Ripper Roadies: Australia's best scenic drives
December 2, 2018 • suzanne
7 min read
Whether it’s beach, desert, mountain or forest you’re chasing, there’s no question about it: Australia does a mean road trip. These ten adventure-packed drives won't take you off the beaten track, but they're a bloody good way to start plotting your lap of the map.
1. Great Ocean Road, Victoria
Hugging the dramatic cliffline from Torquay in Victoria to the South Australian border, the Great Ocean Road is a 243km-long driving route known the world over. The Twelve Apostles – or what’s left of them – won't come as a surprise, but there's plenty of other stuff that will. Along with gazing out at striking seascapes and leaping whales, you can bushwalk, cycle, forage and chase waterfalls among the giants of the Great Otway National Park, gorge yourself at chocolateries, breweries, farm gates and cellar doors, climb historic lighthouses, or park your car and lace up your boots – much of the Great Ocean Road has been set up to be explored on foot.
Read Next: Adventures on the Great Ocean Road
2. Great Alpine Road, Victoria
As the highest sealed road in the country, it’s not surprising the Great Alpine Road is also one of the most beautiful. The route weaves for 339km from Wangaratta to the coastal village of Metung, climbing up, over, and back down Victoria’s stunning alpine region. Offering up a mix of deep valleys, snow-topped mountain ranges, idyllic villages and patchworks of luscious pastures, calling it a 'country drive' doesn’t quite do it justice. If you’re a foodie, the local eats are world class. And if you’re not, the GAR is sure to convert you.
Read next: Drive the Great Alpine Road
3. Alpine Way Drive, New South Wales
Who’s up for getting high? The Alpine Way Drive links the New South Wales highland towns of Jindabyne, Thredbo and Khancoban as it winds through the lofty reaches of Kosciuszko National Park. It’s only 108km long, but what it lacks in length, it more than makes up for in altitude. While you could race through it in a couple of hours, we’d suggest stretching it out to enjoy the hiking, mountain biking, snow sports, and riverside camping enroute. As the cool air at elevation clears your mind, let your thoughts turn to the indigenous Australians who, thousands of years ago, first blazed this spectacular line.
4. Great Barrier Reef Drive, Queensland
The Great Barrier Reef Drive connects Cairns to Cape Tribulation via the Captain Cook Highway and Cape Tribulation Road, and spotlights the unrivalled beauty of tropical north Queensland. If you’re torn between reef and rainforest, this 140km drive boasts best of both worlds. In fact, it’s the only place on Earth where two World Heritage Sites converge. First, you’ll wind beside curving, palm-and-mangrove fringed beaches, before plunging beneath the lush rainforest canopy of the ancient Daintree. Between the guided Dreamtime walks, emerald-green swimming holes, coral reef tours and perhaps even a bit of croc spotting, it’s not hard to see why there’s nowhere else quite like it. Let the wows begin.
Read next: Great Barrier Reef Drive: Cairns to Cape Tribulation
5. Grand Pacific Drive, New South Wales
The 140km route from Royal National Park in Sydney’s south to the impeccable Jervis Bay is not only one of NSW’s most scenic drives, but home to an engineering feat of the most spectacular kind. Cantilevered 30m above lashing waves, the Sea Cliff Bridge snakes beside mighty bluffs, mirroring the cliffline’s bends and curves. It’s fair – albeit controversial – to say this could be Sydney’s most picturesque bridge. Beyond it, the Grand Pacific Drive wanders along tracts of moody rainforest, tumbling green hills and some of the finest surf breaks in the state.
6. Nullarbor Crossing, South Australia
Unlike all the other road trips on this list, there’s not a tonne to see or do while crossing the Nullarbor Plain – but that’s precisely the appeal. Stretching 1200km between Ceduna in South Australia and Norseman in Western Australia, the Eyre Highway emphasises the unfathomable emptiness and stark beauty of our great southern land. Illustrating this point nicely is the leg known as 90 Mile Straight, the country’s longest stretch of dead-straight road. The almighty wind-and-wave battered bluffs that form the Great Australian Bight make for some jaw-dropping photo ops, too.
Read next: The Big Tow: crossing the Nullarbor
7. Great Eastern Drive, Tasmania
From historical hotbeds like Hobart and Port Arthur, to natural wonders like Freycinet Peninsula and Bay of Fires, the east coast of Tasmania is an endless stream of bucket-listable destinations. String ‘em all together and you’ve got the 295km Great Eastern Drive. Abundant in preserved convict history, stunning bushwalks, endemic wildlife and untouched beaches, the highlights enroute are mixed and many. Pro tip: forget your Vita Wheat budget for a while and add the region’s local oysters, pinots and homemade berry pies to your ‘must devour’ list. Your taste buds will thank you.
8. The Coral Coast, Western Australia
The 1200km road trip from Perth to Exmouth gives you a sense of the vastness of Western Australia, without veering off sealed roads. Make your pilgrimage any time from autumn-through-spring to enjoy snorkelling Ningaloo Reef and walking the ragged red cliffs during mild, cyclone-free weather. Time it right and you might be treated to a swim with a whale shark or an explosion of desert wildflowers colouring the roadside. Yes, there are stretches of highway with not much going on, but sometimes a little bit of patience yields the most rewards! Got time up your sleeve? Be sure to make a detour or two to check out the curiosities of Shark Bay and the wonders of Kalbarri, or strike out east to explore the maze of gorges and turquoise pools at Karijini.
Read next: WA Road Trip: wonders of the Coral Coast
9. Red Centre Way, Northern Territory
This 1135km loop around the Red Centre (also known as the Mereenie Loop) is almost completely sealed, but if you prefer to avoid the dirt completely and don't mind tacking on another 500-ish kilometres, you can do the whole lot in a 2WD vehicle. Starting in Alice Springs and stringing together Uluru, Kings Canyon and the wild swimming wonderland of the West Macdonnell Ranges, you’re gonna need a solid week to feel the full impact of this spiritual, cultural and adventure-packed journey through the beating, dusty heart of Australia.
Read next: The Mereenie Loop: a taste of outback Australia
10. West Coast Wilderness Way, Tasmania
If you think about road trips in terms of return on investment, Tasmania takes the cake. That’s why – out of all the other incredible drives out there that we haven’t mentioned – we’re rounding the list off with the West Coast Wilderness Way. For as few as 300km, you’ll journey through a rugged wilderness home to Cradle Mountain, the Franklin and Gordon Rivers, no less than 3000 lakes, the harbour town of Strahan and its haunting convict past, before finishing up at Lake St. Clair. The recommended itinerary takes around three to four days, but there must be a reason so many nomads choose to lay down roots on the Apple Isle, right? This stonker of a drive might very well be it.