ll need to be prepared for long distances and sometimes monotonous scenery –but the reward of seeing parts of the country that many people bypass is completely worth it. Especially if you get yourself a good soundtrack to motor along to.

Australia has a multitude of ecosystems, some of which are the finest examples of their kind in the world, the roads are big and wide, the locals are friendly, the food is homegrown and the animals you’ll spot are completely bizarre. Granted, some can kill you, but you’ll bump into less of those ones than you expect.

A word of warning, while this may be one of the greatest countries on earth to drive around, road tripping in the summer is inadvisable. Especially if you intend to camp. Your hire car might have an air conditioning system, but it won’t stop everything from melting if you head off for a walk. Don’t forget a road map and supplies either. Wi-Fi and phone signal isn’t always available in these remote corners of the world.

The best road trips in Australia

The Great Ocean Road

Arguably Australia’s most famous road trip, this winding path carves its way along the coast to the west of Melbourne and has certainly earned that title of ‘great’. Stretching from Torquay, an hour or so west of Melbourne, to Allansford, this is one of the best drives in the world.

Unlike the beaches of the northeast, which are characterised by the endless white sands, those found here are a little more rugged. Waves crash against towering cliffs, sea life lurks in rock pools and the temperatures rarely become unbearable.

12 apostles

The 12 Apostles stand guard over idyllic coastal landscapes

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Bells Beach, near the start of the road, is popular with surfers, while the 12 Apostles stand guard over idyllic coastal landscapes. The drive itself is rather spectacular and doubles as the longest war memorial in the world.

Daytrippers flit along the Great Ocean Road and back on a one-day coach tour. But this trip deserves much more time. If you choose to drive yourself (and you should), there’s plenty to discover beyond the beaten track.

The Great Otway National Park for one. Packed with glorious waterfall walks that are relatively quiet, even at weekends (as long as you’re travelling outside school holidays), this is a great place to take in a completely different part of the country. Head towards the Cape Otway lighthouse if you’re keen to see a koala or two – and don’t forget to look up.

If it’s more elusive Australian animals you’re on the hunt for, head to Lake Elizabeth where you can spot a platypus if you’re lucky.

Beauchamp Falls

The Otways are packed with waterfalls, like Beauchamp

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The Red Centre Way

Picture the most cliched version of an Australian road trip that you can conjure and this loop journey from Alice Springs is pretty much it. It’s all red earth, isolated rocks and fresh swimming holes.

Best enjoyed over four or five days, highlights include Uluru, Kata Tjuta, Kings Canyon, and the West MacDonnell Ranges.

If you’re a fan of walking, the hike along Kings Canyon is rather special, offering views over Watarrka National Park, or wander through the Finke Gorge National Park, the only place in the world you’ll find the red cabbage palm.

Uluru

You can’t really beat Uluru

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The Gibb River Road

If it’s outback landscapes you’re looking for, but without the cliches, the Gibb River Road is a great alternative. This drive is all about epic landscapes and dusty tracks; you will need a 4WD.

Careering through the little-visited Kimberley region in the far north of Western Australia, the Gibb River Road will take you from Derby to Kununurra. From here you can explore some of the country’s finest geological offerings including the Bell, Windjana, Emma and Galvan’s gorges, the King Leopold Range, Zebedee Springs and Tunnel Creek.

The region is also home to fascinating ancient Indigenous history, which dates back some 50 to 60 thousand years. From the Gibb River Road, you can explore some of the most interesting and important rock art sites in the country, such as Mitchell Plateau and El Questro, although access is often only granted if you are with one of the traditional owners on a guided tour.

Gibb river road

Boab trees will become a familiar sight

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Cairns to Cape Tribulation

Another spellbinding coastal drive, the road from Cairns to Cape Tribulation is quite possibly the finest in the large, northern state of Queensland. Don’t spend too much time in Cairns before setting off and instead discover the quirks of the small towns that dot the route.

While admittedly there are a lot of things up here that can kill you (look out for stinger and croc warnings on beaches before dipping your toes), the landscape is worth it. As you head northward, the large white beaches that edge the Great Barrier Reef are increasingly lined by rainforest.

It’s worth heading a little into the wild here to see the Daintree and try to spot Cassowary. Billed as the place that the rainforest meets the reef, you’ll be hard pushed to find more exemplary natural habitats. A trip to Mossman Gorge is a must if you’re interested in Indigenous history and culture. If you’ve got a 4WD, you can head even further along the coast to Cape York – the most northerly tip of the Australian mainland.

Daintree

Where the rainforest meets the reef

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The Great Eastern Drive

In complete contrast to Queensland’s tropical north is a road trip along Tasmania’s east coast. This is also a great journey for the time-poor and can be completed in a day. Furthermore, one of the greatest draws is how few people you’ll see.

Most begin in Hobart, where there’s plenty of chances to learn about the European settlers that arrived in the island state in the 19th century. The drive then leads along the coast up to the picture-perfect Bay of Fires via St Helens, Swansea and Bicheno.  

Aside from the state’s natural beauty, which includes picturesque bays and abundant walking trail, the region’s wine, cheese and seafood are a highlight. It’s definitely worth taking a detour along the Freycinet peninsula into Freycinet National Park if you have the time.

Bay of Fires

The rather aptly named Bay of Fires

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The Savannah Way

If it’s something truly epic you’re looking for and time isn’t an issue, consider the Savannah Way. Stretching from Cairns in the northeast to Broome in the northwest, the drive covers just under 2,300 miles and traverses 15 national parks and five World Heritage areas.

You will definitely need a comfy 4WD for this epic trip as not all roads are sealed. Spare fuel and a large supply of fresh water is also highly recommended as you’ll be passing through some of the most remote places in the country.

It’s known as ‘Australia’s Adventure Drive’ and although that’s saying a lot given the competition, it’s not hard to see why. The journey includes the grassy plains, remote cattle stations, waterfalls, gorges and rock art of Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia. Make sure you see Boodjamulla National Park – quite possibly Queensland’s best-kept secret.

Savannah way

It’s definitely red

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istock

The Big Lap

If you want to go all out, there’s no better road trip than the Big Lap. Which does exactly what it says on the tin – it’s a drive around the edge of the entire country. A whopping 9,300 miles.

You’ll probably need a good six months to do this properly (you won’t squeeze it into an Easter break), following Highway One as it circumnavigates Australia, passing through seven of the nation’s capitals. One thing’s for sure, if you complete this one, you’re entitled to bragging rights.

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