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9 great Australian road trips

Enjoy the freedom of the wide open road on one of these classic Australian road trips.

By Lee Atkinson

Road tripping is arguably the best way to see Australia. Even in the outback you'll generally find regular gas stations, friendly towns and plenty of roadhouses and restaurants to visit, not to mention some of the world's most breathtaking scenery. Hire a car, pack your sense of adventure and drive into the sunset on one of these great trips.

On the road

From Melbourne: drive the Great Ocean Road

This is one of Australia's most celebrated road trips, and for good reason. You'll quickly lose count of the "wow" moments on the 243 kilometre (150 mile) Great Ocean Road, which starts an easy 90 minute drive from Melbourne, as one you witness stunning views at every turn. You'll see the famous Twelve Apostles (large limestone rock formations in the ocean) and historic lighthouses, and visit waterfront cafés and hotels with sea views. There are lush patches of rainforest, shipwrecks, koalas, migrating whales, national parks, wild surf and windswept beaches. Stay for a couple of nights at one of the seaside towns or do the return trip in a day. 

From Sydney: take the Grand Pacific Drive

This dramatically beautiful road starts just an hour south of Sydney. Drive the cantilevered curves of Sea Cliff Bridge as it coils around the cliff face 50 metres (164 feet) out to sea, then snake your way three hours down the coastline to Hyams Beach, where you'll find the world's whitest sand. Along the way you can go for a surf or paddle at crowd-free beaches, marvel at the power of the sea at the Kiama blowhole, and go whale and dolphin watching. Stay at Hyams Beach for a night or two before returning to Sydney.

From Adelaide: drive to the Flinders Ranges and outback

The drive to the Flinders Ranges takes you into the heart of this dramatic mountain range, one of the oldest on the planet. From Adelaide it takes five hours to reach Wilpena Pound, a natural phenomenon that looks like a giant crater in the heart of the Flinders Ranges. Stay a couple of nights and join a 4WD sunset tour or take a scenic flight over the Pound. If you have a 4WD vehicle of your own, explore the network of gravel roads through ancient gorges and over rocky, weathered peaks. Try some grilled kangaroo, camel and emu at one of the outback's most famous pubs, the Prairie Hotel at Parachilna, before heading back to the city.

From Alice Springs: drive the Red Centre Way

If you've never been outback, this road trip is the perfect place to start. On this five day drive in the Red Centre you'll tick off many of the big icons of outback Australia: Uluru, Kata Tjuta, Kings Canyon, and the dramatic gorges and refreshing swimming holes of the West MacDonnell Ranges. The drive circles in a loop from Alice Springs. Stop for a night at Kings Canyon, and spend a night or two at Uluru.

From Darwin: drive Nature's Way

See crocodiles, incredible sunsets, vast outback plains and the very best of Kakadu National Park on this loop drive from Darwin, in Australia's tropical Top End. Give yourself at least five days so you can stop at Adelaide River for a crocodile cruise, view ancient rock art and learn about traditional Aboriginal culture in Kakadu. Take some time to swim in natural pools beneath the waterfalls in Litchfield National Park, and hike, paddle or cruise through Nitmiluk Gorge near the town of Katherine.

From Cairns: take the Great Barrier Reef Drive

Not all great drives are long drives, even in a place as big as Australia. This 140 kilometre (87 mile) trip along the coast from the tropical city of Cairns to Port Douglas and Cape Tribulation in North Queensland is unbeatable when it comes to fantastic views. Where else can you see two World Heritage wonders (the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest) at the same time? Take a tour of Mossman Gorge with an Aboriginal guide, see crocodiles and cassowaries in the wild, take a day trip out to the reef and walk through the rainforest.

From Broome: drive the Gibb River Road

Unlike the other drives on this list, the Gibb River Road is only accessible by 4WD. Hire a comfortable vehicle in Broome, in the far north of Western Australia, and explore the wild and remote Kimberley region on this stunning road. Camp beside secluded gorges or go for luxury accommodation on vast cattle stations. Ride a horse across the savannah, relax in palm-fringed hot springs, take a scenic flight over ancient landforms, cruise rivers and lakes and swim beneath waterfalls. You can also visit rock art galleries covered in mythical Aboriginal figures, and ride a camel at sunset along the famous endless white sands of Broome's Cable Beach.

From Hobart: take the Great Eastern Drive

Enjoy some of the best of Tasmania on a road trip up the island's east coast. Drive north from Hobart to the Bay Of Fires, where the beaches are white, the air is clean and the scenery is magnificent. Wander around the atmospheric sandstone ruins of the World Heritage-listed Port Arthur convict settlement, feed Tasmanian devils, take a walk on Maria Island, stay at award-winning luxury hotel Saffire Freycinet, climb the ridge to look down upon the perfect curve of Wineglass Bay and indulge in the island's best food and wine.

From Perth: cross the Nullarbor

If you really want to experience Australia's wide open spaces, consider driving across the Nullarbor Plain. In Latin, Nullarbor means treeless (nullus, "no", and arbor, "tree"), and this flat, open expanse takes up almost the entire south-western corner of Australia. Despite being long and flat, it's not boring. There are many interesting little towns, roadhouses and restaurants to visit along the way. You'll also find caves, old gold mining towns and the longest golf course in the world (1365 kilometres, or 848 miles, long, with a hole at each participating town or roadhouse). There are even the remains of a space station that crashed to earth. It will take you three to four days to drive from Perth to Adelaide on this route.