We’re big road trip fans. You can’t beat the feeling of driving along an open road in an unfamiliar country, embarking on the ultimate adventure. So here are our top ten road trips to take in 2014 – think winding coastal roads in South Africa, New Zealand and the USA, along with something a little more unusual. Enter Iceland, Namibia and Mongolia. We think this summer might just be the summer of road trips.
South Island Circuit, New Zealand
Heading west from Christchurch on highway 77 the road takes you through the Canterbury plains and along the edge of the Southern Alps, heading towards the Mackenzie region and the bright blue glacier fed Lake Pukaki and Lake Tekapo. Whilst Pukaki boasts incredible views of Mt Cook – Australasia’s highest peak – it’s Tekapo that really commands attention. With minimal light pollution, this is one of the world’s best places for stargazing and a night spent here is a must – the Mt John observatory offers panoramic views of the Mackenzie basin by day and wondrous sky tours by night.
While many head straight to Queenstown from here, we love the wild ‘off the beaten track’ vibe of the Southland coastline, with a wetter climate fuelling the ferocious waves that lap at the Cathedral caves and flow through the Purakaunui waterfall.
The legendary Milford road is one of the most beautiful stretches of road in the world, with the glassy mirror lakes and u-shaped glacial valleys carving out the way to New Zealand’s most famous natural wonder. Doubtful Sound, however, is our pick of the fiords with limited accessibility making this a less popular tourist destination, with a fraction of the crowds Milford attracts. Considerably greater in size than the neighbouring Milford Sound, Doubtful can only be reached across Lake Manapouri, before an incredible drive through Wilmot pass as you enter ‘the sound of silence’.
While we love Queenstown, it’s Lake Wakatipu that has caught our eye. Midway along the lake sits halfway bay – a shepherd station and freshwater pebble beach only accessible by boat. At the top end of the lake and the mouth of the Dart River sits the tiny town of Glenorchy, with Milford Sound sitting literally on the other side of the mountain range.
Highway 6 winds through Otago and Mt Aspiring national park towards the rugged west coast, right in the heart of ‘Te Wahipounamu’ or ‘the place of greenstone’. Kauri trees and limestone formations such as The Ballroom Overhang line the coast with unobtrusive coastal towns dotted along the winding road – this is one of the few places in the world where the rainforest meets the ocean, and the view of the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers tucked between the Southern Alps is unforgettable.
Abel Tasman National Park is one of New Zealand’s unsung gems, with the secluded sandy bays, clear waters and warmer climate making this the kiwi’s favourite summer holiday destination. Totaranui sits a scenic drive away over the Tasman mountain range with hidden bays accessible only via winding hair pin roads – but the rough drives are well worth it (we recommend hiring a 4×4). Tata and Wainui bays are just two of our favourites and Cape Farewell – the northernmost point of the South Island, has expansive vistas over the farewell spit fading into the distance.
West Coast Drive, Western Australia
Head 110km north from Perth on the Indian Ocean drive (highway 60) and you’ll find yourself in the tiny town of Lancelin, one of Australia’s top spots for windsurfing, with Western Australia’s largest sand dunes separating the town from the deserted beaches. Access to the hidden sand valleys on the edge of the dunes requires a 4×4, but with a real sense of seclusion and the chances of spotting another human minimal, the off-road drive through the dunes is unbeatable.
The town of Jurien Bay boasts a well-kept secret – Sandy Point. In the heart of Nambung National Park, a hidden dirt track off highway 60 just south of Jurien leads you to the remote sandy bay dotted with Eucalyptus trees and dune grass. A ten minute walk up the cliff showcases the panoramic views of the coast, with Geraldton far in the distance and unbelievable sunset vistas.
Further north along the coast and the white sands transform into steep red cliffs, a beautiful contrast against the deep blue Indian Ocean. The Murchison River gorge in Kalbarri National Park might not be as impressive as the likes of The Grand Canyon, but at 80 kilometres long and 129 metres deep with unusual rock formations such as Nature’s Window, we reckon it’s a close contender.
A little off the beaten track (150km, to be precise) is Shark Bay, home to world’s highest population of tiger sharks and dugongs, thanks to the vast sea grass meadows lying on the ocean floor. One of Western Australia’s highlights, a visit to this little known peninsula gives you hidden lagoons, natural hot springs and opportunities to feed the wild (albeit tame) bottlenose dolphins at Monkey Mia.
It’s one of the world’s seven natural wonders, so it’s little surprise that the Great Barrier Reef gets all the hype. But halfway along the west coast is Coral Bay, home to Ningaloo Reef, and we reckon the competition is close. Unlike the Great Barrier Reef, Ningaloo is within swimming distance from the shore and as Australia’s largest fringing reef it stretches along the coast for 260 kilometres, forming part of the migratory route for humpback whales, manta rays and whale sharks – along with an abundance of other marine life.
The Great Ocean Road, Victoria
Great being the apt/appropriate word, the Great Ocean Road is a fantastic way to acquaint yourself with the beauties of rural Australian nature whilst keeping the luxurious comforts of a city break. Built from 1919 to 1932 by returning soldiers from World War 1 as a poignant memorial to the men who died, this is one of Australia’s most incredible road trips and is something of a local icon.
Stretching from Torquay across to Warranambool in south-western Victoria, the unblemished coastal road will take you past the best surf beaches, the thriving wildlife and provide a snap shot of Australia’s untouched natural beauty.
Naturally, you’ll want the ocean on your side of the road, so we recommend heading east to west. Beginning in Torquay at the legendary Bells beach (the ultimate surfers paradise) the winding road twists around the Victorian coastline with the Southern Ocean on your left and the edge of the bush to your right.
An easy relaxed road trip, it’s the perfect route to take at your own pace and stop off as many times as you like enjoying the spectacular views with one of the six million koalas who can’t get enough of the inspiring views either.
The Great Ocean road is a stunning showcase of Australian wildlife. Look out across your left for the impressive migration of the elegant southern right whales in the Southern Ocean or venture to the right into lush rainforest to meet koalas, kangaroos and an astonishing array of birds. You may even be lucky enough to catch sight of the odd, shy and elusive platypus in one of the lakes or rivers.
The salty coastline from Cape Otway up to Port Fairy is an outstanding viewing point for the most breath-taking sight, the magnificent Twelve Apostles dotted along the Shipwreck Coast.
The eight towering impressive limestone monoliths proudly standing 80 feet high and 20 feet wide are best seen at dusk or dawn, with the addition of the entertaining wildlife which appears at these times an incredible bonus. An early start is definitely worth it to see the hordes of fairy penguins rushing out from their cave dwellings and waddling into the sea for their day of fishing, returning at dusk to feed their young in their beachside burrows.
Make sure you visit the State Game Reserve which sits in the crater of an extinct volcano, home to thousands of years of Aboriginal history and heritage. Keep your eyes out for Aboriginal rock paintings dotted all over the site.
Iceland’s Ring Road
A freezing volcanically active island just below the Arctic Circle, Iceland is an unrivalled explosion of natural elements creating landscapes filled with unforgettable scenery. The N1 is a 1,339 kilometre ring road circling the island and enabling intrepid explorers to enjoy all of this epic wilderness.
After revelling in the chicness of Reykjavik, start off with the Golden Circle. Comprising of Geysir, the original geyser spurting steam far above, Thingvellir, the Viking site of the oldest parliament in the world and the stunning Gullfoss waterfall, they can all be visited in one day. Diving in the Silfra crack between the North-American and Eurasian continental plates will give you a chilly thrill as you attempt to touch both continents at the same time, in the only place in the world where you can see how these plates are drifting apart.
It’s time to hit the open road and head up the infamous volcano that grounded flights in 2010, Mount Eyjafjallajökull (even the name looks evil). Before that, be sure to jump out of your car and take a short ferry trip to Vestmannaeyjar Island, a volcanic island that burnt half its only town to the ground in 1973 with a spectacular eruption. Looking out to sea you’ll spot Surtsey, another island created through an eruption that lasted a mighty 6 years. Cross over the Markarfljót River and stop off at the legendary Seljalandsfoss and Gljúfrafoss waterfalls, a pair of waterfalls that wouldn’t look out of place if there were unicorns wandering around the waters.
Next on the agenda is a trip to the beach at Reynisfjara near the town of Vík, this is an astounding example of Iceland’s amazing geological features with black volcanic sands and basalt columns protruding from the cliffs. Here you’ll find the gateway to Vatnajökull National Park, which is home to Europe’s largest glacier. With plenty of options to choose from, we recommend you check out one of the many ice caves in Skaftafell and climb onto the glacier tongue at Svínafellsjökull, but be warned, the unpredictability of the area does mean you will need to be accompanied by an experienced guide. You may remember the glacial lake of Jökulsárlón from James Bond’s Die Another Day, the lagoon lies to the east and can be explored by sailing between icebergs of this jagged backdrop. Stay after dark to witness the most photographed view of the Northern Lights, and yes we think that probably makes it the best.
Continuing 5 hours northeast on the ring road you’ll notice a stark change in landscape from the glacial blues to arid reds as you approach Dettifloss waterfall, Europe’s most powerful waterfall, which appeared in the opening scene for the film Prometheus. Not far is the surreal terrain of Námaskard with its red soil speckled with tiny volcanic steam holes, the Mars-like scape provided training for Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin as they prepared for the moon walk in the sixties. Further west is Lake Mývatn, surrounded by craters and bubbling mud pools, which in winter is perfect temperature to take a dip and rivals the waters of the Blue Lagoon. We dare you to try it in a blizzard.
Head further on N1 to the quaint town of Húsavík to whale watch and onto Akureyri for its vibrant bar scene to step back into reality. Finally, for authentic, untouched Iceland, the West Fjords are best enjoyed under the tantalising glow of the Northern Lights in the winter and the Midnight Sun in the summer.
Garden Route, South Africa
At the foot of South Africa sits the Garden Route a lush slender stretch of coastal plain, an easy and beautiful introduction to South Africa. Starting off in the quaint seaside town Mossel Bay, blessed with the world’s mildest year-round climate after Hawaii, the N2 highway will take you along the coast to the dramatic rugged beauty of Storms Rivers Bay.
Named the Garden Route after the diverse nature along the southern coastline (in comparison to the dry inland of South Africa), it is a spectacular place to experience the country’s wildlife away from the dusty grasslands of the savannah. A wonderful highlight is watching marine life from Rodderg Beach which offers exciting views of majestic whales and pods of spirited dolphins. Whale and dolphin watching is just the tip of the wildlife iceberg with sightings of lions, elephants, rhinos, cheetahs and many more creatures all on offer when enjoying an exhilarating game drive from one of the numerous lodges along the route.
While this road trip can be journeyed in a day, the abundant national parks, beaches and towns dotted along the way make this journey best enjoyed at a leisurely pace, taking advantage of the first-class hotels and lodges along this beautiful scenic road.
For the adventurous looking for some adrenaline, pulse racing activities, take in the spectacular sweeping views of the coast from the skies with hang-gliding, paragliding, parachuting or a hot air balloon ride. However for those who like to keep their feet firmly on the ground there is an abundance of tranquil lagoons and beautiful beaches overlooking the Indian Ocean, you will be spoilt for choice of where to relax, recline and unwind. We recommend Sedgefield, a pretty little coastal town and a secret gem of the route, recently named South Africa’s first slow city or ‘Cittaslow’.
Skeleton Coast, Namibia
One of our favourite road trips the Skeleton Coast is a barren stretch of dramatic coast along the west of Namibia, named after the countless eerie shipwrecks which lost their fight against the treacherous sea.
The shore of a thousand shipwrecks will take you from the German colonial town of Swakopmund up north near the border of neighbouring Angola. The challenging, hostile terrain of this long straight salty road is not for everyone but the incredible sense of achievement for those who complete it is unlike anything else. With no option of Sat Nav or GPS to guide you through, a keen sense of direction will come in handy with the direction provided by looking out for stones in the desert sand indicating left or right turns.
While the beautiful endless landscape, the gold and ochre hues of the sands a stunning contrast against the dazzling Atlantic blue ocean crashing against the shore, may seem desolate there is a vast array of discoveries to be made.
The Skeleton Coast offers an alternative to chasing the big five across the Sahara, instead marvelling at the animals which can survive in the severe unforgiving environment such as the desert-adapted elephants, spotted brown hyenas, zebras and the critically endangered black rhino. For a wildlife highlight, pay a visit to the Cape Fria filled with thousands of delightful seals, honking with abandonment and guaranteed to draw you in with their playful antics.
This ceaseless stretch of desert is best viewed from up top either after an exhilarating hike or drive up a gorge or the world’s highest roaring sand dune, a breath-taking way to survey the land you are about to conquer with your four wheel drive.
While the sun blazing 300 days a year enhances the superb natural colours of the land, its nightly disappearance will reveal a dense luminous blanket of stars. Due to its non-existent light pollution Namibia has been recently named an International Dark Sky Reserve. Enveloped by the incredible darkness and extreme calm, you will be gifted with 360 panoramic views of the dazzling star-scape.
To preserve its fragile environment only 800 visitors a year are allowed to the northern parts of this trail, with it accessible only by private plane. Being the experts in exclusive travel, please leave it to us to organise your invigorating, thrilling road trip across this hauntingly beautiful part of Africa.
Pacific Coast Highway, California
A country filled with iconic drives our ultimate US road trip has to be the California’s Highway 1 running along the Pacific Coast. Best enjoyed in an open top American Mustang convertible with the salty sea air filling your lungs, this coastal road has dizzying twists and turns leading you to dramatic romantic views of the Ocean and perfect opportunities for rejuvenating pit stops at wide, clean beaches, refuelling with delicious local delicacies at some of Americas best dining choices.
The Highway 1 stretches from the town of Leggett in northern California all the way into southern Mexico, though we would suggest taking the trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles, for uninterrupted coastal views with the ocean on your side of the road.
As you set off from the vibrant colourful city of San Francisco, after enjoying the lesser known stores and restaurants in the heart of the city recommended by us, prepare yourself for the overwhelming beauty of the untouched wild and coastline.
This road trip wouldn’t be complete without a visit Big Sur – journey across the rock cliffs in the shadow of the magnificent Saint Lucia Mountains, its raw beauty a chance to enjoy the simplicity of life. Not a recommendation for someone who suffers from vertigo, the thrill seekers should take the Hwy 1 a road carved out of the bedrock cliffs 500ft above the ocean. With no traffic lights, banks or shopping centres it is rural America at its simple best. Once the sun goes down, enjoy the moon and stars acting as the only streetlights.
Once you have driven through all this unforgettable nature stopping off at, amongst others, Pismo Beach, proud owner of the Clam Capital of the World title, and Santa Cruz with their old-school Americana boardwalk, arrive at Los Angeles for a spectacular finish to this road trip.
Mongolia, a country untouched by major tourism and surrounded by mystery, provides the perfect location for a road trip for thrill seekers. The vast wilderness of the Gobi desert is perfect for anyone who enjoys the invigorating outdoors and thrilling adventure.
Blessed with true remoteness and rugged nature, Asia’s largest desert is a driving challenge for people who want to get off the beaten track and surround themselves with kilometre after kilometre of nothingness. Use this road trip as an excuse to make the Gobi desert your own personal playground with miles of mountain ranges, lush forests, crystalline lakes and of course vast open desert spaces.
Highlights include drives up and down the legendary sand dunes of Khongoryn Els and visiting the impressive Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park named after the voluminous mountain range which sits on the eastern half of the park, with plenty of wildlife sightings such as golden eagles, snow leopards, camels, bears and gazelles.
Once you have tired of being behind the wheel of your four wheel drive, jump out and onto a Bactrian Camel which will take you to your stay at the traditional Ger camp. Stay with a Mongolian Nomadic family, known for their welcoming sometimes overwhelming hospitality, an authentic cultural experience any true traveller will relish. Take a lesson with the Eagle Hunter, learning the unique skills and techniques with one of the most experienced hunters of the region, all against the stunning, striking backdrop of the vast landscapes of the Bayan-Olgiy region.
Sandwiched between Russia and China, Mongolia has plenty which makes it an exceptional, outstanding travel destination in comparison to its neighbouring contenders. At the moment it is one of the last unspoiled travel destinations of Asia and we would recommend exploring the Gobi Desert as soon as possible, while this remains the case.
The dramatic landscapes are matched by the dramatic temperatures which can fluctuate over a couple of days reaching highs of 50 degrees and lows of -40 degrees, sometimes accompanied with wind speeds up to 85 miles per hour, so making sure you are prepared for this intense climate is an absolute must.
Road to Hana, Hawaii
The perfect road trip to fit into one unforgettable day, the Hana Highway on Hawaiian island Maui delivers stunning, jaw-dropping views for its entirety. While it may be a relatively small road trip it is no means lacking in adventure and thrills with the serpentine 109 kilometres including 600 hundred twists and turns with 54 narrow bridges to cross, most just one lane wide. Embarking on this coastal road will grant you with a 360 degree view of Hawaiian life, the dazzling azure blue sea stretching for miles accompanied with a balmy ocean breeze on one side and towering, cascading waterfalls and lush jungles of bamboo and fruit trees on the other.
Although the road will take you through a wonderland of Hawaii’s natural beauty, the road itself is a feat of human engineering, dug out of the precipitous eastern coastline for commuting sugar plantation workers. The short yet dramatic route will only take a few hours to complete awarding you with plenty of time to fill your day with pit stops to fully appreciate and explore all that Maui has to offer. Whether you fancy stopping for a hike in the cool jungle, a quick snorkelling meet and great with sea turtles, visiting sleepy seaside villages or a simple leisurely sunbathe, the Hana Highway hands it all to you on a plate.