Pack your bags and start the car: here is our guide to the best road trips in Australia.
Roll down your window and feel the sea breeze whip off East Coast roads, wind the 99 Bends through ethereal forest in Tasmania’s western wilds or trundle desert trails dotted with outback icons on the Red Centre Way.
While ever-changing landscapes and famed sites form the backdrop of epic road trips in Australia, it’s the spontaneous turns, GPS fails and remote refuel stops that turn the journey into a story. An unfolding itinerary of unexpected encounters, off-grid hamlets and gourmet surprises that an aircraft simply glides past.
If your idea of excitement is the journey between A and B, then skip the plane and hit the road with our pick of the best road trips in Australia.
Kununurra to Broome, Western Australia
Rip through dusty outback trails bejewelled with waterholes and wildlife-filled billabongs along Western Australia’s iconic Gibb River Road. Recommended for 4WDs only, the trail carves through the Kimberley from Kununurra to Broome.
Conquer the Cockburn Range, an ancient canvas of vast escarpments and desert plains concealing refreshing pockets ideal for a swim stop. Plunge into Zebedee Springs’ thermal pools, fish for barramundi on the Pentecost River and wade through Bell Gorge’s natural infinity pool. Watch the blazing sun bounce off the sheer cliff face of Bandilngan (Windjana Gorge) National Park, where colourful cockatoos and emerald waters breathe colour into the ochre landscape. Bounce along rugged roads through river crossings and marvel at natural wonders, from Tunnel Creek to the Boab Prison Tree. Catch the scent of the ocean and turn off towards Broome, where the welcoming shores of Cable Beach await.
Stay here: Cable Beach Club Resort & Spa
Want to know more about Broome and The Kimberley region, read our guide.
The Great Alpine Road
Wangaratta to Metung, Victoria
Wind through picture-book villages, lofty mountain ranges and gold rush architecture all in the space of a day on this breathtaking drive through Victoria’s alpine region.
Beginning in Wangaratta, take a tasting trail to the gold rush town of Beechworth, stopping for samples at mouthwatering providores: Brown Brothers Winery and Milawa Cheese Company. Explore Beechworth Historic Courthouse, where the final trial of iconic bushranger Ned Kelly commenced, before ascending through Mount Buffalo National Park’s twisting snow gum forests to witness outstanding views across the Australian Alps’ sheer cliffs and granite tors. Wind down your window and cruise through crisp alpine air or stretch your legs on the gentle Lakeside Walk, then continue to Bright, stopping for a garden-terrace lunch at Feathertop Winery in Porepunkah. Make time for myriad walking trails at Mount Hotham or a horseback ride at Dinner Plain before descending to the hilly village of Omeo. Conclude at Metung, gateway to the Gippsland Lakes, and schedule a few relaxing days to explore over 400sqkm of waterways, rivers and lagoons.
Stay: Keep an eye on our Victoria escapes
Read more: Check out our guide to Victoria’s High Country
Red Centre Way
Alice Springs to Uluru, Northern Territory
Experience the Red Centre’s storied icons at your own pace when you trace this seven-day rugged trail from Alice Springs to Uluru.
Begin with a sunrise hot air balloon ride above Alice Springs and watch the blazing sun ignite the sky and the incredible landscape ahead of you. Hit the road in your 4WD, churning dusty tracks to the Western MacDonnell Ranges. Take reprieve from the heat with a cooling swim in Ellery Creek Big Hole, follow the 20-minute trail through Ormiston Gorge’s ghost gum trees or bask in the spectacular orange hues of Simpsons Gap and Standley Chasm. Splash your way through Redbank Gorge’s pools then head to Kings Canyon, stopping to admire Tnorala (Gosse Bluff), an ancient comet crater that’s the result of a collision with Earth 140 million years ago.
Tick the impressive Kings Canyon Rim Walk off your bucket list, then drive the final stretch to Uluru and see the almighty icon rise above the vast landscape. Listen to the local Anangu people share Dreamtime stories on a walk around its base or embrace its after-dark magic with a Sounds of Silence Dinner.
Stay here: Sails in the Desert
Read more: Discover the best of Alice Springs with our ultimate guide
Sydney roundtrip, New South Wales
Nowhere do country and coast collide more beautifully than on the southern shores of New South Wales. Frothy surf rolls into vast sandy beaches fringed by native bushland and local providores thrive off nature’s delicious gifts. You’ll want to make space in your car for local purchases on this five-day roundtrip from Sydney.
Watch the city skyline drift away in your rearview and follow Grand Pacific Drive to Shoalhaven’s inviting Seven Mile Beach. En route, swing by Kiama, home to the world’s largest blowhole. Plan in a few extra days at Jervis Bay. This coastal oasis boasts a menagerie of wildlife, from fur seals to penguins. Join a dolphin-watching cruise, skim sunlit waters by kayak or spot migrating whales from Cape St George Lighthouse. Stop for a swim at Bawley Point’s tranquil Termeil Lake, then head inland to Kangaroo Valley for a taste of colonial charm and award-winning fudge. Stretch your legs on the Historic Village Walk before heading to Berry, a bush-edged hinterland town with a string of antique boutiques and local providores. Stock up at Two Figs Winery and pick up an apple tart for the road at Milkwood Bakery.
Stay here: The Fullerton Hotel Sydney
Read more: Looking for top tips on where to stay and play in Sydney? Check out our guide
Hobart to Strahan, Tasmania
Trace a dramatic route forged by pioneers, filled with untamed rivers and millennia of shifting earth, on this rugged four-day feat through Tasmania’s World Heritage-listed wilderness.
From Hobart, drive 30
–minutes north to historic New Norfolk, a bustling town with a big hop-growing reputation. Grab a pint at The Bush Inn, one of Australia’s oldest pubs, then dive into wilderness with a crisp stroll around at Lake St Clair. Driving deeper into nature, navigate mossy forest to Nelson Falls and peer into Tassie’s mining past at Iron Blow Lookout. Approach the infamous 99 Bends, stopping to inhale mountain air at Horsetail Falls, then tackle the winding route to Queenstown and choose your adventure: raft King River’s Huon pine-lined rapids, haunt the ghostly ruins of abandoned Lake Margaret or steam through ancient snaking forest on the West Coast Wilderness Railway. Drive the final stretch to Strahan, where the waterfront esplanade whispers stories of convict survival through heritage streetscapes and local tales. Conclude your journey with a taste of Tasmania’s finest seafood at View 42° Restaurant & Bar or glide back in time on a half-day Gordon River cruise through misty rainforest.
Days: 4 days
Stay here: Vibe Hotel Hobart
Read more: Extending your stay in Hobart? Be sure to check out our guide to Hobart
Great Tropical Drive
Townsville to Cooktown, Queensland
Powder-white beaches, emerald jungles and vast outback savannah; experience North Queensland’s juxtaposing terrain along the Great Tropical Drive, an impressive network of 26 interconnected routes, stretching from Townsville to Cooktown. Take your pick from a string of self-drive itineraries or tackle the full course over 12 days.
Departing Townsville, head to Tully River for an unbeatable rafting adventure, then kick back under coconut palms at Mission Beach. Spend a few days exploring nearby islands, including the wildly remote Hinchinbrook, then head inland along Canecutter Way, with its tiny Art-Deco towns and castle ruins. Chase waterfalls in the Atherton Tablelands, then pick up the Captain Cook Highway from Cairns to Mossman Gorge, stopping for a Great Barrier Reef adventure in dreamy Port Douglas. Wind along the Coral Sea coastline to Cape Tribulation, where the rainforest meets the reef, passing through the ancient Daintree’s lush canopies.
Detour west to discover Mt Mulligan’s dramatic escarpment, Undara’s volcanic lava tubes and the Gulf Savannah’s vast outback and mining towns. Conclude in unspoilt Cooktown and absorb Aboriginal culture and colonial history through myriad museums and a heritage streetscape.
Stay here: Mist at Cape Tribulation