From arid desert to lush rainforest, from balmy beaches to unforgiving mountain ranges, from lively cities to cosy small towns, Australia truly has it all.
And the best part? You can see it all with a car rental in Australia, your favourite car snacks, and an epic road trip soundtrack.
Eight states and territories, unlimited road trips, and thousands of unforgettable memories (and photos to match) from all corners of our beautiful country. So what are you waiting for?
Road trips in New South Wales
Grand Pacific Drive
The Grand Pacific Drive is one of Australia’s most beloved road trips. The 140-kilometre Grand Pacific Drive route starts in the Royal National Park just south of Sydney, and takes you through the gorgeous seaside cities and towns of Wollongong, Kiama, Shellharbour, and Shoalhaven. The drive passes through lush rainforest, and over the spectacular cantilever Sea Cliff Bridge (sometimes known as the Grand Pacific Drive bridge) for an ocean view that literally takes you out over the water.
Even though this Sydney coastal drive would only take a few hours to complete, you could easily spend a lazy long weekend winding your way down the coastline. In Wollongong, you can check out the fishing and surfing spots before exploring the city’s restaurant scene. When you arrive in Shellharbour, you can spend your time relaxing on the beach, diving, or exploring the cute Shellharbour Village. In Kiama, you’ll have to visit the famous blowhole and treak the beautiful Kiama Coastal Walk, all before making your way to Shoalhaven for its beach vibes and exceptional food and wine.
If you’re taking a round trip from Sydney, you can either head back north along the same route and revisit your favourite stops along the way, or take the inland route, which is slightly longer, for a change of scenery.
Waterfall Way is easily one of the most gorgeous-sounding road trips in the country. This scenic drives covers 185 kilometres between Coffs Harbour and Armidale, and is jam-packed with spectacular views every step of the ‘way’.
The drive takes you through Dorrigo, which is the gateway to the Dorrigo National Park, and right next to the Dorrigo Rainforest Centre, both of which will let you stretch your legs in a beautiful rainforest and on the Skywalk Lookout – and of course see a few waterfalls. Both the Dangar and Ebor Falls are worth a visit before making your way to the Wollomombi Falls, which are over 200 metres high, and were once considered to be the tallest in Australia (it is now known to be the second highest). There are multiple hiking options, cool-climate wineries, and other national parks to visit as well, so the more time you allow yourself, the more you’ll be able to see.
This route takes roughly 2.5 hours each way, so you could complete it in one big day, or you could stay the night in Armidale for a less rushed visit to this beautiful area.
Even though Silverton is located in the Broken Hill area of New South Wales, this town is so far west that it would be easier to rent a car from Adelaide or Melbourne to reach it. These drives take just over six hours from Adelaide, and just over nine from Melbourne, so you’d need to plan a few stops along the way to break it up.
So why visit Silverton NSW? And what makes this such a fantastic road trip?
Silverton is the filming location for Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. It’s where (a very young) Mel Gibson cruised the outback roads in Australia, helping to defend innocents from a gang of savage nomads. When you visit, you won’t find any angry nomads, but you will find that this town has thoroughly adopted the film’s heritage. You can visit the Max Max 2 Museum, where arguably the world’s biggest Mad Max 2 fan has curated a collection of vehicles, props, and more from the film, such as the Ford V8 Interceptor. You can also top by the Silverton Hotel, which featured in the films, and serves an excellent outback meal.
If you can’t get enough of the Mad Max film, continue your road trip into Victoria to small towns such as Clunes and Little River to visit more Mad Max filming locations made famous by the cult classic.
Road trips in Queensland
Cairns to Cape York
Even for many Australians, the far north of Queensland is something of a mystery. This wild and wonderful peninsula is the northernmost tip of Australia, reaching up almost to meet Papua New Guinea. And what better reason for a road trip than to explore something so unknown?
A Cairns to Cape York road trip is a large undertaking, with over a thousands kilometres of peninsula to drive before you reach the northernmost tip – but every new sight, each new experience, is well worth the time along the road to Cape York. Even in the depths of winter, the Cape York peninsula still relishes in the high 20s, which is ideal for the smorgasbord of outdoor activities you’ll stop to enjoy along the route (in fact, winter is easily the best time to visit). From bird watching and hiking to fishing and camping, the entire region is an adventure lover’s paradise.
You’ll likely spot tropical birds, cute wallabies, and plenty of crocs (signs will warn you to be extra careful), and you’ll never get tired of the lush rainforests, pristine beaches, and clear blue waters. Keep in mind that this area is aptly known as Queensland’s final frontier, so a 4WD hire for Cairns to Cape York is a good idea. There are regular petrol stations and food places along the way, however, WiFi and mobile phone signal is a rarity, so bring a map as a backup if your GPS fails.
Cairns to Townsville
For a quintessential Australian holiday that’s all about beaches, sunshine, and relaxation, set your GPS for a road trip from Cairns to Townsville (or even Townsville to Cairns). This drive covers 350 kilometres of Queensland coastline, and would take a little over four hours if you were to drive non-stop.
That said, you’d have to be crazy not to want to stop every few kilometres to check out the local sights, scenery, and activities. If you’re new to Cairns, this is the perfect place to pull on your snorkelling gear and take a peek below those sparkling clear waters before you even think about hitting the road. Then, just an hour south of the city, you’ll be out stretching your legs to see Babinda and its many beautiful waterfalls. A little further along you’ll stop at the paradisiacal Mission Beach, complete with palm trees, golden sand, and water as blue as the sky. Continue south to Townsville to make a stop at Reef HQ to learn all about this incredible natural wonder, before heading out on a tour to the Great Barrier Reef to experience for yourself.
You can easily complete this road trip as a round trip over a cruisy long weekend and drive Townsville to Cairns in half a day on the way back, or you can simply arrange for a one-way car hire Cairns to Townsville if that better suits your travel plans.
Gold Coast to Brisbane
The Gold Coast and Brisbane are both world-class destinations in their own right, and at just 80 kilometres apart from one another, the drive makes for a fantastic quick getaway for when you’re short on time. The road trip between the Gold Coast and Brisbane, or a Brisbane to Gold Coast drive for that matter, will take roughly one hour to drive, but there are numerous stopping points along the way that make it even more worthwhile.
Surfers Paradise just out of the city is an excellent first stop for its glorious beaches. Another must-see stop on this Gold Coast road trip is Helensvale, where you’ll find a collection of theme parks including Dreamworld, Movie World, and Wet’n’Wild. You could easily spend a full day at each testing the limits of your bravery. Another must-see on a road trip between Brisbane and the Gold Coast is Tamborine Mountain. A stunning natural area where you can venture to the top for 360-degree views of the region, or spend time visiting the glow worm caves, strolling through the lush Tamborine Rainforest Skywalk, or visiting the multitude of cafes, historic pubs, and boutique wineries in the area. Roughly halfway to Brisbane lies Beenleigh, a small town known throughout the country as the first producer of rum in Australia, where you can visit the distillery to see how it’s made, and even taste a few samples (so long as you’re not driving!).
Road trips in Victoria
The Great Ocean Road
Possibly the most famous of all of Australia’s road trips, The Great Ocean Road is a thing of beauty that has absolutely earned its place as one of the best drives in the country. Technically speaking, the drive begins in Torquay, then takes the scenic route south-west along the coastline, covering 238 kilometres before arriving in Allansford. However, many travellers will begin the Great Ocean Road from Melbourne, adding roughly 100 kilometres (another hour) to the route.
So what is it that makes such a small stretch of Australian coastline so world-renowned?
It’s hard to pinpoint the best part of a Great Ocean Road trip. In Torquay, you can try your hand – and your feet – at surfing at Bells Beach, or simply stroll through the surfing museum to learn about the spot’s famous oceanic history. You’ll certainly make a stop at the Twelve Apostles, a famous collection of towering limestone stacks just off the coastline, and the Great Ocean Road London Bridge, another fabulous stone structure. If you’re driving in winter, make a stop at Logan’s Beach to spot blue whales as they pass by the coastline. And be sure to visit the Hill State Game Reserve, which is packed with walking tracks and awesome wildlife such as kangaroos, emus, and koalas, all of which roam freely through the park.
And in case you’re not quite sold on the road trip just yet, here are a few more fun and unusual things to do along The Great Ocean Road!
The Great Alpine Road
If any contender can stand up to the greatness of the Great Ocean Road, it would be the Great Alpine Road, a true treasure of Victoria. The official route is from Wangaratta to Metung, a drive of 339 kilometres or roughly 4.5 hours. Many people, however, will simply drive a round trip from Melbourne.
There’s a little bit of everything for the traveller who takes a road trip along the Great Alpine Way. You’ll drive over Australia’s highest year-round accessible sealed road (note that the Great Alpine Road in winter can receive snow), passing through mountain ranges, valleys, and forest, before arriving at the Victorian coastline. You’ll stop for vineyards, fresh local produce, hiking tracks, and even skiing at Mount Buffalo and Mount Hotham if you arrive in winter. Be sure to make time to visit Danny’s Lookout, which promises unforgettable views out over the Alpine National Park no matter the season. After the mountains, you’ll pass through the historic mining town of Omeo, and slowly approach the Gippsland Lakes district, which offer endless boating, fishing, and swimming opportunities. Metung itself is a gorgeous seaside town, and well-worth spending the night for a little more time in the area.
From Metung, it’s roughly a four-hour drive directly back to Melbourne.
The Macedon Ranges
The Macedon Ranges are only an hour out of Melbourne, making the area the perfect spot for a quick day break, or a relaxing weekend getaway from the city. No matter what your idea of relaxation is, you’ll find it all at the Ranges, so allow for as much time as you can take when planning your road trip to the Macedon Ranges.
You’ll find boutique shopping for a little retail therapy, and heavenly massages and treatments at the Macedon Ranges Hotel & Spa. You can take a swing at the Kyneton Golf Club, and stroll through the lush beauty of the Forest Glade Gardens and the Gardens of Tieve Tara. A visit to Hanging Rock is a must, as this small, steep volcano offers incredible and unique rock formations such as the Cathedral and the Black Hole of Calcutta.
And of course, no holiday is complete without seriously good wining and dining – and there are plenty of Macedon Ranges wineries to choose from. Hanging Rock Winery and the Mount Towrong Vineyard both serve delicious tastings, and if you keep an eye on the calendar, you might find a summertime music concert at Hanging Rock Winery. As for meals, you can walk into almost any eatery along the route and enjoy fantastic local produce.
Island getaways are often the key to exploring places of incomparable beauty – but the logistics of arriving there and getting around when you can just drive over can be a real deterrent. Not so with a road trip to Phillip Island from Melbourne! You can drive just two hours directly there, crossing via bridge instead of fussing around with ferries.
Once you arrive, the island is your oyster. In fact, if you like oysters, you’ll find some of the best fresh seafood in Australia in markets and restaurants around the island. Naturally, the ocean plays a big role in Phillip Island’s culture, and it’s an ideal place to get out and enjoy the water with activities such as surfing, fishing, kayaking, boating, and even stand-up paddle boarding.
For animal lovers, this Melbourne to Phillip Island drive will put smiles on faces for young and old alike with two animal reserves at your destination. The Phillip Island Nature Park, and the Koala Conservation Centre both let you observe some of Australia’s cutest and coolest animals, including watching Phillip Island penguins! The penguin parade lets you observe as these fantastic creatures return to shore at sunset. Should you arrive around winter, you may even be able to spot Southern Right whales as they pass by the coastline between May and October.
Road trips in South Australia
The Flinders Ranges are far enough away from Adelaide to feel like a completely different country, yet close enough to spend a long weekend away exploring this untouched gem of the Australian Outback. From the city, you’ll drive 450 kilometres north – a road trip of approximately 6 hours non-stop – to reach this rugged and breathtaking region and the Flinders Ranges National Park.
The ranges are in fact the largest mountain range in Australia, covering more than 400 kilometres from Port Pirie to Lake Callabonna – so you’ll need as much time as you can spare to see as much of them as possible. While there, you’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to outdoor adventures. The Arkaroo Rock is a fascinating historic location where you’ll find ancient Aboriginal paintings in ochre and charcoal, all set amongst a gorgeous outdoor space. The Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary is another great stop, as it’s South Australia’s first legally protected wilderness sanctuary, and includes granite peaks, gorges, waterholes and mountains, as well as wildlife such as the yellow-footed rock wallaby, and more than 160 species of birds.
When your stomach starts rumbling, stop in at Flinders Food Co for a kangaroo burger, or even the Woolshed Restaurant for a phenomenal meal in the middle of nowhere. And if you’re looking for Flinders Ranges camping options, there are plenty in the area, such as the Koolamon Campground, and the Youngoona Camp Site.
Road trips in the Northern Territory
Alice Springs to Darwin
If it’s not on your bucket list already, it will be after you check out what is install for the Alice Springs to Darwin drive. This epic adventure crosses a huge swathe of arid Australian outback, covering 1,500 kilometres over more than 16 hours of driving time, and offers a once-in-a-lifetime road trip that you’ll be talking about for years to come.
One of the biggest drawcards for driving this particular route is to visit Alice Springs, the heart of Australia and home to Uluru, also known as Ayer’s Rock. The Red Centre is an awe-inspiring place, where you can go on hikes and take guided tours to see the rock art, wildlife, and the monolithic in the middle of it all.
When you’re ready to start driving, it’s all about you, the outback, and the small towns along the way. In Ti Tree, you’ll be in the actual geographical centre of the country, which is also a hub for local artists. In Barrow Creek, you can make a stop in the pub for a meal in a town with an official population of just 11 people. By the time you reach Humpty Doo, you’ll feel like you’re back in the big city, as this town has a population of 5,000 people, plus one gigantic boxing crocodile sculpture. As you reach Darwin, you can stroll along the waterfront, visit the night markets, and enjoy fresh tropical fruit before returning your rental car and flying home.
Of course, you may find it easier to plan a Darwin to Alice Springs road trip if you’d rather start in the city and fly out from the red centre!
Road trips in Western Australia
Perth to Kalgoorlie
A road trip from Perth to Kalgoorlie is a wonderful way to experience Western Australia – and Australia as a whole. As this drive is really a Perth road trip, you’ll first have a chance to enjoy the lively city life – such as shops, bars, and restaurants – before making a beeline for the desert. The Perth to Kalgoorlie route follows the Great Eastern Highway and covers a distance just shy of 600 kilometres, and will take roughly seven hours to complete one way.
Like any great Western Australia road trip, those seven hours will disappear quickly as you make numerous stops along the way. Start with a visit to historic Fremantle, then wind your way from the city via the Swan Valley to see (and taste) the vineyards in the oldest wine region in Australia. As you continue inland, you’ll make a stop at the historic Goldfields Weir Hotel, which has been serving gold miners, locals, and visitors for over 100 years. You’ll stop in tiny towns, get out to take a photo of the Big Camera in Meckering, and cruise through the ghost town of Coolgardie, all en route to Kalgoorlie, a small but bustling town and home to Australia’s largest open-cast gold mine still in operation.
Finally, if you’d prefer not to turn around and drive back again when you arrive, remember that Thrifty has a location in Kalgoorlie, so you can organise for a one-way rental and fly out from Kalgoorlie Airport!
Cape Naturaliste to Cape Leeuwin
For those who only have a short space of time, but want to experience some of the best of what Western Australia has to offer, a Cape Naturaliste to Cape Leeuwin road trip could be just the ticket. This drive only takes 90 minutes each way, covering roughly 115 kilometres, but includes so many wonderful attractions and landscapes that you’ll be hard pressed not to stop every 10 minutes to get out and take it all in.
The Cape Naturaliste lighthouse is a popular spot with phenomenal ocean views. Some people even begin here to walk this cape to cape track, which takes roughly a week on foot. A stone’s throw down the coastline, you’ll make your first stop at Meelup Beach for a dip in the water, and even a snorkel or a hike. Another 15 minutes down the coast lies Ngilgi Cave, a real drawcard for the area thanks to its spectacular cave crystals and history – so be sure to book a tour to take a look. The wineries of the Margaret River region could waylay your trip for days, and the Boranup Karri Forest is a magical natural spot perfect for a picnic. Once you reach the Cape Leeuwin lighthouse, you’ll be in the most south westerly point in Australia, and no doubt ready for an exceptional dinner.
While you can easily pick up a car rental in Perth and drive south along the coastline to start this road trip (this would take roughly three hours), you could just as easily arrange a rental car in Bunbury, which is much closer to Cape Naturaliste.
Road trips in the ACT
Sydney to Canberra
Getting out of New South Wales for a change of scenery doesn’t have to mean jumping on a plane or driving for hours on end – Canberra, in the Australian Capital Territory, is just 3.5 hours away by car. A road trip from Sydney to Canberra offers an easy escape from the big city, and one with plenty to see and do along the way, as well as once you arrive.
The shortest route from Canberra to Sydney or vice versa is via the M5 Freeway, which runs through Gouldburn and gives you the chance to see another of Australia’s Big Things – the Big Merino.
The alternative option is to take the longer (but more scenic) route along the NSW coast, which takes closer to six hours to drive. Not only does this give you several hours of coastal views (and chances to jump out for a swim) along the way, but you’ll be able to explore towns such as Wollongong and Ulladulla, check out the blowhole at Kiama, and go kayaking in beautiful Bateman’s Bay. Make a quick photo stop at the awe-inspiring Capital Wind Farm on the way in, and leave plenty of time to explore capital city Canberra once you arrive!
Canberra to Melbourne
From the country’s capital to a state capital, this Canberra to Melbourne coastal drive will let you explore two of Australia’s most magnificent cities, and many of its smaller, hidden gems along the way. There are two routes to choose from; the fastest route from Melbourne to Canberra that swings over the Hume Freeway for a 660-kilometre (or roughly seven-hour) drive, or the slower, more scenic route that follows the coastline via the A1 for a 740-kilometre (or roughly nine-hour) drive.
The shorter route offers the chance to see the lakes region north of Melbourne, and enjoy the scenic view available at Jacobson’s Outlook. You’ll be able to stop in at the twin cities of Albury and Wodonga, which span the Murray River and offer the perfect midway mark for a riverboat cruise and a pit stop.
If you have the time and the inclination, take the longer drive to cruise through the picturesque Gippsland Region, and spend a night or two at Lakes Entrance for a relaxing break and all the water-based activities you can handle. Once you head inland, you’ll pass through the must-see Kosciuszko National Park, and the fun-loving outdoorsy area of Jindabyne.
Of course, you can easily book a one-way car rental between Canberra and Melbourne, but if you’re looking at a round trip, you can drive both routes!
Road trips in Tasmania
The Tassie Loop
Tasmania is the only island state or territory for the world’s largest island. It’s different to the mainland in countless ways, from its scenery to its climate and even its way of life. The Tasmania road trip – a fantastic route around the entirety of the island – is therefore a superb drive that will make you feel like you’re in a whole other country.
This road trip around Tasmania kicks off in the capital of Hobart, where you can experience the citylife, markets, and history before making your way to Port Arthur, home of the country’s convict past. Continuing driving around Tasmania up the coast to Swansea, you’ll gorge yourself on oysters, and perhaps even take a dip in the water at Oyster Bay. It’s just a hop, skip and a jump from here to the Freycinet National Park, which is all mountains and beaches and not to be missed. Continue north to the Bay of Fires (one of the best-kept secrets in Australia), then turn west to visit the city of Launceston, Stanley, and Cradle Mountain.
Completing the entire loop and returning to Hobart Airport where you started is a road trip of roughly 1,500 kilometres, or approximately 21 hours of driving time, so you’ll need to set aside at least a week to see as much of this island as possible.
The Huon Trail
The Huon Trail road trip is a short but incredibly sweet introduction to Tasmania and its booming foodie scene. You’ll begin your adventure in Hobart, and drive just half an hour to reach the Huon region, which is resplendent with fresh produce and fabulous scenery.
If you can, aim to do the Huon Trail over the weekend, or specifically on a Sunday, as this is when you’ll find local markets at every turn such as the Huonville Market – and with them, fresh fruit and produce by the barrel full. Apples are the main produce in the area (which is why you might have heard of Tasmanians as Apple Eaters), but the region is also rich in berries and vineyards. You can pick your own berries at Bruny Island Berry Farm, and the Hartzview Vineyard is one of just many scattered about the Huon Valley Trail. If you do manage a stop at this lovely winery, be sure to take a moment to visit Gardners Bay just next door, which is a historic location and home to the Hartzview Vineyard Heritage Pickers Hut Village, where grape pickers and their families once lived.
Summer and autumn are usually the best times of year to visit, as it can be rainy and cold through winter and spring. That said, it’s a wonderful destination any time of year – just bring your rain jacket!
Devonport to Stanley
It’s a sunny, lazy weekend. You’re in Launceston in Tasmania, with an inkling for adventure. What better road trip to take than a cruisy drive from Devonport to Stanley along the Bass Highway? This 90-minute road trip isn’t far from the city, and its coastal views, endless fresh seafood, and string of tempting beaches make it the stuff of Australian road trip dreams.
Devonport is a small and enjoyable town itself, and before you start your drive, make the time to check out the views from the iconic Mersey Bluff Lighthouse, and perhaps even stop in at the Bass Strait Maritime Centre for a taste of the fascinating history of the area. From here, follow the coast to the gorgeously named town of Penguin, where you can peruse the stalls of one of the largest markets in Tasmania – the Penguin Market – and see the largest of these cute sea creatures in Australia- the Big Penguin (another of the country’s ‘Big Things’). In Burnie, you can try to spot a platypus in the Fern Glade Reserve and take a tour of the Hellyers Road Distillery, and at the Rocky Cape National Park, you can stretch your legs as you explore its caves and beaches.
Once you arrive in Stanley, get ready for some of the best fish’n’chips in the country, and be sure to take the chairlift up to the top of The Nut for epic views all around.
Interstate road trips
The Pacific Coast Drive
The Pacific Coast is so beautiful, with so many attractions, and so much to see, that you could get in a rental car in Sydney and simply drive north without any particular plan, and still experience an unforgettable road trip. But don’t sell yourself short – the Pacific Coast Drive from Sydney all the way up to Cairns will allow you to see and do it all in roughly 2,600 kilometres (although the original Pacific Coast route is technically just a Sydney to Brisbane drive).
Leaving Sydney, you’ll simply follow the Pacific Highway heading north. Prepare to stop often, as you’ll pass through gorgeous NSW and Queensland coastal towns and cities such as Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour, before arriving in the Queensland capital of Brisbane for some time out on the sand and in the surf. Get your fill of the vibrant city life before continuing on, stopping at Hervey Bay to spot whales between July and November, and taking time out at Airlie Beach to explore the spectacular golden sands and tropical scenery of the region. Arriving in Cairns, you’ll have a smorgasbord of Great Barrier Reef tours to choose from, as well as your own options for discovering the nearby Daintree Rainforest.
Adelaide to Melbourne
An Adelaide to Melbourne drive will introduce you to two of the most underrated cities in Australia (who can sometimes be left off itineraries in favour of bigger hitters such as Sydney and Brisbane), as well as countless fabulous attractions along the way. The Adelaide to Melbourne road trip is less than 10 hours altogether, even when you’re taking the scenic route, and can easily be stretched out over days if you have the time to spare.
Follow the coastal road (rather than the slightly faster inland route) to include amazing Adelaide to Melbourne drive stops such as Mt Gambier with its cave gardens and sinkholes, and the coastal town of Warrnambool which has made a name for itself as a real surfing destination. You can even take the Princes Highway and drive Adelaide to Melbourne via the Great Ocean Road and include stops such as the 12 Apostles rock formation off the coast of Victoria, and pay a visit to Geelong for its beachy vibe and tight-knit community feel. When you arrive in Melbourne, it’s all about markets, food, shopping, and endless galleries and shows, so be sure to allow a day or two to explore the city before heading home.