World Travel

Highways to hell

David Wilson

Treacherous roads can often throw doubt on how far man has come since those transport wizards, the Romans, ran the show. Still, if you survive the surprises it has in store, a rocky road can be exhilarating. So, for an armchair adrenalin jolt, why not join David Wilson on a ride along the world's worst.

Prepare for extreme terrain: hairpin bends, ravines and distracting scenery, among other hazards liable to trigger a tailspin. Many brake-or-bust nightmare stretches belong to the high-development, low-taxation United States. Honourable mentions go to the gut-twisting road to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, and the Gran Canaria, Canary Islands, knife-edge pass hardly able to hold two cars — far less the buses that ply it.

1. North Yungas, Bolivia

In a stiffly competitive field, Bolivia's single-lane North Yungas, which boasts 600m drops, is so dire that people call it Death Road. Carved by Paraguayan prisoners, Death Road snakes 60km across the Andes — from the Bolivian capital, La Paz, to the jungle. "At every turn, one catches glimpses of yawning chasms filled with cloud and crazy, slanted foliage," a blogger writes. The chasms' menace deepens when fog, rain and mud complicate matters. The constant landslide threat ratchets up the tension.

2. Dead Indian Pass, Wyoming, USA

Dead Indian Pass is a 70km rogue Wyoming road, which skirts Yellowstone Park, and gets its name from a tribe slaughtered by the US Cavalry. Dead Indian Pass has the classic nightmare drive ingredients: plunging guardrail-free cliffs and more twists than Dances With Wolves. In a bonus, despite its reputation for scenic beauty, Dead Indian feeder road Beartooth Highway is precarious, too — switchback-ridden, windy and sheer.

3. Malagwane Hill, Swaziland

Once listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the world's most dangerous road, Swaziland's Malagwane Hill retains notoriety. Blame a lethally promiscuous mix of twitchy drivers, blind corners and tight bends. Other issues include the dearth of overtaking spots, the preponderance of grazing cattle and tricky physics. Cars whizzing down the steep maze of indeterminate length gain too much momentum. Climbing cars lose traction and slip.

4. La Rumorosa, Mexico

This 11km mountain-pass exercise in anarchy that's said to be a UFO magnet would test the reflexes of an F1 ace. Along with a bus and an oil tanker, cars that failed the test form a graveyard at the mountains' base. Beware las colas del diablo. The "devil's tail" whispering gusts of wind, which give La Rumorosa its name, are liable to flick your vehicle into the abyss.

5. Kathmandu-to-Pokhara pass, Nepal

This 200km gut-churning boneshaker is great value. It twists like a Nepalese pit viper and has everything that the demon drive fan might crave: fog, potholes, switchbacks, plus the obligatory death-trap ravine, which affords vertigo views of buckled trucks and buses with shattered windscreens. Why fly to Pokhara from the kingdom's capital and miss all the action?

6. Sichuan-Tibet highway, China-Tibet

If you ever wondered how it feels to be buried alive, this 2400km precipice-fringed pass may supply more than a smattering of detail. Anyone who ventures along the highway, which runs from the Chinese town of Chengdu to Tibet's capital, Lhasa, may be greeted with an extreme dusting of snow which turns the car into an esky-cum-coffin. In February 2009, no less than four avalanches struck and swamped the highway. Bulldozers and a detachment of shovel-equipped Red Army troops had to grapple with the monster white-powder pile-up.

7. Leh-Manali Highway, India

Another good all-rounder, this northern Indian stretch built by the army slices across some of the world's highest passes and offers the complete reckless road experience. Landslides? Check. Potholes? Check. Vertical ravines? Check. Other warped drawcards include tailbacks and low oxygen-triggered acute mountain sickness. The highway's 500km may well consume more than the standard two days — if and when the rubber hits the road. The white-knuckle bus plunge magnet is only open between June and mid-September otherwise the weather closes in the road.

8. Tail of the Dragon (route 129), USA

Defined by "tightly wound twisties", Tail of the Dragon straddles the Smoky Mountains and routinely claims lives. Like the countless yellow caution diamonds and crash site markers, the names of some hazards convey how dangerous a dance with the dragon can be. Picture the challenge posed by Brake or Bust Bend, Gravity Cavity, Rocket Corner, The Whip and Beginner's End. Still, the 17km trouble spot's rollercoaster vibe lures gravity-happy performance bike riders from around the world. The low-leaning daredevils with a death wish double, even triple, the speed limit as they negotiate more than 300 comfort zone-busting bends.

9. Kahekili Highway (route 340), Maui, Hawaii

Named after Maui's last ruler, this widely panned 45km assault course delivers a dizzying mix of blind curves and bottlenecks. Car-rental firms ban clients from taking the highway, which clings to the cliff from which it's carved. When confronted by oncoming traffic, anyone determined to negotiate it must throw the car into reverse and keep inching back, hugging the cliff, until there is room to squeeze by and roll on to the next roadblock.

Got any more contenders for the world's worst road? Have your say using the comments form below:

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User comments
The street (St.) on which I live and around which are divided on residential and business manufacturing, on this block of St. I live we are only 3 residential houses, we like to live here but local council and other business around cause Mafia forcing us to move out by any means. This St. it is not designed for businesses for it is very narrow it suite only residential as it use to be before, for when the truck comes for pick-up and delivery has to do all kind of manoeuvres in and out of the driveways of the companies, at that moment they stop all traffic in both directions and queue all traffic including buses with people on them cars, all kind of vehicles. Beside this near by is a Campus University and Girls grammar school with thousands of cars. Wrong architectural planing and decision to change from residential to business. This is Bankstown Council and there wrong decision to do such thing. The place is Beaconsfield St. at Milperra NSW 2214. This is to mach bad Rds. and Sts.for yu
The North Yungas Road is not so dangerous anymore as they've paved a brand new road over the mountain rather than around it. It's now the haven of mountain bikers who still dub it the world's most dangerous road. Only 11 bikers have died over the years it's been going.
How about the "Road of Bones" constucted over the bones of the fallen gulag prisoners who built it. Raging rivers that need to be crossed (without bridges), miles of mossie infested mud holes that need to be negotiated, relenless wildeness with very few settlements and xero facilities and it will take you a week to ride this road. But my God what fun!!!
My addition to the list is the road north of a town called Thio in New Caladonia. This road is built on the side of a mountain range and one section is so narrow that it is open north bound for an hour and then changes to southbound for an hour. The trick is, when did the hour begin as there are no signs to indicate. We drove through and encountered a truck just before the road really narrowed and managed to squeeze past. As you get up into the mountains there are no barriers and almost no road. My partner opened the door to take a photo and was greeted with looking straight down into the valley. No photo was taken!!!
I received an email recently of photos of a highway in Russia with all the traffic bogged up passed the doors. There were even big trucks that were half buried and people stranded for miles with no way out. Ask Ewan McGregor, he traveled thru Russia and Mongolia on some of the worst tracks I've ever seen in his series 'Long way Round'.
An earlier post mentioned the Skippers road which is just out of Queenstown, NZ and goes from the Coronet Peak Rd into Skippers Canyon. Its still unsealed and hasn't changed in 40 years. There are a lot of spots where you have to stop and back up to let a car coming the other way get past all the while ensuring you dont go over the 200m unfenced drop into the river. There is a sign at the start saying "Rental cars are not insured from this point on. Locals say, "no one has ever been injured in a crash there, they have all died!" Lots of fun!
The Princes Highway from Wollongong to Narooma and further fits in nicely with some of these places. Funny how the majority are 3rd world, pretty much the way our Labour Government in NSW are treating its residents
just for kicks try highway 8 (aka the cross island highway) in Tawain. Hairpin turns, back switches, sheer cliff drops, room for one car only and trucks that appear out of nowhere....took me two white knuckled days to cross the 'highway' but the view from the highest peaks (over 3000mt) made the trip worthwhile - almost
Travelled a couple of the above but a few others that come to mind * Islamabad - Hunzu (KKH) * Nouakchott - Zouerate (12 hours through the dunes in Mauritania) * Nairobi - Kampla (overnight.......and back)
The Toowoomba range... I don't think so, the only thing dangerous about that road is getting caught for speeding. How about road to the Remarkables in NZ, unsealed roads, icy, just wide enough for two cars but not wide enough to pass one of the many buses, then throw in a crazy skier trying to hit the slopes first.