Highway 1 of Australia is with a length of 14,500 km (9,000 mi), the longest national highway in the world. It can be considered a giant "ring road" as it, except for a few shortcuts, follows the entire coastline of mainland Australia. Part of the road also traverses Tasmania.
Circumnavigating mainland Australia, this road goes through all states and their capitals and through or near most major attractions in Australia (two major omissions being Canberra and Uluru). Therefore, if you have time and don't mind long driving distances this is one of the best ways to see almost all of Australia.
Created in 1955 out of existing state and local roads and tracks, Highway 1 is actually a network of roads. It's marked "National Highway 1", "National Route 1", "M1", "A1", "B1" or "R1" depending on the type and the quality of the route.
Read up on driving in Australia before going on a trip like this.
Australian traffic rules may be different from what you are used to at home; moreover, you may need to get an international driver's license to be allowed to drive in the country. A Carnet de Passages en Douane is required to temporarily import a vehicle into Australia.
Australia is a huge country and doing the whole Highway 1 will certainly take several weeks, if not months; even the shortest of the sections below are almost a 1,000-km drive. Especially in the western two thirds of the country, expect there to be stretches of several hundred kilometres between roadhouses where you can get fuel, food and water.
Also, read up on the weather conditions for the time you plan to go. During the Austral summer, it can get extremely hot in the daytime which isn't only dangerous for travellers but also puts stress on your car's cooling system and battery. Heat and drought are also often followed by major wildfires. In Northern Queensland and the NT, floods are common during the rainy season (Nov-Mar), something that may cut off roads for several days. Additionally, some places can go well below freezing during winter, most notably the vast stretches of the Outback and many parts of rural Tasmania and Victoria.
If you come from abroad you will probably arrive by plane to one of the state capitals and buy or rent the vehicle that you will make the trip with.
As this is a circular itinerary, you can complete it by starting at any point and travel either clockwise or counterclockwise until you're back where you started. In this article the trip goes clockwise and starts and ends in Sydney. Sydney itself is famous for its opera house and the Harbour Bridge and is probably the most common point of entry to Australia from abroad.
Sydney to Melbourne
- See also: Sydney to Melbourne by car
The coastal drive from Sydney to Melbourne along Princes Highway can be done with an overnight stop within two days, although you could probably take some time and spend at least four days on the road, with a couple of hours at each stop to thoroughly enjoy the South Coast. Lots of wildlife from whales, dolphins to seals if you keep an eye out, and plenty of seagulls and pelicans. There are countless unspoilt beaches along the coast — white sand beaches, surf beaches, tidal river beaches — such that you might actually get sick of it all, and taking the Kings Highway just before Batemans Bay and then the inland drive via Monaro Highway could be an option.
The 120 or so km from Waterfall in southern Sydney to Bomaderry is mostly a grade-separated four-lane motorway (except for a small section colloquially known as the Kiama Bends). While fast and comfortable, you'll need to get off the road to see any sights. If you're in a hurry, the Southern Gateway Centre atop Mt Ousley above Wollongong is right along the road and worth a stop for the panoramic views over the coast.
- Royal National Park, through Audley Weir and possible stops at Wattamolla and Garie Beach, although Audley Weir is sometimes flooded after heavy rain and you'll have to use the entrance at Waterfall instead.
- Grand Pacific Drive starting from Stanwell Tops to Austinmer via Sea Cliff Bridge
- Kiama for its blowhole, and nearby Minnamurra Rainforest
Shoalhaven and Eurobodalla
- Jervis Bay has some of the world's whitest beaches at Huskisson and Hyams Beach.
- There's awesome surf at Ulladulla and Mollymook, and many surf competitions are held here.
- Batemans Bay has great oysters from the Clyde River.
- Pebbly Beach and South Durras are hidden gems where wild Eastern Grey Kangaroos can be found feeding peacefully. Contrary to the name, Pebbly Beach has great sand, though you'll have to step more carefully through the grass patches thanks to the kangaroos. There's also a good trail to walk on Durras Beach.
- Mogo for Mogo Zoo where there's wildlife, native and non-native, to cuddle and feed.
- Narooma for seal and dolphin sightings, stay overnight at Montague Island
- Cobargo, nicknamed the "Working Village"
- Stop at Bega for its cheese factory, there's lots of free samples
- Eden for whale watching, Killer Whale Museum and Marine Discovery Centre. Green Cape Lighthouse is also worth a look.
Over the Victorian border
- Gippsland Lakes - Lakes Entrance
Just before you hit Melbourne, you can take a sidetrip from the Monash Freeway (M1) onto the South Gippsland Freeway (M420) and explore South and West Gippsland, or better known as the Bass Coast. There two main tourist spots along the highway include:
After this you will arrive in Melbourne, almost as large as Sydney and considered Australia's cultural capital.
Melbourne to Adelaide
The road is still known as Princes Highway, following the coastline to Geelong from where you can opt for a scenic sidetrip along the Great Ocean Road. Otherwise the road goes straight to Warrnambool, follows the coast for more than half of the way to the state border, goes inland to Mount Gambier and then mostly follows the coast to Adelaide.
Adelaide to Perth
The road is known as Port Wakefield Highway and Augusta Highway for about 300 km up to Port Augusta, a town which is one of the most important road and rail junctions in all of Australia. From here you can get north through the Red Centre all the way to Darwin, east back to Sydney and west to Perth, where this itinerary is going.
The section from Port Augusta to Norseman is called Eyre Highway, much of it being a long and lonely road. There are still some small towns and fenced farmlands on the South Australian side, but across the state border there is only wilderness. At some places the road passes near the Great Australian Bight, so close that fog may reach the road, creating dangerous driving conditions. The road also follows the southern edge of the vast Nullarbor Plain. Between Caiguna Roadhouse and Balladonia Roadhouse, there's the 90-mile-straight; an almost 150-km-long stretch of road without a single curve.
From Norseman you can't drive straight to Perth. The shortest route along the Great Eastern Highway (Highway 94) is over 700-km, but Highway 1 goes back south to the ocean and follows the South Coast Highway and South Western Highway over 1100-km to Perth.
South Coast Highway
Although it is called 'south coast' the highway tends to be inland of the coast between Esperance and Albany. The section of the highway west of Albany to Walpole is closer to the coast with easier access.
The Albany to Esperance section does have roads and tracks to access parts of the coast, and many of these are well made roads. This section that goes inland also travels through the drier south eastern parts of the wheatbelt region.
If based in Perth or Albany, the highway is well catered for travellers and tourists, west of Albany. However distances between service stops between Albany and Esperance are further apart.
South Western Highway
South Western Highway was the first main road out of Perth into the south west, it was followed by the roads to the west later on. As it was developed in the time of the importance of railways, it gave access to the railway towns of Pinjarra and Brunswick Junction (where the trains to the Collie coal-fields joined into the railway system). As a consequence it is a twisting and turning highway that has been slowly developed in comparison to the very big money roads of the coast road and Bunbury highways.
After it turns inland from outside of Bunbury, it climbs the hills in more or less the same route that the old railway that went to Manjimup. After Manjimup it travels deep into the forest area of the southern coast, till it reaches Walpole, where it changes into the South Coastal Highway.
The forests that the highway passes through are the largest, with the tallest trees in the state of Western Australia.
Perth to Darwin
From the West Australian metropolis, the road goes north to Geraldton, mostly inland. From here on the road is known as the North West Coastal Highway, but it will still mostly go inland. As with most of Western Australia, towns are far between here, larger ones being Carnarvon, Karratha and Port Hedland. Just before the latter, the road will be joined by the Great Northern Highway, the inland shortcut from Perth.
After the junction to Broome there is a stretch of 800 km through the Kimberley with no real towns until Kununurra. After this the road is renamed Victoria Highway and soon you will cross into the Northern Territory, followed by some 450 km of outback to Katherine. Here the highway actually divides itself in two: Stuart Highway to the north is the branch to Darwin; to the south you get further along the road if you want to skip Darwin and dig into the next big serving of desolate outback right away.
Darwin to Cairns
Backtrack along the Stuart Highway to Katherine and continue for about the same distance to the Hi-Way Inn Roadhouse. Now follows probably the roughest part of the whole itinerary; the Carpentaria Highway and Savannah Highway across tropical savannahs almost out to the east coast, then along the unpaved Savannah Way into Queensland. After Normanton the road is paved again, and road quality improves gradually when you get closer to Cairns and the Pacific coast.
Cairns to Brisbane
From Cairns, the road, known as Pacific Coast Highway and Bruce Highway, follows the coast, providing access to the Great Barrier Reef, yet another one of Australia's famous natural attractions. Eventually, you will arrive in Brisbane, the last state capital on this journey.
- Gympie, the "Town that Saved Queensland", for its gold mining memorabilia
- Cooroy, known as the "Heart of the Hinterland"
- Eumundi for its bi-weekly markets
Brisbane to Sydney
- See also: Pacific Highway
Sydney and Brisbane are the only two major cities to be fully connected by a freeway or a dual carriageway via Highway 1. Some traffic lights remain around Coffs Harbour, but a freeway standard 14-km bypass is scheduled to be completed by 2026. About 600 km of the road is a freeway (part of the Pacific Motorway), another 275 km is dual carriageway. It passes through both NSW and Queensland's second largest cities, the Gold Coast and Newcastle along with some other regional centres of NSW, in order from north to south, like Byron Bay, Ballina, Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, Taree and the Central Coast.
Safety advice given in the Driving in Australia article also applies to this itinerary.