If you want a snapshot of Australia’s appeal, look no further than Sydney: The idyllic lifestyle, friendly locals and drop-dead natural beauty of this approachable metropolis and its attractions explain why the country tops so many travelers’ wish lists. But Sydney is more than just the embodiment of classic antipodean cool—the city is in a constant state of evolution. A list of what to do in Sydney might start with the white-hot nightlife, with its new cocktail bars and idiosyncratic mixology dens. Inventive restaurants helmed by high-caliber chefs are dishing up everything from posh pan-Asian to Argentine street food, while the famous dining temples that put Sydney on the gastronomic map are still going strong too.
The famed harbor is among the top sights—home to twin icons the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge, it is the stepping-off point for some of the city’s best cultural attractions and sightseeing. In one day you can sail around the harbor, get a behind-the-scenes tour of the opera house and climb the bridge, with time to spare for people-watching over a flat white at a waterfront café.
Speaking of water, when you plan what to do in Sydney, you will want to include the iconic beaches, where surfers, office workers and tourists alike converge on some of the most gorgeous shoreline scenery anywhere. Bondi, Bronte and Clovelly are all within easy reach of the Central Business District, as is Manly, a charming seaside town located a short ferry ride from Circular Quay. Beyond the city you’ll discover UNESCO World Heritage Sites and the chance to encounter Australia’s cuddliest wildlife—a perfect way to round out your envy-inducing Sydney photo collection.
Melbourne is consistently voted one of the world’s most livable cities—and for good reason. This is Australia’s cosmopolitan heart with cutting-edge art and architecture, historic galleries, attractions and museums, plus a dizzying range of restaurants, bistros, markets and bars. It’s renowned for its sporting culture, home to the esteemed Melbourne Cricket Ground and Australian rules football teams.
The famous laneways of Melbourne bustle with hidden bars and eateries, while myriad beaches and parks allow for the ultimate outdoor lifestyle and active things to do. It’s a melting pot of cultures and a city of gourmands who demand excellent food and find it everywhere—from modern Australian cuisine and delicious Asian fusion fare to low-key cafés serving the best coffee you’ve ever tasted.
If you want to leave the city, Melbourne is the gateway to Victoria’s world-class wineries and spectacular coastline sights. Visit the famous penguins at nearby Phillip Island or feast on local produce in the picture-perfect Yarra Valley. Wherever you go in and around Melbourne, you’ll be sure to understand why so many choose to call this beautiful corner of the world home.
Burnie’s long-running logging industry is just one hint at the amazing forests that surround the town, from the UNESCO World Heritage area that contains Tasmania’s most famous crag—Cradle Mountain—to the lesser-known rain forests of the Tarkine wilderness. Woodworkers, papermakers and print artists thrive in this misty land of trees, as does rare wildlife, ranging from wedge-tailed eagles to echidnas and the fabled Tasmanian devils. There’s pristine beachfront, too, where little penguins march and well-to-do locals dine on seafood platters as they gaze off into Bass Strait. Tasmania’s separation from mainland Australia has created a resourceful, self-reliant and sometimes rebellious community that cooks and farms as well as it crafts and explores. Burnie’s bounty includes award-winning single-malt whiskeys, hard apple cider, trout and salmon, hormone-free milk and cheeses and beef from Cape Grim in the far northwest. Known for having the world’s cleanest air, Burnie is an exciting base for a taste tour as well as a rugged or refined adventure.
Milford Sound, or Piopiotahi (its name in Maori), sits on the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island and was first called the Eighth Wonder of the World by none other than Rudyard Kipling, who had seen some pretty wonderful places. As you sail up the 15-kilometer-long (nine-mile-long) sound, with soaring snow-topped peaks looming above—the tallest reaches an altitude of 1,517 meters (4,977 feet)—you’ll understand Kipling’s enthusiasm.
Every year, visitors flock to New Zealand in search of landscapes straight out of Middle Earth. They find what they’re looking for in Fiordland National Park, on the southwestern coast of the South Island. This stunning 12,000-square-kilometer (4,633-square-mile) park encompasses mountains, lakes, fjords and rain forests. The area was once the home of Maori hunters; later, European whalers established small settlements here. But mostly, this region has seen a notable lack of human activity—the steep peaks and wet landscape deterred all but the hardiest people. That changed around the end of the 19th century, when travelers discovered the beautiful scenery of Fiordland. The national park was formally established in 1952.
Countless plant and animal species find a haven here. Among the park’s rare birds is the flightless takahe, thought for decades to be extinct until it was spotted in the area in 1948. The natural wonders continue offshore: Seals, dolphins and whales frequent these waters.
Although it is called a sound, it is technically a fjord—a narrow inlet created by glacial erosion over thousands of years. While its geological history is long, its human history is not. It is believed that the Maori first explored the sound, and the rest of the area that is now part of Fiordland National Park, around 1,000 years ago; Captain Cook followed in 1770. But neither Maori nor Europeans created permanent settlements of any significance, and the land was pristine when Fiordland National Park, New Zealand’s largest national park, was established in 1952. While many walking trails cross the park, the most breathtaking views are arguably those from the water, with the sheer rock faces looming above your ship as you sail through this majestic landscape.
Much of New Zealand feels like England, by way of Polynesia. There are a few exceptions, though, such as the town of Akaroa, a former French settlement, and the distinctly Scottish city of Dunedin, named after the Scottish Gaelic name for Edinburgh. After Dunedin was founded in 1848, city surveyor Charles Kettle attempted to impose Edinburgh’s New Town grid plan on the growing city. But the Otago Peninsula’s hilly landscape proved challenging—for evidence, note that Dunedin has one of the world’s steepest streets (Baldwin Street). The volcanic remnants around the harbor make for a dramatic backdrop.
Dunedin’s prominence during the gold rush in the late 19th century resulted in many grand Victorian and Edwardian buildings. Thanks to the beautiful University of Otago (the country’s oldest), there’s a large student population to keep the city vibrant and modern. But Dunedin’s heritage is always proudly on display: The magnificent Dunedin Railway Station and Larnach Castle have been restored to their full glory, and the fascinating Toitu Otago Settlers Museum provides a glimpse into the lives of early residents. Outside the city, the Otago Peninsula is lined with scenic beaches and home to rare birdlife like the royal albatross and yellow-eyed penguin.
Strolling along the city’s hilly streets and past its Edwardian and Victorian buildings and green spaces, you might not guess that Timaru was built on the lava flows of a now-extinct but vividly named volcano, Mount Horrible. Timaru’s own name comes from the Maori Te Maru, which means \”place of shelter.\” Chief among Timaru’s charms are its parks and gardens. As if the backdrop of the Southern Alps wasn’t enough, a rose garden, boardwalk and beach also enliven the already beautiful waterfront of Caroline Bay, named for a 19th-century whaling ship. Up the hill, the scenic reserve of Centennial Park offers picturesque picnic spots and walking and biking trails. Timaru showcases New Zealand and Maori culture at the stellar Aigantighe Art Gallery and South Canterbury Museum. (If you have time to venture beyond Timaru and are interested in learning about the area’s truly ancient history, the fascinating Te Ana Maori Rock Art Centre, about half an hour outside the city, exhibits rock art made by early Maori settlers more than 700 years ago.)
Tucked into the northeastern end of the South Island—just 29 kilometers (18 miles) north of Bleinheim and 109 kilometers (68 miles) east of Nelson—the petite and picturesque port town of Picton is your starting point for exploring the region of Marlborough. This seaside gateway with ferry service to the North Island connects the majestic maritime beauty known as Queen Charlotte Sound to the luscious wine country of Marlborough, heaven for sauvignon blanc lovers. From the gluttonous to the active, there’s something for everyone, be it traversing a portion of the 70-kilometer (43-mile) stretch of the extraordinary Queen Charlotte Track—New Zealand’s greatest coastal cycleway—on foot or by bike, going on a cycle winery tour or tasting the famous green-lipped mussels that are indigenous to Marlborough Sounds. Naturalists should dust off their binoculars and explore the nearby wildlife sanctuaries, or if inclined to luxury, get up close and personal to a falcon while sipping on a glass of wine at the Brancott Estate.
Don’t neglect the tiny harbor town of Picton (population 4,000) itself either, which has quaint cafés and shops and boasts unique aquatic-themed museums, like the Edwin Fox Maritime Museum, dedicated to a historic ship which has seen most of the world in its more than 150 years.
At the top of the South Island, the Marlborough Sounds are a series of sunken river valleys that form a dazzling landscape, with countless peninsulas, islands and inlets. Though the region represents only 1 percent of New Zealand’s total area, its irregular coastline, with its many bays and coves, means it accounts for a fifth of the country’s coast.
There are three principal sounds: Pelorus, Kenepuru and the largest, Queen Charlotte Sound, which runs along the southern edge of the region. While the sounds were home to a number of settlements of Maori, who were able to fish these protected waters safe from the currents of the open sea, the area is sparsely populated today. For the traveler who wants to escape the bustle of civilization, the walking trails along the stunning coastline and the protected bays dotted with the white sails of yachts are a good choice. Queen Charlotte and the other sounds are also an important home for some of New Zealand’s fauna, with five different types of dolphins swimming in the waters here and threatened bird species finding sanctuaries in the 50 different nature reserves throughout the region.
New Zealand’s cool little capital is located at the southern tip of the North Island, meaning it’s blessed with a beautiful waterfront, fresh seafood and unpredictable weather. So famously tempestuous is Windy Welly that visitors quickly learn not to go outside without an umbrella and will spend more time than usual talking about the weather. Politics is a hot topic too, with government workers buzzing about the Beehive, as the distinctive Parliament building is colloquially known.
Wellington is also known for culture and cuisine. Learn about Maori history and Kiwiana at Te Papa, the national museum; go behind the scenes of the Lord of the Rings movies made in Wellywood; and wash down a plate of chilled bluff oysters with a crisp sauvignon blanc at a Cuba Street restaurant.
Gourmands are spoiled for choice with the city’s many coffee microroasteries, craft breweries, innovative chefs and artisanal markets. Fortunately for your waistline, it’s also a terrific city for walking, hiking and cycling, with a compact historic core hugged by green hills and dotted with impossibly perched houses. They say you can’t beat Wellington on a good day—but visitors will soon discover that even if it’s wet and windy, it’s always a good day to be in Wellington.
The Southern Hemisphere’s answer to Miami Beach—at least when it comes to Art Deco architecture—Napier has a perfect mix of natural and manmade beauty. The historic district, which was mostly constructed in the 1930s after a massive earthquake and subsequent fires destroyed the city in 1931, was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007. As a delicious bonus, there’s a thriving food and wine scene, too. Surrounded by the rolling vineyards of the Hawke’s Bay wine region and edged by pristine waters, Napier has attracted a host of culinary innovators that has put it on the foodie map over the past two decades. Nature lovers, too, are drawn by this North Island city’s scenic splendor and abundant wildlife. Down the coast, colonies of Australasian gannets thrive at Cape Kidnappers. Within the city, Norfolk Island pines line the seafront Marine Parade, a half dozen parks and gardens bloom from September to March (spring and summer Down Under), there are forested hiking trails and active pursuits range from cycling to golf. It’s easy to enjoy yourself while soaking up Hawke’s Bay’s spectacular landscape.
The curved shoreline of the Bay of Plenty—known in Maori as Te Moana-a-Toi—is home to incredible surfing, white-sand beaches and New Zealand’s only active marine volcano. Tauranga, with 130,000 residents, is the largest city on the Bay of Plenty and fifth largest in New Zealand. The city offers visitors a number of water-focused activities, like sailing and kayaking, as well as drier alternatives such as shopping and people-watching at a café in the Historic Village.
Tauranga is also a great jumping-off point for exploring nearby beaches and Te Puke, the kiwifruit capital of the world, as well as a wealth of Maori cultural sites. The world-famous geothermal wonderland of Rotorua, nicknamed Sulfur City, has been a major Polynesian spa resort town since visitors first arrived in the late 1800s. In Maori, roto means lake and rua means two, but Rotorua actually comprises 18 lakes—plus an incredible redwood forest.
For the best views, take the gondola up to Skyline Rotorua, a recreation complex atop Mount Ngongotaha. Other day trips you should consider are a boat ride through the incomparable glowworm caves of Waitomo or an unforgettable tour of the Hobbiton Movie Set in Matamata—a must for all Tolkien fans.
New Zealand’s biggest city deserves more than a layover. Auckland is multicultural and cosmopolitan, with sizeable Polynesian, Asian and Maori populations enriching its history and broadening the palate. Internationally known chefs and fashion designers have made neighborhoods like Ponsonby, Newmarket and Parnell world-class destinations for shopping and dining.
You’re never far from water attractions in New Zealand—and this is especially true in Auckland where it’s not unheard of for downtown workers to go kayaking on their lunch break. The once-gritty port has been transformed into inviting public spaces and buzzing nightclubs, with sailboat charters and regular ferry connections waiting to whisk visitors around the harbor for sightseeing.
Start your day sipping a flat white while you plan your explorations: art gallery crawl, winery tour or volcano hike? It’s possible to do all three without losing sight of the Sky Tower, one of Auckland’s top tourist attractions, from which you can get a bird’s-eye view of the gateway to Aotearoa.
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