If you jump in your car and drive day and night, only stopping to refuel, then you can drive around Australia following National Highway 1 in less than a week.
In fact the record for the fastest lap of Australia is currently held by a group of guys called Highway One To Hell who in 2017 drove a brand new 200 Series Landcruiser around Australia following Highway 1 in a total time of 5 days, 13 hours and 43 minutes.
The Highway One To Hell team stayed on Highway 1 all the way around including the rough unsealed section across the gulf country between Northern Territory and Queensland.
For most of us though, driving around Australia is not a race or a time trial and I suspect that you're reading this blog post because you're thinking about taking a road trip around Australia and want to get a sense of how much time you'll need to do it.
So assuming that is the case, let's look at some of the factors to consider when planning a road trip around Australia and what to expect if you're going to take 3 months, 6 months, 12 months or more.
What is the distance to drive around Australia?
Australia has a highway called National Highway 1 that runs right around Australia hugging the coastline most of the way.
Highway 1 is the longest national highway in the world at around 14,750km total length.
Rather than a single road, Highway 1 is actually a network of highways that circumnavigate the country, connecting all of the state capitals except Canberra.
Highway 1 even extends into our southern island state of Tasmania to reach the capital of Hobart.
The distance around Australia is approximately 14,750km if you stick to Highway 1 and avoid the unsealed section of the highway between Northern Territory and Queensland.
The reality is that you will drive a lot further than that if you're planning a Big Lap road trip around Australia.
Most Big Lappers cover at least 30,000km or more by the time they factor in detours, side trips, back tracking and the general zig zagging around to get to the places they want to visit.
On our family's Big Lap we drove triple the length of Highway 1 and covered 46,600km over the 16 months of our trip.
This map below shows the route we took travelling clockwise from Melbourne and the places we stayed along the way (Scroll down for our more detailed itinerary).
What is the best route to drive around Australia?
Unlike Europe or the USA which are criss crossed with a network of highways running in every direction, Australia really only has one route around the continent which is Highway 1.
Most Big Lappers use Highway 1 as the main 'artery' for their trip around Australia and detour off to the places they want to visit along the way.
The Stuart Highway runs north-south and joins Darwin and Adelaide, passing through Alice Springs.
Many Big Lappers, us included, use the Stuart Highway to detour into central Australia either from the north down or the south up.
We actually drove the Tanami Road (unsealed) into the centre of Australia from the Kimberley in the north west then drove back up the Stuart Highway to resume our clockwise lap of the country.
There are many more inland roads and highways on the eastern side of the country enabling you to plan a route that doesn't always hug the coastline.
Whether you choose to travel clockwise or anticlockwise mostly depends on where and when you start from, how long you have for your trip and the weather you're looking to experience or avoid.
If you're goal is to have perpetual summer all the way around Australia then you'll want to be in the top half of the country in the middle 6 months of the year from April to September and the bottom half between October and March.
This blog post covers it in more detail.
When planning your route a good place to start is to put a map of Australia up on a wall in your house and use pins or stickers to mark all the places you want to visit.
No doubt you'll keep coming back and adding to it over time as you learn about new places, events, roads and tracks that you want to include.
This will then become the starting point for planning your route as you pretty much join the dots.
Some events might be time specific or need to be booked in advance which will influence your route planning.
It sounds ideal to be able to just jump in the car and go and see where the road takes you but from a practical point of view, even if you have a year to do your Big Lap, you will still need to keep moving at a steady pace to get all the way around and be at the right places at the right times.
When planning our Big Lap we started with the map on the wall then built a spreadsheet that listed all of the key places we wanted to get to and when we needed to be there.
For example we wanted to be in Broome in the West Kimberley when the Gibb River road opened in May so we had the most amount of time possible to travel across the top of Australia and up to the tip of Cape York in Queensland before the wet season hit and possibly closed the road.
We didn't plan every single stop in sequence, just the major ones.
We also set ourselves a 'mission' for the trip which we called our 'Big Lap Extreme Challenge'.
Our goal was to reach all of the extremes of the continent - North, South, East, West, the exact centre and the highest point Mt Kosciuszko.
The western extreme at Steep Point and the northern extreme at Cape York require a good 4WD setup to reach.
The southern extreme in Wilsons Promontory National Park and the highest point at Mt Kosciuszko require a solid walk to reach.
Our Big Lap Itinerary
There's no right or wrong way to do a Big Lap but if you're interested in our Big Lap itinerary as an idea of what it might look like then here it is below camp by camp.
You can also follow it on the map above.
We started in Melbourne and headed into the NSW outback and up to southern Queensland then down the east coast towards Melbourne.
Our initial plan was to stop back in Melbourne for a few days and have Christmas with family and friends before starting the actual lap around Australia.
Unfortunately between camp 17 and 18 in the Snowy Mountains we rolled our Landcruiser and camper trailer.
This resulted in us being stuck in Melbourne until February when we finally managed to get everything fixed and back on the road. It's all covered in our documentary series, The Big Lap, if you want to see how it happened.
|12||7||Arrawarra - Darlington Beach||NSW||1-Nov|
|14||7||Lane Cove NP||NSW||14-Nov|
|17||7||Mt Kosciuszko NP||NSW||1-Dec|
|27||3||Adelaide (West Beach)||SA||5-Mar|
|35||2||Duke Of Orleans Bay||WA||21-Mar|
|36||3||Cape Le Grand NP||WA||23-Mar|
|48||4||Cape Range NP||WA||18-Apr|
|53||2||80 Mile Beach||WA||2-May|
|57||2||Windjana Gorge NP||WA||16-May|
|58||2||King Leopold NP||WA||18-May|
|59||2||Mt Elizabeth Station||WA||20-May|
|64||2||Wolf Creeke NP||WA||6-Jun|
|65||1||Rabbit Flat Roadhouse||NT||8-Jun|
|66||2||Tilmouth Well R'house||NT||9-Jun|
|69||4||Uluru NP (Yulara)||NT||20-Jun|
|74||4||Trephina Gorge NP||NT||29-Jun|
|91||1||Hells Gate Roadhouse||Qld||20-Sep|
|92||3||Lawn Hill Station (stranded)||Qld||21-Sep|
|98||1||Archer River Roadhouse||Qld||4-Oct|
|102||3||Punsand Bay, Cape York||Qld||9-Oct|
|103||1||Canal Creek, OTT||Qld||12-Oct|
|104||1||Moreton Telegraph Station||Qld||13-Oct|
|109||4||Cairns - 1||Qld||28-Oct|
|110||5||Cairns - 2||Qld||1-Nov|
|117||6||Arrawarra (Darlington Beach)||NSW||17-Nov|
|123||1||Spirit Of Tasmania||Tas||4-Dec|
|124||1||Cradle Mountain NP||Tas||5-Dec|
|126||1||Lake St Clair||Tas||14-Dec|
|132||4||Mt Field NP||Tas||31-Dec|
|136||1||Spirit Of Tasmania - END||Tas||12-Jan|
Can you drive around Australia on sealed roads?
The majority of Highway 1 around Australia is sealed road that is suitable for any vehicle.
There is a section of Highway 1 between Daly Waters in the Northern Territory and Normanton in Queensland where long sections of the road are unsealed and usually pretty rough.
This road is called the Carpentaria Highway and is also part of the Savannah Way between Broome and Cairns.
If you want to avoid the unsealed road you can easily detour around this section of Highway 1 by heading south from Normanton then west along Highway 66 into the Northern Territory to the Stuart Highway at Threeways Roadhouse, just north of Tennant Creek.
You'll probably want to head a little further south and stop in at Mt Isa which is the largest town in the area and a great place to spend a few days.
Many people do drive around Australia in 2WD cars and vans and have awesome trips.
However if you want to detour off the main route, you will need a 4WD to get to many of the more spectacular and remote destinations.
Read this post for more info about whether or not you need a 4WD.
How long does it take to drive around Australia?
3 months - The Long Service Leave Trip
The minimum time you need to drive around Australia is realistically 3 months.
I call this the 'Long Service Leave' trip because for people who want to do the Big Lap but don't want to quit their job, this is often the best option.
It's not ideal, and you will be spending a big chunk of your trip driving but people do it and to be honest if it's your only option then go for it.
If you mainly stick to Highway 1 then assuming a total distance of 20,000km you'll need to average over 240km every single day.
If this sounds like a challenge then maybe consider doing a half lap instead where you drive around the west or east coast and up or down through the centre.
Where and how far you travel really depends on what you're most interested in seeing.
Before our Big Lap, Jen and I did a 10 week road trip from Melbourne to Cape York and back.
We drove up through outback NSW and QLD via Birdsville and Mt Isa, up to the tip of Cape York then back home to Melbourne along the east coast.
Not really a half lap but we didn't do much back tracking.
So if you only have 3 months and you definitely want to do the full lap then look at breaking the trip into mostly 2 or 3 night stops with a driving day in between so you can feel like you’ve actually stopped and smelled the roses.
Travel light and spend the time before you go to setup your rig for easy and fast setups and pack ups so you don't waste any time along the way.
Ideally you'll be completely self sufficient so you can take advantage of free camping opportunities along the way giving you more flexibility with where you stop.
You won’t get to see and do everything along the way but at least you’ll have a list of places to come back to next time.
If you’re taking the kids out of school then you may like to align your trip with a full school term.
6 months - The Quick Lap
Six months is about the minimum you’d need to do the whole lap at a bearable pace but still this won’t leave much time for detours off the main circuit and you’ll need to focus on your shortlist of highlights along the way.
One way to look at a 6 month trip is as a series of 26 x 1 week sections where you travel for 2 or 3 days doing quick overnight stops along the way then setup a base camp somewhere for around 4 to 5 days and get out and explore the area on day trips.
Of course the places you choose to setup your base camps will depend on what sort of things you like to do when you're there.
An itinerary for a 6 month lap might look something like this assuming you start and finish in Melbourne.
Sample 6 Month Big Lap Itinerary
12 months or more - The Ultimate Big Lap
Unless you’re a Grey Nomad with no compelling reason to stop travelling (and I envy you) then a year is an ideal length of time to drive around Australia.
It’s long enough to see everything you want to at a comfortable pace without rushing and will give you plenty of time to explore sidetracks and remote destinations along the way.
There are some other practical benefits to a 12 month trip:
- It allows you to travel with the weather and have a year long perpetual summer. Read this post for more information.
- You have time to explore side trips like Cape York, Gibb River Road or Cobourg Peninsula.
- You have time to include a detour into the Red Centre and also to include Tasmania.
- You can take some longer, multiple week breaks if you fall in a love with a place and want to really explore the region thoroughly.
- You start and finish at the same time so if you have kids out of school you can coordinate your time to match a full year of their schooling.
- If you’re renting out your house, 12 month contracts are pretty standard.
When it’s all said and done there is no right length of time, it’s personal preference and whatever works for you and your family.
Any amount of time is better than none but from my experience a year is just about ideal.
Until of course you become a grey nomad and have no time limit . .
Sounds like a perfect retirement plan to me.
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