Traveller shares six Australian Road Trips you’ll never forget.
Road trips are part of the Australian psyche. From coast to coast, driving has always been an integral part for many of our holidays at home. Here, six of Traveller’s writers name their most memorable road journeys around the country.
Mount Warning View Circuit, Northern NSW
The caldera of the Tweed Volcano in northern NSW is a biological wonderland, a free-range wilderness where giant strangler figs lasso the trees, where the electric call of whipbirds rings from the rainforest and where green mountain peaks float on a doona of morning cloud. The best way to experience it is on a meandering drive along the Mount Warning View Circuit, beginning on the banks of the Tweed River at Murwillumbah with a stop at the World Heritage Rainforest Centre. From Murwillumbah, Tyalgum Road snakes alongside the Oxley River on a dawdling run through pastures before it turns south at sleepy Tyalgum to circle the western flanks of Mount Warning. The road eventually meets the Kyogle Road to complete the circuit of the mountain. The summit is the first point on the Australian mainland to feel the glow of the rising sun, but a better alternative to the peak is the Lyrebird Track, which unwinds from the parking lot at Breakfast Creek. From the Mount Warning spur road the drive returns to Murwillumbah with a final dash along the meandering Tweed River. An essential stop is the Tweed Regional Gallery, which casts its net wide to bring some formidable talents under its roof. Take a break in the smart café and enjoy the postcard views from its balcony across the Tweed Valley to the rhino-horn peak of Mount Warning. – Michael Gebicki
Distance: 95 kms
Time: 1 day
The Hume Highway
Say you’ve just driven the Hume and people will ask, “How long did it take?” The expected standard is to do it in 10-12 hours. And if you can do it in nine, well, then, you’re some kind of hero. It’s a badge of considerable honour to eat up those kilometres between the outskirts of Melbourne and Sydney as if it never happened. Just hit the road, and drive, damn it, drive.
But it’s one of life’s great truths: you miss the best bits when you rush. And the Hume is no exception.
You can now bypass even the biggest towns completely. You might not know you were near Goulburn, Euroa, Albury and Wodonga but for the multiple exit signs. But I like to take my time, visiting the pieces of history – convict-built bridges, cairns marking the passage of explorers, the burial places of bushrangers and poets, the Dog on the Tuckerbox, the Big Merino. Then there’s all the little, lesser known remnants of years gone by: the windmills, the shrines, homesteads, huts, churches and oddly named creeks – Fairy Hole, Big Ben, Snowball and Blind. I like to have a pie at Holbrook, stay overnight in Gundagai, because there’s a wonderful secret life to this road most travelled. And you only have to slow down to see it. – Julietta Jameson
Distance: 880 kilometres.
Time: 10-24 hours (longer if you really want to explore).
Melbourne to Daylesford
Some road trips are about the driving. This one is about the stops along the way. In just two days, enjoy fabulous food, lovely walks and a pinch of pampering. The longest you will spend in the car is about an hour at a stretch.
From Melbourne, take the M79 towards Macedon. Stop here for a walk in the lovely Forest Glade Gardens: you want to work up an appetite before you stop at Kyneton for lunch. This little town is packed with fine restaurants. Try Annie Smithers Bistrot or Mr Carsisi, but remember to book in advance.
After lunch, it’s an easy drive to Daylesford. Spent the afternoon exploring the local shops and galleries – favourites include the Convent Gallery, along with the many homewares shops and two huge bookstores on Vincent Street. Check in to the lovely Lake House and make sure you have a table booked for dinner: this is one of Australia’s best regional restaurants.
Next morning, stretch your legs with one of the area’s scenic walks, perhaps a stretch of the Tipperary Walking Track. After a light lunch – try the Wombat Hill House Café in Wombat Hill Botanical Gardens – laze away the afternoon at Hepburn Bathhouse, before heading back to Melbourne. – Ute Junker
Time: Two days
Perth to Margaret River
You go right here. No, wait… You go left.” Emma looks at me guiltily. “Sorry.”
We turned right. Her change of direction came about 30 seconds too late, which means we’re going to have to swing the car around and go the other way on the highway. Towards Margaret River. Not away from it.
The worrying aspect of this error by my navigator is that we left the car hire place about 10 minutes ago. That means we’re 10 minutes into a three-day road trip, and already things have gone awry.
Road trips, however, are made to go wrong. They’re made for mistakes. That’s what makes them interesting, what makes them fun, what makes you want to tell everyone about them later.
And so off we went, heading south now on the highway from Perth to the promised land: Margaret River. It doesn’t look much from the road on the way down, just flat, featureless land and a whole lot of cars. For Emma and I this was a journey of discovery, our first time in the west of Australia, where we’re about to get a wake-up call in all that’s good and spectacular in this land we’ve never visited.
Things get interesting around Busselton, where we catch our first glimpse of the warm, clear Indian Ocean waters that lap the western shore. And then it’s on to Dunsborough and across to Yallingup, and we’re into Margaret River proper.
Is there anywhere in the country more beautiful than “Margs”? We were bowled over straight away. It’s all rugged coastline and wooded hills, all fiery orange sunsets over cerulean seas.
It’s wineries – so many wineries. It’s calls into Leeuwin Estate, and Domaine Naturaliste, Flametree and Cape Grace. It’s arguments over who’s going to be designated driver. It’s a stop at Surfers Point to stare out at the huge waves and make friends again.
It’s a shared bottle of wine on the beach at Dunsborough as the light slowly fades.
It’s an agreement, finally, that in a place like this it really doesn’t matter if you take a wrong turn every now and then. As long as you don’t drive too far away. – Ben Groundwater
Time: Three days (Seven hours driving including return to Perth)
Hobart to Queenstown
In Tasmania, the ‘wild west’ is more than a metaphor. Drive west from Hobart and the island seems to get more wild with every kilometre.
This is a drive through water to bare earth – through the dripping mountains and valleys of the World Heritage-listed wilderness to the mine-scarred slopes of Queenstown.
The first half of the drive is dominated by Hobart’s lifeblood, as the road follows the Derwent River to its headwaters at Lake St Clair, Australia’s deepest lake. Hydro canals run like veins through the land, and in autumn the riverbanks through New Norfolk are as golden as the foliage anywhere in Europe.
Around Lake St Clair the drive enters the World Heritage-listed wilderness. Rainforest and buttongrass plains line the highway, and briefly there’s a glimpse of Frenchmans Cap, its massive white summit cliffs forming one of the most striking mountain scenes in the state.
A stop at Nelson Falls brings the water to life as it fans down a rock face into the mossiest of rainforest scenes. A few kilometres on, the highway crests the mountains to suddenly enter the barren, strangely beautiful landscape that surrounds the mining town of Queenstown. There are few more evocative short drives than the coiling descent on the so-called 99 Bend Road through this lunar-like scene into Queenstown. – Andrew Bain
Distance: 260 kilometres
Time: Four hours.
Sydney to WA Border Village
My epic epic drive to see the Great Australian Bight is full of lasting memories. We took the high road out of Sydney, through Cobar, Wilcannia and Broken Hill (with a side trip to Silverton to see it’s well-known, sand-blasted pub). But it was the stillness of the Eyre Highway that first signalled this road trip would be different. We spent more than a day as almost the only car on the highway, it’s featureless plains punctuated only by small towns with huge wheat silos at their heart.
By day three we had reached the Nullarbor and mugged for the obligatory photo under the famous roadside sign, as well as sitting in the middle of the road for a photo, since no car can sneak up on you on Australia’s longest stretch of straight road. There was also the chance to stand on the precipice of the Great Australian Bight at the sheer cliffs of the Nullarbor National Park. We may not have made it all the way to Perth, but there was plenty of wildlife to see too, with wedge-tailed eagles circling above the car, red-bellied black snakes crossing the road and kangaroos, so many kangaroos. For this reason, only trucks should hit the Eyre Highway after dark or you are likely to hit a roo, like we did on our return trip. Lesson learned. – Paul Chai
Distance covered: 2595 km