I-Spy. Red dust. Roadhouse meat pies. ‘Big’ things. These are the icons of Aussie road trips, mainstays of family holiday lore. And an Australia road trip is the best way to see it all.
More vast and varied than nearly any other country on earth, Australia boasts a lot of outback and a lot of coastline. This means bucket-loads of exploring awaits, much of which is best done by car or campervan. We’ve given some of Australia’s best road trip routes a rough rating (Beginner, Intermediate or Hardcore), but it all depends on your family, how you like to travel, and how much experience you have had.
Don’t forget plenty of food, water, fuel, first aid, a radio, maps, planning and all the bits and bobs you’ll need to keep safe and have a ball on your own Aussie road trips.
Great Alpine Road
From Wangaratta to Metung (or vice versa), travel through Victorian High Country to the Gippsland Lakes on one of Australia’s highest roads. The route boasts awesome skiing, gold rush era history, wineries and mountain ranges.
Don’t miss: Beechworth, Mount Buffalo National Park, Mount Hotham (Victoria’s highest alpine village and great ski area for cross-country and downhill), and a range of excellent detours (such as Great Alpine Discovery Route, Bogong Alpine Route, Buchan Caves, Gippsland Lakes)
How long: About 340 kilometres and approximately 5 hours, on sealed road that is accessible all year. Extend the trip and finish in Bairnsdale (all up 500 kilometres, approx.. 3 days)
Best for: Skiing families or primary-school aged families who enjoy the outdoors
Sydney to Brisbane
Travel the Legendary Pacific Coast – the Pacific Highway from Sydney to Brisbane, with lots of national parks, beaches and history in between. Stop as much or as little as you want en route, as there is plenty to explore as a family. Theme parks, beaches and big bananas await!
Don’t miss: Central Coast/Newcastle, Port Stephens, Port Macquarie, Coffs Harbour, Yamba, Byron Bay and Gold Coast are just some options for stops en route. Enjoy beaches and national parks.
How long: 900 kilometres, which can be comfortably achieved in 5 days or less. We recommend taking your precious time and plenty of detours.
Best for: Families keen on a city break with plenty of attractions and comforts along the way
Sydney to Melbourne
Take your pick between inland and seaside touring with two routes between Sydney and Melbourne. On the one hand, enjoy NSW and Victorian outback in Gundagai and Holbrook by skirting around the Snowy Mountains. On the other, enjoy ocean views and maritime history by passing through Nowra and Eden. Or perhaps make it a round trip, and enjoy a loop full of national parks, bushwalks, coffee shops and more.
Don’t miss: Jervis Bay National Park, Bega Cheese, Killer Whale Museum in Eden, Ben Boyd National Park, Dog on Tucker Box in Gundagai, Albury-Wodonga, Ned Kelly monuments and museums in Glenrowan (site of his capture)
How long: Roughly 900 kilometres, depending on your choice of route
Best for: Families who like to take their time and enjoy flexibility and plenty of options. Suitable for young families.
Tasmanian East Coast
The Great Eastern Drive spans Hobart to the Bay of Fires, but can easily be truncated to suit you. Grown-ups will enjoy sampling the cellar doors en route as you pass through sleepy seaside towns, farmland, beaches and national parks. Discover convict history, go strawberry picking, stand at Cape Tourville lighthouse for astonishing coastal views and enjoy plenty of wildlife.
Don’t miss: Day trip to Maria Island on 30-minute ferry, Wineglass Bay and Freycinet National Park, Tassie devils and wildlife in Bicheno at East Coast Natureworld, St Helens, walks at Bay of Fires
How long: 300 kilometres, 5 days
Best for: foodie families with a penchant for bushwalking
Adelaide to Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park, SA
Shift gears from the City of Churches, steeped in culture and impressive architecture, to Wilpena Pound, a perfectly formed crater used to run horses and grow wheat in the 1800s. The ancient stories of local Adnyamathanha people can be seen in rock art sites all over the park. Four-wheel drive tours show off fossils and geological wonders. Lake Eyre sits north of the Flinders, so if you have more time and patience, continue on to this vast inland sea.
Rating: Beginner to Intermediate – the drive is relatively short, especially if you split it across two days with a stop in Port Augusta, Quorn or Orroroo depending on your chosen route. There are sealed access roads in the National Park, as well as a number of unsealed roads still suited to 2WD.
Don’t miss: South Australian wineries on Barossa and Clare Valley route, Pichi Richi Historic Railway in Quorn, Wilpena Pound, Rawnsley Park sheep station, Adnyamathanha art sites such as Arkaroo Rock
How long: The drive from Adelaide is about 5 to 6 hours and approximately 450 to 480 kilometres.
Best for: Families willing to camp or explore more outback areas will get the most out of the Flinders but there are plenty of towns and caravan parks en route.
Great South West Road trip – Perth to Esperance
Travel the south-westerly tip of mainland Australia by following the scenic coast from Perth to Esperance. This is as much as foodie trail as it is about strolling in national parks, with awesome wine regions and stunning white sand beaches. Heading back to Perth again? This time go inland via either Corrigin or Dumbleyung and the Dwellingup State Forest.
Rating: Beginner to Intermediate
Don’t miss: Bottlenose dolphins at Bunbury, Margaret River foodie region, Valley of the Giants, Denmark and the southernmost tip of WA, Elephant Rocks, Great Ocean Drive in Esperance, pink Lake Hillier, Wave Rock
How long: Follow the 1600-kilometre coastal route for between one and two weeks, or opt to cut across on the inland route for about 700 kilometres instead. Perhaps even make a Perth to Perth loop!
Best for: Perth- or WA-based families who want to pack lots of local attractions into each day on tour
The largest sand island in the world is a paradise for camping and for 4WD enthusiasts – and for dingoes! The World Heritage-listed site is home to one of the most famous drives in Australia, along 75 Mile Beach. This is not the only island route however – head inland to follow the Central Lakes scenic drive, which covers some of Fraser’s highlights in about 2 hours.
Rating: Intermediate (4WD only)
Don’t miss: Hervey Bay (mainland), Lake McKenzie, Lake Wabby, Eli Creek, Champagne Pools, Maheno Shipwreck, humpback whale-watching, drive famous 75 Mile Beach
How long: You and your 4WD can take a barge across to Fraser either from Inskip Point (1.5-2 hours south of Hervey Bay) or Rivers Head (about 20 mins south of Hervey Bay).
Best for: Families with a bit of camping and four-wheel-driving under their belt – but also with a taste for chilling by the beach as opposed to covering long distances.
Red Centre Way
The Red Centre isn’t named that for nothing. Enjoy expanses of red dirt and spinifex, as well as some of the most important sites of the Australian outback. Watch Uluru change colour at different times of day, swim in waterholes and waterfalls, and stand atop breathtaking canyons. This is Australia’s beating heart, a road trip everyone must take at least once in a lifetime to soak up the spirit of the land and its centuries of Indigenous history.
Rating: Intermediate – choose carefully between sealed and unsealed road options. Pick accommodation styles that suit your preferences and budget. Prepare well in case of emergency.
Don’t miss: MacDonnell Ranges, Glen Helen, Simpsons Gap, Kings Canyon, Uluru, Kata Tjuta, Alice Springs
How long: A 1135 kilometre loop runs from Alice Springs for 4WD on dirt road. There is a completely sealed 2WD option running 1750 kilometres. Take 5 or 6 days at least.
Best for: Slightly older families in search of the ultimate bucket-list Australia route
Nature’s Way – Darwin Loop
This incredibly scenic route covers the Northern Territory’s most famous and most beautiful national parks: Kakadu, Nitmiluk and Litchfield. The Top End is the premium of Aussie road tripping, with its rich colours, guided tours and varied scenery.
Rating: Intermediate – the main route sticks to sealed roads, but you’ll need a 4WD for side trips. We recommend a sturdy vehicle and some experience at the least!)
Don’t miss: Mindil Beach Sunset Markets and WWII history in Darwin, ancient rock art, Gunlom Pool and crocodile cruises in Kakadu, local Indigenous art, spectacular gorges and canoeing in Katherine/Nitmiluk, and plenty a plunge pool for a swim in Litchfield National Park.
How long: 735 kilometre loop from Darwin, allow more than a week.
Best for: Families with experience under their belts.
Perth to Broome
Soak up Australia’s most stunning sunsets as you trail the coast between two of the “road trip state’s” biggest towns. Broome’s oyster pearls won’t be the only gems you come across, with pristine beaches and coral reefs on one hand, and desert formations and special Indigenous sites on the other. Worried about the distance? Stay put once you hit the Ningaloo area. For some intense touring, you can also add on the inland Pilbara region, covering Tom Price, Karijini National Park, Marble Bar and more.
Rating: Intermediate (Pilbara region is Hardcore and requires extensive preparation)
Don’t miss: The Pinnacles Desert, Kalbarri National Park and Pink Lake or Hutt Lagoon, dolphins at Monkey Mia, snorkelling with whale sharks in Coral Bay, Ningaloo Reef, camel rides on Cable Beach
How long: We recommend taking two weeks to cover the 2813 kilometres
Best for: Adventurous families of primary school or high school age, depending on experience. Some areas on this itinerary are fairly remote, but you’ll be in major towns most of the way.
Explorer’s Way (Adelaide to Darwin)
This road trip itinerary reads like a ‘best of’ list for many of the routes we’ve already covered. Through outback South Australia, the vibrant Red Centre and up to the Top End, this is an accomplishment and a half. It might be worth considering tackling it in two separate holidays, from Adelaide to Uluru and Uluru to Darwin.
Rating: Intermediate to Hardcore (route is sealed highway but distances are long and remote. There are 4WD options on the way)
Don’t miss: Port Augusta, Flinders Ranges, Coober Pedy and its opal mining history, Uluru, Kata Tjuta, Kings Canyon, Alice Springs, West MacDonnell Ranges, Tennant Creek and Karlu Karlu/Devil’s Marbles, Nitmiluk/Katherine Gorges, Litchfield National Park
How long: You will need 14 days at least to cover this enormous itinerary. Feel free to cut it short at the Red Centre.
Best for: Intrepid families who want to cover as much ground and as many Aussie natural icons as possible
Crossing the Nullarbor is a road-tripping rite of passage. Nullarbor means ‘no trees’ in Latin, and this is a pretty apt name for the region surrounding the Eyre Highway. Pass through three time zones as you travel from Western Australia to the Eyre Peninsula, stopping at roadhouses for the quintessential road trip experience. Expect to spot camels, roos, emus and even wildflowers. There are roadhouses and caravan parks to pull up at along the way.
Rating: Intermediate to Hardcore (the road is sealed but the region is very remote in parts, requiring extensive food, water and fuel preparation)
Don’t miss: One of the straightest roads in the world, Nullarbor Roadhouse, Murrawijinie Cave stencil art, Bunda Cliffs and Great Australian Bight, Fowler’s Bay dunes, and even a NASA exhibit at the site where a space station crashed to earth
How long: 1675 kilometres, including one of the longest, flattest and straightest stretches of road on the planet! Take at least 5 days to make the most of it.
Best for: Old hands who want to cross this one of the family bucket list
The Outback Way (Laverton to Winton)
Known as ‘Australia’s longest shortcut’ this hardcore, exclusively 4WD route slices through the centre of Australia. This is the Aussie outback at its most gritty and scenic. Traverse seven interconnected roads from Laverton in Western Australia to Winton in Outback Queensland, through the Northern Territory. The super eager veteran families can aim to travel coast to coast.
Rating: Hardcore (4WD)
Don’t miss: Uluru, Kata Tjuta, Alice Springs, West MacDonnell Ranges (including Ormiston Gorge, Stanley Chasm and more), Winton Dinosaur Trail
How long: 2800 kilometres along predominantly unsealed roads
Best for: Teenage families with road-trip experience and a willingness to rough it in return for some awesome scenery
Cairns to Cape York
This tropical trip takes you right to the very top of Australia. Cape York or Pajinka is the northernmost point of the mainland, making this trip a special one. Full of rainforests, beaches, friendly locals and the odd cassowary and river crossing, this 4WD adventure will become a thing of the past when the road is eventually sealed. Brave and experienced families should jump in now!
Rating: Hardcore (4WD with river crossings – although the Queensland Government has pledged that the road to Cape York will be completely sealed by 2020, making it 2WD accessible)
Don’t miss: Daintree Rainforest, rock art in Laura, Old Moreton Telegraph Station, The Tip (Australia’s northernmost point)
How long: approximately 1000 kilometres one-way – there is only one way in and one way out!
Best for: Fearless, self-sufficient families with extensive 4WD experience as there are river crossings and even crocs to contend with! You’ll need to carry everything. Not suitable for young families.
Savannah Way – Broome to Cairns
‘Australia’s Adventure Drive’ is a road trip and a half, so buckle up! Tick off no less than 15 national parks and five World Heritage areas when you cross from Western Australia’s Broome to Cairns in tropical Queensland or vice versa. Desert, gorges, mountains and rainforest – you’ll see it all from sea to sea. The trip can be broken into sections. Katherine is a good halfway point to stop.
Rating: Hardcore (there are some 4WD sections, and parts of the route are inaccessible in wet season)
Don’t miss: Boab trees in Derby, The Bungle Bungles, Fitzroy Crossing, Halls Creek, Nitmiluk/Katherine Gorges, Undara lava tubes, Daintree Rainforest
How long: 3700 kilometres and at least two weeks
Best for: Families who love adventure and variety and know their way around a 4WD and a campsite
Gibb River Road, Western Australia
The Gibb River Road will take you through the untouched Kimberley wilderness on a thrilling 4WD trail. Between Derby and Wyndham, you’ll find countless cattle stations, campgrounds and gorges perfect for swimming, especially the famous Bell Gorge. Six different Indigenous language groups can be found along the route, and rich local history. Keep wet season in mind as many routes are rendered impassable by heavy rains, and always keep your eyes peeled for crocs.
Click here to read about Louise Ball’s experience of the Gibb with her partner and four kids.
Don’t miss: Windjana Gorge National Park, Lennard River, King Leopold, Bell Gorge, Manning Gorge, Mitchell Falls, Drysdale River Station
How long: 700 kilometres from Derby to Wyndham, from one to two weeks
Best for: Another famous route, Gibb River Road is great for older families seeking a challenge and some of the most remote locations in the country
Last but certainly not least is every road-tripping family’s dream. Take 6 months at the very least to conquer the Big Lap, a trip around Australia. Sometimes called the ‘rim route,’ Highway 1 is a network of sealed roads that together trail the perimeter of the Australian mainland, connecting its capital cities. As a kid, I adored Alison Lester’s Are We There Yet? picture book and dreamed of embarking on a similar trip with my family. There’s no time like the present to pack up shop and hit the road. Check out the blogs of Aussie families The Blonde Nomads and Trip in a Van who have done just that.
Outback road trip survival – what to do if you break down with kids in the car
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