Ten of the best Australian beach drives

When it comes to seaside road trips nothing beats a beach highway. Here's 10 of the best one-the-beach drives where you can feel the sand beneath your wheels. 

Great Beach Drive, Qld

Top of any list of 'great ocean roads' has to be Queensland's Great Beach Drive, a sensational 200 kilometres of wave-washed sandy highway that stretches from Noosa's north shore (via the ferry at Tewantin) along Rainbow Beach to the northern tip of Fraser Island (via the barge at Inskip Point), where the sandy tracks that wind through the World Heritage-listed rainforest in the island's interior are just as exciting as the 130km-long beach track that extends almost the entire length of the island. Allow at least a week. australiasnaturecoast.com

See: Australia's new great ocean road

North Stradbroke, Qld

The world's second largest sand island (Fraser Island is the biggest) is affectionately known as Straddie by the locals, and you can drive along the beach at the island's northern end from Amity Point to Point Lookout and then south along Blue Lake Beach before you can cut across the island to Dunwich, where the ferries from Cleveland (40 minutes drive south-east of Brisbane) dock. Camping sites are tucked behind the dunes, or rent a holiday house and venture out on day trips. Reasons to go include good surf, great fishing, dolphins, whales and sea turtles. stradbrokeisland.com

Moreton Island, Qld

A short ferry ride from Brisbane, Moreton Island – number three in the world's largest sand islands list – is almost all national park and a great place to go wild without clocking up the miles. From the ferry terminal near Tangalooma Resort (famous for its wild dolphins) head north along the beach to the top of the island and circle back along the eastern beaches to form a stunning 50km loop. There are a half a dozen campsites along the way, or stay at the resort. BYO 4WD across on the ferry or hire one from the resort. visitmoretonisland.com; tangalooma.com

See: The secret in Moreton Island's glittering waters

Stockton Beach, NSW

The largest mass of mobile sand dunes in Southern Hemisphere and the longest beach in NSW, Stockton Beach is a 32km-long sweep of undeveloped shoreline that stretches between Newcastle and Port Stephens. Mostly protected by Worimi National Park and managed by the local Worimi Aboriginal community there are a number of cultural sites in the park as well as the rusting remains of shipwrecks, WWII fortifications and an historic squatters village, half-buried in the sand, called Tin City. 4WD and quad bike tours are available if you don't fancy driving yourself. portstephens.org.au

Eyre Peninsula, SA

If you like your beaches – and beach roads – crowd free you'll love Coffin Bay National Park on the western side of the Eyre Peninsula, about 40km from Port Lincoln. Campsites are waterfront – more often than not you'll be the only one there – and the only way to get to any of the ones in the northern section of the park is to drive along the beach, at low tide. Stock up on local Coffin Bay oysters before you head off. environment.sa.gov.au

See: The secret's out on this coastal playground

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Beachport to Robe, SA

A favourite with four-wheel-drivers the beach run between the two historic ports of Robe and Beachport via Nora Creina on the South Australian Limestone Coast is challenging, with soft sand, sharp rocks and some wickedly steep dunes, but it is also great fun. It's less than 60km but will take you half a day. You need to check the tides carefully before you go, and be prepared to get stuck at least once or twice. It's also easy to lose the track, so ask at the visitor's centre in Robe or Beachport for the 4WD trip notes before you go. robe.com.au; limestone-coast-4wd-explorers-guide.pdf

Lancelin, WA

Another popular spot with off-roaders who like a dune-driving challenge, the towering white sand dunes of Lancelin, around 90 minutes drive north of Perth, make for a great day trip. The off road vehicle area is only open during daylight hours, but the nearby township has a range of accommodation and it's a good spot to buy local crayfish during the season (mid-Oct to June). lancelin.com.au

Cable Beach, WA

It's most famous for sunset camel rides, but you can also explore the celebrated sands of Broome's 22km-long Cable Beach by 4WD. You'll need your own set of wheels though, as hire car companies don't allow their vehicles on to the beach, and watch out for the massive tides. Restrictions also apply during turtle nesting season between October and February. australiasnorthwest.com

See: 20 reasons to visit Broome

Cape Le Grand, WA

Lucky Bay, in Cape Le Grand National Park near Esperance, gets a lot of press with its claim to have the whitest sand in the country (similar declarations are also made by Whitehaven Beach in the Whitsundays and Hyams Beach on the NSW south coast). Truth be known, all the beaches in this part of the world are pretty dazzling, including the 22km beach drive from Esperance's Wylie Bay to Cape Le Grand. It makes a great short cut to Lucky Bay. visitesperance.com

Ocean Beach, Tas

Stretching for more than 30km from Macquarie Heads in the south to Trial Harbour in the north, Ocean Beach, near Strahan on the west coast of Tasmania, is the longest beach in the state with giant windswept sand dunes, roaring surf and spectacular ocean sunsets. Around half of the beach (15km) is accessible to 4WDs, but you need to stay below the high-tide mark as thousands of shearwaters (muttonbirds) breed here during summer – they provide an amazing wildlife spectacle at dusk when they head to back to their nests en masse. parks.tas.gov.au

Top 10 tips for driving on sand

  • All beach drives are 4WD only.
  • Normal road rules, including speed limits, apply on beaches.
  • Always check tide charts before you travel and avoid driving on the beach two hours either side of high tide.
  • Carry a tyre gauge and lower your tyre pressures (15-20 psi) to improve traction in soft sand, but don't forget to re-inflate your tyres on harder sand or sealed surfaces – a portable air compressor is invaluable.
  • Fit a safety sand flag (a 3-metre-high fluorescent flag that you mount on the front of your vehicle – available from 4WD accessory stores) and use UHF radio if travelling over dunes in order to alert other vehicles of your presence.
  • Use momentum to help you get through soft sand.
  • Essential recovery gear for beach driving includes snatch straps, maxtrax ramps and a long-handled shovel.
  • You will need permits to access many beach drives: check with local authorities or national parks before you hit the sand.
  • It's considered bad etiquette to drive between a fisherman (or woman) and the surf.
  • Watch out for the nests of seabirds above the high water mark.

See also: The 10 great Australian roads that nobody drives

See also: 16 weird road signs you'll only see in Australia

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