Road trippin' in Australia
- article by Rebecca Foster
Flying may be quicker, but if you've got time to spare then going on a road trip will provide the chance to see a whole lot more of what this vast country has to offer.
Sometimes when you're travelling, the journey matters more than the destination. If you’re thinking of setting out on a road trip to explore the colossal land that is Australia, this couldn’t be truer.
From dense tropical rainforest to sprawling scarlet outback, craggy ocean cliffs to alpine roads winding through cool mist, Australia really does have it all - and one of the best ways to enjoy this rich natural tapestry is on four wheels. The sheer amount of miles you’ll be covering on the road trips listed here means that planning is essential, or you can just dip in and out of the enticing stretches that tickle your fancy.
Trip the tip
Thought to be one of the more adventurous road trips Australia has to offer, the journey from Cairns up to Cape York offers you the chance to discover some of the country’s wildest scenery - not to mention the fact that you’ll be visiting the northern-most peninsula of the country. If the thought of embarking on this journey tempts, then there is a choice of routes. The first winds up the coast from Cairns via Cape Tribulation, through the Daintree Rainforest, the Bloomfield Track and up to Cooktown. Stunning vistas are plentiful, and this is one of the only places in Australia where you’ll see gorgeous tropical rainforest so close to the nation’s supreme ocean treasure, the Great Barrier Reef.
On the other hand, the inland route allows you to zoom up the Mulligan highway towards Laura. Camping opportunities abound at the Lakefield National Park, close to Laura, where natural gems include shimmering rivers and lagoons that are home to a plethora of endangered wildlife species - including saltwater crocodiles.
Many miles later, 7 kilometres north of Lockerbie, you will reach the tip of mainland Australia at the Cape York Peninsula, so have your camera ready. There’s plenty to see in the area, from the Torres Straight Islands to Thursday Island.
Isolated, unspoilt natural beauty is one of Tasmania’s main draws. Separated from mainland Australia by the Bass Strait, this island is a hotspot of arts, culture and gastronomic delights - not to mention the stunning scenery. Forty-five percent of the state is comprised of national parks and reserves, and heading off on a road trip is one of the best ways to enjoy them. The heavily forested interior of the island makes it a little more difficult to explore, so if you’re heading off on four wheels then you’re better off sticking (more or less) to the coastline. The east coast of the island, from Hobart up to the Bay of Fires offers up a feast for the eyes (and stomach) as it takes you right past the Freycinet Peninsula, where you can stop off at the local marine farm to sample freshly caught oysters.
From Hobart, start your journey by heading up to Orford where you can catch the ferry to Maria Island for a quick day trip. Next, head up towards Swansea before moving on up towards Wineglass Bay – where you can take a dip with dolphins. From here, drive up to St Helens and then onwards to the Bay of Fires.
Explore the north
The Savannah Way - one of Australia’s most highly-rated road trip routes – connects the western city of Broome to the eastern hub of Cairns, in Queensland. Stretching for 3,700 kilometres across 15 national parks and five treasured World Heritage sites at the top end of the Northern Territory, this is a journey that highlights the colossal scope of the Australian land mass.
From the tropics of Queensland to historical Broome, there’s plenty to enjoy on this ride, from spectacular gorges to fascinating sites of interest if you’re seeking to learn a bit more about the country’s indigenous cultures. Katherine is the central hub of this route, and between here and Broome you can immerse yourself in the endless horizons, Aboriginal rock art and thrilling gorge swimming opportunities.
Other highlights of this route can be discovered on the Katherine to Normanton leg of the journey. If you’re in a four-wheel-drive, indulge your sense of adventure by taking the Roper Route, and let the wild beauty of the Northern Territory reveal itself. Riverside camping spots abound, and there are plenty of places to pitch up if you fancy squeezing in an afternoon of excellent fishing.
If you have a particular penchant for stunning coastal scenery, but also want to get off the beaten track of Victoria’s Great Ocean Road, then taking the legendary path up Australia’s Pacific coast may provide just the vistas you’re dreaming of. Possible to complete in just five days, this route serves up just about everything you could ask for in a road trip - unforgettable views, magnificent beaches and a coastline dotted with quaint towns and excellent eateries.
The first leg of the journey will take you from Sydney up to Port Stephens, stopping at the seaside town of Terrigal if you have time. Day two will take you up to Port Macquarie, another coastal town with an irresistibly relaxing vibe. Highlights here include the Koala Hospital, where you can learn about what’s being done to help sustain the population of these adorable creatures. Next up is Coffs Harbour, before you head even further north to the legendary Byron Bay. Known for its great surfing and spiritual wellness retreats, Byron Bay boasts a laid-back charm. From here, it’s two hours north to Brisbane, the final destination on your Pacific coast road trip.
The long and winding road
While the Great Ocean Road is without doubt Victoria’s most well-known road trip route, the alternative offered by the Great Alpine Road is something of an extravagance for travelling foodies. Fresh produce and cool climate wines can be found at their best, and you’re likely to find yourself sipping on many a craft beer and nibbling on freshly-baked goods from one of the region’s exquisite local bakeries.
There’s several ways to approach this journey across southern Australia’s 339 kilometres worth of peaks, and the road will guide you through a multitude of the country’s diverse landscapes. The first leg of your journey might take you from Wangaratta to Bright, where there will be plenty of chances to sample the best of the local produce - don’t miss the Milawa Cheese Factory. From leafy Bright, it’s onwards and upwards to Omeo, ascending majestic peaks and travelling through alpine villages. Once you reach Omeo, you’ll start your descent towards Bairnsdale and on to Metung - a great jumping off point to explore the breathtaking Gippsland Lakes. End your trail at Metung with freshly caught seafood and a bottle of the local vino.
- If you’re exploring the east coast of Tasmania, don’t miss the chance to get the ferry over to Maria Island. This is Tasmania’s only island national park, and is home to Tasmanian Devils, kangaroos and wombats. It is car-free, so you’ll need to leave your wheels on Tasmania’s mainland if you’re planning to head out this way.
- For road trippers who are tripping the tip and making their way up to Cape York, don’t miss Laura’s exceptional array of Aboriginal rock art at the Split Rock sandstone escarpment. Dating back 30,000 years, it’s some of the finest in the country.
- In addition to the city of Katherine, Kununurra is a major hub for those making their way along The Savannah Way. If you’ve got time, it’s well worth stopping here to explore the attractions in the El Questro and Home Valleys.
- Terrigal is a great place to make a stop if you’re following the road up the Pacific Coast. Situated between Sydney and Port Stephens, Terrigal is home to a wealth of irresistible restaurants and an enticing selection of boutique shops.
- If you were planning on doing the Great Alpine Road route in November, try to coincide your journey with Wangaratta’s annual jazz festival to enjoy the city at its best.