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Eight of the Greatest Australian Outback Drives

Ready to hit the road and see more of this incredible country of ours? Take on these eight amazing outback drives.
Eight of the best Australian outback drives
Nullarbor Roadhouse. Image: Michael Waterhouse Photography

There are many rewarding aspects of getting off the beaten track and driving Australia’s most famous outback routes.

A sense of achievement is certainly one of them, as is the opportunity to immerse yourself in the stark and arid beauty of the outback. And knowing that you’ve seen parts of the country that few others get to set eyes on is also part of the appeal.

Towing an off-road caravan or camper trailer is one of the most popular ways to explore the outback, and you’ll need a vehicle with enough power to handle the job. You should also keep in mind that there’ll be times when access to fuel will be limited. Fitting a long-range fuel tank to your vehicle is one option. It’s legal to carry an additional 250 litres of fuel for personal use, but pay particular attention to the legal requirements for storing it.

Here’s a checklist of eight of the best Australian outback drives.

1. The Overlanders Way (QLD)

Queensland is home to more than its fair share of epic outback routes. Roughly a thousand kilometres in length, tar all the way, and with relatively plentiful fuel stops, the Overlanders Way is a great introduction to the joys of outback driving. It links the tropical city of Townsville on the coast with mining hub Mount Isa in the state’s far north-west and can comfortably be done in around four or five days (with plenty of stops along the way to sightsee).

Eight of the best Australian outback drives
Eight of the best Australian outback drives: Charters Towers

Highlights include clocking the beautifully preserved stone streetscape of Charters Towers (which was built on the back of the late 19th century gold rush), exploring sublime Porcupine Gorge National Park outside Hughenden, bathing in thermally heated artesian water in Julia Creek, and delving deep underground on a mine tour in Mount Isa. Special mention to Ravenswood — a short detour south before you reach Charters Towers, and as close to the Wild West as you’re likely to get in Oz!

2. Warrego Way (QLD)

Running roughly parallel to the Overlanders Way across the southern half of the Sunshine State, the 1,600-kilometre Warrego Way links Brisbane on the coast with Birdsville in the state’s south-western corner. This is a more densely populated route (to begin with at least), but hosts some gruelling challenges in the latter stages.

Eight of the best Australian outback drives
Eight of the best Australian outback drives: WWII Secret Base, Charleville

It’s plain sailing until you reach Charleville (home to an array of excellent attractions, including the WWII Secret Base interactive museum). From there, the sealed road narrows to one lane, and dodging road trains is par for the course. The black-top vanishes completely on several sections between Windorah and Birdsville. Known as the Birdsville Developmental Road, this part of the journey is not for the fainthearted. While the road is graded and suitable for 4WDs and SUVs, you’ll need to take it very slow and extremely steady. And always be across the weather — any rainfall can seriously compromise the condition of this road. In the cooler months, you’ll have the opportunity to swing by the characterful Betoota Hotel — a one pub hub in the middle of — literally — nowhere.

Eight of the best Australian outback drives
Eight of the best Australian outback drives: Betoota Hotel. Image: Adam Ford

3. Birdsville Track (QLD/SA)

The Birdsville Developmental Road is tough, but it’s a walk in the park compared to the iconic 500-kilometre Birdsville Track. Extending south from Birdsville to Marree in South Australia, this is an outback drive where the memories made will last a lifetime. Again, it’s paramount to know what the weather is doing before you set out, as this entirely gravel route across vast gibber plains and dune country can also become compromised with any amount of rainfall (rare, but it happens). And while this is one of the most remote drives in the country, there is, of course, a pub to light your way. The Mungerannie Hotel is situated about halfway through the journey and generally has fuel available. Camping is permitted for a modest fee, and you’ll find a hearty feed on offer.

Eight of the best Australian outback drives
Eight of the best Australian outback drives: Birdsville Track

4. Oodnadatta Track (SA)

Gluttons for corrugated punishment could continue on from Marree and tackle the Oodnadatta Track — a 600-kilometre gravel road that skirts around the southern extremity of Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre, before heading north-west through the tiny townships of William Creek, Oodnadatta, and Marla (where the track links up with the sealed Stuart Highway).

Eight of the best Australian outback drives
Follow the path of the old Ghan from Marree along the Oodnadatta Track.

The Oodnadatta Track follows an ancient Aboriginal overland route, which was based on the availability of water from mound springs tapping into the Great Artesian Basin below. Later, the same route was used by European explorers and ultimately to build what became known as the Central Australian Railway. The Ghan passenger train ran on this line twice a week through to Alice Springs until 1980, when the track was moved further west. The remains of rail infrastructure will accompany you for much of the drive along the Oodnadatta Track. A series of abandoned locomotives in Marree set the scene for what is a fascinating step back in time.

Watch our video of this experience:

10 Great Things to Do on the OODNADATTA TRACK & COOBER PEDY, South Australia | Road Trip Guide

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5. Gibb River Road (WA)

Along with the Birdsville and Oodnadatta Tracks, the Gibb River Road is up there as one of the greatest outback drives in Australia. Traversing the vast Kimberley wilderness between Derby and Kununurra in Western Australia’s north-western corner, this 660-kilometre stretch of mostly gravel road came into being in the mid 20th century to transport cattle. Today it’s a rite of passage for campers and caravanners, and offers access to myriad natural attractions along the way. Explore rugged gorges, swim in ancient waterholes, canoe along glistening waterways, and the list goes on.

Eight of the best Australian outback drives
Gibb River Road. Image: Tourism Western Australia

The drive itself is tough and you’ll often hear tales of woe from veterans about how this-and-that happened to their rigs enroute. Others, however, have nothing but praise for the experience. If you decide to take on ‘the Gibb’, take it slow-and-steady and always drive to the prevailing conditions.

Watch our video of this experience:

10 Great Things to Do on a KIMBERLEY ROAD TRIP, Western Australia in 2024 | Kimberley Travel Guide

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6. Nullarbor Plain (WA/SA)

The 1,256-kilometre drive across Australia’s mighty Nullarbor Plain on the Eyre Highway is big in every sense; big distances, big skies, and big rewards for travellers (the coastal scenery along the Great Australian Bight is nothing short of mind-blowing!). Officially, the Nullarbor stretches from Norseman in Western Australia (eight hours’ drive from Perth) to Ceduna in South Australia (8.5 hours’ drive from Adelaide). As with all the routes we’ve covered in this story, preparation is key. Research your fuel stops carefully, and take enough food and water to last at least a couple of days in the event of a problem or delay. Always advise local authorities, and friends and family of your plans (and check in with the latter regularly).

Eight of the best Australian outback drives
Eight of the best Australian outback drives: Nullarbor Plain

The Eyre Highway is sealed, but heading off-road is only doable in a 4WD. If you plan to leave the highway, you should advise authorities and personal contacts well in advance. The ghost township of Cook is situated roughly one hundred kilometres north of the Nullarbor Roadhouse via an unsealed road and hosts the Indian Pacific train service from Perth twice a week. It’s worth a visit if you have the vehicle type, time, and tyre tread.

7. Red Centre Way (NT)

Up in central Australia, the Red Centre Way is a 1,100-kilometre mostly sealed round trip from Alice Springs that takes in some of the country’s most treasured natural landmarks. You’ll travel through the West MacDonnell Ranges, Watarrka/Kings Canyon, and Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, and have the opportunity to shimmy through Stanley Chasm, splash down at Ellery Creek Big Hole, walk the rim of Kings Canyon, and marvel at the changing face of Uluru. The full Red Centre Way can only be done in a 4WD and will take about a week to complete at a relaxed pace. Park passes and a permit from the Traditional Owners to drive the Mereenie Loop are required.

Eight of the best Australian outback drives
Eight of the best Australian outback drives: Kings Canyon

8. Stuart Highway from Alice Springs to Darwin (NT)

If you’re up for getting another 1,500-or-so clicks under your belt, hit the Stuart Highway — referred to locally as ‘the track’ — north from Alice all the way to the Northern Territory capital Darwin. This trip can be done year-round, but you may encounter road closures and attractions operating on reduced hours during the wet season (November to April). But regardless of the time of year, adventure awaits you in abundance! Drink in the ethereal beauty of Karlu Karlu (the Devils Marbles) at sunrise or sunset, get an insight into Tennant Creek’s mining heritage, wash down the dust with a beer at the famous Daly Waters Pub, cruise magnificent Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge, and detour into the southern reaches of Kakadu National Park.

Watch our video of this experience:

Ultimate DARWIN to ALICE SPRINGS ROAD TRIP, NT, Australia in 2024

Support our channel and save on travel by joining our new Top Traveller Club! 😄 Member benefits include a branded travel water bottle delivered to your door, and 10% off day and multi-day tour bookings worldwide!

Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of the best Australian outback drives? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.

Travelling through the Australian outback is an amazing experience, but it requires careful planning and preparation. Make sure you seek the advice of the relevant local authorities when arranging your trip.

Additional images: Depositphotos, Bigstock, and Envato

Adam Ford

About the writer

Adam Ford is editor of Top Oz Tours & Travel Ideas, and a travel TV presenter, writer, blogger, and photographer. He has travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, North America, Africa, and the Middle East. Adam worked as a travel consultant for a number of years with Flight Centre before taking up the opportunity to travel the world himself as host of the TV series Tour the World on Network Ten. He loves to experience everything a new destination has to offer and is equally at home in a five-star Palazzo in Pisa or a home-stay in Hanoi.

 

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