Classic Australian road trips you have to do

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There’s only one way to see most of Australia – and that’s by car. Australia’s highways are a roadmap to adventure; start your exploration with one of these classic road trips, which cover wide open roads from the red centre to the coastal fringe.

Stuart Highway from Alice Springs to Darwin, Northern Territory

This road, cutting through the heart of the country between Darwin and Adelaide, is one of the great Australian adventures. And the 1500km section between Darwin and Alice Springs is a track to the best of the Northern Territory: there’s the Devils Marbles, ancient rock formations carefully balanced on top of each other like a cheerleaders’ pyramid, the hot springs at Bitter Springs and Mataranka, the eerie termite mounds of Litchfield National Park, the waterfalls and gorges of Nitmiluk National Park … and that’s not even mentioning the charismatic roadhouses along the highway (the one at Wycliffe Well is famous for alien sightings). This is a road trip full of personality.

Great Ocean Road, Victoria

This insanely picturesque route is the Australian version of driving along the Amalfi Coast. The Great Ocean Road winds its way between tree-covered mountains and the endless rolling surf and, just like in Italy, there are charming seaside towns here too, from the barista boomtown of Lorne to the picture-perfect cottages of Port Fairy. The road starts just south of Torquay and runs for 278km along the coast past famous landmarks like the Twelve Apostles and Cape Otway Lightstation. You could drive the route in a few hours, but follow the example of the locals and chill out, slow down and enjoy the scenery.

Savannah Way from Cairns, Queensland to Katherine, Northern Territory

This bumpy road connects Queensland with the Northern Territory through the heart of the Gulf country with its river crossings and crocs – plus the odd interestingly named roadside stop, like Hells Gate Roadhouse. After leaving Cairns, the Savannah Way quickly passes through the lush Atherton Tablelands on its way to more wild and adventurous territory, like the true-blue gold-mining towns of Croydon and Normanton, which proudly displays a statue of the biggest croc ever caught. From Normanton, it’s a 700km stretch of unsealed road through some of the best barramundi-catching territory in the country on the way to Katherine. Just watch out for road trains!

Princes Highway from Sydney, New South Wales to Melbourne, Victoria

As you sit crunching your feet into the white sand of Hyams Beach at Jervis Bay, you’ll ask yourself why you ever drove the Hume Highway. While the Hume is the quickest route from Sydney to Melbourne, the 1000km meandering coastal road along the Princes Highway is by far the more interesting. It starts just outside of Sydney and rolls by the South Coast’s famously laid-back coastal towns, like Ulladulla, Jervis Bay, Eden and Lakes Entrance. You can also duck into the protected coastal environs of Royal National Park, Ben Boyd National Park and Croajingolong National Park. And if that’s not enough to convince you – there’s also good coffee.

Crossing the Nullarbor from Ceduna, South Australia to Norseman, Western Australia

Crossing the Nullarbor means driving 1200km between Ceduna in South Australia and Norseman in Western Australia across the Nullarbor Plain, a massive featureless expanse where you’ll also find the 90-Mile Straight, a 146km stretch of straight road. It’s enough to strike terror into the heart of any driver. Luckily there’s plenty to distract you along the route if you know where to look, from the 200km-long Bunda Cliffs, where the Nullarbor drops off into the ocean, to the Nullarbor Links, potentially the longest golf course in the world, where the holes are stretched out along the length of the highway. Then there are the roadhouses, peopled by outback characters and, in one case, a NASA museum. Yup, it’s fair to say that the Nullarbor is as interesting as you make it.

 

The best roadhouses in Australia

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A roadhouse is so much more than just a place you can get petrol and an iffy pie. For drivers travelling along Australia’s isolated highways, a roadhouse rises like an oasis of good ol’ fashioned hospitality on the side of the road. Their proprietors might well rescue you and your car if you fall into trouble nearby, too. We’ve picked the best roadhouses in the country – no iffy roadside pies here!

Hells Gate Roadhouse, Savannah Way, Queensland

Hell’s Gate Roadhouse by TravelPod member Macphails

Don’t believe everything they tell you – hell isn’t that bad. At least it’s not at Hells Gate Roadhouse, a friendly and surprisingly green stop on the rough and tumble Savannah Highway in Queensland, around 50km from the border with Northern Territory. You’re a long way from anywhere up here, and Hells Gate Roadhouse is a sight for dusty eyes … especially as it’s got petrol, food, cold drinks, and a place to stay for the night. Oh, and there’s even an airstrip, if you’d prefer to drop in by air.

Birdsville Roadhouse, Birdsville, Queensland

Birdsville Roadhouse

If you get stuck in the Simpson Desert within 300km of Birdsville and you call the RACQ, the man who’ll come running – eventually – is Peter Barnes, the proprietor of the Birdsville Roadhouse. While the Birdsville Pub might be more iconic, it’s the Birdsville Roadhouse, which has been run by Barnes’y and his wife Bernadette for decades, that should be top of every travellers’ list. It’s got fuel, friendliness … and, perhaps most importantly if you’ve just been driving through the desert, a vehicle workshop.

Tjukayirla Roadhouse, Great Central Road, Western Australia

Tjukayirla Roadhouse by TripAdvisor reviewer Alai1498

You’re a long way from anywhere at the Tjukayirla Roadhouse, an outpost on the Great Central Road in the Great Victoria Desert. This classic Australian building, with a corrugated roof extending over a veranda that’s surrounded by shrubby and shady gums, is a welcome spot of hospitality after you’ve been bouncing over the unsealed road for hours. And even though the roadhouse is, well, in the middle of nowhere, it manages to serve up some of the best burgers this side of Texas. The roadhouse isn’t open in the evenings, so unless you’re planning to stay in the clean and thoughtfully considered accommodation, remember to check the opening hours.

Nullarbor Roadhouse, Nullarbor, South Australia

Nullarbor Roadhouse by TripAdvisor reviewer Seafergie

The Nullarbor Roadhouse might be the friendliest roadhouse in the country – which is great news for travellers, as hospitality is just what you need when driving the long and isolated stretch of road between South Australia and Western Australia. The Nullarbor Roadhouse has been open to travellers since 1957, and while the original roadhouse still remains as an interesting historical feature, the facilities have been upgraded somewhat since then, with hot showers ($1 for 5 minutes), clean rooms, great coffee (they even have soy!) and food so good (they even have roast lamb) you’ll want to turn around and do the drive again, just for a repeat taste.

Emerald Springs Roadhouse, Stuart Highway, Northern Territory

Emerald Springs by TripAdvisor reviewer MBB1952

Emerald Springs Roadhouse, at an easy 180km drive down the Stuart Highway from Darwin, is perfectly situated for your first pick-me-up on the road. And you’re in luck! This roadhouse, although situated in an area that’s famous for nothing much, is itself famous for its excellent food and coffee, as well as for its cheeky and charming owners – oh, and the large, cool veranda.

Best hot springs in Australia

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Exploring Australia is a tough business – luckily, the country is full of naturally occurring hot springs popping up in the most unexpected places to help wash the cares of the road away. So say farewell to fancy spas … and hello to the best hot springs in the country!

 

Zebedee Hot Springs, El Questro Station, Western Australia

Zebedee Hot Springs by @robynchalk – Instagram

By the time you’ve bounced your way along the rough Kimberley roads into El Questro Station, you’ll have plenty of aches and pains to wash away. So you’ll be counting your lucky stars that the property is home to the ridiculously pretty Zebedee Hot Springs, a series of small pools nestled in tiered layers down a rock-face among tropical palms. The water hovers at around 38 degrees Celsius; it’s guaranteed to relax your muscles. The hot springs are only open to the general public from 7am until 12pm in season (the afternoons are reserved for guests of the station’s luxury homestead), so get in early to beat the crowds.

 

Lightning Ridge Hot Bore Baths, Lightning Ridge, New South Wales

Lightning Ridge Hot Bore Baths by Tripadvisor reviewer Julia J

A long way in both location and style from Zebedee Hot Springs, Lightning Ridge Hot Bore Baths is a large circular pool in the middle of a dry and dusty plain with shrubby trees. But we’d expect nothing less from the idiosyncratic opal-mining town of Lightning Ridge, which is renowned for its frontier feel. The baths are just outside of town, and, with water temperature that’s around 40 degrees Celsius, are the perfect spot to relax after a long day travelling or opal mining – but unless you’re visiting the town in winter, best leave the swimming to early morning or late at night.

 

Artesian Mud Baths, Eulo, Queensland

Artesian Mud Baths by Tripadvisor reviewer CocoGELM

You’ll find hot springs with a large side of personality at Eulo in Queensland. Owner Nan has inventively placed four large claw baths in an enclosed area that’s open to the sky. The baths are filled with the naturally hot artesian water and infused with artesian mud, for the most unique beauty experience you’ll have this year. You can even book your bath at night, and sip on a glass of wine while leaning back in the tub and staring at the starry, starry night. It’s an experience you won’t soon forget.

 

Bitter Springs, Elsey National Park, Northern Territory

Bitter Springs by Tripadvisor reviewer Lesley2402

Bitter Springs, just two kilometres south of Mataranka, has long been a hot spot for its hot springs. Near the equally famous Mataranka Thermal Pool, Bitter Springs is famously beautiful, with interconnected pools of sparkling aqua overshadowed by palms and tropical grasses. The water is a balmy 34 degrees Celsius, and you can hire a noodle from the nearby camping area and float from the top pool to the bottom – don’t forget your snorkel for a glimpse of underwater life. Word to the wise: there are crocs about, so stay alert.

 

Dalhousie Springs, Witjira National Park, South Australia

Dalhousie Springs by Tripadvisor reviewer family_of_four_qld

On the edge of the Simpson Desert lies the dusty Witjira National Park, which hides a hot secret – around 120 mound springs full of artesian water. The most well known of the springs is Dalhousie Main Spring, a National Heritage–listed pool surrounded by palms and hardy desert trees where the water sits at around 37 degrees Celsius. The largest pool on this list, the oasis is a pretty good reward for braving the long, bumpy and dirty road into the park.

 

Top 5 desert camping areas

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We’ve all heard it before – the best way to really see Australia is to leave the coastline behind and head for the desert. And what better way to see the desert than by camping there? That’s why we’ve found Australia’s top five desert camping areas, which will show you there’s more to the desert than sand dunes. But be warned: these campsites are hot properties, where temperatures soar and you’re pretty much isolated, so you’ll need to be experienced, self-sufficient and prepared.

Coongie Lake camping area, Malkumba-Coongie Lakes National Park, South Australia

Coongie Lakes is a rare permanent body of water in a corner of the outback more famous for dry rivers and lakes like Cooper Creek and Lake Eyre. More than that, it’s a recognised wetland, with abundant birdlife and shady, overhanging trees. It’s a cool change from the harsh surrounding landscape, and the campsites line the shore of the lake for full-frontal views. There are no facilities apart from toilets, so you’ll need to be entirely self-sufficient. Oh, and access is from the famously rough and tumble 4WD-only Coongie Track. Well, it wouldn’t be the desert if it was easy!

Coongie Lakes National Park by Flickr dracophylla

Dig Tree camping area, Dig Tree Reserve, Queensland

You’ll probably make happier memories at Dig Tree camping area than explorer Burke (of Burke and Wills), who famously met his end underneath the Dig Tree. Apart from the tree itself, which, at a reported 200 years old, is large, shady and unconcerned by its historical significance, you’ll find a pleasant camping area with extremely basic facilities along the Cooper Creek. As a bonus, this section of the creek normally has water. Set up your camp anywhere within the fenced area. Note: you’ll find it much easier to enjoy the view if you bring mosquito netting – this is fly territory. 

Dig Tree, Tourism and Events Queensland

Dalhousie Springs camping area, Witjira National Park, South Australia

An oasis away from the dunes and plains of the desert, Dalhousie Springs is one of the more popular camping areas in this neck of the outback, and for good reason – it has a large hot spring that averages around 38 degrees Celsius where you can laze away the cares of the road. And if that’s not enough, Dalhousie also has excellent facilities, with toilets and showers. It’s no wonder this camping area brings in plenty of other campers (and plenty of mosquitoes).

Dalhousie Springs by Citizengastronaut

Palm Valley camping area, Finke Gorge National Park, Northern Territory

The main camping area in Finke Gorge National Park, Palm Valley camping area is found within the desert-meets-tropical beauty of Palm Valley. This valley is particularly remarkable because it protects the last of the red cabbage palms, an ancient species of palm endemic to the desert. The campsites are arrayed along the often-dry Finke River (although you might get some pooled water) and the area has good facilities – including flushing toilets! From the camping area, you can follow walking trails around the valley or head to the Kalaranga Lookout for heart-stopping sunset views.

Finke Gorge National Park by Tripadvisor conatus

Cameron Corner camping area, Queensland

Thousands of travellers make the pilgrimage out to Cameron Corner every year to stand at the place where Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia meet. Look at this geographical crossroads and then head to the pub attached the corner store for a surprisingly good burger and a cool bevvie – reward for surviving the long and bumpy trek out here. Talk to the owners Finn and Cheryl about bush camping in the 240ha at Cameron Corner, and hand over the small camping fee, which will be donated to the Royal Flying Doctor Service. You’ll need to be experienced and entirely self-sufficient to bush camp in this desert, but if you prefer a few more creature comforts, you can also camp at the corner store.

Cameron Corner marker by Tripadvisor Megan_Chambers

Best coffee stops along the Hume Highway

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coffee-shops-on-hume-highway

Ahh, the Hume Highway. Travelling the 880km between Melbourne and Sydney on the inland highway is a summer pilgrimage for many travellers. But even those who enjoy the drive would have to agree that after a while the scenery gets a little bit … well, monotonous. And a bit … well, boring. Trust us, you’re going to need coffee or two (or three). Here are the best places to get that reviving cup of joe along the highway.

The Proprietor, 459 Townsend St, Albury

As you look around at the white-tiled counter, big timber tables, black-and-white flooring and hanging Art Deco lamps in the revamped old butchers’ shop, you might need to remind yourself that this is Albury, not Melbourne – particularly when you realise the beans behind the seriously excellent coffee you’re drinking are from East Brunswick’s own Padre. Try the food, too; the lamb salad is a particular winner.

The Proprieter, Albury

The Proprieter, Albury

J&B’s Gourmet Cafe, 143 Albury Rd, Holbrook

We know you want to see the famous submarine, but stop at J & B’s Gourmet Cafe first for some classic Australian food with classically good Aussie coffee. The staff here can not only pump out your flat white, but your long black and macchiato, too. And they also make the best beef pies along the Hume Highway.

J&B's Gourmet Cafe by Tripadvisor John E

J&B’s Gourmet Cafe by Tripadvisor John E

The Long Track Pantry, Riverside Dr, Jugiong

Factor in a long lunch at Long Track Pantry in Jugiong – in fact, we’d move in if the owners would let us. Let’s just tick off everything you’ll find at LTP: great coffee, tick; friendly service, yes; delicious food, sorted; take-home gourmet goodies, of course; rustic and welcoming decor, nailed it.

The Long Track Pantry

The Long Track Pantry

Barneys of Bookham, 30 Fagan Dr, Bookham

Follow the cars ducking off the highway just before Yass on the way to Sydney; they’ll be heading towards Barney’s at Bookham, a cute little locally owned cafe that has managed to fly under the traffic radar. Well, secret’s out – this cafe will give you the fuel (coffee and burgers) to drive those remaining kilometres.

Barneys by Tripadvisor user AustraliaFamilyMan

Barneys by Tripadvisor user AustraliaFamilyMan

The Old Hume Cafe, 78 Yass St, Gunning

The owners of the Old Hume Cafe know that if it’s not broke, don’t fix it … which is why the kitchen sends out delicious home cooking (think burgers, toasties and classic cakes) with old-fashioned friendly service. Oh, and the coffee is great.

Old Hume Cafe

Old Hume Cafe

Grit Cafe, 5/1-3 Sowerby St, Goulburn

You’ll feel sheepish if you miss Grit Cafe, situated just off the highway near the Big Merino in Goulburn. The coffee is delicious – definitely a step up from McCafe – and the menu is well-rounded, with sandwiches, soups, muesli, and brekky plates. The cafe itself is cute, with indoor and outdoor seating.

Grit Cafe by Tripadvosor user Twoaussies_13

Grit Cafe by Tripadvisor user Twoaussies_13