Road trips

Coastal Road Trips That Should Be On Your Bucket List

Get your motor running and head out on these coastal road trips past beaches, charming towns, mountain peaks and vineyards

The Garden Route, South Africa

Credit: Markus Wessollek/EyeEm/Getty Images

The marketing suits would have you believe that South Africa’s Garden Route extends from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth, but locals will tell you it only really gets interesting from the town of George, about halfway in. For the next 350 kilometres, the coastal road snakes through ancient yellowwood forests, still populated by a small number of wild elephants, across immense gorges (bungee off Bloukrans Bridge, one of the highest jumps in the world) and down to pristine beaches. The holiday towns of Wilderness, Knysna and Plettenberg Bay attract the majority of travellers, but it’s the little hamlets, such as Nature’s Valley and Storms River, that hold the Garden Route’s heart. There’s an archaic, timeless quality to this road trip: giant waves breaking across mussel beds, seasonal whales and local dolphins in many of the bays, early human rock art, deserted stretches of wide sand and warm lagoons. The beauty of the Garden Route is its simplicity – stick to the well-maintained, tarred, main N2 and all is revealed – save for the essential detour from just outside Plettenberg Bay to Nature’s Valley, down the astonishing switchback Bloukrans Pass. – Peter Frost

Total distance: 750 kilometres

Total time: 8:15 hours

Highway 11, Taiwan China

Credit: Wan Ru Chen/Getty Images

Highway 11 hugs Taiwan’s eastern coastline, a long, isolated stretch hemmed between mountain ranges and the sea. Unobstructed views of the Pacific Ocean come in glorious shades of blue, and on clear summer nights the Milky Way smudges the sky in a sparkling band. The most intriguing area is the small township of Changbin, about four hours’ drive down from Taipei. A group of young people with a deep love for their land have recently settled in Changbin, bringing luxury without the pretension. Tainan-born chef Nick Yang trained in a three-Michelin-starred establishment in Marseille before opening Sinasera 24, a sleek restaurant in the fields which fuses aboriginal Taiwanese and French cuisines. At Night of Lunar, drummer Qiu Yi uses seasonal ingredients and a lot of heart to create Taiwanese kaiseki dinners for just two tables each night. His family also runs my favourite B&B, the three-bedroom Wumum. From there I can walk out of bed and soak in the sunrise – and that sparkling band of the Milky Way. – Elaine Yu

Total distance: 324 kilometres

Total time: 6:10 hours

Credit: Alvin Huang/Getty Images

SS1 from Nice, France to Florence, Italy

Credit: Lisa Blue/Getty Images

In many ways, it’s the perfect itinerary: totally customisable. Door to door, you’re looking at about five hours. Not in a rush? Well, how long have you got? Sure, this coastal highway – known for most of its length as the SS1 – has all of the woes of motorway travel and more than its share of tunnels. But it also has the jewel that is the Ligurian sea out the window as you blast past Monaco and over the border to Sanremo. Crawling through the traffic of Genoa, you’ve got ancient church frescos to one side and towering cruise liners to the other. There’s always the sea, and that rugged coast that hides the Cinque Terre towns stacked into mountainsides (you can’t park anywhere near them, mind). And then, at the end of the road, Florence and Siena await, swapping undulating coast for perfectly rolling hills. Adam White

Total distance: 430 kilometres

Total time: 5:15 hours

Credit: Gian Reto Tarnutzer/Unsplash

It’s just over 20 kilometres, no more than an hour’s glide if you’re taking it slow— but Vietnam’s Hai Van Pass is analogous to the country itself. A winding, snaking road that divides its distinctive north and south regions, it’s a pass known to be full of beauty and treachery, adventure and danger, with an astonishing microclimate that turns from cold and damp to warm and dry as you make your way across it. Whether you’re smooth-sailing in the safety of an SUV or bumping along on the back of a motorbike, experiencing its thrills is best done journeying through Vietnam’s two most ancient cities – a three-hour road trip between the historic former capital Hue up north, down to the perfectly preserved Hoi An. On the way are sights that are microcosms of the country’s many highlights: ancient war bunkers and hilltop pagodas, waterfall nooks and old fishing towns. And on either side of Hai Van itself are those sweeping panoramas the pass has become famous for, with mountainous countryside set against pristine white-sand beaches and clear, turquoise waters.Pavan Shamdasani

Total distance: 122 kilometres

Total time: 3 hours

Credit: Jordan Opel/Unsplash

The Great Eastern Drive, Tasmania

Credit: Julieanne Birch/Getty Images

Tasmania’s Eastern coast is the island showing off, a conjunction of green life and sea spray best encapsulated in Wineglass Bay, the crown jewel of the Freycinet Peninsula halfway up the coast. But that’s by no means the only point of this trip. Start off by stocking up on picnic goodies at Hobart’s Salamanca Place, because you’re going to need them as you blaze a path up this flawless coast towards the isolated Spiky Beach for lunch – and then pop five minutes up the road to Kate’s Berry Farm to dig into life-giving Boysenberry ice cream. Tasmanian wine country rocks gentle chardonnays and subtle pinot noirs; but at the Devil’s Corner winery, the views are just as compelling. Sitting at the top of a valley, this modern structure incorporates a lookout tower from which the fields roll away towards the sea. If you have time, keep north on towards the Bay of Fires, whose orange-hued rocks glow like embers in the sunset. If not, then turn off for Launceston via the Elephant Pass, and a series of curves and bends overlooking mountains and valleys that make the heart sing.Adam White

Total distance: 277 kilometres

Total time: 3:30 hours

3 More Epic Road Trips with Views to Match

The Great Ocean Road, Australia

Credit: Thandy Yung/Unsplash

This 243-kilometre stretch is the perfect Melbourne add-on, thanks to its justly famed sandstone rock formations, the Twelve Apostles. Before you turn back, stop by the indie boutiques of Port Fairy for a touch of retail therapy.

Pacific Coast Highway, US

Left: Iris Papillon/Unsplash; right: Michael Hoeck/Alamy Stock Photo

California State Route 1 runs the length of the state: but it’s Big Sur where it truly shines, as mountains run down to crashing shores and the air off the Pacific Ocean whips at you in your convertible. You are in a convertible, aren’t you?

The Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland

Credit: K Mitch Hodge/Unsplash

This 2,500-kilometre route follows the entire winding, rugged west coast of Ireland – unless you have a lot of time on your hands, don’t think of doing the whole thing. But even in smaller chunks, it’s a blustery revelation.

Hit the Road

Sure, you could get off the plane and wait in line to be handed the keys to a nondescript white van. Or you could hit the road with our rental partners Hertz. You’ll be able to access discounted rates and earn Asia Miles for each booking, and Marco Polo Club members get car category upgrades in certain regions. You can even use your Asia Miles to redeem rentals.

Cathay Travell Book


Discovery online brings together all the inspirational travel writing from our two inflight magazines, Discovery and Silkroad. Be sure to look out for the print editions when you next fly with Cathay Pacific or Cathay Dragon.
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