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June 8, 2008
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End of the Road (Ne Plus Ultra)

Nine top spots for bragging rights at the ends of the earth

Road to Leh from Lamayuru
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1. Glenorchy (New Zealand): The self-styled 'gateway to Paradise' is the soul-stirring epicentre of South Island’s Lord of the Rings Country. Reached from Queenstown by a single strand of tarmac shadowing the shores of Lake Waketipu, Shank’s pony is the only way on (and up). No worries. NZ’s finest tramping lies at your door: the celebrated Routeburn Track is not a bad start.

2. Leh (Ladakh, India): It takes two or more days in the back of a bus to cross the main range of the Himalayas and reach the Buddhist town of Leh. Your reward is a mellow mix of Central Asian bazaars, magenta-robed monks and 100 km sightlines in the vodka-pure air. Bring your own oxygen – the surrounding road passes are the highest in the world.

3. Broome (Australia): When Oz starts to feel a little too crowded, it’s time to head to Broome. With the baking dunes of the Great Sandy Desert and Kimberley’s rugged adventurelands as nearest neighbours, and closer to Indonesia than either Perth or Darwin, the little pearling port oozes roguish tropical charm. A cold beer is called for at the mere thought.

4. Applecross (Scotland): The Applecross Inn is a proper pub: a warm welcome, tawny McEwan’s on tap, crofter portions of local seafood and gob-smacking views over the sea to Skye. Possibly the remotest village on the British mainland, Applecross is reached either over the highest pass in Scotland or, the long way round, on a coast-road blasted from the granite by the army.

5. Key West (Florida, USA): With a bang not a whimper, US Highway 1 ends its 2000 mile journey in the louche, lascivious bawdy-house that’s Key West. Tamer than in the hard-drinking days of Hemingway and his rum-running cronies, Key West still boasts sunsets, sub-tropical warmth, and – by American standards – an agreeably relaxed attitude to the public consumption of alcohol.

6. Van (Turkey): Make the long journey from the west and follow in the footsteps of the old Silk Road, passing yawning caravanserai where hundred-strong camel trains used to bed down. Once arrived, there’s an agreeably wild frontier feel as Kurdish herdsmen drift through, and by night the talk in the coffee-shops turns to rumours of PKK fighters in the hills.

7. Farafra (Egyptian Sahara): Turn right at the pyramids and drive 10 hours. Follow these directions for Farafra oasis and the mysterious White Desert, a cliff-rimmed plain of surreal gleaming white spires in a sea of golden sand. Camp at full moon and the landscape comes alive as titanic pearly spectres bestride the night and the flanks of frozen unicorns flash in the gloom.

8. Magadan (Russia): A shabby sub-Arctic port of listing tenements and abandoned factories. But what a drive-in! The only approach is the 2000 km Kolyma highway, through the highest, most rugged, least-explored mountains in Siberia. The route is only drivable (just)in winter, when the unbridged rivers are icebound. Interesting, since temperatures drop to 80 below.

9. Yaviza (Panama): Regarded by cognoscenti as a violent little hell-hole with precious little in the way of places to eat or sleep (I kipped in the transport compound locked inside a bus). So why go? Bragging rights, of course. You’ve made it to the bottom of the Pan-American (northern half) and the start of the fabled Darien gap.

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