Editor’s Note: This post is part of the Viator Travel Awards, an annual awards competition where we – along with our readers, travelers, and fans – select the top things to do and see in each of the major regions we serve, the top things to do in our most popular tour categories, and more.
To celebrate Australia Day this month, we’re offering 10% off all of Australia tours and activities, now through January 26th! Use the code FBAUS to book your tour and receive the discount!
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Welcome to the 2012 Viator Travel Awards: Australia and New Zealand Edition! In the past, we’ve focused on specific tours for each item on this list, but this year we thought we’d feature some of the top things to do in the most exciting places to visit in Australia, New Zealand, and the nearby Pacific Islands.
The tours and activities highlighted are chosen based on traveler reviews, data from the millions of people who check out Viator.com during the year, and information on which tours in the region travelers book most often. We think you’ll enjoy reading about the array of activities available in each of these places – it’s the little mental vacation we could all use right now – and we also think this list is a great place to start if you’re planning a trip in 2013.
Given their geographical location in the far reaches of the globe, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands maintain a strong tourism base, attracting visitors far and wide to explore these unforgettable countries. Here, visitors find larger modern cities in between massive stretches of natural, uninhabited lands – those of which create the well-rounded experience, after a 20 hour flight, of being miles away from ordinary. It’s all about nature here, whether that be the mountains and glaciers of New Zealand, the beaches and the outback of Australia or the lush rainforest of the islands. We’ve compiled a list of the top 25 things to do in this region, and most of those will have you heading to the great outdoors!
You’ll find all kinds of activities listed below, including climbing iconic bridges, learning about indigenous culture, tasting the fruits of the area’s vineyards, and getting up close to local wildlife. Join us for this tour of the Top 25 Things to Do in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands!
1. Climb an iconic bridge
If there is any country that loves their iconic bridges, it would have to be Australia. Not only is the Sydney Harbour Bridge one of the world’s most famous, but it also straddles (as it has been doing since 1932) one of the most famous and beautiful harbors. Take advantage of a day or night Sydney BridgeClimb to scale 440 feet (134m) above the harbor for panoramic views of Sydney City – both an exhilarating experience and an incredible opportunity to gain another perspective of Australia’s largest city.
Alternatively, those further up the coast can experience the Brisbane Story Bridge Day and Night Climbs for a scenic view of Queensland’s capital city. The Story Bridge has been in operation since 1940, straddling both sides of the Brisbane River, and takes adventure seekers to the top of its 243 foot (74m) summit.
2. Walk on a glacier at Franz Josef in New Zealand
Nothing beats glacier walking in New Zealand for a totally cool adventure. While a glacier is essentially ice, what you will soon discover is that the depths of the glacier exude a rich blue that often makes visitors feel like they are actually walking on water instead. The Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand’s South Island attracts nearly 250,000 visitors per year – those of whom want an exciting (and manageable) expedition while also learning about the issues of global warming and how the glaciers are being affected.
Choose from small group tours that start with a helicopter ride to the ice pinnacles, followed by an moderate hike (while fitted out with the proper gear), before being taken back to soak in the glorious Glacier Hot Pools. Another option is to forgo the hot pool soak and spend more time helicopter touring with the Heli Hiking Franz Josef tour.
3. Have dinner with a view in Sydney or Melbourne
It’s those city comforts in the midst of all that nature that keep us coming back to the Australian cities of Sydney and Melbourne. These cities are full of shows, events, bars and exquisite restaurants (of the hatted kind) to fill any itinerary to the brim, but our favorite activity would be catching a dinner with a beautiful view. With Sydney Harbour bordering the CBD, a couple good options are to check out the Sydney Tower Restaurant Buffet or the Sydney Tower 360 Bar and Dining experience (for extra special occasions). It may not be from an aerial perspective, but the Sydney Harbour Dinner Cruise provides a 3-hour water-based tour with perfect city views.
Similar options are available in Melbourne, such as the Spirit of Melbourne Dinner Cruise – a 3 hour tour and feast along the Yarra River. Landlubbers are urged to book into the Colonial Tramcar Restaurant of Melbourne as it provides a completely unique experience combining a tour of Melbourne’s St. Kilda area while riding (and dining) on one of their famous trams.
4. Get up-close to the local wildlife in Australia
Australian wildlife is unlike anywhere else in the world. With a collection of cute and cuddly things like kangaroos, wallabies and koalas, visitors will definitely want the chance to get up close and personal with the native animals. Just be warned that much of the Australian wildlife, outside of the cute and cuddly, should be observed with a bit of caution. Yes, we’re talking about man-eating crocodiles, Great White sharks, and even the tiny yet feisty Tasmanian Devils.
Animal parks and wildlife sanctuaries populate the country’s hot spots, so you’re never too far from an animal experience. Sydney visitors can take the ferry across the harbor to the Taronga Zoo. By opting for the Taronga Zoo and the Wild Australia Experience, visitors get access to Taronga Zoo along with a behind the scenes tour and other perks, too. Melbourne’s nearby Phillip Island is home to a group of penguins that can be viewed through several day tour options on Viator (here’s one and another). Visitors to the far north of Queensland will enjoy setting off to explore the entire region of Daintree Rainforest, Cape Tribulation and Rainforest Habitat Wildlife Sanctuary in one fun-filled day.
5. Dive the Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s large living coral reef system – a system so large it can actually be viewed from space. One can simply not come to Australia and not visit the underwater natural wonder of the Reef, and several tour options are available to help get you there. The main hub city for this excursion would be Cairns in far north Queensland. From here, it is possible catch a Great Barrier Reef Diving and Snorkeling Cruise which allows visitors to hang out at a pontoon for a day of underwater exploration. Another similar option is to start that same experience off with a scenic helicopter tour of the reef that then drops the visitors off at a reef pontoon.
6. Take an unforgettable drive on the Great Ocean Road
Road trips with incredible views come naturally to Australia’s long coastal regions. The most popular drive of this kind happens to be the Great Ocean Road – a 151 mile (243km) stretch of coastal road from Torquay to Warnambool in the state of Victoria. If driving on the opposite side of the road isn’t your thing, we suggest signing up for the Great Ocean Road Small Group Eco Tour that guarantees koala spottings in the wild and a stop at the famous Twelve Apostles.
7. Take a romantic cruise
Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands are a cruise lover’s dream destination. Everywhere you look, there is a cruise to satisfy every need, whether that be a quick Brisbane River Dinner Cruise, or a longer and more romantic excursion. Folks down in Tasmania will enjoy the 6 hour Gordon River Cruise from Strahan that includes sipping fine Tasmanian wines while indulging in local cheese in full relaxation. A longer and more romantic getaway would be the Doubtful Sound Overnight Cruise that lasts 2 days and runs from Queenstown, New Zealand.
8. See Sydney with no worries
Looking for a stress-free visit to beautiful Sydney city? A vast array of passes and upfront multi-tour options are available for the visitor that wants to glide from attraction to attraction without the worry of money and tickets on the day of the event. The Sydney and Bondi Hop-On Hop-Off Tour gives you either 24 or 48 hours of access to the big red double decker buses that go to top attractions including the Sydney Opera House and Bondi Beach. The Sydney Sightseeing Pass combines the See Sydney Card with the Five in One Attraction Pass.
9. Head to the islands of Australia
The task of finding an island paradise is not hard in Australia given the fact there are over 8,000 to choose from. Green Island is located out on the Great Barrier Reef and is easily accessible from Cairns. Try the Green Island Day Trip for your opportunity to get out on the Reef and do some snorkeling or diving.
Kangaroo Island lies just south of Adelaide and is a great weekend away destination for couples who love wine tasting and kangaroos as the name suggests. Try the Kangaroo Island Day Tour to get from Adelaide to the wilderness filled island in a short time. Or, island lovers in Western Australia should venture over to the quokka-filled Rottnest Island.
10. Travel by rail
When it comes to long, scenic rail journeys, Australia has both the Indian Pacific and the Ghan – both of which take 2-3 nights to cross. But, a long train journey isn’t for every itinerary, so for those that want a more manageable train trip, we suggest the Kuranda Scenic Railway up near Cairns. In between checking out Cape Tribulation and the Great Barrier Reef, ride the train to Kuranda, the village in the rainforest. This ride runs 1 hour and 45 minutes through lush tropical rainforest, and it can be combined with a nice day trip.
Like the Kuranda Scenic Railway, the Puffing Billy Steam Train offers a pleasant ride along the Victorian countryside, which can be combined with other options into a day tour.
11. See Australia from above
Besides the popularity of skydiving Down Under, there are in fact several tour options that allow visitors to bask in glorious views of the beautiful Australian countryside from above in a much more leisurely experience. One of the top destinations for going up would be around Cairns where it is possible to take a scenic helicopter tour. Another popular air tour is of the famous Sydney Harbour by helicopter. For more bang for your buck, however, we suggest a longer hot air balloon ride. Some on our list include the Yarra Valley Balloon Flight at Sunrise or the balloon ride including a Champagne breakfast near Brisbane.
12. Explore Australia’s wine regions
Australia is flooded with delicious wine. In fact, most major cities are but a hop, skip and a jump from a wine country getaway, so grab your cheese plates and a couple of mates! With a plethora of tour options on Viator, you can now explore these regions without having to plan a single thing. When in Perth, check out the Swan Valley Wine Cruise. When in Melbourne, check out the Yarra Valley Wine and Winery Tour. Sydney visitors have the option of partaking in the Hunter Valley Wine Tasting Day Tour.
13. Understand Aboriginal culture at Uluru
We often associate the Outback with being quite uninhabitable, but the truth is that the Aboriginal people have called the area around Uluru home for thousands of years. The monolith of Uluru is known as the spiritual center of the Aboriginal people, making it a perfect place to learn about and understand the culture. Get closer to the destination and people with a 3 day tour from Uluru to Alice Springs or the Uluru Outback Barbecue Dinner and Star Tour.
14. Get your adrenaline pumping in Queenstown
Queenstown, New Zealand has built a reputation for being the adventure activity capital. From jet boating to bungee jumping, this southern destination provides not only the options but also the rich natural surrounds that make it unforgettable. Try out the Queenstown Triple Challenge if you dare (jet boating, helicopter and white water rafting). Or the Queenstown Shotover River White Water Rafting proves to be enough adventure on its own with its 3 to 5 grade rapids.
15. Follow in the footsteps of the Hobbits in New Zealand
Everyone knows that the land of the Hobbits lies in present day New Zealand, and it is easy to live out those book/movie fantasies by joining up on a few special tours. The Lord of the Rings Hobbiton Movie Set Tour from Auckland takes about 8 hours and lets visitors explore the rolling hills of “the Shire”. The same tour can also be combined with a visit to the Waitomo Caves. Another option for Hobbit adventures includes checking out Wellington’s Lord of the Rings Location Tour with Lunch.
16. See the diverse landscapes of Australia
Diverse might be a bit of an understatement. For being known as having one of the largest chunks of uninhabitable land, Australia’s landscape actually varies from barren desert to lush tropical rainforest to grape-filled vineyards. You’ll want to experience it all (trust me), so journey to the Outback by taking part in the Tobruk Australian Outback Experience, or check out the sand dunes of Western Australia with the Pinnacles Desert, Koalas, Sand Boarding day tour from Perth. Beautiful rainforest can be found in Queensland as well as just south of Sydney city. Check out the Springbrook National Park Discovery Full-Day Bushwalk including Glow Worm Tour for a visit from Brisbane or the Gold Coast. Mountain lovers won’t have to go far from Sydney with the Blue Mountains Nature and Wildlife Day Tour.
17. Go underground in New Zealand
Towering mountains are a given in the beautiful land of New Zealand, as are glaciers and snow sports in the winter. What you might not know about are the numerous caves that bring just as much wonder and excitement to the table. The Waitomo Caves are extra special since they are home to some fascinating glowworms. Take the Waitomo Caves and Rotorua Day Trip from Auckland to get the most of your time.
18. Sydney Opera House
Experiencing the brilliance in architecture that created the Sydney Opera House will not be having you hitting the outdoors. Instead, get into a cozy seat and prepare for a world-class show. Grab some tickets right here on Viator for the Sydney Opera House and Australian Ballet Dinner Package, an Opera Performance at Sydney Opera House, or the Sydney Opera House Guided Backstage Tour.
19. Go wine tasting on the South Island of New Zealand
New Zealand is said to produce the world’s best Sauvignon Blanc wines, and that’s not all. The wine industry, like in Australia, is a rather popular trade. Alongside Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Syrah offer themselves as great New Zealand wines – those that are able to be tasted while on wine tasting tours on the South Island. Be sure to check out the Central Otago Wine Tours from Queenstown or the Waipara Wine Trail Tour from Christchurch.
20. See the sounds and fjords of New Zealand
With glaciers and mountains, and an overwhelming amount of water surrounding the two main islands of New Zealand, it is no wonder that sounds and fjords make the list. Milford Sound, noted as one of the top and most beautiful attractions in the country, takes visitors to picture-perfect, peaceful settings one would only imagine exist in paintings. Several tour options are available for exploring Milford Sound including: Full-Day Milford Sound and Fiordland National Park Tour including Milford Sound Cruise and BBQ Lunch from Queenstown, the Milford Sound Full Day Tour from Queenstown, and the Milford Sound Helicopter Tour. Also in the vicinity of Queenstown is the Doubtful Sound, that of which can be explored on an overnight tour.
21. Uncover the secrets of Melbourne
Even in the shadow of big sister Sydney, Melbourne has blossomed into a bustling cultural capital with artistic flair. But, let’s not forget about that rivalry with big sister! Melbourne attracts a different kind of crowd, and even though the weather and the city layout itself might not be as spectacular as Sydney (I might be biased), it has a charm that is worthy of exploring. To get to the bottom of a multi-layered city such as Melbourne, we suggest the Melbourne City Sights Morning Tour with Optional Yarra Cruise to get your bearings. After that, the Melbourne Lanes and Arcades Walking Tour will get you on the backstreets and into a couple of quirky cafes or bars. Finally, you can’t visit Melbourne without a tour of the outlet stores.
22. Explore Tasmania
Scientifically proven to produce the cleanest air in all of Australia, Tasmania demands an exploration of its great outdoors. The 3-Day Tasmania West Coast Tour will cover the basics, getting travelers to hot spots such as Hobart and Launceston with stops at Strahan and Cradle Mountain in between. For a shorter scenic experience, try out the Tasmania West Coast Wilderness Railway tour. It’s a 5 hour tour that will have you crossing over 40 bridges in the great wilds between Queenstown and Strahan. And, of course, you can’t go exploring the state without exploring the capital city of Hobart. The Hobart Half-Day Sightseeing Coach Tram Tour packs in history and attractions into a 3 hour affair.
23. Learn about Maori culture in New Zealand
The Maori are the indigenous people of New Zealand – those that have called the country home long before European settlers arrived. To understand the country and the current day culture of the land of the Hobbits, it seems only suiting to get further in touch with the culture of the Maori people. You can do this from about any major city in New Zealand. From Auckland, try out the Auckland Maori Tour and Cultural Performance. From Christchurch, try out the Willowbank Dinner and Maori Concert. Or, while stopping off at the thermal baths of Rotorua, you can get a great show by signing up for the Rotorua Maori Hangi Dinner and Performance.
24. Hit the slopes
Snow bunnies will have plenty of opportunities to show off their ski skills in Australia and New Zealand. Yes, contrary to popular belief, Australia actually has some mountains with a little bit of snow. If you’re near either Sydney or Canberra, we suggest venturing out on the Thredbo or Perisher Blue Weekend Snow Trip, or if you’re near Melbourne, try out the Mt. Buller Ski Tour.
New Zealand travelers can explore the peaks of Queenstown with the 3-Night Queenstown Snow and Ski Package.
25. Snorkel and sail in Fiji
Fiji is a small island country that inhabits the area of the South Pacific Ocean. But, besides its small size, it possesses a thousand reasons to visit, one of those being the option to hit up numerous water activities, such as snorkeling and sailing on the bright blue waters of paradise. It’s no wonder dozens of thousands of couples and newlyweds head here every year! Discover the beauty yourself with a few great tours: Fijian Islands and Snorkel Full-Day Whales Tale Cruise including Beach BBQ Lunch, Fiji Mamanuca Islands Sailing Cruise including Lunch, and Nadi Tivua Island Cruise.
- Viator Travel Team