Driven to distractions in Australia

A road trip is one of the cheapest and most liberating ways to explore the dramatic landscapes and cultural highlights of this vast nation

What's the attraction?

There's no escaping it: the Australian dollar is cripplingly strong right now, making that dream trip Down Under an expensive undertaking. But the strong economy also means there's lots going on, so rather than miss out, keep costs down and hit the road. Petrol is one-third cheaper in Australia than it is in the UK; use budget motels or even hire a camper-van (and cook for yourself). Suddenly, things won't seem so pricey. There are other bonuses: "Driving is easy – same side as the UK," says Austravel's Karen Joyce (0800 988 4676; austravel.com). "Plus you can pace your holiday as you want, and stop wherever you like."

Time-poor travellers

By Australian standards, Victoria is petite (though it's still more than 10 times the size of Wales), which means you can see plenty without driving huge distances. Indeed, the eight-day Great Southern Touring Route from Wexas Travel (020 7590 0614; wexas.com; from £2,243pp including flights, car and accommodation) packs in the state's best bits. Starting in Melbourne, it traces the classic Great Ocean Road past vineyards, surfy Bells Beach and the Twelve Apostles rock stacks before veering inland to the Grampians for hikes and rock art. Good stops include Cape Otway Ecology Centre (conservationecologycentre.org) and Daylesford, for rejuvenating spa soaks.

Outback exploring

Nothing sums up Oz like the rust-red vastness of the Northern Territory. Travelbag (0871 703 4240; travelbag.co.uk) has flights to its capital, Darwin, plus 14 nights' campervan hire from £1,399pp. The epic option is a 4,000km drive to Adelaide along the Explorer's Way, following in the footsteps of John McDouall Stuart – the first man to cross Australia, north to south in 1861-2. It took Stuart nine months, but the journey is now achievable in two weeks, visiting big-hitters such as Nitmiluk gorge, Litchfield National Park and Uluru. Or link the Red Centre Way – six days around Alice Springs and the MacDonnell Ranges – with the 550km Nature's Way loop from Darwin to Katherine. See travelnt.com for itineraries.

Go wild

South Australia combines well with other states for big road trips: maybe the long haul up to Darwin or east to Melbourne. For something shorter, combine Adelaide with a drive through the Fleurieu Peninsula (great for whales and wineries) to Kangaroo Island. Here, watch fur seals at Cape du Couedic, penguins at Kingscote and koalas at Hanson Bay, and hike amid the Remarkable Rocks. The island could be circumnavigated in a day, but better to spend time exploring its nooks, from beaches to cellar doors. Flight Centre offers a six-night Adelaide and Kangaroo Island tour (0844 561 1087; flightcentre.co.uk) from £1,349pp including flights, accommodation and car hire.

Coast and coral

Driving up east-coast Australia is the stuff of travel legend, mixing reef, rainforest and abundant isles. Austravel's Queensland Classic eight-night fly-drive heads north from Brisbane to Cairns via the dunes and dingoes of Fraser Island, the white-sand Whitsundays and laidback Magnetic Island (0800 988 4834; austravel.com; from £1,649pp including flights, car hire and accommodation); included is a backpack of maps and stop-off tips.

Independent souls can hire a camper from Apollo (020-7193 2066; apollocamper.com; from A$622/£415 for seven days) to tackle the Tropics and Tablelands, a week's drive from Cairns to the Atherton Tablelands.

Accessible wilderness

Tasmania is wild but easily explorable. It has classy retreats too, utilised on Bridge & Wickers' 10-day Wilderness Tassie Self-Drive (020 3642 5680; bridgeandwickers.co.uk; from £2,499pp with flights, accommodation and car). This looping roadtrip from Hobart includes Strahan's Wheelhouse Apartments; the rustic cabins of Cradle Mountain Lodge; and Freycinet Lodge, for fine food on a wild peninsula. One of Tasmania's greatest drives is the 125km "Road to Nowhere". Follow it from Strahan, cross the Pieman River by barge, and arrive the Tarkine Rainforest to see devils in the wild. Innkeepers Tasmania (00 61 3 6224 3100; innkeeper.com.au) lists itineraries and accommodation.

Taste of the west

Western Australia covers a third of the country. Hire a camper from Maui (00 61 3 8398 8855; maui-rentals.com; from A$159/ £106 per day based on seven-day hire) for an epicurean loop from Perth. Sip your way around Margaret River's wineries, truffle hunt in Pemberton's karri forests and slurp oysters in Albany. You won't get lost: from 2013, Maui includes GPS and iPod docks. Or try Cox & Kings' 17-day West Coast Explorer (020 7873 5000; coxandkings.co.uk; from £4,325pp including car, domestic flights and accommodation; international flights extra). It combines the gourmet south-west with Exmouth coast, snorkelling Ningaloo Reef and luxury "camping" at Sal Salis.

City freebies

Australia offers great freebies in its access hubs. In Melbourne, ride Tram 35 – the free city circle route (ptv.vic.gov.au). In Sydney, several museums are gratis, including the historical Rocks Discovery Museum (therocks.com). Plus, its spectacular New Year's Eve fireworks display is also free. Adelaide offers free bike hire (bikesa.asn.au/Adelaide CityBikes) while Perth's vast Kings Park is an open-to-all playground, with a 620m walkway up in the eucalypt canopy (bgpa.wa.gov.au/kings-park). In Canberra, celebrate spring at the month-long Floriade, where a million bulbs come into bloom alongside cultural activities (Sept-Oct; floriadeaustralia.com).

Who said that?

"There's an expression in Australia: 'Go Bush' – to get out of the city and relax. I don't get to do that often, so for the most part, it's just a state of mind." – Cate Blanchett

"You feel free in Australia. There is great relief in the atmosphere – a relief from tension, from pressure, an absence of control of will or form." – DH Lawrence

"May as well be here; we are as where we are." – Aboriginal saying

Insider information

"A fly-drive is a great way to soak up Australia. Think about round trips to avoid one-way car hire fees. Try to avoid more than four hours' driving a day. And avoid driving at night – kangaroos can cause real damage!" Christie Lord, Tourism Western Australia (westernaustralia.com)

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Sport
Thiago Silva pulls Arjen Robben back to concede a penalty
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: More misery for hosts as Dutch take third place
Sport
Robin van Persie hands his third-place medal to a supporter
Van Persie gives bronze medal to eccentric fan moments after being handed it by Blatter
News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
scienceScientists have developed a material so dark you can't see it...
News
Monkey business: Serkis is the king of the non-human character performance
peopleFirst Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Voices
Mrs Brown's Boy: D'Movie has been a huge commercial success
voicesWhen it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Curtain calls: Madani Younis
theatreMadani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Life and Style
Douglas McMaster says the food industry is ‘traumatised’
food + drinkSilo in Brighton will have just six staple dishes on the menu every day, including one meat option, one fish, one vegan, and one 'wild card'
Life and Style
Once a month, waistline watcher Suran steps into a 3D body scanner that maps his body shape and records measurements with pinpoint accuracy
techFrom heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
News
Soft power: Matthew Barzun
peopleThe US Ambassador to London, Matthew Barzun, holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence. He says it's all part of the job
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
News
Gavin Maxwell in Sandaig with one of his pet otters
peopleWas the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?
News
Rowsell says: 'Wearing wigs is a way of looking normal. I pick a style and colour and stick to it because I don't want to keep wearing different styles'
peopleThe World Champion cyclist Joanna Rowsell on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales Manager (Fashion and Jewellery), Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Volunteer Digital Marketing Trustee needed

    Voluntary, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Are you keen on...

    Java Swing Developer - Hounslow - £33K to £45K

    £33000 - £45000 per annum + 8% Bonus, pension: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: ...

    Corporate Events Sales Manager, Marlow,Buckinghamshire

    £30K- £40K pa + Commision £10K + Benefits: Charter Selection: Rapidly expandin...

    Day In a Page

    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
    Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

    Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

    The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
    Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

    Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

    The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

    Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

    Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

    Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

    The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
    The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

    The Open 2014

    Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?