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.
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Welcome to the 2016 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 and New Zealand.
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 2016.
Even with their geographical location in the far reaches of the globe, Australia and New Zealand 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. This combination (coupled with the often long flights to get there) really makes you feel like you’re lifetimes away from your routine. 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 visiting glow worm caves, snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef, seeing a performance at the Sydney Opera House, touring Hobbiton, and lounging on pristine beaches. Join us for this tour of the Top 25 Things to Do in Australia and New Zealand!
1. Be a daredevil
The people who live in Australia and New Zealand are no strangers to adventure. They’re thrill-seekers by nature, and they give you plenty of opportunities to experience adventure if you’re as much of an adrenaline junkie as the natives are. Visit a classic outback cattle station on a Best Kings Canyon Day Trip from Ayers Rock. Test your resolve on a Sydney Bridge Climb, walking up the heights of the city’s iconic bridge. Head out into the surreal landscape of the Pinnacles Desert to see koalas and go sandboarding on a 4WD tour from Perth. Grab an ice axe for a Small-Group Franz Joseph Glacier Walk or hop into a helicopter for a heli hiking adventure at Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand.
2. Visit the Blue Mountains
What makes Sydney such a fascinating city is that in addition to beaches and scintillating nightlife you can be hiking in the mountains in less than two hours. Take a Blue Mountains Small-Group Day Trip from Sydney to see lesser-known sights. On a Blue Mountains Day Trip and River Cruise, escape the city for mountainous hiking trails and gaze out at the famous Three Sisters. To see Australian wildlife in its natural habitat, hang with koalas and kangaroos on a Blue Mountains Nature and Wildlife Day Tour from Sydney, and by evening you’ll be back in the urban hum of the cosmopolitan city. For a more in-depth look at the area, book a 2-Day Combo: Sydney City Tour, Sydney Harbour Lunch Cruise and Blue Mountains Day Trip.
3. Dine with a view
In a place as scenic and exciting as Australia, there’s no reason that the sightseeing should stop simply because it’s time for dinner. Enjoy a movable feast (with moving views) during a Colonial Tramcar Restaurant Tour of Melbourne. To pair your dinner with an aerial view of the famous Sydney skyline, the Sydney Tower Restaurant Buffet offers views of the Sydney Harbor Bridge from 88 stories above ground. Enjoy the views over New Zealand’s adventure capital at the Queenstown Skyline Restaurant, reached via gondola ride. Get cultured with a Rotorua Maori Hangi dinner and performance. Dine under the open sky at the Sounds of Silence Restaurant in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park.
4. Drive the Great Ocean Road
Of the tens of thousands of miles of coastline that ring the Australian Mainland, the section known as the “Great Ocean Road” is arguably the most dramatic. This beautifully eroded stretch of road hugs the shoreline for 150 miles, and along the way passes coastal formations such as the famous 12 Apostles. Hit the pavement with a Great Ocean Road day trip adventure from Melbourne or a Great Ocean Road small group eco-tour from Melbourne. To combine the drive with the sights of Melbourne as well as wild penguins, a Melbourne Super Saver: Great Ocean Road and Phillip Island plus Melbourne Attraction Pass lets you experience the cosmopolitan and coastal side of Australia’s favorite cities. Or, for an in-depth look at the Victorian coastline and the surrounding natural beauty, a 2-Day Great Ocean Road, Mornington Peninsula and Phillip Island Tour from Melbourne visits sights from the sculpted shoreline to the waterfall-laden interior.
5. See the penguins of Phillip Island
Australia has a number of islands off its coasts, some more interesting to visit than others. Off the southeastern coast of the country, about 87 miles from Melbourne, is Phillip Island – known primarily for its beaches and its penguins. The latter is a daily tourist draw. You can visit Phillip Island for the “Little Penguins Parade” evening tour from Melbourne, or a Phillip Island penguin small group eco-tour from Melbourne to see the adorable birds. To see even more of Australia’s famous wildlife, you can also join a Phillip Island day tour from Melbourne to see penguins, koalas, and kangaroos.
6. Explore the Cave of Wonders
You’d never think that millions of worms could look like a sky full of stars, but that’s just what you’ll think when you see the sureal sight. In New Zealand, on a Te Anau Glow Worm Caves Tour you’ll slowly glide along a subterranean river where the ceiling is flecked by shining glow worms. Take a day trip from Auckland to Rotorua including the Waitomo Caves, and you’ll see stalactites as well as glow worms. And if you like caves but aren’t so interested in worms, go for a motorcoach day tour to the Blue Mountains and Jenolan Caves from Sydney to abseil and squeeze into caves with incredible mineral formations. To combine the natural wonder with a bit of fantasy choose a Waitomo Caves and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ Hobbiton Movie Set Day Trip from Auckland.
7. Enjoy dinner from the water
Take advantage of the beauty of Australia’s waterfront cities with a dinner cruise, giving you a chance to enjoy an evening meal with views of picturesque skylines as you dine. Float down the Yarra River during a 3-hour and 4-course Spirit of Melbourne Dinner Cruise. The waterfront of Sydney is one of the prettiest in the world, and you can admire it during a 2.5-hour Sydney Harbour Dinner Cruise or watch the sun go down with a 1.5-hour Sydney Harbour Sunset Dinner Cruise.
8. Visit a theme park
Australia has its fair share of theme parks and attractions, but these aren’t your average amusement parks – they’ve all got a bit of a “Down Under” twist to them. Take your kids, or treat your inner child. Visit the Australian wildlife with a ticket to the Sydney Taronga Zoo and Wild Australia Experience. Spend a day at the Gold Coast with a theme park pass, good for Movie World, Sea World, and Wet n Wild. Skip the line with a ticket for the SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium to see some of the region’s sea life.
9. Go wine tasting
There’s a good chance you’ve sipped Australian Shiraz in a fine restaurant back home, but the best way to experience the red varietal is to visit the terroir itself. Australian wines are gaining prominence among the world’s most notable wines, and oenophiles should plan for a wine-themed day trip when traveling through the country. Live the life of luxury with a Swan Valley wine cruise from Perth, with afternoon tea and wine tastings on board and a behind-the-scenes winery tour. Take a Yarra Valley wine and winery tour from Melbourne to see one of Australia’s most famous wine regions. Head into the Barossa Valley with Hahndorf Tour from Adelaide for two wine tastings and lunch. Choose a Food and Wine-Tasting Tour of Waiheke Island from Auckland. Venture into Australia’s oldest wine region on a Hunter Valley Wine Tasting Day Tour from Sydney.
10. See Australia and New Zealand by railway
Even as the world gets new technologies and the pace of life seems to quicken by the year, there will always be something incomparably romantic about seeing the world from a railcar window. Chug your way through wine country on a Puffing Billy Steam Train, Yarra Valley and Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary Day Tour from Melbourne or a Yarra Valley Wineries and Puffing Billy Steam Train Day Tour from Melbourne. Climb high into waterfall-laden hills on a Kuranda scenic railway day trip from Cairns. In New Zealand, spend a Dunedin Shore Excursion on the Taieri Gorge Railway Tour and City Sightseeing.
11. See the island continent from land and sea
Australia is an enormous country. It also happens to be an island – albeit a huge one – so that sometimes the best way to see its expanses of unique landscapes is by a combination of land and water sightseeing. See a UNESCO-listed park on a Small-Group Blue Mountains Day Trip from Sydney with River Cruise. Explore one of Australia’s prettiest cities with a Sydney Day Tour with Optional Sydney Harbour Lunch Cruise or a Sydney Combo: Hop-On Hop-Off Harbor Cruise and Hop-On Hop-Off City Bus Tour. Take in the spectacular beauty of the Northern Territory with a Katherine Day Tour from Darwin including Katherine Gorge Cruise.
12. Island day trips
You might be thinking that Australia is an island, but it’s continent-sized – and there are more than 8,200 islands within Australia’s maritime borders. You read that right – more than 8,200 islands. It’s almost not an option, then, to not visit at least a few of them. You can visit some of the tropical islands in the Great Barrier Reef on a Green Island day trip from Cairns or a Fitzroy Island day trip from Cairns, spending time snorkeling, hiking, and having lunch. You can set off from the larger island of Tasmania to see wildlife and sample local delicacies on a Bruny Island sightseeing and gourmet tour from Hobart. Spend time checking out the abundant wildlife on Kangaroo Island in a day tour from Adelaide. Take a 1.5-hour Waiheke Island Tour from Auckland to see its farms and forests.
13. See your favorite TV and movie sights
By now, pretty much everyone knows that New Zealand served as the backdrop for much of the “Lord of the Rings” and “Hobbit” films. Focus on green hills and round doors with Small-Group Tour: The Lord of the Rings Hobbiton Movie Set Tour from Auckland or a Lord of the Rings’ Hobbiton Movie Set Tour. See the filming locations of Isengard, Lothlorien and more during a Glenorchy Movie Locations Tour: The Lord of the Rings. Visit the place where most of the magic was made with Wellington’s Lord of the Rings Locations Tour including Lunch. Those aren’t the only things filmed “Down Under,” however. In Melbourne, you can visit the sets of the longest-running Australian soap opera on the official “Neighbours” tour of Ramsay Street, including a chance to meet a cast member.
14. See the majesty of the Great Barrier Reef
Explorers and divers have been fascinated by this reef ever since Captain Cook accidentally ran into it. At over 1,500 miles in length, the Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef system and home to thousands of underwater species. Though scouring the length of the entire reef could take a lifetime of aquatic exploration, even a single day spent on the reef is an introduction to this aquatic wonderland. To experience the reef in all its wonder, sign up for a Great Barrier Reef Diving and Snorkeling Cruise from Cairns. Get just a hint of an idea of what it might look like from space with a Great Barrier Reef scenic helicopter tour and cruise from Cairns. Experience the best that Queensland has to offer with a Cairns Super Saver: Great Barrier Reef Cruise plus Kuranda Scenic Railway plus Cape Tribulation Day Trip.
15. Explore cities at your own pace
There’s no better way to get acquainted with a new city than with a tour that offers an overview of the main attractions so you can explore them in more depth later on. That’s just what a hop-on hop-off tour allows, with the added benefit that you can get off at any point and rejoin the tour later. See a cosmopolitan city and its gorgeous beaches with a Sydney and Bondi Hop-on Hop-off Tour. Visit the highlights of the world’s most remotest regional capital with a Perth Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour. Get to know the biggest city in New Zealand on a Best Auckland Hop-on Hop-off Tour.
16. See the Sydney Opera House
No building is more iconic to Sydney than the famous Sydney Opera House. While there are millions of visitors who have famously snapped a photo with the Opera House in the background, only a handful of visitors will have the chance to explore behind the curtain. You can learn some insights into the building’s history on a Sydney Opera House guided walking tour. Get tickets to see an Opera Performance at the Sydney Opera House. Make sure you don’t miss any of the city’s top sights with a Sydney Attraction Pass Including Taronga Zoo, Sydney Opera House, SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium.
17. Get up close and personal with wildlife
Australia is famously known as the country with the most number of animals which can kill you. Luckily for travelers with an interest in animals, there are numerous ways to get close to the wildlife in both Australia and New Zealand from the safety of a professional tour. Head to one of the world’s most famous zoos with a Sydney Taronga Zoo’s Australian Animals Tour and Sky Safari. See Australia’s great outback with a Best Uluru Camel Express, Sunrise or Sunset Tours. Venture into the Daintree Rainforest, Cape Tribulation and Rainforest Habitat Wildlife Sanctuary Day Tour on a Queensland day trip. Visit a protected sanctuary with a limited ticket on a Tiritiri Matangi Island Day Trip from Auckland with Optional Guided Walk.
18. Admire a jewel of New Zealand’s South Island
The main attraction of New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park is the majestic Milford Sound, where steep green hills dive into deep blue waters. While many hike in, you can take a more relaxing route with a cruise. Take a Best Milford Sound Full-Day Tour from Queenstown with an optional lunch, or get a meal included with a Milford Sound Sightseeing Cruise including Optional Lunch or Best Milford Sound Cruise and Optional Coach Tour. Extend your visit to this scenic beauty with a Milford Sound Mariner Overnight Cruise.
19. Take a wildlife cruise
Two things that are in abundance around Australia and New Zealand – water and wildlife. Combine the two for a wildlife cruise, which can be a relaxing way to see some of the region’s many indigenous animals. Head out on a Sydney Whale-Watching Cruise to see humpback and southern right whales. See animals and get out to play a bit with a Port Stephens day trip including dolphin watching, sandboarding, and Australian wildlife. Take a wilderness cruise from Te Anau to Doubtful Sound to see seals and dolphins, or extend your visit with a Doubtful Sound Overnight Cruise.
20. Go on a scenic cruise
Australia may have lots of land in its center, far from the coast, but since most of the population lives at the edges – near water – it’s no surprise how much Aussies love to be in or on the water as much as possible. Drift along on a Gordon River Cruise from Strahan to see the rainforests of Tasmania. Take to the water on a Best Swan River Scenic Cruise to see Perth’s skyline from another vantage point. During a Bay of Islands Cape Brett ‘Hole in the Rock’ Cruise in the North Island of New Zealand you’ll ride a high-speed catamaran along the coast and even ride through the ‘Hole in the Rock’ itself.
21. Get to know another side of Brisbane
The Queensland capital of Brisbane is famous for its glorious sunshine and party-hearty ways, but there’s more to this dynamic city than that. Explore the highlights with a Best of Brisbane Full-Day Sightseeing Tour. Admire the pretty skyline while you dine during a Brisbane River Dinner Cruise. Venture beyond the city itself with a Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary Admission with Brisbane River Cruise.
22. Get out onto Sydney Harbour
It’s always a good idea to get out on the water when you visit a place on the shore. In Sydney, that’s an especially good idea, since so much of the life that is the city’s social scene is in or on Sydney Harbour. See the sights on a Sydney Harbour cruise with an entry ticket to Taronga Zoo, which you need to take a boat to reach, anyway. Enjoy a leisurely midday meal with a view during a Sydney Harbour Top Deck Lunch Cruise. See this sparkling city illuminated during a VIVID Lights Sydney Harbour Cruise during the annual light show.
23. Explore Melbourne
Melbourne has justifiably earned its cosmopolitan reputation, and the street art, shopping, and historic architecture is considered some of the best in Australia. Make sure you take advantage of all the things to do in the city with a Melbourne Attraction Pass including Melbourne Aquarium and Eureka Skydeck 88. See the sights from the water during a Highlights of Melbourne Cruise. Combine a city tour with a visit to wine country with a Melbourne City Sights Morning Tour with Optional Yarra Cruise.
24. Cruise around the Fijian archipelago
With more than 300 islands making up the archipelago of Fiji, getting out on the water to see the sights is a very good idea. There are plenty of options when it comes to boat trips in Fiji, and some of the best are in and around the Mamanuca Islands, which represent quintessential Fiji – this is where the “Cast Away” film was shot. Spend a perfect day in a Fijian paradise with a South Sea Island Day Cruise. See why this is such a popular destination for seaside resorts while you take a high-speed catamaran Castaway Island Day Cruise. Explore the best of this gorgeous archipelago by booking a Fijian Islands and Snorkel Full-Day Whales Tale Cruise including Beach BBQ Lunch.
25. Get into the adventurous side of Bora Bora
Just the name ‘Bora Bora’ conjures images of a perfect island getaway, complete with over-water bungalows and drinks with umbrellas. Yes, you can relax and spend days blissfully doing nothing here, but you can also embrace the great outdoors with an adventure trip on the island. Hit the water at top speed with a Bora Bora Jet Ski Tour, Lunch at Bloody Mary’s, and Shark and Stingray Snorkel Cruise. Circle the whole island on a Bora Bora 4WD Tour to see incredible views from lofty heights. Go out on the water and then dive into it during a Full-Day Bora Bora Lagoon Cruise Including Snorkeling with Sharks and Stingrays.
– Viator Travel Team