Australia is home to several popular tourist destinations, but much of the country's soul is in its small towns, outback pubs, and less-traversed beaches. A road trip through the country's rainforest, outback, and coastline gives you the opportunity to experience as much of Australia as possible. There are road trips that are well-worn and attract many visitors, and those that are quiet and only accessible by 4-wheel drive. All show you a unique slice of the Australian landscape and way of life.
The Great Ocean Road is probably the most famous road trip in Australia. It runs from Torquay to Allansford, hugging the Southern Ocean and passing the famous Twelve Apostles. It's possible to complete as a day trip, but three days gives you time to take in the rainforests, taste local produce, and explore quaint beach towns. Surfers may like to take longer so they can catch the waves at Bells Beach. A winter trip is less crowded, and you may even see whales as they migrate.
The Eyre Highway is the longest, flattest, straightest road in Australia and the quintessential outback trip. The 780-mile trip runs across the Nullarbor Plain from South Australia's Eyre Peninsula to the goldfields of Western Australia. Most people cross in 2-3 days, camping or staying in roadhouses along the way. The highway is a paved road, but it's very isolated, so make sure you have enough water, food, and fuel for the journey. Highlights include stargazing and playing a round on the longest golf course in the world.
Gibb River Road is a 410-mile track designed to transport cattle. There are very few paved roads, so it's best to be equipped with four-wheel drive on this route. It runs from Derby to Kununurra, through the remote Kimberley region of Western Australia. The landscape is breathtaking, with waterfalls and ancient Aboriginal rock art. Swimming under the multi-tiered waterfall at Bell Gorge is another highlight. The roads are impassable during the wet season, so set out after May.
Traveling across the Alpine Way proves there's more to Australia than beaches by showing you the best of the Australian Alps. The 75-mile road starts at Jindabyne and travels through Kosciuszko National Park to Khancoban. The road provides panoramic mountain scenes, including an amazing view of Mount Kosciuszko. People with a keen eye might catch glimpses of the wild horses of The Man From Snowy Mountain fame. The Alpine Way is a narrow, steep road that is unsuitable for caravans and buses, and some vehicles need snow chains between June and October.
The Stuart Highway is a 1,761-mile road that runs straight through the middle of Australia, from Port Augusta to Darwin. You'll need at least 10 days to explore the outback, desert, and tropics this route takes you through. Check out Cooper Pedy's opal fields, where you can stay in an underground hotel. The lush landscapes of Kakadu and Litchfield National Parks are another highlight. It's worth the extra time to take a short detour from Alice Springs to visit the iconic Uluru and Kings Canyon.
The island state of Tasmania is small enough to drive around completely in around six days. The route begins and ends in the capital of Hobart and shows you the best of Tasmania's scenery, including beaches, rugged wilderness, and sleepy, Tasmanian towns. Along the way, you can try fresh seafood, tasty produce, and delicious wines. Must-see attractions include Cradle Mountain, Wineglass Bay and the Bay of Fires.
This trip starts in Cairns and travels 93 miles north into Queensland's tropics. The road follows the Great Barrier Reef to Cape Tribulation and the Daintree Rainforest. Those with time and 4-wheel drive can continue north along the coastal road to Cape York, the northernmost point of Australia. A must-see is the 30,000-year-old rock art at Quinkan Galleries in Laura. The best time to travel is May to October, as many roads close during the wet summer.
Not for the faint-hearted, the Savannah Way runs 2,300 miles across the top of Australia. It starts in Cairns, Queensland, and passes through 15 national parks and 5 World Heritage areas. The landscapes range from desert to rainforest to magnificent gorges. The journey finishes in Broome, Western Australia, where you can enjoy local abalone and ride a camel along the beach. Some of the road is not paved, although there are alternate routes for 2-wheel drives. Cell reception can also be spotty.
If you want to try driving on sand, the 75 Mile Beach Road on Fraser Island is the place to go. The road is one long, sandy beach, but it's technically part of the Bruce Highway, so road rules apply. The track is submerged twice a day at high tide. While you wait for it to reappear, try to spot some of the island's dingoes and enjoy the seafood. Sharks and dangerous currents keep people out of the sea, but you can cool off in the nearby freshwater lakes and swimming holes.
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If you have at least six months free and can't decide between Australia's many road trips, consider the Big Lap. The 9,300-mile trip follows Highway One around the country. During the trip, you'll hit seven capital cities and other popular spots, including Cairns, Esperance, and Broome. This trip lets you experience every part of Australia: big cities, breathtaking beaches, the red outback and lush, green rainforests. Make sure you're in the north during the dry, winter months, as roads can close during the summer rains.