The top road trip in Australia: The Great Eastern Drive
We’ve mapped out the top places to stop, and things to do, along the way.
Undulating, ever-changing and beautiful: Tasmania’s east coast has much to offer meanderers, explorers and pleasure- seekers alike. But it is the region’s famous road trip – The Great Eastern Drive – that encapsulates everything that makes Tasmania (and Australia) unique, over a 176-kilometre road stretching from Orford in the south to St Helens in the north.
Earlier this year, the Great Eastern Drive was acknowledged as the top road trip in Australia by Trip Advisor and Ford and it truly doesn’t disappoint. Don’t be fooled by the seemingly short length of this drive, it is a truly adaptable and diverse journey offering up some of the best in food, wine, scenery and outdoor-adventures. Drive it in a day, a weekend or spend nearly a week taking in everything that this special pocket of the world has to offer.
Just one township over from your starting point at Orford, Triabunna offers a gateway (via a 30-minute ferry ride) to idyllic and tranquil Maria Island. With no shops or cars, the island boasts an astonishing array of wildlife and plants, making for some of the best bushwalking in the country. Not-to-be-missed activities include: hiking to the top of the island’s peaks (Bishop 2 and Clerk) for the best panoramic views, exploring the ghost town with a convict past (Darlington), checking out the ancient fossils at Fossil Cliffs and taking in the beautifully patterned sandstone Painted Cliffs at Hopground Beach.
- Where to stay?: The old penitentiary at 3 Darlington offers some basic bunk-style accommodation, but there are also free camping sites scattered around the island.
- Where to eat?: There are limited food options on the island, so don’t forget to bring food with you on the ferry.
Upon returning back to the mainland, follow the pink-stained cliffs and white beaches of the Freycinet Peninsula to Swansea. Here you can relax and have a glass of the region’s famous wine, grown locally at several boutique vineyards. If you’re looking to do a bit of shopping the region is also known for its high quality wool. For a spot of history, don’t forget to make a trip just outside of town to the convict-built Spiky Bridge. You can finish your exploration of Swansea by going for a swim, surf or dive at Mayfield Bay Coastal Reserve: 16 hectares of coastal reserve just a 15-minute drive out of Swansea.
- Where to stay?: The area is flush for accommodation options, from backpacking, to motels and hotels, to cabins, airbnb and camping.
- Where to eat?: For culinary enthusiasts, you can’t go past a meal at Piermont Restaurant. Those who want to wet their appetite with more accessible local cuisine should stop by The Bark Mill Tavern & Bakery and/or Salt Shaker Cafe & Restaurant.
- Where to drink?: Pop into Spring Vale, Gala Estate and/or Milton wineries for some of the most popular local drops.
Only 30-minutes from Swansea, lies one of the top ten beaches in the world: Wineglass Bay. As if the name wasn’t inviting enough, Wineglass Bay is known for its incredible views, wildlife, scenery, fresh seafood and outdoor activities. Spend your time swimming, boating, fishing, surfing, snorkelling, diving and/or sea kayaking around the picturesque beach. The more adventurous of travellers can embark on the award-winning Freycinet Experience Walk: a four-day guided walk covering the entire length of the Freycinet peninsula (including Wineglass Bay). The walk covers some of the same tracks walked by the area’s original Aboriginal inhabitants thousands of years ago (the Oyster Bay Tribe of Tasmanian Aborigines) and is steeped in rich Australian history. Wineglass Bay also offers scenic flight options, for a full panoramic experience of the area, and is also a perfect vantage point to see pods of dolphins or migrating whales (when in season).
- Where to stay?: Try and nab one of the lodges overlooking Great Oyster Bay.
- Where to eat and drink?: The Edge Restaurant or Freycinet Marine Farm both offer some superb dining choices that pair the area’s fresh produce with some truly remarkable local wines.
If you drive north from Wineglass Bay you will come across a quaint family seaside town called Bicheno. Bicheno maintains the high standard in amazing views, scenery, bushwalking and beach combing opportunities, but also offers some extraordinary wildlife experiences. Here you can watch the dusk parade of little penguins, see and learn about Tasmanian devils or head out on the water for a glass-bottom boat marine wildlife tour.
- Where to stay?: The area is a popular tourist holiday destination and has an array of accommodation options to suit everyone, from campers to astute travellers.
- Where to eat and drink?: Pasini Bicheno is well-loved by locals and visitors alike. Alternatively, visit Bicheno in mid November and wine and dine at its annual Food and Wine Festival.
Bay of Fires
Perhaps saving the best till last – there’s nothing nicer than finishing this road trip with time spent absorbing the natural wonder that is the Bay of Fires. Here you’ll see white sandy beaches, pink and grey cliffs and crystal clear water. The 29-kilometre stretch is defined by its rocky gullies, deserted beaches and secluded inlets. Visitors can spend their time swimming, surfing, sun lounging or diving at the main beach (Binalong Bay), or venture further-out on a two-day trek past some of the more untouched beaches. There is also an opportunity to learn about some of the rich local history, particularly with regards the original Aboriginal inhabitants.
- Where to stay?: Most visitors to the Bay of Fires choose to camp at one of the designated areas, however there are some limited eco-lodge options available.
- Where to eat and drink?: The Bay of Fires Winery is a must for any food and wine enthusiast.
If you leave St Mary’s and drive north for another 30-odd minutes you’ll arrive at St Helens: the largest town on Tasmania’s north-east coast. If you’re a lover of the ocean, you’ll love St Helens. Overlooking beautiful Georges Bay, this is a town that is best experienced on the water. Hire a boat, or join a game fishing charter and witness waters awash with game fish such as Albacore Tuna and Yellowfin Tuna. For those that don’t have their sea legs, you can take the walk from St Helens Point Conservation Area to Beer Barrel Beach to see the incredible Peron Dunes.
- Where to stay?: With more than 6 hotels in a 10-kilometre radius of the town, along with other standard accommodation, backpacking and camping options – there’s no shortages of places to stay in St Helens.
- Where to eat?: Visitors to St Helens should spend their time sampling local seafood at one of the many esteemed cafes and restaurants.
- Where to drink?: Bay Bar & Bistro is a favourite with the locals.
40-minutes from Bicheno lies St Mary’s: another seaside town boasting rich history, great food and awesome outdoor experiences. Visitors should make use of the area’s excellent bushwalking and hiking options, such as: the walk to Grey Mare’s tail waterfall or climbing South Sister or St Patrick’s Head. The town itself is littered with great cafes, galleries and shopping that are bound to keep travellers amused and entertained.
- Where to stay?: Truly immerse yourself in Tasmanian east coast life, by staying in one of St Mary’s heritage holiday houses or bed and breakfasts.
- Where to eat?: Don’t leave St Mary’s without trying some delicious pancakes at Mount Elephant Pancakes.
- Where to drink?: Grab a pint at the local: St Mary’s Hotel.
Regardless of your destination, a road trip is all about the journey!
We hope our recommendations enable you to experience a journey that leaves you awestruck, satisfied, energised, inspired and relaxed.