Great Ocean Road

The Most Scenic Drives in the World


Sometimes there is nothing better than fastening your seatbelt, rolling down the windows and putting your foot to the pedal, so here is a look at five of the world’s most scenic drives. About as far as one can get from the congested and frustrating morning commute, these routes are sure to reacquaint you with the immutable joys of the open road.

California Highway 1

California Highway
(Image by mrkathika on Flickr)

Perhaps America’s most scenic drive is California Highway 1, a snaking 1550 mile road that hugs much of the west coast from Los Angeles to Seattle. And a particularly stunning section of this road is the 90 mile stretch between desolate, majestic San Carpoforo and quaint, cozy Carmel, a rugged mountain drive with twists and turns that follow the jagged shape of the California coastline. When driving on this road you will negotiate hairpin bends and chicanes and take in cliff-top vistas across the glimmering Pacific Ocean, powerful waves crashing far below as you speed ever onwards. Also on the way are memorable sights such as Hearst Castle, the dramatic coastal flanks of Big Sur and the breathtaking span of the Bixby Creek Bridge that curves over a mountain canyon 280 feet above the Ocean. In fact the most challenging aspect of this drive may be straining to keep your eyes on the road.

Oberalp Pass

Oberalp Pass
(Image from Wikipedia)

Europe is packed full of scenic high altitude passes, yet one of the most atmospheric is the Oberalp Pass, an Alpine route that connects the cantons of Uri and Graubunden. 6,670 feet above sea-level at its highest point, this highway is closed between late October and late April on account of the frequent heavy snowfalls that turn this area into a winter wonderland each year. So if you want to tackle the near 180 degree turns of this mountain ascent you will have to visit during the summer. Visitors can make a detour to visit the source of the Rhine at Tomasee, while hikers will enjoy the route around the Oberalpsee lake, pausing for views all the way to the snow-capped Urner Alps.

Irohazaka Pass

Irohazaka Pass
(Image from Wikipedia)

Many of the most scenic drives in the world can also be amongst the most deadly, though thankfully Japan’s Irohazaka Pass, a one-way switchback mountain climb, is far safer than it once was. Originally used by monks and hermetics, the inaccessible route was paved in the 1950s, and has been one of the most enjoyable and dramatic drives on earth ever since. The name Irohazaka derives from the ancient Iroha alphabet of 48 characters and each of the 48 spine-tingling curves you will tackle during this 1300 feet high ascent is dedicated to a letter of the alphabet. If you are confident enough to attempt driving this route, try visiting in early autumn to catch the crimson leaves of the surrounding forests, and take a trip to the Kegonnotaki Waterfall for sensational photo opportunities.

Great Ocean Road

Great Ocean Road

Just as photogenic, though far longer, the Great Ocean Road in Australia attracts drivers and bikers from around the world. When this spectacular Victorian road was first proposed, critics dubbed it a “wild cat scheme”, yet more than 75 years since opening this two lane, 151 mile highway continues to be one of the most scenic drives in the world. Winding its way along the Southern Ocean coast between Portland and Geelong, drivers can take in the epic sight of golden, limestone cliffs, spot Southern Right Whales as they migrate the seas, and perhaps pull over for a spot of surfing or sea kayaking. Make sure to stay on this road all the way to the Twelve Apostles, impressive limestone stacks and arches standing up to 150 feet high. If you hang around until dusk you may even be rewarded with the sight of colonies of penguins as they make their way back to the shore to rest.

Makran Coastal Highway

Makran Coastal Highway
(Image by bilalmirza on Flickr)

Another great seaside drive is Pakistan’s Makran Coastal Highway, running through the harsh Balochistan desert just a short distance from the Arabian Sea. Newly opened in 2004, this modern road is a joy for drivers at any level of expertise, with wide, sweeping curves, gentle descents and flat stretches right by the beach. Yet this drive is best appreciated for the unmediated grandeur of the landscapes you will pass through, from the gargantuan canyons of Hingol National Park and steep gorges carved out of ancient red clay to the world famous Sphinx limestone formation at the Buzi Pass. Ensure you check the weather reports for high winds when setting out on this drive, as the area is frequently enveloped in sand storms that reduce visibility make driving treacherous.

If you cannot reach any of these roads in your vehicle, then remember that there are great drives all over the world, from county lanes in rural Ireland to the thrilling high speed Autobahns of Germany. Drive responsibly, and have a great drive wherever you find yourself.

Date posted: 11th September, 2011

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