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10 of Australia's most iconic road trips

The beauty of Australia is like nowhere else. There are vast beaches with no one else on them, rainforests where unique birdsong drowns out any human chatter, glistening rivers where dolphins play, and a deep red outback where the spirit of Australia is palpable. Take one of these incredible road trips and marvel at all Australia has to offer.


Aerial view of the Sea Cliff Bridge above the ocean in Wollongong © Destination NSW

Sea Cliff Bridge, Wollongong, New South Wales © Destination NSW

  • Where: New South Wales
  • Recommended trip time: less than a week

Coastal drives fit into a road trip category of their own, with the endless ocean on one side and sweeping landscapes on the other. One of Australia’s most spectacular coastal drives is New South Wales’ Grand Pacific Drive.

At 140 kilometres (87 miles) long, the Grand Pacific Drive is an easy yet epic road trip that begins just south of Sydney in the Royal National Park and clutches the coastline down to the Shoalhaven region. This winding road unfurls onto Wollongong’s Sea Cliff Bridge, which seems to levitate between aquamarine water and rugged cliffs.

Pull in to Kiama to see migrating whales (late May to July and September to November) and a dramatic blowhole, then drive just ten minutes further to the popular surf spot of Werri Beach.

Next, head to Jervis Bay and stroll along the aptly named White Sands Walk to the almost unbelievable bone-white shores of Hyams Beach. Continue down the coast to discover a Shoalhaven secret, Bawley Point near the Murramarang Aboriginal Area, which is home to a giant shell midden and a 2.2-kilometre (1.3-mile) loop walk with interpretive signs. Visit the kangaroos just down the road at Pebbly Beach, and if you have time, consider extending your trip to Canberra to experience all that the nation’s capital has to offer, including an exciting and diverse dining scene. 


Couple stands near their car on the golden sands of Stockton Beach in Port Stephens © Tourism Australia

Stockton Beach, Port Stephens, New South Wales © Tourism Australia

  • Where: New South Wales and Queensland
  • Recommended trip time:1 to 2 weeks

The 900-kilometre (560-mile) route between Sydney and Brisbane features the wineries of the Hunter Valley, the sparkling beaches of Port Stephens, the hippie-chic town of Byron Bay, and the glitz of the Gold Coast. It’s no wonder this remarkable stretch is named the Legendary Pacific Coast.

It’s a wind-the-windows-down kind of road trip that embraces Australia’s coastal beauty and laid-back vibes. Plus, it passes what many would argue is the country’s most iconic road trip pit stop: the Big Banana in Coffs Harbour.

There are endless memories to be made along this section of the New South Wales and Queensland coastline. Dive into the Newcastle or Merewether ocean baths, pop into biodynamic Krinklewood winery in the Hunter Valley, and sea kayak with the dolphins that call Port Stephens home. You can also visit the furry residents at Port Macquarie’s Koala Hospital, enjoy lunch at The Farm in Byron Bay and see a different side of the Gold Coast on its Hinterland Great Walk.


Moving footage of Uluru at sunset © Tourism NT

Uluru, Northern Territory © Tourism NT

  • Where: Northern Territory
  • Recommended trip time: 1 week

The central Australian outback is a place of transformation. Ancient ochre landscapes, dynamic cultures and bright, starry skies create an energy unique to Australia’s red heart – difficult to put into words, but impossible not to feel.

It’s a region alluring to anyone, but especially those who have never explored central Australia. Driving the Red Centre Way, a loop beginning and ending in the outback town of Alice Springs, means meeting Australian icons at every turn. UluruKata Tjuta and Watarrka National Park (home to Kings Canyon) are the heavy hitters, but don’t overlook the dramatic gorges and cool swimming holes of Tjoritja (the West MacDonnell Ranges).

Let an Aboriginal guide lead you through the round rock domes of Kata Tju*t*a and share with you a different perspective of the surrounding lands. Stay near Uluru and be spellbound by the dazzling Field of Light display as it illuminates simultaneously with the stars. By day or night, the beauty of the Red Centre is unmistakable. 


Slow motion aerial footage of the winding road of the Great Barrier Reef Drive © Sam Zulueta

Great Barrier Reef Drive, Queensland © Sam Zulueta

  • Where: Queensland
  • Recommended trip time: less than a week

Not all great drives are long drives, even in a place as big as Australia. At only 140 kilometres (87 miles) long, the Great Barrier Reef Drive – from the tropical city of Cairns to the wilds of Cape Tribulation – offers more than its fair share of wonders. Where else can you see two World Heritage sites (the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest) at the same time? Or spot the vibrant colours of both cassowary birds and coral?

You can also chill beneath palms in Port Douglas, search for tree kangaroos, and snorkel over the kaleidoscope of colours and creatures on the reef. For a more profound understanding of the incredible ecosystems of Australia’s tropical north, wander through the world’s oldest tropical rainforest with an Aboriginal guide.


Couple enjoys the view of mountains from an infinity pool at Lake Argyle Resort © Tourism Western Australia

Lake Argyle Resort near Kununurra, Western Australia © Tourism Western Australia

  • Where: Western Australia
  • Recommended trip time: One to two weeks

The centre of the Kimberley is as vast and majestic as its famous coastline. The Gibb River Road, which stretches from Derby (near Broome*)* to almost as far as Kununurra, is a legendary outback route for good reason. Offering secluded gorges, rocky ridges and that indescribable open-road feeling, it’s a drive that will change you with each of its 660 kilometres (410 miles).

Though much of this road is corrugated and requires a 4WD vehicle, the bumps will be forgotten as you spot your first bulbous boab tree or glimpse the rugged Cockburn Range. Take the time to stop and soak in a glassy waterhole, immerse yourself in Aboriginal culture at the Mowanjum Aboriginal Art and Cultural Centre and float in Lake Argyle’s famous infinity pool while overlooking undulating islands.

Whether you camp under a clear, starry sky or check-in at luxury accommodation on a cattle station, the Kimberley will get under your skin in the most transformative of ways.

You might even decide to continue the adventure: the Gibb feeds into the Savannah Way and continues all the way to North Queensland.


Aerial view of white dunes and outback landscape in Coober Pedy © M Payne Creative

Coober Pedy, South Australia © M Payne Creative

  • Where: South Australia and the Northern Territory
  • Recommended trip time: more than two weeks

Wilpena Pound, a natural amphitheatre that looks like a giant meteorite crater, is just one of many dramatic locations in the 600-million-year-old Flinders Ranges. This dramatic natural wonder is found a five-hour drive from Adelaide, along the Explorers Way.

Meandering all the way from Adelaide to Darwin, the Explorers Way passes through a remarkable landscape of ancient gorges, weathered peaks and red rock canyons. Along the way, you’ll come across the underground city of Coober Pedy as well as one of the outback’s most famous pubs, the Prairie Hotel, where you can order an Aussie feast of grilled kangaroo, camel and emu.

After crossing the border into the Northern Territory, you’ll soon see the majestic Ulu*r*u and Kata Tju*t*a appear ahead as the earth turns red beneath your tyres.

Encompassing Australia from bottom to top (or vice-versa), this is a road trip and a half. It’s even more rewarding if you have a 4WD and can diverge to explore smaller dirt tracks. To sweeten the deal, spend some time in South Australia’s Clare Valley on your way into the outback for a top-notch riesling wine tasting.


Southern right whale mother and calf swim next to stark white cliffs at the Head of Bight © South Australian Tourism Commission/Adam Bruzzone

Southern right whales, Head of Bight, Eyre Peninsula, South Australia © South Australian Tourism Commission/Adam Bruzzone

  • Where: South Australia
  • Recommended trip time: One to two weeks

If experiencing Australia’s wide-open spaces is on your wishlist, set your sights on the Nullarbor Plain, located along the Great Australian Bight. In Latin, Nullarbor means treeless (nullus, meaning no, and *arbor* meaning tree), but these vast plains are far from barren.

There are some incredible experiences to be found as you drive along the open road. On South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula, you can stand on the edge of Australia at the Head of Bight to watch southern right whales nurse their calves (between May and October). The Nullarbor is also home to the longest golf course in the world (1,365 kilometres / 848 miles long, with a hole at each participating town or roadhouse).

Add in caves, old gold mining towns, the remains of a space station that crashed to earth, and character-rich roadhouses, and the Nullarbor becomes a bucket list Aussie road trip.


A car drives along the beach next to aqua water in Esperance © Tourism Western Australia

Esperance, South West Edge road trip, Western Australia © Tourism Western Australia

  • Where: Western Australia
  • Recommended trip time: One to two weeks

This road trip from Perth to Esperance has it all: blindingly white beaches, ocean so clear you can see down to your toes, forests harbouring some of the tallest trees in the world, and wildflowers found nowhere else. Best of all, you may have many of these remarkable sites all to yourself.

Allocate at least 10 days to do the South West Edge road trip and lose yourself in the natural high that comes from exploring somewhere bathed in beauty. Be sure to meet Lucky Bay’s beachcombing kangaroos, bounce on a walkway suspended in the treetops at the Valley of the Giants, and join an expedition to watch killer whales (between late January and April).

If that’s not unexpected enough, you can also fly over the bubblegum-pink Lake Hillier. And of course, this trip isn’t complete without a stop in the renowned Margaret River wine region. 


Person stands on a peak overlooking the white, curved beach of Wineglass Bay © Matt Donovan

Wineglass Bay, Freycinet National Park, Tasmania © Matt Donovan

  • Where: Tasmania
  • Recommended trip time: less than a week

From snow-capped mountains to sapphire-blue bays, Tasmania is overflowing with natural beauty. Take in Tassie’s coastal wonders as you follow one of the island’s grandest road trips – the Great Eastern Drive.

Head north from Hobart to the Bay of Fires, where the beaches are white, the air is clean and the scenery is magnificent. Wander around the sandstone ruins of the World Heritage-listed Port Arthur convict settlement one day, then on another find yourself walking among wombats and exploring extraordinary kaleidoscope cliffs on Maria Island.

Settle in at award-winning luxury hotel Saffire Freycinet, then pull on waders to eat fresh-from-the-ocean oysters while standing in the water where they grew. Climb a ridge and marvel over the perfect curve of Wineglass Bay*,* and throughout the whole trip, treat yourself to Tasmania’s bountiful food, wine and spirits.


View of the 12 Apostles, limestone formations rising from the ocean in Victoria © Great Ocean Road Tourism / Belinda VanZanen

12 Apostles, Great Ocean Road, Victoria © Great Ocean Road Tourism / Belinda VanZanen

  • Where: Victoria
  • Recommended trip time: less than a week

The Great Ocean Road is one of Australia’s most thrilling drives, studded with dramatic views of craggy coastline – so take it slow and enjoy the unforgettable views.

You’ll marvel at the famous 12 Apostles’ towering limestone rock formations – stunning at any time of day, but especially as the setting sun turns the cliff face a fiery red. Scale historic lighthouses, spot koalas on the drive towards Cape Otway Lightstation, and visit cafés and pubs overlooking the Southern Ocean (Wye Beach Hotel is a local favourite).

There’s more to discover too, with rainforest, shipwrecks, migrating whales (between May and September), national parks, wild surf and windswept beaches on the agenda. Do it right and space this 243-kilometre (150-mile) trip over a couple of days.