With sweeping red and gold plains, lush green hills and stunning beach vistas, Australia is ideal for driving adventures. The distance between major cities and tourist destinations has also made driving one of the most popular ways to travel – for both visitors and locals.
Around 53 million driving holidays are taken in Australia every year, with Australians choosing to take trips by road 70% of the time. When it comes to international visitors, around a quarter take driving holidays around Australia and, although regional airports are expanding in some areas, driving is still a major gateway to some of the best locations in the country.
So whether you have plans to pack up the car with your stuff, hire a van or sought out the luxury of a camper, here we take a look at the top places you can travel by car in Australia. From seeking the iconic road trip experience to simply getting out of the city for a change, these places offer a great mix of driving, adventure and relaxation that will appeal to everyone.
Covering over 20,000 square kilometres, Kakadu National Park is both a destination and driving experience in one. This World Heritage listed site extends from the Northern Territory coastline, through estuaries, floodplains, wetlands billabongs and lowlands, right down to rocky ridges and stone country in the south.
The vast geography of Kakadu means that almost every type of landscape in Australia can be experienced as you travel through this National Park. The environments are also home to more than a third of Australia’s bird species, a quarter of its freshwater fish species and a wide range of other native plants and animals, both endemic and rare.
While there are a number of sites and activities that can be accessed in a standard 2WD car, Parks Australia suggests getting a 4WD “to explore the full range of Kakadu’s attractions”. Plus, the fact that it’s located 240km east of Darwin and 150km north of Katherine means getting to Kakadu is a driving adventure in itself!
Located in the heart of Australia’s desert outback, Uluru is a stunning and sacred site that attracts both locals and international visitors all year round. While there are tours constantly heading for Uluru – also known as Ayers Rock – it is also an easy and engaging drive from Alice Springs to the Red Centre.
Known as the Red Centre Way, this drive is a straight 450km from Alice to Uluru. It also gives you a chance to take in some of the other amazing sites along the way, including not just the areas surrounding Alice Spings and Uluru, but also Kings Canyon, Ormiston Gorge and the West MacDonnell Ranges.
The Northern Territory tourism website suggests allowing a minimum of five to seven days for this trip so that you have time to explore the natural beauty and experience the rich indigenous history and culture of the area.
“This is a desert journey to savour, covering two areas of great cultural and conservation importance, the Uluru-Kata Tjuta and Watarrka National Parks,” it says.
Driving to the tip of Australia is probably not the first thing that springs to mind when people think of Aussie holidays, but it is becoming a more and more popular way to experience the country.
Sitting at the top of Queensland, the Cape York Peninsula makes up the famous “tip” of Australia (it’s farthest northern land point on a map). It is this destination that’s in mind when people set out on the “Trip to the Tip” – a journey usually taken from Cairns all the way to the northernmost point of Cape York.
Tourism Cape York says there are two routes you can take to get there: an inland drive that offers “expansive vistas of lush valleys and sparsely vegetated hillsides” (about 331km long), and a 4WD-only route “hugging the scenic Daintree Coast” that’s about 234km but could take longer than usual due to the terrain.
Surrounded by the beautiful Sunshine Coast hinterland and beaches, driving from Brisbane to Noosa is a short and sweet trip that offers lots of sights and stops along the way.
It takes just 1. 5 hours from Brisbane to Noosa Heads along the Bruce Highway (M1), with the beaches, fine dining and cultural events like artists markets all part of the areas local attractions. But if you feel like taking a bit more time to get there, you could also take a scenic detour to check out the Beerburrum State Forest and Glasshouse Mountains (70km out of Brisbane – add about an extra 20 mins driving to the total trip). Head north from there, along Steve Irwin Way and you’ll also get to Australia Zoo. From there it’s just 70km to Noosa Heads, with the drive edging the beautiful Sunshine Coast Hinterlands.
This beautiful drive runs through the mid-north coast of New South Wales right up into the Gold Coast Hinterlands in Queensland, offering some of the best sights in both of these states along the way.
While Brisbane is the nearest capital city on this route, the actual “Rainforest Way” is presented as a series of day and half-day loops that can take a number of different forms and lead to many destinations. It was created in 1994 as a regional and state tourism initiative between NSW and Queensland state governments, as well as private operators.
“You’ll see some amazing sights along the way,” the Visit NSW website says.
“The dramatic spike of Mt Warning, an ancient plug of solidified lava, towers dramatically above the drive and the meandering Tweed River. Waterfalls hidden by shady canopy are best explored on foot – Minyon Falls in Nightcap National Park and Protesters Falls on Terania Creek are beautiful. Stop off at quirky local villages such as Nimbin (Australia’s counter-culture capital), historic Tyalgum or Channon for the monthly markets.”
While Visit NSW has suggestions for driving routes and destinations based in NSW, the Tourism Australia website has more of a focus on drives that start in and around Brisbane and the Gold Coast. For the more ambitious driver’s, a start somewhere on the mid-north coast of NSW – such as Port Macquarie or Coffs Harbour – and an end in Brisbane leaves lots of wonderful room for exploring along the way.
Byron Bay is one of the most popular regional tourist destinations in Australia, but the journey by car can be just as much of an experience as the destination.
From Sydney, the drive to Byron is 768km and takes around nine hours on the Pacific Highway. Along this route, you can see stunning coastal vistas to the east and areas of lush rainforest to the right, as well as farmland and small towns dotted along the way. There are also plenty of beautiful towns to stop at for a rest or overnight stay, including Newcastle, Port Macquarie, Coffs Harbour, Grafton, Maclean, Evans Head and Lennox Head.
Driving to Byron Bay from Brisbane, on the other hand, is only a 164km trip and takes a little under two hours on the Pacific Motorway. This trip takes you along the Gold Coast and Hinterlands, with popular stops including the theme parks (Dreamworld, Wet’n’Wild, Warner Bros. Movie World, Sea World etc), as well as towns like Coolangatta, Tweed Heads and Mullumbimby. And of course, if you already happen to be in between one of these capital cities, the drive to Byron Bay will be shorter, but give you more time to take in the scenery along the way.
These iconic sandstone structures sit 7km from Port Campbell in the south-west of Victoria and mark out one of the essential views along the Great Ocean Road.
The Twelve Apostles are also surrounded by 7500ha of Marine National Park (named after them), which runs along 17km of stunning coastline to the east and west of them. So whether you drive from Port Campbell to the west or Melbourne to the east, the Great Ocean Road trip to the 12 Apostles is almost considered an Australian travellers right of passage.
As the Visit 12 Apostles website puts it: “getting here is part of the experience”.
“Cliff hugging curves, seaside cafe’s, emerald rainforest, fresh local produce and charming seaside villages await your discovery on route to the spectacular limestone formations of Port Campbell National Park.”
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8. East Coast Escape, TAS
While it may not have as much of a reputation as the Great Ocean Road or Rainforest Way, the drive up the east coast of Tasmania (Hobart to the Bay of Fires) is considered one of the country’s best.
The Bay of Fires is about 274km north of Hobart, and could actually be done in half a day if you made few to no stops, but there is plenty to see along the way. Some of the most popular stops include Maria Island, the Freycinet Peninsula, Wineglass Bay, and picturesque coastal towns.
With all of these destinations, and many other local tips for experiences and hidden gems, Tourism Australia recommends making the drive to the Bay of Fires over at least five days to “immerse yourself in the beauty of Tasmania’s east coast” and take advantage of the range of activities available along the way.
“Sea kayak and hunt down history on Maria Island, sample farm-fresh berries and wine near Swansea and take in the perfect contours of Wineglass Bay in Freycinet National Park,” Tourism Australia suggests.
Stop in Bicheno, where you can cling to the coastline on a motorised trike ride or see fairy penguins waddle home at dusk.”
Bushwalking, fishing, diving and fine dining are just some of the other experiences this drive has to offer, making it as much about the journey as the destination.
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Perched on the Great Australian Bight, the Nullarbor is a must-see destination for visitors and Australians alike. This sweeping plain is 720km wide and has been romanticised in poetry and featured in major films such as James Cameron’s Sanctum (2011). With very little either side of it, the Nullarbor is both the journey and the destination.
The most common starting points for this journey are the capital cities of Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth, taking you east to west or west to east along the highway. Some people even make it a longer one-way adventure from one side of Australia to the other, although be prepared for the time this could take (it’s some 4000km from Sydney to Perth and 3500km from Melbourne to Perth).
Self-confessed Nullarbor veteran Sue Peacock says it is a great way to spend quality time with loved ones and also explore the outback.
“First impressions (flat, empty and boring) aside, there’s a surprising amount to see and do on the Nullarbor – including wild camels, cliffs and caves,” she says in a post for the
“And you’ll experience Dorothea Mackellar’s country as she intended it – a land of sweeping plains; wilful and lavish, which hasn’t changed much since Eyre pulled on his boots and set off on his transcontinental hike. It’s uplifting; this vast, arid expanse. Just don’t forget your sunglasses.”
This drive runs through southwest WA, from Cape Leeuwin to Cape Naturaliste. While these two capes are just 106km apart, there is a lot to see and do between them.
With the option of driving along the coast (Caves Road) or slightly inland on the Bussell Highway, you can choose to make the most of stunning beaches and beautiful bushland along the way. As well as the scenery, the Cape To Cape has a halfway point that’s practically an essential stop: the town of Margaret River.
The entire region, from cape to cape, is known for fine wine, food and bushwalking trails, making it a trip that can appeal to anyone’s tastes. So much so that AustralianTraveller.com says it is one of the best destinations in Australia.
“This dense combination of surf and wine culture around the Margaret River region is quite literally unbeatable anywhere else in Australia,” it says.
So whether you drive from one of the capes to the other, or from Perth (260km north of Cape Naturaliste), you will be able to enjoy both natural beauty and indulgences at every stop you make.
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