Australia has a lot of bests — world bests, that is. It has some of the best natural scenery, the weirdest wildlife, the most brilliant scuba diving and snorkeling, the best beaches, the oldest rainforest (110 million years and counting), the oldest human civilization (some archaeologists say 40,000 years, some say 120,000), the best wines, the best weather (give or take the odd Wet season in the north), the most innovative East-meets-West-meets-someplace-else cuisine — all bathed in sunlight that brings everything up in Technicolor.
“Best” means different things to different people, but scarcely a visitor lands on these shores without having the Great Barrier Reef at the top of the “Things to See” list. So they should, because it really is a glorious natural masterpiece. Also high on most folks’ lists is Ayers Rock. This monolith must have some kind of magnet inside it designed to attract planeloads of tourists. We’re not saying the Rock isn’t special, but we think the vast Australian desert all around it is even more so. The third attraction on most visitors’ lists is Sydney, the Emerald City that glitters in the antipodean sunshine on the best harbor, spanned by the best bridge in the world.
You may have heard that New Zealanders are born wearing wet suits and carrying paddles, such is their appetite for the outdoors and adventure. No part of the country is more than 79 miles from the sea, and a coastline spread with splendid beaches dishes up thousands of beautiful coastal walks and chances to surf and soak in the sun.
New Zealand is also a winter magnet for international skiers and is the white-knuckle capital of the world. This is where you can push it to the limits, pit yourself against your fears and limitations, take risk by the throat, and go for it — leaping off bridges into surging river gorges attached to a giant rubber band, or taking a stab at luging, zorbing, sky diving, paragliding, kayaking, white-water rafting, and jet-boating. There’s no lack of invention when it comes to adrenaline-pumping activities in this country.
But you don’t have to be an extreme athlete to enjoy New Zealand. There are just as many ways to be laid-back and indulgent — tour wineries that have stampeded their way to the top of world ratings in record time; take in the wealth of Polynesian and Maori culture that forms the backbone of an increasingly multicultural society; or check out the strong historic and architectural reminders of a colonial past. There are lush gardens, art galleries, museums, and plenty of one-off reminders that New Zealand is like no other place.
Even provincial New Zealand has pulled up its socks without losing its heart. Small-town pride is beaming, and farmers are turning their hands to boutique tour operations and gorgeous restored B&Bs to supplement farm incomes, changing the whole nature of many backwater rural districts. Yet you’ll still find, at its core, the very Kiwi hospitality that has made this country famous.
Best Time to Go
Best time to visit northern Australia is between April and August when airfares are lower and the weather is decent along the Great Barrier Reef. We also suggest for travellers to Australia’s southern states that January and February is best to enjoy the summer.
December through to February are the warmest and best time of year in New Zealand. If you are a skiier that you might want to head down from June to August.
Citizens of Canada and the U.S. need passports and an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA), which substitutes for a visa. The ETA is free and available through travel agents and airlines. (Most people get their ETA on the inbound flight.) Contact the nearest Australian embassy for more information. Reconfirm travel document requirements with your carrier before departure.
Citizens of Canada and the U.S. need passports but not visas. Proof of sufficient funds and onward passage are required. A departure tax is included in most airline ticket prices. Reconfirm travel document requirements with your carrier before departure.
Australian or New Zealand Dollar
Do’s & Don’ts
Do visit a pub. The people are friendly, and you can usually get a good, inexpensive pub lunch. You’ll likely see poker machines adjacent to the bars or eating areas.
Don’t think you can see it all in a week. Australia is approximately the same size as the continental U.S.
Do visit sporting clubs (motor, rugby or soccer) that allow nonmembers to sign in. You can enjoy an inexpensive, high-quality lunch or dinner and entertainment on the weekends.
Don’t put on airs as if you think you are better than an Australian—there is an expectation of equality, even if it is not entirely realistic.
Don’t be surprised by what people wear (or don’t wear) on the beaches.
Do have at least one meal in a beach cafe and watch Australia’s beach culture in action.
Don’t underestimate the strength of ultraviolet light on sunny or overcast days. Most Kiwis wear sunhats and total sunblock; some even apply this to their animals.
Do be considerate about taking pictures of people, particularly Polynesians and Maoris.
Don’t disregard Maori wishes if you’re asked not to visit areas that are sacred to their culture.
Don’t be tempted to sit on a table in Maori or Polynesian cultural environments—it’s considered rude and unhygienic.
Don’t spit in public.
Don’t forget to take a bottle of wine or a six-pack if you are invited to a Kiwi barbecue.
Do be considerate when smoking, even outdoors in public places: New Zealand has a strong anti-smoking element.
Don’t underestimate the weather when hiking. Even a short day hike can turn into a life-threatening situation when New Zealand’s unpredictable weather takes a turn for the worse.
Do stop in small New Zealand towns when traveling to and from the larger centers; it’s there that you get a real taste of Kiwi life.