When my parents made the trip down under to visit, I had the chance to travel with them to New Zealand and The Great Barrier Reef. For anyone studying in Australia and considering a trip to these beautiful areas, I put together a few tips and recommendations that I hope are helpful.
Our first stop, Auckland, was a vibrant city and should be a must-do on anyone’s New Zealand itinerary. Stay in Ponsonby, just outside of the city center. It’s a fun, young area with great bars and restaurants that are only 10 minutes from the central business district. We stayed on Jervois Road, which was great and a bit quieter than the main road in Ponsonby. I would recommend staying on Ponsonby Road if possible. It’s right in the heart of the neighborhood and is filled with fantastic restaurants and bars. As our uber driver put it, “if one restaurant’s full, just go next door. They’re all delicious.” Along with restaurants, there are amazing boutiques throughout the street selling mostly local brands. I recommend staying in an Airbnb to get a feel for what it’s like to truly live in the area. However, Ponsonby Road accommodation may be more expensive than other areas of the city. If you’re looking for an area in the same neighborhood with more reasonably priced accommodation, Jervois Road is a great alternative. It’s only a 20-minute walk from the heart of Ponsonby Road and Jervois is full of fantastic restaurants and bars. We stayed here and loved the restaurants on Jervois Road. If you’re staying close by, definitely go to Andiamo for dinner and The Butcher’s Son for lunch.
We flew from Auckland to Christchurch and stayed here for a night before driving to Mount Cook. After a terrible earthquake in 2011, Christchurch is still recovering from the damage. If you visit the city, you’ll notice a mix of old architecture that survived the quake and very modern buildings. Although Christchurch is New Zealand’s second largest city, it has a small-town feel. We were here for half a day before starting the drive to Mount Cook and honestly, it was plenty of time. Although we were glad to see a new side of New Zealand, we all agreed that in hindsight we would have used Queenstown as a base to see the south island and drive to Mount Cook.
Aorki/Mount Cook, NZ
After the 4 hour drive on the wrong side of the road from Christchurch to Mount Cook, we were amazed by the beauty of the mountain. We stayed in The Hermitage which I would highly recommend. There are only a handful of hotels at the base of Mount Cook and The Hermitage provided great rooms with panoramic views. If you’re looking for budget accommodation, there is also a backpacker lodge down the street from the Hermitage that has equally amazing views of the mountain. We booked a stargazing tour and a glacier tour and thought both were incredible once-in-a-lifetime experiences. The stargazing tour takes you to the largest dark sky preserve in the world where you are able to see the entire milky way with the naked eye. If you enjoy stargazing, you will love seeing the sky from the southern hemisphere. You’re able to see stars that you can’t see from the northern hemisphere like the southern cross. The glacier boat tour was incredible as well. We got lucky and arrived a couple of days after enormous chunks of the glacier had broken off and filled the lake with icebergs. Our guide was passionate and incredibly knowledgeable. The tour takes you on a boat ride out to a 600-year-old glacier. On the way, you traverse enormous icebergs and can even watch as they break apart and flip in the water. Only 10% of an iceberg is visible above water. To give some context, the visible part of the largest iceberg was about the size of Taper Hall—and that was only 10% of the entire thing.
The Great Barrier Reef
We went to Hamilton Island and thought it was the perfect spot to explore the beauty of the Whitsunday Islands and The Great Barrier Reef. However, with the hotels and activities, it can get pricey. If you’re looking for a less expensive place to stay, check out Airlie Beach or Cairns. Both are great access points to The Great Barrier Reef and have a younger vibe than Hamilton Island. Hamilton Island, on the other hand, was very family oriented. If you’re coming from Australia, all the major airports fly directly into Hamilton Island. Rent a buggy to get around the island and go to One Tree Hill to get a drink and watch the sunset. We found the food on the island to be less than ideal, but the food at the Marina is definitely much better than the food at the hotels. We took a day trip to Bait Reef to snorkel and absolutely loved it. I’m usually not a huge fan of snorkeling but I loved it at the reef. The fish are huge and so different from anything I had seen before. We went with the company Explore and thought the guides were fantastic and very knowledgeable about the reef. The boat itself was also very new, which was a plus for the two-hour trip to the reef. We also did a half day trip to Hill Inlet on Whitehaven Beach which was incredible but felt rushed. I would definitely recommend doing one of the full day trips that go to the south end of Whitehaven Beach and Hill Inlet. Cruise Whitsundays offers a full day option. Whatever activities you book, you will love your time at the reef!