Overdue for a break? Get out of town with these memorable east coast road trips
Whether you’re behind the wheel of a zippy hatchback or trusty four-wheel drive, Australia’s eastern states have all the ingredients for a cracking road trip. Hit the coast for a cruisy beach trip, pack your tent for a no-frills camping adventure or drive through Australia’s farming heartland – the open road awaits.
Coast from Sydney to Melbourne
Sure, you could hit the highway and reach Melbourne in under 10 hours, but where’s the fun in that? While the Hume Highway will get the job done, the coastal route is an easy, breezy alternative that rewards road trippers with slow-paced beach towns and a rolling backdrop of ocean views.
Day One: Sydney – Bermagui
Leave the city behind and hit the road towards the South Coast. Stop at Kiama for some caffeine and to see the Blowhole – the largest in the world. Continue south until you hit Jervis Bay, known for its pristine beaches. Wander around the village of Huskisson, then grab some takeaway and enjoy it on the sandy shores. Keep driving south and you’ll find Batemans Bay – home to phenomenal oysters and a surf beach perfect for an afternoon dip. After a day of driving, roll into Bermagui before sunset to unwind with a beach walk to see Horse Head Rock.
Day Two: Bermagui to Lakes Entrance
During spring the Sapphire Coast is mostly sunny with a chance of whales, so stop at viewpoints regularly to scour the sea for the signature tail splashes of migrating whales. When you reach Eden, visit the Eden Killer Whale Museum to learn about local history or stretch your legs at Ben Boyd National Park. Over the border, Mallacoota is a top spot for lunch so hit the bakery for a pie before journeying onwards to laidback Lakes Entrance, a seafood-lovers paradise.
Day Three: Lakes Entrance to Melbourne
Make your way to Melbourne by driving through the lush farmland of Gippsland. You can refuel at regional centres like Bairnsdale or Sale, but there’s plenty of small towns worthy of a detour. Home to passionate growers and dairy farmers, stop at farm gates and providores to pick up artisanal cheeses and farm-fresh produce to snack on while driving to Melbourne, where wine bars, galleries and seriously good coffee awaits.
Cruisy Great Ocean Road Getaway
If you’re short on time, Victoria’s most scenic stretch of road represents an ideal weekend getaway. Switch gears, leave your work worries behind and let this classic road trip unfold, one day at a time.
Day One: Torquay to Apollo Bay
Home to the Australian National Surfing Museum, the beach town of Torquay is where the Great Ocean Road begins. Stop at Bells Beach to see local surfers in action, make a pitstop in Lorne for a burger by the sea, and visit Mount Defiance Lookout for incredible views. Get a kick out of handfeeding seed mix to native birds at Kennett River before continuing onto Apollo Bay for the night.
Day Two: Apollo Bay to Warrnambool
Drive towards Warrnambool through the lush Great Otway National Park. These roads are windy so go slowly, roll down the windows and breathe in the fresh eucalyptus scent. Keep watch for wildlife on this stretch – large populations of koalas live in the treetops above. Stop for a bushwalk or head further south to see Victoria's oldest working lighthouse. Before reaching the end of the Great Ocean Road, you’ll see the natural wonders that compels people to do this drive: the limestone rock stacks known as the Twelve Apostles. Finish your road trip in Warrnambool with a pub dinner to cap off your Great Ocean Road getaway.
Make tracks from the beach to the bush
It’s not all about the coast in Australia. Inland NSW’s scenic mountain ranges, historic towns, award-winning wineries and wildlife-filled national parks are what road trip dreams are made of.
Day One: Sydney to Blue Mountains
90 minutes north of Sydney you’ll find world-class walking tracks and blockbuster mountain views at the Blue Mountains. Stay in the charming town of Katoomba or drive further north for a night in a secluded Wolgan Valley cabin. Watch out for roos while driving here!
Blue Mountains to Orange
Drive west towards Orange, a thriving town where you’ll find top notch food and wine experiences amid picturesque farmland and vineyards. This is the place to stock up on local wines and indulge at restaurants run by acclaimed chefs who have traded in the city for country life.
Orange to Parkes
It’s only 99km from Orange to Parkes, so take a detour to see surrounding towns on the way. Eugowra (population 779) is home to 36 colourful street murals and a cute little museum filled with bushranger and wartime memorabilia. Nearby, Nangar National Park is a peaceful spot for a picnic lunch with kangaroos. Further afield, Forbes has a serene lake perfect for an afternoon stroll before driving onto Parkes – home to the famous radio telescope observatory that helped to broadcast the Apollo 11 moon landing.
Camp from Cairns to Cape York
If you’re itching to do a creek crossing in your 4WD then an epic camping adventure to the northern tip of Australia will reveal ancient rainforests and tiny towns filled with big personalities. Fair warning: this trip can only be done in dry season by in-the-know four-wheel drivers with runs on the board.
Days One and Two
Cairns to Cape Tribulation
It’ll only take a few hours to drive from Cairns to Cape Tribulation but set aside two days (or more) to soak up the tranquil Daintree Rainforest while you’re there. Once you drive aboard the Daintree Ferry, you’ll instantly slip into relaxation mode. Spend your time here doing beach and rainforest walks, always keeping an eye out for the resident cassowaries and crocs.
Cape Tribulation to Cooktown
Considered one of the best scenic 4WD routes in Australia, the Bloomfield Track will take you from Cape Tribulation to Cooktown. Be sure to check conditions beforehand, this unsealed road can be impassable at times. Experienced four-wheel drivers will get a kick out of negotiating the steep climbs, descents and creek crossings, while passengers will love taking in the incredible views of the rainforest and stunning coastline below. Seeing Wujal Wujal Falls is a must-do.
Cooktown to Rinyirru (Lakefield) National Park
Spend the morning chilling in Cooktown, a relaxed coastal town that’s played a pivotal role in modern Australian history. Hit the road for a 2.5-hour drive to Queensland's second largest national park for a night of camping under the stars (hot tip: book your camping permit in advance). As a secluded spot, you’ll need to be self-sufficient so stock up on drinking water, fuel, food (and toilet paper!) beforehand.
Rinyirru (Lakefield) National Park to Bramwell Station
Drive north towards Bramwell Station - the most northerly cattle station in Australia. Towns are few and far between in this part of Queensland, so stop at Coen for fuel and lunch. Once you reach Bramwell Station, reward yourself with a shower and cold beer before sitting around the campfire for a night of stargazing.
Bramwell Station to Cape York
Start the final leg of the journey by hitting the Old Telegraph Track, a rugged, unsealed “road” not for the faint-hearted. It will be a bumpy ride with creek crossings and steep, sandy terrain to negotiate. If it’s all too much, take one of the bypass roads to reach the Jardine River Ferry. Once you reach Cape York, stop at the community-owned service station in Bamaga, then drive on to get an obligatory, cheesy photo with the northernmost point of Australia sign.