Rotorua might very well be the most visited attraction in New Zealand. And I can see why: there is a lot to do, both in terms of nature and maori culture, and it’s very conveniently developed. But because of that, it’s also lacking the charm of the rest of the country. We got to Rotorua after an enjoyable 2 hour drive from Waitomo Caves, most of it through endless green pastures that, for no good reason, had us screaming “burgers” every time we saw healthy-looking cows.
This was a trip that I had been dreaming about for years, one of those epic adventures on the same scale as hiking in Nepal, driving through African reserves, backpacking across Southeast Asia, or sailing in Polynesia. Landing in Auckland, the largest city of New Zealand (though not the capital, that honor is reserved for Wellington), I looked ahead to an unforgettable road trip. The plan was simple: get in through Auckland, near the north tip of NZ’s North Island, get out two weeks later through Queenstown, near the south end of the South Island.
- Sydney and its beaches
- Diving in the Great Barrier Reef
- Whitsunday Islands
- Uluru and the Red Center
For diving lovers like us, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef had always been at the top of our bucket list. We are usually economic travelers, staying in backpacker hostels, taking public buses, and eating street food as much as possible. But when it came to the GBR, we knew it was time to splurge. We booked ourselves on a 4 nights / 14 dives liveaboard with Mike Ball Expeditions, one of the most prominent scuba operators in the world. And the trip was nothing short of perfect.
Our last days in Australia had been sour-sweet… the terrible weather we experienced in Fraser Island and the fact that we had to cancel our attempt to dive the Yongala shipwreck, had been partially compensated by some epic New Year’s Eve fireworks. We were flying back home to LA on the morning of January 2nd and hadn’t planned anything for the 1st, thinking we would wake up late and maybe make one last trip to our beloved Bondi Beach. But as we walked back to our hotel from the NYE party, we wondered… what if we could have one last adventure? The idea of going to Jervis Bay came up immediately. We had looked into this perfect white sand beaches before, but hadn’t been able to make the trip for one reason or another. Being about 3 hours south of Sydney, we thought that you needed multiple days to visit Jervis properly… but why not try to do it as a day trip, and end our time in Australia with a bang?
Fraser is the world’s largest sand island, and one of Australia’s premier adventure destinations. Accommodation on the island is very limited (and quite expensive), and roads are almost nonexistent. So the most typical way to visit is on a self-driving 4WD camping trip, be it as part of a guided group (in which case you are clustered with other travelers), or on your own. If you’ve read this blog, you’ll know which option we chose.
One of the things we really wanted to do in our time in Australia was interact with the autochthonous fauna. We wanted to spend time observing koalas and kangaroos, beyond our brief encounters in Hamilton Island and the Red Center, respectively. And we wanted to get close and touch the animals, if possible. A bit of online research showed us that Queensland was the best state to do so (koala cuddling is not allowed in Sydney / New South Wales, for example), and that the Cairns Tropical Zoo was the perfect place.
I still remember the first time I saw an image of Whitehaven Beach. Someone had posted it on Facebook and I immediately thought it was a scam; that intense aquamarine water had to be photoshopped, those swirls of white sand couldn’t be real. But now that I’ve been there, I can give you my word: Whitehaven is every bit as breathtaking as you’ve dreamt it.
How many days do I need for the Red Center? Is it even worth the hassle of getting there? There is just a big rock, right? Every time I read or hear about Australia’s central territory, I see so many misconceptions that I couldn’t wait to write this post. We had the most amazing time in Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon, and managed to pack heaps of unforgettable adventures and breathtaking sights in just 48 hours. So for me, the Red Center is an absolute must do in any Australia itinerary, I would even recommend it as a long weekend trip from Sydney.
Sydney is a gorgeous city. But even more so, it is a lively city, where you feel the urge to be active, explore, attend events and try new things. These are the top 10 experiences I had in Sydney during my three months living there; some more local, some more touristy, all memorable.