5 Best Road Trips in Australia

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Photo by Fezbot2000

Australia is one of those countries where you go visiting for a few months, mostly due to how long it takes to get there, especially when you consider flying from Europe. Also, the size of the country has a big say in planning a trip – I mean, Australia IS an entire continent waiting to be discovered! Without a doubt, the best way to travel through Australia is by car.

A road trip through Australia not only gives you the freedom to explore the country at your own pace but it’s fun as well!

 

What you need to know about driving in Australia

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Photo by Thandy Yung

As a tourist with an English driving license, you are allowed to drive in Australia for three months without needing an international Drivers Permit. However, if your driving license is in any other language then English, you will need to obtain the IDP from your home country, to be able to drive in Australia.

Same as in England, Australians drive on the left-hand side of the road and the cars have the steering wheel on the right-hand side. However, they use the metric system for distances and not the miles. Just a reminder, 1 mile = 1.6km. Automatic cars are quite popular in Australia, but manuals are also available to rent.

It’s important to know that tolls can only be paid electronically, so when you hire a car ask your rental company about this. They usually will charge you an extra fee a day, if you plan to use toll roads around Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. The rental companies have an agreement with the NSW Road Traffic Authority to include these fees in your hire agreement.

If possible, try not to drive at night because that’s when the wild life is more active, especially in the outback areas. Most of the accidents in Australia happen in the rural areas and at night.

 

Road trip essentials

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Australia is a huge continent, with only 30% of its population living inland. There might be roads on which you won’t find a service station for miles and if you do, it might be closed during the night. Make sure you plan ahead and know where you are going to refuel the car. Have a back-up plan with a few options for each place, just in case.

Also, take plenty of water and snacks with you, especially if you a renting a campervan. Also, make sure none of the following is missing from your car: GPS, but also a map – just in case; a power bank, a local SIM card, a spare wheel, a torch, a first aid kit, sun screen and insect repellent. If you want to travel in remote areas, bring a satellite phone with you as well. Phone signal inland Australia is not the best and if something happens with your car, it’s essential to be able to call for help.

 

What type of car?

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Photo by Simon Rae

Whilst in an European country you would think of doing a road trip in a small car, in Australia you do need to consider the distances you will cover every day, the places you will sleep overnight and your own personal comfort. This is why I recommend hiring or even buying a campervan, especially if you plan a longer road trip. Second hand cars are not very expensive in Australia and you can always sell it back on websites such as Gumtree or Ebay after you finish the road trip. Also, rental companies usually will put restrictions on where you can and can’t drive the hired vehicle, so buying your own, if you are in Australia for a month or so, makes sense.

A campervan can save a lot of money in the long run, as you don’t have to pay for accommodation, you can cook on the gas stove inside and it doesn’t eat as much gas as a motorhome for example.

 

The Gold Coast: Sydney to Brisbane

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Photo by Holger Link

The NSW coast is a paradise for nature lovers and this is why, even if it takes only 11 hours to drive between Sydney and Brisbane, you should stop along the way and make it a week’s long road trip. With so many attractions, it would be a sin not to. And this is without mentioning all the stunning photo opportunities that you will encounter.

The road between Sydney and Brisbane is pretty straight forward, on a well-maintained freeway. The Legendary Pacific Coast, as this highway is also called, takes you on a 900km scenic drive alongside the most beautiful national parks in the New South Wales.

 

Some of the attractions along the way include:

Avoca Beach – A beautiful surfing and holiday resort with white sand beaches and plenty of water sports activities. The resort is located between two rocky headlands, with a lake behind. Every 4th Sunday of the month a beachside market takes place on the promenade.

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Photo by Tim Patch

Newcastle – This coastal city, 2 hours away from Sydney, has stunning views over the harbour and a lovely 5 km path alongside the beach, on which you can walk or cycle. Newcastle is a great place to stop during your road trip to Brisbane if you are a foodie, with so many different dining options especially on Beaumont and Darby Streets, which are packed with cafes and restaurants. From Newcastle you can easily reach Hunter Valley, a winegrowing area with 9 vineyards where you can taste the local wine.

Port Stephens – A less touristy destination among international tourists, Port Stephens is a great town to stop at for some quiet time, with stunning views. Located in Tomaree National Park, you can get beautiful views over the entire harbour from the summit of Tomaree Head. One of the most popular activities in Port Stephens is whale and dolphin watching which you can do through an organised tour or by yourself, if you hire your own “tinnie” boat. The beaches around Port Stephens are very beautiful as well, especially the sandbar from Fingal Bay, but don’t go in the water as there have been quite a few shark attacks during the past few years.

Port Macquarie – One of the places you have to pass by in Port Macquarie is the Koala Hospital, a non-profit organisation that cares for the sick and injured koalas. Whilst you can get close to a koala during the daily guided tours conducted by volunteers, you can’t hold one. Yes, koalas are adorable, but they are still wild animals and hugging them for our own pleasure and that picture-perfect Instagram shot is causing them distress. It’s actually illegal to hold a koala in Australia, except for Queensland. So don’t do it, even If you have the opportunity! Be a responsible tourist!

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Photo by David Clode

Yamba – The coastline here in Yamba offers miles of white sand and beautiful surf waves. It’s a great place to stop for a few days and relax because of its lack of tourists. There are many hiking trails around that follow beaches alongside rocky landscape and natural pools of water in which you can swim. Winter is a great season for dolphin and whale watching in Yamba.

Byron Bay – This is probably the most popular holiday destination in New South Wales, both for locals and for international tourists. And no wonder, with stretches of beautiful sandy beaches, aqua blue shades of the ocean and surfing waves all year round – no matter the weather.  There is a beach for every type of traveller in Byron Bay – crowded surfing ones but also lesser known ones which are accessible through the Byron Lighthouse Walk. Kayaking with dolphins? Yes, you can do this in Byron Bay, together with learning how to surf or scuba dive with the grey nurse sharks in the Julian Rocks.

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Photo by Brad Halcrow

The Gold Coast – As it’s so close to Brisbane and so popular with tourists, The Gold Coast is a more expensive area of the country. However, it is still very beautiful, and you don’t have to spend a lot of money to admire the beaches, take surf lessons or explore the inland rainforests, such as Lamington and Springbrook.

 

Some of the activities you can do along the way from Sydney to Brisbane include:

Go wine tasting in Hunter Valley (96 euros)

Kayak with dolphins in Byron Bay (45 euros)

Learn how to surf in Byron Bay (42 euros)

Experience the sunrise in a hot air balloon (193 euros)

Have an Aussie farm experience with lunch included (25 euros)

Go on a Segway Safari experience on the Gold Coast (54 euros)

Cairns to Cape Tribulation

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Photo by Chaz McGregor

Compared with other road trips in Australia, the one from Cairns to Cape Tribulation is very short, having only 126 km. However, there are a few beautiful places where you should stop on the way, which will make this road trip around 3 days long.

This road trip might be short but it’s full of adventure. In fact, part of the road is called the Captain Hook Highway – and that’s not at all a joke. It is a very scenic drive along the coast, with beautiful views towards the rainforest.

Some of the attractions along the way include:

The Great Barrier Reef – Technically in Cairns, you can’t leave the city without taking a boat to see the Great Barrier Reef. Or what’s left of it, anyway. The Great Barrier Reef is one of the seven natural wonders of the world and it includes an array of unique exotic corals and wildlife. It is possible to book a day or an overnight boat tour or to take a scenic flight over the reef, from Cairns.

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Photo by csharker

Mossman Gorge – Hidden in the south part of the Daintree National Park, Mossman Gorge is a World Heritage site that offers great trails through the rainforest which are passed by refreshing swimming holes. You can either do them yourself or go for a “Guided Dreamtime Walk”, where an indigenous local will lead you through the gorge along private paths and where you will also experience traditional ceremonies and demonstrations. It is worth taking this tour if you are interested in the local culture.

Palm Cove – This quiet village by the sea is the home of the Skyrail, a scenic cable car ride above the rainforest.  The floor of the cabins is made out of glass, so you can admire the tops of the canopies just below your feet.

Port Douglas – Another accessible gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, Port Douglas is also the town of the Flames of the Forest, a unique candle lit dining experience in the rainforest. What is special about this venue is the immersion into the indigenous local culture through a mesmerising dining and storytelling experience.

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Photo by StreetTalkSavvy

Some of the activities you can do during this road trip include:

Go snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef (116 euros)

Take a scenic helicopter flight over the Great Barrier Reef (177 euros)

Take the Skyrail Rainforest Cable car (51 euros)

Visit Fitzroy Island (51 euros)

Go on a rainforest day tour (113 euros)

Red Centre Way

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Photo by Holger Link

Until now I’ve told you about beautiful coastal drives with stunning views over the ocean, but now it’s time to get inland! Starting at Alice Springs, the Red Centre Way is a unique unpopulated route which leads towards Uluru, one of the most sacred natural sights of Australia.

The road is remote and there aren’t any towns to stop at on the route so make sure you have enough fuel, food and water for at least 5 days (how much is recommended to stretch this road trip to, so you can enjoy the sights on the way). This 600 km road passes through deserted areas and you can drive for hundreds of km without seeing anyone around. Be prepared! There is a gas station at Kings Canyon, 470 km from Alice Springs.

Parts of the Red Centre Way pass through private land belonging to the Aboriginal Land Trust, and this is why you need to buy a permit to cross them. The permit can be bought from the Alice Springs Visitor Information Centre and costs $5.

Some of the attractions along the way include:

Alice Springs Desert Park – To understand the culture of the places you will pass by during this road trip you need to stop at the Alice Springs Desert Park. This is an educational centre where you will learn about the aboriginal people, their culture, the landscape you will be passing through and also the wildlife you will encounter. Is worth going here prior to starting your road trip.

Finke Gorge National Park – Finke is considered by geologists as the world’s oldest river and you should only consider visiting if the weather is good. You can check here the opening times of this particular route, which requires a 4WD vehicle to reach. Finke Gorge National Park is also the home of Palm Valley, where over 3,000 palm trees grow – quite a spectacular sight!

Kings Canyon – After driving for so long in red sand, you will be surprised of the waterfalls and the lush vegetation that Kings Canyon has to offer. Often overlooked by tourists, there are plenty of things to do here, starting with the 6km walk along the rim of the canyon, a helicopter flight above it,  or even quad bike rides.

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Photo by walesjacqueline

Uluru – To access Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park you need to buy a pass which costs $25. There are a lot of things to do here, especially walking trails, so plan to stay at least for a couple of days.

Standley Chasm – Located on Aboriginal Land and with a $10 access fee, Standley Chasm is a unique outback experience, with dramatic cliffs along a hiking path that follows a creek with stone walls that rise 80 meters above. The walk to the top takes only 20 minutes and offers spectacular views.

Some of the activities you can do during this road trip include:

Take a sunset tour at Uluru with sparkling wine and cheeseboard (155 euros)

Go on a sunrise camel safari (85 euros)

Take a helicopter tour above Uluru (158 euros)

Explore King’s Canyon with a guide (152 euros)

The Great Ocean Road

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Photo by Weyne Yew

The Great Ocean Road is famous all around the world for the dramatic views it offers but also for all the rock formations along the way, mentioning here the Twelve Apostles, which everyone has heard of.

The highway stretches for 243 km, from Torquay to Warrnambool, crossing national parks, small villages and stunning scenery. The road has been built as an homage to the fallen soldiers in the World War I, by their comrades and it took 13 years to complete.

Some of the attractions along the way include:

The Twelve Apostles – This is probably the most famous rock formation alongside the Great Ocean Road. The apostles are soft limestone stacks coming up from the sea, formed by the erosion of the sea waves. There used to be 12 stacks but today there are only 8 remaining, the rest collapsed in the ocean. Besides the Twelves Apostles there are many other rock formations along the Great Ocean Road such as the Grotto, the Bay of Islands, the Loch Ard Gorge, etc. It’s worth taking your time and stopping often to admire the wonders the nature did in this part of the world.

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Photo by John Burnett

London Arch – This is another rock formation that is worth mentioning, because of its resemblance to London Bridge, in Great Britain’s capital. Until 1990, when parts of the rocks collapsed, the stack was forming a complete double-span natural bridge.

Teddy’s Lookout – This viewing platform built just behind Lorne offers breath-taking views over the coast and the waves crashing into the shore, where Saint Gorge river flows into the ocean. There is a walking trail that you can follow, for more stunning views.

Lorne – This small town is a perfect place to spend the night at, during your road trip on the Great Ocean Road. Not only that it is very charming, but it is also the getaway to Otway National Park where you will discover stunning waterfalls, remote beaches, rainforest and dramatic scenery. If you stay in Lorne overnight you can also experience the sunset or the sunrise at Teddy’s Lookout!

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Photo by Bruce McLennan

Apollo Bay – This coastal town is another great option for an overnight stay. With plenty of cafes, restaurants and pubs, Apollo Bay also offers plenty of walking trails, as well as a beautiful lookout point with panoramic views over the ocean.

Some of the activities you can do during this road trip include:

Learn how to surf (47 euros)

The 75 Mile Beach Highway

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Photo by Antoine Beauvillain

The 75 miles highway is actually a strip of beach in Fraser Island, 75 miles long, which you can drive in a 4WD car. It is considered to be one of the most beautiful coastal drives in the world because of the dramatic sea views and the white sand. A 4WD is a jeep designed specifically for off road drives. Do not attempt to drive this road in any other car, as you will get stuck in the sand. You’ve guessed it, driving on the 75 Miles Beach Highway is an adventure, especially because of the tide changing all the time, moving the sand around!

What makes this “highway” special is that it’s also the landing strip for light aircrafts. You can actually go on a 20 minutes scenic flight over Fraser Island for around 100$ per person.

There are plenty of things to do and see whilst driving the 75 miles, so I would recommend spending at least 2-3 days here. You will access the island through the “Hook Point”. The rental company where you hired the 4WD car from should give you a map of the island, including the high and low tides times and distances between the attractions.

The wildlife on Fraser Island includes dingoes, a type of wild dog native to Australia. Remember that even if they look like dogs, they are still wild animals, don’t get out of your car to pet them.

 

Some of the attractions along the way include:

Eli Creek – a popular picnic and swimming in clear cold-water spot. This creek pumps four million litres of fresh water into the ocean every hour. Get a boogie board or an air bed, follow the boardwalk inland until it descents into the water, and float down the creek towards the ocean

Indian Head Lookout – located in the North of the island, this rock formation is a perfect place to watch the sunset from and try to spot dolphins and whales swimming in the ocean. Walking distance from The Indian Head there are the Champagne Pools, natural swimming pools full of bubbles because of the waves crashing into the rocks around them. It’s like a giant natural jacuzzi.

The Pinnacles – These are beautifully coloured cliffs stained by iron-rich minerals, thousands of years ago. There are over 72 different colours here, mostly shades of reds, yellows and browns. They are important for the local aboriginal Butchulla People, who believe it’s a sacred women’s place.

The shipwreck of the ocean liner SS Maheno – this is another very popular spot on the 75 Miles Beach Highway. SS Maheno was a New Zeeland 5000-ton ship that drifted away during a cyclone whilst it was being towed from Sydney to Osaka, in 1935. The access to the ship is prohibited, due to the dangerous condition of the wreck, after so many years of rusting in salty water. However, you can still admire it from the outside if you keep your distance, for safety.

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Photo by Matt Lamers

Woongoolba Creek Boardwalk – Also known as the “Silent Creek” because of how the water flows through without making any sounds. The water here is so clear and see through that sometimes it’s hard to notice that there is anything at all flowing over the sand.

Some of the activities you can do on Fraser Island include:

A 4 hours Eco-Sailing Adventure (55 euros)

A Harvey Bay Champaign Sunset Sail (42 euros)

A Harvey Bay Whale Watch Encounter (75 euros)

A Beach and Aussie BBQ Cruise from Harvey Bay (65 euros)

A Remote Fraser Island and Whale Experience, where you swim with humpback whales in their natural environment (126 euros)

 

What do you think, are you ready for a road trip adventure in Australia?

 

 

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Traveler. Dreamer. Cat lover. Wondering around the world with my backpack and my camera. Contributing to make the world a better place.

32 Comments

  1. I have never been to Australia plus I can’t drive but I know I would like to see Uluru mountain and see its colour changes plus Avoca beach looks so beautiful.

  2. Goodness! Now I want to go on a road trip! A road trip at the Red center way and he great ocean road would have to be my favorites! Those places look so spectacular! I wouldn’t mind stopping always to get a couple of pictures.

  3. Those views look awesome! Thank you for sharing this valuable information. I feel like I have a mapped out trip thanks to your post

  4. I’ve never been to Australia and your post makes me want to make a trip there terribly!! Lucky that I read this post before I do tho cuz now I know exactly what not to miss! Thanks so much!!!

  5. Australia sounds like such an amazing place to go and visit. I have to admit I would love to go one day. There are just so many amazing sights there, so many different places and things to see and do.

  6. Oh my, these pictures are speaking in itself! Loving the hues and the perfect shots of each photo. Hoping to visit Australia someday. I’d definitely try the Mossman Gorge, and see the path for myself… and stay connected with nature for a while.

  7. That’s interesting that you can buy and sell cars so easily over there. I love the beautiful pictures you put up. I’d love to come across a Koala or waterfall like that…

  8. Bookmarking this post! I just moved to Australia and would love to hit the roads soon when the sun comes up. I’m most excited for the Gold Coast and hot beaches.

    Thanks for sharing this!

  9. All of the road trips there look absolutely amazing. And great pics here to go with them. I’m an American so it would feel weird to drive on the opposite side of the road, but it might make left hand turns more comfortable I imagine.

  10. I have been quite lucky in being able to see quite a bit of Australia so far and I must say you have put together a truly amazing list of road trip options in this post. Each one of the trips you have chosen is so picturesque and ideal for creating lasting, wonderful memories. Great advice as well regarding general driving conditions in Australia to appreciate the vast distances that exist between certain destinations – always better to be safe than sorry when travelling this ruggedly beautiful land.

  11. My friend is currently over travelling in Australia (I live in the uk) and she’s been to Byron Bay and she loved it. Looked like a beautiful place 🙂 I will send all of these suggestions to her for sure :3

  12. I did many road trips in Australia during my years of studies and working there. Did the NSW – Bribane road trip once and it was scorching hot during summer. And I agree it is pretty straight forward and great for beginers. However one thing may need to take extra notice is not to fall asleep as the road is too straight. My friend almost got me killed and crashed his car at the side, near Bribane. Luckily we survived the crash and didnt have much injuries. The beaches that you listed here are some of the best beaches in NSW. I still have very fond memories going to Newcastle beaches weekly during my Uni days.

  13. Wow, I didn’t know Australia drivers drive left sided. That must be a bit confusing for me, if I ever do a road trip there. But aside of that, I love this post, those beautiful destinations… I really would love to explore around.

  14. This post brought back so many beautiful memories. My husband and I lived in Sydney last summer and you’re right CAR is the way to go when traveling around Australia. Such useful information you’ve shared, especially the rules of the road and not driving at dusk! Such a sad amount of road kill there.

  15. Wow, those are really beautiful places for a road trip and by reading this you gave me a quick guide of exploring Australia.

  16. Australia is the most beautiful place in the world. I have a friend there. She will always send me photos of the place. I would like to visit there once.

  17. Planning to visit Australia and reading this post makes me a lot more eager to go to these amazing places. I would love to see the Great Barrier Reef and what the marine life could offer. For sure it would be beautiful and will be an amazing experience!

  18. One of the best place to visit a perfect gateway I wish to be there someday and I heard so many good things about Australia.

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