We (my wife and I) left for our holiday to Australia and New Zealand at the end of November, the start of summer “Down Under” when the climate is similar to that of the UK in June – not excessively hot and with long light evenings.
Flying with Qantas from Heathrow, the first leg of our journey was a 7 hour flight to Dubai (we were served a meal shortly after take-off and a snack before landing in Dubai) where we changed aircraft – giving us the opportunity to stretch our legs for 90 minutes, before boarding our next aircraft for the 14 hour flight to Sydney (a meal was served when we left Dubai, a snack midway through the flight and breakfast before arriving in Sydney)..
Our Qantas economy seats were very comfortable and in-flight entertainment is excellent – including the latest films, TV documentaries and live news feed – enabling us to keep up with what was happening in the rest of the world. Bar service was available throughout our time in the air.
Arriving in Sydney on the morning of the second day after we left London, we transferred to another Qantas aircraft for the final three-hour leg of our journey to Auckland.
The journey had been made that much easier by virtue of the fact that we had been able to check our hold baggage all the way through to Auckland from London.
The Qantas short-haul flight was as comfortable as the long-haul flight with individual seat-back entertainment console, a hot meal and bar service.
It had taken us a total of 27 hours to fly from London to Auckland (New Zealand’s largest city and home to a third of the country’s population) – affectionately known as “The City of Sails” which was to be our home for the next four nights.
Our hotel. The Auckland City was in an excellent location for exploring this vibrant, ocean-side metropolis – at the top of Hobson Street, a block from The Sky Tower. Hotel facilities were great and our studio room was equipped with a small kitchen.
The hotel was an easy 10-minute walk from the waterfront with its many restaurants and attractions.
A boat trip across the bay to Devonport, the city’s oldest suburb with its many well-preserved Victorian buildings is well worth while – and a great place, if you’re feeling peckish, to sample some of the best fish and chips in the world too!
Another worthwhile excursion is a trip to the uninhabited volcanic island of Rantitoto – a nature reserve, which can be explored on foot or by land train. Don’t miss the opportunity to climb to the top of the volcano, 250 metres high, which affords spectacular views of the city and Hauraki Gulf.
No visit to Auckland is complete without dinner at the Sky Tower’s Orbit Restaurant (190 metres above ground level), where, for NZD 75 (approx. £40) per person you can enjoy an a la carte meal, as the restaurant revolves 360 degrees every hour – providing an ever-changing panoramic bird’s-eye-view of the city and its environs. The food is fabulous and included in the price is admission to the observation floor which can be visited before or after your meal.
If you have a day to spare, take a day trip to The Bay of Islands, to the north of city, visiting en-route the Treaty Grounds of Waitangi where the Maoris signed New Zealand over to the British in 1840.
And from Paihia, a picturesque small town at Bay of Islands, why not take a boat trip out into the Bay for a few hours – with a good chance of spotting some of the many dolphins that inhabit the local waters.
After our all-too-brief stay in Auckland it was time to head for Christchurch, South Island – a short 90 minute flight.
South Island’s climate is more like that of the UK with cold winters and mild summers.
Christchurch (a more compact and greener city than Auckland) is the largest city on South Island and is in the middle of an extensive 15-year rebuilding programme to repair the enormous damage caused by the huge earthquake of 2011 in which 185 people died. There are still many damaged building across the city that are waiting to be demolished To get a better idea of just how devastating the earthquake was, visit “Quake City” which records in vivid detail the events of that day and the immediate aftermath.
Our hotel was on the edge of the City Centre. The Canterbury Museum and the Botanical Gardens (both free admission) are well worth visiting. If you are feeling energetic, hire a canoe NZD 24 (approx. £14) an hour and paddle yourselves along the tranquil and beautiful River Avon. Or, for NZD 26 (approx. £15) per person relax in a punt and let someone else do all the hard work while you lie back and enjoy the ever-changing scenery.
A very well worthwhile day trip from Christchurch is the 153 km excursion by minivan which crosses the Canterbury Plain then climbs to Arthur’s Pass – 770 metres above sea level where you then board the TranzAlpine Express (one of the world’s most spectacular and scenic railway journeys) for the 2 hour trip back to Christchurch. Each of the train’s carriages has large windows and skylights enabling you to enjoy the unfolding panoramas to the full.
Following our relaxing and enjoyable 7 nights in New Zealand, it was time to head for Sydney, a three hour flight away, where we were to spend the next 4 nights.
Sydney, Australia’s largest city with is home to almost a fifth of the country’s entire population of 24 million.
Our hotel was in oldest area of the city – The Rocks – very convenient for exploring and close to Circular Quay from where numerous frequent ferry services operate to all areas and Manly Beach (not as famous as Bondi – but less commercial and far less frenetic).
The half hour ferry trip to Manly Beach is just AUD16.80 (approx. £10) return and the 30-minute bus ride to Bondi Beach is AUD 7 (approx. £5) return.
There are many, many things to see and do in and around Sydney. Among my favourites were the Botanical Gardens and the iconic Sydney Opera House. For a great view of the City and harbour – a walk across Sydney’s famous Harbour Bridge is a must.
For a different view of what is undoubtedly one of the most spectacular natural harbours in the world – the 90-minute harbour cruise around Port Jackson is not to be missed.
Visitors to Sydney are faced with an enormous range of dining options – featuring cuisines from around the world.
One of my most unforgettable dining experiences was The Tower Buffet 310 metres above street level at The Sydney Tower, where for AUD 75 (approx. £45) per person we enjoyed a 3-course meal of outstanding quality including such delicacies as Sydney Rock Oysters, Kangaroo steaks and Emu sausages!
We opted for a day trip to The Blue Mountains (one of many excursions available to visitors) – just an easy 90-minute coach trip from Sydney. The scenery is hauntingly beautiful – especially the Three Sisters rock formation. While there we took the world’s steepest railway to Scenic World at the bottom of a deep valley where we were able to walk through the rain forest and (luckily)catch sight of some of the elusive animal and bird life.
The day finished with a visit to Featherdale Wildlife Park where we had the chance to get op close to many of the animals that are unique to Australia.
The last destination on out trip “Down Under” was to Melbourne a one-and-a half hour flight from Sydney with flights departing almost hourly every day.
Melbourne, Australia’s second largest city (and widely regarded by most Australians as being the cultural capital and more refined than its larger neighbour to the North) sits astride the Yarra river.
Our hotel was on Elizabeth Street in the heart of the city – which is also Australia’s ‘party’ capital.
Many of the bars and clubs are open all night – one of which opens at 9pm on Thursday night and stays open until 9am on Monday morning!
We had a great time exploring Queen Victoria Market, in the centre of the city, with a huge variety of meat, fish and vegetable stalls as well as a great crafts and gift section.
A visit to the old Melbourne Gaol is also well worthwhile (if you are a member of UK National Trust entry is free!). A fascinating look into the lives and deaths of many of its most notorious inmates – including Ned Kelly whose death mask is preserved there.
Melbourne is blessed with a huge number of parks and gardens. We visited Fitzroy Gardens to which the Yorkshire home of Captain James Cook’s parents (where the discoverer of Australia spent his childhood) was moved brick-by-brick from the UK in 1934 – making Cook’s cottage Melbourne’s oldest building..
Nearby are the Royal Botanical Gardens, 897 acres of amazing flora and a great place to picnic.
From Melbourne we took a two-hour trip to Phillip Island visiting Moonlit Sanctuary where we had the opportunity to hand-feed Kangaroos and Wallabies – after which we fed and watered ourselves at the Phillip Island Winery! A great opportunity to sample up to five locally produced wines accompanied by a delightful selection of breads and cheeses.
This was followed by a leisurely stroll along the Nobbies boardwalk which offers magnificent views of the rugged coastline and an awe-inspiring blowhole.
It was then time to head off for the highlight of the day- the parade of Little Penguins (formerly known as Fairy Penguins – the name having been changed due to pressure from the pc brigade). Every day, at dusk, hundreds of these adorable creatures emerge from the sea (after weeks of hunting for food) and waddle up the beach to their burrows which line the dunes. It is well worth paying extra to secure front-row seats for this amazing natural spectacle. You may even catch sight of the odd kangaroo or two trying to steal the limelight.
Then back to the big city where no visit is complete without a trip to Ramsey Street and the TV set where Australia’s most famous and longest-running (30-years) soap opera, “Neighbours” is filmed.
Although Australia and New Zealand are a long-way from the UK (any further and you are on the way home!) both are well worth the long flight. For those with limited time a two-week itinerary (one week in New Zealand and a week in Australia) is viable, just. If you have longer, then you may wish to consider visiting other Australian States including Queensland, Northern Territory and even Western Australia – especially since this year, 2017, see the introduction by Qantas of the first ever non-stop flight between the UK and Australia – from Heathrow to Perth!
Richard Lucas – Manager