Great Aussie drives

Last updated 05:00 25/08/2012
tasmania
TASMANIA: The island's isolation and coasts make for great driving.

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Australia is home to some of the most magnificent roads in the world and the Drive team has been lucky enough to sample most of them on various new car launches over the years.

Car makers are very fussy about the venues for new model launches. They typically scour the country to find the perfect stretch of blacktop - and scenic backdrop - to launch their latest and greatest, and we've have compiled a list of ten of the best of them - in no particular order.


Click here to read about New Zealand's great roads.


The Great Ocean Road is one of the best known stretches of road in the country, and one that's very popular with tourists.

This 255 kilometre route from the surf town of Torquay to rural Warrnambool snakes along cliffs and through coastal towns, tempting motorists with fantastic road surfaces and corners by the dozen.

It features every type of road you could want, from tight and twisty mountain climbs to fast, flowing country sweeps.

You'll spot iconic landmarks such as the Twelve Apostles (or is it seven, now?) and  the surfing Mecca that is Bells Beach. But there are also calmer, more country-style tracts through national parks and dissecting paddocks of lush green grass.

You might want to park the Porsche for this one however, as it's so popular that it's better to consider it a coastal cruise than a full-blooded drive.

Drive's car recommendation: Mazda MX-5 (a fantastically fun drop-top - as long as it's warm!)

Mereenie Loop and West MacDonnel Ranges, Northern Territory

Many of us associate the Northern Territory with seemingly endless lengths of straight road, heat haze, road trains and the odd Wedge-tailed Eagle feasting on an unlucky victim of the traffic.

But getting off the beaten track can be a tremendous way to see an even more desolate side of the Aussie desert - and the Mereenie Loop from Kings Canyon to Alice Springs is  a great place to start.

The unsealed track crosses some of the harshest and most remote outback landscapes, as well as amazing sights such as Finke Gorge, which is home to the famous Palm Valley and its rare red cabbage palms.

Make sure you check the road conditions as it can be badly corrugated at times, and you'll need to buy the compulsory $5.50 day pass (and top-up on fuel) at the Kings Canyon Outback Oasis general store, as the loop crosses through a 93-kilometre stretch of Aboriginal land.

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Be warned, though - this road isn't for faux-wheel-drives or city cars. Depending on the weather, some sections can have potholes big enough to swallow a small car, so only do it if you've got the right vehicle for the track.

Drive's car recommendation: Toyota Prado (sturdy, reliable and comfortable - and it has a long-range tank)

Gold Coast hinterland, NSW/QLD border

Think Gold Coast, and you're likely to conjure up images of skyscrapers and bikini-clad holiday makers. But away from the esplanade is one of the most picturesque drives in the country.

Starting near Gold Coast airport, you'll need to find the Tweed Valley Way, and head in the direction of Murwillumbah. Crops of sugar cane will eventually give way to an eye-wateringly pretty mountain range, and roads that once played host to a round of the World Rally Championship.

From Murwillumbah there are choices aplenty for drive routes.

Head towards Chillingham and you'll wiggle back to Surfers Paradise in Queensland, via the beautiful Numinbah Valley and some of the most amazing Queenslander homesteads in the state.

Going towards Nerang we'd suggest you turn off at Beechmont Road, which offers a mountain climb with sharp corners and amazing views of Mount Warning, a volcanic remnant that used to be about twice as tall before erupting more than 20 million years ago.

Eventually you'll loop around to the hip villages of Mount Tamborine. It's generally pretty slow going on the way back down the other side, and try to keep your eyes on the road as the glimpses of the Surfers skyline can be distracting.

Drive's car recommendation: Porsche Boxster (a brilliant balance of wind-in-your-hair and edge-of-your-seat fun)

North-East Tasmania

Tassie is known for its isolation, landscapes and natural beauty, but the Apple Isle also has a fine collection of snaking roads.

Head from Launceston along the Tasman Highway towards Targa - yep, like that famous Tassie rally - where you'll find some seriously sharp corkscrew bends. Heading down the coast via Derby towards St Helens rewards you with kilometre after snaking kilometre of twisting, biting corners before you reach Pyengana, headquarters of the Pyengana Dairy Company cheese factory (we recommend stopping for a quick toastie).

South you'll find the Bay of Fires with its orange boulders, and closer to Bicheno along the coast some of the greatest beach spots in the land.

Head out to Coles Bay in the Freycinet Peninsula to check out the impossibly white sands of Wineglass Bay, which is juxtaposed against the rocky outcrops of The Hazards.

Drive's car recommendation: Toyota 86 or Subaru BRZ (because the weather is too unpredictable for a convertible)

Dandenong Ranges, Victoria

The Dandenong Ranges on the outskirts of Melbourne are popular with city-slickers looking to escape to on the weekend. So we'd suggest you go there on a weekday, and get lost.

There are signposts everywhere, and the roads are almost as good as each other, with some layered over rolling hills and others curling through steep valleys covered with ferns and mountain ashes.

Try to find your way to Observatory Road, which takes you directly to the summit of Mount Dandenong and the SkyHigh Observatory (it costs $5 per car to get in), and you can look down on the sprawling expanse of Melbourne's suburbs.

On a clear day, it offers spectacular views across Port Phillip Bay and the You Yangs. By night, it transforms into a beautifully complicated grid of orange street lights below a big, starry sky.

Some caveats. It can snow here in winter, and can also be quite cool in summer, so take a car with a decent heater. Also, this spot is popular with bicyclists, so keep your wits about you on the blind corners.

Drive's car recommendation: BMW 3-Series (because you'll fit in with the weekenders)

Bylong Valley Way, NSW

Heard of Bylong? No? You're forgiven. It's a tiny hamlet in the middle of nowhere with less than ten people in the town, about four hours west of Sydney.

It's also the place through which one of the best roads in NSW runs. Not far from the Central West city of Mudgee, the Bylong Valley Way links the towns of Ilford and Sandy Hollow, and has an engaging mix of stunning scenery and challenging driving roads - so whether you're the driver or the passenger, you're going to enjoy the ride.

It's a great combination of wide open stretches and twisty climbs, and the road can get a bit rough at times. Some challenging hairpins and tight bends will also keep you on your toes.

A stopover in the mining town of Singleton is a nice way to catch your breath before heading back down the Putty Road. It has literally hundreds of corners that eventually spiral back towards Western Sydney.

Drive's car recommendation:  Mazda CX-5 diesel (it's a long trip with some bumpy bits)

The Nullarbor Plain, SA & WA

Thousands of kilometres of nothing. That's what most people think about the Nullarbor Plain.

But the stretch of road that cuts across South Australia and Western Australia offers up a number of surprises along the way.

Nullarbor is derived from the Latin words "nullus arbor", meaning "no trees". And that's what you'll see. It's a long, flat stretch, but highlights include the circa-1877 telegraph station in Eucla which is now almost covered in sand.

Check out the Great Australian Bight, just a kilometre or two from the main road. It's the longest uninterrupted cliff face in the world.

Drive's car recommendation:  Audi A6 3.0 TDI (big, comfy and frugal)   

The Birdsville Track, SA

Another of the off-road marvels of Australia, the Birdsville Track is just over 500 kilometres of demanding roads between the small town of Marree in the north of South Australia and Birdsville in south-western Queensland.

Charles Sturt described the area as a "desperate region having no parallel on Earth", and today it's still a desolate and deserted place, but there are plenty of four-wheel-drivers that make the pilgrimage.

Towards the end, the path jumps and jumbles over the Sturt Stony Desert. Make sure your suspension is up to scratch before attempting it.

The beauty of it is that you can set your own agenda. Take a day, or take a week - it's a road you won't forget anytime soon.

Drive's car recommendation:  Land Rover Discovery4 (comfy suspension and can cope with rocky stuff)

Gibb River Road, WA

It's called the Gibb River Road, but in reality it's a track that only the most experienced off-roaders usually attempt.

The 709 kilometre-long trail, which stretches from the Kununurra to Derby in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, makes its way across what is known as stunningly beautiful areas on the continent.

Rusty red soil and endless blue skies surround you, while the rugged mountain ranges are romantic as the light fades at the end of the day.

Be prepared to see birds of many shapes and sizes, with crazy cockatoos and predators such as eagles and kits easy to spot out on the plains.

Drive's car recommendation:  Ford Ranger/Mazda BT-50 (off-road ability and enough room for the camping gear)

Snowy Mountains, NSW

This is one that should only be attempted when the weather is a bit warmer than it is currently, because road closures are common in winter - as is that treacherously invisible black ice.

Starting in Cooma, you can either head towards Jindabyne (and then onto the Alpine Way) or Adaminaby (Snowy Mountains Highway).

What you'll find on the other side of both of those towns, however, is a road that is as windy and fun to drive as it is scenically stunning. Gum trees and mountain vistas surround the road, which has a great mixture of steep climbs, sharp bends and the odd long straight, where paddocks full of tussocks are dotted with shivering, often soggy cows.

Watch out for kangaroos and even the odd emu in the middle of the road, and be sure to check out some of the stunning lakes and dams that feed the iconic Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme.

Drive's car recommendation:  Renault Megane RS265 (it's quick and loves corners - just make sure there's no ice around)

- Sydney Morning Herald

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