Top Natural Beauty Spots to See on a Downunder Vacation to Australia and New Zealand

Australia & South Pacific

Lake Tekapo under the milkyway, New Zealand

Our world is an attractive place to experience. Here are my choices of 5 special scenic locations on a Downunder vacation to Australia and New Zealand, offered in Goway’s world. Each one consists of natural beauty and is exceptional.

I am well aware that my choices will not be the next person’s. However, I challenge anyone to disagree with the merits of the following (restricted to 5).

Sydney Harbour, Australia

Although the harbour is totally natural, it has been enhanced by the addition of two man-made items, namely the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House. The first thing to do in Sydney on a Downunder vacation to Australia, in my opinion, is to head to Circular Quay and take one of the ferries which travel through this picturesque harbour, a journey which gives you a wonderful scenic perspective of not only Sydney but a bird’s eye view of the two above mentioned icons. There are 32 ferries sailing across 37 kilometres/23 miles of water. My suggestion would be to either take the official harbour cruise or consider taking the ferry to Manly. Either way, you can view The Heads, which is the entranceway to the harbour from the sea. You also have a glimpse of some of the other interior suburbs such as Rose Bay, Double Bay, and North Sydney on the 30-minute ferry ride.

Aerial view of Sydney Harbour, NSW, Australia
Aerial view of Sydney Harbour, Australia

It is impossible to avoid seeing the amazing architectural phenomenon, the Sydney Harbour Bridge. First opened in 1932, it connects the Sydney Central Business District with the North Shore of the city, affectionately known as the “Coat Hanger.” The views and photo opportunities are exceptional. It has a similar place in Sydney history as the Statue of Liberty has in New York.

The Sydney Opera House, situated on Bennelong Point in Sydney Harbour, has to be one of the world’s most easily recognizable buildings. This would be due to its totally unique design, a masterpiece of 20th-century architecture. Not only is it a multi-venue performance hall but it is a site to which visitors to Sydney are immediately drawn. The effect of viewing the Opera House is both dramatic and unforgettable on trips to Australia.

Sydney Opera House and Sydney Bridge at twilight, Australia
Sydney Opera House and Sydney Bridge at twilight, Australia

Great Barrier Reef, Australia

The Great Barrier Reef is known worldwide as one of the most biologically diverse areas on earth as well as one of the most ecologically sensitive ones. It is the world’s largest World Heritage area consisting of reefs, mangroves, islands, and ocean waters, and one of the world’s most important natural assets. It is the largest natural feature on earth stretching along the north-east coast of Queensland. Size? 2300 kilometres/1400 miles long and from 60 kilometres/37 miles to 250 kilometres/145 miles wide. It is roughly as big in area as Italy, Japan, or Germany and half as big as Texas. So it’s big. It is also the only living thing on earth visible from outer space. It is made of billions of tiny living organisms which make it the largest living organism in the world, with over 3000 coral reefs and 880 islands – of which 27 are inhabited. There are huge tropical rainforests on some islands that get some of the most rainfall in the world. How to visit the Great Barrier Reef on a Downunder vacation? You can enjoy a day trip from Cairns or Port Douglas on a catamaran cruise. You can indulge in any of the 2- to 7-day passenger cruises available. You can take a scenic flight from both Cairns and Port Douglas. Or you can stay at one of the resorts on a number of islands.

Aerial view of the Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia
Aerial view of the Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Some of the better known islands are the Whitsundays group, Hamilton Island, Heron Island, Lizard Island, Green Island, and Hayman Island. If you are a certified Scuba diver or a snorkeler, the Great Barrier Reef has some of the best ocean life anywhere. Even if you have never Scuba dived before, the Great Barrier Reef offers some great places to learn.

Aerial view of Whitehaven Beach, Whitsundays, Queensland, Australia
Aerial view of Whitehaven Beach in the Whitsundays, Australia

The Australian Outback

The Outback of Australia is more of a colloquial term than a geographical area. It refers to the vast, remote, arid interior of Australia. It is also known as the Never-Never, the Back of Beyond, and the Back o’Burke. The open spaces in the Outback seem to stretch on forever and reflect Australia’s pioneering spirit and identity. You can find a little bit of the Outback in every state of Australia. Due to the low humidity and the lack of light pollution, the Outback is one of the best places in the world for stargazing. It is a fact that astronomers can enjoy uninterrupted views of constellations, planets and up to over 5,000 stars. However, you might want to narrow your time on a Downunder vacation to Australia in the Outback to places such as Ayers Rock and the Olgas. The former is a very large piece of rock situated in the desert. Of course, it’s more than that. It is absolutely unique. A monolith of red sandstone rising out of the flat desert landscape, it is known to the indigenous Aboriginal people as Uluru and is to them, a very sacred place. How large is it? It is 348 metres/1130 feet in height and the bulk of it lies underground. How far, no one knows exactly but it is thought to be around 2.5 kilometres/1.5 miles. One special aspect is that it changes colour depending on the time of year and the time of day. Sunrise and sunset are particularly magical times to view Ayers Rock, when its terracotta hue morphs into a violet/blue tinge.

Ayers Rock (Uluru) in the morning, Northern Territory, Australia
Ayers Rock (Uluru) in the morning, Australia

The Olgas, 55 kilometres/34 miles away, is a group of large ancient rock formations and are located in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. They consist of 36 domes spread over an area of more than 20 square miles and are believed to be around 500 million years old. Once again, like Ayers Rock, The Olgas are sacred to the local Aboriginals. Another place to consider is Kings Canyon, approximately midway between Alice Springs and Ayers Rock. It is a formation of tall red rock faces that soar above dense palm forests and is a refuge for more than 600 species of native plants and animals, many unique to the area.

Olgas in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory, Australia
The Olgas in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Australia

Fiordland National Park, New Zealand

Fiordland is the largest National Park in New Zealand and is located in the south-west corner of the South Island just 2 hours by road from Queenstown or Invercargill. What can you expect to find here on a Downunder vacation?  For starters, there are stunning fjords, spectacular waterfalls, snow-capped peaks, ancient rainforests clinging to the mountainsides, and shimmering lakes. The west coast is deeply indented by 14 fjords stretching over 215 kilometres/135 miles of coastline. The main towns are Te Anau and Manapouri. Human activity within Fiordland has been limited. The sheer steepness of the terrain, the incredible isolation, and the wettest climate in New Zealand deterred all but the hardiest from settling here. A 500 kilometre/310 mile network of walking tracks allows visitors to explore this wonder world of mountain peaks, alpine lakes, and moss-carpeted valleys, giving this area a reputation as the “Walking Capital of the World.” Three of New Zealand’s great walks are to be found in the Fiordland National Park. The most famous and most popular is the Milford Track, which takes five days to complete. The dramatic Hollyford Track explores undisturbed and inspiring scenery, which can be done with an expert guide through the landscapes, vegetation, and wildlife. If you want a more leisurely way to enjoy the spectacular scenery, then a cruise is the way to go. Cruising along the Milford Sound gives you the opportunity to take in the splendour of the region. Animal fans will see mammals and sea creatures including dolphins that love to put on a show and penguins that waddle across rocks. You will see dramatic sheer cliffs, massive waterfalls, glaciers, and rainforest. Keep a look out for wildlife like seals basking on the rocks. Cruises usually last approximately 90 minutes during which you will see some of the most spectacular sites nature has to offer.

Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park, South Island, New Zealand
Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park, New Zealand

Another consideration on a Downunder vacation to New Zealand is a 3-hour cruise on Lake Te Anau, the largest of the southern glacial lakes. The main body of the lake has three large fjords which reach out from its western side. Rolling hill country characterizes the eastern side of the lake; the western side is a magnificent wilderness of forest and mountains.

Lake Te Anau, Fiordland National Park, New Zealand
Lake Te Anau, Fiordland National Park, New Zealand

Mount Cook National Park, New Zealand

Mount Cook National Park is also known by its Maori name, Aoraki. The park contains all but one of New Zealand’s 20 peaks and this includes Mount Cook, the country’s highest mountain at 3750 metres/12,200 feet in height. It is alpine in the purest sense, under a star-studded sky overlooking countless glaciers, ice and snow fields, mountain lakes and ranges. Mount Cook Village, which is situated on the scenic Lake Pukaki, provides a base for Alpine activities on New Zealand vacations and offers everything from backpacker lodges and camp sites to luxury hotels. Lake Tekapo, about three hours drive south-west of Christchurch is a town which faces across the remarkable turquoise coloured lake. On the shores of the lake there is the beautiful Church of the Good Shepherd, where the altar window frames a perfect view of the Southern Alps beyond the lake. Climbing Aoraki/Mount Cook, the same peak that Sir Edmund Hillary practised on before his successful ascent of Everest, remains the ultimate challenge, but there are many other peaks to tempt experienced climbers. Mountaineers regard the area to be the best climbing region in Australasia. There are 10 short walks beginning near Mount Cook village alone. All tracks are formed and well marked.

View of the majestic Aoraki Mount Cook with the road leading to Mount Cook Village, New Zealand
View of majestic Aoraki / Mount Cook in winter, New Zealand

Helicopters and ski-planes provide access to the park’s fabulous glaciers. Flights depart from key locations around the region including Lake Tekapo and Aoraki/Mount Cook. New Zealand’s Lake Tekapo is renowned for its incredibly clear starry nights. It is home to Mount John Observatory, one of the clearest places in the Southern Hemisphere to view the night skies. New Zealand’s South Island is recognized as an International Dark Sky Reserve – the largest such reserve in the world where the skies are almost totally free from light pollution.

Landscape at Lake Tekapo and Lupin Field in summer, New Zealand
Landscape at Lake Tekapo and Lupin Field in summer, New Zealand