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New Zealand and Australia

My sister and I are planning three weeks Sept-Oct this year in NZ and Aus. We've always traveled Europe and always with a RS book, so now I need to ask what guides are recommended and what are the top spots people recommend. Three weeks is not a lot of time. I'm inclined to spend more of it in NZ. I appreciate guidance. Thanks in advance.

Posted by
653 posts

Colin Mairs is a Rick Steves guide on the Scotland tour and also lives in New Zealand and has a tour company named “Mondumo tours”. Colin was excellent as a tour guide in Scotland and he brought everyone together with his knowledge of Scottish history and traditions.

Colin does his tours in the winter (his summer) and his website contains His tour information.

Posted by
257 posts

It would be very easy to spend the entire 3 weeks in NZ, let alone Australia. I recommend the Lonely Planet guidebooks. They are originally an Australian company, though I believe they are now US owned. I have an old Lonely Planet guidebook to New Zealand which I have used for two separate trips to New Zealand. They have a range of Australian guidebooks, some even concentrating on individual cities or states.

In the case of New Zealand, I would recommend getting out of the cities and spending most of the time in the countryside. To me, New Zealand cities feel like small versions of Australian cities. However, their countryside is very different from ours. My favourite areas are the volcanic areas of the North Island which include Rotorua and Tongariro National Park, and in the South Island, the mountain areas and the west coast including Fox and Franz Josef glaciers. I have driven a rental car in NZ. The public transport is not frequent outside the cities. On the plus side, the population density is so small, that the traffic is very light outside the cities. It is light even in small cities like Dunedin.

In Australia, there is good public transport in our cities like Sydney and Melbourne, but not so much outside the cities. It is hard to make recommendations because Australia is so vast. You could visit our cities like Sydney or Melbourne, or go to country areas like Far North Queensland. But like New Zealand, I would also recommend a car if you want to go outside the cities.

Posted by
112 posts

I echo Ted’s view that it’s hard to comment about Australia without a better idea of what you like to do. If you like nature then the impact of the recent bushfires has been enormous - and today in Canberra the smoke is still too bad to go outside from fires that are still out of control about 50 miles away. By September-October though the bush should have regenerated a lot but the billion native animals we lost will take longer (maybe never) to return.

The big thing to remember about Australia in comparison to New Zealand is that Australian distances are huge. If you want to see more than one place you will need to factor in some flights and Australian airlines are quite expensive - a lot of the cheaper fares are no luggage, and Australian carry on luggage rules are more strict than the US.

While hiring a car is less expensive and roads near the coast are generally pretty good, driving times are long. Sydney - Melbourne at least 11 hours.

That said, Sydney harbour and beaches are spectacular. A decent hotel will set you back at least USD $120- per night but there are a lot of Airbnb places in beach-side suburbs like Bondi, Coogee and Manly.

Queensland has some great beaches too - Noosa area is great. Don’t go to the Gold Coast unless you like beer and burgers, and skyscrapers, and theme parks.

Also agree with Ted that the Lonely Planet guides are good for Australia.

Posted by
70 posts

Debi, you and your sister have picked a nice time of the year. Start of spring.

I concur with the thoughts of Ted and Nomad. I have never purchased a guidebook for either place, but lonely planet started in Melbourne, so seems the go to.

It's a big country to cover. The southern half of Australia is still likely to have coolish temperatures, the north regions will be warm to hot with humidity starting to increase.

Difficult to give you ideas. Maybe this little overview might help.

NZ will still be coming out of winter. Personally, I would go for the South Island of NZ. Just last June my family and I flew into Queenstown for a longish weekend, 5 nights, so is still vivid in my mind. Hired cars. Looks small on a map, but takes time to get around, bit like the alps. A stunningly beautiful location. We all enjoy the areas we covered very much. Drove the Otago and Canterbury Plains to Christchurch and flew to back to Melbourne from Christchurch. Both west and east coast have enticing attractions. The west coast takes time and a reasonable level of agility to enjoy.

Sydney is every body’s idea of Australia. The city has developed around the most beautiful harbour in the world. The bridge and Opera House can be enjoyed from a ferry ride on the harbour. I still take a window seat whenever flying to or from Sydney. There are numerous sights and activities comprehensively covered in lonely planet.

Then there is the Great Barrier Reef. Perfect time of year for northern Queensland. My wife and I joined friends from Michigan on a 10-day cruise mid-October. Nice warm weather in the northern parts and where as surprised as our visitors to witness the coral spawning.

Northern Territory, home to Mick (Crocodile) Dundee. Being brutally honest, methinks it could be a bit too far and lacking in amenities.

Perhaps if you could let us know the things you like in Europe, and, I hesitate to ask, your age group, we all should be able come up with some diverse suggestions for you both.

Happy planning!
Regards Ron

Posted by
4050 posts

You have some great advise already.
We have been to Australia twice and NZ once.

Three weeks will be largely enough for Australia, but not both countries. We did only the NZ north island on a great tour that was 9 days.

Places not to miss in Australia are starting in the West with Perth, then Darwin, in the NE of the country near the Great Barrier Reef there are places like Cairns. Brisbane is OK, but frankly, you could skip it.
Sydney is wonderful, also visit the Blue Mountains and the wine country north of Sydney.
Melbourne is great, also, we loved the Great Ocean Highway and the Philip Island Penguin Walk.
Didn't go to South Australia, but am told that Elephant Island is great.

Posted by
132 posts

Geovagriffith not sure about Elephant Island. Only one I know of is near Antarctica. Maybe you're thinking of Kangaroo Island. Unfortunately one of the areas worst hit by the recent bushfire emergency.

Debi I would really want to know what interesrs you and your sister about Aus and NZ before offering much advice. The question is pretty much the same as saying I have 3 weeks in Mexico and the USA what are the spots to visit?

I am not sure why anyone would fly half way across the World to see Sydney or Melbourne. Perfectly good interesting enough cities (I was born and raised in Melb) but not within a bull's roar of the World's classic cities IMHO.
Plenty of amazing things to see and do in both countries outside of the big cities but it is going to very much depend on what you are looking for.
Australia is a massive country land mass wise so many famous places eg Uluru, Kakadu, GBR are huge distances apart. It is probably best to come up with a small number of places and focus on them.

I could come up with dozens of places I love but would they interest you? Are you happy to do "Rat Runs" like jumping on a bus in Melbourne and rolling all day down the Great Ocean Rd? Or do you want to see places at your leisure?

Tassie Devil. Did I see any enthusiastic promotion of the wonderful island State?

Posted by
70 posts

Wurundjeri. Thanks for noticing, mate. My thoughts were that if Debi and her sister got a taste of down under, then they may return later.

Rather time consuming to get to Tasmania, and they only have 3 weeks. One really needs a car, as public transport non-existent in Tas. No trains anymore.

I am a sandgroper who has moved to Tas for the climate during the autumn of my life. Then perhaps maybe I am selfish and wish to keep this little island paradise a secret.

Regards Ron

Posted by
132 posts

We could suggest they fly to Meleleuca and walk out to Cockle Creek and catch the bus back to Hobart A nice weeklong stroll although might be a bit muddy in Sept/Oct lol. That would give them a good taste of our continent.

Posted by
132 posts

Thought so.
Basically one half of the island was destroyed by the fires. Amongst other losses approx. 25000 koalas were killed and also about 100000 livestock. A number of rare creatures have had their numbers decimated and will more than likely become extinct.
Our fires in Aus so far this summer have burnt an area nearly twice the size of the Rep.of Ireland. Not good as we will probably lose many rarer species of native fauna.

Posted by
70 posts

Wurundjeri. I assume you have done the track, mud and all. I haven’t but know of some who have. Not a weekend stroll in the park. Like your sense of humour though.

Just the same, I would like to keep this little pristine island off the tourist map for as long as possible. A bit like Perth and Margaret River, not known to the majority.

As an aside, my wife’s maternal line is Yamatji mob. I have made sure my children and grandchildren are proud of the heritage, even though it is being diluted. Pleased to see you are proud of your mob.

However, I fear we may be getting off theme here. Our objective is to direct Deb and her sister to good information for their planning. I hope they come and enjoy our land before it becomes overwhelmed and the real pleasures are lost.

Deb, have our ramblings been of any help? Or maybe a distraction?

Regards Ron

Posted by
3 posts

Thanks Donald for the mention above!
Yes I run my own small group tours in my adopted homeland of New Zealand! You can find dates and details of our 14 day tour at
The travel style and philosophy is all the same great things that anyone familiar with Rick Steves tours will already know and love.
Reviews at
and on Facebook

I also run a Facebook group called “New Zealand Travel Forum”. We have a lot of knowledgeable NZ travel industry people in the group so lots of great advice there for self-drive travellers.

Posted by
2069 posts

I took Colin’s tour of New Zealand last year and loved it. Since your time is short, a tour would be an efficient way to cover a lot of ground without the stress of getting from place to place on your own. Colin is a wonderful guide!!!

After the tour, we flew over to Australia on our own. We had 12 days and so we just got a brief taste of Australia. We went to Uluru, Port Douglas (Great Barrier Reef) and Sydney. It was expensive flying around but we knew it was almost certainly our only trip to Australia. You will have even less time, so maybe just Sydney or Sydney and one other place.

I liked Australia, but I liked New Zealand better.

Posted by
7 posts

I'm enjoying reading all the suggestions and greatly appreciate them. I know that 3 weeks is not really enough time, however it's really all we've got. My sister and I are in our 60's but very active. We are great walkers and love both the natural world and enjoy seeing historical sites, architecture, good museums and cultural sites. We are definitely not the beer, burger and school holiday types! My sister has been to Australia before but I have not. I know it's a vast country and so don't expect to see much of it. I think we want to spend the bulk of our time in NZ but I'd like to dip my toes in Australia and she's game for that. (She picks the country, and I do the planning! LOL!)

Posted by
1695 posts

Might suggest a multi-city flight plan, flying first into Sydney for a few days to enjoy the most beautiful city on earth, with side trips to the Blue Mountains, the Hunter Valley and the beaches. Won't need a car for that.
Then catch a cheap flight via JetStar (the Qantas low-cost airline) over to Queenstown on the South Island - a true crown jewel of NZ. Spend a few days there, then start exploring by car for a couple of weeks ... Aoraki/Mt Cook is worth a couple of days, as are Wanaka, Dunedin and the Otago peninsula, as well as the French-themed town of Akaroa just to the east of Christchurch. From there Air NZ has cheap flights to Auckland to connect for your return flight. You probably don't have the time to explore much of the North Island except for day trips from Auckland.
With apologies to Colin, you really don't need to book a tour for any of this. Any good guide book will suffice, with the occasional day trip/tour thrown in for special interest attractions.

Posted by
19 posts

If you can only do one thing in NZ, then I would say get to Fjordland, specifically Milford Sound. Be prepared for rain, it rains a lot! But, when the rains come, the mountains are covered in waterfalls. It is truly spectacular.

I would also rent a car. Public transport is just not very good and you will not have access to all the best places.

Finally, New Zealand may be a small country but it is still the same size as California. You will not see a fraction of it in a week. Note as well that there are really no equivalents to a US highway outside of Auckland. 60 miles on US freeway can be done in under an hour. In New Zealand, often that is an hour and a half or more.

Posted by
1094 posts

We spent two weeks in New Zealand and Australia, flying into Auckland and then using Air New Zealand to spend time in Christ Church, then over to Sydney for 2 nights on the waterfront/opera house area. Best of all was our Air New Zealand flight to Hobart, Tasmania, one of our favorite towns. You might get on for specific cities and towns like Auckland, Christchurch, Sydney, and Hobart forums or any other cities you might like to visit. Tasmania was well worth the effort, to see Tasmania devils near Hobart. Good luck.

Posted by
132 posts

Oh George you have blown our cover. We aren't supposed to be letting anyone know about the best State in Australia nor the most beautiful capital city Hobart.

Posted by
2 posts

I just returned on Sunday from a fabulous 14 days in New Zealand with Colin Mairs and Mondumo tours. I am a veteran of many, many Rick Steves' tours and felt right at home with Colin's similar approach to travel. I highly recommend him, and look forward to taking more of his tours as he branches out past NZ.