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Top 10 Road Trips in Australia
If you like driving and seeing the country at the same time, try one of the top tenroad trips in Australia
1. NULLARBOR PLAIN, SA & WA
It wasn't serendipity that led South Australian government surveyor E.A. Delisser, in 1867, to coin the name Nullarbor from the Latin words "nullus arbor", meaning "no trees". The place really does have no trees. And it is very, very flat. That is part of the appeal of this incredibly long drive. But, along the way, there are amazing sights including the old telegraph station at Eucla, which was built in 1877 as a manual telegraphic repeater station, abandoned in the late 1920s and is now half-covered in the sand dunes that are blown by winds from the Southern Ocean.
The other highlight is the Great Australian Bight, which boasts the longest uninterrupted cliff face in the world.
Distance From Norseman to Ceduna - 1201 kilometres.
Vehicle Standard car.
2. GIBB RIVER ROAD, WA
Starting in May and continuing until the rains come in October, four-wheel-drive enthusiasts try their luck on the 709-kilometre track known as the Gibb River Road. The appeal is obvious. It traverses one of the most stunningly beautiful areas on the continent. The soils are rusty red. The winter days boast impossibly blue skies. The mountain ranges - notably the Cockburn, Pentecost, King Leopold and Barnett - are rugged and dramatic. The landscape, with its ghost gums, paperbarks and myriad cockatoos, kites, eagles and crows, is an endless natural wonderland. And the night skies, so vast and grand, sparkle with a clarity city dwellers can scarcely imagine.
All you can do is make sure you are up at dawn and standing on some vantage point at sunset when the landscape colours are soft and golden and it feels good to be alive.
Distance From Kununurra to Derby - 709 kilometres.
Vehicle High 4WD.
3. ALICE SPRINGS TO ULURU AND KINGS CANYON, NT
The development of a major airport at Yulara means the old circular trip from Alice Springs to Uluru via Kings Canyon and back via Erldunda has become marginalised. Visitors fly in to Uluru, watch the sun set and rise over the rock then head off.
The much more desirable option is to drive from Alice Springs down the Stuart Highway, cross the Finke River (often nothing more than a dry riverbed), head off towards Kings Canyon on the Ernest Giles Road and stop at the amazing Henbury meteorite craters, where 7400 years ago meteorites travelling at more than 40,000km/h crashed into the land leaving craters 180 metres wide and 15 metres deep. Then continue on to the impressively beautiful Kings Canyon, where a four-hour walk around the edge of the canyon is one of those "must do" experiences for every able-bodied Australian. Next head on to Uluru and Kata Tjuta before returning to the Alice via the Lasseter and Stuart highways.
Distance 1080 kilometres.
Vehicle Standard car.
4. GREAT OCEAN ROAD, VIC
After World War I, the Great Ocean Road was carved out of the Victorian coastline as a memorial to those who had fought in the war. All the road builders were ex-servicemen. The 255 kilometres from Torquay to Warrnambool was completed in 1932. This has been described as the most beautiful coastline in Australia. Most of the major attractions - the Twelve Apostles, London Bridge (now London Arch), Loch Ard Gorge - are at the western end but beyond Anglesea there are some lovely vistas across the Southern Ocean.
Port Campbell National Park is a highlight, with vantage points overlooking offshore islets, towering rock stacks, gorges, arches, blowholes and other spectacular scenery. The coastline has its origins about 10 million-20 million years ago when billions of tiny skeletal fragments accumulated beneath the sea, gradually creating limestone formations. The sea then retreated, leaving the soft limestone exposed to violent seas and strong winds.
Distance 255 kilometres from Torquay to Warrnambool.
Vehicle Standard car.
5. HOBART TO FREYCINET PENINSULA, TAS
There is no single road in Tasmania that is significantly better than others but if you want to reach into the essence of historic Tasmania, it is hard to beat a circular journey that includes historic and perfectly preserved Richmond, passes Triabunna and edges Great Oyster Bay, allows for a full-day walking experience through Freycinet National Park to the pristine and unforgettable Wineglass Bay and returns via historic Campbell Town and Ross to Hobart.
At Ross you can inspect the most beautifully carved bridge. It was made by two convict stonemasons, Daniel Herbert and James Colbeck, and is considered one of the richest achievements of the earlier colonial period in Australia.
Distance 437 kilometres.
Vehicle Standard car.
6. THE BIRDSVILLE TRACK, SA
A couple of years ago Drive reported the Birdsville Track had been upgraded since the 1950s when the famous Back of Beyond documentary about the local mailman, Tom Kruse, was made, and had become like a four-lane highway - albeit a four-lane dirt highway. Given the recent rains this may have changed. Still, the Birdsville Track from Marree in South Australia across the Tirari Desert and Sturt Stony Desert is one of the continent's iconic drives. It can be driven in a day or a week.
The first explorer to venture into this lonely area was Charles Sturt, who described the area as a "desperate region having no parallel on Earth". The current fascination with the outback has meant that a regular stream of 4WD adventurers make the journey.
Distance 517 kilometres.
7. WESTERN QUEENSLAND — LONGREACH, BARCALDINE, MUTTABURRA
The $12.5 million that was spent developing the Stockman's Hall of Fame at Longreach was an inspired investment that opened up the entire region to rural tourism. As a result, there is now a drive encompassing Barcaldine, Longreach and Winton that can keep the visitor busy for a week.
The roads are sealed, the terrain is flat and the sites include the Australian Stockman's Hall of Fame and the Qantas Founders Outback Museum in Longreach; in Barcaldine the replanted Tree of Knowledge (the symbolic beginning of the Australian Labor Party) and the Australian Workers Heritage Centre; and in Winton, where Banjo Paterson wrote Waltzing Matilda, there's the $3 million Waltzing Matilda Centre. For those who think nothing of driving 110 kilometres across the dusty plains, there's Lark Quarry Conservation Park, which has the largest group of running dinosaur footprints in the world.
Distance 286 kilometres from Barcaldine to Winton.
Vehicle Standard car.
8. EDEN AND BEN BOYD NATIONAL PARK, NSW
The Ben Boyd National Park, which stretches from the Davidson Whaling Station near Boydtown to the wildly romantic Green Cape Lightstation, offers the driver an excess of isolated and peaceful coastal destinations. The highlights of this fascinating journey include Boydtown, Boyd's Tower, Saltwater Creek, Bittangabee and the Green Cape Lightstation.
Stop in Boydtown at the Sea Horse Inn, which was first built by convict labour and, in 2002, was upgraded at a cost of about $4 million. Today it is chic and charming with glorious grounds that extend down to the edge of the water.
Nearby is the Davidson Whaling Station where, although little remains, there are excellent plaques with interpretive text, illustrations and photos to help the visitor imagine what the area was like when the station was operational. Beyond the station is Boyd's Tower, a lighthouse built by Boyd but never completed, and the red siltstone cliffs that have been fractured and folded into some fantastical shapes.
Distance 108 kilometres.
Vehicle 4WD/standard car.
9. FRASER ISLAND, QLD
Fraser Island is the largest sand island in the world and crossing over the island's huge 240-metre-high dunes and driving up and down the long and firm beach on the island's eastern shore is an unforgettable 4WD experience.
Fraser Island is about 123 kilometres long and 22 kilometres at its widest point. Highlights of driving around the island include Eli and Wanggoolba creeks; the wreck of World War I hospital ship the Maheno, which washed ashore in 1935; the colourful sands of the Cathedrals, Pinnacles and Rainbow Gorge; the rocky headlands at Indian Head, Middle Rocks and Waddy Point; Lake Wabby, the island's deepest, which sustains fish and is bordered by melaleuca trees; Lake Bowarrady, which is 120 metres above sea level; and the crystalline Lake McKenzie.
Distance About 150 kilometres of driveable tracks and beach.
10. THE DESERT CIRCUIT, NSW
For those who want to experience the desert without leaving civilisation, this circuit from Broken Hill to Tibooburra (nearly all sealed road) across to White Cliffs (dirt road but flat and good when there hasn't been any rain) and on to Wilcannia (mostly sealed), Menindee Lakes (dirt but flat and easy) and back to Broken Hill (all sealed) offers just about everything.
Make sure at sunset you visit the Sculpture Symposium, 13 kilometres out of Broken Hill, which is 12 large sandstone sculptures in a harsh, desert environment. Tibooburra is justly famous for the paintings by Clifton Pugh and Russell Drysdale on the walls of the Family Hotel and the huge whaleboat sculpture in the Pioneer Park.
White Cliffs is a wonderland of opal mining with the countryside being so dry and unforgiving that the Bill O'Reilly Oval is hard red dirt with not a blade of grass.
Wilcannia's highlights include the centre-lift bridge over the Darling and the superb late 19th century buildings around the town.
Distance 959 kilometres.
Vehicle 4WD/standard car when conditions are dry.
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