The tradition of ‘going walkabout’ has been
around since the first
Australians arrived on the continent some 50,000 years ago. But from
the ‘grey nomads’ carrying everything - including the kitchen sink - to
backpackers renting a Kombi van and loading up a few mates to share the
costs, everyone quickly comes to the same realisation: Australia is a
really, really big place - with more adventure than you could cover in
Whichever way you skin it, distance has to
be your first
consideration when you’re mapping out your great Aussie road trip. If
you’ve only got a few weeks, it’s best to choose a select few areas to
explore (and plan a second trip!). If you’ve got six months to a year,
you can cover some serious ground.
The second consideration is your choice of
chariot, which will
depend on how long you’re travelling and where you’re going. Australia
has an extensive network of roads, but once you get into remote areas,
they often dwindle to dirt tracks – so while that Kombi may look cool
it’s not going to make it up the Canning Stock Route.
If you’re travelling for up to eight weeks,
renting is usually a
more economical option than buying a vehicle. Renting gives you the
flexibility to pick up and drop off wherever you like. If you’re
travelling for 10 weeks or longer, it becomes more economical to buy a
car: just make sure it’s thoroughly roadworthy, has enough clearance
for lumpy roads and is a well-known make so you can source repairs and
spare parts in out-of-the-way places.
If you have a couple of mates to share the
expenses, the ultimate
freedom is some form of campervan, or if you’re travelling solo, there
are hop-on-hop-of buses and small group tours that will take you just
Over a few weeks, you could cruise the east
coast north from Sydney to Cairns. Say good-bye to the Harbour Bridge
and leapfrog from one beautiful beach to the next, find your own
private paradise, dig your toes into the golden sands and let the
Pacific Ocean wash over you. Stop off in Yamba or Byron Bay and explore the lush hinterland around Mullumbimby and Nimbin
before hitting the bright lights of Surfers
If you’re travelling between July and November, you can see humpback
whales breaching off Hervey Bay and if you want a break from the
driving, detour to the islands of the Great Barrier Reef to dive or snorkel among tropical fish and
The Coastal Explorer’s Way wends its way
along the Great Ocean Road
between Melbourne and Adelaide, along one of the most spectacular
sections of the Australian coast. Stop at Bells Beach to watch surfers
riding the famous Southern Ocean swells, amble through laid-back
seaside towns and count the remaining 12 Apostles – the giant rock stacks carved from
the coast over millions of years.
On the South West Coast of Western Australia
– chosen as one of the world’s Top 10 Regions for 2010 by Lonely Planet
- you can explore the wine country and remote surf beaches around
Margaret River, and head south through towering Kauri forests via
Denmark to the old whaling town of Albany where, between June and
October, you can spot whales breaching and playing just a few hundred
The most compact state to drive around is
Tasmania. In a couple of weeks you can head north from Hobart to Freycinet
and take the walk to Wineglass Bay – regularly voted as one of the most
beautiful beaches in the world. Hire a sea kayak and explore the
coastline, where pink granite mountains contrast with pearly-white
beaches and clear turquoise waters. Continuing ‘anti-clockwise’ you can
get the adrenaline rush of careering down 1050 vertical metres on a
mountain bike, on the Ben Lomond descent. Cradle Mountain-Lake
St Clair National Park has
some of the best hiking in Australia. You can clamber to the top of
Cradle Mountain and back in a day – and from the top you can see over
most of northwest Tasmania. From there, continue to Strahan and the
west coast, loop back to Hobart and you’ve taken a sizeable bite of the
And if you yearn to see the heart of
Australia, head for Alice
Springs, hire a 4WD and take the Red Centre Way. It’s worth taking your
time to explore the various gorges that cut through the red sandstone
of the West MacDonnell Ranges:
Standley Chasm’s sheer walls glow surreally red when touched by the
midday sun, while other gorges hide rock pools, perfect for cooling off
in the heat of the day. Be sure to start early for the Kings Canyon
rim walk – it’s a hot climb, but from the edge of this natural
amphitheatre, you can see forever across endless desert and get a sense
of the vastness of the Australian interior.
No Aussie road trip would be complete
without a visit to Uluru
and Kata Tjuta.
Watch the sunrise as you lope through the desert on top of a camel and
get an insight into the spiritual significance of ‘The Rock’ on a base
walk with an Aboriginal guide.
If you’ve got time on your side, head out on
– it’s the longest highway in the world at over 25,000 kilometres.
Stick to it and it will take you right around the rim of Australia –
but don’t take it lightly: in six months you could explore half of it
but you’ll need nine months or more to make it all the way around.
Follow the coast south from Sydney to
Melbourne and the Great
Southern Way to Adelaide. From here you can cross the immense flatness
of the Nullarbor Plain,
where the stormy Southern Ocean lashes the cliffs of the Great
Australian Bight on one side of the road, and the desert stretches to
infinity on the other.
You can continue through Western Australia,
up the wild, west coast from Perth, through Geraldton, Shark Bay and with a stop at Ningaloo Reef,
all the way to Broome.
Turning east across the top of Australia, the Kimberley is one of the
most remote regions on the planet – staggeringly beautiful, wild and
ancient, you’re now closer to Indonesia than you are to Sydney. Don’t
miss a walk among the weird beehive rock-domes of the Bungles before
you cross into the Northern Territory. Tropical, laid-back Darwin is a
welcome stop and the ideal base to get amongst the crocodiles,
marsupials and birdlife in Kakadu
National Park, and to learn a little about Aboriginal lore.
The Savannah Way
takes you from the Northern Territory through Gulf Country and a
uniquely Australian landscape of grasslands studded with bizarre rock
outcrops, and drops you off in Cairns.
Of course you could stick to the coast all
the way around the
continent, but taking detours along the famous stock routes that
criss-cross Australia will take you into the heart of the outback and
show you the soul of the land and its people.
The network of stock routes was developed
over the last 150 years to
enable graziers to move their cattle to water and to market. Names such
as the Strzelecki, Tanami and Birdsville Tracks and the Gibb River Road
are woven into Aussie folklore. The Canning Stock Route, at 2000km, is
the longest stock route in the world. Its single set of wheel tracks
leads through some of the harshest and most remote terrain on earth,
traversing the Gibson and Great Sandy Deserts.
Whenever you head off the beaten track in
Australia, you need to be
properly prepared. Be sure to stock up on water, food, fuel, a second
spare tire, a good map or GPS, and a tow-rope. Always tell someone your
plans and check the road conditions before you leave – and don’t forget
that your mobile phone probably won’t have reception out there in the
However you slice and dice the great Aussie
road trip, taking a few
weeks to explore one stretch of coast, or embarking on the epic
round-Australia odyssey, you’ll find adventure around every corner.
It’s just a matter of time.