Best road trips: Australia's 10 most unforgettable highways

GREAT NORTHERN HIGHWAY, WA

Australia's longest highway (not counting the National Highway) treks 3200 kilometres northeast from Perth and finishes in Wyndham. Though sealed all the way, it takes in some of our nation's most remote regions, starting in WA's wheat belt and continuing into the Pilbara and Kimberley. The section between Port Hedland and Broome follows the coast. The Bungle Bungle Range is a final, splendid, reward. See westernaustralia.com 

MATILDA HIGHWAY, QLD

Mitchell Highway between Barringun and Tuen Traveller story. Matilda Way. Mitchell Highway between Barringun and TuenPhoto: Tourism and Events Queensland. Photographer Sean Scott

The Matilda Highway Photo: Sean Scott/Tourism and Events Queensland

This monster sealed highway runs 1812 kilometres through central Queensland from Cunnamulla among red sand dunes near the NSW border, north to Karumba on the steamy Gulf of Carpentaria. Along the way are quintessential outback towns such as Charleville, bushranger hideout Augathella and Longreach, home to the Stockman's Hall of Fame and Qantas Founders Museum. Expect heat, dust, colourful characters, road trains and Waltzing Matilda landscapes. See outbackqueensland.com.au 

NEWELL HIGHWAY, NSW

The night sky filled with bright stars over the dark sky park in the Warrumbungles. Traveller story. Dark Sky Park, Warrumbungle National.The night sky filled with bright stars over the dark sky park in the Warrumbungles.Mandatory Credit Destination NSWPhotographer Alex Aitken

A night sky over Dark Sky Park in the Warrumbungles. Photo: Destination NSW

The longest Highway in NSW snakes 1060 kilometres from Tocumwal near the Victorian border to Goondiwindi, just into Queensland. It's a magnificent drive through wheat and wool country, where sheep nibble on hillsides and cockatoos cackle among the gum trees, but what sets it apart are its astronomical sights, with observatories in Parkes, Gilganda, Coonabarabran and Narrabri, plus Australia's first Dark Sky Park in the Warrumbungles. See newellhighway.org.au 

STUART HIGHWAY, NT

Kangaroos crossing. stuart highway northern territory. istock image

The Stuart Highway, Northern Territory. Photo: iStock

The northern half of the Stuart Highway between Darwin and Alice Springs is a classic outback route linking steaming tropics and arid Red Centre. You'll pass national parks Litchfield, Nitmiluk (Katherine Gorge) and Elsey, discover gold-rush history at Pine Creek and Tennant Creek, and enjoy eccentric bush pubs in Daly Waters and Borrow Creek. The rounded granite boulders of the Devil's Marbles are another highlight. See northernterritory.com 

EYRE HIGHWAY, WA/SA

South Australia the Eyre highway across the Nullarbor plains

The Eyre highway across the Nullarbor Plain. Photo: iStock

This 1660-kilometre highway between Norseman in WA and Port Augusta in SA is most notable for crossing the desolate Nullarbor Plain. You'll see little but flat saltbush landscapes. Take a short detour to eyeball the Great Australian Bight. The odd roadhouse provides the only other relief, but this is such an outback travel icon that every Aussie should tackle it – though perhaps only once. See australiasgoldenoutback.com and southaustralia.com 

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TASMAN HIGHWAY, TAS

Located north of the Freycinet Peninsula, Bicheno sits on Tasmania's beautiful East Coast. Traveller story. Mayfield Bay Coastal Reserve. Great Eastern Drive, Tasmania highway. Located north of the Freycinet Peninsula, Bicheno sits on Tasmania's beautiful East Coast. Credit Pete Harmsen/Tourism Tasmania

Tasmania's beautiful East Coast. Photo: Pete Harmsen

Tasmania's longest road (410 kilometres), marketed to tourists as the Great Eastern Drive, links Hobart with Launceston on an indirect route that sees it looping up the island's east coast. It starts in a tangle of commuter lanes but soon shrivels to more modest size, winding through hills, rainforest and farmland. Detour for magnificent scenery at Freycinet National Park and the Bay of Fires. See discovertasmania.com.au 

MURRAY VALLEY HIGHWAY, VIC

Murray Valley Highway over Lake Hume, Victoria.

Murray Valley Highway over Lake Hume, Victoria. Photo: iStock

Following the Murray River where it marks the NSW-Victorian border, this 663-kilometre route starts at Robinvale in the west and finishes in Corryong. The highway is often set back from the river, so budget time to meander its byways. Towns such as Echuca and Swan Hill highlight the river's importance to early European pioneers. National parks, bird life and splendid red river gums are other highlights. See visitthemurray.com.au 

CORAL COAST HIGHWAY, WAKalbarri Skywalk.

Kalbarri Skywalk. Photo: Supplied

This 1200-kilometre driving route between Perth and Exmouth hugs the Indian Ocean, where red earth clashes with turquoise ocean. Though there are interesting towns such as Geraldton, Kalbarri and Carnarvon, this route is really about spectacular and occasionally weird natural wonders, from the Pinnacles rock formations of Nambung National Park to rust-red gorges, ancient stromatolites, blowholes and Ningaloo Reef, famously home to whale sharks. See australiascoralcoast.com 

SILVER CITY HIGHWAY, NSW

Dingo Fence, desert landscape, Sturt National Park, Outback NSW  Dingo Fence, desert landscape, Sturt National Park, Outback NSWMandatory Credit Destination NSW

The Dingo Fence, Sturt National Park. Photo: Destination NSW

This kangaroo-haunted highway connects Victoria and Queensland across the parched NSW west, from Mildura to Tibooburra via must-visit Broken Hill. Its red plains, saltbush and stony landscapes are mostly flat and monotonous, but that's part of the haunting outback experience. Unsealed sections and flood-prone riverbeds require caution. The highway passes through Sturt National Park and ends at the Dingo Fence. See visitnsw.com 

GILLIES HIGHWAY, QLD

This highway southwest of Cairns isn't epic because of its length – it runs just 60 kilometres from Gordonvale to Atherton – but for its infamous bends, particularly a 19-kilometre section with 263 corners, beloved of motorcycle enthusiasts. You leave sugarcane fields behind and ascend through rainforest and into the farming country of the distinctly chillier Atherton Tablelands. Parts of the glorious landscape are World Heritage. See tropicalnorthqueensland.org.au

The writer has travelled as a guest of tourism offices and at his own expense.

See also: Ten amazing ways to take the 'bore' out of driving the Nullarbor

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