3 Weeks in Australia & New Zealand
Hey there! Finally got around to doing this! I swear I am busier now than when I was teaching because I keep adding more and more to my plate! WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME!?! haha!
Anyways, let’s get to the reason why you are here-- Australia + New Zealand!! One of my goals in life was to visit every continent (except for Antarctica-- for now ;) ...) before I turned 30! I really wanted a broad view of the world, so I decided it would be a good idea to get to each part of it! I also have a world map tattoo on my wrist... so I totally had to go to every continent!!
Our last continent on the list was Australia... so that's why we decided to go there for Summer 2018. Our planning process began around April-- well, that’s when we bought our flights. Ahem, the actual planning-planning began a week before leaving.
I know... I know. Crazy, right?
You all know I am a huge procrastinator, so I kid you not, we didn't have anything but the plane tickets purchased until a week before we left. With school, weddings, live paintings and art I literally didn't have a second to put towards it. We didn't even know where we were going in Australia/NZ except for we knew we were flying into Sydney and then leaving from Sydney three weeks later!
I'm sure I'm making some of you all sweat by now, but that's just how John and I both operate... The majority of our trips have been like this and I think sometimes less planning turns out better— if you’re a pretty seasoned traveler! Our first big month long European trip together was very well planned out, but now we know how we travel together and enjoy just going with the flow.
So… the week before we left, I finally sat down and decided where exactly we wanted to go and then made John do the logistics on how we were getting to each place. Once we figured out where we were going and how we were getting there, then I could start planning our hotels, airbnbs, and activities! Honestly, the hardest part was deciding what we could fit in and where was most important to us.
I chatted with people who had lived there, looked at blogs, and stalked instagram for the most beautiful places. We finally decided on Sydney, followed by Queenstown (NZ), then back to Australia c/o Brisbane and Whitsunday, before a road trip to Cairns, and then finishing back in Sydney. We made the decision to stay in Northern Australia since the seasons are flipped and we didn’t want to pack too many winter clothes.
I always recommend at least 3 days in each city with a travel day in between, so 3 weeks really doesn't give you a ton of time. Especially since Australia is HUGE and spread out, so we had to cut out a lot. It's sad, but I would rather enjoy the places we get to go, rather than rushing through to hit everywhere and be exhausted at each place.
It also makes your trip SIGNIFICANTLY more expensive the more places you add. Australia and NZ are already super expensive to get to and travel around.
Something I always get asked is how much do our trips cost and how we budget. To be honest, we don't do a great job of keeping track of everything to the penny, but we definitely have a number in mind of what we think it will cost and an amount we don't want to go over. We always do things the cheapest way we can find, but it can still add up quickly if we're not careful. We definitely don't skimp on anything and enjoy ourselves, but don't do anything excessive or beyond our means. At this point in our life, travel is very important to us, so we save our money accordingly.
For spending while on our trips we put everything on our Chase Sapphire card, which has no foreign transaction fees and is double the travel points. We basically use it as a debit card by paying it off in full each month. This also makes our travel points add up quickly, which eventually will be used to pay for our flights! :)
Flights + Transportation
But like I said, Australia and New Zealand are EXPENSIVE! Knowing this, we really tried to find the cheapest options for getting around. Our flights there were $1,500 per person round trip through American Airlines.. and yes that's economy... and yes it was rough. This was a huge expense up front that we paid for in April and got out of the way. That is actually one of the cheapest prices I have seen to Australia and I believe it was because we were going in June/July which is their winter. During their summer (Dec-Feb) prices are even higher! Luckily, we went in the off-season, so that helped!
For going from city to city we opted to fly because we only had 3 weeks and wanted to see as much as we could. Australian/NZ domestic flights were not terribly pricey but ranged from $120-$350 each.. with the flight to NZ being $350. This adds up so fast. In the end, we spent about $1,500 each for flights within the country. ((Total cost of all flights was around $4,500)).
One thing a lot of people don't factor into their trip planning is transportation to and from the airport in each city you are staying. That usually costs around $50 each way depending on if you taxi, shuttle, or bus. John is a big fan of the metro, so we try to save money by using that from the airport in bigger cities. There is definitely a way to work the public transportation system, but sometimes that's not an option in smaller or remote destinations. Don't forget to budget for that!
Traveling with luggage larger than a carry-on is also important to consider. We only bring one personal item and a carry-on bag apiece. This can be very hard when traveling for multiple weeks, but if you bring anything larger, you will get charged on every single flight. We use Amazon packing cubes found here to better organize clothes and fit more in our suitcases/backpacks. Since we would be in Sydney (60 degrees and chilly at night), Queenstown (30 degrees and freezing), and Whitsundays + Cairns (80 degrees and up), we had to do some crazy packing. We had to bring gloves, hats, scarves, a winter coat, light jackets, and bathing suits all in the same suitcase. It was wild!
We brought suitcases this trip, but we usually bring 60L Osprey backpacks. Most airlines we flew didn't charge extra for the carry-ons, but there were a couple that did and I can't imagine how much it would have cost had we brought full sized luggage!! Also, always check your airline to see what their baggage policies are because it's usually cheaper if you pay ahead of time.
Hotels + Airbnbs
As far as rooms and hotels... we always go for hotels/airbnbs that cost around $50-$90 per night. In Australia and NZ, this got us some nice places but they were no Ritz Carlton's!! I think we spent around $1,500 total on rooms for the 21 days. We did a $30 hostel one night... mistake!! And then two nights we got for free by sleeping in our I-Moova campervan!
Food + Alcohol + Activities + Souvenirs
Food in Australia + NZ is OUTRAGEOUS. Every time we ate out it was around $50 for 2 meals and 2 drinks. In the USA you can get a nice meal for $12ish depending on where you go-- or at least that's what I always try to spend on a meal. In Australia or NZ you can’t find a burger/sandwich for less than $19. It is insane. Same with beer/alcohol... most drinks are around $8+. This made it hard to find budget friendly restaurants. Even the grocery stores were super expensive. At one point we tried to find something quick, cheap, and easy so we thought pizza.... for a big enough one to fill John up, it would have been $35!! SO CRAZY!
With that being said, we definitely tried to find hotels/airbnb's that included breakfast or had a kitchen, so we could cook and save some money. We also tried to only eat 1-2 times per day. This was tough, but you gotta do what you gotta do! I always pack protein bars, almonds, and travel sized peanut butter to eat throughout the trip and hold us over until our next meal. We probably spent around $1,750 on food and alcohol.
Another thing to account for is activities! We went bungee jumping, sailing in the Whitsundays, scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef, to an animal sanctuary in Townsville, and took a flight to Milford Sound in NZ! Even after all that, we still had things left on our list that we wanted to do! But all of these things add up fast, so you have to figure out what is most important!
John and I hardly ever buy souvenirs, except maybe something small or meaningful like jewelry. We only travel with a backpack or a small carry-on, so there really isn't much room for extras.
We flew from Louisville, Kentucky, to Houston, Texas, and then from Houston to Sydney, all on American Airlines. The flight length to Sydney was 17 hours straight. I was a little apprehensive about the flight, especially because John's body is too long to sleep comfortably on a plane, so we were pumped to find out the flight was under-booked and that we had a row to ourselves! We stretched out as much as you can in a row of airplane seats and were actually able to sleep a lot of the flight.
We left Louisville on Monday and arrived in Sydney Wednesday morning.... not sure where Tuesday went, but who needs it anyways?? We landed at 8:00am and headed to our boutique hotel that was located right in the heart of The Rocks area. I would highly recommend staying in this area as it is central to everything! The Mercantile Hotel is super basic and was the cheapest thing I could find in the area at $88 per night. The staff was friendly and it had everything we needed, including free breakfast. The hotel is on top of an Irish bar, so if you're a light sleeper-- might not be a good choice, and keep in mind, the bathroom is a shared one. But other than that, we really liked our stay!
THINGS TO DO & SEE
-Stroll along Bondi Beach to Bronte Walk or to Coogee Trail
-Check out the famous Bondi Icebergs Pool
-Museum of Contemporary Art…MCA Café and Sculpture Terrace—head to level 4 to eat with amazing views of opera house and Sydney harbor bridge.
-Wander through The Rocks… on the weekends there is a huge outdoor market!
-Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb
-Walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge
-Take pictures around the Sydney Opera House
-Have a picnic at the royal botanic gardens… walk to the top of the hill for panoramic views.
-Take the Ferry to Luna’s park
-Milk Beach, Camp Cove, Balmoral Beach, Manly Beach
-Watch the sunset from Ms. Macquarie’s chair
-Catch a rugby game at Sydney Olympic Park
-Vivid Sydney (May-June)
-Have a drink at the Opera Bar
QUEENSTOWN, NEW ZEALAND
We flew to Queenstown, New Zealand, next through Jetstar. The flight took 3 hours and we lost 2 hours on the way there. Our flight got in kind of late and luckily we grabbed the last shuttle bus that dropped us off directly at our accommodations for the night. The bus was $20 for both of us, but a taxi would have been $50. We stayed at the Melbourne Lodge and it was perfect. Breakfast was also included and it was centrally located!
We found an even cheaper airbnb and ended up switching to it for the remaining nights in Queenstown. We loved Vickie’s place, and although it was super small, it was all we needed! Find Vickie’s airbnb here.
THINGS TO DO & SEE:
-Ride the Skyline Gondola
-Hike the Ben Lomand Trail (be more prepared than us— it’s long and icy in the winter!)
-Go bungee jumping!! Tons of places to choose from— we did the tandem Kawarau Bridge Bungy.
-Eat at Fergburger
-Check out one of the below zero or ice bars
-Go to Milford Sound— we took a 30 minute flight because the bus ride seemed like a lot of time wasted! The flight was amazing— a little scary, but INSANE views!
-Rent a car and drive to Glenorchy
-Grab a drink on the Floating Boat Bar and play cards
After New Zealand, we flew to Brisbane, Australia, on a Qantas flight. It was a great flight— they gave us a meal and drinks and it took around 3.5 hours… we also gained 2 hours going back! John had a Skype interview that morning, so we didn’t get to do any exploring in Brisbane but we splurged and booked a room in an AMAZING hotel by the airport called The Pullman.
There weren’t any good flights from Queenstown directly to the Whitsundays, so we had to fly to Brisbane and then fly the next day to Prosperpine (NOTE- if you aren’t a millionaire, fly into Propserpine instead of Hamilton Island for the Whitsundays— we booked flights to Hamilton and then realized there aren’t any accommodations under $250 per night and to get to Airlie beach the ferry is $$ too!! We had to switch our flight to Prosperine after we realized that!).
Our flight the next day was through Virgin Australia and only took about an hour and a half. We arrived and had pre-arranged for our Airbnb hosts to pick us up! The Prosperpine airport is about 30 minutes from Airlie Beach in the Whitsundays. The shuttle costs around $22 per person to get into Airlie, so we opted for Glenda to pick us up.
We stayed with Glenda & Ernie in their INCREDIBLE penthouse. It was BY FAR the best airbnb we’ve ever stayed in and at $90 a night, it seemed like a steal. If you go to the Whitsundays, you must stay with them and let them know we sent you! They were basically like our Australian parents!! The hospitality was incredible… they cooked for us, hung out with us, and truly made us feel like we were family. Not to mention, their home was impeccable and the views were unbelievable.
THINGS TO DO & SEE:
-Cruise through the Whitsundays on a sailboat… we went on the Camira (big purple sailboat) and LOVED it!
-Take a ferry to Hamilton Island
-Rent a “buggy” and drive around Hamilton Island
-Shop in Airlie Beach
-Catch a Rugby game at one of the many bars on the strip of Airlie
-Snorkel the Great Barrier Reef (we waited until Cairns to do this, but it can be done here also!)
-Spend a day relaxing by The Lagoon
-In our case, spend a day relaxing at the Airbnb! Rooftop pool and incredible views… we didn’t have to leave!
-Take a boat to Whitehaven beach— one of the most beautiful beaches in the world.
John and Ernie reenacting John learning how to drive the manual campervan!!
WHITSUNDAYS > BOWEN > TOWNSVILLE > MISSION BEACH > CAIRNS
After Whitsundays, we decided to road trip up to Cairns. We didn’t really have a plan at this point and actually ended up staying with Glenda and Ernie an extra night while we sorted out the car situation. We got the bright idea to rent an Imoova campervan that needed to be moved to Townsville. Imoova is a company that basically pays you to move cars to different areas where they are needed. We got the campervan for 3 nights with bedding, gas, and everything for $23. So it basically saved us 3 nights of stay, gave us a place to cook, and our transportation for twenty three big ones!
…. The only problem was it was a manual driver… and neither John or I knew how to drive one of those. HA! With the encouragement of Ernie and Glenda— we decided to go for it anyways because it is “easssyyyy, no big deal!” … SO, we rented the dang thing (would cost $775 if we didn’t get it to Townsville within the 3 days) and set out to learn how to drive it…. on the opposite side of the road… on the opposite side of the car. WHAT WERE WE THINKING.
After an hour and a half of perseverance, patience (on everyone’s part), several near death experiences, stalling every three seconds in rainy— terrible road conditions, and a lot of circles around a parking lot, John (kind-of) figured out how to drive manual.
It was bad. I remember thinking to myself (as I was being thrown around the back of the campervan)—— “how much are we going to need to pay Ernie to get him to drive this thing up to Townsville for us...?”
As always, I had faith in John and we ended up making it to Townsville and camped there for a night at one of the many camper lots. It was DEFINITELY an experience… my knuckles are still white from clutching the “oh sh** handle!!* LOL.
Our first road trip stop was Bowen. It was a beautiful little beach town with some awesome lookout spots and great hiking. We grabbed a coffee and hiked along some of the trails here.
Townsville was our next stop (3 hours from Airlie) and we went straight to the Billabong Sanctuary to see all of the kangaroos, koalas, crocs, and wombats! We then ended up camping in a campervan lot that was close to where we were dropping off the campervan the next day!
After we dropped off the van, we had to walk to a car rental place and rented a small car to drive the rest of the way. We tried to find another Imoova, but nothing was available. I’m just happy we made it to the place we were supposed to in one piece!! LOL.
We grabbed breakfast while we waited on the car and then we were on our way! We stopped at random places during the drive and ultimately stayed in Mission Beach. It was a rainy day, so we hung out at a couple restaurant bars, played cards and then worked on finding a place to stay. We were pretty tired after our traumatic experience the day before… so we found a cheap hostel to stay at.
It’s always at this point in our trip that John starts to PANIC about money, so the hostel for $30 that night seemed like a good idea. BAD. BAD IDEA. I wish I had taken pictures… lol no I don’t… I’m actually still trying to block that night out of my mind.
Mission beach was a cute little town though… and if we hadn’t spent all our money at this point I would have definitely gone skydiving here!!
Our next and final stop was Cairns! On our way there, we found this place to stay called Cairns City Palms and we really liked it! It had an outdoor grill and kitchen and was perfect for what we needed! It also seemed like the Taj Mahal compared to the hostel from the night before. HAHA
THINGS TO DO & SEE
-Scuba Dive or Snorkel The Great Barrier Reef… we went through the “Reef Experience” which included both scuba and snorkeling— AMAZING experience! Highly recommend!
-Ride the skyrail cableway or drive to the town in the rainforest called Kuranda… we drove!
-Take the Kuranda scenic railway back
-Walk the rainforest trails to see the Barron waterfall
-Head to Palm Cove (adorable town with great beaches and restaurants!)
After Cairns we flew back to Sydney for our last night in Australia! We stayed at the Felix Hotel because it looked awesome, was $88 per night, and was close to the airport! We ended up taking the metro into Sydney and spent our last night walking through the market, eating at our Irish Pub in the bottom of the Mercantile Hotel, and then had a drink at The Opera Bar while admiring the Opera House one last time.
Our trip was absolutely amazing and I crossed off SO many things from my bucket list!! We loved Australia and New Zealand and only wish that we could have spent more time in NZ!! I hope this inspired you just a little to visit this area of the world!