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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.
Tasmania, once the butt of many jokes, is finally cool. The little Australian island is home to stunning landscapes, old-growth forests and exceptional local produce. Lording over all this goodness is Hobart, the island’s creative capital. Although its remoteness might once have made it feel provincial, the city has truly come into its own in recent years. It’s got one of the world’s best museums of contemporary art, vibrant markets, a cosmopolitan dining scene and eclectic music festivals. It’s also achingly beautiful, with a natural harbor setting and rugged Mount Wellington looming in the background.
The city is compact enough to easily explore on foot. Start at the sandstone area of Salamanca Place with its hip galleries, artist studios and bustling cafés and bars, and then roam the quaint streets of Battery Point, one of Hobart’s oldest neighborhoods. Immerse yourself in nature at the gorgeous Botanical Gardens or head out of town to learn more about Tasmania’s dark—but fascinating—past. Fuel up on the freshest seafood straight from the Southern Ocean down at the waterfront, or feast on gourmet Tassie produce at one of the many excellent restaurants in town. Whatever you choose to do, we promise you won’t be bored.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Are you in England or New Zealand? It’s hard to tell in this city crowned by a neo-Gothic stone cathedral and set along the grassy banks of the Avon River. Nearby: the fertile Canterbury Plains and rugged high-country sheep stations.
Kaikoura is a picturesque town whose name is Maori for “meal of crayfish,” which is one of many things you can do here, in addition to whale watching, birding and hiking in the surrounding mountains.
New Zealand’s friendly capital city features gaily painted old wooden houses and a red cable car that takes you up to the Wellington Botanic Gardens and a fine view of the harbor. A must-see is the engaging Te Papa Museum. Sample shore excursions: The Best of Wellington’s Pubs; Boomrock Escape; Lord of the Rings – on Location.
A city of vision, rebuilt in the striking, clean style of art deco after a devastating earthquake in 1931 and reinvented as a center for gourmet food and wines. Sample shore excursions: Napier Art Deco Highlights; Cape Kidnappers Gannet Safari; Hawke’s Bay Wineries; A Taste of New Zealand:: Epicurean Experience at Sileni Estates.
Site of fierce Maori wars, Tauranga today is a peaceful city in the heart of kiwifruit-growing country. Farther afield: Rotorua, with its spouting geysers and bubbling mud pools, the Waitomo Glow Worm Caves and nocturnal kiwi houses. Sample shore excursions: Fascinating Rotorua; Longridge Park & Jetboat Ride; Maori Marae Visit.
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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