The longest roads in Australia: the rankings

It’s the largest island in the world and the sixth largest country after Russia, Canada, China, the USA and Brazil: we’re talking about Australia, of course, with its 7,692,024 square kilometres of land surface. It’s an enormous country, and yet it is one of the least populated in the world, with an average population density of 2 people per square kilometre. In fact, most of the population is concentrated in New South Wales and the state of Victoria, which alone are home to 60% of all Australians. All the rest of the country, except for the areas around Perth, Tasmania and some regions in the north, is practically uninhabited. So it’s not surprising to find some incredibly long roads there, that cross this immense island in the middle of nowhere, often creating long straight lines that seem to go on for ever. But which are the longest roads in Australia? We take a look at the principal ones here.

The longest national highway in Australia: Highway 1

As is well known, the longest road in the world is the Pan-American Highway, which is 30,000 kilometres long and connects Alaska with Argentina. But the second longest road in the world is in Australia, and is named Highway 1. It is, in fact, the longest national highway in the world – since the Pan American crosses several different countries – and it measures a total of 14,500 kilometres. So the Australian Highway 1 has succeeded in taking first place ahead of other huge national highways such as the Trans-Siberian Highway, measuring 11,000 kilometres in total, and the Trans-Canada Highway, with only 8,000 kilometres.

Highway 1 is not actually a single road, however: it is a network of roads which, one after the other, complete the entire circuit of Australia along the coast. Kilometre after kilometre, this road network links the capitals of all the Australian states, except for the capital of Australia itself: Canberra. It is estimated that every day over a million people travel along a section of this incredibly long road network.

Highway 1 was formally created in 1955 as a fundamental part of the National Route Numbering System, linking up several national roads, among other things: in fact, anyone making a long journey around the Australian coast will almost inevitably end up travelling on Highway 1 at some point.

Given that it extends over such a long distance, it’s hardly surprising to discover that conditions along the longest road in Australia vary considerably from section to section. Around the state capitals, the H1 often has several lanes, while outside the urban areas it usually turns into a road with only two lanes, and in the uninhabited areas of Queensland it becomes a single-lane road. Not infrequently, in areas without any settlements, the only signs of human activity are the typical ‘roadhouses’, with no other building in sight for hundreds of kilometres. So “driver fatigue” is naturally the main threat facing someone who embarks on a long journey along this road network, a factor that is intensified by the monotony of the route (which is something you could never say about the Great Ocean Road, the Australian coastal road that ranks among the most beautiful roads in the world).

One fact that may be of interest is that several attempts have been made over the years to break the record for completing the entire circuit of the country along Highway 1 in the shortest time. The current record is held by the Highway 1 to Hell team, who completed the circuit in 5 days, 13 hours and 43 minutes.

The longest road in Australia: the Great Northern Highway

Excluding Highway 1, which is, as we have already mentioned, a network of roads, the longest road in Australia is the Great Northern Highway. This is the route that links Perth, the capital of Western Australia, with Wyndham, in the north of the country. So the total length of the Great Northern Highway is 3,200 kilometres: by way of comparison, the longest main road in Italy – the SS16 Adriatica, linking Padua with Otranto – only extends for 1,000 kilometres.

The Great Northern Highway is the only asphalted road connecting the Northern Territory with the northern part of Western Australia. The metalled road was created in 1944: until then, the route, which runs through sparsely inhabited rural areas, presented risks both in the dry season, because of the dust created on the unsurfaced road, and in the rainy season, because entire tracts of the road would become swampy and potentially impassable. Improvements to the road have continued over the years, however, with progressive extensions of the asphalted stretches. The present two-lane section of road linking Halls Creek and Wyndham, for example, was completed in the late 1970s, with the construction of 21 bridges.

The longest roads in Australia: Stuart Highway and Eyre Highway

The second-longest road in Australia, not counting Highway 1, is the Stuart Highway, covering a total of 2,720 kilometres as it crosses the island from north to south, connecting Darwin, in the north, with Port Augusta, in the south, and passing through Tennant Creek and Alice Springs. Cutting the uninhabited hinterland of the country in half down the middle, this road is also known as “the Explorer Way”: the official name was chosen in honour of the Scottish explorer John McDouall Stuart, the first European to succeed in crossing Australia from North to South, and furthermore following a very similar route to that taken by the Highway that bears his name. Most of the road is asphalted, and much of it was completed in the 1940s.

The third longest road in Australia is the Eyre Highway, which, at 1,664 kilometres long, is also known as the loneliest road in the world. But that’s not all: one stretch of the Eyre Highway runs for 146.6 kilometres without any bends. The road links the states of Western Australia and South Australia, and is named after another explorer, Edward John Eyre (the first to cross the Nullarbor Plain by land). Construction work on this road began in 1870, with great advances being made during the Second World War; however, the road still remains less developed and modern than the other great Australian roads.