The Art of Overlanding 03 - Five Quick Hits
A quick overlanding hit? Surely that's an oxymoron? After all, overlanding is all about covering the big distances which are required to cross the continents of the world. It's about spending months on end, out there, living the dream far from home as the planet rotates beneath your wheels.
Surely you can't achieve anything memorable in only a few weeks?
Think again. There are plenty of trips which you can take that will give you a taste of the overlanding experience in only a few weeks. If you're unsure as to whether a full-fat overland expedition is for you, then these destinations will give you enough of a taster to find out. If you're between big trips but still crave the wilderness, then they'll get you back out there and allow you to make the most of the time you have available. Think of them as a microcosm of the overlanding experience, and no less worthy as a result.
01 - The Arctic Highway
This is one of the world's great road journeys. From the cosmopolitan city of Tromso to the windswept latitudes of Nordcapp is about 1,000 miles of the most scenic driving you could wish for. Think wide-open plains, chiselled mountain ranges, plunging fjords and enough tunnels to keep even the most ardent troglodyte happy. Drive it in summer for the 24 hour daylight and endless wildcamping opportunities, or in winter for the full Arctic snowscape and northern lights tick. Either way, a trip up through Norway in the right vehicle is one of the world's great road trips. We've done the drive in summer in a TVR, and in winter in a Fiat 126, and on both occasions, the memories were more than worth the downsides. Both of these trips could be completed from the UK, door-to-door, in around two weeks, though adding another week or two to the schedule would certainly enable you to take your time amid Norway's spectacular scenery.
But enough of the sales pitch; what are the downsides of a Norwegian road trip? Well, there are a few, and they mostly centre around costs. Not only is the fuel some of the most expensive in Europe, but the road tolls can add up quickly too. Eating isn't cheap and as for beer, well at ten pounds a pint it's unlikely to figure heavily in your trip. That said, you can weigh the financial odds in your favour by taking advantage of Norway's wild-camping opportunities, and maybe stashing a bottle of whisky in your car boot before you leave home for the cold nights. Finally on the cons list, there's the matter of actually getting there - from most of Europe, Norway is a samey multi-day drive away, which will either be a pro or a con, depending on your appreciation of such journeys.
However as with most things, the best is seldom cheap, nor located right on your doorstep, and a Norwegian adventure is one trip which any road trip fan should make happen at least once.
You can read a snapshot of our winter trip on the highway in a Fiat 126 here.
02 - Morocco
If you live in the UK, you may see Africa as a destination which can only be unlocked through a big traditional overlanding expedition. However if so, we have two words for you - think again. Because in a two week break from work, it's perfectly possible to drive to the Moroccan Sahara and back. In fact, a few years back, we did just that, in a 1976 Rover P6. Because someone has to do these things.
Of course, a few boats are needed to make this trip a reality. Firstly, the Plymouth to Santander ferry, which in the course of a near-24 hour sailing, will get you to Spain. You then face a twelve hour drive to Europe's southernmost tip, where ferry regular connections will take you to either Tangiers or Ceuta, on the African mainland. So there you go, from the UK, less than 48 hours travelling can take you to Africa. But what to do once you're there? That's entirely up to you, and the list of options is long. Explore the picturesque Atlantic coast, head to the surf spots to the south, or do what we did and pit yourself and your vehicle against one of the high passes of the High Atlas Mountains, before dipping your toes in the sand seas of the Sahara. Whatever you choose, you can expect to have about the most exotic two-week driving adventure possible from the UK.
To plan your Morocco trip, we'd heartily recommend getting hold of a copy of Morocco overland, by Chris Scott - available here:
03 - Iceland
Once a week a ferry leaves Denmark, bound first for the Faroe Islands, before continuing to one of the planet's unique landscapes - Iceland. An island the same size as England, but with only 300,000 inhabitants and an uninhabited interior criss-crossed by remote dirt tracks, Iceland is positively blissful when the sun decides to shine
When planning your trip to Iceland, you have two main options when deciding what form your trip takes, and your decision will be entirely down to how far off the beaten track you want to go. If the answer to that question is 'not very', then an ordinary two-wheel-drive car will gain you access to the nation's 850-mile coastal ring road, along with further flung towns and peninsulas which you'll notice reaching away from the main highway at various points on your lap. But of course, if you're reading this, then the magnificent desolation of Iceland's interior is probably what interests you the most - a landscape of volcanoes, ice caps, primitive valleys and lifeless plains. While wildcamping is allowed in Iceland, leaving the network of 4x4 tracks isn't, so your trip planning will be focused on these routes. Don't despair though, as there are more than enough adventures available through them to last a two week trip to the island - check out the F35 Kjolur route and the more remote F26 as your starters for ten.
A few things to bare in mind when planning your Iceland trip - firstly, the interior routes are buried under drifting snow in the winter, meaning you'll be wanting to head over during the brief summer, between May and September. The ferry from Denmark takes around three days each way, so if you're shipping your vehicle over, reckon on a three week trip door-to-door. And as the boat costs around 1,200 euros return, if you're going solely to drive the tarmac coastal roads, it may be cheaper and less time consuming to fly out and hire a vehicle. Or if you want to go really cheap, do what we did last time we were there - bring a bike along, and cycle it.
04 - The Rickshaw Run
Fancy having a left-field overland experience without subjecting yourself to the hassle of actually getting a vehicle and preparing it? Excellent, an event called the Rickshaw run has you covered.
Organised by a company called The Adventurists, The Rickshaw Run is self-drive a two week journey across India, at the handlebars of an 8hp Bajaj tuk-tuk. Basically, you book a flight to the start point, are presented with your auto-rickshaw when you arrive, drink copious amounts of beer with your fellow entrants and then spend the next few weeks dodging sacred cows on the chaotic highways of India. Once the trip is over, assuming you survived your Indian motoring baptism of fire, you hand back the keys to your dusty steed, and fly home.
We did the Rickshaw Run way back in 2007, and it definitely packs a lot of adventure into a few weeks off work - we'd recommend if you're at a loose end once the 'Rona leaves us alone, you do the same.
05 - Australia's Gunbarrel Highway
For the last entry on our list, we're using a little artistic license, as for a start, it's a road we've never actually driven. And, it's about as far away from the UK as it's possible to get. But I guess if you live in Sydney, it's pretty much just over the back fence, and technically there's no reason why you couldn't fly to Australia, hire or buy a vehicle and drive it in a few weeks off work, so technically it justifies its inclusion. However, I guess the real reason we've included the Gunbarrel Highway is to remind ourselves that we still need to get out to Australia for a driving adventure one of these years.
The Gunbarrel Highway is an 840 mile dirt track which crosses the outback's most remote badlands, linking together Carnagie Station and Victory Plains with a perma-corrugated line in the sand. Points of interest? Well if you like sandy scrubland, it's all one big point of interest. And if you're big into nuclear test sites, there's a couple of those scattered along the route too, near the weapons testing site at Woomera. But the real attraction is what draws us to overland in the first place - the remoteness, the challenge of the drive, the tranquillity of the wildcamps, the self sufficiency needed to attempt the journey, and the satisfied memories which a successful traverse will provide. For a big overland trip in bite-size form, look no further.
And of course, if it doesn't seem quite long enough to justify a trip to Oz, the Gunbarrel Highway links into various other roads to form the 1,740 mile Outback Highway, so there's nothing stopping you getting your moneys-worth from your Australian overlanding experience.
So, there you have it. Five adventures, on three continents, with one thing in common - they all distil the overland experience down into a concentrated, bite-size experience. Who says you need a big 4x4 and a year off work for a true driving adventure?