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7 of Australia's best coastal drives

Spend a day or three by the sea on one of these sensational coastal drives. 

By Lee Atkinson

You don't have to get wet to enjoy a day beside the sea. From the Great Ocean Road to the Great Barrier Reef Drive and the Great Beach Drive, Australia's coastline has some of the most scenic driving routes in the world. Here are seven of the best.

Stunning sights from Australia

Great Ocean Road, Victoria (allow two to three days)

The Great Ocean Road is one of the world's most spectacular coastal road trips. It's a 243 kilometre (150 mile) cliff-hugging drive that starts just 90 minutes drive from Melbourne and winds through rainforests and beside beaches, past lonely lighthouses with jaw-dropping views, and famous landmarks such as the 12 Apostles. You'll see koalas and shipwrecks, wild surf beaches and lush forests full of giant ferns. Don't miss spots along the way include the Australian National Surfing Museum at Torquay, the Great Ocean Road Memorial Arch – a good place to stop for a souvenir photo – and the Otway Fly, an elevated boardwalk through the rainforest canopy 25m above the ground.  If you have a head for heights, climb the 47m lookout tower for stunning views. Stop for a lunch with a view at Chris's Beacon Point and spend a night being lulled to sleep by the sound of crashing waves at Alkina Lodge. Learn all about the many shipwrecks in the past at Flagstaff Hill in Warrnambool and if you are here between June and September, head for Logans Beach where you might be lucky enough to see one of the many female Southern Right Whales that come here each year to give birth.

Grand Pacific Drive, New South Wales (allow two days)

The views are just as impressive from Sydney's favourite seaside road, the Grand Pacific Drive. Starting just an hour south of the city it includes the cantilevered Sea Cliff Bridge, which curls around the cliffs 50 metres (164 feet) out to sea and stars in countless sports car commercials. Watch the waves whoosh through the blowhole at Kiama, walk on what is officially the world's whitest sand at Hyams Beach and loop back to Sydney through the pretty green hills and valleys of the Southern Highlands. On the edge of the sand at Wollongong's North Beach, Diggies café is a great spot to stop for lunch. If you want to stay overnight there are plenty of beachside holiday houses near Hymans Beach. Or you can live it up at Paperbark Camp, a luxury safari camp in the bush.

Great Beach Drive, Queensland (allow one day or two to three, if including Fraser Island)

Scenic coastal drives don't get any closer to the sea than the Great Beach Drive. It's a 200 kilometre (124 mile) wave-washed highway on the Sunshine Coast between Noosa and Hervey Bay, where the road is actually the beach. You'll need a 4WD and will have to time your trip for low tide, but nothing beats the feeling of sand beneath your wheels when the sun is shining. Highlights along the way include the famous multi-coloured cliffs known as the Coloured Sands, and Carlo Sandlblow, a massive slow-moving sand dune that towers over Rainbow Beach and is one of the largest piles of wind-blown sand on the Queensland coast. Try out a different kind of horsepower with a gallop along the beach with Rainbow Beach Horse Rides. Make the good times last even longer and take your car on the barge across to Fraser Island. Drive along the beach to its northern tip or tackle the sandy rainforest tracks through the island's centre, and stay at Kingfisher Bay Resort.

Indian Ocean Drive, Western Australia (allow seven to 10 days)

The dazzling white sand and turquoise seas between Perth and Ningaloo are truly astonishing. The Indian Ocean Drive follows the coast but there's so much more than just beautiful beaches to see on this epic 1250 kilometre (776 mile) adventure. There are the surreal desert towers called the Pinnacles, roadside carpets of wildflowers and dramatic rock canyons at Kalbarri. You can feed wild dolphins at Monkey Mia and snorkel Australia's other great coral reef, Ningaloo, straight from the beach at Coral Bay. Don't miss the once-in-a-lifetime experience of swimming with whale sharks; They visit Ningaloo every year between April and July. And make sure you eat fresh rock lobster on the beach from somewhere such as the they visit Ningaloo every year between April and July. And make sure you eat fresh rock lobster on the beach from somewhere such as the Lobster Shack in Cervantes.

Great Barrier Reef Drive, Queensland (allow one day)

Two World Heritage landscapes – the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest – come together on the 140 kilometre (87 mile) journey between Cairns and Cape Tribulation in tropical north Queensland. The views on the Great Barrier Reef Drive are so awesome they may leave you speechless, along with the wonders of the reef. The Sheraton Mirage Port Douglas makes an excellent base, and you should plan to spend a few days, because there's so much to see and do. Don't miss the ancient smoking ceremony with which your Aboriginal guide will welcome you with on a tour through the rainforest of Mossman Gorge.

Bowman Scenic Drive, South Australia (allow an hour or two)

This short drive is near the town of Beachport on the South Australian Limestone Coast, a region of cliffs, caves and some of Australia's best vineyards, about halfway between Melbourne and Adelaide. It may not take long to drive, but it delivers a particularly scenic parcel of sea-forever views and deserted beaches perfect for strolling, beachcombing and fishing. Have a soak and a float in the Pool of Siloam, a salt lake seven times saltier than the sea that is reputed to cure all manner of aches and pains. And chat to the locals fishing on one of the world's longest jetties – a whopping 772 metres (844 yards) long – before trying the catch of the day at Bompas or a crayfish roll at the Waterfront Café.

Great Eastern Drive, Tasmania (allow three to five days)

You'll recognise the beaches of eastern Tasmania as soon as you see them - they're the perfectly-shaped ones on the cover of all the tourist brochures and on all the travel posters. These deserted bits of paradise though, are just one of the many reasons why Great Eastern Drive - a road trip from Hobart to the Bay of Fires along the east coast -  is a classic Tasmanian journey. There's a little bit of everything that makes Tasmania great on this trip, including wine and wildlife, waterfalls, rainforest and convict ruins.  Explore one of the world’s most significant convict sites at Port Arthur, feed Tasmanian devils and taste oysters from a table in the middle of a bay at Saffire Freycinet, and gaze upon the perfect curve of white sand at Wineglass Bay. Follow the East Coast Wine Trail to some of the state's best cellar doors, try some cheese at Pyengana's Holy Cow Café, and pick up some homemade jams and berry ice creams at Kate's Berry Farm. You'll never go hungry on the Great Eastern Drive.