The out-of-town­ers

Ditch the usual high­ways and by­ways for un­told road trips that prom­ise as much fun get­ting lost as they do find­ing your way home

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - Escape - - COVER STORY - Paul Chai

AUS­TRALIANS’ LOVE AF­FAIR with a win­dows-down, tunes-up, gravel-crunch­ing road trip is just as well, given the length and breadth of our coun­try. We live in a land full of the “piti­less blue sky” and “thirsty pad­docks” im­mor­talised in Dorothea Mackel­lar’s My Coun­try (even though we only know the words to the sec­ond stanza).

For me, hitting the bi­tu­men is the per­fect cure for a headache, heartache or sim­ple bore­dom. I just jump in the car with no des­ti­na­tion, no dead­line and the Trif­fids’ Wide Open Road play­ing so loud the car speak­ers crackle and buzz.

The best road trips are those that make you feel like you’re the only per­son in the world, where the sky is all yours. They’re on the back roads and by­ways where ev­ery stop prom­ises dis­cov­ery. Here are some of Aus­tralia’s best offthe-beaten-track places to take a long drive.

QUEENS­LAND

The trip: Townsville to Mount Isa

Drive time: 11 hours 40 min­utes

Sights: An­other epic outback trip, this time from the coast to the min­ing town of Mount Isa. Be sure to visit Mary Kath­leen mine, a ghostly re­minder of how quickly min­ing for­tunes can change – the town was moved af­ter it was shut down in 1982.

The big at­trac­tion here is the harsh-but­beau­ti­ful land­scape, such as the River­sleigh fos­sil site, to­gether with SA’s Nara­coorte, clas­si­fied as a World Her­itage site, dat­ing back more than 20 mil­lion years.

Get more outback for your buck with a de­tour via Longreach, home of the Aus­tralian Stock­man’s Hall of Fame and the birth­place of Qan­tas. “We’re thrilled to be wel­com­ing back visi­tors af­ter be­ing closed for three months,” says Ni­cole Kut­tner, com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ager of the Qan­tas Founders Mu­seum (qfom.com.au). “We want to get back to telling the story of Qan­tas and its mile­stones, from be­ing the first air­line to have fe­male cabin crew to the first round-the-world flight.”

Buckle up for its Lu­mi­nes­cent Long­beach ex­pe­ri­ence, where re­tired planes play host to huge pro­jec­tions – like Syd­ney’s Vivid but for aero­plane buffs.

Back in Townsville, hike the goat track up Cas­tle Hill for a view (fit lo­cals run it in 15 min­utes), jet-ski over the ocean with the craggy outline of Mag­netic Is­land as the back­drop (townsville­wa­ter­sports.com.au) or stay the night at re­vamped Rambu­tan ho­tel with a coastal-chic vibe and rooftop bar (rambu­tan­townsville.com.au).

SOUTH AUS­TRALIA

The trip: Streaky Bay to Port Lin­coln

Drive time: 3 hours 30 min­utes

Sights: This is wild and windswept coast­line along South Aus­tralia’s Eyre Penin­sula. Head past friendly seals play­ing in Baird Bay (baird­bay.com) and per­haps end up shar­ing the chilly South­ern Ocean with a bonechilli­ng great white shark, cage-div­ing with Ca­lypso Star Char­ters (sharkcage­div­ing.com.au).

On the way to visit this apex-preda­tor, stop by the best ta­ble in the world for oys­ter lovers. Just pull on your fetch­ing waders and walk out to a waist-deep wooden perch where you can pluck shell­fish straight from the renowned wa­ters of Cof­fin Bay (oys­ter­farm­tours.com.au). The one-hour ex­pe­ri­ence sees you shuck­ing, eat­ing and learn­ing about the area’s fa­mous bi­valves.

To break up the drive, you can spend a night at Camel Beach House (camel­beach­house.com.au), a wooden cube in­spired by the re­gional fish­er­men’s shacks hid­den among the scrubby sand dunes of Mount Camel Beach. In­side the steel-clad pod, pro­tected from the buf­fet­ing winds, you’ll find an eclec­tic, book-filled liv­ing space with comfy leather couches and a panoramic coastal view.

AUS­TRALIAN CAP­I­TAL TER­RI­TORY

The trip: Can­berra to Blue Range Hut

Drive time: 40 min­utes

Sights: Take a short, fam­ily-friendly drive from the na­tion’s cap­i­tal out to Blue Range Hut to fire up the gas bar­be­cues for lunch, or even stay the night (book­ings es­sen­tial; vis­it­can­berra.com.au).

The Blue Range area is as his­toric as it is beau­ti­ful and was once the site of an in­tern­ment camp that held Ital­ians dur­ing WWII; the hut was the kitchen and there are other her­itage-listed re­mains to ex­plore.

The nearby Uri­arra Loop Walk fol­lows the snaking Mur­rumbidgee River, weav­ing through stands of gi­ant river oaks and past cliffs that over­hang the wa­ter. If you walk to the neigh­bour­ing Mo­lon­glo River and over a low-slung bridge you can see right across to NSW from Shep­herds Look­out.

On the way back to Can­berra, stop in at the kitschy Na­tional Di­nosaur Mu­seum (na­tionaldino­saur­mu­seum.com.au). It may not im­press kids who have seen Juras­sic Park, but it does have one lo-fi jump-scare they won’t see com­ing.

NEW SOUTH WALES

The trip: Syd­ney to Sil­ver­ton

Drive time: 13 hours

Sights: This is an epic red-dirt road trip slic­ing the state in half and swap­ping the

bright lights of the Emer­ald City for Mad Max coun­try. You can head to this outback out­post from Ade­laide or Mil­dura, too, for shorter drive times, but this is one for the road war­riors in all of us.

Pull in at Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo (taronga.org.au), take a de­tour to make like a mole and spend the night in the White Cliffs Un­der­ground Ho­tel (un­der­ground­mo­tel.com.au) or visit the hot mess that is the Palace Ho­tel in Bro­ken Hill. Star of The Ad­ven­tures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, this stately old pub is full of lol­lipop-bright mu­rals by indigenous artist Gor­don Waye.

But the trip high­light is the des­ti­na­tion of Sil­ver­ton, where self-iso­lat­ing is de rigueur. You have to stop for a beer at the Sil­ver­ton Ho­tel (sil­ver­ton­ho­tel.com.au), a wa­ter­ing hole so re­mote that it’s a dar­ling of the sil­ver screen, star­ring in films such as Wake in Fright, Ra­zor­back and Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble II.

“If some­one hasn’t come here, then they haven’t been to the Aus­tralian Outback,” says Peter Price, owner of the Sil­ver­ton Ho­tel.

“The big draw­card over the years is the film­ing. We’ve had over 180 movies and ads filmed here – and we have had the Mad Max 2 Mu­seum for 10 years.”

The lengthy open­ing chase se­quence of Mad Max 2 was shot on the nearby Mundi Mundi plain, where you can see the sun set over 1000km of red sand. And if, like us, you hap­pen to ar­rive at Sil­ver­ton’s Pen­rose Park camp­ground dur­ing a 4WD rally, it can seem like Max and pals never left.

NORTH­ERN TER­RI­TORY

The trip: Darwin to Litch­field Na­tional Park Drive time: 1 hour 20 min­utes

Sights: By all means see Kakadu, but even closer to the Top End’s top town is Litch­field Na­tional Park, a day trip that’s short on drive time and big on natural won­ders.

You need a four-wheel drive, and some of­froad driv­ing skills, to get to Litch­field’s Lost City, but the butt-bounc­ing ride to th­ese sand­stone out­crops is worth it. Mil­len­nia of harsh weather have whit­tled the rocks into a maze of cor­ri­dors and dome-topped tow­ers that look like a man-made mini-me­trop­o­lis.

Wan­der this 500 mil­lion-year-old rocky for­ma­tion long enough and you might even start see­ing the shapes of peo­ple and an­i­mals made by na­ture’s harsh artists, wind and rain.

For a taste of the less-trav­elled Top End swim­ming holes, take a 40-minute trek from the Litch­field car park and you’ll dis­cover the Up­per Cas­cades. Wa­ter­falls have carved out a se­ries of natural baths in the dark-brown rock, just for you to cool off in.

TAS­MA­NIA

The trip: Cra­dle Moun­tain to Mole Creek Drive time: 1 hour 30 min­utes

Sights: Go beyond the wom­bat-cov­ered slopes of Cra­dle Moun­tain to the spi­der-in­fested Mole Creek Caves. Th­ese aren’t just any old arach­nids, but Tas­ma­nian cave spi­ders – din­ner plate-sized, pre­his­toric creep­y­crawlies. They’re so macabre that they at­tracted the at­ten­tion of Bri­tish au­thor Neil Gaiman – known for twisted tales such as Co­ra­line – who made the doc­u­men­tary Six­teen Legs about the spi­ders when he was there.

Visit Trowunna Wildlife Park (trowunna.com.au), a small park ded­i­cated to help­ing save the Tas­ma­nian devil from the fa­cial tu­mour that is blight­ing the lo­cal wildlife; time it right and you can watch them feed on the hind leg of a wal­laby pro­vided by park staff – a grue­some but fas­ci­nat­ing sight.

And stop in for a beer at the Mole Creek Ho­tel (mole­creekho­tel.com.au). It’s do­ing its bit to keep the story of the Tas­ma­nian tiger alive with an ephemera-filled Tassie Tiger front bar and thy­lacine-themed craft beers.

VIC­TO­RIA

The trip: Mel­bourne to the Budj Bim Na­tional Park

Drive time: 3 hours 40 min­utes straight; 6-plus hours via the Great Ocean Road Sights: This road trip to western Vic­to­ria fin­ishes up at Aus­tralia’s new­est World Her­itage site, where the Gun­ditj­mara peo­ple cre­ated a com­plex aqua­cul­ture net­work to farm short-finned eels, or kooyang, nearly 7000 years ago – pre­dat­ing both the Pyra­mids of Giza and Stone­henge. Eileen Al­berts, a Gun­ditj­mara el­der, re­mem­bers be­ing taught to feel for the eels with her toes as she waded through wet­lands sur­round­ing Budj Bim, the nearby dor­mant vol­cano.

On a re­cent visit, Eileen told me, over some tra­di­tion­ally smoked eel, that she wants peo­ple to come and ex­pe­ri­ence the “land knowl­edge” here with op­er­a­tors like Budj Bim Tours (bud­jbim­tours.net).“The knowl­edge that no mat­ter where they go, there is al­ways go­ing to be peo­ple like us that care for coun­try,” she says.

If you take the coastal route, stop off for a meal with a view at the Wye Beach Ho­tel (wye­beach­ho­tel.com.au), try the lat­est out­let of MoVida in Lorne (movida.com.au) or have a lo­cal craft beer at Salt Brew­ing Co (salt­brew­ing.co) in Aireys In­let.

WESTERN AUS­TRALIA

The trip: Ex­mouth to Ker­mits Pool

Drive time: 8 hours

Sights: Miles from any­where, Kar­i­jini

Na­tional Park feels pos­i­tively other-worldly, es­pe­cially when you slip into the pale-green wa­ter at Ker­mits Pool, sur­rounded by rock faces that look plucked from Mars. The short but some­times tricky walk to this natural won­der takes you along nar­row canyons and is best done with an ex­pe­ri­enced guide. Nearby Kar­i­jini Eco Re­treat (kar­i­jiniecore­treat.com.au) of­fers glamp­ing in can­vas cubes right on the red dirt in the heart of the na­tional park.

On the re­turn to Ex­mouth, you have to get in the wa­ter again to ex­pe­ri­ence Nin­ga­loo Reef, one of the world’s largest fring­ing reefs, and for the chance to dive with the world’s largest fish, the whale shark (ninga­loo­cen­tre.com.au). Then turn left for Perth, or right for Broome – the choice is yours and that’s the beauty of road trips.

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