Things to Do in Australia & the Pacific
One of New Zealand’s most photographed natural wonders and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Franz Josef Glacier serves up a dazzling landscape of snow-smothered peaks, rocky gorges, and icy waterfalls, feeding into the Waiho River.
A series of sunken river valleys at the top of New Zealand’s South Island, the Marlborough Sounds offer a range of sights and adventures—hiking, biking, camping, and wildlife watching, to name but a few. Many travelers pass through Queen Charlotte Sound and the town of Picton on the ferry between the North and South islands.
The town of Wanaka is a lakeside escape that drifts by under the radar—nowhere as busy as neighboring Queenstown, but arguably even more scenic. Rung by the mountains of Mt. Aspiring National Park, Wanaka also cradles Lake Wanaka inside of its river valley, where boating, kayaking, and standup paddling are popular summer activities. Imagine casually paddling a kayak beneath the Southern Alps, or parasailing in a canopy of silence while gazing toward hanging glaciers.
Of all the adventures you’ll find on Lake Wanaka, perhaps the quirkiest is a half-day tour to explore Mou Wahou Island. This offshore bird sanctuary is not only known for its wealth and diversity of bird life, but also the fact that it’s small lake, known as Arethusa Pool, is a lake on an island in a lake on an island that’s surrounded by the Pacific. Activities and offshore islands aside, Lake Wanaka is also popular for just swimming, since the shallow areas at the shore of the lake can reach as high as 65°F on the warmest days of summer.
New Zealand produces some of the world’s most renowned, award-winning wines, and Mission Estate Winery on the outskirts of Napier is where it all began. Founded in 1851, Mission Estate was started by missionaries who journeyed from France with little more than a dream and a couple of vines. Now, nearly two centuries later, Mission Estate continues to operate as one of New Zealand’s best wineries, and is a staple on any shore excursion or wine tasting tour of Napier.
Head down the tree lined driveway toward the old fashioned estate and its fountain, and you'll immediately fall for the history and regal charm of the area. Step outside on the hilltop veranda for a view of the vineyard landscapes leading back to Napier’s downtown or to sip in the sun protected by the shade of one of the winery's big, white outdoor umbrellas.
One of Tasmania’s most popular coastal holiday spots, Freycinet National Park is backed by the pink-tinged granite outcrops known as the Hazards.
Low-lying coastal heathland frames views of blue sea and sand throughout the park, with the Hazards looming large in the distance. Bushwalkers head here to follow coastal trails along the peninsula’s secluded coves, and the park is a popular holiday camping spot for families.
The park’s white-sand beaches are beautiful but top marks always go to perfectly formed Wineglass Bay, which often appears in travel top 10s as one of the world’s most gorgeous beaches. It really does have a circular wineglass shape, fringed by white sand and untouched bushland.
Birdwatchers come to Freycinet to spot seabirds, and you might see cockatoos, wattlebirds and wallabies on the two-hour return walk to the lofty lookout over Wineglass Bay. It’s an often steep incline with steps, or you can follow the wheelchair-friendly boardwalk at Cape Tourville for less-exhausting but still stunning views of the bay.
Boating and fishing are other popular activities, along with rock climbing, sea-kayaking, swimming at the Friendly Beaches and snorkeling at Sleepy Bay and Honeymoon Bay.
Isolated on a peninsula facing the Tasman Sea, the once-feared Port Arthur Penitentiary was where Britain’s most-condemned convicts were sent to endure harsh conditions. Today, the UNESCO-listed site has been restored and preserved to remember Australia’s past; a visit here sheds light on the darker days of Port Arthur.
New Zealand took a heavy toll in the fighting of World War I. By most estimates, the young nation lost 5% of its men of military age—a proportion that far outnumbered any of the other nations at war. Despite New Zealand’s heavy losses, the nation still commemorates the event and is proud of its military involvement, and the Omaka Aviation Heritage Center nearly brings the war back to life.
Through the use of historic World War I aircraft and the help of Peter Jackson—who created Hollywood-quality exhibits to show the atrocities of war—the center has become one of the world’s foremost exhibits on early aviation. While strolling the exhibit calledKnights of the Sky, admire the impeccable dioramas that detail the tragedy of war—all of them featuring historic aircraft that served in World War I. There are scenes of pilots being shot down and artifacts belonging to The Red Baron, and by the time you finish wandering the halls of the shockingly real exhibits, you might swear you were actually on the Western Front in the summer of 1918. There’s also a museum with general info on World War I aviation, and even if you aren’t an aficionado of military biplanes or aircraft, the special effects and professional lighting combine to create a museum experience that's impressively entertaining.
Nitmiluk National Park (formerly Katherine Gorge National Park) offers vast sandstone cliffs, cascading waterfalls, and a series of 13 gorges carved out by the mighty Katherine River. All of this dramatic scenery is located on the ancient lands of the Jawoyn people and is home to some impressive Aboriginal rock art sites.
The one notable exception to the vineyards and plains surrounding Hastings, craggy Te Mata Peak rises 1,300 feet (396 meters) above sea level and offers sensational views. Set just south of Napier and Hastings, Te Mata Peak is renowned for its sweeping, 360 degree views, which stretch from the coastline out to the farms that ring the towns of Hawke’s Bay. While it’s easy to drive to the summit, many visitors choose to hike on the network of forested trails, all of which are well maintained and marked with colorful signs.
Enjoy the scent of towering Redwoods and fresh mountain air, before emerging onto the windswept peak that’s steeped in Maori legend. Guided cultural tours of the mountain explain a bit of its past, and offer insight on the history, people, and beauty of North Island's Hawke’s Bay.
Encompassing roughly 3,000 individual reefs and dotted with almost 900 islands and coral cays (small sandy isles), Australia's Great Barrier Reef is one of the world’s most unforgettable natural treasures. Snorkelers and certified divers flock here to see the unparalleled array of marine life.
More Things to Do in Australia & the Pacific
A gigantic monolith of rust-red rock looming over the desert plains of the Australian Outback, Uluru (Ayers Rock) is more than just a postcard icon—it’s the cultural, spiritual, and geographical heart of Australia, one of its most impressive natural wonders, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Measuring more than 33 feet (10 meters) high, these mammoth Maori sculptures were chiseled into the rocks on the edge of Lake Taupo in the late 1970s. Created by master carver Matahi Whakataka-Brightwell, the carvings depict Ngatoroirangi, who is said to have guided the Te Arawa tribes from their Polynesian homeland to New Zealand.
Few sights are as instantly recognizable as the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the grand centerpiece of Sydney Harbour and one of Australia's most photographed landmarks. The historic structure dates to 1932 and is the world's largest steel arch bridge. It's also an important transport hub, linking downtown Sydney with the north shore, Manly, and the area's northern beaches.
Magic Mountain is on the island of Moorea in French Polynesia. Though the mountains on Moorea are not extremely high, they are particularly rugged. Magic Mountain is one of the highest points on the island. It is located along the exterior part of the island, and it offers spectacular 360-degree views of the island and the surrounding clear blue waters of the lagoon and the ocean. On the way up the mountain, visitors will pass villages, scenic valleys, fruit trees, and pineapple plantations. Magic Mountain lets visitors experience the breathtaking scenery an ancient volcanic island.
The mountain is not accessible by regular cars and can only be reached by 4WD or ATV. For this reason, the best way to experience Magic Mountain and its views is by taking a tour of the island that includes a trip up the mountain. Most tours also include Belvedere Lookout, which is located toward the center of the island and offers gorgeous views of both Cook's Bay and Opunohu Bay, ancient Polynesian sites, and the agricultural school. It is a great way to take in the wonderful sights and culture that Moorea has to offer.
Devoted to telling the story of the more than 40,000 ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) soldiers that fought in the First World War, the National Anzac Centre is one of Australia’s most important military museums. It’s housed in a purpose-built building in Albany Heritage Park.
The liquid heart of Perth, the Swan River touches many of the city’s neighborhoods on its way to the Indian Ocean. The river passes through the Swan Valley wine region, Perth’s Central Business District and affluent suburbs, and the port city of Fremantle, and there are lots of recreational opportunities on the banks and in the water.
With a history dating back to 1897 and a far-reaching reputation, the Fremantle Markets are among the most famous of their kind in Western Australia, and the lively weekend markets are equally popular with locals and tourists. Housed in a striking Victorian market hall, restored in the 1970s, the legendary markets feature more than 150 stalls split between two sections – The Yard and The Hall.
Visiting the Fremantle Markets is an experience in itself, with huge crowds turning out each weekend, and an array of street entertainers, artists and musicians providing entertainment. This is the place to buy fresh farmer’s produce, organic delicacies and artisan foods, or feast on tasty street food. It’s not just food on sale either – the eclectic stalls include clothing and accessories by local and upcoming designers; unique art and handicrafts; great value cosmetics and toiletries; and a myriad of souvenirs.
All roads in central Townsville eventually lead to The Strand. As the city’s most beautiful and popular beach, The Strand is the sparkling centerpiece of Townsville’s golden coast. Even better, it has twice been voted “Australia’s Cleanest Beach” for its tidy, modern facilities. Take a jog on the walking paths that weave along the coast, or plan an afternoon barbecue or picnic on the park’s expansive lawn.
Fishermen gather at the northern end, in front of Kissing Point Fort, as bathers wade in the famous Rock Pool that faces out to sea. If it’s “stinger” season for Queensland’s box jellies, the section of beach just south of the pool has stinger nets and lifeguards. Waves are rarely an issue here, and it’s easy to simply float on your back and feel the sun on your face. For an extended trip when walking The Strand, make the climb up to Kissing Point Fort, where views stretch out to Magnetic Island and the vast Pacific beyond. The passenger ferry to Magnetic Island also departs from The Strand, and families will enjoy the large waterpark that’s perfect for children. Add in roadside cafés and restaurants just steps from the manicured grounds, and it’s easy to see why the famous Strand is the most happening place in town.
Te Puia, located in the Te Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley at the edge of Rotorua features Pohutu Geyser and is home to the impressive New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute. Visitors can tour the bubbling mud pools with a local Maori guide and choose from among myriad activities.
At more than a mile (1.8 kilometers) in length, the Busselton Jetty is the longest timber-piled jetty found anywhere in the Southern Hemisphere. Ships no longer dock here, and instead the historic jetty draws visitors to the Western Australia coast to stroll its length and take in the views both above and below the water.
The National Museum of Australia explores national identity and heritage in a hugely kid-friendly and fun way.
Like a big abstract Australian storybook, the museum’s creative exhibits use controversy and humor to get you thinking about Australia's big picture.
From Indigenous culture to national icons, personal stories and artifacts, this enjoyable museum has a huge range of exhibits.
To get an overview of the collection, watch the free introductory film or take a guided tour.
Built in the late-19th century by William Larnach, Larnach Castle is New Zealand’s only castle. It’s been beautifully refurbished and the grounds are carefully tended. The views across the hills and water of the Otago Peninsula are some of the best in the area. A trip to Larnach Castle is a great way to spend a day while visiting Dunedin.
The Three Sisters is an ancient rock formation located in the Blue Mountains National Park in the town of Katoomba. The towering trio of stone has a mythical dimension in the Aboriginal Dreamtime legend about three sisters who lived in the Jamison Valley and fell in love with three brothers from a rival tribe whom they were forbidden to marry.