Seven wonders, by the road: Australia road trips to natural wonders

A great view from the road: World Heritage-listed Uluru in
Australia’s Northern Territory. Photo: Steven Siewert

Seven great icons, seven great road trips, Belinda Jackson discovers that the journey becomes the destination.

Australia’s icons come with plenty of drama – the world’s oldest rainforest, world’s biggest monolith and it’s not called the Good
Barrier Reef, is it?

With some of the planet’s best scenery outside
your window, switch off the phone and seize the moment to explore our
most photographed beaches, our most frequently painted mountain ranges
or go it alone in the strange, remote deserts of the continent’s
interior – often easily seen through your car window. There’s no
hardship: eat our national coat of arms in South Australia, fill the
Esky on the Great Ocean Road or shop for a glass of wine at day’s end in
Tassie​. Read on to discover seven natural icons found on seven great
road trips, where the journey becomes the destination.

The icon: Great Ocean Road, Victoria

Great Ocean Road: the Twelve Apostles. Photo: Damien White

The flavour of the trip: From Torquay to Allansford,
near Warrnambool, the winding road curves along Victoria’s southern
coastline. The road was built by returned soldiers from WWI and
commemorates their fallen mates.
Get the picture: You’re
doing it to see the 12 Apostles, right? But make time to visit
Australia’s capital of surf, Torquay’s Bells Beach, spot wild koalas and
feed the parrots at little Kennett Creek. Plan a cafe and ice-cream run
at Lorne and fill the Esky from Timboon’s providores for a picnic at
Cape Otway.
Leave from: Melbourne. Torquay, the starting point, is 100km west of the capital’s CBD.

How much time to take: You can drive the GOR
straight in five hours, but why bother? Allow at least two nights to
explore. Double your driving time allowance if you’re doing it in the
summer school holidays.
Distance: 243km with plenty of hairpin bends and most of it is speed limited to 80km/hour.
See visitgreatoceanroad.org.au.

The icon: Alice Springs to Uluru, Northern Territory

The flavour of the trip: You’ve seen the ads: blood-red desert sands flank long, straight stretches of highway.
Get the picture:
Sacred Uluru is the undoubtable drawcard, but add to the list Kata
Tjuta​ (the Olgas) and Atila (Mt Connor, aka Fool-uru), another
spectacular monolith that rises up on the southern side of Lasseter
Highway: the rookie mistake is thinking it’s Uluru. To visit Atila, book
through Curtain Springs Station (curtinsprings.com)
Leave from:
Fly in to either Alice Springs or Ayres Rock airport and hire a camper
or standard car (you won’t need a 4WD if you don’t stray from the
highway). For the full immersion, drive 1500km from Darwin.
How much time to take:
Six hours without stops, but savour it with an overnighter​ en route.
It’s speed limited at up to 130km/hr, so you can put your foot down, but
don’t drive at night: you won’t see anything except that roo, camel,
cow or emu coming through the windscreen.
Distance: 462km down the Stuart Highway, then chuck a sharp right at Erldunda Roadhouse onto the Lasseter Highway. See travelnt.com.

The icon: Flinders Ranges, South Australia

The flavour of the trip: A gentle introduction to
the outback (though flashes of aquamarine waters of the Spencer Gulf
always come as a surprise). It’s hard to keep your eyes off the
watercoloured​ ranges, but watch for wild donkeys on the road.
Get the picture: Stop for a FMG (“feral mixed grill”) at the Prairie Hotel, Parachilna (prairiehotel.com.au) and a wedge-tailed eagle’s view of the ranges with a light aircraft flight from Wilpena Pound Resort (wilpenapound.com.au).
Stay overnight at tiny Arkaroola village and wilderness sanctuary to
spot elusive yellow-footed rock wallabies, take a 4WD tagalong tour and
visit the astronomical observatories (arkaroola.com.au).
Leave from: Hawker is 400km from Adelaide on the A1, which finishes at Darwin.
How much time to take: Four nights will fit in the basics, but it deserves a week’s exploration.
Distance: The
classic Flinders circuit is 230km, from Hawker to Blinman, across to
Parachilna and back to Hawker. Add on a round-trip from Hawker up to
Arkaroola, about three hours from Parachilna. See roadtrips.southaustralia.com.

The icon: Mungo National Park, New South Wales  

Big skies and bigger stories: Mungo National Park. Photo: Quentin Jones

The flavour of the trip: This is ancient land:
people have been living around Mungo for 50,000 years – gear up for big
deserts, big rivers, big skies and even bigger stories.
Get the picture:
See the skeletons of ghosts past, when Australia’s massive inland sea
receded at the end of the last ice age. Mungo Man, Australia’s oldest
human remains, were discovered here, and plan for sunset and sunrise
looking to the dramatic Walls of China. You can do a 2.5-hour tagalong
driving tour of the national park with Aboriginal Discovery Rangers and
learn about the megafauna – giant kangaroos, wombats, lions and emus –
who lived here.
Leave from: Sydney via Goulburn
and Wagga, with eyes peeled for emus on the Hay plains. Otherwise,
award-winning Echidna Walkabout Nature Tours runs tours from Melbourne
(echidnawalkabout.com.au).
How much time to take: Allow
two days to reach Mungo. If desert camping is too extreme for you,
pitch your tent by the Murrumbidgee in Balranald, 130km from Mungo, or
take a motel room in Wentworth and visit the red dunes outside the town,
148km from Mungo.
Distance: 875km from Sydney. See visitmungo.com.au.

The icon: Daintree, Queensland

The flavour of the trip: A sunny drive up the scenic
Queensland coast to visit the world’s oldest surviving tropical
rainforest, with the Great Barrier Reef served up on the side.
Get the picture:
Beach camping, twice-daily swims, sunset barbies: it’s the great
Australian holiday. For a change of scenery, take the byroads through
the lush Atherton Tablelands.
Leave from: Townsville.
The drive up to the Daintree and nearby Cape Tribulation is around
500km. Determined roadtrippers​ could start out in Brissy for an 1800km
one-way journey.
How much time to take: Allow a
week to soak up the Cairns vibe and let yourself be diverted from the
road on a boat trip out onto the reef off Townsville, staying at luxe
Orpheus Island (orpheus.com.au) or friendly Magnetic Island (magnetic-island.com.au).
Distance: 470km. See queensland.com.

The icon: Freycinet Peninsula, Tasmania

The flavour of the trip: A slow drive up Tasmania’s
sleepy east coast with a day’s detour on the foot passenger ferry to the
former convict colony of Maria Bay.
Get the picture:
Constantly featured in “Top 10 world’s best beaches”, the perfect curve
of Wineglass Bay is best appreciated from its lookout.  Don’t miss the
chance to stock up on local wine on the way (winetasmania.com.au)
and make time for a short walk down to Hazards Beach on the Freycinet
Peninsula. Keep the camera ready for white-bellied sea-eagles and
adorable little paddymelons.
Leave from: Hobart via Sorrel, Orford and Swansea.
How much time to take: Three days minimum, unless you really like seafood and cool-climate wines.
Distance: 400km for a round-trip circuit. See discovertasmania.com.au.

The icon: Bungle Bungle Range, Western Australia

The flavour of the trip: Lonesome and lovely, this
drive through the Kimberley is the dictionary definition of the word
“remote”. Mind you, the Gibb River Rd does become a bit crowded in peak
(winter) season.
Get the picture: The sandstone
“beehives” known as the Bungle Bungles are in Purnululu National Park,
weathered away over 350 million years. Book a scenic flight over them
from the local caravan park (bunglebunglecaravanpark.com.au). Take a dip
in Cathedral Gorge, but stay clear of the waters of Windjana Gorge –
it’s croc territory.
Leave from: Broome and turn due east.
How much time to take:
Seven days minimum – you’re on bush time now and the roads into
Purnululu are slow. But you could fall in love with the Kimberley and
never leave.
Distance: 1100km via the Gibb River Rd. You could leave from Perth, but that is a 3000km drive, one way. See westernaustralia.com.

This article brought to you in association with Avis.

This feature by Belinda Jackson was published on Fairfax Media’s Traveller website.

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