If you’re thinking of heading down under, an Australia road trip has to be one of the best options for seeing the most of this diverse (and pretty enormous!) country.

Grab some wheels and set out into the unknown, either through the western outback, along the beautiful, rugged coastlines or deep into the heart of the red centre of Australia.

Drive across the Outback in Australia | Travel Nation

 

1. East coast: Cairns to Brisbane

This drive between Cairns and Brisbane is one of the most popular road trip routes in Australia. The winding drive stays close to the coast and passes some of the country’s most impressive natural highlights – Fraser Island, the Whitsundays and of course, the Great Barrier Reef Islands. A great introduction to Australia, Queensland is the adventure centre of Oz, with skydiving, bungee jumping and rafting being just a few of the adventures you can choose.

The stunning shore of Queensland is reason enough to drive the entirety of the coastal route from Cairns to Brisbane, but the myriad of beaches and islands accessible from the road is another game-changer if you're thinking of choosing this route! The road is well maintained with sections so close to the coast you’ll almost skim the water’s edge, so make sure you include Cairns to Brisbane as a surface sector of your round the world trip.

The whole family are sure to fall in love with Hamilton Island | Photo credit: Tourism and Events Queensland

Highlights: Cape Tribulation, Mission Beach, Whitsunday Islands, Fraser Island.

Stop at Seventeen Seventy; a stunning little town along the Capricorn Coast where Captain Cook first landed in 1770 which offers fantastic coastal walks.

When to go? Australian winter (June-September) is the best time to see Queensland. The hotter summers bring humidity where the warm winters are dry and pleasant, especially for driving.

How long? Take your time with this one; a minimum of two weeks will make sure you see the highlights at the relaxed pace that Queenslanders are used to.

Brisbane to Cairns self-drive | map

2. Pacific Highway: Brisbane to Sydney

This route takes you between two of Australia's largest cities, Sydney and Brisbane. Once you’ve left Brisbane you’re basically just hopping from beach to beach as you journey along the Pacific coast. The pretty rocks of Bouddi National Park and wide open beaches of Lennox Head and Byron Bay lead you south, with locals and travellers alike taking to the waves with their surfboards.

The east coast drive runs parallel to the humpback whales' migration route towards Antarctica, so you can stop almost anywhere along the route and book on to a whale watching trip. Head inland to the Hunter Valley for a vineyard tour and sample a fine glass of Chardonnay before cruising into Sydney and settling into a quayside bar to watch the sunset behind the sails of the opera house.

Explore the beautiful beaches of Byron Bay | Travel Nation

The rugged shore of the Pacific coast shelters many beautiful inlets and coves that are begging to be discovered and driving is the perfect way to explore! Using public transport or flying means that huge chunks of the idyllic seashore remain unseen and believe me, it’s you that will be missing out. The locals along this populated shore are friendly and happy to share their paradise with you – the ball’s in your court!

Highlights: Gold Coast, Byron Bay, Hunter Valley, Lennox Head.

This drive includes the Bouddi National Park, Seal Rocks and Lennox Head which are off the beaten track and make this amazing coastal drive all the more memorable.

When to go? For comfortable temperatures, stick to spring and autumn to drive this heavenly route.

How long? 5 days is probably the minimum but as soon as you hit Byron Bay and the Hunter Valley, you’ll want to extend it to 9 or 10. 

Pacific Highway: Brisbane to Sydney | map

3. Great Ocean Road: Melbourne to Adelaide

One of the world’s most scenic coastal drives, the Great Ocean Road weaves its way alongside the windswept Southern Ocean. Home to some of Australia’s most famous surf meccas (Bells Beach near Torquay holds major championships) and the limestone towers known as the 12 Apostles in Port Campbell National Park, you’ll discover an unblemished coastline within an easy drive of Melbourne. Venture into the pristine rainforest for a bush walk to find an astonishing variety of native wildlife including koalas, kangaroos and maybe a platypus or two.

Discover delicious local produce in the quaint village of Port Fairy, see Cape Otway Lighthouse - Australia’s oldest mainland lighthouse, and learn about ancient aboriginal life at the Narana Aboriginal Cultural Centre.

Drive Australia's Great Ocean Road | Travel Nation

Highlights: 12 Apostles, London Bridge, Tower Hill Reserve

"The best way to get a bird's eye view of every one of the Twelve Apostles and the shipwreck coast is with a scenic helicopter flight."

When to go? The summer months (December and January) see hot temperatures and chaotic tourist spots. Consider visiting in the quieter winter months (June to August) when whale sightings are common, sunsets intense and the roads are quieter.

How long? Don’t rush. Day-trippers from Melbourne are a common site but you’ll want to spend 3 days exploring everything along the way.

The Great Ocean Road: Melbourne to Adelaide | map

4. Adelaide to Darwin: The Stuart Highway

This classic route echoes the journey made by John McDouall Stuart to get from Adelaide to Darwin, the capital of the Northern Territory on the coast. Follow the lonely road through the heart of Australia and watch the scenery change from the mountainous Flinders Ranges into the red rock of the central desert and the huge gorges of the north. Nearly 3000km of road, this is the ultimate road trip that will lead you through the heart of the Australian outback.

Nothing says road trip like the deserts of Australia, where the best way to experience true Aussie spirit is to set off into the distance and not look back. This route through the wilderness to the northern coast of Australia was only completed by John McDouall Stuart and his team 150 years ago and travelling through the vast centre of the country is still seen as a huge achievement!

Spot wild kangaroos as you travel to Uluru | Travel Nation

Highlights: Flinders Ranges, Uluru, Kings Canyon, Katherine Gorge.

Katherine Gorge is amazing. Kayaking amongst the birds and wildlife by day, camping under the Milky Way by night. Stunning.

When to go? April to early October is the most popular time to drive, when temperatures are cooler and humidity lower, and once you get to the far north, it’s much cooler to explore Darwin and surrounds. The rest of the year is the rainy season and daily rainstorms are fairly common - that said, visiting during the rainy season also gives a unique view of Central Australia that few tourists experience.

How long? You’ll need ideally a minimum of 10 days although trips to Uluru and Kings Canyon may mean you take this route a little slower than expected.

Tip: If you’d prefer not to drive this route – check out the Ghan train which covers the same route.

Adelaide to Darwin: The Stuart Highway | map

5. Southwest edge: Adelaide to Perth

The long route along Australia's southern coast is one of the most impressive drives on our list, largely thanks to the plains through which it snakes its way from Adelaide to Perth. The Nullarbor Plain (null – no arbor – trees) is a huge expanse and one of the harshest environments in the country, with stretches of road where you won’t see a soul or building for hundreds of kilometres. One 90 mile section of road is completely straight – you’d have to have pretty good eyes to see the end though! Don’t forget to stop in Cape Le Grand National Park for the beautiful beaches and Kalgoorlie to see the gold panning.

‘Crossing the Nullarbor’ is one of the classic Australian outback experiences and one of the ultimate Aussie drives. The open road and absence of cities mean it is one of the best places for stargazing – pull over, lie down on the bonnet and see if you can spot the ‘The Emu in the Sky’ and the Southern Cross. You won’t see these views if you fly from Adelaide to Perth!

Hutt Lagoon near Port Gregory turns pink in summer | Travel Nation

Highlights: The Nullarbor Plain, Kalgoorlie, Cape Le Grand National Park, Wave Rock.

Don't miss cage diving with sharks in Port Lincoln - what an amazing experience!

When to go? In the searing heat of the Australian summer, this trip would not be so pleasant. Instead, pack your bags for this trip sometime between July and September.

How long? Allow around ten days from Perth to Adelaide will mean you have enough time to soak in the solitude of this beautifully scenic road. 

South west edge: Adelaide to Perth | map

6. Tasmania's Ocean Loop

Tasmania’s island status often excludes it from collections of great Australian road trips but we saw no need for that here. Tasmania is an easy ride from Melbourne on the ferry or a simple 1hr 15-minute flight and the ocean road loops right around the island meaning you can stay close to the rugged beaches that encase this beautiful isle. History, culture and wildlife await you in the jewel of Australia.

There is no better way to see Tasmania than to drive. The opportunity to stop and explore wherever you please is a massive bonus when visiting the island. Rather than sticking to the city, driving gives you the chance to uncover areas of Tasmania that are inaccessible by public transport. The distances are short and the views incredible; Tasmania has the recipe for the perfect road trip!

Spot wallabies in Freycinet National Park | Travel Nation

Highlights: Wineglass Bay, Port Arthur, Table Mountain, Hobart.

A fantastic stop on this route is Kate's Berry Farm on the east coast. Stop here for beautiful views and homemade milkshakes and cheesecake!

When to go? Summer and early autumn in Australia (December to April) are the most pleasant seasons to visit Tasmania, with warm days and cool refreshing nights. You can easily fly into Hobart or get the ferry from Melbourne across to Devonport. We can arrange the ferry tickets for you, just ask us! 

How long? You could technically drive round Tasmania in 3 days and rush past everything, but your best bet is to stretch it out for 8 – 13 days and enjoy everything the Apple Isle has to offer.

Tasmania Ocean Loop | map

7. The West Coast: Perth to Broome

If you really want to get off the tourist trail, head west to drive the amazing road between Perth and Broome. This route takes you through the bush into the real wilderness of Australia, hugging the coast as the road heads north through the gorges of Western Australia. Spot wild dolphins in Monkey Mia and dive on the Ningaloo Reef before arriving in Broome to relax on the red beaches of Roebuck Bay.

Western Australia is much less visited than the eastern coast which means that the impact of tourism is less noticeable on this side of the country. Driving through the untouched outback, hopping between national parks and empty beaches is a brilliant way to get to know his area, rather than simply visiting the main city of Perth. With so much to offer, this drive will allow you to fall in love with the deserving west of Australia.

10 reasons to try a group tour

Highlights: Monkey Mia, Ningaloo Reef, Karanjini National Park, Shark Bay

Don’t miss swimming with whale sharks at Ningaloo Reef and exploring the gorges in Karijini National Park

When to go: Spring (September – November) and autumn (March – May) are the best times to drive, avoiding the hot, dry season and the rainy season.

How long: Around 12 days will cover this drive but the stunning national parks and beaches on the road to Broome may tempt you to stay longer.

West coast: Perth to Broome | map

Interested in taking an Australian road trip? 

We are experts at planning Australia road trips, tailor-made Australia holidays and multi-stop flights including Australia. We can help you arrange flights, hotels, campervan and car hire, and all kinds of excursions. Our consultants have travelled extensively in Australia, so we'll be able to give you first-hand and honest advice. To start planning your Australia trip, just give us a call on +44 1273320580 or send us an email request and we'll get straight back to you. 

Have your considered working your way around Australia? | Photo credit: Greg Snell

Month by month: the ultimate road trip route planner

Bryony Dunn

Content Marketing Specialist
at Travel Nation
Visit Rottnest Island near Perth, Australia | Travel Nation

Visit Perth and beyond: a South West Australia road trip

Tara Hicks

Travelling friend
at Travel Nation
Soak up the beautiful scenery in Oahu | Travel Nation

12 Unusual stopovers to Australia and New Zealand

Bryony Dunn

Content Marketing Specialist
at Travel Nation
Request a quote