Your Ultimate Guide to Off-Road Drives in Australia

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Feb 01, 2017

Brought to you by Toyota

Lee Atkinson leaves the bitumen far behind for a four-wheeled odyssey around Australia, traversing bush, beach and outback.

The Great Beach Drive, Queensland

Terrain: sand
When to go: A great drive year-round but check the tide charts before you go.
How long do you need? Allow three to five days to drive all the way to Fraser Island; the Noosa to Rainbow Beach section along Teewah Beach is a great daytrip or weekender.
More info: australiasnaturecoast.com

The Beach Highway between Noosa’s North Shore and Rainbow Beach on the Sunshine Coast trumps all other coastal highways when it comes to scenic seaside drives, because this road is actually on the beach. It’s only passable at low tide so you do have to time it right. All the usual road rules apply, including speed limits: 80 kilometres an hour on the beach and 50 kilometres an hour along beach camping areas.

Deflate your tyres as soon as you drive off the car ferry at Tewantin (just north of Noosa) and keep an eye out for beachgoers as you make your way along the 50-kilometre stretch of wave-washed sandy track. Try your luck fishing in a tidal lake and check out the famous coloured sands – cliffs in varied shades of red, yellow, orange and rust – then pitch your tent in one of the beachfront camping grounds. Climb the hill to the lighthouse on Double Island Point taking an inland detour through the rainforest, past strangler figs and abundant piccabeen palms.

Continue your Great Beach Drive north to Inskip Point, where you can catch the barge across to Fraser Island for more sand-driving fun. Linking more than 200 kilometres of beach roads into one phenomenal trip, the Great Beach Drive makes all those other great ocean roads seem pretty tame.

Gibb River Road, the Kimberley, WA

Terrain: outback
When to go: May to November
How long do you need? A week to 10 days, plus travel time to get there and back.
More info: australiasnorthwest.com

The Gibb River Road is for those who like their adventures wild and remote. Traversing one of the most isolated corners of the country, this celebrated outback track crosses the Kimberley from Kununurra to meet the sea near Broome.

It’s a long and dusty 660-kilometre trail across boab-studded savannah lands, past rugged ranges where rivers wind their way through deep rock gorges and across wide, crocodile-inhabited waterways that are passable only during the dry season (May to November).

Kick-start your adventure with a stay at El Questro or Home Valley – two vast cattle stations that have a range of accommodation, from five-star luxury to camp sites, and some of the best swimming spots you’ll ever find. Yes, the Kimberley is crocodile country but there are plenty of places to cool off. Floating in a waterhole surrounded by ancient rock after a hot drive is one of the things that makes this part of the world so special.

Back on the Gibb River Road, set up camp beneath boabs and visit places like Bell and Manning gorges, where you’ll find more magic plunge pools. The Munja Track out of Mount Elizabeth to Walcott Inlet throws a bit of everything at your truck: deep mud, soft sand, tricky water crossings and steep, rocky jump-ups.

Barrington Trail, NSW

Terrain: forest 
When to go: During summer – the Barrington Trail is closed between June 1 and September 30.
How long do you need?
Driving the trail takes one to two hours but make a weekend of it.
More info:
nationalparks.nsw.gov.au

Barrington Tops National Park may be only three hours north of Sydney but this subalpine region is about as wild
as you can get and delightfully crowd-free. Sitting atop one of the highest points of the Great Dividing Range, the park gets regular dustings of snow in winter and has some of the last remnants of temperate rainforest in Australia, swathes of towering tree ferns and Antarctic beech that have earned it World Heritage status. It’s also home to the ripper four-wheel drive Barrington Trail.

Rough, rocky and occasionally gnarly, the 15-kilometre track leaves the Barrington Tops Forest Road about 1.7 kilometres east of Polblue Swamp and winds through snow-gum forests to riverside camping spots and the Mount Barrington picnic area. The last five kilometres can be boggy and rough so check the national park’s website for current conditions before you go.

Apart from the Barrington Trail, you don’t need a four-wheel drive to see the best of Barrington Tops, though most of the roads are unsealed and can be tough on tyres, so make sure you have a spare. There are several causeways to cross, too, and the river rises quickly after rain. Pitch your tent at Polblue or the Gloucester River campground (off the Gloucester Tops Road), a lovely spot where you can cool off in the shallow river.

Want more 4WD inspiration?

Andrew Boyd, LandCruiser owner since 2001

“I love the Mitchell Plateau in the Kimberley because of the waterfalls, scenery, beaches and walks – and the fishing. It’s great just getting outdoors, away from the hustle and bustle of the city, and not having to see a TV or phone.”

Damian Scard, LandCruiser owner since 1989


“Victoria’s Alpine National Park, from Mansfield through Dargo and on to Thredbo [NSW], is my favourite – the mountains, the clouds, the river valleys, just the atmosphere of it and the history. It’s kind of overwhelming
and inspiring.”

John Greig, LandCruiser owner since 1977

“The Madigan Line in the northern Simpson Desert, in the Northern Territory. It’s challenging and very hard on the vehicle and the people travelling. But it’s absolutely beautiful country.”