The Ring of Kerry: Tour Bus or Self Drive?

May the road rise up to meet you,

the wind be always at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face,

the rain falls soft upon your fields.

And until we meet again,

May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

                                        -old Irish blessing-

One fine sunny day, we took a road trip around the Ring of Kerry, Ireland’s most famous scenic drive. We hopped into our trusty little red rental car, this time with my husband almost quite getting the hang of driving on the opposite side of the road. Starting early in the morning was recommended because it can be a whole day drive, although 9 am wasn’t really considered early, we just wanted to beat the huge tour buses and crowds.

With a rental car being part of our Ireland trip package, it was a no brainer that we would use it to explore more of the countryside and not just a transport in between cities. Initially, I asked my hubby if he preferred to drive along the Ring of Kerry or join a tour group where he doesn’t have to worry about directions and driving. He insisted we drive to which I was just all too delighted to agree with. I didn’t mind being the navigator at all.

There are tons of tour operators and companies in Ireland that do all sorts of trips to the Ring of Kerry and to all the four corners of this country as well. You just have to chose which ones you like best. Traveling made easy. Of course, you can also always rent a car and make traveling more challenging and adventurous and tailor fit to suit your needs.  Whatever floats your boat.

ringofkerry

For us, it is self drive all the way! 

The Ring of Kerry is a 179 km loop around the Iveragh Peninsula in Southwest Ireland, which takes you to different landscapes and sceneries, from the rugged and craggy sheep-filled mountains to rolling green valleys to the tumultuous waves of the Atlantic coast.

After reading different websites and travel blogs, we decided to travel clockwise. The buses go in an anti-clockwise direction so if you don’t want to get stuck behind them (and I wouldn’t really recommend passing them in those super narrow roads!), then drive the opposite way. Just be careful also because those big buses come barreling down the roads like they own it. Another caveat, when you get off the main Ring road, say you want to explore a certain town, the Ring of Kerry signs all point to the anti-clockwise direction. Again, just go the opposite way.

A day before, we explored Killarney National Park which is along the Ring of Kerry. That was a whole day affair too as there are lots of sights to see and activities to do around the park itself. On the day of our Ring of Kerry trip, we started from Killarney town and drove South to Kenmare. Along the way, we stopped at one of the Killarney Lakes where we accidentally discovered an unmarked trail down to the beach.

img_0012

After enjoying a few quiet moments in this “secret” spot with the early morning air and the sound of the waves lapping gently on the shores, we then proceeded to head on to our next destination which was the Kenmare stone circle. The drive was, for the most part leisurely, except for those twisty turns and hairpin bends what with the road already being narrow and with speed limits set at 100 km/hr (62 miles/hr). Seriously, they need to lower the speed limit as no one can go that fast on those roads. Wait, I think the buses do.

img_0062

These photos are just a small sample of the breathtaking vista that is the Ring of Kerry.

We get to the town of Kenmare, find parking and head to the Tourism office for directions to the stone circle. Across the Tourism office, we find a directional sign and walked for about ten minutes along what appears to be private homes and offices. At the end of the road is a  private residence with a large yard/garden/farm. The stone circle was part of the private property with a separate entrance for the public and an “honesty box” with an admission fee of 2 Euro. (I got more photos of the stone circle here)

One thing I like best about doing it yourself is the ability to stop anywhere you want and for however long you want. There were so many random stops we made along the way that truly made for a great road trip.

This was one of them. We stopped to admire the view and what do I find when I looked down? A road leading to the beach, which also looked like a place to launch boats.

img_0068

img_0066

This was another unplanned stop.

Waterville is a charming little village facing the ocean with quaint shops and restaurants. When we got there, the lunch crowd was in full swing. There were I think four tour buses parked along the road. Four doesn’t feel like many but these buses have the capacity of 60-80 people so when you stick that number in a small town, it can get too crowded.

We wanted to have lunch there but skipped it because of that. We just strolled over the Promenade to enjoy the pebbly beach.

img_0094

img_0102

From here you can either chose to take another smaller ring road called the Skellig Ring or continue with the Ring of Kerry. The Skellig Ring is about 20 km. more rugged natural beauty. Whats awesome about this ring, there are no tour buses! If the Ring of Kerry road was narrow enough for you, try the Skellig Ring, your heart drops to your stomach when you have an oncoming vehicle specially one that does not appear to slow down. The road really is a one lane road but no, not in Ireland.  Maybe with horses then?

The Skellig Ring is named after the Skellig Islands, Skellig Michael (Great Skellig) and Little Skellig, two rocky craggy islands off St Finian’s Bay. Skellig Michael is known for its Christian monastery founded sometime around the 6th century and later abandoned in the 12th century. It is a UNESCO world heritage site. Recently, it has been made more popular due to Star Wars which filmed one of its final scenes in the episode The Force Awakens. Little Skellig is famous for its bird population, a colony of gannets, the largest in Ireland.

There are boat tours to these islands but unluckily for us, they were closed for the season which ends in October. You can land on Skellig Michael and explore the monastery site but not on Little Skellig. The tours are also weather dependent as the waters can be very rough and it can be quite a challenge docking the boat. Strong winds can also be dangerous when you are on those steep narrow steps that lead up to the monastery.

img_0117

I never really expected to see the islands because the weather in Ireland can go from cloudy to foggy to rain to sunny in five minutes. But when we saw THIS, I was squealing with delight! That boat trip will have to wait another day.

Mission accomplished and feeling quite high we drive on and get off the Skellig Ring. Next on our list was Ballycarberry Castle, off the town of Cahersiveen. Just another castle ruin but charming in its own way.

img_0122

After the castle, we were ready to go home, hit the pubs, grab some beer and dinner. It took us about seven hours to do the entire Ring of Kerry plus the extra kilometers for that Skellig detour we took. We never really got a proper lunch stop but thank God we brought along snacks and water. There was too much to see to stop for an hour break.

Was it worth driving? YES. I didn’t drive but my hubby didn’t complain or regret it one single bit. You can also go slow and don’t have to do it in a day. Sleep overnight in one of the Bed and Breakfasts. Take one hour lunch stops. We didn’t have the luxury of time so we decided to overachieve. We met our road trip goals and that is what matters.

Sheep anyone?

5 thoughts on “The Ring of Kerry: Tour Bus or Self Drive?

So, what do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s