We're headed to Sydney but we'd like to visit more of Australia and New Zealand. How long do we need and what are the must-sees?
Two weeks is the minimum for an Oz visit, according to Frommer's EasyGuide to Australia author Lee Mylne (leemylne.com). But only if you "choose two or three places and see them in-depth, rather than cramming in too much."
Beyond Sydney, where are those must-sees? "Melbourne is Australia's cultural heart, with wonderful galleries, theatres, shopping and dining – all delivered with an edginess Sydney lacks," she says.
Further afield, contrasting Brisbane is recommended for its "subtropical weather, wide snaking river and great wildlife experiences. It's a good base for exploring beach culture – and you can day trip to the southernmost part of the Great Barrier Reef."
First-timers should also add Australia's dramatic interior. "Head to the outback and Uluru [Ayers Rock]. Allow yourself three days in nearby Yulara to get a real sense of the heart of the country and its indigenous culture."
For Mylne, this Aboriginal edge is something many visitors miss. But it's well worth searching out via tours, guided walks and indigenous art galleries.
Her must-do Australia side-trip, though, is off the south coast. "Tasmania has rich convict history and some of Australia's most stunning landscapes. It's easy to reach by air or overnight car ferry from Melbourne – and if you're driving, you can cover a lot in a short visit."
I'll add my own road-tested Tassie endorsement here. But while I also loved the three-night Indian Pacific train from Sydney to Perth for its kangaroo-studded vistas, Mylne says flying is the most efficient way to tackle Australia's vast distances.
"Qantas offers international travellers discounts off domestic airfares," she advises. "But it won't always be the cheapest ticket: you might get a better deal on the market or with packages that include accommodation."
According to Auckland-based Lonely Planet author Brett Atkinson – who posts regular Kiwi insights on his @travelwriternz Twitter feed – there are many competing options for hopping across to New Zealand.
"Shop around online or with travel agents in both countries – and check Air New Zealand's Grabaseat site [grabaseat.co.nz], which also provides cheap off-peak regional fares around the country," he says.
And what would he pick for the perfect N.Z. itinerary? "Central Otago has great mountain biking, excellent vineyard restaurants and summer farm-gate produce – all surrounded by stunning scenery," he says, adding South Island Nelson and Marlborough plus sea kayaking around Abel Tasman National Park.
And if you're hankering for some Hobbit action, you can also launch your own ring-bearing trek. "Head to Tongariro National Park for volcanoes and mountain lakes straight from The Lord of the Rings – and don't miss the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, a spectacular one-day walk."
Personally, I enjoyed the Hobbiton movie set (and it's Green Dragon pub pies) on my last visit – but it's pricey enough that only real Gollum nuts should do it. And I found Christchurch, the city rebuilding itself after devastating earthquakes, a must-see.
But for Atkinson – who advocates three weeks for a proper New Zealand encounter – there's one lesser-known area everyone should consider.
"Opononi and Omapere are sleepy villages around the North Island's Hokianga Harbour. Huge dunes – perfect for sand boarding – frame the entrance to the harbour and you can take fascinating Maori-guided cultural tours to the Waipoua Forest's giant kauri trees [footprintswaipoua.co.nz/mustdo]."
Self-guided exploring, though, is ideal for most of New Zealand. "Travelling by camper van is very popular here, via well-equipped holiday parks or scenic Department of Conservation campsites. Just remember our roads can be quite winding and slow-moving," says Atkinson, whose favourite, less-travelled route is the Dunedin to Invercargill Catlins Coast drive.
But New Zealand isn't only about the great outdoors. Atkinson notes the cosmopolitan charms of Auckland and Wellington, while also suggesting visitors savour the country's burgeoning craft brewing scene. "Look out for beers from Yeastie Boys, 8 Wired, Liberty, Behemoth and Bach Brewing," he says.
Our readers write
- The nightly penguin parade at Phillip Island near Melbourne was amazing! @mseidel1
- Daintree Rainforest in Australia and the Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand. Daintree: loved the nighttime wildlife search – so many odd critters. Also, the warm waters here are great for snorkelling. Franz Josef Glacier: hiking in this area is great and the scenery is awesome. @MichaelV81512
- In Australia: Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, the Barossa Valley (for the wine) and Hamilton Island in the Great Barrier Reef. If I had to choose one area, though: Kangaroo Island, due to all the kangaroos and koalas. Most travellers also do Tasmania, which is a fun alternative. @suefrause
- Wine regions are a must: Australia’s Hunter Valley and New Zealand’s Hawkes Bay. @k_kassam
- Australia’s Byron Bay. An easy flight from Sydney, it’s great for beach lovers and folks who do triathlons (in May). The Byron at Byron Resort is a good hotel. @craigdale
- In New Zealand: Napier for its wonderful Art Deco buildings and great wine. In Australia: Gipsy Point Lodge in Victoria – it’s magical. @OttawaRoadTrips
- Lord Howe Island between Australia and New Zealand is paradise. It’s also quiet, as the tourist numbers are limited and there are no resorts and no cars. Snorkelling and diving is amazing here and there are wonderful hikes up Mount Gower. @odysseyales
- New Zealand’s Lake Taupo region – you can jet boat Huka Falls, fly fish Tongariro River and explore Craters of the Moon. Also in New Zealand, try the George Hood Museum of Aviation in Masterton. @WeiSclou
- In Australia: Surfers Paradise, Gold Coast definitely. The water is absolutely beautiful and the waves really do make it a paradise @wordaffair
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