6 Essential (and Easy!) Road Trips to Take Abroad
The route. The pit stops. And where to rent the ideal vehicle.
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“If Ewan McGregor and I could do it, anybody could do it.”
That’s Charley Boorman. And he’s talking about road trips.
He and the ubiquitous Scottish actor are famous for their long-distance motorcycle tours, including Scotland to South Africa and London to New York (going east).
And today, he’s one of six experts we spoke to in order to compile a list of essential (and beginner-friendly) road trips around the world.
Below: the routes, vehicles of choice, and where to rent them.
Will you start with the Kia in South Korea? Or the Harley in South Africa?
Iceland Ring Road by Gary Latham. Reproduced with permission from Epic Drives of the World © Lonely Planet 2018.
Route: The Magic Circle, Iceland’s Ring Road
Recommended by: Oliver Berry, from the Lonely Planet book Epic Drives of the World, where you can find the full itinerary
Details: Route 1 starting and ending in Reykjavik, approximately 830 miles
Why you recommend it: “The amazing thing about Iceland’s Ring Road is that it takes you through the full diversity of Iceland’s incredible landscapes. You start out in Reykjavik and in a little over a week, you get to see pretty much everything Iceland has to offer: stupendous waterfalls, geothermal pools, active volcanoes, massive glaciers, wild beaches. You name it, chances are you’ll see it. It also makes you realize just how wild many areas of Iceland are. Driving down the east coast, for example, you can often travel for miles without seeing another car.”
A can’t-miss pit stop: “It’s well worth detouring off the main Ring Road to see the enormous waterfall of Dettifoss, which is 100m across and the biggest in Iceland in volume. It’s a mind-blowing sight — so massive it’s almost impossible to take it all in. It was used in the opening scene of Ridley Scott’s Prometheus. When I originally saw the film I thought it had to be CGI, but then I went to Dettifoss and realized Mother Nature had already done all the work! I also recommend Mývatn, one of the most geologically active areas in iceland — a real lunar landscape of bubbling mud pools and crazy mineral colours. There’s a lovely cafe there called Vogafjós, where the chefs bake a special bread using the geothermally heated ground underfoot.”
What you should drive: “It’s worth getting a comfortable car, as distances are pretty long, and even now some of the more remote stretches of the Ring Road can be in a bit of a rough state. It’s supposedly paved all the way round, but bad weather, erosion and geological activity mean that sometimes you run into unpaved sections. A 4WD isn’t really necessary if you’re sticking just to the main route, but if you’re travelling outside summer or planning on venturing away from the Ring Road at any point — especially into Iceland’s interior — it’s essential. Also make sure there’s a spare tire, and that you know how to change it. If you run over a rock way out on the Ring Road, sometimes it can be a while before anyone comes along to help.”
What to bring: “An MP3 player loaded with good driving tunes, ideally with a good selection of Icelandic artists like Sigur Rós, Björk, the Sugarcubes, Tallest Man on Earth and so on. The music really makes a different kind of sense when you play it in the context of the Icelandic landscape. And make sure you pack a raincoat. Even if it doesn’t rain, you’ll be visiting plenty of waterfalls!”
Photos by Mark Read. Reproduced with permission from Epic Drives of the World © Lonely Planet 2018.
Route: Northland & The Bay of Islands, New Zealand
Recommended by: Brett Atkinson, from the Lonely Planet book Epic Drives of the World, where you can find the full itinerary
Details: Start and end in Auckland, making a loop through Whakapara, Opua, Opononi and Dargaville, approximately 613 miles
Why you recommend it: “This is a Kiwi road trip that’s really made for driving, with lots of twisting, turning corners taking in some of the country’s best coastal scenery. It’s also a journey through the country’s history, including the culture of New Zealand’s indigenous Maori people. Personally, it’s a trip which evokes many special memories of negotiating the same roads with friends and family.”
A can’t-miss pit stop: “Around eight miles northeast of Matakana, a quiet road descends to sleepy Mathesons Bay. There’s excellent swimming at the compact cove, and if you visit on a weekday, there’s every chance you’ll have the beach all to yourself.”
What you should drive: “Renting an SUV is a vital decision, as this journey is quite hilly and takes in many meandering and winding roads. Having a good-sized trunk is a good idea so you can pack a bodyboard to tackle the usually gentle surf of Waipu Cove. After an hour of fun, head back to Waipu township and enjoy craft beers at McLeod’s Brewery. Car rental companies can be found around Anzac Avenue and The Strand in downtown Auckland.”
What to bring: “I’d be sure to pack a cooler to take advantage of buying New Zealand gourmet produce, wine and beer at farmers markets, wineries and breweries along the way. That way, I’d be prepared for spontaneous on the road picnics throughout the journey.”
Charley Boorman (2 images)
Photos: Boorman’s African road trip, @ignitionrojas profile of Boorman
Route: Cape Town, South Africa to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, or vice versa
Recommended by: Charley Boorman, actor, travel writer, TV personality and motorcycle fanatic who hosts three expeditions a year — one in Australia and two back-to-back in Africa — based on his famous world-crossing trips with friend Ewan McGregor that were captured in two TV series and books called Long Way Round and Long Way Down. More recently, he traced his passion for motorcycles from his childhood (his father is director John Boorman of Deliverance) to today in the memoir Long Way Back.
Details: “I came up with this idea of going from Cape Town to Victoria Falls through South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe, and doing a 16-day tour. We stay in the most beautiful places and take people on safaris and they ride beautiful gravel roads and tarmac [paved] roads. There’s a big enough amount of gravel for it to be a bit of a challenge, but it’s not impossible to do. Anyone with a bit of riding experience can do it.”
Why you recommend it: “About nine years ago, I came up with this idea of taking a bunch of people through Africa on motorbikes. I wanted people to experience Africa, because I absolutely love the place. It’s the only place in the world where you can be riding along and you have to stop because 40 or 50 elephants are crossing the road. Every day you see kudu and dik-dik and giraffes, it goes on and on and on.”
What’s different about the Australia tour: “It’s a shorter tour, and it’s all on tarmac. You start in Melbourne and then you go all the way through Tasmania. Anybody who has a license can do that.”
What you should drive: Boorman’s expeditions have a list of bikes available. The September 2019 trip from Cape Town to Victoria Falls has a BMW F 800 GS still available, and the Victoria Falls to Cape Town trip has BMW R1200 GS, F 800 GS and F 800 GS Adventure slots still open.
What to bring: “I always bring baby wipes because you never know when you’re going to get stuck in the middle of nowhere. The other thing is one of these silk liners you slip into your sleeping bag. Balled up it’s next to nothing, and bed bugs can’t go through silk, so you get a little bit of protection. I’ve been traveling through India and ended up in a little hotel and the bedroom just looked a bit … sh*t, really. I thought, I don’t really want to sleep in that bed, and got my little silk liner out. Perfect.”
Route: The Garden Route, South Africa
Recommended by: Paul Blignaut of GS Africa, a motorcycle rental and tour company highly recommended by Boorman
Details: “The Garden Route is a world famous stretch along the eastern coastline starting 120 kilometers from Cape Town and extending past the coastal town of Knysna and 100 kilometers on. Knysna is a popular overnight stop with superb accommodations at the small boat harbor and many activities. Then on to Oudtshoorn, joining up on Route 62 (the South African equivalent to Route 66), overnighting in either Montagu or Franschhoek (the best wine farms), and looping 90 kilometers back to Cape Town.”
Why you recommend it: “The rider has an option of not only riding sealed pavement but also plenty of gentle gravel track, which is the only way to access the many fisherman villages. The ride includes twisty mountain passes and dramatic scenery on the return loop via Route 62.”
A can’t-miss pit stop: “For the more adventurous rider, a shark-cage diving experience at Gansbaai is a must. Alternatively, the highest bungee jumping site in South Africa is halfway along the trip. For the average rider, Angie’s G Spot on the way up and Ronnies Sex Shop on the way back home — both good clean fun spots where everyone hangs out for a snack and a beer.”
What you should drive: “Any GS is the weapon of choice.” The shop can help you choose depending on what types of roads you want to take, but the bikes range from the BMW F 800 GS Adventure to the Harley-Davidson Sportster 883.
What to bring: “Music in my helmet via a Sena 10C. [Only in one ear, of course.] The total loop distance is [745 miles], so it could get lonely out there.”
Photo by Andrey Andreev
Route: Transfăgărășan Highway, Romania
Recommended by: Andrey Andreev, travel blogger and photographer who details his trip on his website
Details: Andreev lives in Bulgaria, so his trip began in Sofia, Bulgaria and ended in Sibiu, Romania, which is one option. For Romanian-specific routes, you can’t go wrong starting in Bucharest, heading up to Pitești, then along Transfăgărășan to Sibiu, and round to the infamous Transylvania before heading back. Important to note: the road is closed during most of the year because of snow, generally October until the end of June, so plan this one for summer 2019.
Why you recommend it: “For us it was the breathtaking panorama all along the road. I generally love driving through curvy mountainous roads not only because of the views, but also because of the adrenaline. Moreover, this road also has a historical value; it was built by former dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu and is something like an engineering madness.”
A can’t-miss pit stop: “The most visited place is probably the scenic Bâlea Lake. However, I think the Vidraru Dam is also worth a stop. And you can take your time enjoying the marvelous views on the top of the mountain, somewhere in the middle of the road [pictured above].”
What you should drive: You’ll want some oomph, of course, but as Romania is (most likely) well out of the way of your normal travels, you’d do well with English-language friendly rental company Sixt and nabbing something along the lines of a BMW 3 Series.
What to bring: “GPS is essential for road trips, and I also never go anywhere without my camera and photography equipment.”
Route: South Korea From Top to Toe
Recommended by: Jonathan Thompson, from the Lonely Planet book Epic Drives of the World, where you can find the full itinerary
Details: Start in Seoul and end in Busan, approximately 285 miles
Why you recommend it: “South Korea is such an extraordinarily different environment to anything we’re used to in the West (I live in the U.S., but grew up in the U.K.). Everything is so intriguing, alien and delicious in every way — from the cuisine to the culture. As a country, it’s absolutely fascinating, and even more so outside of Seoul. This is a road trip where you will feel challenged, stimulated and surprised at every turn.”
A can’t-miss pit stop: “On the first night out of Seoul we stayed in one of the best hotels I’ve ever discovered — Haslla Art World. I cannot recommend this place highly enough. It’s worth the journey alone. I literally slept in an enormous wooden bowl here.”
What you should drive: “Obviously a Kia. The locals love them. The Kia Stinger is an absolute treat to drive. Handles well in traffic but also very smooth — glides along the coastal roads. I’d pick one up at Incheon Airport if you’re headed north to south, then fly back from Busan after dropping the Kia at the airport there.”
What to bring: “An appetite! The food in South Korea is insanely good. Especially the seafood in Busan, and the amazing barbecue. Otherwise, my three priorities when it comes to travel accessories are practicality, sustainability and color! (After all, travel is about having fun.) So my current favorite item is [the Cotopaxi Sumaco daypack] which ticks every box. I love it!”
Main photo courtesy of Campbell Bell Communications
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