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Travel Australia

The Great Australian Roadtrip

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 a lifetime.

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 in Coolangatta, 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 about anywhere.

The Great Australian Roadtrip

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 Paradise. 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 corals.

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 metres offshore.

The most compact state to drive around is Tasmania. In a couple of weeks you can head north from Hobart to Freycinet National Park 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 Apple Isle.

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 Highway 1 – 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 wilderness.

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.

Australia: Spectacular Great Ocean Road
Great Ocean Road: The Twelve Apostles
Following the Wine Trail
Australian Wineries
About Australia
Australia - History
The Beginning of the Sea Story of Australia
The Beginning of the Sea Story of Australia Part 2
The Beginning of the Sea Story of Australia Part 3
Australia, New Zealand, Pacific Islands & More...
Up Close & Personal With Australian Wildlife
Australian Parks & Wildlife
Australasia Parks Guide
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