Australia’s Grand Pacific Drive, a highway suspended above the ocean

The Grand Pacific Drive runs between Sydney and Australia’s south, between cliffs and bridges suspended over the ocean

On one side are sheer cliffs, rock polished by the millennia, and topped by roofs of dense vegetation; on the other is the ocean and its myriad colors: the blue of the reef, the dark blue of the open sea. In between, as if it were a marker separating the land and the horizon, snakes a sinuous slice of concrete, sometimes resting on the slope of the mountains, other times suspended on pylons planted in the sea.

An infrastructure turned into an experience, a journey that starts just south of Sydney and leads all the way to Culburra Beach and then to Nowra, a town of 30,000 souls that lies exactly halfway between Sydney and Canberra. This experience is called the Grand Pacific Drive, one of the most scenic roads in the world (like the Great Ocean Road), running through the national parks, populated areas, and deserted beaches of New South Wales.

Each year, tens of thousands of tourists rent a car to drive the scenic 140 kilometres (87 miles) of the Grand Pacific Drive. It is a formidable work of infrastructure, because of the geological characteristics of the Australian coast that it crosses.

From Sydney to the South on the Grand Pacific Drive, among whales and old mines

Leaving behind Sydney’s frenetic vitality, its busy streets, colorful buildings and bustling financial center, the Grand Pacific Drive points south. The first stop is the Royal National Park. This park, an hour’s drive from downtown Sydney, is one of the most popular places in New South Wales. People flock there especially from May to September to take advantage of its facilities to accommodate visitors and tourists, as well as hotels to spend the night inside.

Many travelers choose this option to stay overnight, so they can start their journey again in the early morning heading down the Grand Pacific Drive towards the Pacific Ocean. As Steve Melchior, a guide on the Pacific Drive, explained to Destination New South Wales magazine, “I have been driving tours along this road for 29 years now, and I can honestly say that I still enjoy the journey. It is a comfortable and fascinating ride along a two-lane road with a speed limit of 50 mph, perfect for enjoying the scenery.”

Looking out of the car windows as you ride along the Grand Pacific Drive is indeed a unique experience. Once you reach the ocean, you can see whales swimming right off the shores of Sydney. There’s more to see than just the sea. Beyond the coastlines, Australia’s pristine countryside beckons — places inhabited by rangers, or even ancient Aboriginal settlements, as well as the old mines where men extracted the gold that sustained this region economically for so many years.

The Grand Pacific Drive thus becomes an open-air museum, a permanent exhibit that can only be enjoyed, however, thanks to a modern infrastructure that is perfectly integrated with the environment.

The Sea Cliff Bridge, an international icon

The Sea Cliff Bridge is a perfect example of how infrastructure and environmental goals can co-exist. This 665-metre (2,182-foot) snake-shaped bridge follows the sinuous line of the sheer cliffs above the sea.

Opened to the public in 2005, the bridge immediately became a national and international icon, because it is considered an architectural and infrastructural marvel. Making a stop at Stanwell Tops, one of the best spots to admire the bridge and its surroundings, is a unique experience that allows one to feel the effect of a perfect integration between man and nature.

The project to build the bridge was launched in August 2003 when a landslide destroyed the old section of Lawrence Hargrave Drive, the road that crossed the cliff.

After that event, it was clear that a modern infrastructure was needed that could make the passage along that coast stable and safe. Two bridges were built, the Sea Cliff Bridge and the Lawrence Hargrave Drive Bridge (the latter 210 metres long, or 690 feet), one following the other. In addition to lanes for automobiles, the bridges also have bicycle lanes and a pedestrian path to make the most of the beautiful scenery.

Since its opening on December 11, 2005, inaugurated by New South Wales Premier Morris Iemma, the bridge immediately became an icon for the country, but, more importantly, a symbol for people everywhere. The name “Sea Cliff Bridge” was given to it by Makenzie Russell, an 11-year-old student who won the idea competition launched to name the bridge – another sign of how a work of infrastructure can become part of people’s lives.