Even a short weekend road trip can leave you feeling refreshed for the months ahead. Here are 12 of Australia’s best weekend road trip destinations to inspire you from our special 100 Amazing Road Trips around Australia series.
Weekend road trips
- Sydney to Wolgan Valley, NSW
- The Grampians, Vic
- Kangaroo Island, SA
- Phillip Island, Vic
- Darwin to Katherine, NT
- Sunshine Coast, Qld
- West Coast, Tas
- Daylesford & Macedon Ranges, Vic
- Southern Highlands, NSW
- Canberra museum road trip, ACT
- Lithgow round trip, NSW
- Canberra to Sapphire Coast
43. Sydney to Wolgan Valley, NSW
Charting a course to the dramatic surrounds of the Greater Blue Mountains more often than not sees drivers ascending the hazy, undulating forms that dominate the Sydney horizon via the Great Western Highway, which weaves like a ribbon this way and that through thick bushland and enveloping mists. But taking the road (slightly) less travelled offers equal drama and diversions to fill a few hours or a few days (full disclosure: this is one of my favourite drives anywhere in the country).
Leave the city behind and take a journey into the wild, wild west in the Blue Mountains.
The journey out of Sydney tracks along the highway past Parramatta, before heading north-west towards the historic towns of Windsor and Richmond, where the picture-postcard appeal of this road trip really starts along the Bells Line of Road.
Cruise along the winding Bells Line Road as you head into to the Blue mountains, (Image: Destination NSW)
Windsor is worth being your first stop on the journey, sitting idyllically as it does on a wide expanse of the Hawkesbury River and boasting delightful Georgian houses to admire, gentle riverside walks and even a patch of ‘beach’ on the riverbank that locals treat with as much reverence as if it was Bondi Beach itself.
Search out the heritage-listed St Matthew’s Anglican Church on Moses Street to see a fine example of early colonial architecture, designed by Francis Greenway and constructed using convict labour (many of whom left their initials in the red bricks), and pick through the graves to find those of First Fleet surgeon Thomas Arndell and William Cox, who built the road over the Blue Mountains.
Heading out of Windsor past the green stretch of the local polo club, the road starts to climb through towns and trees. If you didn’t grab a coffee in Windsor, Kurrajong (less than 30 minutes’ drive away) presents itself as the perfect destination for morning tea, with its modest main street lined with boutiques and cafes, including The Village Kitchen, which offers expansive mountain views from its wide deck.
Meander around the charming boutiques of Kurrajong Village (Image: Destination NSW)
From Kurrajong, the Bells Line of Road continues through Kurrajong Heights until it reaches the charming town of Bilpin, which suffered the hardships of the Black Summer bushfires of 2019–20; the defiant green regrowth crowding charcoal-black tree trunks is a poignant visual reminder that the area is still in a stage of recovery.
This is apple country, and the chance to pick your own straight from the tree is a thrill in our over-homogenised times. Load up on fruit at Shields Orchard and then head down the road to Hillbilly Cider to taste what becomes of its trademarked Julie apple, in the form of Sweet Julie cider (the perfect accompaniment to Hillbilly’s wood-fired pizzas for lunch).
Kick back with an orchard-to-glass refreshment at Hilbilly Cider. (Image: Destination NSW)
As the morning transitions into afternoon, a stop at The Blue Mountains Botanic Garden at Mt Tomah should be prioritised for the return journey to give it due attention. Continuing along a mountain ridge that affords jaw-dropping views out to plunging valleys shrouded in thick bush, the descent into Lithgow indicates you are inching closer to your final, dazzling destination.
The heritage listed Garden Estate of Breenhold (near Mt Tomah) comes alive in autumn. (Image: Destination NSW)
It takes about 45 minutes from Lithgow to be delivered into the jaw-on-the-floor magnificence of the Wolgan Valley, home to Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley (full disclosure: this is one of my favourite resorts anywhere in the world). Having achieved internationally accredited carbon-neutral status upon opening in 2009, the resort is a blissful union of considered luxury and exacting sustainability that is the perfect exclamation point on a journey of discovery and drama.
Combine luxury with eco-friendliness with an unforgettable stay at One&Only Wolgan Valley. (Image: Destination NSW)
Words by Leigh-Ann Pow
44. The Grampians, Vic
To make this trip a truly green one, hire an electric vehicle in Melbourne before driving 90 minutes on the Western Freeway to reach Ballarat. Stop for Seven Seeds coffee at Hydrant Food Hall, one of the best places to eat in Ballarat, then continue north-west towards the Grampians (Gariwerd). Got ‘range anxiety’? Ararat’s many charging stations have got you covered.
A sample of the delicious fare available at Hydrant Food Hall.
Drive slowly and watch for roos when you reach the hiking hub of Halls Gap. Hit the ground running and tackle the 90-minute ascent to The Pinnacle lookout from the Wonderland car park. Staggering views await. Unwind at dusk with a locally brewed ale at Paper Scissors Rock Brew Co.
The next day, drive to meditative MacKenzie Falls (Mikunung wira) for a cruisey morning walk infused with birdsong. Next, don your hiking boots and drive north to the less-visited Hollow Mountain (Wudjub-guyan) Walk, where scrambling up rocky terrain will test your fitness.
Take an adventurous climb to the summit of Hollow Mountain. (Image: Visit Victoria)
Before driving home, stop at Mt William (Duwil) car park to take on the steep ascent to the highest point in the Grampians National Park. After a 50-minute slog, you’ll be rewarded with panoramas worth sweating for.
655-kilometre round trip
Book a private room at the award-winning Grampians Eco YHA in Halls Gap. Rainwater tanks, grey-water recycling, solar hot water, a compost system and herb garden make for a low-impact stay.
After a day hiking, get toasty by the wood-fired heaters. In the morning, use the communal kitchen to cook eggs fresh from the resident chickens.
You can also enjoy an eco-conscious stay at the Royal Mail Hotel in Dunkeld (pictured below), known for its fine diner, Wickens.
Sleep and dine among a breathtaking backdrop at the Royal Mail Hotel, Dunkeld. (Image: emilyweaving.com)
Words by Jo Stewart
45. Kangaroo Island, SA
Kangaroo Island is not short on scenic routes: 1600 kilometres of sealed and unsealed roads link its towns and beauty spots and meandering along them at your own pace is the best way to explore this South Australian gem. Start the journey on the mainland by catching the SeaLink vehicle ferry from Cape Jervis or hire a car on arrival.
Trace the captivating coast on Kangaroo Island. (Image: South Australian Tourism Commission)
Take your pick of one of Lifetime Private Retreats’ geographically blessed beach houses.
46. The Phillip Island Touring Route, Vic
The Phillip Island Touring Route is the perfect weekend itinerary for exploring this perennially popular island escape, located within easy striking distance of Melbourne. While the 297-kilometre round trip from the Victorian capital is achievable in a day, that’s not going to afford nearly enough time to while away an hour or two (or three) dining one of the many great places to eat on Phillip Island, including lunching on local produce at The Cape Kitchen at Newhaven or the plant-based menu at Island Whole Foods in Cowes, sampling the wares at Phillip Island Brewing Co. and browsing the stylish homewares at The Yards at Phillip Island Winery.
Start your day at Cape Kitchen with a serving of their fluffy ricotta and buttermilk hotcakes.
Five Acres’ luxury cabins offer up rustic chic and a restive vibe.
Kick back surrounded by exquisite craftmanship with a luxury farm stay at Five Acres.
47. Darwin to Katherine, NT
Freedom. The warmth of the sun. Wild waterholes. The expectation has me belting up early for the adventure from Darwin to Katherine. At the one-hour mark I can’t help nipping off the Stuart Highway for a dip at Litchfield National Park’s Florence Falls.
Florence Falls offer a refreshing respite from the North Australian heat. (Image: Tourism NT/Lucy Ewing)
Hair sopping, I roll the windows down and, by the time I pull into Adelaide River’s general store, my blow-dry is complete. I enjoy a homemade veggie pie (worth the trip alone) and cruise for another hour past plains pockmarked with termite mounds to historic Pine Creek.
At the Lazy Lizard Tavern, I admire the mud-brick walls (from local termite mounds) while sipping a lemon, lime and bitters. Next stop is Leliyn (Edith Falls) with its beguiling natural pools, which have hypnotised many an ‘overnight camper’ into not pulling up tent pegs for days. But not this old girl. Post-swim, I swish the last hour down the track towards my ultimate destination – Katherine Hot Springs.
Experience iconic Australia and hit the open road around world-renown Katherine. (Image: Tourism NT/Let’s Escape Together)
Eco-friendly Cicada Lodge blends in with its khaki-clad surrounds.
Words by Leah McLennan
48. The Sunshine Coast, Qld
The Sunshine Coast, on the Traditional Lands of the Kabi Kabi and Jinibara peoples, is one of the best places in Australia to enjoy winter sun. And while most road-trippers are drawn here for its epic surf breaks and beautiful beaches, the Sunshine Coast also extends into the rural hinterland, a brilliant emerald bangle of everglades, valleys and undulating hills. But first, let’s get back to those beaches. If you want to see the Sunny Coast with all its bells and whistles, head to the glamorous seaside town of Noosa.
The Sunshine Coast is a school-holiday favourite for a reason. (Image: Tourism Events Queensland)
But if you’re after something altogether more lo-fi, change down a few gears and motor to family-friendly Kings Beach in Caloundra, or Coolum, which promises barefoot boho vibes.
Cruise along the coastline between Caloundra and Noosa, before doing a brief inland loop to Rainbow Beach. Circle your way back through Gympie and the scenic Mary Valley and then retreat to the hinterland to explore a constellation of quaint country towns such as Maleny, Mapleton, Eumundi, Yandina and Nambour.
Stroll along the Golden sands of King’s Beach (Tourism and Events Queensland)
Commit to conscious travel by hiring an ecoTekk electric bike and motoring along the Sunshine Coast Coastal Pathway or visiting Big Heart Bamboo, a sustainable producer of bamboo shoots.
It takes roughly two hours to drive the 166.8 kilometres from Caloundra to Rainbow Beach and a further 162 kilometres on a return loop through the hinterland.
In HOLA boutique hotel, the new kid on the block in hippie-chic Eumundi or at the retro-cool Loea Boutique Hotel in Maroochydore.
It’s the little details that make for a memorable stay at HOLA boutique hotel.
Words by Carla Grossetti
49. Tasmania’s West Coast
This place, where fragile rainforest exists alongside mining’s messes, is in the throes of reinvention. Give yourself only a day in Queenstown and you’ll drive away wishing you’d made more time for mountain-biking, a Roam Wild tour, lunch at Linda Cafe, a rainforest hike, dinner at the Empire, a film at the Paragon Theatre or a bed at Penghana B&B.
The forests around Queenstown provide ample opportunity for hiking, biking and exploring. (Image: Jason Charles Hill)
From Queenie, head north to Zeehan and bike or hike Spray Tunnel Loop. Further north, you’re nearly at Corinna when you hit that silica road, made from tailings. Stay in a cottage on the banks of the Pieman River near takayna/the Tarkine. The next day, take a small-boat sunrise cruise or hire a kayak.
Set off on the serene waters of The Pieman to catch an early morning sunrise. (Image: Places We Go)
Queenstown to Corinna via Zeehan is 86 kilometres.
Words by Elspeth Callender
50. Daylesford and Macedon Ranges, Vic
If your idea of bliss is a night in watching Antiques Roadshow, then a road trip through Victoria’s delightful Daylesford and Macedon Ranges region will get your blood pumping.
Take a journey through the Daylesford and Macedon Ranges region, home to the famous ‘Hanging Rock’ (Image: Visit Victoria)
From Melbourne, hit the Calder Freeway and in 90 minutes you’ll be in the thick of Daylesford’s renowned vintage shopping scene. On Vincent Street, Brick Lane Bazaar is filled with movie memorabilia and old-school toys, while Found stocks rustic bits and bobs befitting a French farmhouse.
Just outside the town centre, the supersized Mill Market is a dream destination for crate-diggers and collectors. Brimming with retro milk-bar signage, mid-century barware, West German pottery and crate after crate of vinyl records, set aside a few hours (OK, half a day) to complete your mission.
Overnight in true vintage style at The White House, an 1850s miner’s cottage adorned with antique curios. There’s even a dreamy library complete with 1930s leather club chairs. Sigh.
The White House is a design lover’s dream. (Image: Lean Timms)
The following day, drive the bush-fringed road to Kyneton, home to the gold-rush-era Royal George Hotel. Inside this long-standing pub you’ll find Kabinett collectibles for all your timeless homewares needs. Upstairs, the lush Botanik Bar balcony is an inspired spot for a cheeky vino.
Explore a quaint curation of homewares old and new, at Kabinett Kyneton.
Nearby, lose yourself in Long Story Short’s strong collection of obscure pop-culture finds and Red Cart Vintage’s assortment of one-of-a-kind objects and oddities.
Before leaving, pick up buttery pastries at Grist Artisan Bakers, found in the historic Steam Mill. Drive home with a belly full of carbs and car boot crammed with vintage stash – signs of a weekend well spent.
231-kilometre round trip
Words by Jo Stewart
51. Southern Highlands, NSW
Not that anyone needs an excuse to head to NSW’s Southern Highlands – its constellation of pretty towns and villages connected by picture-perfect countryside make it prime road-trip territory from both Sydney and Canberra, wedged as it is between the two cities.
Absorb the splendour of the Southern Highlands scenery on this picture-perfect drive. (Image: Destination NSW)
But the area’s first regional art gallery is now providing extra incentive. Ngununggula is a state-of-the-art cultural space spearheaded by Archibald-winning artist Ben Quilty and located in a transformed old dairy building at Bowral’s Retford Park.
Experience exquisite art and culture at the heart of the Highlands, at
Ngununggula Regional Gallery. (Image: Zan Wimberly)
Its name means ‘belonging’ in the traditional language of the Gundungurra First Nations people and the calibre of exhibitions is high: John Olsen: Goya’s Dog is on display until 15 May; brothers Abdul-Rahman and Abdul Abdullah present work alongside acclaimed artist Tracey Moffatt AO in Land Abounds (28 May – 24 July); and expect bold colour palettes in Ken Done + Rosie Deacon (6 August – 9 October).
121 kilometres from Sydney; 178 kilometres from Canberra.
Another new reason to hop in the car and head here is Bundanoon’s luxury boutique hotel Osborn House.
52. Canberra museum road trip, ACT
The most culturally enriching road trip on offer in Australia is one that takes you around our very own capital city, laden as it is with world-class museums and galleries that are all easily accessed via its wide, uncongested roads.
Immerse yourself in Canberra’s many opportunities to explore Australian culture and art.
National Gallery of Australia & National Portrait Gallery
Start at the National Gallery of Australia on Parkes Place for a roam around rooms filled with everything from abstract masterworks to the affecting Aboriginal Memorial at its entrance (the National Portrait Gallery is a three-minute walk from the NGA so leave the car where it is for this).
The Aboriginal Memorial is a powerful installation that commemorates First Nations history.
National Museum of Australia
Next, head to the National Museum of Australia (six minutes’ drive along Parkes Way) to wonder at Cadel Evans’ bike, the 1866 Melbourne Cup and civil rights campaigner Faith Bandler’s gloves among (lots of) other things.
The CSIRO Discovery Centre & National Dinosaur Museum
The CSIRO Discovery Centre is a five-minute drive from the museum via Clunies Ross Street, with an extra shot of science served up at the National Dinosaur Museum, 14 minutes away in Gold Creek Village.
Australian War Memorial
After that, it’s 18 minutes to get to the Australian War Memorial (via Barton Highway). And if you can squeeze it in, Calthorpes’ House in Red Hill (off Mugga Way) is a hidden gem: a historic house that recreates 1920s life with the Calthorpe family.
Midnight Hotel has streamlined interiors, a stylish indoor pool and a hip hood locale in Braddon; East Hotel is a vibrant spot close to the cultural action.
Enjoy a stylish stay in Australia’s capital city.
53. Lithgow round trip, NSW
While the NSW Central Tablelands town of Lithgow might seem like a road trip in its own right given it takes two hours to wind up and down the Blue Mountains to get there from Sydney, we’re suggesting that you use it as a starting-off point from which to explore a wide circle of dramatic countryside and unique experiences.
Before hitting the road, take the time to look around the historic former industrial town including the charming Hoskins Church and the Lithgow Small Arms Factory Museum.
Exploration done, chart a course west for 46 kilometres, bound for Capertee Valley, the world’s second largest canyon, where the breathtaking scenery is best appreciated from one of Bubbletent Australia’s see-through igloos.
Embrace the beauty of the Capertee Valley with panoramic views over the valley. (Image: Bubbletent Australia)
The next day, backtrack through Portland to see its vintage streetscape and Insta-worthy painted silos, before continuing another 80 kilometres on to Oberon, with its delightful small-town vibe and boho luxe accommodation in the form of the glamping tents pitched within the manicured, flower-strewn grounds of the must-visit Mayfield Gardens.
Embrace strolling (and glamping) the delightful grounds of Mayfield Garden.(Image: DNSW)
54. Canberra to Sapphire Coast
The inland route from Canberra to the Sapphire Coast is short, sweet and supremely rewarding; in just three hours you’ll roll, windows down, from the heart of the capital through NSW’s high country before meeting the brilliant blues of the Pacific Ocean.
Then take your time exploring the coast’s string of pearls: laid-back Merimbula with its reimagined 1970s motel (Hillcrest) and destination diner (Valentina); timeless Tathra with its iconic wharf and vibrant pub offering restored heritage rooms to sleep in; and beautiful Bermagui with its famous Blue Pool.
Wind down at the Wharf in the historic coastal town of Tathra. (Image: Destination NSW)
From here, loop back to Canberra the coastal way via jewel-like Narooma with its flush of properties being snapped up by Merivale; vibrant Batemans Bay at the heart of Australia’s Oyster Coast; and, leaving the ocean in the rear-view mirror, the pretty truffle town of Braidwood.
Dine on fresh oysters along the Sapphire Coast. (Image: DNSW)
571 kilometres round trip