Six of the best: Australia and New Zealand mountain drives


The name is biblical – the ladder is Jacob's stairway to heaven – and some unfamiliar with mountain roads are of the view that driving this one will have them joining Jacob a little sooner than desired. It isn't that bad though and the final stretch of switchbacks that is the actual ladder comes after a serene drive through lush Tasmanian farmland and forests. Ben Lomond, about 90-minutes from Launceston, has a modest village and some short ski runs, but wander out on its plateau and the views over peaks and hills stretch all the way to Tasmania's north and east coasts. A Parks pass costs $24 a day.


The Swiss might claim rank on lake and mountain combinations, but this one will put them back in their banks. From Wanaka, follow the Mount Aspiring Road along Lake Wanaka, passing pieces of paradise like Glendhu Bay, where the lake laps away at the shore and the peaks of New Zealand's Southern Alps reach up to catch the sky in the distance. When the road leaves the lake, it rises a little over a ridge and into the Matukituki Valley, where you soon take a left to Treble Cone for a typical gravel, switchback, NZ mountain road, with views of the braided Matukituki River expanding with every metre you climb. Road use to access TC is free.


You need a sense of adventure to ski this charming club field, and to drive to it. About 3½ hours from Christchurch, the road passes the little town of Windwhistle and then rolls through virtually every Lord of the Rings scene – farmland ripe and green, vast grassy plains, rocky hills, a lake framed by mountains and then the final stretch up Mt Olympus. The game is up when you arrive at "Bottom Hut" and see the sign that reads: "stop here and radio Top Hut". They mean it – it's an often-icy single lane gravel road painted onto the mountainside and you don't want to meet another car half-way. Road access is free.


All-up, this road runs 340 kilometres between Wangaratta and Metung, but the 30-kilometre stretch between Harrietville and Mount Hotham is the most spectacular. The road winds along steadily through tall timber as it climbs out of Harrietville, but eventually the trees get smaller and then you ride the ridges that split the Victorian Alps, with views to Gippsland one way and Victoria's Great Divide and Alpine Valleys the other. Outside winter, when the roads are open all the way, there's a loop past Hotham, from Omeo to Falls Creek; a genuine high country, high plains run. Hotham resort access costs $47 for a day visit during the snow season, otherwise free.


By road, think of the Snowy Mountains as a great big wave. From the north, or Sydney-side, it's a smooth and gentle climb along the back of the wave. Head in from the southern, or Victorian-side and you're climbing straight up the face of that wave. The 75-kilometre drive from Khancoban to Thredbo runs through soaring forests of alpine ash, over rushing rivers and mountain streams, past the remote Tom Groggin Station and then up through the snow gums and over Dead Horse Gap to Thredbo. Little wonder authors like Banjo Patterson and Elyne Mitchell found this stretch of country so inspiring. Park entry is $29 for a day during winter.


It seems a modest mountain, compared with nearby peaks like Bogong and Feathertop, but Mount Buffalo and its plateau are a treasure chest for anyone who likes life above 1000 metres. Buffalo was once at the heart of Victoria's alpine tourism and while that mantle has long been lost, its plunging gorges, rocky peaks, mossy plains and diverse walking tracks have lost none of their appeal. The road from Bright to the Horn Picnic Area, the highest road-accessed point on the plateau, covers just under 50 kilometres. There's no longer lift-accessed skiing at Buffalo, but with snow, it's ideal for tobogganing and cross-country skiing. National park entry is free in Victoria.

Driving these roads in winter, wheel chains are often mandatory and an all-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive is preferable.

This story originally appeared on Traveller