A Journey Down Under

When you’re imagining your ideal vacation, do pristine beaches and astonishing mountain scenery beckon in your dreams? Are you looking for a destination with exotic animals and welcoming people? Would you like to surf in the morning and attend opera at night?

New Zealand and Australia are half a world away, but flights from the middle of America will land you “Across the Ditch” or “Down Under” in less than 20 hours. With thoughtful planning, you can track down airfares that are comparable to European flights. And, once you arrive, nothing is lost in translation. Aussies and Kiwis relate to Americans well.

When heading to Australia, travelers often focus first on cosmopolitan Sydney where culture, cuisine and shopping are unsurpassed. The city’s opera house and nearby Bondi Beach are popular, although crowded during Australia’s summer.

Traveling north from Sydney, Brisbane, Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef can take a thrilling week or longer to explore. A more extensive trip could include the UNESCO Heritage Site Fraser Island, located off the eastern shore, and Ayers Rock in the Outback.

A recent second visit for my husband and me took us to artsy Melbourne, and for a full-day in the emerald-vined Yarra Valley wine region. Also not far from Melbourne, the surfer beaches, seaside towns and lush Great Otway National Park along the 152-mile Great Ocean Road are a photographer’s dream. Here, wind-formed rocks named the “Twelve Apostles” hold court, and the Loch Ard Gorge resurrects stories of storm-tossed ships that never made it to shore.

Not to be missed on an Australian sojourn is Tasmania. Its gallery-filled capital, Hobart, and the ghostly, preserved Port Arthur historic site, a former penal colony, are two reasons to seek out this unspoiled island.  

New Zealand is “Across the Ditch” (Tasman Sea) from Australia. and features spectacular topography. Its southern island is tipped by Fiordland, a kayaker’s paradise. The drive north to jaunty Queenstown passes along stunning mirrored-lakes and through rolling valleys dotted with sheep.





New Zealand and Australia are half a world away, but flights from the middle of America will land you “Across the Ditch” or “Down Under” in less than 20 hours.

The Scottish-bred city Dunedin on New Zealand’s south island is a lively college town with an exquisite 1904 railway station. Akaroa, a cute coastal village, settled by the French, is known for its volcanic terrain, fish and chips and the fanciful mosaics at The Giant’s House.

At the bottom of New Zealand’s north island is windy Wellington, a big city with much to explore, including a seal colony. Farther north, the Roturua volcanic thermal area consists of geysers, rainbow-colored pools of bubbling mud and steamy lakes.

New Zealand is conscientious about preserving the purity of its lakes and protecting the country from foreign plants and animals. Its six wine regions are surrounded by gorgeous food-producing areas and quaint towns. A gourmet meal with great wine can cap each glorious day.

Going Down Under could fill several vacations, but don’t let that stop you from booking that Dallas to Sydney-direct flight. Go for it. You can always return for more.

“Down Under” Travel Tips

• Pack light

• Invest in good walking shoes

• Let someone else drive

• Sample the wine

• Talk to the locals

• Remember wildlife is wild

• Be a good ambassador

Consider a cruise around New Zealand, combining land excursions with sailing. Some New Zealand cruises include Tasmania. You can see a great deal in a short time and then come back to the sites you found most arresting. Also, cruising is economical. Unless you are experienced in driving on the left side of the road, I wouldn’t recommend it. In Australia, take the train. Also, bus day-tours with 12 people or less will allow you to relax, see optimal sights and meet other travelers. 

Australians and New Zealanders may have varying views on American politics, but they like Americans. Enjoy the differences in cultures and savor some of the most varied and spectacular natural scenery in the world.