Sydney / Destinations / Australian Road Trips to Put on Your Bucket List

Australian Road Trips to Put on Your Bucket List

Forget planes and trains, the open road is the only way to explore Australia’s breathtaking landscapes. A place where desert, rainforest and rugged coastlines collide — an Aussie road trip proves that it’s always worth taking the scenic route. Wind your way through windswept beaches or brave it through bushland on the dirt tracks of the outback, Australia has plenty of open roads just waiting to be explored. So crank up the stereo, put your foot down and set off on one of these bucket list Australian adventures. 

The Great Beach Drive, QLD

For adventurous, outdoors types, this road trip has your name written all over it. It begins at the Sunshine Coast’s Glasshouse Mountains, a picture-perfect landscape that caught Captain Cook’s eye when he sailed past in 1770. They’re just as impressive today – and some of them are open to rock climbers. If you have the kids in tow, stop at Australia Zoo before continuing to Mooloolaba for sun, surf, and buckets of fresh king prawns. Another half an hour in the car, and you’ll reach Noosa. Soak up the sun on the beach, or venture into the lush national park to hike, spot koalas and kayak down the rivers. Next up is the beautiful Rainbow Beach, a haven for surfers, watersports lovers, and thrill-seekers (you can skydive there). From that area, you can BYO 4WD over to the sand dunes, bushwalks and lakes that make up Fraser Island. The Indigenous word for it is ‘K’Gari,’ which means paradise, and that’s the perfect description. Back on the mainland, head south to stop at Maryborough, the birthplace of Mary Poppins author PL Travers.  

Highlights

Glasshouse Mountains, Australia Zoo, Noosa National Park, 75 Mile Beach, Champagne Pools, Maryborough

Where to stay

Glass on GlasshouseCoco MooloolabaKingfisher Bay Resort

Red Centre Way, NT

Every Aussie should visit the outback at least once. When you’re mapping out your trip, skip the Stuart Highway (which goes between Uluru and Alice Springs) and take the picturesque route along the Red Centre Way. Once called the Mereenie Loop, it twists and turns its way through the landscapes, canyons, gorges and hiking trails of the West MacDonnel Ranges – it really is jaw-droppingly beautiful. To admire and explore the red-tinged landscapes in all their glory, pack sturdy hiking shoes and allow enough time for a stay near Uluru. That way, you can catch the dramatic sunset and wake up to picture-perfect views of the iconic site.

Highlights

Uluru, Kata Tjuta National Park, Alice Springs, Kings Canyon, Glen Helen Gorge

Where to stay

Longitude 131

The Great Ocean Road, VIC

Ask any Aussie, and they’ll tell you that driving the Great Ocean Road is a rite of passage. Stretching 243km along the southern coast of Victoria from Torquay to Allansford, this scenic stretch of road is home to the rugged rainforests of the Otaway Ranges, sunburnt cliffs, and the famous Twelve Apostles. In between, there are charming beach towns, fishing villages, and waterfalls, plus a 19th century shipwreck (Loch Ard Gorge) and an iconic lighthouse (Cape Otway). It also has a storied history; the Great Ocean Road is a tribute to the 3,000 soldiers who worked on the road during WWI. Start at Torquay – the ocean side of the road. Top tip: give yourself a week or more to fit in every tourist spot. 

Highlights

Bells Beach, Lorne, Apollo Bay, Cape Otway, Port Campbell National Park (where the Twelve Apostles are located), Gibson Steps, Triplet Falls, Teddy’s Lookout and Port Fairy.

Where to stay

La Perouse Lorne, Captain’s at the Bay

The Great Barrier Reef Drive, QLD

Heading to the tropics now, this 140km drive begins at Cairns and ends at Cape Tribulation. The journey through tropical North Queensland takes in not one, but two World Heritage landscapes – the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree – so you can expect eye-popping beauty around every turn. Kick off your trip by snorkelling or scuba diving around the Reef, and then check out Cairns’ buzzy bars and restaurants. On day two, dart through the Daintree, and stop to chase waterfalls and see the towering trees, rivers and trails that make up the rainforest. Stay overnight in Cape Tribulation, where the lodges are as luxe as the rainforest-meets-reef surrounds.

Highlights

Daintree Rainforest, Daintree River, Cow Bay, Cape Tribulation, Great Barrier Reef

Where to stay

Silky Oaks Lodge, Wanderers Retreat, Thala Beach Nature Reserve

The Legendary Pacific Coast, NSW & QLD

As the name suggests, this is the classic coastal road trip. The picturesque Pacific Highway is bookmarked by two major cities – Sydney and Brisbane – and follows 900km of pristine beaches, seaside towns, unspoilt hinterland and national parks. The journey is a holiday in itself. And while you could do it all in one go, it’s best enjoyed at a leisurely pace, with plenty of leeway for spontaneous stops and swims. If you’re starting from Sydney, you’ll head north and weave your way through the Central Coast, Port Stephens, Newcastle, Coffs Harbour, Ballina and the bohemian paradise of Byron Bay. You’ll then cross state borders and cruise by Tweed Heads before ending in the glittery Gold Coast. Charge your phone, because you’ll want to snap everything, from the dolphins, koalas and camels to the rolling hills of the rainforest.

 Done the drive before? For a change of scenery, detour to the Hunter Valley, and taste-test your way through the vineyards, restaurants and boutique cheese and chocolate shops.

Highlights 

Bogey Hole, Terrigal, Avoca Beach, Bouddi National Park, Newcastle Ocean Baths, Port Macquarie Coastal Walk, Port Macquarie Camel Safari, Big Banana, Wategos Beach, The Pass, Surfers Paradise

Where to stay

Pretty Beach House, I Villini Estate, The Atlantic Byron Bay, QT Gold Coast

The Indian Ocean Drive, WA

Sitting at around 1200km, this drive is epic in every sense of the word. It follows WA’s Coral Coast from Perth to Ningaloo – a stretch of coastline that’s Mother Nature’s finest work. After setting off from the city, you’ll weave your way through the dazzling beach towns of Cervantes, Geraldton, Monkey Mia and Carnavon. Beyond beautiful beaches, you can stop at the surreal desert towers called The Pinnacles (at Nambung National Park), feed the dolphins at Monkey Mia and swim with whale sharks at Ningaloo Reef, a colourful underwater playground that’s home to over 500 tropical fish species. You can admire the wildflowers and dramatic rock canyons of Kalbarri National Park, and tick off its many hiking trails. Or get snap-happy at Shell Beach, which is carpeted with billions of tiny white shells.

Highlights

Monkey Mia, Ningaloo Reef, Kalbarri National Park, Nambung National Park, Cable Beach, Shell Beach, The Pinnacles Desert

Where to stay

Sal Salis Ningaloo Reef, Mantarays Ningaloo Beach Resort, COMO The Treasury Perth


The Grand Pacific Drive, NSW

Make your weekend a memorable one by cruising the Grand Pacific Drive, which stretches from Sydney to the white-sand beaches of Jervis Bay. If you were to drive directly, it would take 2.5-3 hours, but trust us when we say it’s worth packing your cossie and stopping off for a dip along the way. Soon after you leave the city to head south, you’ll be driving through the Royal National Park (fun fact: it’s the second oldest National Park in the world after Yellowstone in the USA). Jump out of the car to hike or picnic, and then hop onto the Grand Pacific Drive. It’ll take you over the iconic Sea Cliff Bridge and through the coastal towns of Wollongong, Shellharbour and Kiama. Make a pitstop to see the powerful Kiama Blowhole, before continuing to Jervis Bay.

Highlights

Royal National Park, Sea Cliff Bridge, Kiama Blowhole, Hyams Beach

Where to stay

Paperbark Camp, Hyams Beach Seaside Cottages, Hyams Beach Bed & Breakfast

The Great Eastern Drive, TAS

One of Australia's most picturesque and dramatic coastal drives, Tasmania’s natural paradise is a beauty to behold – and the best way to see it is by car. From Hobart to the spectacular Bay of Fires, this road trip hugs the island’s eastern (and most peaceful) coastline and gives you a true taste of Tasmania. In Hobart, you can meander through galleries and eat your way through the city’s award-winning restaurants. Then, further along the route you can inject a little history into your holiday and explore one of the world’s most significant convict sites at Port Arthur. Detour  – and linger overnight – at Freycinet National Park, so you have plenty of time to explore its granite mountains, azure waters, incredible wildlife and the perfect curve of sand that makes up Wineglass Bay. If you can’t go past a good drop, follow the East Coast Wine Trail to some of the state’s best cellar doors.

Highlights

Wineglass Bay, Port Arthur, Freycinet National Park, East Coast Wine Trail, Cradle Mountain National Park

Where to stay

MACq01, The Henry Jones Hotel, Saffire Freycinet, Burilda Waters Port Arthur

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