Road tripping in the tropics

Road tripping in the tropics
By admin


THE OVERSEAS HIGHWAY, FLORIDA, US

Look out for: Alligators

Key Largo:

When you think about Florida you most likely think of swamps, over-sized reptiles, old people and floral shirts. But it’s also home to a marvel of over-water driving, the engineering equivalent of a lily pad where your car takes on the role of frog. Key Largo is the place to join Highway 1 for this unique coastal drive where you will travel between 100 islands supported by concrete pylons stacked in the coral rock bed. Markers at every mile cut back on any “Are we there yet” impulses too. They start at 0 in Key West but as you’re making your way from the mainland you’ll have to challenge yourself to counting backwards. Key Largo has the famous Everglades National Park on one side and North America’s only living coral reef on the other. It also calls itself the dive capital of the world and its reef brims with barracuda, nurse sharks and turtles. A redundant navy ship, Spiegel Grove, was sunk to create an artificial reef and it is now blooming with sponges and coral.

Lower Keys:

As you make your way to the southernmost point of the US along the Overseas Highway the Atlantic will be on your left and the Gulf of Mexico to your right. Your car will feel like a sea-faring vessel as it takes on the 42 bridges – the longest and most famous being the seven mile bridge. On land, the route harks back to old-school Americana and you will not go hungry as burger and shake shacks line the road. Along the way prepare yourself for the eccentricity of your final stop, Key West, with a look at Looe Key. If you have ever found the underwater eerily quiet and yearned for a tune you will find it at Looe Key’s Underwater Music Festival. Musicians use special instruments, some modelled on conch shells to produce a tune. It is difficult to tell where the music originates from so it is like a built-in surround sound experience.

Key West:

Key West is as far south as it is possible to venture and still be on US territory, outside of Hawaii. The island is four miles wide and two miles long and is an eccentric destination where you can lose your inhibitions. A good way to start is with a bet on racing turtles every Monday and Friday night at Turtle Kraals bar and restaurant. If you want to know about the chickens free roaming over the island, head to the Chicken Store which specialises in chook sponsorship. Stay at the Mermaid and the Alligator – the 1904 Victorian B&B has more than its name going for it – it has bright rooms, hammocks and resident dogs. Key West has a strong Caribbean influence as resident fishermen, sailors, Cuban refugees and artists live in the community of pastel coloured houses. Ernest Hemingway also chose to live and write here. His plantation-style homestead is open to visitors and his most prominent legacy, besides his books, are around 60 six and seven-toed cats. It all started with one – and Hemingway let them breed and run rampant over the property.

GREAT TROPICAL DRIVE, AUSTRALIA

Look out for: Cassowaries

Palm Cove:

This is the one road trip where tropical coast meets tropical rainforest as the Cook Highway bisects the point where two World Heritage sites merge. Start by driving half hour from Cairns to Palm Cove, an idyllic holiday spot. The beauty of this place is that everything you need is situated on one wide, palm-tree lined street. The town is flanked by a stunning turquoise beach on one side and al fresco restaurants, cafes and boutique shops on the other. The beach stretch looks like a fantasy computer wallpaper and the shabby chic architecture completes the seaside charm. The hotel that encapsulates it best is the Reef House Resort. If you stay the night be prepared to feel like you are on a desert island. Flames flicker in lanterns along corridors and the four poster beds are shrouded in mosquito netting.

Port Douglas:

This quaint tropical town looks has one main street lined with palms and street-side dining. The most populated you will find it is on Sunday, which is market day, where you can buy straw-pierced coconuts and shell necklaces. Cane toad racing is an institution at the Iron Bar and you can have a punt on the pests most nights. QT Hotel has brought the designer elements more often associated with Sydney and Melbourne to Port Douglas. The floral-shirt wearing staff will guide you to bungalow apartments and hotel rooms with areas named after cocktails. The restaurant, swim-up bar and cocktail lounge are destinations in their own right. Bazaar restaurant is buffet with a twist – they call it an interactive marketplace and it is located in a rustic kitchen setting. The chefs prepare eggs Benedict and chorizo sausages in front of you, the toast is hacked off artisan bread loaves and mini fruit smoothies change each day.

Cape Tribulation:

The ultimate wilderness stretch of the drive is the leg to Cape Tribulation. From Port Douglas you motor through cane fields and country towns until you reach a car ferry over crocodile infested waters. River conquered, you are now in the Daintree rainforest and signs will warn you to watch for cassowaries, despite how elusive they are. You should also look out for harmless green tree snakes who camouflage themselves in the tree vines.
Most visitors come to immerse themselves in the rainforest and often go hiking, unaware that it is possible to dive off Cape Tribulation. But those who want spectacular reef diving should make a beeline north. Great Barrier Reef trips out of Cairns and Port Douglas are overcrowded by day trippers but out of Cape Tribulation there is just one operator, the eco-friendly Ocean Safari. Due to the isolation of this outpost, the reef is pristine and with no more than 12 onboard it is entirely possible to lose yourself stalking aquatic life without seeing anyone.

THE GARDEN ROUTE, SOUTH AFRICA

Look out for: Elephants

Mossel Bay:

The 200km Garden Route along the Indian Ocean is one of the world’s iconic road trips. Mountains, beaches, coast and wine are all accessible via bitumen on this glorious South African drive. Mossel Bay is the start point and it offers 60km of white sand stretches as well as the only north facing beach in South Africa. If you want more adrenalin than a sunbake provides, you can dive off Mossel Bay. But make sure it’s within a cage, involves some bleeding fish and some personal mettle as you watch man’s most feared predator come gnashing at your metal-shielded face. You won’t feel so shielded after that run in but this bucket list wish of many will leave you feeling fearless and invincible – once out of the water that is. Let’s face it, if you can cage dive, you can tackle most of life’s trifles head on.

Knysna:

The Garden Route runs along the N2 motorway but don’t be tricked by the generic name – this is no black and white roadway. The motorway actually turns into the main street in Knysna, renowned for its historic Victorian houses and foliage clad streets. The warning signs for elephants are slightly misleading though. While elephants were once prolific it would be unlikely for one to cross the road in front of you nowadays. To assuage the disappointment, head to the Knysna Elephant Park where you can interact with the giant mammals. Knysna is situated on a rich lagoon that is heralded for its oysters, hosting a festival dedicated to the delicacy every July. While in Knysna you can also embrace nature with a stay in an up-market tree house at the Phantom Forest Eco Lodge. The elevated cottages have decks overlooking the treetops, glass gables and open ceiling bathrooms. The honeymoon suites have outdoor spa baths so you can view monkeys swinging by.

Plettenberg Bay:

The next stop in the triumvirate of destinations is posh Plettenberg Bay, the holiday haunt of wealthy Johannesburgers, who call it Plett. The Grand Cafe and Rooms at Plettenburg Bay is a boutique hotel that combines eccentricity with romantic chic. Think candelabras, stand alone baths, exposed piping and rustic shutters on windows that overlook the blue bay. The Bath House bedroom has a view out to a blue courtyard pool and feels intimately Moroccan. This hotel is also a culinary destination along the Garden Route. If diving off Plettenburg Bay look out for the native seahorse of Knysna called the cape seahorse. You will have to strain your eyes however – they only grow up to 10 centimetres in length. And if you travel east of Plett and meander off the N2 Motorway the rugged coastline of Nature’s Valley Park is your reward.

Email the Travel Weekly team at traveldesk@travelweekly.com.au

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