TRAVEL: Ireland's coast a rugged, green delight
KNOWN as one of the world's great road journeys, driving the Causeway Coastal Route in Ireland was without question the most jaw-dropping part of a four-week European trip.
As someone who loves road trips, choosing hire cars as our main form of transport while visiting Ireland, Italy and England was a no-brainer.
As I was travelling with my mum and sister, the three of us sharing the cost of car hire saved a lot of money in rail and bus travel. Plus, having the freedom to stop where we felt like it or venture off the pre-determined path was an added bonus.
As well as the stunning scenery, the fact you could drive practically from one end of Ireland to the other in half a day (and on half a tank of fuel!) was mind-boggling.
We began our Irish road trip travelling about an hour south of Dublin to a small village of Wicklow. My uncle's descendants were from there, and I was given a mission to collect a souvenir rock from the town in which his family grew up.
The scenery, despite it being rainy, windy and freezing cold, was incredible. Green mountainsides, pebbly beaches by the sea and cobblestone villages were everywhere we ventured.
After an hour or so exploring Wicklow, we hit the road north once more towards Belfast, and the beginning of the Causeway Coastal Route.
The 310km-long route has many legendary landmarks, including locations from HBO's Game of Thrones TV series as well as the natural wonder that is the Giant's Causeway.
I was surprised at the locals' reactions when we'd completed our journey and told them where we'd been. It seems the Dubliners rarely venture outside of Dublin, with some having spent decades without having seen the Giant's Causeway only a few hours' drive from their home.
It's suggested you take a few days to really experience all the Causeway Coastal Route has to offer, so that's what we did.
Stopping in to a few little towns along the way (to experience the obligatory Irish pub lunch and pints of Guinness of course), there's no shortage of markets, shops, cafes and seaside scenery to keep travellers occupied.
We chose to overnight at a B&B about 40 minutes from the Giant's Causeway that rated highly on Tripadvisor, and for good reason. Arriving at the doorstep, the owners had a hot cuppa and homemade scones, slices and biscuits for us, that were much appreciated after a day of driving.
Cullentra House was perched on a hillside, nestled among breathtaking scenery of the Antrim Coast and Glens, and on clearer days you can see the Scottish Hills in the distance.
The B&B was nearest to the little town of Cushendall, which happened to be in the midst of its annual Heart of the Glens Festival Foodfest, the first weekend in August, where all the local restaurants take their cuisine out into the streets with live music and entertainment for hours.
Fellow B&B guests also gave us a nudge to make sure we visited the Titanic Belfast attraction, which we weren't really planning on.
I'm glad we took their advice. The popular exhibit is housed in a six-floor building (built to mimic the sheer scale of the original Titanic ship) right beside the historic site where the world-famous ship was built.
While we only had time to spend two days exploring the Causeway Coastal Route, you could easily spend a week or two exploring each little town and historic landmark along the way and never get bored.
People may say driving the famous route is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but I can't wait to get back and do it all again some day.
Car hiring tips
- Try to negotiate a good deal to include a navigation system. Some rental companies can charge up to 25 euro a day (about $AU36) to hire one, but it was amazing how lucky I got just by asking if it could be included in my quoted price or if they had cars available with the navigation system built in.
- I used the Rentalcars.com app which found the best prices across most car hire companies, and on one occasion even beat my quoted price that was already locked in.
- Before you hit the road in the hire car, make sure you get familiar with it before leaving the car park. There are many weird functions in some European car brands that include windscreen wipers/indicators on opposite sides, gearbox tricks for putting it in reverse (that's the one that got me!) and even power window buttons you should check out before you come to a toll point.
- Northern Ireland uses miles per hour, while the Republic of Ireland uses kilometres. Make sure you get the maths right in your head so you aren't speeding. Same goes for currency. We were caught off guard when we realised Northern Ireland uses pounds whereas the Republic of Ireland uses euro. Make sure you have enough coins of each currency to get you through any toll points.