Compiling a short list of cracking driving roads near Sydney might seem the no-brainer though it comes with more ‘buts’ than a cigarette factory (if you added another ‘t’, of course). Particularly if you throw in the criterion that a good drive is one that can be traversed in one day.
The slow-moving avalanche that is Sydney’s urban sprawl means that, today, any decent piece of driving road on suburbia’s doorstep is either highly trafficked, pummelled with constrictive and overzealously enforced speed limits, overrun by two-wheeled obstacles or, in most cases, all of the above. The Old Pacific Highway – aka ‘The Old Pac’ – north of Hornsby and the Royal National Park – aka ‘The Nasho’ – south of Sutherland, both conveniently located hot punts in times past, are the two most obvious victims whose popularity with punters and police alike have sucked their fun factors dry.
Instead, some of the more enjoyable driving roads are little further afield, yet can be easily accessed by, or in the vicinity of, some of more renowned touring roads which, in themselves, offer ample respite from the congested headache that is much of the Sydney metropolitan area. No, Sydney doesn’t make great roads exploration easy, but with effort and distance comes reward…
Better yet, we’ve linked together three satisfying and cracking drives that can be easily linked together if time and inclination is on your side…
Kurrajong Height is about 80 kays north-west of the Sydney CBD and most of is slow going on fair-weather driving days, but here is the effective start of Bells Line Of Road – perhaps one of Australia’s most bizarrely named pieces of hot-mix.
In distance and convenience, it’s the other, longer route across the Blue Mountains from the coast to the Central Tablelands in the west. Not only is it a genuinely fine, flowing and properly engaging drive, it thankfully avoids the horrors of the more obvious, alternative route. Sorry Blue Mountaineers, despite your general geniality, your quaint hamlets, your art and your cosy cafes, I’d rather complete a tax return in an igloo than subject myself to the slow-going, heavily trafficked, highly policed drive via the Great Western Highway.
Technically, the B59 runs 59 kilometres from Richmond to – no prises for guessing – Bell, and from here it either runs south towards Mount Victoria or onwards west to Lithgow. It starts springing curvy goodness from Kurrajong Heights but really gets its groove on once you past Bilpin, home to what really should be world renowned Apple Pies. Seriously, don’t pass this town without sampling its apple-y delights.
The traffic does seems to get lighter beyond Bilpin, and there are plenty of surface changes and easy overtaking points as the course takes on a meandering rollercoaster ride up and down through Mount Tomah and into the dense and beautiful landscape that is the guts of the Blue Mountains National Park.
Bells Line Of Road is less a purist driving road as it is a very grand touring road. It engages, but it won’t fully stretch the handling capabilities of anything more dynamic than a Winnebego. But it does present a fine blend of curves and scenery and it is emphatically the best route when you need to go west.
Better still, the section of road leading to Bell is surrounded by perhaps the most spectacular scenery of anywhere this close to Sydney. There’s ample goodness in these parts for bushwalkers and nature lovers.
As a round trip, it’s a half-day exercise at a pinch, most of a day if you stop to smell the eucalyptus. Overnights at Mount Victoria, Katoomba, Leura are highly recommended, and not merely because there’s another excellent, if twister, road nearby worth expanding your road trip for…
Just 10 kilometres west from Mount Victoria or south from Lithgow, wherever you happen to find yourself, is Jenolan Caves Road, Hartley, which enters from the Great Western Highway. And the run along this road from Hartley to Hampton, 20 kilometres south-west, is one of the best driving roads in New South Wales and one of CarAdvice‘s favourite stretches for appraising especially spirited sports and performance cars.
The fun starts just beyond the bridge at the Glenroy Cottages and Campgrounds, with a sequence of corners over the following five kilometres of particular radii and rhythm that really puts even the best chassis thoroughly through their paces.
The road runs across a sequence of mild, rolling hills and the line of vision for the driver changes from corner to corner – from long and predictable to tight and largely unsighted. It’s a brilliant ribbon of black and, given its close proximity to Bells Line Of Road, an easy optional extra for a one-day trip ex-Sydney.
If there are dangers to look out for here, it’s the logging trucks that frequent Jenolan Caves Road and the coaches ferrying tourists to and from the wondrous limestone caves from which the road gets its name and to where the road eventually arrives.
The spooky desolation of the heavily forested Hampton State Forest doesn’t detract from the quality grand touring on offer as the road makes a beeline away from the Blue Mountains, passing Oberon turn-off and heading towards Jenolan Caves.
The tighter and twistier the run down – literally – from Hampton to the caves becomes, the narrower, more precarious and slower progress becomes. At times the road seems to cling in desperation to the rugged landscape. Find yourself inside the caves staring up at the Minaret, the Grand Column or the Queen’s Canopy, and you’ll be around 175 kilometres west of Sydney as a measure of distance from ‘home’.
It’s quite the trip, in both senses. And whether you’re a car-lover or not, Aussie or foreigner, this jaunt should be ticked off your bucket list.
For the slightly more adventurous road-trippers, the route from Oberon (30 kays east of Jenolan Caves) to Goulburn in the south is cracking cross-country blast along what’s become adventurously known as the, erm, Oberon-Goulburn Road.
It’s 140 kays in length so be warned: tacking on this third route onto the back of Bells Line Of Road and Oberon Way effectively doubles the total trip length exiting Sydney. A return trip in one day can be ambitious unless you really get your skates on…
It’s a reasonably obscure, backwater path – it was only completely sealed as recently as 2008 – if the only logical one you can take running north-south across the backside of the Great Dividing Range. Officially, the run south out of Oberon is called Abercrombie Road for 70 kilometres until it crosses the Abercrombie River, after which it becomes Taralga Road – passing through Taralga, of course – for the remaining 74-kay run into Goulburn.
What’s to like? Quiet, lightly trafficked and flanked by forest, rolling hills and farms, it’s a great route to stretch your car’s grand touring legs while bombing across its long flowing curves where passengers won’t become threatened with car sickness.
That is, until you hit the area where the road snakes sharply in the drop down to Abercrombie River – and its dinky little bridge – before climbing up out of the gorge again. This area is home to the Bummeroo Ford campground, the local hot-spot for off-roading, swimming, fishing and hiking.
Once in Goulburn, it’s a 200-kay return trip up the Hume Highway to Sydney, or you can park up, enjoying everything from a giant merino sheep to the Wakefield Parkway race circuit, or continue down a number of tourist routes: south on Braidwood Road to Tarago and on toward Canberra in the south-west, or head south-east along the excellent Kings Highway towards Batemans Bay on the New South Wales’ southern coastline.
Got a favourite road you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments section below.