I’ve wanted to visit Australia and New Zealand since I can remember. We had the opportunity over the summer of 2017 and jumped at the chance even though our time was somewhat limited. Not sure what the optimal time is to see both countries – but most suggest at least a couple weeks for each. That being said you can (and we did) have an amazing adventure in less than 2 weeks.
What to know before you go:
- You need a Passport AND an Australian ETA/eVisitor Visa to Enter Australia (a fact that somehow eluded us but until we checked in at the airport. Luckily we were able to sign up for one online in just a few minutes for $15.
- This is a long trip 12-14 hours there and back and you lose about 1 day of travel each way
- It can be expensive but there are ways to save money
- Our summer is their winter – so dress accordingly! The Whitsundays (Australia) was 70-75 degrees but New Zealand ranged from 40-50s…brrrr!
What We Did:
We only had 12 days to see both countries and made the most of it. We moved at a good clip but were not rushed and had plenty of time to relax. The first leg of our trip we visited Sydney, The Great Barrier Reef and The Whitsundays. The second part of our journey we hit some of the major cities in New Zealand including Queenstown, Christchurch and Auckland. Transportation, food and lodging was not cheap but it was definitely not prohibitive. You can save big if using points for the transpacific flight. We booked most of our hotels through Hotels.com and even earned a free nights stay along the way.
The flight there and back was expensive ($2067 round trip) and long (14 hours there and 12 hours back to/from LAX). We were able to use points to cover one of the round trip tickets on American Airlines. The intercity flights between Australian Cities and New Zealand (via Quantas and Jetstar) were not too bad at $100-$300 each.
We flew from Columbus, OH to LAX and then on to Sydney. From Sydney we immediately departed for the Whitsundays where we spent the next 3 days. We stayed at Arlie Beach, Queensland and were able to find a hotel at a very reasonable price. The first day we booked a half day Excursion from Airlie Beach out to the Great Barrier Reef via Cruise Whitsundays (about $199/person).
The trip out to the reef took about 2 hours. The Seas can be rough but luckily they were not too bad the day we went. We spent the next 2 ½ to 3 hours on a large pontoon boat right on The Great Barrier Reef where we were served lunch and then could partake in a snorkel safari, semi-submersible boat ride, and see fish and other aquatic sea life including some beautiful coral. There were a few small sharks in the water but luckily none looked like they wanted to eat us!
The next day we took another Cruise Whitsundays Tour (@$109) which took us around the Whitsunday islands including a stop on beautiful Whitehaven Beach . Know that you must take a ferry or water taxi from island to island to get to pick up/drop off points for the cruises and these can cost anywhere from 50-60$ per person each way. Unfortunately there is no other way to get around the islands unless you bring your own boat….
The follow day we flew back to Sydney where we spent the next 2 days exploring the City, Harbor, Harbor Bridge, Opera House, and Sydney Eye Tower. We took the Big Bus Sydney Hop-on-Hop-off Tour ($67/person for 2 days) which allowed us to explore the city at our own pace. We used the OPAL Card which also saved us money on trains, buses and ferries.
Our 2nd day we took a short excursion by train to Featherdale Wildlife Park where we could see much of the native Australian wildlife and we got to hold and have our pictures taken with a Koala bear! There were also incredibly cute kangaroos. The park is easy to get to (about 45 km west of Sydney, 45min by car, 1:15h by train.) The experience was well worth it at $32/adult, $17/child.
Next it was off to New Zealand. From Sydney we flew to Queenstown which is an absolutely beautiful town perched on the shore of Lake Wakatipu and nestled in the Southern Alpine Mountains. There is plenty for tourists to do with lots of skiing, restaurants and shops. There is also an abundance of outdoor recreational activities.
The following morning we took a day trip to Milford Sound which maybe one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. We had to get up early in the morning and took a bus to the sound Kiwi Discovery was purchased by Go Orange. Once there we had about a 2 hour cruise on the Sound where we were fed lunch and took in not only the scenery but also some wildlife! $179.00 per person. The video on the bus ride back was spectacular as well: The World’s Fastest Indian
The next day we headed to Christcurch. It was amazing to see the amount of Devastation that still persisted more than 6 years after the 2011 earthquake. Many buildings still remained abandoned. The most striking was the Christchurch Cathedral.
The following morning we set off for a day-long round trip via the KiwiRail TranzAlpine Train from Christchurch to Greymouth (@ $260/person). This trip takes you across through the Alpine Mountains and through Arthur’s Pass.
From Christchurch we left for Auckland. Once in Auckland we rented a car and drove to The Hobbiton (“Middle Earth” where the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings was filmed) which was about 2h and 15min southeast of Auckland. From there it was onto the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves which was about another 1.5h southwest.
The round trip leaving and returning to Auckland is easily doable in one day if you get an early start. It did take bit of getting used to driving on the Right side of the road! We spent our final night exploring Auckland before departing for LAX the following morning.
We were only able to sample some of Australia and New Zealand in 12 days but had an amazing trip and that left us plenty to see when we go back! This vacation can be a bit pricy but there are ways to save money. Overall it was well worth the cost. Australia and New Zealand are undoubtably two of the most beautiful places I have ever been.
Questions? Just ask!