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Australia or New Zealand

Looking for a new trip and thinking we won't be able to cover both Australia & NZ on same trip- we'll probably take about 2 or 2 1/2 weeks for the trip. We are looking for beauty, hiking, biking.....we're in our mid 50's, and want to be active for part of the trip, & then relaxing and soaking in the beauty for the other half...any input on where we should focus? These look like 2 beautiful countries and so does the Patagonia area in South America....what to do ...what to do....I'd appreciate any advice.

Posted by
5766 posts

It's like being forced to choose between Italy and France. No bad choices here, you can't go wrong either way. Just pick one and plan to do the other another time.

Posted by
4612 posts

I’ve been to Australia (work trip & stayed over) and have close friends who have spent a couple of weeks in New Zealand and another friend who was an exchange student to NZ. Those who visited NZ described it with that dazzling look in their eye that told me it is extra special.

When I can’t decide, I pull together a rough itinerary for both locations, and usually that gives me a clear decision of which one is best for us that year.

Posted by
242 posts

I went to Sydney for the first time in the spring and liked it so much that I went back for nine nights last month. There is so much to do in Sydney and within a couple of hours from there. Beautiful beaches and the iconic sights within the city, the gorgeous Blue Mountains which are easily reachable by public transportation, and the fun of taking the public ferries to explore different areas all make Sydney a fantastic destination.

Posted by
971 posts

I have been to both New Zealand, Australia and Patagonia and If you are looking for hiking and beauty, the I would definitely go to New Zealand. Australia has it's beautiful places as well, but it's also vast and full of a lot of emptiness in between those pretty spots. Also personally if find mountains and fjords much more beautiful than the deserts you find in Australia. Patagonia has the same mountains and fjord scenery that you find in NZ and Torres del Paine in Chile is one of the most beautiful places I have visited, but it is also very remote and can be a more challenging place to travel. NZ on the other has a lot of beauty in one nice little package.

Posted by
11 posts

We have been to both twice and love them both! Very different but great people in both, both require left side of road driving abilities. Depending on the time of year you can find your activities in either one. Getting around Australia is best by plane as it is a vast country and 2 1/2 weeks wont cover much. 2 1/2 weeks in NZ would probably offer more of your activities to enjoy as it is a very outdoors type place. On NZ's South Island there are many hikes and Mt. Cook comes to mind. Biking in the Queenstown area and all over South Island is great and with less traffic. Biking on North Island is also good once you get out of Auckland. The sights on both islands are wonderful and if you wre to book an RV you can do both islands or even if you rent a car with a bike rack you can take the ferry from Wellington over to Picton and bike the South Island as well. See the beauty of both islands. You cannot go wrong either way. Enjoy your travels!

Posted by
37 posts

I have only visited NZ so I can't make a comparison, but I can tell you that NZ is an amazingly diverse and beautiful country. We spent three weeks there last fall (spring time for NZ) and visited both the North and South Islands. We are in our late 50s, did lots of hiking and walking and spent some time visiting a few relatives and friends. We rented a camper van for our 9 days in the South Island and although it might sound daunting to drive such a vehicle on the left hand side of the road, in truth there is so little traffic that it is not a problem. Even driving some very hairy mountain roads with just a small barrier was not a problem and their campgrounds are plentiful and clean with great facilities including full kitchens and dining areas. There is so much beauty that you will want to stop at every view point to take pictures or just enjoy the wonderful colors and sounds. Tourism is a major industry in NZ, but we didn't find the roads or any areas anywhere near as crowded as the eastern US. I am sure there would be more crowds if you went during the summer - we were told that December and January get pretty busy. You can be as busy or relaxed as you want - there are beautiful beaches, hot water pools, skiing everywhere, boating, kayaking and canoeing. Most New Zealanders spend a lot of their time outdoors so their lifestyle and country is geared to being very active, with ample facilities to enjoy. Our flights were fairly easy - East coast to LA and then LA to Auckland. We planned a 14 hour layover in LA with a day hotel to have some time to get some exercise and relax before the 12 hour flight to NZ.

Posted by
51 posts

If you do decide to come to New Zealand, sign up immediately for flight sales alerts from Air NZ. Flying premium economy - or even better, business class, will make your journey so much more enjoyable.

Posted by
46 posts

Thanks so much! I love this forum- I have some homework to do, but I'll be back.

Posted by
5630 posts

Don't try and do Australia and NZ in two weeks.

We have been to Australia twice and NZ once. You need about 10-14 days to do NZ and more than that for Australia.

If you go to Australia, don't miss going to Melbourne and Sydney. Also, you should try to see the Great Barrier Reef (probably from Cairns). Perth on the West Coast is great, if you can squeeze it in. It is a five hour flight from Sydney.

While in Sydney, you want to do a harbor tour and/or cruise, go to the Botanical Gardens and "the Rocks" near Circular Quay. Go to an opera at the famous opera house if your can. Visit Bondi Beach as well.
The Blue Mountains and Hunter Valley Wine tours are great day trips. The Australian Museum is nice in Sydney.
For Melbourne, explore the city, take a harbor tour and be sure to take day trips to see the Great Ocean Road as well as the penguins at Phillip Island. You can do both on a two day tour.

Posted by
2278 posts

You do indeed have a lot of research ahead of you.
I'd suggest spending most of your time in NZ, and specifically on the South Island. From Abel Tasman National Park in the north to Invercargill and Stewart Island in the south there's enough gorgeous scenery and outdoor activities to keep you busy for months - you just need to research what's on offer and prioritize according to your specific interests.

Some general thoughts: we were just there a few months ago and can report that the once beautiful city of Christchurch is still rebuiding from the earthquakes back in 2011. The whole place seemed to be one giant construction zone - I'd give it a miss if I were you. On the other hand, the Banks peninsula about an hour east of the city is still gorgeous, and the French themed little town of Akaroa is still a treat.

Queenstown is the adventure capital of NZ. Several of New Zealand's "Great Walks" start from the general vicinity, and there are shorter day hikes that are all universally glorious with levels of difficulty varying according to your abilities. Know that the city (and most of the South Island for that matter) have been "discovered" by Asian tourism and can get extremely crowded during the extended period of Chinese New Year, which lasted from the 1st of Feb. to around the middle of March this year. Do book your accommodations well in advance during that period.

Would be a real shame for you to come all that way and not spend a few days in Sydney - the most beautiful city on earth for our money. There are cheap flights connecting both Queenstown and Christchurch to Sydney on Jetstar - the Aussie low cost airline. You could probably put together a very nice multi-destination or open jaw flight plan by flying into Christchurch (via Aukland) and then flying from Queenstown to Sydney and then home from there, which is how we did it earlier this year. Car rentals are cheap and there was no one-way drop charge in our case.

Given the time investment involved in just getting there, you're well advised to extend your visit for as long as you can.

Posted by
13219 posts

We have been to all three places; although Australia and New Zealand were on the same trip. We had lots of miles that we could use on Qantas to fly to Sydney in first class and home from Melbourne in business class. We bought inexpensive flights to New Zealand from Sydney and back to Melbourne from Queenstown. In all we spent two weeks on the South Island, with three days in each Australian city on either end.

While we love those two cities, we travel primarily for great hiking, and Australia is not the ideal place for that. So for an active outdoors vacation such as you describe, I would suggest New Zealand very Australia.

We went to Patagonia last year (2017) in January on a guided hiking trip with Mountain Travel Sobek. It was fantastic. The mountains there, the Torres Del Paine, Los Cuernos, and Fitzroy and nearby towers in Argentina, are so beautiful they are almost other-worldly. I love mountains and have hiked in lots of them all over the world, and these are the ones I still keep going back to in my mind. But Inwould recommend a guided hiking tour if you want to go, to have the best experience. Friends and family members who went on their own around the same time as we did, and they all said they wasted a lot of time, and experienced a lot of frustration, trying to figure out the logistics of travel, lodging/camping, and crossing the border.

I would highly recommend MT Sobek's "Hikers Patagonia" trip if you are interested, as they do the whole "W" as a multi-day trek. Most tours do each end of the W as a day hike, and you don't get to the middle, with sweet cabins by a waterfall.

On the other hand, REI offers a multi-sport trip in Patagonia, including biking and rafting or kayaking, in addition to the hiking, so that might appeal to you.

If you are on the East Coast, Patagonia would be a shorter flight than New Zealand for you, if that matters.

New Zealand, on the other hand, is easily done as independent travelers. The people are friendly and welcoming, the accommodations very nice, and the food is wonderful. Rental cars have automatic transmission which makes driving on the left much easier, and the roads are well-signed and easy to navigate. We mixed a train trip up the coast to Picton, bus to Nelson (for Abel Tasman), and flight back to Christchurch with a rental car for a week to see and hike or bike at Mt. Cook Aoraki, beautiful Lake Tekapo, Dunedin and the Otago Rail Trail, ending at Queenstown. We turned in the car there and spent five days on a guided hike along the famed Milford Track. That was the highlight of our trip.

A few links:

That last is a lovely eco-lodge reached by water taxi from Picton; perfect for a couple of days of relaxing, with options for mountain biking (bring one) or kayaking ( free kayaks provided onsite).

Posted by
13219 posts

I did not see Robert's post before I wrote. I think we are suggesting pretty much the same thing: fly to Sydney and spend a few days, then to NZ South Island from there (into Christchurch and out of Queenstown).

I seem to recall that Qantas has direct flights to Sydney from Dallas, but I did not check on that. But also look at New Zealand Air and see what they offer.

Posted by
80 posts

We immigrated to Australia in 1973 and stayed there for about 10 months ( Brisbane, Darwin, and Adelaide were our towns to work) We enjoyed traveling there, but we stopped at New Zealand for a month on our way there. New Zealand was much more scenic. Mount Cook is over 12 thousand feet tall and right near the ocean, and the Sutherland Falls are one of the highest in the world. Milford sound has walls 5 thousand feet tall. And Australia has something like 9 of the top 10 deadliest snakes, Sea wasps which are jelly fish that cover the northern half of the country ( their season starts by someone getting stung and dies and then everyone stays out of the water) And just for more excitement the worlds largest Crocs live there. New Zealand doesn't seem to have deadly creatures on land. New Zealand is about the size of California and Australia about the size of the US mainland.

Posted by
1955 posts

I agree with the advice to spend as much time as you possibly can while visiting one or both.

We did a 16-day small ship cruise (Seabourn), and it was just a very fast sampling of both Australia and New Zealand. We actually (because of the itnerary) saw more of NZ, though. A highlight I was really looking forward to (but missed due to gale-force finds) is Milford Sound, so if you get to NZ, be sure to take in that lovely area. Maybe someday I will get back. But, that is an advantage of going by land is that you can have a day or two flexibility if weather is not good for a day or two.

If you have the time, be sure to visit Tasmania. We were totally blow away by its beauty (we were there in January that year). Melbourne is lovely and very artsy. If you have time, climb the Harbor Bridge in Sydney (we did not have time). Our time in Sydney was solely sailing under the bridge in the very early a.m. while drinking mimosas (it was incredibly beautiful seeing the harbor area), then a very fast sprint by the Opera House and immediate area, as well as the botanical garden......then sadly off to catch our plane. (We booked the cruise at the very last-minute and wanted to stay longer, but flights would not allow it....we realized why once in was Australia Day when we were leaving.) The plane was pretty empty on the way home, we had our choice of seats on the regular and upper level....entire rows.

But, if we ever get back, I would want to spend at least a week filling in what we missed in NZ and at least two weeks flying around Australia to see key sights and visit the Great Barrier Reef. Australia is HUGE. There are very good tour companies (Tauck and Odesseys Unlimited, and others) that offer some good tours, and friends were very pleased with their tours.....but again, just a sampling, still. It would be like visiting the US in two weeks!

But, however you do it, you will not regret the visit,and you will likely leave wanting more. The vineyards and kiwi groves in NZ are lovely, and the people are incredibly (and I mean incredibly friendly). I will never forget the dear lady who realized we were trying to find our way, and she went way out of the way to escort us to a garden, pointing out her personal home along the way, and calling a friend who she was to pick up at the airport to let him know she would be a bit delayed.....she kept insisting on helping us.....totally amazed us.

If you get to Tasmania, there is wildlife park (I would have to sort thru photos to recall the name), but it is tremendous, and provides the opportunity to see kangaroo (walk among them...little ones) and Tasmanian devils and koala bear, etc. We even got to pet a Tasmanian devil (baby) while the trainer held her hand in its mouth......really mean guys!!!

Posted by
42 posts

I have been to Australia 4 times over the past 30 years, to New Zealand for 2 weeks and I just returned from a 3 week trip to Patagonia. Australia is approximately the same size and has some wonderful places to visit as the US (think Yosemite, Yellowstone, etc.) but it has the advantage of less than 1/10 of the population. Therefore when you go to a 'touristy' area, you may think that there's hardly anyone there but the native Ozzies will complain about the big crowds! That said, one of the disadvantages of Oz is that it is a large country and it takes time and money to get where you want to go. That's why we've gone 4 times. On the other hand NZ also has some great hiking and scenery but is much smaller and more manageable for a visitor there for a short time. The same can be said for Patagonia. I would agree with the comment that the mountain scenery in Patagonia is simply spectacular. We did all of this traveling on our own without tour groups and had little trouble arranging it. The jewel of the Chilean Patagonia parks is Torres del Paine which is difficult to get reservations without some prior planning. Day hikes are possible but most hikes like to do the multiday W and O circuits which fill up fast in the summer (now). One thing that might also appeal to you: we stayed on a ranch (estancia) for several days which had a spectacular setting with fantastic food. The one we stayed on is a working ranch so they had sheep and horses. Feel free to PM me if you want details.

Posted by
4637 posts

I haven't been to Patagonia yet but I am sure it's very beautiful. Australia is huge, mostly desert and empty. So with less than 3 weeks you have to be picky. In our case it was Tasmania and southeast Australia between Melbourne and Sydney. We picked the most scenic parts of Australia. NZ is concentrated scenery in much smaller area. If you are looking for beauty, hiking, biking... go for NZ. Patagonia has the harshest climate of these three.

Posted by
91 posts

I'm a Kiwi who is currently living back in Auckland after living in both Melbourne and Sydney for a long time. You would be pushing it to do both countries in 2 to 21/2 weeks unless you perhaps just visited Auckland and did a couple of day trips and went over to perhaps Sydney and did some interesting day trips. If you focus on NZ you could perhaps stay in Auckland for a couple of days and then hire a car and visit the Bay of Islands in the North or Rotorua in the middle of the North Island. Spectacular scenery with beautiful lakes, geothermal attractions. Then down to Wellington for a couple of days and over to Queenstown. You could easily spend a week there or alternatively hire a car and go further afield. The South Island is scenically stunning.

If you decided on just Australia I would probably focus on a week in Melbourne and a week in Sydney. Great day trips out of both cities and there are quite a lot of things to do while staying in town.
In both countries, if you are interested in wine, there are some great vineyard regions to visit.

Posted by
5630 posts

Melbourne and Sydney are both great cities. Lots to do from each. The Great Ocean Highway with the 12 Apostles and Philip Island Penguins are must sees from Melbourne.

From Sydney, the Blue Mountains are great, as are wine tours north of the city.

Posted by
42 posts

If you are looking for spectacular mountain scenery and hiking, Patagonia is on the top of the list, hands down. The allures of Australia are more subtle: the outback is an amazing habitat but it's not for everyone. The Blue Mountains and Great Ocean Road were both underwhelming in my view: more like the Appalachian mountains as compared to Alaska. (I grew up in Colorado so I have a biased view of what mountains are like). Each has a beauty of its own. NZ is somewhere in between, say like the Rocky Mountains in my analogy. The downside of Patagonia is that there are no spectacular cities, like Sydney or Melbourne and the experience will be more wild than what you will find in Oz and NZ. As others have said, Sydney is truly a fantastic city to experience. Australia also has unique fauna found nowhere else in the world. Basically you can't go wrong on this decision, just depends on what you are most interested in. Have a great time!


Posted by
1058 posts

Both NZ and Australia are amazing countries to visit. Sydney is one of the cleanest, most beautiful big city to visit anywhere. Caines, Phillips Island , and Melbourne were great also. But, if you are into hiking and biking, you can’t beat the South Island of New Zealand. Queenstown has everything for the person who likes the outdoors. Milford Sound is beautiful. You won’t go wrong in going to Australia or NZ, but don’t try and do both in under 20 days unless you are on a tour. The travel arrangements will be overwhelming to try and do it all in a short time. You will be spending too much time in airports and in planes. On our 20 day tour to Australia and NZ, we had 10 airplane flights. It was only doable because everything was handled by the tour company and we were able to get right on a bus without trying to get a rental car, hotel, or try and figure out how to get around and see everything.

Posted by
3703 posts

To help you understand how big Australia really is, this thread has not a peep about the country's west coast, running from Perth (one of Australia's most prosperous cities) north to Crocodile Dundee country. It's often noted that Perth is closer to Singapore than to Sydney. So you could take two trips to Australia and still leave lots to see (such as Tasmania.) Anyhow, I enjoyed NZ's more temperate climate and feel the same way -- two weeks will make a nice introduction to a country that always has more to offer. (PS: I enjoy visiting empty places; the emptiness itself can be fascinating.)

Posted by
3472 posts

We visited NZ and Australia on the same trip (from Seattle). We visited two sets of friends who live on the North Island of NZ. We were in Auckland, the Coromandel, Whangarei, Bay of Islands and Cape Reinga. The weather was wonderful the end of Feb-March.

We spent time in Sydney, Adelaide, Kangaroo Island, Port Douglas, Great Barrier Reef & Cairns. We felt a month was perfect. We were very happy that we chose to do both back to back.