To set the context, we spent approximately 2 weeks in New Zealand and 2 weeks in Australia visiting from late Sept to the end of October. We arranged for our own international air travel to Auckland, New Zealand with a return from Brisbane, Australia.
Overall, the visits to each country were exceptional because of the amount of ground we covered and the number of sites we were able to see in this relatively short period of time. The staff from our travel agency was extremely helpful in planning the trip over a period of about 2 months. Our agent's suggestions were spot on for Australia and very good for New Zealand. With the benefit of hindsight, I would have spent more time in our first city upon landing (Auckland) simply because of the 17 hours it took us to get there. A minimum of 2 days would have been better to recover from the long flight rather than just the overnight in Auckland. Likewise, one of the major points of interest that we both overlooked was the area north of Auckland (the Bay of Islands). As it is a 3 hour drive there, more consideration should have been given to this area but it would have required an additional 2 days for our trip. However, these are points that might benefit future travelers to New Zealand. In summary, we appreciated and enjoyed the itinerary provided by our travel agency.
Finally, we tend to enjoy an active vacation that allows us to see sites and meet people and we typically walk about 5-10 miles per day. In this regard, our our agent was able to achieve just the right balance between sightseeing and relaxation so we could truly enjoy the venues we were visiting. For us, this included non-scheduled time to visit museums, historical places, botanical gardens as well as river and harbor cruises.
New Zealand is a country that is endowed with an exceptional range of natural beauty in an area that extends about 1,000 miles from the northern tip of the North Island to the bottom of the South Island. Other tours we considered offered to give you a flavor of New Zealand by visiting just Auckland & Rotorua in the North Island and then flying you to Queenstown or Dunedin in the South Island. While these are great places to visit, traveling by train, bus, and van enabled us to see the countryside up close and to learn about the daily lives of New Zealanders and their incredible multicultural society. So, we also visited Wellington, ChristChurch, the Franz Josef Glacier area, and Milford Sound. Yes, there were a few days of long bus rides, but the vistas around each bend and over each hill were always worth it. New Zealand has an abundance of coastline, rivers, mountains, fjords, glaciers, and interesting but non-lethal wildlife (no poisonous snakes or crocs.) While I could go into great detail about the scenery I would be remiss if I also didn't mention the friendliness of the people. Without exception, the Kiwis (not considered a pejorative term) took time to answer questions, give directions, and share advice, and on more than one occasion literally walk us to our destination.
The trip to Australia was a bit more challenging because of the distances between the cities we wanted to visit. Our itinerary included, in the following order: Melbourne, Cairns/Port Douglas, Uluru, Sydney, and Brisbane. Each of these locations had a lot to offer but I do recall at least 3 memorable parts: watching the night time landing of about 1500 penguins at Philip Island (about 2 hours from Melbourne); taking a tour of the Sydney Opera House and then actually snagging 2 tickets to hear a performance in the concert hall; and the emotional feeling of watching a sunset and a sunrise over Ayers Rock in Uluru.
First, as noted above, whether I began the trip in NZ or in AUS, I would make a greater allowance for decompression after the long flight. I suggest spending at least 2-3 days in the arrival city instead of just one day. For New Zealand, I'm sorry that we didn't allow time to travel north from Auckland to experience the Bay of Islands. Likewise, I've heard that Dunedin is worth a visit but it takes time to travel there, especially if you have to return to Queenstown to fly to Australia. The bottom line is that we needed more time.
As for Australia, I probably would spend more time in Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane. But then again, Australia is the size of the United States so we would need just more time!
One final thought relates to the timing of our travel. I thoroughly enjoyed traveling in the early spring and would do it again because the countrysides were alive with color. But I do admit the evening air was cool at times. On the other hand, my wife would have preferred to sacrifice the color for travel at the end of spring (e.g November or even early December).
Should you wish to contact me, I also have some suggestions about hotels. Finally, it would have been great to have some help with restaurant recommendations. We were surprised that so many hotel staff hadn't eaten at the local restaurants and therefore could't make recommendations. The local travel guides weren't very discriminating and we found the descriptions to be inaccurate.
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