4th Jun 2012 12:20am | By Editor
The road trip is a cherished staple of any open-ended travelling experience. So leave air travel behind, rent a car and hit the road.
These days, so much travel is all about the destination. And it’s fair enough – if you only have a week off work, you need to fly in, enjoy yourself and then get home in time for Monday morning. But some destinations lend themselves perfectly to an epic road-trip, a meandering, timeless exploration, in which the getting-there is as important as the end result.
There are few things more exciting than setting out with a bunch of mates, packed into a car or a combi or a motor home, with a bunch of carefully compiled playlists and the knowledge that there’s some seriously solid driving-time ahead of you. It’s comforting to know that you have nothing more to do than sit tight and watch the world go by on the other side of your window. That’s the appeal of a road-trip.
And, fortunately, Australia is home to several spectacular routes – some slightly punishing, seemingly unending; others short, sweet and slightly more low-impact. So consider some of our favourite routes and imagine yourself, some fellow travellers and
an uncluttered open road.
The must-dos include the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, which has been a tourist hot-spot for as long as there have been tourists. The Snowy Mountain Drive is probably less well-known but no less scenic. Visitors are more likely to have been to the snowfields but may have neglected the surroundings areas.
If you’ve a bit more time to spare, then why not embark on an odyssey through north Queensland’s Savannah Way? Or tackle the Nullarbor, driving from Adelaide all the way to Perth?
And the cousins across the Tasman have their fair share of cracking routes as well – but of course, you won’t be able to get your rental car all the way over there. Queenstown is a popular winter hang-out but instead of just smashing your liver, why not get hold of some wheels and make your way to Milford Sound, which is a couple of days’ drive away and one of the country’s top attractions.
Further afield, we’ve got California’s Pacific Coast, from San Francisco to Los Angeles, the island-hopping of Brazil’s east coast and the round-trip through Thailand’s Phuket. So strap in.
It’s not just about forging toward Australia’s highest peak, Mt Kosciuszko, but meandering through this bracing alpine region and maybe stopping off for the odd picnic if you can handle the chilly air. The Snowy Mountains Drive (pictured left) is a 496km return route that starts at Cooma, but you’ll soon be picking your way through the pretty township of Berridale and maybe even swinging past Dalgety, on the banks of the Snowy River. Leave your car behind and jump onto one of the chair lifts in Thredbo village. From the best spots, you’ll be able to enjoy the brilliant landscape of herb fields, wildflowers, limestone gorges and glacial lakes. On your way back to the big smoke, you can explore parks, idyllic streams and maybe spot kangaroos and wild horses.
Driving south from Melbourne, it takes about an hour to get to Geelong and then you head along the coast to Torquay. Even if it’s too cold for you to take a dip in the ocean, there’s still plenty to enjoy and it’s the official start of the Great Ocean Road, and perhaps the unofficial home of the nation’s surfing capital. There are even more unspoiled beaches down the line in Lorne and Apollo Bay and the route then takes you inland through Otway National Park for lush rainforests. There are some dramatic cliff landscapes between Princetown and Port Campbell, where you’ll visit the Twelve Apostles, the towering limestone stacks off the coast. Check out the fishing village of Port Fairy before heading towards the city via the Grampians.
Although the Savannah Way stretches across the country from Cairns to Broome, in Western Australia, the Queensland portion, still runs for a fairly substantial 1138km. From Cairns, the tropical rainforests give way to the food bowl of FNQ, Atherton, where you should also stop off at Undara National Park, which boasts an extraordinary volcanic landscape. As you journey west, platypus streams and plantations of tropical fruits, coffee, and sugar ramp up around Queensland’s highest town, Ravenshoe. You can try your luck fossicking for gold in Georgetown and then discover the historic town of Croydon, once the state’s second-largest inland town. After driving a cool 715km you’ll reach Normanton and its vast wetlands and then Burketown, which holds the enviable honour of being Australia’s barramundi capital.
Despite Phuket’s busy atmosphere, there are a few drives that you can take to get away and just watch the countryside roll by. One is the Mission Mills Drive but another popular one is dubbed the Phuket Northeast Loop. It starts at the Heroines Monument and traverses a circle along the east coast of the island. There are dozens of small fishing villages along the way, all inviting you stop for some fresh seafood. Don’t miss the statue of Ganesha (Ganesh), the elephant-headed Hindu god. Admire the limestone cliffs of Phang Nga Bay with its ‘James Bond Island’ – named because it appears in The Man With The Golden Gun – and other islands in the distance. You can also take a drive past Mission Hills Golf Course. Maybe stop for nine holes?
You could complete this circuit of New Zealand’s North Island in a touch under 12 hours but, depending on how many stops you want to make and how far off the beaten track you’re prepared to venture, you could string your trip out over a fortnight. Start off in Paihia, sailing, fishing or kayaking and then head around the coast to the Karikari Peninsula, where you can take a tour of New Zealand’s northern-most vineyard. Follow the road west to Awanui, a launching pad for an excursion into the far north. After that, it’s a straight shot down the west coast to Auckland, stopping off at Ninety Mile Beach in Ahipara and Maori enclaves in Kohukohu and Rawene. Also, the Kai Iwi Lakes are great for water skiing and swimming.
If you’re starting out at Alice Springs, you may be tempted to take a ride in a hot air balloon – but be warned, you won’t be able to catch one all the way to Uluru. Make sure you check out the MacDonnell Ranges while you’re there, though – you can also ride a quad bike round some of the cattle stations just outside the city centre. But then you’re on the road, embarking on a five-hour drive through the red centre, stopping en route at strategic spots to view Mt Ebenezer and Mt Conner. Also explore Kata Tjuta – the Olgas – and wander through the Walpa Gorge or the Valley of the Winds. You’ll probably want to camp somewhere overnight, before getting up at the crack of dawn to visit Uluru.
The Huon Trail is an ideal touring route to take you through some of the most picturesque spots to the south of Hobart, featuring the Huon Valley, the D’Entrecasteaux Channel, Bruny Island and the remote and wild Far South. You’ll find serene waterways, rocky coastlines, quiet farmlands, boutique vineyards and rugged wilderness. There’s an exhilarating mix of outdoor adventures and some mouth-watering food. Indeed, if going on holiday is as much about eating and drinking as it is about being away from work, Tasmania might quickly become your favourite getaway. This region is brimming with cheeses, cherries, stone fruits, berries, meats and the freshest seafood. Bon appetite.
Cruising down California’s Pacific Coast is one of the world’s most famous and coolest road trips but it doesn’t take forever and there are more than a few ways to do it. But basically, you want to start out in San Francisco and head south, stopping off in Monterey, which was the state’s capital when the Spanish and the Mexicans ran the show and also boasts a booming sardine industry. From there, head through the Point Lobos Reserve, taking in the tide pools and kelp forests before reaching the 145km stretch of coastline known as the Big Sur, thick with redwood groves. Further south, you’ll come to Cambria, a low-key town with a gorgeous pier popular with local artists. And then you’re into Morro Bay, known for its landmark volcano. Carry on thrrough Sanhta Barbara before reaching the City of Angels.
If you’re heading to New Zealand to make the most of the snow season then you’ll probably be spending a fair bit of time in Queenstown, which has become a renowned niche for extreme sports and adrenaline-junkies. But instead of just hunkering down for the whole season, it’s worth getting some wheels and making the circuitous trek around to Milford Sound in the Fiordland National Park, which is a Heritage-listed marine reserve and one of New Zealand’s top tourist destinations. Head south through Kingston and Lumsden, which have rolling pastures and stacks of great fishing spots. And then get round to Mossburn, which is the deer capital of New Zealand. Then you’re on the road to Te Anau, which is the main jumping-off point for Milford Sound but is a worthwhile destination in its own right.
It’s one of the most epic Australian road trips and, really, you wouldn’t want to do it unless you have at least a week up your sleeve. You can go in either direction but if you’re starting in Adelaide, it’s worth swinging past Port Lincoln before embarking on your excellent adventure, which only officially begins once you leave Ceduna, which is the last of the ‘big towns’ you’ll see before getting across to the other side. From there on, you’ve got a 1209km drive and although you’ll encounter small clusters of houses every few hours, there are no real population centres until you get all the way to Norseman in Western Australia. The Nullarbor itself is an arid expanse of limestone which has no surface water and no trees – hence its name.
If you love beaches, then eastern coast of Brazil is a must-do; the costa verde is full of the idyllic spots that you naturally associate with the South American country and they’re surprisingly easy to find. From Rio de Janeiro, you want to follow the coast west, stopping at coastal towns Barra da Tijuca, Guaratiba and Mangaratiba along the way. If you have time, take a ferry from the port town of Angra dos Reis across to Ilha Grande. If you’re on a tight schedule, you probably won’t be able to stay for more than a day or two but the island is one of the real highlights of the Brazilian coast – big enough to explore but small enough to get your head around. Once back on the mainland, head over to the towns of Paraty and Trindade. The trip of a lifetime.
After a couple of days in Christchurch – maybe go punting on the Avon river or do a spot of air ballooning – hit the road and head for Dunedin, through the gorgeous patchwork fields of South Canterbury. You’ll soon come to the Raikaia River and find yourself driving over New Zealand’s longest bridge. Depending on the time of year you’re over there, you might even be tempted to visit the ski resort near Mt Hutt. In Ashburton, there’s a man-made lake called Lake Hood which is perfect for boating, but you’ll soon be in Pleasant Point where you can tour Opihi vineyard and enjoy one of their famous custard squares. Timaru is a buzzing town overlooking Caroline Bay but keep on toward Dunedin, perhaps stopping in at Waitaki and Oamaru.