Australia is enormous. A vast and varied continent, travellers are taken from rainforests to desert plains, snowy mountains to pristine beaches. Each of these road trips marks the most iconic route in their respective state, each different and each uniquely Australian.

All of these trips are better in the summer (Nov-April). Heavy rainfall in the winter leads to many routes being shut down completely in the Northern Territory and Western Australia, where roads are scarce year-round, and the bogs caused by wet sands can be dangerous for travellers. The Great Ocean Road route can be taken any time of year, but it will be significantly colder and wetter in the winter.

Australia Road Trips

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

Aus road Magnetic Island

Road on Magnetic Island, Australia

Northern Territories road trip

Australia's barren outback

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.

Staying safe in the Outback is crucial. If your car breaks down, do not leave it. Rangers will find a car, but they will not find a lone straggler who has gone for help. Carry more water than you think you’ll ever need, with 1 litre per hour recommended for hikers, to stay hydrated in the sweltering deserts. Check your car and camping space for spiders, and learn which ones are harmless in advance. If you see a snake, stay perfectly still and let them pass you by, and never wander through the bushes they may call home.

It can seem intimidating, but that’s what makes a Territory trip such an adventure.

Aus road sign for kangaroos near Uluru in Northern Territory

Kangaroo road sign, near Uluru

Route and driving time

Darwin to Jabiru, Kakadu – 3 hours
Kakadu to Gunbalaya – 1.5 hours
Gunbalaya to Katherine – 5.5 hours
Katherine to Tennant Creek – 6 hours
Tennant Creek to Alice Springs – 4.5 hours
Alice Springs to Uluru National Park – 4 hours

You should spend at least one week travelling this route.

Kakadu National Park

Glinting eyes between the river reeds in Kakadu track travellers to the park, where Australia’s most intimidating predators reign. Gigantic crocodiles, towering gorges, and sweeping rivers, everything in Kakadu is supersized. The park itself, spanning 20,000 sq/km could be explored on end. With thick rainforests hiding hidden pools and waterfalls,

Opt for a trip along the East Alligator or South Alligator rivers. Not far from the town of Jabiru and the campsites, they offer the best spot to spy some of the 10,000 crocodiles that roam the park. Follow the safety protocol strictly when travelling in Kakadu and never swim anywhere that isn’t marked as safe. If you can, take a river cruise through the Jim Jim Creek, travelling out into the South Alligator River. These tours are led by Aboriginal guides, experts on the land, it’s flora and it’s deadly fauna.

To reach highlights like the Jim Jim Falls or the Maguk Gorge, you need to have access to a 4WD.

Explore the Arnhem Lands

The majority of tourists skip Australia’s heritage hub in favour of the more accessible sites in Alice Springs. They’re missing out on a unique opportunity to connect with Aboriginal communities in their ancestral homes, and to learn about the country’s history.

The area is restricted to protect the indigenous communities of the Arnhem Land, so you’ll need to file for a free permit online. Applications should be made 10 working days in advance. An off-roading vehicle is recommended, and visitors are asked to remember that each inch of the land they’re covering holds cultural and spiritual significance.

Start only 15km from the border of Kakadu National Park, at Gunbalanya. The community sits in the foreground of the Stone Country, where rough-hewn gorges, crocodile-filled waters and the shadow of Injalak Hill define quintessential Australia. Injalak is an ancient Aboriginal site, covered in rock drawings which date back up to 8,000 years.

If you’re visiting the area in August, add a couple of extra days to your itinerary and take the day’s drive up to Nhulunbuy. Here, you can attend the annual Garma Festival, Australia’s largest indigenous cultural gathering, which showcases Aboriginal art, dance, music and storytelling.

Paddle through Nitmiluk National Park

Stop for fuel at Katherine, then head 30 minutes north to Nitmiluk National Park. The 13 gorges that wind through the park cut limestone figures that stretch out to the skyline, easy to explore on foot, by boat, or by helicopter.

A favourite for adventurous travellers, the park rents out canoes. Take up a paddle and navigate your way to waterfalls, secluded swimming spots and caves painted with ancient Aboriginal art. The fourth, sixth and ninth gorges are accessible by canoe, with camping spots available there if you want to spend a night in the wild. There are also campsites available at the park entrance and accommodation in Katherine if you prefer to spend one day in the park.

Walking, you can travel through the park completely free, and have access to a wide range of lookouts, waterfalls, and natural pools. And, for the intrepid, there’s the full Jatbula Trail. Taking the five-day hike, you’ll be following an ancient songline, clambering over volcanic rock and night swimming mirrored pools that catch the cloudless, starry skies. Pre-booking and moderate fitness are essential for this route.

If you’d prefer a more relaxing route through Nitmiluk, cruises run at sunrise and sunset. These cruises are led by guides from the traditional owners of the land, the Jawoyn. Alternatively, you can catch a helicopter, flying you out to almost inaccessible pools and giving you a birds-eye view of the gorges.

Cross the great red desert

The small town of Tennant Creek makes for a convenient waypoint on your way down to Alice Springs. Take an opportunity to stock up on gas and food, and use one of the town’s many accommodation options for the night.

The stark red sands of the Tanami Desert can feel like a mirage on the long road to Alice. Flat, dusty plains are marked by spirals of sand that rise like tornados in the wind, disrupting the wispy tips of the native plant life. Unique and hostile, an environment like this is home to some of Australia’s most interesting wildlife.

Pay careful attention to the road, because giant monitor lizards will saunter across your path with no regard for speeding cars. Look to the shadows for sheltering echidnas and thorny devils, or to the skies for swooping peregrine falcons.

When you reach Alice Springs, you’ll find yourself amongst far more people than you’ve seen since Darwin. The only major town in the country’s centre, Alice caters to tourists and you’ll find plenty of options for accommodation, gas and food.

Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park

Australia’s most iconic skyline wraps around the giant standing rock Uluru. Though it’s one of the country’s most recognisable sights, no picture prepares you for the shifting shades of the oranges and reds and the vastness of the rock.

At around 550 million years old, the monolith has guarded over the landscape since before the dinosaurs and is an unsurprisingly significant figure in Aboriginal spiritualism and creationism. To learn about the rock’s role in the Dreamtime, walk around the base of Uluru with a local Anangu guide. They will teach you about the flora and fauna, and about the caves that provided shelter in the harsh desert for thousands of years.

Close the road trip with one of Australia’s most spectacular sights. The sunset over Uluru is one of the most dramatic on earth, cut with shades of red and orange against the blackening sands, a living mimicry of the red, black and yellow of the Aboriginal flag.

The Great Ocean Road, Victoria

Victoria's coastal highlights

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.

You’ll encounter some of the country’s most unique local wildlife, from koalas and kangaroos to bushtails and bandicoots, in grasslands, rainforests, volcanic pits and dramatic cliffs.

You can cover the whole route in a high-paced day tour from Melbourne, but if you have the time take a few days to explore.

Aus Sunset over the Sea cliff bridge along Australian Pacific ocean coast nr Sydney

Sunset over the Great Ocean Road

Route and driving times

Melbourne to Apollo Bay town – 2.5 hours
Apollo Bay town to Cape Otway – 30 mins
Cape Otway to Aire River beach – 25 mins
Aire River beach to Great Otway National Park – 20 mins
Great Otway to Twelve Apostles – 1 hour
Twelve Apostles to Port Campbell National Park - 15 mins
Port Campbell to Tower Hill – 1.5 hours
Tower Hill to Melbourne – 3.5 hours

Some travellers take this trip in one very busy day, but the recommended length is 2-3 days.

Curve the coastline via Apollo Bay

The Great Ocean Road officially starts at the town of Apollo Bay. Following the road around the bay, you’ll find your route littered with captivating coastal views.

But, these aren’t home to the picturesque white sands and gentle waves that are often associated with Australian shores. Stopping off by the side of the road, you’ll find tall grasses tickling your knees and sharp winds whipping round the coastal bends.

Skilful surfers navigate the lashing waves and families gather for walks along the rocky cliff sides. Watching them from the shelter at the foot of the Otway Lighthouse, you may catch a glimpse of the southern right whale migration around Australia’s south coast (May-October) or penguins heading home after a day fishing.

Following the road from Apollo Bay, you should stop off at Blanket Bay, Parker Inlet, Crayfish Bay, Castle Cove and the Aire River beach. Each one offers a welcome break from driving, an opportunity to enjoy the most beautiful beaches in Victoria, and quaint hamlets shaped by their laid back surfing culture.

Explore the treetops of Great Otway National Park

Lost in the dense interior of the Victorian bush, you’ll find yourself half an hour and a world away from the wind-swept sea. The tips of mana trees are lost to the clouds and the bridges that cross them make for the perfect vantage to spot some of Australia’s most unique critters. Set 47 metres above ground, the treetop walk offers a peek into life at the forest ceiling, with snoozing koalas wedging themselves between eucalyptus branches and kookaburras fluttering around the rails. If you’re up for a thrill, there are also opportunities to take a zip-line through the ancient forest.

Back at ground level, trails through the thickest patches of the forest open to cold waterfalls, tumbling from the bush. Choose from the many treks available throughout the park to find which best suits your abilities and your schedule, with highlights including Triplet Falls (2km, moderate difficulty), Hopetoun Falls (1km, easy), Beauchamp Falls (3km, strenuous), Stevenson Falls (500m, easy) and Sabine Falls (3.6km, moderate).

Spot almost Twelve Apostles on the Shipwreck Coast, Port Campbell

Contrary to their famous name, there are actually eight apostles. Naturally eroding over time, the rough-hewn limestone pillars that are still standing are no less impressive. Stretching out in a haze of distant sunset, the scale of the landscape is astonishing even from a high vantage.

Take a trip down the Gibson Steps route, carved into the cliffs, to see the statues from their best angle. At sea level, you’ll find yourself dwarfed by the Apostles. One of the most dramatic and memorable sites on the Great Ocean Road, the view from the bottom of the steps is not accessible at all times. You should be aware of tide time and ocean swells before heading down, locals advise never turning your back to the sea because out here conditions change drastically. Allow for 60-80 minutes climbing time.

The imposing rock face of nearby Loch Ard Gorge gave the Shipwreck Coast its name. The wreck of Loch Ard, one of eight famous wrecks in the bay, still sits south of Mutton Bird Island. Marooned there in 1878, the ship held only two survivors. The grizzly tale is marked along the trail between the beach and the hillside graveyard that houses the victims of the wreck. If you’d prefer to focus on the area’s natural beauty, hike the Geology Trail and spot Loch Ard’s blowholes and unique offshore stacks.

Just up the road, you’ll find yourself at London Bridge. A rustic companion to the UK landmark, the offshore arches were connected to the mainland until 1990. Though a natural marvel in itself, most visitors are a little preoccupied watching the waddles of the 100-odd penguins living near the London Bridge lookout.

Finish up your time in Port Campbell at Martyr’s Bay. Many believe that the name refers to the stone stacks standing sentinel, guarding Australia along the edge of the Great Ocean Road, which is the world’s largest war memorial. Others think it memorialises the deaths of a large group of Karrae-Wurrong Aboriginal men, herded off the cliff’s edge by early settlers. Whichever you believe, the views over the unique coastal landscape are undeniably spectacular.

Tower Hill National Park

Most tours finish at Port Campbell National Park, but it’s worth driving the extra hour to Tower Hill, home to an extinct volcano. The fertile land that fills the volcanic park makes the perfect habitat for all kinds of curious creatures, and it’s easy to spot echidnas, emus, possums, and kangaroos.

The landscape in Victoria’s oldest national park is defined by the tranquil lake, pooled at the foot of the 30,000-year-old volcano. In the springtime, wildflowers fill the grassy slopes of the crater, and the micro-ecosystem supports more than 200 animal species.

The original owners of the land, the Koroitgundidj Aboriginal community, operate tours, offering opportunities to learn about indigenous Australian culture in Tower Hill. Worn Gundidj teach visitors about the re-vegetation process undertaken in the park, necessary after settler communities stripped the area of its natural resources and introduced European-style agriculture. Their expert guides allow visitors the opportunity to experience the park with a local and discover the site’s natural beauty.

The Coral Coast, Western Australia

Australia's lesser-visited coastal drive

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.

Australia perth

Perth skyline, Australia

Route and driving times

Perth to Lancelin – 2 hours
Lancelin to the Pinnacles – 1 hour
The Pinnacles to Hutt Lagoon – 3.5 hours
Hutt Lagoon to Kalbarri – 0.5 hours
Kalbarri to Shark Bay – 4 hours
Shark Bay to Coral Bay– 6 hours
Coral Bay to Exmouth – 1.5 hours

You should spend at least 5-6 days travelling this route.

The Turquoise Coast, Perth to Kalbarri

Setting out from Perth, it takes only a couple of hours before you’ll find yourself in absolute isolation. Lancelin is one of the first towns you’ll hit, a place to refuel, grab a coffee or, if you’re feeling adventurous, throw yourself down a sand dune. Renting a board in town, crowds regularly travel up from Perth to sandboard down the Lancelin dunes.

Nearby, the Pinnacles National Park is home to one of WA’s most bizarre geographic landforms. Stacked for miles along the golden desert, the 20,000-year-old remnants of the former seafloor still stand. Take an hour or to wander between the thousands of statues, to drive the scenic road between the dunes, and to take a look at the local wildlife displays on site. These will give you an idea of which critters to look for, and which to avoid, for the rest of your trip.

Further north, near the small town of Gregory, sits one of many strange lakes in Western Australia. You can spot the bright pink Hutt Lagoon before you even see the water, as the clouds above it tinted rosy in the reflection. The lake is pretty and unusual but doesn’t need a long stop to see.

The highlight of this first stretch of western coast is, undoubtedly, Kalbarri National Park. Veer off the highway when you spot the viewpoint markers dotted along the roadside, particularly at Red Bluff or Mushroom Gorge, where you’ll meet panoramic views over dramatic rocky cliffs and thrashing waves. Keep an eye out for humpback whales (May-Dec) and the dolphins that routinely jump alongside the surfers.

Inland, start out taking the short walk up to Nature’s Window lookout. The walk takes only 15-20 minutes, leading visitors out to panoramic views across the river gorge at the park’s most iconic spot. The other hikes through the park require a moderate level of fitness, and take significantly longer, where you’ll shimmy down ladder between towering rocks, skip across rivers filled with fish and fossils, and dodge spiderwebs clinging to ancient caves. If you’re interested, try the Loop or the Z bend.

Shark Bay

Shark Bay lives up to its name. Just sit and watch the water and you’ll see tiger sharks, manta rays, dolphins and turtles. Further out to sea, you’ll find dugongs -- manatee-like mammals native only to Australia’s west coast. Head for Denham, the largest town in the area. Here, a campsite with facilities and barbecues, a gas station, pubs, coffee shops, restaurants and a museum make it an exciting change from the au natural beach campsites found along the road.

Monkey Mia is the most tourist-friendly spot on Australia’s west coast. There are luxury hotels, nice restaurants, and crowds. The visitors are driven by the park’s main attraction, playful, shallow-dwelling dolphins. Each morning the park run ‘meet & greets’, where staff will feed the dolphins that have lived along the coast for years, and visitors will have an opportunity to join it.

To get away from the crowds, set out to sea. Weaving around the families of emus that hang out on the beaches, you organise tours to watch rays, sharks, dolphins, turtles and dugongs. Provided you aren’t there on a very busy day, if you’re taking a midday snorkelling tour, you can typically ask to join the sunset excursion for free.

Between Monkey Mia and Denham roll the red sand dunes of Francois Peron National Park. Accessing the park requires a 4WD, and the entrance and exit are marked by spots to let down your tires. Once you have, you’re in for a wild off-road ride out to Big Lagoon, where bright blue water, stark orange shores, and the occasional dusty kangaroo stand in contrast.

Back at the coast, you should head to Shell Beach. From a distance, the beach looks like it’s lined by eerily pristine white sand. Up close, you’ll find that it’s made up of millions of minuscule shells. This curious phenomenon is neighboured by another of Australia’s oldest and strangest sites, the stromatolites at Hamelin Pool. A collection of the oldest and largest living fossils on earth, you’ll get a glimpse into what the planet’s waters looked like 3.7 billion years ago when stromatolites grew widespread across the world. Only four places in the world have similar fossils, with these being by far the largest.

The Ningaloo Reef, Coral Bay to Exmouth

As the Great Barrier Reef falls prey to climate change, industrial over-fishing and overtourism, the Ningaloo is considered by many the greatest coral reef in Australia today. It’s the world’s largest fringing reef, home to hundreds of species of fish, mammals and coral.

When stepping into the sea at Coral Bay, you have to be careful. From the shallowest tides, the seabed is filled with healthy and vibrant coral. Inches from the shore you can find yourself swimming with giant tropical fish, rays and turtles, all living harmoniously in the expansive reef.

Attracting many visitors, there are plenty of accommodation options close to the beach in the small town at Coral Bay.

Exmouth, a relatively large town surrounded by national parks and empty beaches, is an ideal base from which to explore more of the Ningaloo. From October to February, you’ll have a chance to see giant sea turtles come ashore to lay their eggs, or even a chance to watch the babies hatching. Travel to regulated stretches of coastline late at night, and wait as more and more turtles clamber ashore. The process is slow, and visitors are asked to avoid shining lights or making too much noise, but being present is an incredible experience.

Exmouth is right next to Cape Range national park, where you can re-familiarise yourself with the marine life, and even ride a rip-tide in a safe and controlled environment. Further from shore, joining one of the deeper sea snorkel or diving trips, you can swim with manta rays, reef sharks and gentle, giant whale sharks (March-July).

A surprising star of the show, far away from the famed beauty of the national parks, sits just outside the town of Carnarvon. You’ll pass the town on your way to Exmouth, but don’t write it off as a quick fuel stop.

Ferocious waves push through battered rocks along the coastal cliffs, bringing enormous and forceful bursts of sea through the coastal blowholes. Very few visitors venture out to the blowholes, but they’re a popular sight amongst locals. You can only see them at high tide, so search the tidal times in advance for the day you plan to travel.

A few minutes drive uphill from the blowholes, the Carnarvon lighthouse offers a scenic spot to stop and watch the sunset. Clear skies and dramatic colours show off the western title of ‘the Sunset Coast’.

The best Sydney to Melbourne inland road trip route

Scenic detours off the Hume Highway

The best Sydney to Melbourne inland road trip route
By David Whitley

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.

The route and driving times

Here are the stops on a Sydney to Melbourne inland route.

Sydney to Bowral in the Southern Highlands (1hr 20mins driving time)
Bowral to Canberra (1hr 50mins)
Canberra to the Snowy Mountains (2hr 30min)
Snowy Mountains to Beechworth (3hr 30mins)
Beechworth to Echuca (2hr 20mins)
Echuca to Ballarat (2hr 30mins)
Ballarat to Melbourne (1hr 25mins)

Aus kangaroos

Spot kangaroos in the Southern Highlands

Wildlife spotting in the Southern Highlands

The first deviation, around 90 minutes or so out of Sydney, should be to the Southern Highlands, where a wine and food trail can be put together alongside scenic back road forest drives. The town of Bowral, which greedily hoards gardens, heritage buildings and cafés, is a pilgrimage site for cricket fans. The International Cricket Hall of Fame is next to the famously picturesque ground where legendary batsman Don Bradman first wielded the willow.

Cricket aside, the Southern Highlands are also reliably good for spotting Australian wildlife. For that classic wild Australian kangaroo sighting, look for areas of open grassland with bushes and trees at the edge — golf courses are absolutely perfect, but campsites work too.

Wombats — adorably comical furry tank-like marsupials — are harder to spot, but can be found snuffling around at dusk, often around the same golf courses.

Aus Australian national war memorial in Canberra

Australian national war memorial, Canberra

Seeing Canberra’s cultural museums

An hour and a half from the Southern Highlands lies Australia’s capital, Canberra, which was built to a distinctive plan of many roundabouts and boulevards around an artificial lake. It can feel strangely empty at times, although the Braddon area is developing a hip reputation for dining and drinking — think artisan coffee, microbreweries and busy restaurants.

Canberra’s strength is its cultural collection, though. Parliament House, the National Gallery of Australia, the National Museum of Australia and the Australian War Memorial are all thoroughly absorbing. Get to the latter just before closing time, when a lone piper or bugler plays the Last Post in a simple, moving ceremony that gets hairs standing up on the back of the neck.

Should action trump museum-trawling, then hiring a bike to cycle around Lake Burley Griffin — detouring to see the architecturally outlandish embassies in the Yarralumla district — makes for an invigorating day out. Alternatively, get a different perspective of the city by taking a hot air balloon trip over it.

Canberra’s less-heralded strength is the countryside on its doorstep. The green, canopy-covered Namadgi National Park is home to several excellent bushwalking trails — and it’s the sort of place where you can easily find kangaroos bouncing along the road ahead of you.

Aus Mount Kosciuszko

Mt. Kosciuszko, Snowy Mountains

Heritage towns and hiking in the Snowy Mountains

Despite the reputation for being hot and sunny all the time, Australia does get snow, with several ski resorts found in and around the Snowy Mountains. Peak season is July to September, although snow can be present for around a month either side, and snow chains are often required on cars during this period.

Do the trip outside these months and accommodation prices in ski resorts such as Thredbo can be bargains, while walks along alpine streams and meadows are considerably more pleasant. The big conquest of Australia’s continental summit — the 13km walk to the top of 2,228m-tall Mt Kosciuszko — is surprisingly easy-going. Much of it is along metal walkways designed to limit erosion, and it’s very much a walk rather than a climb.

The Alpine Way, which snakes through the mountains with several top drawer lookouts along the way, is a fabulous drive and leads to the New South Wales — Victoria border. Here, glimmering highland lakes and lumbering dairy cattle await, along with a series of heritage towns.

Of these, Beechworth feels the most lovingly preserved, with a 19th-century streetscape now filled with bakeries and cafes. This is also the epicentre of the Ned Kelly legend — walking tours from the Visitor Information Centre take in the prison cells, newspaper offices and pubs that feature in the story of Australia’s most notorious outlaw.

Aus Paddle Boat Billy Tea on the Murray River

Paddle boat on Murray River

Cruising Murray River and Australia’s gold rush

There’s more timewarp Australia to enjoy at Echuca, where paddle steamers depart from the long, wooden wharf for cruises along the Murray River. The Murray, Australia’s longest river, is the lifeblood the provides irrigation for much of the country’s best agricultural land. There’s a very good reason why rural Victoria has more than its fair share of quality restaurants and wineries — it’s a region that believes in living well off local produce.

The river cruises slowly trundle past groves of silvery gum trees, as a bonanza of bird life flits between the branches. It’s a scene Aussies would recognise as quintessentially Australian.

On the way towards Melbourne, the route enters the goldfields where, in the 19th century, huge fortunes were made. The city of Bendigo was where the biggest seams of gold were found, and the Central Deborah Gold Mine explores the gigantic hauls before taking visitors underground for a tour of the mining tunnels.

Ballarat, further west, wasn’t quite as lucrative, but it played a bigger part in Australia’s story. The Eureka Stockade, where miners dug in against police in a bid to win political representation, is seen as a turning point in the nation’s history. The Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka does a good job of telling the story — and that of Australia’s transition from colonial backwater to first-world democracy. But the more entertaining interpretation comes at Sovereign Hill, where the evening show combines light, sound, indigenous beliefs and live-action across a sprawling recreated colonial mining settlement.

Sovereign Hill is an extraordinary place during the day, too. It combines reenactments and mine train rides with activities such as gold-panning and candle-making. Traditional crafts, most notably wheelwrighting, are practised here too — and as genuine businesses rather than just-for-tourists shows.

On the way into Melbourne, park up the car and take time to explore one of the grungy neighbourhoods that give the city its strong sense of urban cool. Footscray is up-and-coming, but Fitzroy, just north-east of the city centre provides the best introduction to what Melbourne’s about.

Handsome old pubs become live music venues at the weekend, vegan restaurants and artists’ markets congregate around Rose Street, street art murals adorn the side lanes and the eating options take on a global flavour, with dozens of cuisines represented within a single block. After a road trip that focuses on Australia’s nature, landscapes and heritage, this is the man-made, 21st-century flipside.

Aus graffiti artwork at Hosier Lane Melbourne

Street art decorating Hosier Lane, Melbourne

Adelaide to Perth road trip

Driving Adelaide to Perth via the Nullarbor Plain

Adelaide to Perth road trip
By David Whitley

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.

For those who want nature to make them feel small, and show them worlds with barely a sign of human influence, conquering the outback’s lonely highway quenches an almighty thirst.

Road versus rail is the first decision, and the experiences are very different. On the Indian Pacific train, the conquest is done in comfort, with lavish meals and complimentary drinks served on board while chugging across the Outback. There are also organised excursions built into the three-day trip, including dinner under the stars and a visit to the Nullarbor ghost town of Cook.

Driving from Adelaide to Perth — often cheaper done in a campervan than a car due to one-way rental fees — is considerably less pampered, although the first stages can lull you into a false sense of security.

Aus Nullarbor Plain

Crossing the treeless Nullarbor Plains between Adelaide and Perth is a quintessentially Australian road trip

Adelaide to Perth road trip route

Suggested stopping points and drive times between Adelaide and Perth:

Adelaide to Barossa Valley (75km, 1 hour driving time)

Barossa Valley to Whyalla (370km, 4hrs)

Whyalla to Port Lincoln (270km, 2hr 45min)

Port Lincoln to Baird Bay (280km, 3hr 10min)

Baird Bay to Ceduna (160km, 1hr 45min)

Ceduna to Head of Bight (285km, 3hr 10min)

Head of Bight to Eucla (220km, 2hr 20min)

Eucla to Balladonia (490km, 5hr)

Balladonia to Kalgoorlie (400km, 4hr 15min)

Kalgoorlie to Perth (590km, 6hr 20min)

Highlights on the Adelaide to Perth road trip route

What to see and do between Adelaide and Perth

Aus Vineyard in One Tree Hill

Vineyard in One Tree Hill, Adelaide Plains of South Australia

Wine tasting in Barossa Valley and Clare Valley

Heading north from Adelaide, the Barossa Valley and Clare Valley line up like sirens determined to lead dedicated sailors astray. Two of Australia’s — and arguably the world’s — greatest wine regions have dozens of welcoming cellar doors, eager to host wine-tasting sessions.

The Australian way of doing wine tasting is arguably the best on earth. Most wineries will allow you to taste at least part of their range without charge, in the hope that you’ll like what you get and buy a bottle or two afterwards. There’s very little snobbery, although the cellar door managers will offer a little educational information as you go.

The two regions have different personalities. The Barossa is quite showy, specialising in big, bold reds, and playing host to some of the major international labels, although visits to the smaller wineries are often more rewarding. The Clare works the charm harder, is smaller scale, and has fewer wine tours available, with the star wines often being the Rieslings.

Aus cliffs near port lincon

Cliffs near Port Lincoln

Visiting the coastal regions of the Eyre Peninsula

Beyond the Clare, however, the endless plains of wheat abutting the dry outback kick in, and much of the Eyre Peninsula is farming country. The triangle-shaped peninsula is far more famous for its seafood than its cereal crops, however, and heading along the coast rather than ploughing straight across allows for a series of experiences to be built in.

In Whyalla, the tours of the gargantuan steelworks are weirdly fascinating, but Port Lincoln further south is the Peninsula’s most appealing hub. Known as the tuna capital of Australia, cruises head out to see the tuna farms and sea lion colonies — although the more adventurous can up the stakes with a shark cage dive. On dry land, the oyster farms in and around Coffin Bay are the highlights, with what are generally regarded as Australia’s best oysters available as fresh as they can possibly be.

The western coast of the Eyre Peninsula is more remote, but from the hamlet of Baird Bay, one of Australia’s most remarkable aquatic experiences is on offer. Two decades of trust-building have meant that the sea lion colony living here is happy flitting around playfully as humans snorkel alongside. They’re puppy-like and inquisitive, contentedly sharing their underwater home with flailing, splashing visitors.

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Head of Bight, Nullarbor Plain

The Big Empty — driving through the Nullarbor Plains

Ceduna, around 90 minutes northwest, marks the start of what can be regarded as the Big Empty. The true Nullarbor Plain comes around 300km further into the drive, but Ceduna provides the last drop of mobile phone signal for a few days, and it’s where the Nullarbor Links golf course starts.

This gloriously absurd project — 18 holes stretch 1,365km across the desert towards Kalgoorlie — is as much about keeping people interested as it is about keeping to the fairways. Most holes are outside the roadhouses that punctuate the drive every hour or two, with signs posted next to the tees explaining aspects of Nullarbor life.

The Nullarbor stretch can theoretically be tackled with one overnight stop, but realistically you need two. And because drivers have a choice of roadhouses to slot them in at, accommodation standards are surprisingly high. It’s usually simple but solidly decent cabins, plus pitches for campervans. Camaraderie builds at the bar at night, as the Nullarbor conquistadors share stories of roadkill and silly games invented to pass the time.

The surprising thing is how little such games are needed. The stops along the Nullarbor come with unexpectedly gripping oddities. There are the pink lakes near Cactus Beach, one of the world’s great remote surf spots. There’s whale watching from the cliffs at Head of Bight, where the visitor centre doubles as a fascinating museum about the Nullarbor’s wildlife and heritage. Eucla has the ruins of an old telegraph station and tales of the continent-changing telegraph line being built. And Balladonia has an exhibition about when it became home to an unlikely media scrum when the Skylab space station crashed nearby in 1979.

The landscape isn’t as flat and scrubby as many expect, either, particularly towards the western end where woodland takes over. But spending a few days crossing the Nullarbor has the effect of taking you out of the real world, to the point where getting phone signal in Kalgoorlie is jarring and almost disappointing.

Aus aerial view of Super Pit goldmine in Kalgoorlie

Aerial view of Super Pit goldmine, Kalgoorlie

Gold-mining and ‘super pits’ in Kalgoorlie

Going via the gold mining city of Kalgoorlie is the quicker, inland route to Perth, but there’s a coastal option too. This makes the back end of the trip a more traditional holiday, with impressive beaches and wildlife-filled National Parks around Esperance, whaling and World War I heritage in Albany, canopy walks and terrifying 65-metre tree climbs around Pemberton, plus caves, surf and wine around Margaret River.

Kalgoorlie, though, is different. Its star attraction is the giant Super Pit, where you can watch some of the planet’s biggest diggers spiral relentlessly into a deep cut hole. Elsewhere, museums and tourist mines tell the story of the gold rush, and the attempts to make life amongst the parched landscape workable.

One of these attempts — and a successful one — is one of the world’s great engineering projects. The 556km freshwater pipeline from Mundaring in the Perth Hills is a constant accompaniment along the side of the road on the way to Perth. It’s a symbol of man conquering the inhospitable Australian outback - and the perfect one to escort drivers coming to the end of their Nullarbor adventure.

Month-by-month

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.

Aus Brisbane Streets Beach in South Bank Parkland

Inner-city man made beach at South Bank Parkland, Brisbane

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.

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New Year's Eve fireworks display, Sydney Opera House

Australia's best road trips

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.

Australia's best road trips

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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