Everyone has to go on an Australian road trip at least once in their life. There are so many iconic road trips in Australia to choose from, but we have created the top destinations to jumpstart your itinerary planning.
Compared to the US, an Australian road trip is a lot easier to plan since most of the places to visit in Australia are along the coast. The interior attractions are limited to rock formations and where water exists.
Australian Road Trip
The best way to plan your Australian road trip is to travel from large city to large city, which usually coincides with state capitals. The East Coast Australia road trip is by far the most popular, but there are highlights all around Australia. Let’s take a look at the typical legs of the ultimate Australian road trip.
- Australian Road Trip
- Backpacking Australia
Sydney to Cairns Road Trip: 4-6 Weeks
The Sydney to Cairns road trip highlights many of the best beaches in Australia, several iconic wildlife species, and a few national parks thrown in for good measure. Here are all the places to look into while planning this leg of an Australian road trip through New South Wales and Queensland.
- Blue Mountains National Park
- Newcastle and Port Stephens
- Hunter Valley Wine Region
- Port Macquarie
- Nambucca Heads
- Dorrigo National Park
- Coffs Harbour
- Byron Bay
- Stanthorpe and Granite Belt
- Lamington National Park
- Gold Coast
- Northstradbroke Island
- Moreton Island
- Fraser Island
- Bundaberg and Bargara
- Agnes Water and 1770
- Carnarvon National Park
- Mackay and Pioneer Valley
- Airlie Beach
- Townsville and Magnetic Island
- Paluma Range National Park
- Mission Beach
- Canecutter Way to Innisfail
- Frankland Islands
- Port Douglas and Daintree National Park
Cairns to Darwin Road Trip: 1-2 Weeks
Compared to the East Coast Australia road trip, there are a lot less places to visit from Cairns to Darwin. Most of the destinations can be found close to Darwin, and consist of national parks. You can see kangaroos on this stretch too, but crocodiles steal the show in the Northern Territory. Here are all the places to consider for your Cairns to Darwin road trip.
- Atherton Tableland: Kuranda, Mareeba, Yungaburra, Crater Lakes, Waterfall Circuit
- Undara Volcanic National Park
- Burketown for Morning Glory
- Lawn Hill National Park
- Mataranka and Elsey National Park
- Katherine Gorge National Park
- Kakadu National Park: Ubirr and Nourlangie Sections
- Litchfield National Park
Darwin to Perth Road Trip: 2-3 Weeks
The longest road trip in Australia is from Darwin to Perth, which is sparsely populated so the main attractions are national parks. Besides unreal geological landscapes, travelers will also experience the best walk-in snorkeling in Australia. Most attractions are 300-400 kilometers apart so driving constitutes a lot of the time spent in the Northern Territory and Western Australia. Check out the top places to visit below.
- Flora River National Park
- Victoria River Crossing
- Keep River National Park
- Purnululu National Park
- Gibb River Road: Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek
- Karijini National Park
- Cape Range National Park
- Exmouth and Ningaloo Marine Park
- Overlander Roadhouse to Denham
- Monkey Mia
- Kalbarri National Park
- Kwongan Wild Flowers
- Cervantes and Pinnacles Desert
- Yanchep National Park
Darwin to Adelaide Road Trip: 1 Week
The center of Australia is known as the outback, and for good reason. There is very little development due to a lack of water. The exception is Alice Springs and the nearby rock formations that draw tourists to one of Australia’s most iconic symbols – Uluru. Despite the remoteness of these sections of the Northern Territory and South Australia, the attractions below are all worth a visit.
- Devils Marbles Conservation Reserve
- West MacDonnell National Park
- East MacDonnell Ranges
- Watarrka National Park (King’s Canyon)
- Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park (Ayers Rock and Three Sisters)
- Alice Springs
- Coober Pedy and Painted Desert, Breakaways Reserve, Moon Plain
Perth to Adelaide Road Trip: 3 Weeks
You will find it all as you travel from Western Australia to South Australia. The Perth to Adelaide road trip will take you through three of the top wine regions in Australia, wonderful national parks, lush forests with climbable fire towers, and the longest stretch in the world of absolutely nothing at all. Keep an eye out for emus while quokkas will probably find you on Rottnest. Some of our favorite places to visit in Australia are below.
- Perth and Rottnest
- Shoalwater Islands Marine Park
- Geographe Bay – Bunbury, Busselton, Dunsborough
- Margaret River Wine Region
- Pemberton and Warren National Park
- D’Entrecasteaux National Park
- Walpole-Nornalup National Park
- Porongurup National Park
- Wave Rock
- Cape Le Grand National Park
- Flinders Ranges National Park
- Barossa Valley Wine Region
- Clare Valley Wine Region
Adelaide to Melbourne Road Trip: 1-2 Weeks
The start of your Adelaide to Melbourne road trip takes you back where you left off, drinking wine for free in an additional three wine regions. There are a few other stops along the way in South Australia with Kangaroo Island being most notable, as it comprises all the best that Australia has to offer on one manageable island. The main draw in Victoria is the most famous Australian road trip, the Great Ocean Road. Find all the noteworthy attractions along the way below.
- Adelaide Hills Wine Region
- Kangaroo Island
- McLaren Vale and Victor Harbor
- Coorong National Park
- Coonawarra Wine Region
- Mount Gambier
- Cape Bridgewater
- Grampians National Park
- Port Cambell
- Great Ocean Road
Tasmania Road Trip: 1-2 Weeks
Tasmania has similar weather to New Zealand, and also wonderful hikes. With the weather being fickle you may need to wait a few days for the perfect opportunity to go hiking. Otherwise there isn’t much to do if you don’t want to get out and enjoy nature on a Tasmania road trip. See below for all the places to visit in Tasmania.
- Launceston: Cataract Gorge and Liffey Falls
- Tamar Valley: Rosevears and Low Head
- Walls of Jerusalem National Park
- Boat Harbour
- Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park
- Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park
- Southwest National Park
- Port Arthur
- Maria Island
- Freycinet Peninsula Circuit
- Bay of Fires Conservation Area
Melbourne to Sydney Road Trip: 7-10 Days
Out of all the Australian road trips, the section from Melbourne to Sydney has the least desirable destinations. The highlights are Rutherglen for port wine tasting and the Australian capital Canberra, but see if any of the destinations below can help break-up the drive.
- Wilsons Promontory
- King Valley
- Snow Road
- Great Alpine Road
- Snowy River and Errinundra National Parks
- Croajingolong National Park
- Jervis Bay and Kiama
Backpacking Australia is very popular due to the yearlong working-holiday visa that allows foreigners from most developed countries to work and travel until the age of 31. Although you can work up to six months at any employment, I spent only a few months in Sydney saving money for my 6 month Australian road trip.
Buying a Vehicle in Australia
Most backpackers only undertake the Sydney to Cairns road trip, which means that buying a car, van, or motorhome is best in either of these end points. There tends to be more selection in Sydney, but you can find great deals in Cairns since backpackers tend to finish their trip there.
I originally planned on traveling around Australia with someone I met on HelpX, which is a work exchange program. Our travel styles didn’t match so we split ways after a few weeks traveling together. Although I was trying to avoid buying a vehicle, I was forced to purchase one in a small town in Queensland. In hindsight, this worked out for the best since I had control over the road trip.
I bought both my Toyota minivan in New Zealand, and Toyota Camry station wagon in Australia from Gumtree ads, which is similar to Craigslist in the US. Keep in mind that each state in Australia has different laws regarding vehicles, registration, inspections, and theft devices. With the different regulations comes advantages and disadvantages that you can choose from to find the best vehicle.
This happened to be my second road trip around Australia. My first was a family trip when I was 8 years old in a motorhome. We traveled for a month making a loop from Sydney to Cairns to Uluru, and back to Sydney. The comfort and convenience of a motorhome was so much better than living out of a station wagon and minivan.
Australian Road Trip Budget
Australia can be an expensive country to travel if you aren’t careful. I met too many backpackers that never left Sydney since they blew all their money on drinking at the bars. I was able to limit my spending to AUD$200 per week for everything while traveling.
I would post an ad on Gumtree with my Australian road trip itinerary seeking three other backpackers to join me the following week. Once we agreed on the places to visit in Australia and met to verify compatibility, we started our road trip.
We would prepare our own meals and split gas among four people. Attractions were usually free or very affordable. Goon, also known as boxed wine, was the drink of choice for its affordability and ability to taste okay in the heat.
Accommodation outside of large cities and the Gold Coast were free thanks to WikiCamps Australia. Their database can be downloaded and used offline to find free camping, rest stops, RV parks, and more.
Driving in Australia
In order to drive in Australia you need a valid international driving permit accompanied by the driver’s licence issued in the country you live in.
Some of the main road rules in Australia to be aware of are:
- Drive on the left side of the road
- All drivers and passengers must wear seatbelts
- Don’t drink & drive. The blood alcohol limit is 0.05
- Don’t use your cell phone while driving, including texting
Road rules are strictly enforced (including speeding) and violations come with hefty fines or possible imprisonment.
Road conditions are pretty good but there can be many gravel and unsealed roads. Watch out for wildlife on the road, such as kangaroos, koalas, emus and wombats.
The emergency services number is 000.
Although Australia is a relatively safe country to travel in, accidents do happen so we always recommend purchasing travel insurance before any trip. We’ve been using World Nomads in our travels through 80+ countries over the past 12 years. It’s the best-value provider we’ve found in terms of price and coverage and we haven’t had any issues when we’ve had to make (fortunately) minor claims.
For more details check out our World Nomads review here.
Australian Cell Service
If you are going to be on a road trip around Australia, then you need to make sure you have cell phone reception. The best network is Telstra, but you can get much cheaper plans through Boost that utilizes Telstra’s network.
On Boost, plans start at $20 for 5GB, or up to 35GB for $30. If you want to reduce your data while on an Australian road trip, try using Maps.me. Download the locations you need, and have offline directions ready at the tap of your fingertips.
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