It's been an Australian holiday favourite since the 1890s when the inventor of our first steam car, Herbert Thomson, drove 790 km from Bathurst to Melbourne with a friend at an average speed of 14kph. Since then, few have resisted the lure of the open road, the sense of freedom, the joy of discovery along the way, the pleasures of staying somewhere different every night, and the companionship of fellow travellers.
And, of course, there's always that chance of engaging with colourful locals along the way. Easy Rider's Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper might have made far less of a roadtrip classic without encountering rednecks and hippies, while what would life have been like for the rest of us if Thelma & Louise had never discovered Brad Pitt at that gas station? And those stops among outback locals is what made our own The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
For far from city traffic jams, it's the ultimate joy of the journey, rather than the satisfaction of the destination, that fuels most successful roadtrips; the search for adventure on the road and the never quite knowing what's going to be around the next corner.
Traveller asked six of our best-known motoring industry figures for their choice of the world's most memorable drives. As you'll see, their answers ranged from touring the French Alps to the emerald coast of Ireland, from motoring around some of the top sights of the United States to those of the stunning natural parks of Tasmania.
"But make sure you always stay within the speed limit," advises racing great Dick Johnson. "And, of course, that's easier for some than for others."
• The most successful driver in Australian motor sport history, Craig Lowndes has won more championships races than any other driver at the sport's highest level, and is also the recipient of a record four Barry Sheene Medals, the sport's best and fairest award.
• Australian racing driver great Dick Johnson, five-times Australian Touring Car Champion, three-times winner of the Bathurst 1000 and a member of the V8 Supercar Hall of Fame. Today he owns his own team, Dick Johnson Racing.
• Presenter of the TV show Top Gear Australia on both SBS TV and the Nine Network, and Radio 3AW's resident motoring expert, Steve Pizzati is also the regular host of the Top Gear Festival shows.
• Two-time world champion motorcycle racer, Casey Stoner is one of the most talented speedsters ever. He retired from Grand Prix racing at the age of 27 in 2012 to spend more time with his family.
• Andrew MacLean is the national editor of Fairfax Media's Drive section, and was formerly the editor of both Motor magazine and Auto Action. He started his career with Ford's performance vehicles.
FROM LOCHS TO LEGENDARY COAST
Scotland to the Cote D'Azur
Champion racer Craig Lowndes completed the best roadtrip of his life last year (2013) – following in the tyre tracks of the first Australians to compete in an international motorsport rally 60 years before. Lowndes, together with two team-mates, drove over 3,500km in six days from Glasgow, Scotland, to Monaco, in a replica 1950s-era Holden.
"It was an incredible trip," says Lowndes. "You're driving along roads that most tourists never visit, seeing amazing places as you go, and all the while imagining how it must have been for the three Australians who originally did the drive.
"We started in Glasgow in January, like they did too, so we were driving through snow and all sorts of weather conditions, but at least we had a heater in our car. But maybe others could [have chosen] a better time of year ..."
The trio began driving through the hills and past the lochs of Scotland's second city, down through England to the port of Dover where they caught the ferry to French Calais and on to Reims and then Valance. From there, they drove the legendary routes of Ardeche and Haute-Loire, from Burzet to Saint-Bonnet-le-Froid, Saint-Jean-en-Royans to the Col du Corobin, via the Col de Turini, to Monte Carlo.
HOW TO GET THERE Fly to London and catch a connecting flight to Glasgow, or Emirates flies direct to Glasgow via Dubai. See emirates.com
MUST-DO Have afternoon tea in Glasgow's art deco beauty, the Willow Tearooms, designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh in 1904; shop in Calais on the Rue Royale; check out the gothic gargoyles at the Maison de Tetes in Valance.
THE LONG WAY TO TIPPERARY
Ireland, via the Wild Atlantic Way
It was nearly 20 years ago, but racing great Dick Johnson has never forgotten the very best – leisurely – drive of his life, down the west coast of Ireland. "What a beautiful place for a roadtrip!" he reminisces today. "It's just so green and beautiful with mountains and the water and cliffs ... And there are the gorgeous pubs, the lovely little B&Bs to stay in along the way, and the people are so incredibly friendly."
Johnson had gone over to trace his family history, as his father had come from Ireland, and a friend at the Grand Prix lent him a car for the two-week drive. He recommends starting in the south, in Kinsale in County Cork, and driving north along the rugged coastline to Donegal – or vice versa.
Along the Wild Atlantic Way are the soaring Cliffs of Moher, crashing waves, sandy beaches and quiet inlets, the pretty River Shannon, the awe-inspiring castles of Roscommon, Tipperary and Mayo and the landscapes that inspired the poet W.B.Yeats. The first glimpse of the stunningly beautiful Kylemore Abbey, on the lake, will never be forgotten.
There are plenty of cosy pubs just off the road, and welcoming B & Bs. "The roads were great and every so often, you'd come across gypsies in their horse-drawn caravans, travelling as they've always done," says Johnson. "It was amazing."
There were surprises around every corner, too. On one pit stop, Johnson found himself in a cemetery. "There, I saw the headstone for a guy who'd died in 1642. I was blown away by that. It makes you realise how young Australia is."
HOW TO GET THERE Fly to Dublin, rent a car at the airport and drive to your start at either Kinsale or Donegal, then take the coastal roads. You can spend from five days to three weeks exploring everything in between.
MUST-DO: Catch some Irish music at a pub; learn a few words of Gaelic in Galway; take a walk through the heather of the Galway moors
MY ISLAND ROAM
Hobart to Launceston, via Tasmania's east coast
Sometimes, revheads have trouble selling the idea of a roadtrip to a partner who might not be at all interested in a driving holiday, says Top Gear Australia star Steve Pizzati.
"But the single best drive in Australia stacks up with the best in the world, and it's an easy sell as there's so much great food and wine along the way. That's the drive from Launceston to Hobart, not through the centre but down along the east coast.
"That way, you can visit the most beautiful parks in Tasmania, as well as all those little fishing villages and charming out-of-the-way places the state is so well known for."
Pizzati starts out from Launceston, driving north to Scottsdale, east to St Helens, and then down the coast and over the awe-inspiring Elephants Pass and St Marys Pass over the mountains, and south through Bicheno, Freycinet and Swansea. Along the way, he visits the Blue Tier, Mount Pearson, Avenue River and St Pauls reserves as well as the Freycinet National Park.
"It's an absolutely magical drive," says Pizzati. "It's so beautiful, it makes you feel very patriotic. There are also lots of little fishing villages you and stop in and indulge in all sorts of culinary treats and great wines. You could almost do it for the food alone!"
HOW TO GET THERE Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin Australia all fly to Launceston and the Spirit of Tasmania ferry sails regularly from Melbourne into Devonport – from which it's just over an hour's drive. See qantas.com; jetstar.com; virginaustralia.com; spiritoftasmania.com.au
WHERE TO STAY There's a great selection of hotels, B&Bs and farmstays along the way. See discovertasmania.com.au
MUST-DO Have a seafood feast at the fishing port of St Helens; gaze down on the Tasman Sea from Elephant Pass while eating pancakes at the great restaurant on the top; go game fishing at Bicheno.
FROM PEAKS TO SHINING SEA
Northern California, along Route 49
It's around the mountains of the Sierra Nevada in the United States that motorcyclist Casey Stoner nominates his best-ever drives. "This area of northern California is incredibly beautiful – especially around our summer– and my last trip there took us along the old Route 49," he says.
"I'd gone to Sonora for a friend's wedding and then we decided to take a drive out to Yosemite Park and the road totally blew me away, although all the time I wished I had been on a bike! I'll definitely go back one day, hopefully with some friends and make a big trip out of it. The road surface is perfect for a bike, or a car, and the scenery is breathtaking."
Sonora, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, is a city known as the heart of California's 'gold country', and is named after the town in Mexico from which the miners came in search of gold in the 1840s.
The city is often used as the starting point of drives into the Yosemite Valley, with its spectacular granite cliffs, massive redwood trees, waterfalls and streams.
From there, Stoner recommends driving down to Monterey, the picturesque town on the water, with its almost-Australian culture of surfing, beach-lounging, swimming and whale-watching.
"Then take the coastal road from Monterey to Big Sur," says Stoner, of the rugged stretch of cliffs and canyons falling down to the Pacific Ocean, that so inspired Jack Kerouac. "That's another favourite of mine!"
HOW TO GET THERE Fly to Los Angeles and pick up a car for the drive
WHERE TO STAY At Yosemite, there's a lodge, a hotel, cabins and camp sites yosemitepark.com. Elsewhere, there's a large choice of hotels and motels.
MUST-DO Visit the Yosemite Valley's iconic Yosemite Falls, Half Dome and El Capitan; take a stroll around Fisherman's Wharf in downtown Monterey; splash out for dinner in Big Sur at the cliff-hugging Sierra Mar. See visitcalifornia.com.au
ROULETTE TO RUINS
Monaco to Rome
With its multi-million-dollar yachts, grand mansions hugging the hillsides, picturesque cobbled streets and the annual Monte Carlo Rally, the sovereign city state of Monaco, along the French Riviera, is one of the most stunning spots in the world – as well as its wealthiest. So it's little wonder that the drive from Monaco to Rome, up and down through the Alps, criss-crossing the French and Italian borders, is also a perennial roadtrip favourite.
"It's a pretty good way to spend a few days in the car," says Fairfax Media's Drive editor Andrew MacLean. "There's beautiful scenery and magnificent roads. You could do the direct journey in a day or two, but why wouldn't you stretch it out in such an extraordinary part of the world?"
He recommends a few days exploring Monaco before heading north, up through the French Alps, to the 2,757m-high Stelvio Pass in Italy, the highest paved mountain pass in the Eastern Alps with fabulous Alpine scenery along the sweeping road with its 48 breathtaking hairpin bends.
From there, head back south west to Lake Como, then south again through Milan and east to the World Heritage city of Verona, and south again to Tuscany. Stop too in its capital city, Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance, before finally heading down to Rome.
"If you can, hire a convertible for the trip," recommends MacLean. "It's fast, great for seeing scenery from and in that part of Europe, you need something stylish ..."
HOW TO GET THERE Fly to London, Paris or Rome and catch a connecting flight to Nice for the train, or drive, to Monaco.
WHERE TO STAY Don't miss a couple of nights at a hotel on Lake Como, a few nights in a villa in Tuscany, and a stopover in Verona.
MUST-DO Take a walk around Monaco harbour to view the yachts of the rich and famous; stop at the sandwich shop on top of the Stelvio Pass to admire the view; visit the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, one of the best art museums in the world. See visitmonaco.com; italia.it
FIVE MORE GREAT DRIVESAROUND THEWORLD
Drive editor Andrew MacLean names five more of his favourite roadtrips. drive.com.au
ACROSS THE NULLARBOR, AUSTRALIA From Perth, drive the Eyre Highway across the barren tree-less plains of the southern Australian semi-arid desert, seeing the soaring Bunda Cliffs, the Great Australian Bight, the huge cattle stations and historic homesteads along the 2000km way.
THE BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY, US From the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina, drive through both states with stunning views all the way over the Appalachian Mountains
DUBAI TO OMAN, MIDDLE EAST From Dubai, drive past magnificent folding sand dunes, stunning mountain ranges and the odd oasis fringed with date palms to the Musandam Peninsula in Oman, with its gorgeous outlooks over emerald waters studded with wooden dhows
KHARDUNG LA PASS, INDIA Drive over this winding mountain pass in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, widely believed to be the highest road in the world, at over 5,600 metres. All the way, marvel at the sight of the towering mountains of the Karakoram Range in the north to the Himalayas in the south.
THE EASTERN CAPE, SOUTH AFRICA Start in beautiful Cape Town, meander through the winelands, along the dunes and surf of the whale coast and up the famed Garden Route, all the way to the game reserves of Cederberg.
THE MAKINGS OF A GREAT ROAD TRIP
A DECENT VEHICLE Choose comfort every time over speed and style. You'll be spending a lot of hours in the car, so you want them to be as pleasant as possible.
FABULOUS SCENERY It could be mountain ranges, or stunning beaches, cliffs or quaint towns, but you definitely need something to look at.
GREAT PLACES TO STOP Make sure you do your research beforehand, and check whether you need to book. Nothing crushes the spirit more than a couple of nights sleeping with the steering wheel as a pillow
GOOD FOOD Check out towns known for their seafood, cheese or chocolate, and the restaurants with the best reviews before you even leave home.
FOOD MAP AND GPS Yes, both. You can't always depend on the satnav working, and there's little that frays the nerves more – and leads to the most arguments with your travel companion – than constantly getting lost.