Australia is a country designed for road trips, with a diversity of landscapes and a scale that’s almost unrivaled anywhere in the world.
Whether you want to squeeze in a day trip or pack up and go wherever the wind takes you, these driving routes won’t disappoint. Here are 10 of our favorite road trips in Australia.
1. Nullarbor Plain, South Australia
Drive the world's longest golf course
Ceduna–Norseman 1200km (745 miles), allow two days
Arid, remote and stretching to the horizon, the treeless Nullarbor Plain is the stuff of road-trip legend: it’s the longest, straightest and flattest road in the country. While most believe that the journey along the Eyre Highway is only broken by the occasional roadhouse, there are some unexpected surprises along the way. For example, it’s home to the Nullarbor Links, the world’s longest golf course. The 18-hole course spans 1365km (848 miles), with one hole in each participating town or roadhouse along the way. A scorecard is available for a nominal fee, which goes towards the upkeep of the course.
2. The Great Ocean Road, Victoria
The best road trip for epic coastal views
Torquay–Allansford, 243km (150 miles); allow two to three days
Follow the wild southern coastline of Australia’s best scenic road trip: the Great Ocean Road. Start at the legendary surf town of Torquay, explore welcoming country towns like Lorne, and keep an eye out for koalas in Otway National Park, before taking in the iconic Twelve Apostles. These are the main drawcard for photographers on this stretch of road, with just eight of these limestone stacks left standing sentinel along what’s also known as the Shipwreck Coast.
While the Great Ocean Road can be tackled in a day, it’s best to stretch it over several. This will allow you ample time to stop for seafood in towns along the way (such as Apollo Bay, which hosts an annual seafood festival) and hike coastal trails found just off the highway.
Planning tip: The weather is highly changeable along Victorian coastlines, so make sure you’re prepared for all seasons. If you’re behind the wheel, be mindful the roads are slippery when wet.
3. Grand Pacific Drive, New South Wales
The ultimate scenic day trip from Sydney
Royal National Park, Sydney–Shoalhaven, 140km (86 miles), allow one day
The Grand Pacific Drive is the perfect day trip from Sydney. First, wind south through the eucalyptus forests of the Royal National Park. After crossing the weir at Audley, stop for a break at the Stanwell Tops cliffs, a popular hang-gliding spot and an excellent vantage point to watch whales between May and October.
Then, turn onto Lawrence Hargrave Drive. With both lanes suspended above the ocean, it’s easy to see why this stunning spot has played a starring role in numerous car commercials and photoshoots. You’ll then continue past clifftop pubs, small coastal villages, swimming beaches and rock pools, before arriving at the Kiama blowhole. Finish your day with a walk around the harbor at Shoalhaven.
Detour: Budget enough time for a swim at secluded Wattamolla Beach in the Royal National Park, where you’ll find a cascading waterfall and a calm seaside lagoon.
4. The Coral Coast Highway, Western Australia
The best road trip for marine wildlife
Perth–Exmouth, 1250km (776 miles), allow two weeks
Leave the city behind and head north along Western Australia’s Coral Coast, with the Indian Ocean to your left and red outback scenes on your right. This is a road trip for visitors with time to spare, with countless worthwhile stops along the way.
The first is the otherworldly Pinnacles Desert in Nambung National Park, where hundreds of limestone formations rise from the ground. Further north up the coast, you can watch dolphins approach the shoreline at Monkey Mia in Shark Bay. And along the way, you can camp at traditional outback stations or farms, where living and working on the land is a way of life.
The highlight of this drive, though, might be its final destination: Ningaloo Reef near Exmouth, which offers some of the country’s best snorkeling and diving, including alongside whale sharks and humpback whales.
Planning tip: This is one drive you won’t want to see end. Fortunately, if time permits, you can continue your journey further north up the Pilbara Coast to Broome.
5. Hobart to Bruny Island, Tasmania
The best road trip for foodies
Hobart–Bruny Island, 100km (62 miles), one day
Located a short drive southwest from Hobart, Bruny Island is one of Australia’s most mouthwatering foodie destinations. Wear your stretchy pants, as you’ll pass dozens of local producers on this day trip.
Take the car ferry at Kittering to the north of the island and follow your stomach to feast on freshly shucked oysters, handmade cheese and local whisky direct from the producers at farm gates and cellar doors across the island. Cross the narrow isthmus known as the Neck – which connects north and south Bruny – and finish your trip with a tour of Bruny Island’s 19th-century lighthouse.
Planning tip: Set out from Hobart early, as the line for the ferry can be long on weekends and public holidays.
6. Great Barrier Reef Drive, Queensland
The best drive for getting back to nature
Cairns–Cape Tribulation, 140km (86 miles), allow at least two days
The world’s oldest rainforest, at roughly 150 million years old, the Daintree is one of the most biodiverse places on earth, with incredible species such as cassowaries (giant colorful flightless birds) and tree kangaroos hidden beneath its canopy. It’s also significant in that it borders another UNESCO World Heritage site: the Great Barrier Reef.
You can explore both rainforest and reef on this drive into Queensland’s Wet Tropics. Head north from Cairns, stopping along the way in the resort towns of Port Douglas and get ready to dive in – its marina is one of the main departure points for trips to the outer reef. Along the way, detour to explore the Daintree’s Mossman Gorge, where Indigenous Kuku Yalanji guides will demonstrate traditional use of plants beside the crystal clear Mossman River. Finally, cross the Daintree River on a car ferry to Cape Tribulation, an off-grid eco haven.
Planning tip: The heat might be on and the water might look lovely, but only swim if in designated safe swimming areas – this is crocodile country.
7. Gibb River Road, Western Australia
Australia’s best 4WD adventure
Derby–Kununurra, 660km (410 miles), allow 10–14 days.
Wild, unpredictable and remote, the Gibb River Road is pure outback adventure. Open from around May to September during the dry season, this 660km (410-mile) route follows corrugated (washboard) roads, dirt tracks and multiple river crossings, with challenging 4WD sections best left to experienced drivers. Shelter under endemic boab trees said to be over 1500 years old, hike to swim in the cascading natural pools at Mitchell Falls, and get to know the untamed wilderness of the Kimberley, one of northwestern Australia’s most intriguing and desolate regions.
Planning tip: Carry adequate supplies, including water, paper maps and fuel. If you break down, stay with your vehicle. If you’re not confident taking a self-drive visit, several tour operators exist in the region.
8. The Explorer’s Way: South Australia to the Northern Territory
Best long-distance drive
Adelaide–Alice Springs, 1500km (932 miles), six days
Following a route originally mapped out in the late 19th century for the Overland Telegraph Line, the Explorer’s Way runs all the way from Adelaide to Darwin. However, you only need to drive a portion of it to understand what a truly enormous feat it was to map. Starting from the neatly manicured vineyards of Adelaide wine country, you’ll watch the landscape shift into the big red majesty of Australia’s outback.
Along the way to Alice Springs, explore Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park, beat the heat by staying in underground accommodation in Coober Pedy – famous for its opal mining – and hit up Uluru and Kings Canyon. As you drive, keep an eye out for feral camels; they’re descendants of the ones first used by Afghan cameleers to help chart the path and transport supplies.
Detour: Don’t miss the pink-hued waters of Lake Bumbunga, north of Adelaide. Its unique color – caused by algae – varies depending on the water’s salinity. It typically has its best Barbie moments in the spring and autumn.
9. Red Centre Way, Northern Territory
Best journey into the the heart of Australia
Alice Springs–Alice Springs, 700km (434 miles), six days
This spectacular road trip hits up some of the same spots as the Explorer’s Way, but is intended to be done at a more relaxed pace by looping round the Red Centre’s biggest attractions. Departing from Alice Springs, take a break to cool off in water holes at Tjoritja/West MacDonnell Ranges and climb to the rim of Kings Canyon in Watarrka National Park.
The main attraction for most, though, will be Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, where you can walk 10km (6 miles) around the base of the world’s most famous monolith and head to watch the sunset over the domes of nearby Kata Tjuta.
Planning tip: All of the major attractions along the Red Centre Way can be reached in a regular car, but if you plan to complete the full loop, you’ll need a high-clearance 4WD for the Mereenie section.
10. The Big Lap
The trip for those who want to see it all
Over 14,000km (8700 miles), allow at least six months – or a lifetime
There’s no Australian road trip more iconic than National Highway 1, one of the longest highways in the world. Encircling the entire country and popular with backpackers and gray nomads, it’s known as “the Big Lap" – but the exact route and detours you take will depend on your budget, the time of year, your departure point and how much time you have to spare.
Generally, travelers head north in the winter and south in the summer, all in a bid to avoid the wet season. Following the sun will give you a crash course in long-distance car travel, where you’ll build camaraderie with your fellow travelers and see the incredible diversity Australia has to offer.