Explore hidden history outside of Canberra city: Escape the city and drive to Tharwa Sandwash for a secluded picnic in the Gigerline Nature Reserve on the banks of the impressive Murrumbidgee River, or walk the 1-hour 2.8km return Tharwa Explorer Track to learn about the rich history of a unique 19th century cemetery. With plenty of bird life to discover, including some resident Tawny Frogmouths, this is a great spot for a nature getaway or canoe trip up the river.
Cross into New South Wales, to the growing Canberra Wine Region: For the wine connoisseurs planning a weekend getaway: located just outside the city of Canberra is Mount Majura. The area is filled with hidden gems and known for crafting the region’s favourites – Shiraz and Riesling – but also experimenting boldly to produce something special. Every bottle produced comes exclusively from their vineyard, making their cellar door experience both intimate and impressive. If you’re taking the Federal Highway on your trip, make the worthwhile pit stop for a picnic overlooking Lake George from one of the rest stops that dot the highway. Known for being one of the world’s oldest lakes, it is also referred to as the “disappearing lake”. The large body of water rises and falls mysteriously and has inspired artists, birdwatchers and historians throughout time.
New South Wales
Get to the core of the Central West region: The Central West region of New South Wales is known for its orchards, vineyards and soil-rich vegetable growing terrain. A “must-stop” on any road trip through the Blue Mountains is Logan Brae Orchard in Blackheath – a family-run orchard on the Shipley Plateau where you can enjoy sweeping views of the Blue Mountains while eating a freshly homemade apple pie to fuel yourself for the rest of the trip!
Follow the Southern Highlands ‘Pie Trail’: New South Wales’ Southern Highlands (Pie-lands!) is home to award-winning pie makers and with over 30 pie outlets in the region it’s known as Australia’s Home of Pies and even has its own dedicated Pie Trail. Be sure to add Gumnut Patisserie to your itinerary and taste one of the best Banoffee Pies you will ever have. Luckily there are three different branches between Mittagong, Berrima and Bowral so there’s no chance you’ll miss out. If you’re looking for a longer, more savoury stop, duck into the Bendooley Estate just off the Old Hume Highway for a delicious meal and glass of wine – just make sure you book in advance! Roam around the picturesque estate or stop into the spellbinding space that is the Berkelouw Book Shop – a book-lovers’ paradise showcasing rows of rare books and cathedral ceilings.
Stop at creative towns up and down the North Coast: If you’ve already driven along the eastern coast with seaside views, it is worthwhile taking mini detours inland to explore the charming towns through the tablelands of New South Wales. Stop into the small leafy town of Bellingen where you can find hippie art and eclectic boutiques. If you’re headed all the way north up the coast to Byron Bay, be sure to make a detour through the charming town of Bangalow to have your fill of cute cafes and boutiques and find Killen Falls, a wondrous ‘walk in waterfall’, perfect for a photo opp. Or stop in Yamba to walk to local landmarks, like the Yamba Lighthouse and the 1934-built Pacific Hotel. Locals that have been travelling up and down the east coast will often choose to detour and stop into these towns rather than waiting in traffic to get into Byron, with these small sea-side towns (Ballina, Lennox Heads and Bangalow) offering up more of the ‘authentic’ hippie and surfer vibes which made this area famous in the first place.
Outback New South Wales glittering gems: When exploring the Outback in New South Wales, the mining town of Broken Hill is a must-visit. Mainly known for its mining, the town also has pubs a plenty. There are many gems to be discovered – take Palace Hotel as an example, which featured in the movie Priscilla Queen of the Desert. It even has a Priscilla Suite complete with glitter tiles and a disco ball, if travelling with kids they will be in for a surprise!
Scheduled swimming holes in the Top End: Everyone knows Litchfield, but there is a hidden gem within that only a few know about. The Upper Cascades is about a 40-minute hike from the car park where you will be rewarded with several small swimming holes to cool off in. Wander up and down the site and look out for various cascades and rockslides. Due to the Cascades being a bit harder to access, those up for the challenge can find them blissfully secluded.
Find paradise at East Arnhem Land:Discover the secret beaches of East Arnhem Land and find yourself in paradise. Known as one of Australia’s greatest untouched wilderness areas, East Arnhem Land is beautiful and diverse with remote and rugged coastlines, and white sandy beaches.
Drive down to the Southern end of the Northern Territory for famous slice and hidden ‘locals only’ holes: Alice Springs vanilla slice, it’s a thing! Casa Nostra is a little secret locals have been keeping to themselves for around 30 years. This old-school and family-friendly restaurant is a dining staple in Alice Springs. One local tip: you’ll need to pre-order their famous vanilla slice to avoid missing out. Tourists looking to cool off while in town will mostly head to Ellery Big Hole in the West MacDonnell Ranges. While Ellery is one of the most Instagrammable waterholes, if you really want to get off the beaten track, head to Serpentine Gorge and Chalet. These gorges are often overlooked by travellers, purely because they don’t know about them.
Spot a Cassowary patrolling Etty Bay in Tropical Northern Queensland: In case you weren’t able to stop in at Mission Beach to catch a glimpse of the local cassowaries, be sure to take the 15-minute detour from Innisfail to Etty Bay – a rainforest-enclosed beach on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef. Schedule this stop for the early morning or late afternoon as that is when the Cassowaries and their chicks patrol the beach. If you don’t spot one, at least you’ve stopped in at the perfect spot for a quick dip!
Opt for laid-back and uncrowded at Town of 1770: Take a detour to Seventeen Seventy (known as The Town of 1770), gaining its name from the historic landing site of James Cook and the crew of the Endeavour in May 1770. This picturesque seaside village is surrounded on three sides by the Coral Sea and Bustard Bay, where you can enjoy stand up paddle boarding, fishing and swimming in calm waters, or even take a walk along the extensive boardwalk and grassed picnic areas.
Hidden oasis on the south coast: At the southernmost tip of Queensland, make your way to Springbrook National Park, where you can find spectacular waterfalls, lush rainforest, ancient trees and amazing viewpoints. Part of the Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area, the national park also features the Natural Bridge, a rock formation with a truly unique waterfall that can be accessed after a 1km walking trail. If you’re a regular visitor to the Gold Coast, chances are you’ve heard of the Currumbin Rock Pools however travel to the very end of Currumbin Creek Road and you’ll find the bush oasis that is Cougal Cascades. These mountain rock pools are one of the Coast’s most spectacular places to cool off and as you walk the track to them, keep a look out for the land mullet, the world’s largest skink.
Outback Queensland’s dinosaur footprints: Drive south-west of Winton to Lark Quarry Conservation Park, where you can find 3,300 giant stone dinosaur footprints. It is the world’s only recorded evidence of a dinosaur stampede, and features ancient mesas, gullies and broken escarpments. Jurassic Park fans, prepare to step back in time on the guided Australian Age of Dinosaurs tour – just be sure to book at least one hour ahead!
Drive South to Mount Gambier: the city of cenotes: Whilst Mexico is well known for their cenotes, you can also find them right here in Australia. Head down to Mount Gambier along South Australia’s limestone coast and find the Umpherston Sinkhole, also known as The Sunken Garden, whose beauty has to be seen to be believed. Other notable ‘sinkholes’ include Hell’s Holes, Caroline Sinkhole and Kilsby Sinkhole. More than just holes in the ground, these plunging gardens and aquatic formations each have their own distinctive features and plant life. Also explore remnants of a volcanic past of caves and crystal crater lakes including the aptly named Blue Lake, which turns cobalt blue in the summer months.
Go underground along the Stuart Highway: If you’re after a one-of-a-kind outback experience, head to what may be Australia’s most unusual town: Coober Pedy. With much of the town built underground, you’ll find many attractions hidden under the hot surface of the South Australian desert, including local homes (some have even been used as movie sets), an opal museum, a Serbian church and even the Desert Caves Hotel. There’s plenty to discover above ground, too, such as the vivid colours of Painted Desert!
Hike to the hidden Walls of Jerusalem: If you’re planning a road trip to the famous Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, keen hikers can schedule a stop to hike the Walls of Jerusalem National Park. While you can do a day walk into the area, most hikers opt to camp for a night or two. Part of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, the park contains alpine forests amid a high plateau of peaks and a dramatic landscape of high country tarns, lakes and glacially formed moraines. As the park is exposed to the extremes of Tasmania’s changeable weather and has no road access or casual visitor facilities, visitors are advised to be well-equipped with everything they need to be self-sufficient.
Detour of the Great Eastern Drive for mouth-watering quality produce: Along the scenic coastal drive from Orford to Swansea toward Freycinet Peninsula, drop into Kate’s Berry Farm and pick up a punnet of fresh locally picked berries and famous chocolates. Alternatively, stop for a coffee and treat at Kate’s Just Desserts & Cafe, which overlooks rows of berries and breathtaking views across Great Oyster Bay, before heading over to one of the local wineries, such as Milton Vineyard, for its signature Pinot Noir and Riesling.
Head to the High Country town of Myrtleford: In the small town of Myrtleford is Coffee Chakra, the owners and staff pride themselves on their menu with an Indian inspiration and authentic Chai that’s brewed onsite. Stop in on your tour of the Great Alpine Road and discover a village brimming with life where you can sample fresh local produce, visit cellar doors and delve into the region’s gold mining history, all with a dramatic backdrop of the banks of the Ovens River, Mount Buffalo and the Alps.
Victoria’s Wild West’s Silo Art trail: Follow the trail of Australian Silo Art in the Wimmera-Malle region. With over 36 painted silos located throughout the region, the trail weaves through a number of quaint regional villages and scenic driving routes between the towns of Rochester, Tongala, Shepparton and Benalla.
Detour just off the Great Ocean Road for a long dormant volcano: Detour off the coast to find Budj Bim National Park, whose tranquil crater lake and nature trails around the older crater rim and bushland make it a great place for picnicking and bushwalking. This UNESCO World Heritage Listed also contains evidence of an aquaculture and stone dwellings built by the Gunditjmara people over 6,600 years ago.
Get a taste of South America of the Hume Highway: For those heading from Melbourne to Sydney or vice versa, the Sydney-Melbourne Heritage Drive takes you to historic towns built on the riches of 19th-century gold rushes, ports where paddle steamers dock and Australia’s capital city. But for those looking for a unique detour can head out to Strathmerton. This small town is located where the Goulburn Valley and Murray Valley Highway cross paths and is also home to prickly passion that has grown into a worldwide sensation. Cactus Country draws visitors from around the globe to explore the gardens with more than 4,000 species of cacti and succulents make for an unforgettable trip, with eight garden paths to explore and plenty to see and do for all ages.
Midwest Region’s Gnomesville: If you’re going past Bunbury, take a detour to Gnomesville and see the community-driven gnome village – home to over five thousand inhabitants! Known to locals as the quirkiest pit stop in Western Australia, it’s well worth the stop to experience. Not many people know, but you can also bring your own gnome and add it to the collection.
Goldfields-Esperance Region: Australia is known for its impressive ocean waves, but there’s also an unexpected photo opportunity in the small town of Hyden, called Wave Rock. It’s a natural multi-coloured granite cliff, standing at 15 metres high and 110 metres long, that started to form more than 2,700 million years ago and looks like a wave about to break. It might be a little out of your way, but it’s well worth the photo standing under ‘the break’.