Australia and New Zealand are popular tourism destinations, but a trip halfway around the world can be daunting if you’ve not done it before. We chatted with Alison Nolting and Ian Flores of Fort Lauderdale‑based DownUnder Adventure Company about the best ways to see these gems of the Southern Hemisphere.
Q: What sorts of Australia itineraries do people ask for? What are the must-see’s for someone who hasn’t been there before?
A: We get all sorts of requests to Australia. A majority of our clients are families with children between 12 and 16 years old looking for adventure and memories, or young professional couples who have the income to look beyond the backpacking lifestyle of their youth, and even retired people looking to explore unique parts of the world according to their refined tastes and at their leisure without a job they have to be back for by Monday morning.
A must see for any visitor to Australia, in my mind, is the Sydney Opera House; otherwise your friends won’t really believe you went to Australia and it really is an architectural wonder. You also want to see the unique wildlife only found in Australia including the coral wonderland of the outer islands of the Great Barrier Reef.
However, going to Australia is about going beyond. Go past the tourist traps and allow the experts to match a great trip for your style of travel whether it is luxury in the Barossa wine valley, adventure on a multi-day walk along the Great Ocean Road, or focus on wildlife on Tasmania or Kangaroo Island. This is all we do every day, so we love taking you to the “must-see’s” and then taking it one step further.
No two itineraries we create are the same as it depends on lots of factors including places they want to see, style of travel and length of intended visit.
Q: What kind of timeframe do you recommend?
A: We recommend a minimum of 12 to 14 days on the ground (plus two days of flying). Also, due to the distance, you have a minimum 14-hour flight from LAX to Sydney. If you’re coming from South Florida, it’s even longer.
Q: Australia’s known for its natural beauty and wildlife, but it has some great cities as well. What sort of urban elements are popular on an Australian vacation?
A: Australian cities are great and they each have different vibes and city culture. Take Melbourne for example. It is very chic and has a great coffee culture, while Sydney is more like the New York City of Australia and has great restaurants.
Q: You offer trips to Tasmania, which hasn’t traditionally been one of Australia’s better known tourist destinations. What sort of a trip can people expect to have there?
A: I love Tasmania. For a long while Kangaroo Island was Australia’s best kept secret as far as a wildlife experience. However, that cat is now out of the box and for good reason. However, what most people don’t realize is that Tasmania has 19 national parks, five of which are Wilderness World Heritage Areas, of unspoiled habitats and ecosystems. Tasmania is awesome for wildlife, walks and gorgeous beaches!
Q: Obviously many tourists from Fort Lauderdale will want to try water sports, scuba diving and other ocean-going pastimes. What sorts of opportunities await?
A: Scuba diving on an outer island of the Great Barrier Reef should be a “bucket list” item. However sometimes people’s travel schedules don’t match the best time to be on the Barrier Reef, which is May to September. If that’s the case, then [there are some other places] that aren’t known to many people such as Lord Howe Island located east of Sydney or Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia, which is more pristine than the Great Barrier Reef.
You name it, the Aussies have it covered! Snorkeling, diving, sailing (guided or with just a sailboat on your own), kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, semi-submersible rides, live-aboard dive cruises, deep-sea and fly-fishing, swimming with dolphins and sea lions, great white shark cage dives, swimming tandem with yellowfin tuna, whale shark diving and more.
Q: In addition to Australia, you also offer tours to New Zealand. In the U.S. I think we often lump the two countries in together, but they’re actually quite distinctive. What are some New Zealand highlights?
A: Don’t ever tell a New Zealander (aka Kiwi) that you’re lumping them in the same category as an Aussie! The reality is, while they are fairly close to each other in proximity, they are very different in terms of culture, food, terrain and more. I personally think each country deserves its own trip to visit and explore. However, people do sometimes combine the two to make the most of the long flights which I also understand.
New Zealand has something for everyone. The glacial hikes are absolutely amazing through spectacular landscapes, world class wine and golf if that’s your thing, unique culture with the Maori, mountain biking, adventure stuff like bungee jumps, canyon swings and zorbing (going downhill in a giant ball like a hamster), sea kayaking, and just being out with a great guide. One of the fun things is to just get in a car and drive on the opposite side of the road. It sounds daunting, but it’s a great way to see this country which is way smaller than Australia.
Q: New Zealand is, of course, divided into a north and a south island. You offer itineraries to both. What experiences are unique to each island? How do they differ?
A: The North Island has a few key areas that are unique. You have the Northland area (north of Auckland) known for their beautiful black sand beaches, islands and rainforest. Lots of great adventure in Rotorua like fishing, thermal springs and mountain biking as well as Maori cultural experiences. The Napa Valley of the North Island can be found in Napier with its art deco architecture. Other unique things can include a visit to Hobbiton, home of the set used in Lord of the Rings, which shows where Bilbo and Frodo set off on their adventures through Middle Earth.
The South Island is known for dramatic landscapes that you find at Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers as well as the Fiordland National Park, home to some of the most well-known multi-day hikes on the Milford Sound. It is also home to the adventure capital of the world in Queenstown.
It’s really hard to list all their attributes, as both islands have so much to offer and we always recommend visiting both but tailor the trips based on your interests.
Q: Are there any special precautions people should take when visiting Australia or New Zealand? Any things to consider or prepare for?
A: A big precaution is to be sure you are booking your trip with a knowledgeable expert travel specialist. The last thing you want is to spend all that money and fly half way around the world only to be disappointed. Find someone who will go the extra mile and take you one step further beyond the tourist trail to unique experiences and adventures and will work within your travel parameters. Nothing is impossible!
Other than that, prepare to be blown away and accept the fact that it may not be your one and only trip there.