Although it’s home to some of the most vibrant vacation spots on the planet, Australia can offer a lot more than barbies on Bondi and croc hunting in Queensland. The best way to cover a vast proportion of the country is by self-drive. Not only does a car give you the freedom to stop where and when you like; you will discover so many of Australia’s hidden gems along the way.
These are my top 10 tried and tested pit stops travelling south to north along Australia’s east coast. Starting in Adelaide and ending in Darwin, these are some of the most spectacular locations on the planet.
The one and only capital city stop on the list, Adelaide offers a world class city break. With a very European feel, the city has a fantastic range of art galleries and museums. The city centre offers a relaxed atmosphere and is particularly pleasant in Spring.
The added benefit of a car means exploring Adelaide’s surroundings is easy. The Barossa Valley is home to some of the world’s best Shiraz and is within an hour of Adelaide city. The Flinders ranges are slightly further afield (approx. 5 hours’ drive), however they are a spectacular display well worth the drive if you are in Adelaide for some time.
2. Adelaide to Victoria
You can either drive the rugged hills of the Grampians National Park (which resembled a very Scottish landscape), or take the coastal route to join the Great Ocean Road. This road is world famous for a reason. 160 miles of stunning cliff top views and charming coastal towns. You really are spoilt for choice along this route, but Lorne is a stand out stopping point.
Hills on one side and the ocean on the other, Lorne is a real Victorian treasure. There are countless cafes and bars along the oceanfront, but Lorne also has a excellent reputation for luxury dining.
3. Mornington Peninsula
Another favourite of the south is the Mornington Peninsula. It is within easy reach of Melbourne city, but driving an extra 30 minutes will introduce you to some of the finest coastal towns the country has to offer. Sorrento and Portsea are bay side towns which offer the same, if not more, amenities as those on the Great Ocean road, but without the crowds.
Sorrento is home to the ‘best vanilla slice in Victoria’. Just Fine Foods is a typical affluent deli but their vanilla slice is to die for; well worth a visit. In terms of accommodation, there are countless luxury apartments available, all with outstanding views of the bay. Sorrento is a truly fabulous town.
4. Murray River
Between Melbourne and Sydney lies the Murray River. The inland route is distinctly Australian and makes a nice change from coastal driving. An excellent way to see all the Murray River has to offer is by taking a river cruise or even a houseboat holiday.
5. The Blue Mountains
Undoubtedly one of the country’s most spectacular sites, the Blue Mountains are found approximately 90 minutes north of Sydney. The drive itself is quite unbelievable. Again, there are several towns to choose from. For the best view of the Three Sisters, Katoomba is ideal. In winter, temperatures here can drop to 2˚C, so it’s understandable that this area is distinctly ‘un-Australian’.
6. The Sunshine Coast
An ideal location for families, the Sunshine Coast offers everything you could require for a luxury break. Malooloobais is a personal favourite; the beach is up there with the best and the town has an abundance of fantastic seafood restaurants.
Fraser Island is the world’s largest ‘sand island’ and well worth a day trip across from Hervey Bay or Rainbow Beach. The Hinterland can also offer the best of both worlds; a short drive from the coast but situated in tranquil, rolling hills. The Glasshouse Mountains are central to the Hinterland area and offer fantastic views of the coast and Brisbane.
7. The Whitsundays National Park
Airlie beach itself provides the temperatures and amenities you may be looking for without travelling far into the reef. However, I personally believe the Whitsundays is one of the planets treasures and it would be hard not to fall in love with the area.
The obvious choice for luxury is Hamilton Island; home tomany luxury resorts. However, the best way to see the reef and experience all it has to offer is by hiring a luxury yacht. The port at Airlie Beach offers a variety of packages, some of which come with a fleet of on-board staff.
A (considerable) drive north will introduce you to the chic, suburban neighbour of Cairns. Although Cairns can offer fantastic ocean front accommodation, Townsville has a much more relaxed atmosphere. Outside the main thoroughfare lies the beginning of Australia’s tropical jungle.
Many properties offer unique accommodation set within the lush tropical surroundings. The area is more reminiscent to the jungles of central and Latin America than Australia.
Dining in the region is also superb. The quality of seafood in Australia’s tropical north is fantastic. Depending on the time of year, Townsville also runs an excellent street market; one of the largest in Australia.
9. Townsville North
From Townsville you will be presented with the option of heading further north to Cairns, or travelling inland. For me, visiting Australia without visiting the outback is a sin. Be prepared; the trip to Darwin is long and you should allow 3-4 days leisurely travel time.
En route, you will pass through Mount Isa; often considered the capital of the outback. The Red Earth Hotel is set within the city and is respected for its outstanding country welcome. A visit to Mount Isa will introduce you to the ‘real’ Aussie farming lifestyle. This is polar opposite to the cosmopolitan atmosphere offered by the coast but the locals will make your visit truly special. You may even chose to stay on a ranch and the Mount Isa and central Queensland district is home to many luxury homestays.
Darwin is a city unlike no other in the world. Temperatures and humidity levels soar in the summer, making the surroundings very tropical. However, Darwin is just a short distance from the very dry, harsh outback. The city has a unique vibe. It offers lots of cultural experiences to pay homage to its aboriginal heritage, but also has an excellent reputation for cosmopolitan lifestyle.
Kakadu is within reach, just a 1.5 hour drive from Darwin CBD. Kakadu is without a doubt worth the drive. Driving through the outback will bring you to the swamplands of the National Park. Chances of spotting a ‘croc’ are high!
The drive from Adelaide to Darwin covers every aspect of Australian culture. This truly spectacular country offers everything from beaches to mountains, reef to desert. Choosing to drive offers you the freedom flying does not. You will be able to discover so much more that the country has to give.