Forget fidgety freeways, traffic snarls and deep-fried roadhouse food. Here are seven great Australian drives that will help you rediscover the lost art of road-tripping, where getting there is even more fun than being there.
Best seaside drive
As far as coastal road trips go, they don’t get much better than the Great Beach Drive between Noosa and Rainbow Beach on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.
It’s so close to the sea that the designated road is actually on beach – normal traffic rules and speed limits apply.
You’ll need a 4WD and to plan your trip for low tide, but it’s an easy run and suitable for first-timers. It’s only 70 kilometres, but with so many great places to stop, swim or fish, it will take much longer than you think.
Best drive above the snowline
Another drive that lives up to the “great” in its name is Victoria’s Great Alpine Road. Combined with the Bogong High Plains Road, it forms a spectacular 2400-kilometre alpine loop across the roof of Australia.
Starting in Bright, the route twists through forests, winds across the snowfields through Hotham and Dinner Plain before descending towards Omeo.
In summer you can loop back to where you started via Falls Creek on the Bogong High Plains Road (the Great Alpine Road is open year-round, but the Bogong High Plains road closes in winter) for one sublime view after another. It’s great in a car, even better on a motorbike.
Australia’s longest shortcut, the Outback Way, cuts about 1000 kilometres off the road trip from Cairns to Perth via Alice Springs and Uluru – or vice versa – although at 4615 kilometres, it’s still an epic trip.
Some sections are red dirt highway, although quite a bit of it is sealed.
You don’t need a 4WD if it hasn’t been raining and there is plenty of accommodation and fuel along the way. This is one of the country’s least-travelled transcontinental road trips.
— Helen Lewis (@OutbackWay1) November 1, 2017
Best outback adventure
See all the icons of the outback on one week-long road trip driving the Red Centre Way – you don’t even need a 4WD.
The 1750-kilometre loop from Alice Springs includes all the gorges and swimming holes of the West MacDonnell Ranges, Kings Canyon, and Uluru.
Most underrated drive
The Pilbara tends to get ignored by most travellers in the rush to get to the Kimberley, but it’s much more majestic than most people think.
Reasons to go include gorges, waterfalls, wild swimming holes, ancient rock art galleries and crowd-free camping spots.
Plan your own route, but make sure it includes Karijini and Millstream Chichester national parks and the Burrup Peninsula.
Best for autumn colour
Autumn comes early in Armidale in north-western NSW. When the rest of the state is basking in April sunshine, Australia’s highest city is shrouded in red, yellow and orange leaves.
Drive along avenues of stately golden elms, then head south down the New England Highway to Uralla – haunt of the infamous gentleman bushranger Thunderbolt – and circle back across the Salisbury Plain, stopping at the little church covered by ruby-red creeper in Gostwyck.
Best road less travelled
Time and traffic seems to have bypassed the Old Grafton Road that snakes its way along a river valley in the foothills of the Great Dividing Range in northern NSW – before the Gwydir Highway opened in 1962, it was the only way to travel from the coast to Glen Innes.
Built in the 1860s, the road has many sections cut into the sides of cliffs, including a 20-metre hand-hewn tunnel.
On this journey, you can wander through abandoned towns, swim in placid river pools and enjoy free camping with hardly another soul around.
Lee Atkinson’s latest book, Explore Australia by Camper Trailer, is published by Hardie Grant Travel. RRP $39.99.