Getting from A to B in Australia is a different prospect to most countries. When your country is the size of a continent, the old cliché that travel is about the journey rather than the destination takes on a slightly different meaning. Sure, you can always fly. But for the quintessential experience, nothing beats crossing this land on four (or two) wheels.

Virtually any Australian road trip has the potential for adventure—you could, if you were that way inclined, just see where the road takes you. Or you could follow one of the following classic Australian road trip itineraries. Whichever route you follow, take the amount of time you think you need and double it. You won't regret slowing down, taking your sweet time, and stopping off frequently to enjoy the view and the local hospitality.

This is Australia. Buckle up and enjoy the ride!

Australia Road Trips

Australia's top road trip routes

Top Australian road trip routes

In a country of this scale, nearly any journey by car can quickly turn into an epic road trip. For some structure to your four-wheeled adventure, take a look at our top five recommended routes:

1) Sydney to Melbourne road trip

Approx. distance: 1,282km (796 miles) (one way)

Duration: At least two to three days

Suggested route: Sydney—Bowral, Southern Highlands—Canberra—Snowy Mountains—Beechworth—Echuca—Ballarat—Melbourne

Most Australians fly between Sydney and Melbourne or take the Princes Highway along the coast. The alternative is a direct route inland down the Hume Highway, which is a 10 to 12-hour slog behind the wheel. However, by building in scenic detours and making the drive part of your trip, this Sydney to Melbourne route offers up much of what makes Australia great.

Read more: Sydney to Melbourne inland road trip

2) Adelaide to Perth road trip

Approx. distance: 3,140km (1,950 miles)

Duration: At least 10 days

Suggested route: Adelaide—Barossa Valley—Whyalla—Port Lincoln—Baird Bay—Ceduna—Head of Bight—Eucla—Balladonia—Kalgoorlie—Perth

The lure of the Big Nothing is strange, and by no means universal. Many will shudder at the thought of undertaking Australia’s most notorious drive; others will see crossing the Nullarbor Plain on the road trip from Adelaide to Perth as a quintessentially Australian challenge, and a humbling, epic adventure.

Read more: Adelaide to Perth road trip

3) Northern Territory road trip

Approx. distance: 2,320km (1,440 miles) (one way)

Duration: At least seven days

Suggested route:

Darwin — Jabiru, Kakadu — Gunbalaya — Katherine — Tennant Creek — Alice Springs — Uluru National Park

There’s nowhere more quintessentially Australian than the Northern Territory. The sands are rust red, the skies are empty, the animals look like they crawled out of a sci-fi movie. Aboriginal culture and history are preserved better than anywhere else in the country and the landscapes are dramatic and desolate. It’s the ideal place to immerse yourself in the ‘real’ Australia.

Read more: Northern Territory road trip

4) The Great Ocean road trip

Approx. distance: 670km (416 miles)

Duration: Two to three days

Suggested route: Melbourne—Apollo Bay—Cape Otway—Aire River Beach—Great Otway National Park—Twelve Apostles—Port Campbell National Park—Tower Hill—Melbourne

Driving the Great Ocean Road is one of the most popular trips in Australia. Snaking Australia’s southern coast, the route includes the highlights of Victorian diversity.

Read more: The Great Ocean road trip

5) Coral Coast road trip

Approx. distance: 1,600km (995 miles) (one way)

At least five to six days

Suggested route:
Perth—Lancelin—The Pinnacles—Hutt Lagoon—Kalbarri—Shark Bay—Coral Bay—Exmouth

Western Australia is virtually empty of people. Long stretches of white sand beaches, hiking paths through cavernous gorges and vast coral reefs alike. Driving the Coral Coast route from Perth to Exmouth, you’ll see the best coastlines Australia has to offer with virtually no other visitors there to block the view.

Read more: Coral Coast road trip

Planning a road trip in Australia

There are a few tools that are essential for a smooth road trip in Australia. The Wikicamps app maps out all the campsites available along your route, including details of their price and access to facilities. Free camping is illegal in most of Australia, and campsite prices average only around $10 a night per vehicle.

It is also important to map out gas stations available along the route. The characteristic long desert drives don’t allow for frequent stops, and you don’t want to get stuck out in the Outback. Travellers taking detours into quieter territory typically carry an extra jerry can or have multiple tanks.

Renting a vehicle is very straight-forward, and many companies offer cars suitable for camping. Campervans, with back seats that convert to bed space, are common. If you’re interested in seeing everything the country has to offer, you can opt for the Australian favourite and get a 4WD. These often come equipped with rooftop tents that can fit 1-4 campers depending on size, saving you the hassle of a tent. Most roads are easily navigable in a regular car, just make sure to get your camping kit in advance.

Each state sells passes that will grant you access to all of the national parks in that state, for a one time fee. These can be bought at the entrance to any park, and are bought per car rather than per passenger. If you’re planning to visit all the parks on your route, these work out as far better value

Best times for road trips in Australia

January, February and March are the hottest months of the year in the south of the country, with January, in particular, being when Australians hit the beach due to school holidays. It’s the heart of the wet season in the north — remote roads can be flooded out, but accommodation prices are low and waterfalls in full flow.

Up north, the wet season transitions into the dry during April and May. 4WD tracks to key sites in National Parks reopen, and jellyfish more-or-less disappear from the Great Barrier Reef. Down south, temperatures cool a little, while still being shorts and T-shirt weather most of the time. It’s a good time for bushwalking.

June, July and August are the winter months down south — the ski season kicks in for the Snowy Mountains, and big city temperatures can drop into single figures. Sea temperatures are a couple of months behind the land, though, so you’re good for a swim surprisingly deep into winter. Up north, it’s warm, dry and blue skies.

September and October are essentially springtime in the southern states. Weather is changeable, but warming up, with wildflowers exploding into life — particularly in Western Australia — and native wildlife becoming more active. In the north, the humidity starts to crank up.

The rains return in the north during November and December and tour, hotel and trip prices drop. But it’s prime time in the south, often hot without being unbearably so, and even fussy locals agree the sea is warm enough to swim in again.

Events and holidays

The long, hot January days are accompanied by the Australian Open tennis in Melbourne and Australia Day festivities across the country on January 26. Expect plenty of fireworks.

February and March see the world’s second and third largest fringe festivals take over Adelaide and Perth, while the Mardi Gras parade in Sydney becomes a riotous celebration of all things LGBTQI+. Motorsport fans can also take in the Formula One Grand Prix in Melbourne.

April’s main event — the ANZAC Day commemorations on April 25 — is a more sombre, but hugely moving and community-spirited affair. There’s also Tasting Australia — a nationwide food festival.

In May and June, Sydney is illuminated with the Vivid light art festival, and the country’s sporting obsessions are on full display with the rugby league and Aussie Rules football seasons hitting their stride — the Grand Finals are held in October.

That’s also when the famed Bondi to Coogee coastal walk in Sydney, which also becomes a giant open-air sculpture gallery for Sculpture By The Sea.

In early November, Aussies use the Melbourne Cup horse race as an excuse for a boozy party, and revelry throughout December culminates in the New Year’s Eve celebrations. Again, the big cities blow serious budgets on fireworks.

In this guide:

About the authors

The Best Road Trips In Australia

David Whitley

David Whitley spent five years in Australia editing backpacker magazines and has visited twice a year since coming back to the UK. He works for major magazines and newspapers both at home and in Oz.

The Best Road Trips In Australia

Sara Jane Armstrong

SJ Armstrong is a travel writer and infrequent blogger from London. She specialises in slow and budget travel across 6 continents, including 6 months travelling around Australia. Her writing has appeared in various online outlets and magazines, and more of her published work can be found here.

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