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5 unmissable road trips around the world - by someone who drives for a living

Our motors correspondent Melanie May reveals her favourite routes.

Image: Shutterstock/kavram

AS A MOTORING journalist, one of the perks of my job is that I get to test cars in some pretty stunning locations and on some great driving roads.

However, it turns out that the best roads I have driven have been whilst travelling not working.

Now, disclaimer time: I’ve not driven the classic ‘best roads in the world’ – the Stelvio Pass, Big Sur, the Col de Turini etc – but the roads I have driven are just as impressive in their own right. Plus, they are routes that perhaps not too many people might have heard of. It is these that I would like to share with you.

1. The Forgotten World Highway, New Zealand

Source: Shutterstock/Stefano Geminiani

In 2007 I travelled around New Zealand in a Nissan Serena (don’t judge) and the one road that sticks out in my mind all these years later is Highway 43 on the North Island – aka the Forgotten World Highway.

The road starts sedately, passing through picturesque scenery, but then you hit the first of many saddles and that’s when the driving fun begins as you try to negotiate the tortuous corners.

This road takes you through the quirky Whangamomona Republic – both a goat and a poodle have been President here – and then on to the wondrous Moki tunnel, aka the Hobbit’s Hole – a 500-metre tunnel hand carved with pickaxes. On the other side of the tunnel the road turns to gravel as you drive through the stunning Tangarakau Gorge. The road then climbs several more saddles affording fantastic views of Mt Ruapehu before  dropping down to follow the Whanganui River, which, in a world first has been legally recognised as a living entity. All of that happens along one 148km stretch of road and that is why it is one of my best ever drives.

2. Las Vegas to Grand Canyon South Rim via Route 66

Source: Shutterstock/Trevor Christopher

In 2010, I drove from Las Vegas to the Southern rim of the Grand Canyon in a Ford Focus saloon. And yes, it’s probably an obvious choice… but Arizona’s Route 66 between Kingman and Seligman is the longest remaining stretch of the historic highway and not one that you hear much about. The views are expansive but it’s the places you see along the route that are the real highlight. The towns are full of history and old world charm.

The old Route 66 is quite challenging to drive because, well, the road is in bits. But there are enough pitstops along the way so you can get out and crack your spine back into place. When you do get back on to tarmac the roads are so straight and empty that you’d swear they were never-ending. You can literally see for miles all around.

The route will also take you past the Hoover Dam, through an Indian reservation and the beautiful Kaibab National Forest as it cuts its way though the ever changing scenery of Arizona till you reach the breathtaking Grand Canyon. It really is a classic road trip that shows you a slice of American life that is slowly disappearing.

3. Ruta 40, Argentina

Source: Shutterstock/elxeneize

Ruta 40, known in Argentina simply as ‘La Cuarenta’, is the longest highway in the country and one of the longest in the world with a length of over 5,140km. The road is legendary partly due to Che Guevara who travelled along much of it on his motorbike.

In 2009, I did the 1,572km stretch between Torres del Paine on the border with Chile and San Carlos de Bariloche. The road cuts though some fabulous untamed landscape and it is eerily empty.

You can go for hours without meeting another car and for me, that is one of its best features. Much of the road is unpaved and usually consists of gravel or dirt (at least, it did in 2009), and the many hairpin turns are followed by endless-seeming straights.

You have nothing for company apart form the immense blue skies, decorative clouds, Andean condors and the dusks and sunrises over the endless steppe. This really is one of the most epic drives in the world.

4. The Transfăgărășan Highway, Romania

Source: Shutterstock/Maks Ershov

Jeremy Clarkson said the Transfăgărășan Highway is “the most amazing road I’ve ever seen”, and I agree with him one hundred per cent.

It is a marvel of engineering and the history of its construction is just as incredible as the drive itself. This truly is a driver’s road thanks to its never ending twists and turns and undulation.

You are constantly changing gear and giving the car a good workout. It really takes a lot out of you too! But the roadpasses some very pretty scenery – you can stop off and visit the ruins of Vlad the Impaler’s castle, or take a cable car ride though the think forest of the Carpathian mountains.

My only quibble is that the route is only 100km, it is far too short and you’ll want to turn around and do it again. You can read the full account of my Romanian road trip here.

5. Ballaghbeama Gap and Glannagilliagh, Co Kerry

Source: Dave Humphreys

If I were to pick one road here in Ireland that is really enjoyable to drive it is the Ballaghbeama Gap and Glannagilliagh. These roads run from Capparoe Cottages on the Ring of Kerry and cut across the mountains in the centre of the Iveragh Peninsula till you reach Caragh Bridge.

The scenery is wild and varied and, apart from the sheep, you usually have the place to yourself, which is good cause the roads can get quite narrow in places. The route is great to drive with lots of bends, climbs and descents – but best of all you get off the beaten track, avoid the crowds of tourists on the Ring of Kerry, and get into some very remote and what feels like unexplored territory. It’s an adventurous drive.

READ: How some of Ireland’s most popular cars depreciate over four years >

READ: The 10 most congested cities in the world – and how Ireland measures up >

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