Australia road trips: The 10 best crowd-free roads worth a drive

Road tripping is fun. But sitting in traffic is not. Here are the 10 best crowd-free roads to travel.

Summerland Way, New South Wales

Driving up the Pacific Highway can be a long tiresome haul, especially during holiday season. Escape the worst of the snarls by turning off the A1 at Grafton and take the Summerland Way north through Casino and Kyogle to hook up with the Mt Lindesay Highway on the Queensland side, or wind your way through the hippy trippy backroads to Byron Bay and the Gold Coast. It's slightly longer, but it's fully sealed and the fabulous scenery is worth it. How far? 200km. See www.pacificcoast.com.au/itineraries-and-trails/tourist-drives/grafton-to-woodenbong-summerland-way/

Old Grafton Road, New South Wales

It's the road time forgot. Before the Gwydir Highway opened in 1962 the only way to get from Grafton to Glen Innes on the other side of the Great Dividing Range in northern NSW was this twisty riverside track. Built in the 1860s, many sections are cut into the sides of cliffs, including a 20-metre hand-hewn tunnel through the rock. Wander around the ghost town of Dalmorton and stop and take a look at the memorial at Newtown Boyd – 30 men from the now vanished village went off to fight in WWI and only one came home. How far? 170km. More information: Glen Innes Visitor Information Centre 02 6730 2400 or Clarence River Visitor Information 02 6642 4677.

Grand Central Road, Western Australia

The ultimate road less travelled, this red dirt highway between Yulara (Uluru) and Laverton in the WA goldfields is a road trip for those who like adventure. It may run through some of the harshest and loneliest desert landscapes in Australia, and it can be very dusty and a bit bumpy in sections, but it's also proof that you don't always need a four-wheel-drive to get off the beaten track. Unless it's been raining (which it doesn't do very often) the road is fine for 2WDs and caravans, although a high-clearance all-wheel drive or SUV will give you a more comfortable ride. How far? 1126km. See www.outbackway.org.au

Skull Springs Road, Western Australia

This very scenic 4WD track from Nullagine (roughly halfway between Newman and Marble Bar) north-east to Carawine Gorge in the Pilbara is just about as lonely as you can get – you are seriously in the middle of nowhere out here. But if you like exploring the remote outback you'll love this little road trip that delivers you to a wonderful camping area on the Oakover River visited by only a handful of hardy travellers each year. It's a bit rough in places, has a few river crossings and it will take you pretty much all day, but it's a great drive – it's not signposted, look for the skull and springs beside the road. How far? 145km. See www.australiasnorthwest.com

Western Explorer Highway, Tasmania

Put Strahan and Stanley – the two big tourist hot spots in Western Tasmania – into google maps (or most sat navs) and you'll be led on a rather circuitous route east then south on the A10. And while it's hardly a traffic-clogged artery, there is another way that will take you even deeper into the wilderness – the Western Explorer Highway runs north to south between the two towns through the Tarkine rainforest. It's unsealed and you need to take the ferry across the river at Corinna, but you'll pretty much be guaranteed to have the road to yourself. How far? 283km. See www.corinna.com.au/western-explorer-highway

Great Inland Way, Queensland

Heading north to tropical Queensland? Forgo Highway 1 and take the back way, otherwise known as Great Inland Way, through western NSW and Queensland – Sydney to Townsville via Dubbo, Lightning Ridge, Roma, Emerald, Carnarvon Gorge and Charters Towers. It's sealed all the way, and is a journey through quintessential small-town Australia – an Aussie version of America's Route 66. How far? 2070km. See www.queensland.com/journey/Great-Inland-Way

Gove Peninsula, Northern Territory

There are quite a few reasons why no one drives to Eastern Arnhem Land, but none of them really makes sense. Granted, it takes two days to drive the corrugated dirt road from Katherine to Nhulunbuy on the Gove Peninsula. And you need to organise a few permits before you go, but they are really easy to get online. Admittedly no caravans are allowed on the Central Arnhem Road, so it is off-limits to most grey nomads, but off-road camper trailers are OK so it doesn't really explain why more people haven't discovered the exquisite white sand beaches lapped by water that positively teems with big fish (and a few saltwater crocodiles) and the extraordinary Yolngu art centre at Yirrkala. Go now before everyone else does. How far? 728km. See www.nlc.org.au, www.dhimurru.com.au

Beyond the Great Ocean Road, Victoria

Any touring route as famous as the Great Ocean Road is always going to attract more than its fair share of slow-moving motorists – you can't blame them, it's a spectacular piece of road – that can turn it into a crawling conga-line of cars and caravans. But if you keep going, beyond the 12 Apostles, past the Bay of Islands, west of Warrnambool, you'll leave the day trippers and tour buses behind. Slow down when you get to Portland, where you can walk to the edge of the highest sea cliffs in Victoria to peer down at a large colony of about 650 fur seals and then follow the curve of Discovery Bay to Nelson on the South Australian border and explore the back roads of the Limestone Coast. It's only a half-day's drive from the holiday hordes, but will feel a million miles away. How far? 167km (Warrnambool to Nelson). See www.nelsonvictoria.com.au, www.visitvictoria.com, www.southaustralia.com

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Lake Gairdner, South Australia

When it's full or water Lake Eyre is one of the most popular spots in the outback, but unless you're a speed freak chasing a land speed record you've probably never heard of Lake Gairdner. One of the largest salt lakes in the country, you'll find it in the northern reaches of the Gawler Ranges, and it makes a great alternative to the well-travelled Stuart Highway if you want to get from Port Augusta to Coober Pedy or the Red Centre. Roads are unsealed and lonely, but you don't need a 4WD and there's lots of fascinating outback history to uncover along the way. Beats the blacktop any day. How far? 392km (Iron Knob to Glendambo). See www.mtive.com.au, www.southaustralia.com

Eyre Peninsula, South Australia

It's a relatively long haul to get to the Eyre Peninsula – across the Nullarbor to the west, and a long day's drive east to Adelaide, but it means that once you're there the only other people (apart from a handful of long-range road trippers like yourself) on the road are locals. Trace the eastern coastline south from Whyalla to Port Lincoln and then back up the western side to Ceduna for sensational coastal scenery, wildlife and superb seafood – road tripping doesn't get much better than this. How far? 745km. See www.exploreeyrepeninsula.com.au

See also: 16 weird road signs you could only find in Australia

See also: The world's 10 most beautiful drives

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