4WD Adventures: 10 of the best 4WD Touring Trips to do in Australia
Having a 4WD opens up a new world of adventure in Australia's great outdoors. As well as being built to handle almost any kind of conditions and having the ability to tow boats and caravans, 4WD's are a passport to some of Australia's most spectacular natural hiking, fishing and camping wilderness that the ordinary passenger vehicle just can't access.
Before tackling 'the big dogs' of 4WDing - like the Canning Stock Route, Binns Track, Cape York Track, Hay River or the Gunbarrel Highway - the majority of the following 10 suggested 4WD adventures are ideal for cutting your teeth on without compromising the safety of you and your family, offering that special taste of the freedom that only a well-planned 4WD trip can give you.
Tasmania's East Coast
For many people, choosing between the east or west coast of Tasmania for a 4WD trip is like being asked to choose a favourite child. However, for people new to camping and offroad driving, the east coast is the perfect place to start.
Beginning in Hobart and heading northwards, start with a leisurely drive to Maria Island. Continue on northwards to Little Swanport, Swansea, before getting to Freycinet National Park and the iconic Wineglass Bay. Bicheno is your gateway to either the Douglas-Apsley National Park, or Ben Lomond National Park is a little further inland to the east, although there's no reason why you can't do both. Next up is Scamander and then wrap up your journey in St Helens and Pyengana Valley.
The cultural and historic experiences and the gastronomic delights of the east coast are simply amazing, which accounts for the region's popularity with tourists. There are unforgettable luxury lodgings to enjoy along the way as well, contrasting nicely with the rustic camping and off-roading experiences you can enjoy at Maria Island and the National Parks, particularly Coles Bay in Freycinet. Take your time and always have your camera ready to get the most out of your 4WD trip.
The Legendary Pacific Coast Drive, as it's known, stretches an impressive 900 kilometres between Sydney and Brisbane.
Taking in the Central Coast of greater Sydney and NSW, the Pacific Coast tour also features the Hunter Valley region, Port Stephens, Newcastle, Coffs Harbour, Ballina and Byron Bay. Cross the border at Tweed Heads into Queensland and your route takes in the Gold Coast and surrounding hinterlands, as well as Brisbane.
The route is perfect for exploring the central part of Australia's glorious east coast. It blends the Pacific Motorway with detours to National Parks and their lush hinterlands, coastal villages and towns, as well as world-famous surfing beaches and kitschy, photo-friendly tourist attractions such as The Big Banana in Coffs Harbour.
Gibb River Road
This touring trip takes you through the heart of the Kimberley region of Western Australia. Stretching from Derby to Wyndham, the Gibb River Road is filled with secluded swimming holes, fresh water gorges and waterfalls like Bell Gorge and Mitchell Plateau. There are also picture-postcard outback landscapes, sprawling cattle stations and sacred Indigenous sites and rock art to explore at Mowanjum Aboriginal Art and Cultural Centre.
A large chunk of the GIbb River Road is corrugated track and, due to the popularity of this iconic 4WD experience, it can be very busy across the peak months of May through to September. April and October are options for experienced off-road and 4X4 drivers only, as well as during the rainy season between December and March (check for road closures).
Stretching 660 kilometres, Gibb River Road is generally a fantastic road trip for 4X4 drivers of all experience levels.
A tour of the Nullarbor provides a quintessential 4WD adventure, and the ideal challenge for 4WD beginners.
Stretching more than 1250 kilometres from South Australia's Eyre Peninsula to the Western Australian goldfields, the Nullarbor combines virtually barren, treeless plains with the spectacular ocean sights of the Great Australian Bight. It is home to iconic Australian natural wildlife - like kangaroos, emus and birds - the ruins of the Eucla Telegraph Station and the golfing world's longest course, among many attractions.
Additionally, there's no shortage of interesting locals to meet at one of the roadhouses dotted along the Nullarbor. Pitching a tent under the stars at the end of the day will remind you why 4WD camping is one of life's simple pleasures.
The Nullarbor is a sealed highway but it's very remote, so there are no ifs or buts about it: carrying additional water and fuel supplies in your pack is essential.
Perth to Ningaloo
Western Australia is blessed with some of the most unique natural landscapes in the country, so it's no surprise that many of the best 4WD adventures for beginners are to be found on the west coast.
The Perth to Ningaloo road trip is a touch under 1200 kilometres in length, and it is so chock-full of places to experience and things to do that you can easily make it a two-week long round-trip in your 4WD.
Commencing in Perth, this drive takes Cervantes, Geraldton, Monkey Mia, Carnarvon and Exmouth into its itinerary, as well as breathtaking locations such as the Pinnacles Desert and World Heritage Shark Bay for swimming with dolphins, plus guided snorkelling with manta rays and whale sharks at Coral Bay and Ningaloo Reef.
As well as camping on white-sand beaches or well-appointed caravan and camping grounds along the way, there are also the gorges of Kalbarri National Park to drain your camera's battery power and fill your social media streams with awe-inspiring imagery.
Drivers familiar with the roads from Perth to Ningaloo recommend stocking up on supplies before you reach Carnarvon because of supply issues that can affect stores further north. Only drive during daylight hours because the chance of colliding with wildlife is highly likely at night.
A nice follow-up tour from the Pacific Coast Drive, Rainbow Beach on Queensland's Sunshine Coast is worth the three-hour/230-kilometre drive from Brisbane. Plus, Rainbow Beach and its surrounds provides some great off-roading tracks for beginners at Great Sandy National Park, Toolara State Forest, Teewah Beach, Fraser Island and nearby Double Island at low tide.
As well as the off-roading, Rainbow Bay and the Inskip Peninsula are excellent places for family beachside camping. There is kayaking, paddle-boarding, fishing and whale-watching, or the whole gang can charter a deep-sea fishing boat and feed dolphins. For swimming, you can enjoy both a surf beach and stillwater tidal bay, side-by-side, no wider than 500 metres in most parts. Starry, starry skies will give you something to marvel at when the sun goes down.
Victorian High Country
Around two-to-three hours from Melbourne is the famed Victorian High Country, considered by many aficionados to be among the best off-road and camping experiences in Australia, let alone Victoria.
In the warmer months, The Alpine National Park comes into its own with amazing hikes and walking treks like the Razorback Trail, Bogong High Plains and Mount Buller, mountain biking at Mount Buffalo and camping at Lake Catani. There's also some amazing trout fishing at a number of sites such as Lake Dartmouth, Lake Eildon and the Jamieson and Goulburn Rivers.
Completing a 4WD driving course is recommended before setting out to explore the more extreme High Country tracks. Safely negotiating many of the tracks in the area requires skill behind the wheel, and don't forget to pack a range of recovery equipment. Many of the tracks in the area are steep and can become slippery after rain — even in the warmer months — so a vehicle with low range is required. Experts recommend, if you stick to the main tracks and fire trails, the High Country can be enjoyed by drivers with basic skills in stock 4X4s.
Red Centre Way
Red Centre Way is a classic 4WD adventure road trip. Covering an 1140km loop beginning and ending in Alice Springs, it's the quintessential Australian outback road trip that gives you and the family the chance to explore the MacDonnell Ranges and Watarrka National Park (Kings Canyon), as well as the showstoppers of Uluru (Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjuta (The Olgas).
This route incorporates spectacular walking tracks and rockpools for cooling off after a day in the fierce Alice Springs heat; not to mention some awe-inspiring scenery and camping areas. You'll need permits to enter various locations along the way, and make sure you set the alarm to watch the sun rise on Uluru.
An important part of enjoying Alice Springs and the Red Centre Way is respecting the traditional owners of the land. There are many sights and locations on this route that hold spiritual significance. Always look for signage to indicate whether photography is allowed and, if in doubt, ask before snapping away.
The Birdsville Track
Established as a cattle route, there are two tracks that make up the famed Birdsville Track: the Inside Track follows the original stock path, while the Outside Track — created by travellers as a safer route — avoids the Diamantina floodplain.
The track surface is primarily a stony track with large pebbles and sand. While it's not a particularly difficult surface to drive on, sudden braking can get you into a bit of trouble, as the larger pebbles don't offer a lot of traction. Cattle grids, wandering livestock, emus and kangaroos also add to the list of potential hazards.
Fans of the trip recommend watching the sun rising over the Birdsville Billabong, a visit to Lake Harry Ruins, the Burke & Wills Tree and a drive up the Big Red Sand Dune.
Birdsville Caravan Park, Clayton Station, Maree Caravan and Campers Park, as well as the numerous bush camps along the route, provide sensational camping and accommodation options for families and, if you're there in September, the annual Birdsville Races attracts punters from across Australia for an on-track flutter and social festivities.
The Big Lap
It's the Big Kahuna of 4WD touring adventures in Australia: The Big Lap. As the name suggests, it's literally circumnavigating the Australian mainland, mostly following the coastline but, you're in a 4WD, so your only restrictions (up to a point) are time, torque, fuel and off-roading experience.
Speaking of which, The Big Lap probably isn't for bona-fide novices. This is definitely one 4WD adventure for which you will need some experience behind the wheel of an off-roader, or, at the very least, invested in a 4WD driving course (and a towing course, if you're towing a caravan).
The Big Lap takes in 14,500 kilometres of Highway 1, which takes you through all of the capital cities of Australia, as well as the spiritual home of off-roading - Cairns, Broome, Esperance and the Nullarbor Plain. You get to explore coastal towns and beaches that are the envy of the world, century-old rainforests and National Parks, the iconic red sand and dust, and secluded waterholes of the Top End in the one continuous road trip.