Drive time: Great summer road trips

Jump behind the wheel to discover some of our most exhilarating destinations.

There’s nothing more Australian than hitting the wide open road in summer. What’s not to love about strapping a surfboard (or surf ski or tinnie or any other toy) to the roof racks, cranking up the stereo, winding down the windows and letting the warm breeze fill your hair as you head towards adventures unknown?

For some, a road trip is all about the destination. But we reckon there’s nothing wrong with taking time to enjoy the journey.

Here are a few drives so packed with diversions and drawcards that you might have to pull over more than once. 

The epic Nullarbor crossing

So you’re crossing the Nullarbor in summer and friends think you’re crazy? This quintessentially Australian road trip requires extra preparation: make sure you’re carrying sufficient water, food and fuel at all times.

There’s also a special camaraderie among those embarking on this long-haul drive (2700 kilometres from Adelaide to Perth), so make time for a leisurely chat with others at the roadhouses along the way.

Desert surprises

Check out the historic jetty and slurp a few oysters at Ceduna, the gateway to the Nullarbor Plain. Most first-time Nullarbor road-trippers can’t resist stopping for a corny photo at the SA-WA border. At Eucla, turn off the highway to find the Old Telegraph Station ruins. It’s also worth seeing the dramatic Baxter Cliffs near Cocklebiddy

In the historic gold mining town of Norseman, drive up Beacon Hill for a panoramic view. Consider an overnight stop in Kalgoorlie to make the detour to Lake Ballard, home to one of the world’s most striking art installations: sculptor Antony Gormley’s 51 steel figures are installed over 10 square kilometres of dazzlingly white salt pan.

Western Australia’s South West

It takes about three hours to drive from Perth to Margaret River – but why rush?

Coastal delights

Mandurah’s estuary and canals are home to a population of up to 100 bottlenose dolphins. Cruise or kayak among them, or hire a boat and go crabbing (blue swimmer crabs are plentiful in summer). At Bunbury, swim with wild dolphins in Koombana Bay through the Dolphin Discovery Centre.

Busselton is famous for its 1.8km jetty – the Southern Hemisphere’s longest timber-piled jetty. In Margaret River, check out the region’s founding vineyard, Vasse Felix, as well as more boutique operations such as McHenry Hohnen. From Margaret River, it’s another 3.5 hours’ drive to Denmark. Walk around and through the famously large red tingle trees in the Valley of the Giants or head up onto the treetop walk.

South Australia’s Barossa

If your idea of a great road trip is one filled with fabulous food and wine, point your wheels towards the Barossa Valley. Head to the Barossa Farmers Market within an atmospheric vintner’s shed in Angaston early on a Saturday to stock up with the region’s best produce.

A touch of royalty

Visit cellar doors such as Seppeltsfield, which launched a new range of experiences when Prince Charles and Camilla dropped by in November. Visitors can taste wines made in the same years as major events such as the sinking of the Titanic (1912), the start of World War I (1914) and the Moon landing (1969).

Stay overnight at a luxury property such as The Louise or Kingsford Homestead where you can dine in-house.

Fleurieu Peninsula and Kangaroo Island

It takes less than an hour to drive from Adelaide to Port Willunga – home to one of the state’s best positioned restaurants. Star of Greece crowns a clifftop, offering diners a glorious view over the Gulf St Vincent.

Beach beauty

Go beachcombing or visit cellar doors in nearby McLaren Vale before continuing down the Fleurieu Peninsula. At Cape Jervis, take the car ferry across to Kangaroo Island and explore Australia’s answer to the renowned Galapagos Islands at leisure.

See a breeding colony of sea lions at Seal Bay and watch the island’s kangaroos and cute Tammar wallabies grazing at dusk and dawn.

Preparing for a road trip

Every summer you see them – cars pulled over and drivers struggling with problems such as an overheating engine. To avoid becoming one of these unhappy motorists sitting by the road with the bonnet up, invest a little time in preparing your vehicle for the trip.

It takes only a few minutes to check your levels of engine oil, radiator coolant and windscreen-washing fluid. Examine the tyres for sufficient tread and pressure (including the spare) and know how to work the tyre jack. All of this is basic maintenance and preparation. For complete peace of mind, take your car to a mechanic for a thorough pre-trip check-up.