Australia’s best scenic drives

Source: News

great drives escape

A car hangs from a tree in the area between Beaudesert and Rathdowney In Queensland. Picture: Kevin Bull

great drives escape

The Great Ocean Road curls around by Lorne. Picture: supplied

TAKING a road trip in Australia can be totally liberating and you never know what you might see – from kangaroos to rainforest, lighthouses and incredible sunsets. The Carsguide team show you the best on offer.

Mt Glorious

There aren’t many glorious mountain roads right on a capital city’s doorsteps but Queensland’s Mt Glorious is a wonderful exception.

Just 15 minutes from Brisbane’s CBD, the road starts its climb through Brisbane Forest Park as Mt Nebo Rd.

It winds up along a ridge that takes it 40-odd kilometres through Mt Nebo and Mt Glorious villages, changing its name to Mt Glorious Rd, through cooling subtropical forest, and steeply down the western side, where it again changes its title to Northbrook Parkway, emptying out to the wide expanse of picturesque Lake Wivenhoe.

Along the way there is every conceivable type of corner; on and off camber, opening and tightening lefts and rights, blind and open corners, switchbacks and sweepers, up and downhill hairpins, and corners with crests and dips.

Adventure rider and actor Charley Boorman of TV’s Long Way Round described the famed forest road as “incredible” after riding a motorcycle to the glorious summit while here for a promotional tour for one of his books.

“What a great road,” Boorman enthused. “I love the smell of the eucalyptus trees as you ride through the forest. It really was something special.”

The roller-coaster road requires 100 per cent attention from the driver or rider, not only for the blind crests and curves but also for the slow-moving weekend tourists in their family sedans, as well as boy racers cutting corners on their Rossi-replica machines.Motorists will also need to be alert for occasional gravel spills and slippery moss on the sides of the tar leading to precipitous drops into the valley below.

Passengers can relax with glimpses of Brisbane or Samford valleys wherever there is a break in the forest.

Drivers should take time out to cool down, suck in some fresh air, absorb the echo of bellbirds and whipbirds, and capture the panoramic views at one of the many scenic outlooks along the way, some of which have barbecue facilities and toilets.

Jollys Lookout offers wide-angle views toward Moreton Bay and on a clear day you can see the sand dunes on Moreton Island.

If you haven’t packed a picnic, there are many cafes at Mt Nebo and Mt Glorious that make bold claims such as the best milkshake, coffee or scones in Brisbane. There is also Brisbane’s Vineyard, where you can sample local antioxidant-rich wines or the tingling ginger punch.

Grab a national parks brochure that points out the many bushwalks that run off the main road, but take a walking partner as some tracks can be steep and tricky, mobile phone reception is weak and there are plenty of snakes.There are also short, kid-friendly walking tracks at Maiala, where you can see owls, possums and even the rare yellow-bellied glider.

On the western side at Cedar Flats there are two big parks with barbecue and toilet facilities and open areas for picnics.

Here, road and creek intertwine, crossing each other on many occasions, offering open sweepers and treacherous knee-down 90-degree turns that claim too many risk-takers.

At the T-intersection with Splityard Creek Rd, your options are to turn left and follow Wivenhoe Dam to pretty Fernvale and its cafes and trinket shops or right through sweeping farm vistas to Somerset Dam.

Lions Road

Long before State of Origin footy clashes between NSW and Queensland erupted, there was a clash of governments at the border that has yielded one of the greatest drives in Australia.

In 1969, the NSW government rejected calls for a shortcut to link the communities of Kyogle in northern NSW and Rathdowney in southern Queensland.

That’s when the Kyogle and Beaudesert Lions clubs stepped in and decided to use the expertise of members and their community to build their own road up and over the craggy McPherson Range via Richmond Gap.

They’re still maintaining the road with help from governments and private business and there is a donation box at the border, which grateful motorists should patronise.

In the past decade, the final gravel sections have given way to a full tarmac surface, although it is patchy and often in need of repair.

It’s a road in two parts: the northern side is an extension of Running Creek Rd with roller-coaster skylines and popular camping spots, while the lusher southern side lined with magnificent hoop pines turns off Summerland Way on Gradys Creek Rd and plaits a course where road, rail and creek cross each other every few hundred metres over some one-lane wooden bridges and modern yet narrow concrete structures.

There is a host of picnic, camping and swimming areas on either side of the range, but only one cafe –  Ripples on the Creek  – where the seafood chowder is to die for.

Four-wheel drivers can turn off at Simes Rd and head up the gravel into the Border Ranges Park or take the little dirt detour at Cougal, where the trail crosses the creek several times and bathers delight in the cool running waters beneath Roman-style aqueducts.Moss and gravel create slippery surfaces, while frequent potholes and corrugations on the inside of corners test the best of suspensions.

Some of the farms are unfenced, so cattle can occasionally be encountered around blind corners in the valleys. Wallabies are more common higher up in the forest areas.

Car clubs and recreational bikers frequent the road at weekends and there are few opportunities to pass those who want to take in the sights.

Those sights include the heritage-listed Spiral Loop railway line, which can be viewed from the Lions Rd, especially the aptly named Spiral Loop Railway lookout. The serpentine rail line includes two tunnels  – a 1.6km tunnel at the summit and a shorter one that passes under itself.

Lions Rd and national park maps, brochures and train times are available from the Kyogle Visitor Centre at the northern exit of town or tourist centres in Rathdowney or Beaudesert.

Old Glenn Innes Road

River oaks stand like sentries next to Mann River, which slices its way down from the New England Tableland to join the Clarence River on the flood plains of the Northern Rivers district of NSW.

In shady grottos, icy cold waters churn over granite rocks, leaving a frothy trail down the creek beds.

In long, straight stretches, the cascading creek fattens into a wide, slow-moving river.

And by open banks, there are white-quartz “beaches” with tourists sunning themselves between refreshing plunges into deep rock pools.

This is the land of the Bundjalung, Gumbaingirri and Ngarrubal people.

And these are the idyllic settings accessed by a stretch of road known as Old Glenn Innes Road by some, Old Grafton Road by others or simply as “The Old Road”. It runs almost from Glenn Innes to Grafton, parallel to and south of the Gwydir Highway.

Just outside Grafton, the Old Road turns left off Gwydir Highway and runs through some scrappy countryside, changing to gravel after about 30km. As it joins the river, the scenery becomes more pleasant and there is a picnic area to stop and grab some photos as well as catch up on information about the history of the road, the vegetation and bird and animal life.

The dramatic valley scenery includes a short 20m drive through Dalmorton Tunnel, blasted out of the side of a mountain in the late 1800s.

The region was in an economic boom in the 1830s, so Archibald Boyd and Gother Mann explored it looking for a route to transport tablelands produce to the Clarence River to be shipped out from Lawrence, near Grafton.

In those days, bullock teams took up to 12 weeks to haul gold, wool, timber and other produce along the 125km route. Horses did it in a week.

You can cover the distance in less than two hours or take plenty of stops for photos, picnics and swimming.

In 1866, David Houison surveyed the present road, which required 50km of cuttings into sheer granite cliffs, a marvellous feat of engineering for its day. It was officially opened as a main road in 1876.

Back then, towns such as Dalmorton had thousands of residents, four churches and many hotels. It is hard to fathom so much activity where now there is nothing but tranquillity; black cockatoos and the occasional 4WD and motorcycle to disturb the peace.

Kangaroos and rock wallabies dart across the road, while motorists are often accompanied by livid-coloured parrots, lorikeets and corellas.

Despite once being a main road, there is very little traffic now, but it pays to slow down on blind corners. The gravel can be fairly corrugated leading into and out of corners and the surface a little slippery in places.

It’s suitable only for 4WDs, motorcycles with all-terrain tyres or high-clearance vehicles.

However, if you come in from the west end, most vehicles, except caravans, would be able to access the Mann River Nature Reserve picnic and camping area, which is at the start of the gravel. Here, weekenders are fishing, swimming, bushwalking, bird-watching and just relaxing to the tune of the burbling waters.

Great Ocean Road

Bitumen that snakes its way around cliffs and stunning sea vistas make the heritage-listed Great Ocean Road in Victoria a must-do drive.

Understandably, it’s also on every tourist’s list –  about eight million people visited it last year –  which is why there are so many signs reminding drivers that Australians progress on the left side of the road. Not confidence inspiring –  and there’s a solid police presence to enforce the 80km/h speed limit.

Cyclists insist on masochistic rides here, too, making this the motoring equivalent of a scenic stroll rather than an all-out automotive assault.

That being the case, it pays to reward the passengers by stopping at some of the idyllic coastal towns.

The 243km stretch officially starts at Torquay, the site of the annual Bells Beach surfing contest and the origin of the Billabong and Rip Curl brands synonymous with the surfie subculture.

Aireys Inlet is worth a stop if there are kids in the car. The Split Point Lighthouse is the home of the Round The Twist TV series –  and the views from the 70m cliff atop which the white stone beacon is perched are as out of this world.

Back on the road and Lorne beckons, but spare a thought for the returned World War I Diggers who lived up to their nickname by hewing the road from the cliffs with shovels and pickaxes between 1919 and 1932.

It rates as one of the great engineering feats and is the world’s longest war memorial.

A 10km detour at Lorne will take visitors to the Erskine Falls, a 30m cascade set amid massive ferns and temperate rainforest.

Apollo Bay is the next destination  – and the entrance to the Great Otway National Park, where you can figuratively get lost bushwalking, mountain bike riding or just lying back and indulging in down time. It is also where the road leaves the cliffs overlooking Bass Strait, but the inland run offers some of the best corners of the stretch. Drivers smart enough to give themselves some room from the vehicles ahead can genuinely have fun on this twisty section without breaking the speed limit.

The road returns to the sea at Princetown and passes the Twelve Apostles on the run to Port Campbell. There are only eight left, as the waves erode up to 2cm of the limestone stacks each year, but they still rate as one of Victoria’s most popular tourist destinations.

Technically there’s still another 55km of the Great Ocean Road to travel before it officially ends at Allansford, just out of Warrnambool.

A better route for Victorian-based drivers is to head inland on the Port Campbell Rd (C164) until it hits the Hamilton Highway. Another route less travelled is to backtrack to Lavers Hill and take the Beech Forest-Lavers Rd (C155) run to the Princess Highway.

Both are tidy, twisty bits of tarmac that run through forests and farms that will have the biggest petrolhead showing some appreciation for nature.

Ferguson Valley

You can’t go to Paradise but you can pass close by. And if the spring light is right and dapples the trees in all shades of yellow and green, you may think you have arrived.

This is a part of the world where things are not quite what they seem. Paradise isn’t a precise dot on the map yet Gnomesville  – remarkably, where gnomes actually live –  is real.

No need to take a tablet and have a nice lie down. If you take a trip through this compact section of Western Australia’s southwest, there are such surprises at most turns in the road.

The Ferguson Valley is a fertile east-west trench sliced through the earth, opening at the quaint town of Dardanup in a meander towards Lowden or, depending on the turn, Wellington Dam.

It has been farming country since 1838, when settler Thomas Little arrived under the direction of Charles Princep of India to establish a horse-breeding venture to supply India. The venture failed but Little stayed on, establishing Dardanup Park farm and, as a staunch Roman Catholic, attracting an Irish Catholic community to the area.

The early settlers in the district were farmers leading a largely subsistence living. Some produce, such as vegetables and meat, was sold to the Bunbury township, about 15km to the west.

So not a lot has changed. Ferguson Valley remains a food haven and, to the road traveller, scenic drives through an area renowned for its arts and crafts, wines, beers, cheeses and pastries. It also has bed and breakfast accommodation.

This all melds at the annual Bull and Barrel Festival held each October to celebrate the area’s dairy and wine industries.

If you start from Perth, allow a day for the Ferguson Valley drive. That will give time for a wander, some lunch and a return. Dardanup to Perth is 180km, which equates to a leisurely 2 1/2 hours.

Our drive from Perth in a Volkswagen Touareg diesel SUV covered 692km.

The road from Dardanup to Lowden is only 30km. But it’s a slow route thanks to its twisting and undulating path that follows the Ferguson River through farmland, past vineyards and orchards. Most of the road is 80km/h and the double-white line ensures there’s no passing –  so if you cop a tractor, be patient.

It passes the Moody Cow boutique brewery and the Aidan, Carlaminda and Hackersley Estate wineries and crosses the 600km Perth to Manjimup section of the Munda Biddi off-road cycle trail. This trail will extend to Albany next year and then claim the title as the world’s longest, continuous, off-road cycle trail.

Gnomesville –  see, I wasn’t kidding –  is merely a roundabout on the Upper Ferguson Rd on the way to Lowden.

Some time around 2000 someone either made a home for an unwanted suburban garden statue or one world-weary gnome found his final resting place.

Since then, about 3000 concrete gnomes have been placed by the side of the road. Most come from Australian homes but many are from overseas visitors.

The site is frequented by travellers drawn to the peculiarities of the display and some because of the publicity in 2007 of the “Gnomesville Massacre”  – the result of vandals attacking the community.

The drive from Gnomesville to Lowden is about 6km but is set high on a ridge overlooking farmland.

Optional is a drive back to the Wellington Forest Discovery Centre –  about 4km of mostly gravel road –  which displays information about the jarrah forest and has details of a self-guided walk through the forest.

The loop road then passes the Wellington Dam  – with a kiosk and picnic areas  – then the Collie River and Honeymoon Pool, a pretty camping and picnic area on the river that has a cafe, toilets and tents-only camping.

This drive is about 20km and returns to Pile Rd to link back to Dardanup. Pile Rd has adjoining mountain bike trails, the Wild Bull boutique brewery and five wineries.

And Paradise? You probably don’t need to go there because Ferguson Valley is about as picturesque as WA’s southwest gets. But for those who have never seen it, Paradise Rd is about 8km northeast of Dardanup.


If variety is the spice of life, Tasmania is topographical saffron. From desolate mountains to temperate rainforests, historic sites and salt-white sand beaches, the Island State has it all.

And linking these picturesque panoramas are some of the best roads in the nation. As Targa Tasmania competitors will attest, the bitumen is just as diverse as the natural beauty.

One of the best routes to combine challenging roads with jaw-dropping scenery meanders from Launceston. In Launceston, take the Blessington Rd (C401) towards Ben Lomond.

If the clock isn’t ticking, detour up the mountain via the series of switchbacks known as Jacobs Ladder.

The payback is an amazing view that, depending on the season, includes a waving riot of colour as the wildflowers bloom and obscure what is usually a rock-festooned lunar landscape.

Turn right back on the main road and keep going  – the name changes to Mathinna Rd (B43)  – but stay on it until you reach the T-junction in Fingal. The historic town was established in 1827 as a convict settlement but the 400 folk who live there today earn a living from agriculture and the Cornwall Coal Company.

The main strip is Talbot St – stop in at the Fingal Hotel and soak up the history. The building is home to a staggering 340-odd brands of whisky, which is said to be the largest collection in the southern hemisphere.

Head for St Marys on the Esk Highway (A4) and turn right on to Elephant Pass Rd once in the town. The pass famous for its 9km of curves –  is just ahead. The road is tight and often littered with bark and leaves, so moderate the pace to appreciate the views.

And a stop midway for pancakes is just about mandatory.

The entire Elephant Pass Rd is a driver’s delight, but it comes to an end at the Chain of Lagoons on Tasmania’s east coast. There’s a tough call to be made here: turn left and head for St Helens, or veer right to visit Bicheno.

The Bicheno loop will add 56km to the journey but is worth it for the seafood and entertaining the kids with a penguin tour or a visit to the Blowhole: an opening in a rock shelf that can erupt with a fountain of water up to 20m high.

Retracing the drive back to the Chain of Lagoons brings another decision: keep going on the Tasman Highway (A3) or head back up for another crack at the pass. If the drive experience is the priority, go for plan B.

Not only will you traverse Elephant Pass in both directions but a right turn back in St Marys will add St Marys Pass to the itinerary. The views aren’t quite as spectacular but the road is just as windy. Both passes were carved out of the cliffs by a crew of 300 convicts more than 150 years ago.

Either route will take you to the seaside fishing town of St Helens. A detour to the Peron Dunes  – hectares of rolling sandhills  – is a good way to wear out the kids, while the Bay of Fires, named after the orange lichen-covered boulders that dot the otherwise pristine white beach, is a spectacular sight.

Keep on the Tasman Highway heading for Scottsdale. It’s a highway in name only  – the road is a twisted ribbon of bitumen complete with off-camber corners, suspension-lightening dips, postcard-potential farmland and dense bush. After 30km, keep an eye out for St Columba Falls Rd.

The falls are a 94m cascade set amid sassafras and myrtle forest and the ever-present ferns that mark this corner of the northeast.The road is also the route to the Pub in the Paddock. It’s a great place to have a beer  – and share it with one of the resident pigs. They like the taste and I like the way they taste when their beer days come to an end.

Back on the A3, aim for Scottsdale, specifically the road just out of town which is known as the Sideling. It’s a 7km strip of asphalt that tests driver and machinery. The rest of the run back to Launceston is exhilarating.

In all, the journey will cover about 420km and take about seven hours, so, an overnight stop in St Helens or Bicheno is recommended.

A pass is needed to access many of Tasmania’s parks. By far the smartest option is a $60 “holiday pass”. It is valid for eight weeks and gives up to eight people unlimited access to all venues. A daily pass costs $24, but access to Cradle Mountain is $41.25 for a family.

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