Australia is a vast country and you would be forgiven for hopping on a plane to reach your destination. But let’s not forget that travelling is just as much about the journey and if you fancy the fun and frolics of a road trip Australia won’t disappoint!
The major cities of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane might hold the culture delights but this is Oz! There is fantastic coastline to explore and some seriously scenic road trips with unrivalled surfing and geological wonders such as the Great Barrier Reef, the 12 Apostles and the Whitsunday Islands – just look out the window, oh, and watch out for roos!
Our selection of the best drives in Australia come complete with recommended stop-offs and of course, what we do best, some cheap accommodation options…
Sydney to Melbourne | Melbourne to Adelaide | Sydney to Brisbane | Byron Bay to Cairns | Darwin to Alice Springs | Melbourne to Tasmania
Sydney to Melbourne
If you want to tackle two of Australia’s most exciting cities, why not make something of the journey? You’ll find cheap things to do in Sydney, spend a few days in a Sydney backpackers then hit the tarmac for your Sydney to Melbourne road trip…
A nice detour is Canberra, Australia’s capital city where kangaroos occasionally jump into view. It’s a green city, perfect for summer days outdoors and the city centres around Lake Burley Griffin. Visitors will want to climb the Anzac Parade for a view of the Parliament House building. Budget travellers should check out the Dickenson neighbourhood for some great pan Asian cuisine, up and coming nightlife and Canberra backpackers.
Jindabyne is located beside Lake Jindabyne and it’s a popular place for snow sports in winter and water sports in summer such as hot-dogging.
Head through the Snowy Mountains along Barry Way. Many parts are unsealed and it offers spectacular views of the surrounding landscape of valleys and rivers including the Snowy of course.
Stop off at Sale, a gateway to the Gippsland Lakes. Here you can find Australia’s largest fishing port and protected lake area, ideal for boating and enjoying fresh seafood. From here you could also visit the white sands of the Ninety Mile Beach, one of the longest stretches in the world. You’ll find the friendly Cambrai Hostel Maffra on the outskirts of town.
At Wilsons Promontory, hop off at the quirky fish-themed town called Fish Creek, for a spot of lunch (that’s right, it’s fish on the menu!) and be sure to take a walk in the beautiful wilderness in the Wilson’s Promontory National Park with its granite rock formations. You might be lucky enough to spot emus and wombats.
Arriving in Melbourne, you’ll need to decide where to stay. There’s the city centre, but it’s worth considering a Melbourne backpackers in the seaside suburb St Kilda. Read about accommodation in St Kilda to help make up your mind.
Melbourne to Adelaide
In the first part of the journey you can take in perhaps Australia’s most stunning stretch of coastline, The Great Ocean Road. It’s one of the world’s great road trips with awe-inspiring panoramas of the 12 Apostles, the Shipwreck Coast and the London Bridge Rock formation there’s plenty to see and a number of Great Ocean Road backpackers along the way.
If you’ve followed us as far as Port Fairy you have two options for your Melbourne to Adelaide road trip…
Option 1) Turn inland and head north to the Grampians National Park. Here there are plenty of opportunities to join short hikes and bushwalks to waterfalls and Halls Gap in the rugged mountain range.
Option 2) Continue along the Limestone Coastal region to Mt Gambier. This is a good base from which to explore Naracoorte and the swimming lake or the famous Blue Lake. Continue on to Robe where you can break for some great seafood and wine. The final stretch runs along the 60 mile-long Coorong National Park, an unusual saltwater lagoon with stretches of deserted beach and natural water bird habitats. You can choose to stay in backpackers in Robe or Mt. Gambier.
Adelaide itself has a bustling live-music scene and once you’ve had your fill of cultural attractions, there are a number of day trips to nearby wine regions, surfing spots and Kangaroo Island. Stretch your legs on a bike ride between the numerous wineries around McLaren Vale and Willunga. There are plenty of city centre Adelaide backpackers as well as hostels by the beach.
Sydney to Brisbane via Byron Bay
This is a fun, short trip with plenty of stopping off opportunities. Why not time your trip to coincide with one of the popular music festivals in Australia such as the Splendour or Blues n Roots at Byron Bay as part of your Sydney to Brisbane road trip…
Departing Sydney, your first port of call (forgive the pun) should be lunch at Port Macquarie. There’s pleasant colonial architecture and it’s THE place to come to fulfil all your cute and cuddly koala dreams so visit the Billabong Koala Park to get your hands on these marsupials.
Coff’s Harbour is a good place to stay overnight with an increasing number of good restaurants so head to the jetty then onto the Hoey Moey pub to join the other backpackers for live music, trivia or pool competition nights. The backpackers Coffs Harbour YHA Backpackers Resort is on the jetty and has bikes and surfboards for hire.
You’ll find good surfing throughout the journey but the big pull at Woolgoolga (12 miles north of Coff’s Harbour), or ‘Woopi’, is Raj Mahal, a part of town with a large Sikh population. It’s origins are uncertain but the ramshackle sari shops and shuttered snack bars remain boarded up. Guru Nanak Gurdwara was built in the 1970s and is still an active temple of worship.
Find out about the crazy 1973 La Balsas expedition and the raft that floated to Ballina all the way from Ecuador. Also prepare yourself for prawns galore. A 24hr restaurant and souvenir shops serve them up by the sack load. Ballina is particularly beautiful at night when it is picturesquely lit. You can also take a boat trip up river to Lismore from here.
Lismore lies upriver of Ballina and boasts a thriving art community and a good weekend market (1st and 3rd Sunday every month) for trinket hunting and people-watching from one of the interesting cafes. Escape the heat in the cool and leafy Rotary Park rainforest.
Nimbin rose to fame in 1973 with the Aquarius Festival. 30km north of Lismore, the street dealers ply you with pot and smokers can enjoy themselves in a couple of the cafes. Aside from the Marijuana highs, Nimbin Rocks is a sacred Aboriginal site and the Hangin Rock Creek has waterfalls a good swimming hole at the end of Stony Shute Road.
At Byron Bay you can skydive, surf at Tweed Heads, or even try white-water rafting. A number of popular music festivals in Brisbane worth considering include the Blues n Roots, Splendour and also Woodford Folk Festival over New Years. If you’re looking for a hostel Byron Bay backpackers offers private and dorm rooms.
Check out the Nomads Arts Factory Lodge which has teepees and island bungalows in the subtropical garden complete with hammocks, a pool and log fires.
Or if you’d prefer to be on the beach the Nomads Byron Bay has a cinema lounge, girl’s only dorms and BBQ facilities.
If you’ve spent you’re time by the beach, in the water and in the car, Brisbane and it’s cultural treats will be a welcome break. Catch a game of cricket at the Gabba stadium, stop for coffee at the riverside parks. You’ll find the main attractions in the central business district (CBD). Still want to stretch your legs? Hire bikes and cycle along the riverside bike track, stopping for a pint or two at the Regatta pub perhaps. Brisbane also has a good live music rosta and the best place to start is at Zoo, perhaps one of the best small venues in Oz. Want Brisbane backpackers with a view? The Brisbane City YHA has panoramic views from its roof terrace compete with rooftop swimming pool, games room with Wii, bar and restaurant.
Byron Bay or Brisbane to Cairns
There’s a reason they call this stretch the Sunshine Coast and this route offers some of the nicest views, comparable to Great Ocean Road. If you continue to Cape Tribulation you can marvel at the way the Daintree National Park and rainforest meets the Great Barrier Reef.
You’re barely out of Brisbane but be sure to hop out at the last of the Sunshine Coast’s surfing spots. Noosa became big in the 60s for surfing and later in the 90s the well heeled fashionistas came to visit this new food mecca.
But budget travellers will love the low key cafe culture for simple seaside pleasures and exploring the Noosa National Park along the coats. Just 2hrs from Brisbane so possible as a day trip or why not opt to stay in a Noosa backpackers instead of the city.
Fraser Island is best visited by ferry from scenic Rainbow Beach which offers a sweeping panorama from the lighthouse to the south of Fraser Island. Your alternative route is via Hervey Bay which is a little too touristy and more of a pensioner heaven. Fraser Island is the world’s largest sand island. With some 200 freshwater lakes and rainforests it looks like paradise (apart from the tourists). Lakes are perfect for swimming and by night the Milky Way is brighter than ever before.
Continue on to Rockhampton, known as the beef Capital of Australia. It’s a historic town and there’s a handy Heritage Route which will take you past the lovingly preserved architecture and along the Fitzroy River. To the east of the town you can visit the Koorana Crocodile Farm and watch the feeding frenzy at lunchtime. You can stay at the Rockhampton Backpackers YHA.
Your next stop should be Airlie Beach, a gateway to the Whitsunday Islands. Here you can spend a few days exploring this little slice of paradise. You’ll find the popular nightlife around Airlie Beach or you can escape from it to the while silica sands of Whitehaven Beach. The best views are from the water so try and arrange a sailing trip. There are plenty of Airlie Beach Backpackers but the Whitsunday on the Beach offers budget private rooms next to the lagoon and it’s a short walk from where the boats depart from.
Magnetic Island is one of the sunniest spots in the world receiving an average of 320 days of sunshine every year. It’s a quick 20mins boat journey from Townsville and if you decide to spend some time exploring the National Park, Mount Cook and the eucalyptus forest you can book a hostel on the island or return to Townsville.
Suddenly it’s all over and you’re in Cairns. The Pier Marketplace is the heart of the city and it’s hard to believe the swimming lagoon was once just a mudflat. But perhaps most importantly, Cairns is a perfect base from which to visit the Great Barrier Reef with trips leaving from the Aplin Sts, Reef Terminal. Pubs sit on every corner and there are cheap eats to be had at the lunchtime food courts above the Orchid Plaza and the Night Markets. Our top-rated Cairns backpackers is the Travellers Oasis. It’s a small and intimate backpackers with a pool surrounded by lush tropical gardens and rooms equipped with air-conditioning.
Best of the Rest
Darwin to Alice Springs
You might have noticed many of our suggested drives in Australia are east coast road trips. But if you fancy braving the Australian outback, try a Darwin to Alice Springs road trip. Unfortunately detours can be rather cumbersome in Australia but be sure to swing by Ayers Rock and the Kakadu National Park.
Melbourne to Tasmania
That’s right, you can pop your car on a ferry and arrive in much-loved Tassie the next day. It might prove cheaper to pick up a car rental in Devonport and avoid the car charge applied by ferries. There’s wild swimming spots at Seven Mile Beach, the Narawntapu National Park as well as the buzzing city of Hobart to explore which sits on the Derwent River at the foot of Mt Wellington. Spoil yourself with fine wine, catch the odd festival and relax in the hip bars. Break up a road trip and stay at Tasmania backpackers.
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