Australia is a huge country, and while many travelers are content to simply book a plane ticket and fly between destinations, if you really want to see the Land Down Under you’re going to need a car. While the popular image of Australia as a red scorched earth teeming with kangaroos isn’t entirely off the mark, the diversity of the landscape here will come as a surprise to those expecting nothing more than endless desert. In fact, some of Australia’s highways rank as the most scenic in the world and no visit to Australia can be considered complete without venturing along them. So grab your car and hit the road on one of these five, majestic routes.
1. Great Ocean Road
This is the most famous, most photographed, and most talked about of Australia’s scenic highways, and, for once, this route actually lives up to the hype. Granted, you’ll have to deal with the masses of tourists, but the jaw-dropping scenery is well worth it. While the Twelve Apostles rock formations are the most famous sight along the way, other, less crowded spots are just as awe-inspiring. In particular, Great Otway National Park is a great place to spot koala bears and other Australian wildlife.
2. Bruce Highway
Connecting Brisbane to Cairns, the Bruce Highway is a mainstay for travelers and residents alike along the Queensland coast. Stretching for 1700 km, you’ll need at least a couple weeks to see everything along this route. Fraser Island, a World Heritage Site, is just 200 km north of Brisbane and is the largest sand island in the world. This is a great place for hiking and dingo spotting. Further north, the Whitsunday Islands, with the whitest sand you’re likely ever to see, are like a scene out of paradise. The main draw along this route, however, is definitely the Great Barrier Reef, so large it is visible from space. Diving in this natural wonder is a must for any visitor to Australia.
3. North West Coastal Highway
Australia’s west coast gets a lot less attention from travelers than its east coast, but that’s not to say that it doesn’t have just as much to offer. While less accessible than the heavily trodden Bruce Highway (fuel stops can be hundreds of kilometers apart, so make sure you plan accordingly), the North West Coastal Highway in Western Australia is arguably more impressive than its eastern counterpart. There’s a lot to see here, from stunning coastal scenery to arid outback desert. Two excursions not to be missed, however, are feeding the dolphins at Monkey Mia and diving with whale sharks near Exmouth.
4. Princes Highway, Sydney to Melbourne
Most people travel between Australia’s two largest cities via the largely uneventful Hume Highway. For a more relaxed and scenic route, stick to the Princes Highway, which hugs much of the New South Wales and Victorian coast. The coastline, especially in NSW, is dotted with impressive rock formations, secluded beaches, and charming little towns to wind away the days in. In Victoria, you’ll experience the true Australian bush and the idyllic landscape of the Gippsland region.
5. Eyre Highway
The Eyre Highway is to be traveled not so much for its scenery, but for the bragging rights that go along with completing it. This is because this highway crosses one of the most inhospitable regions on the planet, the Nullarbor Plain. There’s not much to see here aside from endless vistas of the dry Australian outback, but ‘crossing the Nullarbor’ is a rite of passage for Australians and tourists alike. Be warned, though, that though this highway is sealed, roadhouses, providing water and fuel, can be hundreds of kilometers apart and are not always open 24 hours, so be prepared.