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A road trip through Australia brings the opportunity for multiple bucket-list types of experiences when it’s done right. You might be able to snorkel in pristine waters with abundant marine life, glimpse all sorts of animals like wallabies, koalas and kangaroos, or even watch penguins waddle down a beach. Of course, there’s the remote Outback, world-class cities with a wealth of cultural attractions and much more to discover in the Land Down Under. The difficult part is choosing which road trip to take, so we’ve narrowed it down for you, providing our top picks.
East Coast Tasmania: Hobart to Bay of Fires
Follow the coast from historical Hobart to the spectacular Bay of Fires via St. Helens, Swansea and Bicheno on this unforgettable road trip. You’ll be able to feast your way through tasty local products like fresh seafood, cheese and wine, hike, explore empty beaches and more. Be sure to take the detour to Freycinet National Park for the ultimate wilderness experience surrounded by secluded turquoise bays and white sandy beaches, with the soaring pink granite peaks of the Hazards Range providing a jaw-dropping backdrop.
Great Ocean Road
The Great Ocean Road is one of Australia’s most famous road trips and one of the best in the world, stretching along the southern coast from Torquay to Allansford. The route passes stunning beaches and the Twelve Apostles, rock pillars that tower up to 200 feet high. Port Campbell National Park is home to Loch Ard Gorge, the site of a 19th-century shipwreck and the Island Archway, which collapsed in 2009. Enjoy surfing or swimming along the way as well as watching for exotic animals like kangaroos, penguins and koalas as you wind through 150 miles of some of the country’s most impressive coastline.
Adelaide to Melbourne
Driving from Adelaide to Melbourne, you’ll be able to advantage of all that these cities have to offer, with the latter renowned for its thriving foodie scene, while the former boasts some great museums and gorgeous gardens. In between, glimpse all sorts of wildlife from dolphins and whales to koalas, wallabies, kangaroos and penguins. One of the top spots to spend time along the way is Kangaroo Island. Catch the ferry from Cape Jarvis to experience what’s often called Australia’s own Galapagos thanks to its abundance of endemic species that can be seen in national parks and reserves as well as the farmland that surrounds the roads. Near the entrance to Flinders Chase National Park, take the Koala Walk to view koalas, and inside the park, around Admirals Arch, you can get up close to New Zealand fur seals.
Perth to Darwin
A drive from Perth to Darwin will bring you to many of the region’s highlights, including postcard-perfect white sandy beaches stretching for miles without another soul in sight, along with vast expanses of the outback. Plus, Coral Bay and the Ningaloo Reef are said by many to be even better than the Great Barrier Reef. About 125 miles north of Perth is Nambung National Park, home to the unique Pinnacles Desert with its limestone spires rising from golden sands, some of which stand more than 16 feet high. Keep an eye out for cockatoos, grey kangaroos and emus – if you visit nearby Hangover Bay, you’re likely to see bottlenose dolphins just offshore. Coral Bay is a snorkeler’s paradise, and, if you’re here between March and June, you can swim whale sharks, the biggest fish in the sea.
Sydney to Cairns
Most visitors to Australia fly into Sydney, Australia’s oldest and largest city, making the Sydney to Cairns road trip a no-brainer. Before heading out, enjoy the city’s top attractions highlighting the country’s history, art, nature, and of course, capture a photo of the iconic Sydney Opera House. Start your drive on the Great Western Highway that will lead you to the Blue Mountains, a verdant region with steep gorges often enshrouded in a blue haze, a result of the evaporating oil emanating from the many eucalyptus trees. Next is Hunter Valley, the oldest commercial wine-producing region in Australia, bringing opportunities for tasting and touring. You’ll visit the Gold Coast too, with golden stretches of sand and attractions like the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary where you can cuddle with koala bears, feed kangaroos, take part in crocodile feedings, and more.
The opportunities on this route are really endless, but a highlight for many is a flight-seeing trip from Airlie Beach. Soar over the breathtaking Whitsundays, including Whitehaven Beach, often ranked among the world’s most stunning beaches.
Sydney to Melbourne/Phillip Island
Another great option from Sydney, head south, winding along the coast to Phillip Island. One of the most dramatic and naturally beautiful road trips in the country, along the length you’ll be able to gaze out at the Pacific, the Tasman Sea and the Bass Strait, with dramatic headlands, spectacular beaches and picturesque coves. Ancient ranges inland are filled with national parks and forests, lakes and rivers. As you make your way to Melbourne via Phillip Island, watch for the famously adorable penguins parading along the sands.
Alice Springs to Uluru
One of the most popular journeys in the Outback begins in Alice Springs, a hub for pioneer history and Aboriginal art. You can easily get from here to Uluru in 5.5 hours along the paved Stuart and Lasseter highways, but if you want more of an adventure, head into the MacDonnell Ranges by following the Red Centre Way. Don’t miss the pools at Ellery Creek Big Hole or the dramatic rock face known as Standley Chasm in the West Macs. In the East Macs, you can delve into the area’s gold rush and indigenous history. Once at Uluru, the sight itself is worth the drive, but one of the best ways to experience it is to join the daily Mala Walk to learn about its cultural significance and view ancient rock art.
Darwin to Kakadu and Litchfield
This 5-day loop trip is a scenic route linking two of the country’s most impressive national parks, Kakadu and Litchfield. Both have freshwater swimming holes and magnificent waterfalls, while Kakadu offers some great walks, incredible views over Arnhem Land and Aboriginal art sites. If you’re ready to take a break from driving, you might want to take a four-wheel drive tour with Kakadu Cultural Tours to visit private ancient rock art sites and meet up with Aboriginal artists at the Injalak Arts Centre where you’ll learn about bush tucker preparation and cooking.