Top 4 winter road trips

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Sunset, Greg Snell/Tourism Australia

Sunset, Greg Snell/Tourism Australia

Sure, you could spend winter relaxing in front of an open fire, with a good red and a good book – or you could hop in your car and get out on roads that are best explored in winter.

Here are four winter road trips that will warm your car engine and your cockles.

Gibb River Road, Western Australia

Although you can only drive on Gibb River Road in the dry season (generally most of winter), the trip is anything but dry, with river crossings, spectacular waterfalls and gorges.

Gibb River Road starts in Derby and continues for over 600km through the Kimberley to Kununurra, which is the gateway to Bungle Bungles. It’s an epic journey, although maybe not as epic as you think (it’s certainly no Burke and Wills expedition), because some of the road is covered in bitumen and regular maintenance work is carried out in peak season to make sure it stays in good condition.

Having said that, it’s a (mainly) dirt road through one of the most remote areas in Australia, so you’ll earn your adventure badge after completing the drive. And once you get to Kununurra, you still have to work out how to get home.

Stuart Highway, South Australia and Northern Territory

Start in the cold and end in the warmth as you drive the Stuart Highway from Adelaide to Darwin. Unlike many other winter treks, the Stuart Highway is all-vehicle accessible, from a push bike up to the biggest road trains in the country. At over 3000km long, you’ll be glad of the good road conditions by the end of your drive.

So, what will you see if you travel this section of Highway 1? Be prepared for long stretches of similar landscape, spiced up by some of the best roadside attractions in the world, from Karlu Karlu (Devils Marbles) to the thermal springs at Mataranka, to the Red Centre itself (and its centre, Alice Springs).

The Savannah Way, Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia

The Bungle Bungles. Lake Argyle. Katherine Gorge. Bitter Springs. The Lost City. Lawn Hill Gorge. Undara Lava Tubes. Atherton Tablelands. These are only some of the attractions you’ll come across on the whopping 3700km Savannah Way. This is some of the most remote and wild country in Australia, with all the spectacular beauty you’d expect of a route passing through Arnhem Land and the Kimberley.

Connecting Cairns and Broome, the Savannah Way is a series of connecting highways and roads. It’s mainly 2WD-accessible, except for the stretch connecting Queensland to the Northern Territory which is a serious dirt road with river crossings – just what you need to spice up the trip.

Murray River, Victoria

Although not quite as dramatic as the rivers on the Savannah Way, the Murray is the steady brown heart line of the southern states. Starting in the alpine region, it meanders its way along the border of Victoria and New South Wales before crossing into South Australia.

Just like the Murray River, you should take your time enjoying this stretch of country. Start in the booming town of Wodonga or across the river in pretty Albury (the more famous of the twin towns), pass through Rutherglen and sample some famous port before heading portside in Echuca (make sure you take a ride on Echuca’s famous paddlesteamers). Continue your current alongside the river all the way to the major town of Mildura in the north-west of the Victoria.

For more information on road trips, take a look at our Complete Motoring Atlas.

Camping along the Stuart Highway

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Devils Marbles camping area Devils Marbles, Raelene Woods

Devils Marbles camping area Devils Marbles, Raelene Woods

If John McDouall Stuart, the great explorer who was the first European to forge a path through Australia’s interior, saw the route from Adelaide to Darwin today, he wouldn’t recognise it.

For one thing, the road is covered in bitumen. And for another, there are some fantastic designated camping areas lining the route – a luxury he wouldn’t have conceived of.

Here are the best places to spend the night along one of Australia’s great drives.

1. Ranges View rest area

View by name, view by nature – Ranges View rest area has a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside. As it’s only a short drive out of Port Augusta, you probably won’t need to spend the night here.

2. Bon Bon rest area

Around two hours south of famous mining town Coober Pedy, Bon Bon rest area is an opal of an overnight stop, with great facilities and plenty of space space.

3. Ingomar rest area

Good amenities and a great view – and all at the hefty sum of zero dollars a night.

4. Desert Oaks rest area

Desert Oaks rest area is one camping area you can take at face value. The rest area is shaded and has good facilities.

5. Finke River rest area

This rest area is on the banks of the Finke River, a famous river that has its source inthe West MacDonnells.

6. Prowse Gap rest area

The scenery here might not equal that at the previous stop, but it has good facilities and a large space suitable for all sorts of rigs.

7. Devils Marbles camping area

A camping area in close proximity to one of the best rock formations in Australia? No, you haven’t lost your marbles, you’ve found them again at Devils Marbles camping area, with a seriously good view and facilities.

8. Banka Banka Homestead camping area

A large, grassy, shaded, dog-friendly camping area near the highway – yes, please!

9. Twelve Mile Yards camping area

Twelve kilometres off the highway on the banks of the Roper River, you’ll be ropeable if you miss out on a night at this fantastic camping area.

10. Edith Falls camping area

Gorge yourself on the views from Nitmiluk National Park’s famous gorges after spending the night at Edith Falls camping area, next to a waterhole 19 kilometres off the highway.

11. Adelaide River park area

Sometimes simple accommodation is best – how about this large, shaded rest area in Adelaide River?

12. Berry Springs park area

Some stops are worth travelling off the highway for – like this park area near the famous pools at Berry Springs.

 

Australia’s best glamping (it’s good enough for royalty)

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Sal Salis, Ningaloo Reef, Sal Salis Ningaloo Reef/Tourism Australia

Sal Salis, Ningaloo Reef, Sal Salis Ningaloo Reef/Tourism Australia

How would you like to stay in a tent that has been set up for you, with catering, cleaning, a heater in winter – and your own bathroom? This is fancy camping (with the price tag to match).

Bamurru Plains, Mary River, Northern Territory

Just outside of Kakadu National Park, there are only nine safari lodges at Bamurru Plains. Like regular camping, the mesh walls are the only things separating you from the nature of the Top End. But unlike regular camping, you’ll have a solid floor, a bed and a high-pressure shower. Oh, and there’s also the catered meals (three course, if you please) and personalised tours into the floodplains.

Sal Salis Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia

Ranged in the sand dunes facing Ningaloo Reef and cushioned by the ochre hills of Cape Range National Park, the nine safari tents of Sal Salis Ningaloo Reef have some of the best views on this stretch of coast. They are also fancier than any other tent you’ll see on this stretch of coast, with solid beds, bathrooms and catered meals.

Longitude 131, Uluru, Northern Territory

Is the sun lighting up Uluru the best wake-up call in the world? The luxury ‘tents’ at Longitude 131 are the closest accommodation to the rock, and have a view that’s priceless (and very pricey). Apart from that,  Longitude 131 has all the fancy things we’ve come to expect from a glorified tent (that has solid walls) – all meals catered, spectacular activities and the most luxurious bed under a canvas roof you could expect. In fact, it’s so luxurious that Kate and Wills stayed here when they visited Uluru.

Roar & Snore, Taronga Zoo, Sydney, New South Wales

What’s better? Watching the sun set over Sydney’s magnificent harbour, complete with bridge and opera house, or waking up to a behind-the-scenes tour of the zoo? At Taronga Zoo’s Roar & Snore you can have both, as well as a luxury safari tent where you can dream of lions and tigers and bears (oh my).

 

Winter away in the best winter towns in Australia

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Wombat Hill restaurant, Mark Chew/Tourism Victoria

Wombat Hill restaurant, Mark Chew/Tourism Victoria

Do you want to snow down and embrace the winter season? Here are the best towns in Australia for a winter holiday – and in some of these towns it even snows!

Katoomba, Blue Mountains, New South Wales

High in the hills above Sydney is sleepy Katoomba, an enchanting village that feels like it is straight out of an Enid Blyton novel, complete with tea rooms, tartan-wearing locals and air of mystery.  Oh, and occasional snow! It snows here a couple of times a year, although the coating of white frost every morning might trick you into thinking it snows more than it really does.

With only light snow, you’re not going to be skiing down the streets or building snowmen. Katoomba’s winter is the sort you embrace by curling up in front of a fire, tea-room hopping or by attempting one of the many walks starting at Echo Point. To really get the blood pumping, we suggest the Giant Staircase, which has 800 steps down to the valley floor. You’ll really deserve your scone with jam and cream after attempting this walk.

Daylesford, Spa Country, Victoria

This is spa country, where the waters are thermal and the antiquing is hot. While there are 72 thermal springs around the area, you’ll want to visit a bathhouse where they heat up the water for you, although the alleged healing benefits are free.

You can have a good time in Daylesford even if you don’t want to take your clothes off. Only a short drive from Melbourne, it’s one of the most popular holiday towns in the state. Eat at one of the great restaurants, meander around the shops or wake up and smell the roses at the local botanic gardens. You won’t even notice that there’s no snow.

Hahndorf, Adelaide Hills, South Australia

The hills are alive with the sounds, smells and buildings of Europe – or at least they are in the Adelaide Hills. Only 30 minutes from Adelaide, the hills have a few towns with various European influences. There’s Strathalbyn, which is a wee bit Scottish, and then there’s Germanic Hahndorf. And if there’s anyone who knows how to do winter, it’s the Germans. We’re talking mulled wine, log fires and delicious bread.

While it might not snow in Hahndorf proper (snow is more likely on nearby Mt Lofty), the town does get chilly, so you’ll need to rug up. While there you should explore the town’s historic buildings, including the residence of artist Hans Heysen.

Thredbo, Kosciusko National Park, New South Wales

Snow way you can do better than Thredbo when it comes to facilities and access to ski fields. It’s the most famous winter town in the country, and should be top of your list if you want a proper winter vacation. The closest town to Mt Kosciuszko, Thredbo has the longest ski runs in the country, as well as slopes for beginners. More than that, the town has a charming village feel, so if sitting in front of a log fire with hot chocolate is more your scene than hitting the slopes, Thredbo has you covered.

Stanthorpe, Granite Belt, Queensland

Forget everything you’ve heard about following the winter sun into Queensland – you can also follow the winter snow up into Stanthorpe. The main town in the booming Granite Belt, only a couple of hours south-west of Brisbane, Stanthorpe has been known to get snow on occasion. But even when you don’t get flurries, you’ll still be feeling the chill; the town is settled into the mountains that range along the border between Stanthorpe and New South Wales’s New England region, and is thought to have the coldest weather in Queensland.

The Granite Belt region is famous for its produce, and that’s the main appeal of this heritage town – eating and drinking, with plenty of wineries to choose from. Of course, if you get sick of cellar doors after a while, the town has art galleries, historic buildings and access to adventure activities in the mountains.

Evandale, Midlands, Tasmania

Evandale is a heritage-listed Georgian town 20 minutes from Launceston and 40 minutes from Ben Lomond National Park (which has the best ski fields in Tasmania). There’s something about classical Georgian buildings that just feels right in winter, and this town has some of the best examples in the country, including Clarendon House, a building that is sure to have you saying, ‘I want one of those’.

Wander around town, pop into a cafe for a warming drink – or take advantage of the fact that you’re very close to some of the best attractions in the midlands.

 

Top 16 winter camping spots

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Gunlom camping area, Kakadu National Park, Lyndon Sparrow

Gunlom camping area, Kakadu National Park, Lyndon Sparrow

Want to camp without freezing your tent pegs off this winter? We’ve picked the best winter campsites in Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia.

Lawn Hill Gorge camping area, Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park, Queensland

It’s hot, dusty – and incredibly beautiful. This is an oasis in the outback, with a palm-fringed emerald river hiding in a gorge. Lawn Hill Gorge camping area is the best camping area in the national park and has 20 sites ranged next to the creek.

Darlington Park camping area, Beaudesert, Queensland

This family-friendly gem is in the Gold Coast hinterland. With plenty of space and facilities, Darlington Park camping area is a popular site.

Platypus Bush Camp, Finch Hatton Gorge, Queensland

You might not catch a glimpse of Australia’s most elusive native creature (the platypus!) at this enchanting rainforest campground, but less elusive features here include hot showers with views, treehouses and a camp kitchen.

Babinda Creek camping area, Babinda, Queensland

Find water you can swim in at Babinda Creek camping area, a family-friendly camping area with good facilities nestled next to a creek south of Cairns.

Maureen’s Cove camping area, Whitsundays National Park, Queensland

It’s the holy grail of travel – good budget accommodation within an expensive tourist precinct. The campsites in Whitsundays National Park are one such accommodation option. Boat-access only Maureen’s Cove camping area is on the north coast of Hook Island. It has limited facilities, but swell snorkelling just offshore.

MV Sarawak camping area, Inskip Peninsula Recreation Area, Queensland

Dog-friendly and suitable for large groups, these campsites with a view (looking onto Fraser Island) might have limited facilities but that has not limited their popularity. Well worth a visit.

Camerons Corner camping area, Queensland

Camerons Corner camping area is the point where Queensland, South Australia and New South Wales meet – it’s also on the edge of the Stuart Desert, so you know it’s hot. There are good facilities and a store here.

Carnarvon Gorge camping area, Carnarvon National Park, Queensland

Gorge yourself on the views at Carnarvon Gorge – and then head back to Carnarvon Gorge camping area for the night. Only open during certain school holidays, this campground has good facilities and good access to the main attraction in the park.

Punsand Bay Camping Resort, Cape York, Queensland

It’s a long way to the top, but the drive is worth it for views like these – and for the experience of being at the tip of Australia. Punsand Bay Camping Resort is the closest campground to the northernmost point of Australia, and has tip-top facilities and activities.

Gunlom camping area, Kakadu National Park, Northern Territory

This is one of the best camping areas in Kakadu, and not just because it has great facilities (although it does). No, this camping area is at the base of Gunlom Falls, where the views are remarkable and the waters are normally croc free.

Mornington Wilderness Sanctuary, Gibb River Road, Western Australia

Around 95km off Gibb River Road, down a well-graded road, this campsite is run by the not-for-profit Australian Wildlife Conservancy. It’s basic but beautiful, with shady sites ranged next to the river. And, as the name suggests, it’s a hang-out for local wildlife, as well as being close to gorges and other gorge-ous vistas.

Kooljaman camping area, Cape Leveque, Western Australia

Does it get much better than this? You’ll have to go and see for yourself.

The campground in Cape Leveque Wilderness Camp is suitably remote and beautiful (it’s greener than you’d expect), the facilities and amenities are good, and if you go for two nights, you’ll often end up staying for four.

Dales camping area, Karijini National Park, Western Australia

Karijini National Park is the jewel in the desert crown of the Pilbara region. On first glance, the national park seems to be red desert and shrubs. But the mountainous national park is hiding gorges with jewel-toned swimming holes and waterfalls. Dales camping area is near some of the best sights in the park, and has good facilities.

Surprise Creek Falls camping area, Litchfield National Park, Northern Territory

It wouldn’t surprise us if you fall in love with this remote and basic campsite in Litchfield National Park, if only for its access to an enchanting swimming hole.

Butterfly Springs camping area, Limmen National Park, Northern Territory

The three best things about this camping area are that it’s free, the spring that the campsite is named for is enchanting (and the only place to safely swim in the park), and it has a large population of butterflies that will flutter around you like you’re Snow White. A short distance off the Savannah Way, you can only stay at this campsite in dry weather.

Ormiston Gorge camping area, West MacDonnell Ranges National Park, Northern Territory

This camping area has one of the most scenic toilets you’ll find in Australia – and apart from that, it has great access to Ormiston Gorge, one of the Red Centre’s best known swimming holes.