5 Road Trips for Taking in Australia's Gorgeous Coastline

Queensland beach driving
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With more than 17,000 miles of coastline on the mainland alone (and another 10,000 miles on the islands), Australia was made for road trips with an ocean view. You can drive across a plain so flat that a camel’s humps look like mountains, follow the curves of wild coastal bluffs, or even make tracks on miles and miles of beach.

Take a day, a week, or more discovering Australia’s coast by Australians’ favorite means of travel. Here are five joy rides to get you started.

Nullarbor Plain, South Australia

Nullarbor Plain, Australia
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A drive for seasoned road trippers, the Nullarbor Plain runs across Western Australia and into South Australia on the country’s longest, flatest, straightest road: the Eyre Highway. Known for its vast treeless vistas, the Nullarbor Plain meets the craggy coastal cliffs of the Great Australian Bight, prime for whale watching in winter. Also be on the lookout for wild camels, kangaroos, and emus wandering the plain, or mix up the scenery by stopping at Eucla National Park to play in towering white sand dunes. Plan ahead for this one and always carry extra fuel and water—even at its busiest, the Eyre Highway is wonderfully remote.

The Great Ocean Road, Victoria

Victoria’s rugged cliffs
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The most famous of Australia’s coastal road trips, the Great Ocean Road traverses 150 miles of Victoria’s rugged cliffs, heading west from Torquay (just southwest of Melbourne) to Allansford. The road attracts Australians and foreigners alike, with views so spectacular you’ll be tempted to drive at a glacial pace. Take at least three days to allow time to explore landmarks like the 12 Apostles, a set of spindly limestone towers at sea that change color at sunrise and sunset. Along the dramatic drive, which has earned a spot on Australia’s National Heritage list, you’ll also find iconic surf spots, diveable shipwrecks (a stretch of the drive is known as the Shipwreck Coast), and hikes into the fern-filled rainforest.

Great Eastern Drive, Tasmania

Peron Dunes, Tasmania
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The Great Eastern Drive connects the best of Tasmania—food and wine, unparalleled natural beauty, and unique history—via 110 miles of coastal cruising, along which you can snorkel the pristine waters of Wineglass Bay, raise a glass at Milton Vineyards, sandboard down the Peron Dunes, and immerse yourself in aboriginal history at Bay of Fires. Make time to visit Port Arthur, a former convict settlement and UNESCO World Heritage Site that was once considered the “inescapable prison.”

Great Beach Drive, Queensland

Queensland beach driving
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Places are often named for what they are in Australia. Enter the Great Beach Drive, an island-hopping road trip across the sand, with waves lapping at your tires. There are just three requirements: at least four days, a four-wheel drive vehicle, and a healthy (preferably incurable) sense of adventure. On this 260-mile drive, you’ll pass through places called Rainbow Beach and “K’Gari,” or “Paradise” (the local Butchulla name for Fraser Island), where a 75-mile-long stretch of beach serves as both your road and a runway for small planes. Extend your trip a few days after ending in Noosa, an idyllic slice of beachside heaven on the aptly named Sunshine Coast.

Grand Pacific Drive, New South Wales

Grand Pacific Drive
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Just an hour from Sydney, the Grand Pacific Drive snakes around seaside cliffs on what can be a day trip, weekend getaway, or weeklong exploration, depending on how far (and fast) you want to go. Stop before crossing the iconic Sea Cliff Bridge and take a break from the wheel to advance on foot along the Bridgewalk, gazing down upon manta rays and other sea creatures swimming in the azure surf. For a salty treat, make it far enough south to hit Australia’s Oyster Coast, where you can sample briny offerings from more than 40 growers, stopping at Jervis Bay to work up an appetite by strolling the picturesque White Sands Walk.

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