Seven top road trips around the world
With borders reopening, we can once again dream about international adventures. From high in the Austrian Alps to stunning coastlines a little closer to home, these dramatic drives are worth travelling for.
The ‘main street of America’ has fragmented into parts – it was decertified in 1985 and no longer officially exists – but the 3940km drive from Chicago to Los Angeles remains as evocative and nostalgic as any road trip in the world.
Eulogised in popular culture since it was completed in 1938, Route 66 crosses eight states and a multitude of landscapes. Natural highlights include the coloured cliffs of Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park and the Grand Canyon, but this epic drive is more about American road culture – it’s the kind of road trip that’ll have you seeking out greasy diners and drive-in cinemas.
Africa’s southernmost coast is at full strut on the Garden Route, showing off its national parks and reserves and extraordinarily beautiful shores. The official route stretches for 200km between Storms River and Mossel Bay, but is better extended to start and finish in Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth) and Cape Town, stretching it out to 750km.
It’s coastal driving par excellence, all wrapped inside the World Heritage-listed Cape Floral Region, often described as the world’s hottest hotspot for plant diversity. The drive also takes in Africa’s southern tip, Cape Agulhas, which is a renowned whale-watching location.
Great Eastern Drive
Tasmania’s own great ocean road skims along the state’s eastern edge between Orford and St Helens. The drive climbs over rocky headlands and skirts white-sand beaches through its southern half before pausing for wine and a rest around Cranbrook, where half-a-dozen cellar doors are nestled among the vines and bush.
The road returns to the coast at Bicheno and stays pinned to the shores through a string of holiday towns into St Helens. Enticing detours beckon to Maria Island, Freycinet Peninsula and larapuna/Bay of Fires.
Wild Atlantic Highway
This 2600km drive, running the length of Ireland’s west coast, is the full Atlantic highlights reel – cliffs tipping into the ocean, prehistoric sites, wind-whipped detours onto coastal loops such as the famous Ring of Kerry and Dingle Peninsula.
Stretching between Inishowen Peninsula in the north and Kinsale in the south, it clings to Ireland’s wildest edge, dipping into towns rich in Celtic heritage as it wriggles along one of Europe’s most battered and beautiful coastlines.
There are good reasons why this 230km road between Lake Louise and Jasper in the Canadian Rockies has often been labelled the most beautiful road in the world.
As it squeezes between high peaks, glaciers burst through the mountains at its edge, and the road is lined with impossibly blue lakes. Wildlife regularly stops traffic – ever been in a bear jam? – and the driving is at its best as the Parkway climbs up and over two high mountain passes.
In a civilising decree, trucks are banned on the Parkway to enhance the experience as a scenic drive.
Grossglockner High Alpine Highway Road
Get high on Austria’s loftiest road, crossing through the Alps in the shadow of the country’s tallest mountain. Stretching 48km from Bruck to Heiligenblut, the audacious road is revered by motorcyclists and sports-car enthusiasts, climbing to a 2500m-high mountain pass and coiling through 36 dizzying hairpin bends as it traverses the largest national park in the Alps.
The scenic showstopper is Franz- Josefs-Höhe, a visitor complex that stares across the longest glacier in the eastern Alps to 3798-metre-high Grossglockner, Austria’s highest mountain. It’s a mountain spectacular.
Great Ocean Road
Whoever named the Great Ocean Road wasn’t kidding. Australia’s most famous drive is a coastal masterpiece sculpted by nature, bringing together sea stacks and surf, rugged shores and rainforest, whales and waterfalls.
The abrupt nature of the coast, with its hills and cliffs emerging direct from the sea, gives shape to the road as it twists and turns for 250km from Torquay to Warrnambool, seeming at times to almost overhang the sea. The drive presents motorists with immense variety, from the thunderous surf of Bells Beach at one end to the statuesque Twelve Apostles at the other, with a string of holiday towns and the deep-green slopes of the Otway Ranges in between.