Outdoor adventures lure travelers to Australia and New Zealand for good reason. The rich diversity of landscapes provide a dramatic backdrop for everything from skiing the Southern Alps to exploring the world’s largest coral reef system.
While you’re there, take time to learn about indigenous culture and take in a performance at the world’s most iconic opera house. In fact, you should be sure to check off as many of these cant-miss wonders in Australia and New Zealand as you can.
The Great Barrier Reef: A Natural Wonder of the World
Located off Australia’s Queensland coast, the Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef in the world. Featuring more than 2,800 individual reefs and cays, the massive structure is visible from space and is considered one of the top natural wonders on the planet, making it a must-see destination on a trip to the Australian continent. This UNESCO World Heritage Site provides a habitat for 1,500 species of fish and 4,000 types of mollusks, some of which you will spot while snorkeling, diving or looking down through a glass-bottom boat. Some species living there are endangered, and the reef itself faces environmental threats, so take the time to appreciate this impressive system in its current state.
Sydney Opera House: An Iconic Structure With World-Class Performances
Recognizable by the sail-shaped structures that form its roof, the Sydney Opera House ranks among the world’s top architectural masterpieces. In 1957, Jørn Utzon won the international competition to design the space. His winning entry has since defined the Sydney Harbour as much as the city itself, making the opera house one of Australia’s must-see attractions.Whether you enjoy a performance or take a guided tour of the opera house, relax afterward by the harbor and enjoy a cocktail or meal at one of the on-site restaurants.
Barossa Valley Wine Region: Tastings and Vineyard Tours
With more than 65 wine regions including the famed Barossa Valley, Australia is home to many award-winning wineries that produce some of the world’s finest Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. As you explore the country’s restaurants, you’ll have a chance to taste many of these, but nothing compares to a scenic dinner overlooking the vineyards. At picturesque Hutton Vale Farm, caretakers will guide you through the 19th century buildings before you tour the vineyards and enjoy a crisp Riesling. Delve even further into the history of the region with a trip to Seppeltsfield, where you can sample a diverse selection including earthy Pinot Noir.
Ayers Rock: A Massive Natural Landmark
Rising from flat earth in the Northern Territory of central Australia is a massive, richly hued sandstone formation that may be the most awe-inspiring sight on your trip. Also known as Uluru, this structure is sacred to the Aboriginal Anangu tribe, who still hold ceremonies at the site. Vacation packages often combine a visit to the 1,142-foot tall landmark with a visit to the town of Alice Springs and an introduction to Aboriginal life.
Ayers Rock has a mysterious allure, in part due to the changing colors that can be observed at sunrise or sunset. Watch as the rusty orange surface becomes a blazingly bright red.
Rotorua: Natural Phenomena in the Pacific Ring of Fire
As with much of New Zealand’s landscape, Rotorua gives visitors the feeling of an otherworldly paradise, this one complete with bubbling mud and hot water springs. The steaming geothermal vents make it impossible to forget that the area lies within the Pacific Ring of Fire. Adventurous travelers will revel in their proximity to active volcanoes as they raft the white waters of Kaituna River or roll down hills in a transparent plastic orb, an extreme sports activity known as zorbing. Rotorua offers no shortage of activities, including cultural performances that immerse you in the indigenous Maori culture.
Fiordland: Dramatic Landscape Framed by the Southern Alps
According to Maori cultural legend, the landscape of Fiordland was created by the godly Tū Te Rakiwhānoa, who carved out its valleys and waterways from massive rock walls. Framed by the steep edges of New Zealand’s Southern Alps, Fiordland offers plenty of hiking opportunities, but it can be explored in so many ways. A scenic helicopter flight allows you to take in waterfalls and snow-topped peaks from above, but if you prefer a jetboat, you’ll get a closer look at the mysterious landscape. Once you experience the sheer cliffs of Milford Sound and the other fiords, you will understand why they seem to have been carved by a godly mason.
The TranzAlpine Train: Scenic Views of the Snow-Capped Southern Alps
Train tours have become one of the most popular ways to experience iconic scenery, and the TranzAlpine Train delivers plenty of unforgettable sights. As you journey through the mountains of South Island, sit back and enjoy the snowy peaks and patchwork plains that come into view. Panoramic windows allow you to take in broad vistas on this approximately 4½ hour ride that takes you from Christchurch to Greymouth. Skylights ensure the trip is bathed in light, but you can step into an open-air carriage for a truly outdoor experience.
Queenstown: Among New Zealand’s Most Beautiful Towns
Adventure epitomizes a trip to New Zealand, with skiing and snowboarding topping the list of popular activities at this Southern Alps resort town. Once you’ve returned from the slopes, spend some time exploring the restaurant scene and enjoying the scenery of Lake Wakatipu, and you’ll see why Queenstown is noted for its charm as well as its adventurous side. When you’re in the mood for another adrenaline rush, try skydiving while taking in views of snow-capped peaks.
From the heights of the Southern Alps to the underwater depths where the Great Barrier Reef lies, there are vastly different natural wonders to explore in Australia and New Zealand. As you explore, keep in mind that many natural landmarks you’ll be visiting have special significance to local indigenous communities. Take the time to learn about their vibrant cultural heritage as you enjoy the beautiful and often mysterious landscape.