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Australia: 4 iconic road trips to take

By Andrew Marshall 26 September 2020 | Last Updated 18 July 2023

Header image courtesy of Arun Clarke (via Unsplash)

Immerse yourself in the raw beauty of Australia’s vast coastal and natural landscapes by going on an epic road trip of a lifetime. Here are four iconic road trips across Australia to go on, from Queensland to Victoria, to take in the best of what the land Down Under has to offer.

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The Great Ocean Road (Victoria)

One of the world’s most inspiring coastal journeys has to be Australia’s Great Ocean Road. It offers the dramatic and windswept magnificence of Victoria’s “Shipwreck Coast” along with the lush rainforest and towering eucalyptus of the Otway Ranges. 

The road runs 247 kilometres from Torquay through to Warnambool and can be covered in a day or two, depending on how fast you drive. However, there is so much to see and experience, I suggest taking the time and enjoying the journey over five or six days, camping or staying overnight in hotels along the way.

The building of The Great Ocean Road began in August 1918 to commemorate the Australian soldiers who lost their lives in WWI. Carved from precipitous cliffs and sodden rainforests, it was finally completed in 1932. Tens of thousands of years of erosion by the powerful forces of the Southern Ocean on the soft limestone cliffs created the spectacular natural sculptures along this coastline. Sites such as the Blowhole, the Arch, London Bridge, and the famous Twelve Apostles inspire the weariest of motorists.

The Victoria Highway (Northern Territory)

Travellers motoring from east to west or vice versa between Kununurra in Western Australia and Katherine in the Northern Territory should take the time to discover the region. The Victoria Highway is rich in attractions and offers a taste of the Old Territory. 

The roadhouse pub and commercial camping grounds at Victoria River Crossing make an excellent base to explore the eastern sector of the region. There are several lovely walks signposted from the highway offering directions to panoramic views of the river and gorge. The spectacular roadside scenery continues to the small township Timber Creek, where the characteristic boab tree was first discovered.

There is plenty to see and do around the town. Fishing is high on many peoples’ list and many local fishing charter operators have helped people achieve their lifelong ambition of catching a barramundi. The local museum housed in the original 1908 police station is another must-visit, in addition to a river tour. Scenic flights are also available, following the course of the Victoria River to the Timor Sea.

Judbarra National Park (formerly Gregory National Park) borders the Victoria Highway around Victoria River Crossing close to Timber Creek. At 10,500 square kilometres, it is the Territory’s second-largest national park after Kakadu and offers a bounty of wonderful camping spots, fabulous walks, and a unique insight into the region’s wealth of Aboriginal and pastoral history. Only three kilometres east of the Western Australia border is one of the region’s greatest treasures—Keep River National Park. Visitors can enjoy bushwalking through magnificent gorges, Aboriginal art sites, and Dreamtime landscapes.

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The Nullarbor Plain (Western Australia/South Australia)

The longest, flattest road journey in Australia is often thought of as one of the continent’s most boring “stretches.” Formed from the world’s largest single slab of limestone, this is a land of remarkable surprises, both above and below the surface.

The section between Balladonia and Caiguna is regarded as the longest straight stretch of road in Australia and in the world (90 kilometres). Feel the air rush up from below from blowholes around Caiguna, visit the remote Eyre Bird Observatory at Cocklebiddy, and where the highway draws near to the Great Australian Bight at Eucla, the remains of the old town can be seen submerged in the sand dunes.

The name Nullarbor is derived from the Latin word “nulla” and “arbor,” meaning “no trees.” Head east from Norseman on the Eyre Highway and it’s difficult to tell where the plains begin—there are so many trees. Mallee eucalypt and acacia woodlands grow in abundant on both sides of the highway for most of its length. 

Shortly after crossing the South Australia border, several tracks are leading to lookouts providing spectacular views of the world’s longest sea cliffs. Here, the Nullarbor comes to an abrupt halt, plunging over 100 metres to the ocean below. Nearing Ceduna, the landscape takes a decidedly rural and hilly turn and there is a sense of completion.

The Flinders Highway (Queensland)

The section of Queensland’s Flinders Highway that runs between Hughenden and Mount Isa is known locally as the Dinosaur Highway—a bitumen journey into outback terrain that carves a swathe through 100 million years of history. 

Today, the red earth around Hughenden is famous for its rich fossil finds, such as the Muttaburrasuarus, a 14-metre-high reptilian giant that lived long ago, and some of the world’s most intact dinosaur specimens.

At the Flinders Discovery Centre in Hughenden’s main street, you can view a replica Muttaburrasaurus skeleton made from its original fossils found in the district. The township of Richmond also offers a unique view on the past with a fabulous display of fossilised bones at Kronosaurus Korner—Australia’s premier marine-fossil museum.

Turn off a side road after Hughenden, and one is greeted by an immense gorge across the landscape. This is the Porcupine Gorge, also known as “Australia’s Little Grand Canyon,” and it’s well worth the diversion off the Flinders Highway, which cuts through sweeping plains of Mitchell Grass. As it joins Barkly Highway, approaching Cloncurry, the steady horizon is broken by rocky outcrops and spinifex-cloaked hills that rise from the plains. 

Arriving in Mount Isa, you’ve hit the “Big Smoke.” This mining town is one of the world’s most productive single-mine producer of lead and silver with copper and zinc. Surface mine tours are popular but it’s the underground tour that steals the limelight and bookings need to be made well in advance.

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Andrew Marshall

Travel writer

Born in England in 1961, Andy has been a professional freelance travel writer and photographer since 1990, and has travelled to over 60 countries including Sri Lanka, Panama, Morocco and the Solomon Islands to cover a diverse range of travel, food, drinks and golf features for various publications worldwide including Golf Australia, Geographic Magazine and Blue Wings. “From playing golf in Iceland and visiting rum shops in Barbados, to truffle hunting in Italy and sampling the best diners in New York, Andy has scoured the globe looking for interesting story angles. Andy lives in a 17th century cottage on the outskirts of Huddersfield in West Yorkshire, England.