The Great Australian Road Trip
October 2, 2018 • suzanne
12 min read
Travelling Australia by road is a pretty big undertaking, but the rewards are always worth the effort. So if you're keen to get out there but aren't sure where to go or what to take, this guide is a great place to start.
Whether it’s a quick beach escape with the family or a year-long lap of the map, the humble road trip has long been an Aussie tradition. As well as being one of the safest countries in the world for road travel, with a staggering landmass that somehow manages to be amazingly bare yet jam-packed with unique things to see and do, there's a huge sense of reward when you cover immense distances on your own terms.
To say you’ve nailed the Nullarbor Crossing, the Simpson Desert or Cape York Peninsula are just a handful of examples that illustrate how road tripping in Australia has evolved into more than just getting from A to B. Nowadays, road travellers are heavily influenced by the benefits of slow travel, and place equal emphasis on the journey as the destination. If you were to pack it all in and hit the road long term, you might even call it life changing.
Where to go?
Phwoar. Tough question. Australia is made up of six states and two territories, with a total surface area of a whopping 7.7 million square kilometres. Almost every capital city and around 85% of the population can be found along the 26,000km-long coastline, and for this reason, we’re a country that seems to have unshakeable sun ‘n’ surf associations. But gosh, things do change drastically when you venture inland.
Australia’s climates vary from tropical to temperate to arid to alpine, which means where you go will be determined entirely by the type of experience you want to have. Rainforest and reef, mountains and snow, outback and desert are all on the table. To get the full picture, you’ve really got to get out there and experience it all.
A great place to start is Australia's top ten scenic drives. You can tackle them individually or string them together as you plot a bigger road trip around Australia.
Road tripping in New South Wales
A New South Wales road trip arguably offers the greatest diversity of climate and landscape out of all the states and territories. It enjoys relatively mild winters in all but the alpine regions and hot cyclone-free summers, so there’s really no bad time to go.
The coastline is a string of surf breaks and idyllic bays interspersed with grassy headlands and craggy cliffs, which make for an incredible coastal road trip in a van.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Great Dividing Range reaches its crest in Kosciuszko National Park, which serves as a skiing and snowboarding playground in winter, and a mountain biking and hiking destination in summer. And then there are the vast tracts of the highland countryside that bleed into outback as you head west to the South Australian border. Fascinating tourist drives on sealed roads, such as Fossickers Way and Waterfall Way, are abundant if you can tear yourself away from the coast.
Road tripping in Victoria
Victoria is famed for its surf breaks, is home to a variety of stunning alpine environments and is also the state where you’ll find some of Australia’s most iconic drives. The Great Ocean Road, which hugs dramatic cliffs and takes you to the infamous 12 Apostles is more than deserving of its popularity. The Great Alpine Road takes you right to the top of the Victorian Alps where reliable snowfall and mild summers make it a year-round destination for outdoorsy pursuits like skiing and hiking. If you’re keen to head off the bitumen, the Victorian high country is a fantastic 4WD destination.
Being the second most southern state, you can expect longer, colder winters and warm summers with long daylight hours. Victoria’s seasons are most distinct when autumn leaves change colour in the highland towns.
Road tripping in Tasmania
Tasmania might have the most unique natural landscape of all, comprising rugged, impenetrable alpine wilderness, idyllic beaches and bays, and picturesque farmland. Being a small island with nothing between it and Antarctica, it’s also a place of temperamental weather – so make sure you dress in layers and expect a little sleet if you visit in winter. The payoff, of course, is off-peak prices and zero crowds. In summer, you’ll score the best weather but you'll have to share it.
It’s a small state, but driving around Tasmania to see all the sights such as Cradle Mountain, Launceston, Bay of Fires, Wineglass Bay, Hobart and Bruny Island can still take a fair amount of time, particularly because backtracking is often necessary. There’s so much natural beauty and amazing local food in Tasmania that we’d be bold enough to say it might be one of Australia’s best-kept secrets.
Road tripping in South Australia
Wild seas rolling in from Antarctica have taken big chunks out of South Australia, leaving stunning peninsulas and plunging cliffs that free campers swoon over. But if you’ve got a pang for civilisation, Adelaide is touted as an up-and-coming foodie mecca, with famous wine regions to match.
In terms of great Australian road trips in South Australia, crossing the Nullarbor finds itself at the top of most bucket lists, and it’s also the key route into and out of Western Australia. The sealed road means any traveller can experience the incredible sense of nothingness that this drive is renowned for.
The Birdsville Track, which takes you north into Queensland, has comparable notoriety but is a much more rugged journey than the Nullarbor. And for those looking to hit the sand, South Australia’s vast tracts of the desert are home to plenty of true unsealed tracks, such as beginner-friendly Goog’s Track, or the French Line through the Simpson Desert.
Road tripping in Western Australia
Making up around a third of the country, road tripping in Western Australia is quite the doozy. From south to north its climates range from temperate to arid to tropical, with a big whack of the desert in the middle. This means you’ll experience warm and cool seasons south of Perth, with wet and dry seasons becoming more dominant as you venture north. Cyclones and extreme heat in summer mean that autumn through to spring is the best time to tackle famous north-bound drives such as the 1200km Perth to Exmouthpilgrimage along the Coral Coast.
Double that distance and you’re in Broome, and from there on red dusty desert gives way to the lush gorges of the Kimberley, famed in the touring world for the iconic Gibb River Road. In the central and western half of Australia, things get much more remote and unforgiving, so it pays to research and familiarises yourself with direction and distance before heading off all guns blazing.
Road tripping in the Northern Territory
A lush, tropical top end known for national parks like Kakadu, and the mighty Red Centre home of Uluru put the Northern Territory firmly on the road tripper’s map. Like WA, the NT spans arid and tropical climates with summer bringing extreme desert heat and magnificent electrical storms in the north, so you’ll want to plan your trip accordingly.
Exploring the Red Centre and beyond can be done on sealed roads, however, you’ll miss out on a lot of lesser-known highlights if you’re limited to the bitumen. River crossings and corrugated roads all add to the adventure of the outback and paint a true picture of Northern Territory in all its colours. Naturally, you’d need to do a bit of additional research into navigating the Red Centre before levelling up from the tourist trail.
Road tripping in Queensland
Back on the east coast, Queensland is known as the sunshine state because truly, this part of Oz really struggles to get cold. It does get stormy in summer however, with cyclones a common occurrence in the wet tropics. If you’re heading up to visit the Great Barrier Reef or the Daintree Rainforest, shoulder seasons outside school holidays are your best bet for avoiding crowds and stifling humidity.
Queensland is a place of blissful coastal drives, such as the beautiful trip from Cairns to Cape Tribulation. It’s also a place of gnarly 4WDing, with Cape York being the goal for many keen off-roaders. In terms of size, it’s another whopper, so you’ll encounter everything from harsh outback conditions and pleasant tablelands to sleepy seaside communities and built-up coastal metropolises.
Road tripping Australia with an RV
Road tripping in Australia and camping with an RV tend to go hand in hand. Travelling with a camper trailer, caravan, motorhome, or pimped out 4X4 and tent allows you to reap the financial benefits of staying in a mix of affordable accommodation, such as campgrounds and caravan parks. This style of travel gives you access to home comforts when you want them while keeping bank balances healthy. But we reckon the most important aspect of teaming camping with your road trip itinerary is how you never have to break your connection to the outdoors – nature stays with you wherever you go.
No road trip of any length goes without a fair amount of preparation and initial investment. But the upshot is you only have to buy everything once. Get your rig and your camping gear sorted on Outdoria, and after that, you can take off on a whim. If you’re more of a planner or know you’ll be road tripping during peak travel periods, such as school holidays so you can take the kids, CamperMate makes it easy to book powered sites, campsites and cabins ahead of the rush.
To tow or not to to tow?
Choosing the best set up for an Australian road trip is often about weighing up freedom vs comfort, while of course keeping budget in mind. Here, we'll go over some of the most popular setups, but we've also got a more in-depth explainer of the different RV types that you'll find on Outdoria.
A self-contained van or truck with 4WD capabilities means you can travel on any road – sealed or unsealed – and never have to worry about hooking it up. It saves you money on things like registration, running costs and fuel since you’re not towing and maintaining an additional load, but you do sacrifice space and creature comforts. It might mean travelling only with the bare essentials and roughing it a bit more by camping in a swag or tent.
A camper trailer is a favourite among nomadic families as they’re easy and light to tow, easy to set up, provide more space and functionality such as slide-out kitchens, but still deliver a back-to-nature camping experience. Most camper trailers are off-road, which means you’re not limited to where you can tow it. They’re also a fair bit cheaper than caravans if you’re comparing new for new. Of course, a camper trailer won’t give as much protection in bad weather as four solid walls and compared to a motorhome, van or 4WD, there’s the expense of registering two vehicles.
Caravans give you space and comfort. Most have internal kitchens, many have bathrooms and showers and there’s all that wonderful headroom. Caravans are typically harder to tow, and can’t go everywhere. An off-road caravan will see you through some unsealed tracks, but you’ll more than likely run into trouble with the size and weight in rugged and extreme conditions.
Campervan or motorhome
The benefit of a campervan or motorhome is not having a tow vehicle, however, they aren’t usually well-suited to unsealed roads. They come in a wide range of sizes – from DIY van conversions with just a bed and small cooking area, to monster RVs with bathrooms, separate bunks and living quarters, and all the trimmings. You’ll have more space and comfort than if you were living out of a troop carrier for example, but not as much as most caravans. If you’re an occasional road tripper only, hiring a campervan or motorhome is a better option.
Equip your road trip
Forgetting an important piece of kit on a road trip is inconvenient at best, but could also be incredibly dangerous, possibly even life-threatening, if you find yourself in a jam in the outback. So we always like to recommend printing off a thorough road trip checklist, and tailoring it to your needs.
Key considerations for long trips into remote areas include:
- Communication: if you’re going into remote outback areas, you might consider getting yourself a satellite phone, and knowing how to access internet is a handy skill no matter where you're going in Australia.
- Power: are you going to stay in parks with powered sites the entire time? Or do you need to brush up on solar power road travellers and get a mat for your rig?
- Storage: carrying your own fuel and water is outback adventure 101, so you'll want to stock up on jerry cans and water tanks, with a minimum of 20L volume.
- Food: will a cooler do the trick? Or do you need to keep perishables fresh and fit for your enjoyment in a portable fridge?
- Entertainment: only life threatening if you’re travelling with kids who might kill each other, but still important. Get yourself an arsenal of road trip games for kids and a few extra ideas for the grown ups once the little ones have fallen asleep.
SHOP SOLAR PANELS
SHOP SAT NAVS
SHOP JERRY CANS
SHOP PORTABLE FRIDGES
Once you’ve got the essentials down pat, there’s a whole world of rad RV and camping gadgets for you to try out. Be warned, it’s a slippery slope you guys.