8 scenic drives you need to do at least once in your life
Annual leave dwindling… Flight prices rising… Petrol prices dropping… could this be the universe telling you it’s time to take a road trip?
If you’re looking for a journey with a stunning backdrop, why not travel your own way, rather than the highway, with these scenic drives:
1. Drive Townsville to Wallaman Falls
The 165km drive between Townsville and Wallaman Falls fits into what we call the ‘car-commercial’ category. That is, it’s packed with hairpin bends, 550m of elevation, and requires you to unleash your inner Fernando Alonso hugging corners until you reach the top of the falls.
Quickly becoming one of Queensland’s most Instagramable destinations, Wallaman Falls wears the title of Australia’s tallest single drop (268m) waterfall, which explains the ear pops to see this landmark.
Being tall isn’t Wallaman’s only claim to fame, though, Girringun National Park is also the gateway to the Wet Tropics, one of the oldest forests in the planet. Don’t just see the rainforest, drive right through it with this scenic drive that comes with its own World Heritage-listed backdrop.
What to expect: A drive packed with verdant sugar cane country, waterfalls (and not just Wallaman), elevation giving way to 360-degree farming vistas and plenty of winding bends. Oh, and there are picnic spots, so pack the snacks!
2. Motor from Mackay to Eungella National Park
The 85km drive to Eungella couldn’t be more different from the sugarcane capital. This narrow and windy road looks like it stumbled out of a fairytale and into Mackay’s mountains.
Sections of the road are covered by streams, and in the wet season, you’ll have waterfalls cascading to the left and gorges to your right. So lush is this drive, at times you’ll need to keep the windows up to keep the moisture out!
If you’re lucky enough to time your drive with a clear day (a tough feat, given the destination’s reputation), you’ll be rewarded with views over Mackay’s farming plains – which looks like a patchwork quilt, with small fences the stitching to the sugarcane’s fabric.
For more information on ways to extend your stay – make sure you read this ultimate guide to hikes and drives around Mackay.
What to expect: Sugarcane and lots of it! That is until the landscape changes into sudden rainforest as you climb into the national park.
3. Clock up the odometer from Cairns to Cooktown
Ask anyone who likes scenic drives about the Great Barrier Reef Drive and Bloomfield Track, and you’ll find they’re household names as much as Thelma and Louise or Bonnie and Clyde in Australian road-tripping circles.
What makes this drive so special is not just the scenery, but the thoughtfulness of the town planners who established these drives with viewing platforms and rest bays to ensure you can get out of the car to actually soak up the scenery.
Be sure to stop at Rex Smeal Park Port Douglas, Cow Bay to see where the rainforest meets the reef, and reward your efforts with a burger and beer at the Lion’s Den Hotel just shy of Cooktown.
What to expect: A true kaleidoscope of colour from the bright blue reef, to the deep green rainforest and bright red dirt as you head further north.
4. Start driving on sand from Kingfisher Bay Resort to Indian Head
For a scenic drive with a sandy difference, make tracks on the biggest sand island in the world, Fraser Island.
From the mainland, take your 4WD on the Kingfisher Bay Resort vehicle ferry before taking off to the east coast of the island, where the offroad adventure really begins.
As you break free onto the gazetted highway made of sand (aka 75 mile Beach) stop in for visits at Eli Creek, The Maheno Shipwreck and the coloured sands, which are living proof that Pocahontas was right, and you can paint with all the colours of the wind.
For serious off-roaders, where the rubber really hits the road (or should that be sand?) is north of Indian Head. The northern end of the island is far more secluded than other sections of the island for visitors.
What to expect: The most fun you’ll ever have driving at 30km/hr on the inland tracks and absolute exhilaration as you hit up to 80km/hr along the beach highway. You can expect to share your road with dingos, fishermen and planes – the road doubles as a tarmac here. #efficiencies
5. Get off (or on) the beaten track from Thargomindah to Birdsville
If you want a holiday off the beaten track (literally), why not take one up the Birdsville Track?
This drive from Thargomindah through to Birdsville, via South Australia’s Innamincka, has 4WD enthusiasts frothing at the steering wheel for the opportunity to tackle this off-roading nirvana. The Birdsville Track runs over 500kms from Marree to the western corner of Queensland and is a highly coveted journey in 4WD communities.
What makes this drive so damn special is this is not bitumen or dirt – you’ll be driving across broken sandstone called gibber.
Desert flags are a must, as is an appetite for adventure (oh, and dust!).
What to expect: Desert and plenty of it! With not a whiff of elevation, you’ll have a view of the great abyss of the Sturt Stony Desert.
6. Discover the three M’s a drive from Noosa
Introducing the 55km Blackall Range Tourist Drive, which incorporates Maleny, Montville and Mapleton and all their walks, waterfalls and windy roads.
The Tourist Drive is quite literally the high road, 370m above sea level connecting these villages in the mountain.
Expect quaint villages which wouldn’t look out of place in Avatar, or equally (and bear with me til you see it in real life), the German part of Switzerland with cuckoo clocks, windmills and alpine-style architecture. Enjoy morning, tea and afternoon in each and make the drive a progressive one!
What to expect: An incredibly windy road, which gives perfect throwbacks over the coastline for your passengers to enjoy on every hairpin bend.
7. Go from Binna Burra to the border
Unleash your Sunday driver on the Nerang-Murwillumbah Rd, driving from Binna Burra to the New South Wales border through the leafy Numinbah Valley. You know a drive is going to be good when you have to share the road with every car and bike community within a 400km radius of the Gold Coast.
The pièce de résistance en route is Natural Arch, one of the Gold Coast’s most photographed falls (pictured above). There’s an easy track to the waterfalls to see the bridge-like rock formation, carved out by water plummeting through the ceiling of this basalt cave over millions of years.
Pack your camera – it’s too beautiful not to share.
What to expect: A drive that’s accented by a golden glow bouncing off rocks onto the lush green rainforest around you. Time your trip for the afternoon to see the destination looking its absolute best. Be careful on blind corners as motorbike riders use the windy roads as their weekend run.
8. Make tracks from Cairns to Undara
Packing more landscapes into 300kms than most people would only see if they travelled to three countries, the drive between Cairns and Undara packs a potent punch of rainforest, reef and outback. We guarantee it will drive your eyes wild with raw natural appeal.
This road trip travels south-west of Cairns, taking four hours if you travel via Kuranda – the village in the rainforest. We suggest taking a quick pit stop at the Kuranda markets, before continuing onto the Atherton Tablelands where the rainforest is swapped for farmland. From there, a taste of the outback kicks in along the Kennedy Highway past the Innot Hot Springs, before arriving at Australia’s (if not one of the world’s) longest lava tube systems, that developed underneath a once-active volcano.
What to expect: Arguably Queensland’s most accessible outback – giving you a taste of central Australia without any of the long commutes.
Looking for something else? Don’t forget to check out:
- How to take Queensland’s answer to Route 66 – driving from Brisbane to Cairns – here
- These five road trips in Queensland
- For outback lovers, these four road trips throughout Outback Queensland
- Don’t forget the Great Beach Drive, which you might have read about here
- If you’re stuck for ideas, there’s also these scenic drives from Warwick