Australia's most underrated drives: 10 great road trips
Lee Atkinson | Fairfax Media
When it comes to roadtripping not all 'Great Drives' are as great as the tourist brochures say they are, while others are so 'great' the traffic snarls can make them feel more like a peak hour commute. Here is a list of 10 underrated road trips that really are worth the drive.
1. The Pilbara, WA
If you've never been to the Pilbara before, prepare to be impressed. Often forgotten in the rush to get to the Kimberley, it's one of Australia's most underrated landscapes, grander, more expansive, more mountainous and much more majestic than most people ever imagine. Start at Newman and head east to Dampier on the coast via Karijini and Millstream Chichester national parks, exploring dozens of gorges, waterfalls, wild swimming holes, riverside camp spots and ancient rock art galleries along the way. It really is the wild west, with the bonus that, compared to the well-travelled roads in the Kimberley, there's hardly any other tourists. How far? Roughly 700km
2. The Munja Track, WA
An adventure drive along the Gibb River Road across the Kimberley in north-west WA features at the top of a lot of road trip bucket lists, which means it can be a bit of a conga-line of caravans in the height of the tourist season (June-August). Escape the crowds and tackle The Munja Track instead. It's a challenging 4WD trip that will take at least three days from the homestead at Mt Elizabeth Station (about halfway along the Gibb) to get to Walcott Inlet on the coast. Highlights include swimming beneath waterfalls and galleries of Wanjina rock art. How far? 220km each way.
3. Mary River, NT
Kakadu might get all the attention but neighbouring Mary River National Park has even more wild crocodiles – it's home to the densest population of saltwater crocodiles in the country – and is famous for its barramundi fishing, birdlife and wild buffalo. Explore the park on the Wildman or Hardies 4WD tracks that wind through the floodplains to beautiful lily-filled billabongs, set up camp in the riverside campground or stay in style at Wildman Wilderness Lodge or Bamurru Plains. How far? 300km return to Darwin.
4. East Macs, NT
The East MacDonnell Ranges on the eastern side of Alice Springs, largely overlooked by most travellers, are every bit as spectacular as the West Macs. Access is via sealed roads, and highlights include the rock art at Emily Gap, majestic Trephina Gorge, the ghost town of Arltunga – the first official town in central Australia – and thousands of petroglyphs at N'Dhala Gorge. How far? 110km one-way from Alice Springs.
5. Googs Track, SA
\A fantastic alternative to the Simpson Desert, Googs Track is an adventure drive across more than 360 sand dunes north of Ceduna at the top of the Eyre Peninsula. One for experienced four-wheel-drivers only, it's a remote, roller coaster ride on a sandy track made by local farmer, John 'Goog' Denton, with help from his son, 'Dinger', in 1973. Some dunes are 25 metres high. How far? 200km.
6. Eyre Peninsula, SA
When it comes to great seaside drives the one everyone thinks of is the Great Ocean Road, but if you've been there and done that – or just don't fancy fighting the holiday traffic – head to the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia instead. While you may not find the famous rock stacks, you will find a string of deserted beaches, coastal national parks with great beachside camping and walking trails, friendly seaside towns with sensational seafood and good-value accommodation, dramatic cliff-top scenery and unique wildlife encounters, like swimming with sea lions or shark cage diving. How far? Around 700km, Whyalla to Ceduna via Port Lincoln.
7. Bass Coast, Vic
Although well-known by Victorians, the stretch of road that winds along the Bass Coast east of Melbourne invariably gets overlooked by most interstate and overseas visitors in favour of the Great Ocean Road, but it deserves a lot more attention than it gets. Beaches and clifftop lookouts combined with the food and wine of the Mornington Peninsula, family-friendly attractions of Phillip Island – including the world famous Penguin Parade – and one of the state's most popular national parks, Wilsons Promontory, make for a truly great drive. How far? Around 320km, Melbourne to Wilsons Prom via Phillip Island.
8. Barrington Tops, NSW
The Barrington Tops Forest Road that snakes across the top of the Barrington Tops between Gloucester and Scone in the upper Hunter Valley is one of the country's most underrated alpine drives. It's narrow and windy and mostly gravel, but traverses spectacular World Heritage-listed sub-alpine wilderness and delivers magnificent views, with plenty of opportunities for picnicking, hiking and camping along the way. In winter the rainforest is often cloaked in a covering a snow. How far? Around 150km.
9. Western Explorer, Tas
Hardly anyone knows about the road that runs through the Tarkine rainforest between Strahan and Stanley on the west coast of Tasmania, but it's one of the country's most spectacularly wild road trips. A highlight, other than the joy of travelling though beautiful rainforest with, more often than not, not another vehicle in sight, is the ferry trip across the Pieman River and spending time in the old gold rush town of Corinna deep in the forest. How far? 283km.
10. The Outback Way (Qld, NT & WA)
Australia's most underrated drive is also one of its longest, even if it is officially the country's biggest shortcut. The Outback Way is the quickest way to get – by road – from Cairns to Perth or vice versa although officially it stretches from Winton in outback Queensland to Laverton in the WA goldfields. One of the world's truly great trans-continental journeys it's off the radar for most Australian road trippers, even though you don't need a 4WD, you don't have to camp because there's plenty of motel accommodation, lots of places to fuel up along the way, it's fine for caravans if that's what you want to take, and includes many of the great Australian icons, like Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon, along the way. You do need a couple of weeks up your sleeve though. Underrated it might be, but given it includes the Reef, the Rock and the West it really is the ultimate Australian road trip. How far? 2800km from Winton to Laverton, 4615km if you go all the way from Cairns to Perth.
Image credit: Kata Tjuta | Shutterstock.com