If I’ve got a few hours to spare, there are few things I enjoy more than a long drive in the country.
The chance to listen to some cool tunes on blast, breathe the fresh air and see some different sights – for me, it’s the perfect way to clear my head and hit the reset button.
One of the many benefits of living in Canberra – if you love to drive – is that there are any number of great drives you can take in and around the region, whether you have a day to spare or just a few hours.
Recently, and just in time for the warmer weather, I had the chance to test drive the incredible Alfa Romeo 4C. I hadn’t driven one before, but as soon as I laid eyes on it, I was smitten.
As you would expect from the iconic Italian marque, it is a work of art to look at and ridiculously fun to drive.
So with the top down, a long weekend to enjoy and a car-loving friend in town, it was the perfect chance to seek out some fun local drives.
A word, of course, about responsible driving – a cool car is a great opportunity to have fun, but good drivers know driving on public roads means respecting the limits. If you want to push the boundaries, take your wheels to the track.
Two ways to the coast and back
If you have a whole day to spare, think about taking one of the two scenic drives to the coast and back.
As I’ve written before, one of my favourite places on the coast – Jervis Bay – is a convenient 2.5-hour drive away and the once-treacherous old Nerriga Road route is completely and beautifully sealed. That’s a big saving on the previous drive of four hours or so via Batemans Bay.
Even better, it’s a great drive that’ll take you through Bungendore (watch out for tortoises crossing the road as you leave the town – seriously!), then Tarago, Oallen and Nerriga, where you can stop for refreshment at the popular Nerriga Hotel.
Your trip will take you from wide roads and classic Australian countryside to sweeping curves and winding corners as you move up through Jerrawangala National Park.
There are some incredible views, with several lookouts from which to stop and enjoy them – though note that some of the rocky roads to these lookouts aren’t suited to a lowered sports car.
If you feel like upping the ante a little, once you reach Nowra, take a left turn and follow the signs towards Kangaroo Valley. This will take you up and down Cambewarra Mountain, with a hair-raising series of sharp curves and hairpin bends that will put a flush on your cheeks and a smile on your face.
It’s the sort of landscape that a car like the 4C was built for, with plenty of power to take us up the steep climb, and traction that doesn’t budge around those sharp turns. Its mid-placed engine – that’s right, located behind the passenger cabin – also provides a very satisfying rumble as a soundtrack to the cruise.
While you might be reluctant to pause, it is worth taking a few moments to stop at the top and see the breathtaking views from the Cambewarra Mountain Lookout.
If you’re feeling hungry, you have a few good options.
You can grab the best fresh seafood on the coast from the Nowra Fresh Fish and Meat Market, either to eat there or take home with you. Alternatively, take the short drive south to Jervis Bay to enjoy a comfortable seat with a view of the water at the Huskisson Hotel (aka, the Husky Pub) or maybe the famous Hyams Beach Store and Cafe.
If your rumbling tummy can stand to wait a little longer, enjoy the pretty 1.5-hour drive down through Lake Conjola, Milton, Ulladulla and Mollymook. Then you can stop by the beloved Boatshed to enjoy fish and chips on the back deck at Batemans Bay before heading home via the traditional coast route, through Braidwood.
Expert tip: I rarely visit the Boatshed without bringing fish and chips home for the family. Ask the team and they’ll wrap up your meal well for you and leave off the salt so it doesn’t dry out. Once home, it’s just as delicious reheated in the oven!
Coppins Crossing – Uriarra Crossing – Cavan – Yass
If you’ve only got half a day to spend, there’s a super fun country drive to be found by heading out towards Coppins Crossing, through the sparkling new suburbs of Denman Prospect, Wright and Coombs, towards Wee Jasper and Yass.
Yeee-ow. This was a LOT of fun. Once you’re clear of the suburbs, you can expect to find the kind of wide sweeping turns and s-bends that car commercial producers dream about. Speed limits are reasonable, there’s not a lot of traffic and visibility is good; though as always, stick to the limits and keep an eye out for wildlife and other cars.
I was lucky enough to be able to hand the wheel of the 4C over to a professional driver who showed me how to get the maximum performance and ‘wow’ factor without compromising on safety.
While this would be an enjoyable drive in any vehicle with a bit of personality, having the chance to take out a car like the Alfa Romeo 4C meant it was some of the most fun I’ve had on four wheels. And that’s saying something.
There are plenty of little spots along the way to take a breather, enjoy the fresh air and snap a few pics. This especially includes some beautiful spots by the water along the Molonglo River where we enjoyed turning a few heads in our super sexy convertible 4C! Worth mentioning because it’s a good reminder of one of the best parts of driving a really cool car, and especially one that’s a bit unusual: as long as you don’t behave like an idiot, you can expect to exchange a lot of smiles and waves with fellow enthusiasts.
If you want to go all the way to Yass, it’ll take you just over an hour without stops. Once there, spend as long as you like enjoying the sights and attractions of our often-overlooked neighbouring town, before heading back – either the same way you came, or via the highway if you want to save a few minutes.
Staying local – around our national institutions
If you don’t have the time or inclination for a longer drive, there are some cool cruises around the local area where you can see and be seen.
Cruise along Bowen Drive past the Kingston Foreshore, and you’ll be following in the tyre tracks of any number of national and international car advertisements that have been filmed here.
Whether you’re a local on your own, or you’ve got visitors from interstate like I did, you can take a slow drive around the Parliamentary Zone – taking in both old and new Parliament Houses – to remind yourself that our little city is the seat of political power in the country.
I also particularly like to drive along the lakefront, taking Commonwealth Place along past Reconciliation Place and underneath all the flags of the world. There are a few places to stop here for a break, a snack and a cold drink in the sunshine.
My top local tip, however, is that there’s a great loop to be driven, that’s often overlooked, around the National Arboretum. In fact, there’s even a map of the Forest Drive Loop that you can download and follow.
The full lap will only take you a few minutes, and I recommend doing this first. Again, plenty of pedestrians and cyclists also enjoying the trip, so take it easy and stay alert.
You can then repeat it, but take the chance this time to stop off at some of the walking trails, playgrounds and picnic spots, as well as various places to check out the incredible forests and absolutely stunning views of the city. We could’ve stayed a while and stopped for a bite to eat at Sprout Cafe or The Conservatory Restaurant in the Village Centre – both great options by the famed Ginger Catering.
Yes, I know, most short drives around Canberra recommend a trip up and down Mount Ainslie. And we did take that trip in the 4C. However, it’s a hot spot for collisions with wildlife and also used regularly by runners and cyclists, so it’s a bit risky. For these reasons and more, it wisely has a respectable speed limit of 60 km/h, so I think, more suited to a slow careful drive to check out the views at the top, than a really ‘fun’ cruise.
Over to you – what have I missed? Any fun drives around Canberra that you can recommend?
For a more detailed review of the Alfa Romeo 4C by motoring journalist Robert Pepper, you can visit Practical Motoring