Australia is one of the most remote countries in the world and, ironically, one of the most popular places to visit, especially among backpackers and budget travelers.
Because of its distance from the US, not many Americans tend to visit Australia. The flights are long and expensive and when you only have a few weeks of travel, wasting a few days flying probably doesn’t make sense to a lot of travelers.
The beautiful Great Barrier Reef: One of the most famous reef systems in the world, the Great Barrier Reef is world renowned for its abundance of marine life and world-class diving opportunities. When I was there, I saw turtles, sharks, vibrant coral and beautiful fish (even a fish pooping, which was as weird as it sounds). It was everything it was cracked up to be. You can spend one day or a few diving this reef. Though everyone leaves from Cairns, leaving from Port Douglas will get you to less crowded dive spots.
The Sydney Opera House: Known for its famed opera house and harbor, Sydney also boasts an incredible bridge, great parks, delicious food, lots of free stuff to do and amazing surfing. Whether you go to Manly Beach or hang out with everyone else at Bondi, Sydney’s a place to relax in the sun and enjoy the water. Darling Harbor has a number of good restaurants and great entrainment venues and the Chinese Garden is quite relaxing. For a night out on the town with colorful locals, there’s nothing like King’s Cross.
Uluru: You wouldn’t think that a giant round rock covering eight kilometers of land would be breathtaking, but it is. The wind-blown cuts throughout the rock make it look like a wave of sand climbing over the desert. The iron in the rock produces amazing shades of red and orange during sunrise and sunset. While you can climb Uluru, be forewarned that it is a sacred area to the people of this area. Oddly enough, they allow visitors to scale the rock, even though they don’t like it.
Barbecue: Aussies do a lot of things well and one of the best is throwing a barbecue. The Aussie barbecue is a serious tradition and most parks and public areas have at least three barbecue pits. In fact, I don’t know what Australia would be without a barbecue. There’s nothing better than a beautiful warm night, a few good beers and some grilled-up kangaroo to make you love this place. Barbecuing is a great budget friendly option too!
The Wine: Australia has some great wine regions, which include Margaret River near Perth, the Barossa Valley near Adelaide and the Hunter Valley near Sydney. There’s a lot of good wine to be tried while in Australia, especially shiraz and pinot noir. You can take day trips to any of the wine areas from the nearby major cities or simply take a trip to the wine store and get drunk in the park…while having a barbecue.
Western Australia: This is my favorite part of Australia. It’s truly beautiful, with its large expanses of outback and white sand beaches that stretch for miles without a soul in sight. I’m glad a lot of people don’t visit Western Australia; otherwise, it could end up like the East Coast — crowded and overbuilt. Karijini National Park puts Kakadu and Litchfield to shame and Coral Bay and the Ningaloo Reef are even better than Cairns or the Great Barrier Reef.
Location: New Zealand wasn't chosen as the location for filming The Lord of the Rings for nothing. It's undoubtedly one of the most spectacular places on earth. Situated southeast of Australia, it may seem like a long way to travel, but your visit will be one of the most memorable trips of your lifetime.
The Incredibly Diverse and Unspoiled Scenery: Made up of two main islands and a host of smaller ones, New Zealand has an amazing range of breathtaking scenery, from subtropical forests, beaches and offshore islands in the north to glaciers, lakes, snow-covered mountains and large flat plains in the south. There are also fjords, volcanoes, hot springs and beautiful rolling green pastures, a diversity like no other place on earth.
The People: "Kiwis," as the locals are called, are a friendly bunch and very welcoming to visitors. A wide range of cultures is represented here, but New Zealand is an ex-British colony and the European influence remains strong. There's also a unique accent.
Outdoor Adventures: Where else can you go surfing, skiing, snowboarding, kayaking, tramping, sailing, swimming, parachuting, horseback riding, or caving all within a 100-mile radius and even on the same day? Don't forget to try the bungee jump, invented and made famous right here.
The Unique Wildlife: New Zealand split from the large landmass that once joined Australia and Antarctica about 85 million years ago. As a result, bird and plant species can be found here that exist nowhere else in the world. Forests are full of an abundance of interesting plant life, from the towering ancient kauri trees to fronds of nikau palms. You might even see a kiwi, the small, flightless bird that has become New Zealand's national symbol.
The Ease of Travel: There's nothing easier than hopping in a car or RV, known locally as a campervan and heading off on a New Zealand adventure. The country has a great road network and every town has an information center to help tourists if you need directions or advice on the local attractions or on where to stay for less money. Fuel is much cheaper here than in Europe and there's also an excellent intercity bus network covering the entire country. Distances between towns and attractions are not too great.
The Wine: New Zealand wine is world-famous for its quality, quite amazing when you consider that the country makes less than one percent of the world's total. You can make a day of visiting wineries and tasting their offerings at a number of places, particularly in Hawkes Bay and Marlborough, the two leading wine regions. There are also many top-notch restaurants in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch where the best of New Zealand's wines are showcased beside world-class cuisine.
The Local Culture: Captain Cook found New Zealand populated by natives called the Maori when he arrived here in 1769. New Zealand has since developed into a unique South Pacific blend of cultures, but the Maori still play a role. You'll find the ethnic diversity reflected in a huge range of bistros and restaurants in the cities, particularly in Auckland.
The Sparse Population: With a land area the size of Great Britain, yet with only 4.5 million inhabitants, you don't have to go far to find complete solitude in New Zealand. Most of the population is concentrated in five main cities, Auckland is the largest with a third of the country's people living there. This leaves plenty of open space to explore in between.
The Climate: New Zealand has a temperate climate. It is warmest in the north, coldest in the south. Average daytime temperatures range from 12 to 25 degrees Celsius (54 to 76 degrees Fahrenheit). The long, warm summers are ideal for spending at one of the country's many great beaches. The winters are cold enough to provide ample snow in the south for skiers and snowboarders. Spring and autumn are beautiful seasons, but often with the abundant rainfall that accounts for the country's lush green landscape.
Safety: You're very unlikely to experience crime in New Zealand. Safety isn't an issue, even for women traveling on their own. And if you venture off the beaten track into the wilderness, here's more good news: New Zealand isn't home to any nasty plants, critters, or creatures. In fact, it's one of only two countries in the world that doesn't have snakes, the other being Ireland. So head on over to New Zealand. You'll have an amazing time.