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3 week trip to Australia and New Zealand : Suggestions please

3 week trip to Australia and New Zealand : Suggestions please

Old Oct 1st, 2005, 01:54 AM
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3 week trip to Australia and New Zealand : Suggestions please


My husband and I are planning a 3 week trip to Australia and New Zealand in Dec 2005. 1 week in Australia, 6 days in NZ North Island and 6 days in NZ South Island.

Here is the itenary we are considering:
Fly from SF to Sydney
Day 1-4 in Sydney : 2 days explore the city, 1 day in Katoomba blue mountains. 1 day - ??? <please suggest>
Day 5-7 in Great Barrier Reef - stay in Port Douglas and explore, scuba diving etc.

(Do you think we should reduce a day in GBR and go to melbourne instead for 2 days?)

Day 8 Fly from Cairns to Auckland
Day 9 sightseeing in Auckland. Drive to Paihia
Day 10 Explore Kauri Forests, Cape Reinga via Ninety Mile Beach , Swimming with dolphins
Day 11 Drive to Waitamo - glowwork caves night stay in Taupo
Day 12 Taupo sky diving etc
Day 13 Drive to Rotorua - Zorbing

Day 14 Fly from Rotorua to Christchurch (or drive back to Auckland and fly to Christchurch) 1 night in Christchurch
Day 15 Sight seeing in Christchurch. Train / bus to Greymont night stay in Hoktita
Day 16 Fox and Franz Josef Glaciers and Mt Cook. Helicopter ride?? Night stay in Haast
Day 17 Drive to Te Anu Via Wanaka, Glenorchy
Day 18 Milford Sound, Sea kayaking? Cruise?
Day 19 Queenstown - jet speeding, bungee(!) <still not sure on that!>
Day 20 Fly back to US

Does the above itenary cover the essence (must see) of Australia and New Zealand?

Any suggestions regarding things to do, places to visit, where to get the tkts, where to stay are most welcome!

We are currently in "buying the plane tkt" stage. Have got a quote of $1452 from Air NZ for SF-Sydney Cairns-Auckland-SF
We will need to get Sydney-Cairns, Auckland-Christchurch and Queenstown-Auckland separately. Is this a good quote? any other ways we could get cheaper tkts?

Thanks in advance!
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Old Oct 1st, 2005, 03:12 AM
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I would suggest that you forget coming to Australia altogether and NO it is not the "essence" of the country. Australia is about the size of the USA and if you went to Boise, Idaho and Miami would you call that the essence of America? I actually find that somewhat insulting to be frank. 2 days in the GBR ( World Heritage Listed area ) 3 days in Sydney is a jetlagged state ( No 1 City to visit in the world) and for heaven's sake, you suggest taking time off Cairns for Melbourne! May I suggest that you look at a map first as it is 4 hours + flying time Melbourne to Cairns with a stop in between so make that 6 hours.
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Old Oct 1st, 2005, 03:48 AM
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I apologize if I hurt your sentiments in any way. Essentially we wanted to visit New Zealand for 2 weeks. But since we are coming so close to Australia we did not go back without seeing Sydney and Great Barrier reef. I agree with you going to Melbourne would be stretching it too far!

Unfortunately we cannot spend more than a week in Australia. How do you suggest we divide that one week between Sydney and Great Barrier Reef? I'd appreciate your recommendations.
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Old Oct 1st, 2005, 04:16 AM
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Hi, Vandy. IMO one week in Australia, allowing for interstate travel, will allow you to sample two areas only, Sydney and Far North Queensland - i.e., 3 days in each. I agree, don't even think of Melbourne on this timetable. You will be only skimming the surface of both, so you can keep yourselves very busy on that schedule.

I'm not sure I'd even bother with the side trip to the Blue Mountains, which I think is a nice-to-do-if-you-have-the-time rather than essential excursion. But go by all means if it appeals to you - it's a pretty painless day's outing, a 2-hour interurban train trip from Sydney's Central Station.

I suggest using the search facility on this forum to read through some representative threads on both areas.

As Liz says, Australia is a very big and diverse country covering wet tropics and alpine regions, inland deserts and pretty much everything in between. Sydney and FNQ are stand-out tourist destinations but not representative of Australia, on the grounds that no particular city or region is. They'll give you a taste of the country, though.

For your SYD-CNS flight the three major domestic airlines are Qantas, Virgin Blue and Jetstar - they all have regular fire sales, so you keep an eye on their websites and if you see a good deal pounce on it before the cheap seats sell out.

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Old Oct 1st, 2005, 04:39 AM
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Certainly don't think you should reduce the precious little time you have in Cairns/Port Douglas area, its already too brief, but if you're lucky you will fit a reef trip and a Kuranda or Cape Tribulation trip. December in the northern tropics is hot and humid, so be prepared for that. BTW, you don't need to travel as far as Port Douglas for a reef trip, more go out of Cairns anyway; Cairns is much closer to the airport, and time is of the essence here. Beach resorts aren't a great idea at that time of the year as coast is unswimmable because of box jelly fish (OK on reef) and except for early morning its too hot to spend much time on beach anyway. All resorts/hotels/apartment blocks have pools, you'll need them in December.
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Old Oct 1st, 2005, 04:42 AM
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Your itinerary seems a bit ambitious.
I would headquarter in Sydney for the week with day trips to the Blue Mountains and Canberra. The remainder of the time visiting the great city of Sydney and it's attractions. Even 5 days in Sydney is not near enough to enjoy what it has to offer.

As far as New Zealand is concerned, your travel plans are as good (or as bad) as any. There too, it is overly ambitious. One night in Christchurch? Why bother? Christchurch too is wreaking with attractions. I won't bother to list them because it sounds as though your mind and your itinerary are made up.
You will regret spending only one day in Queenstown. In fact, if you stick with your proposed itinerary, you will regret the entire trip. In my opinion you are trying to do and see too much with the time alloted.
The essence of Oceania is in the people, not the sights. You're not spending any time at all in one place to get to know the natives.
You'll be spending all of your time on planes, trains, buses and the highway to enjoy these two fabulous countrys and what they have to offer.
You can't possibly see it all.
I would pare down my itinerary to spend more time in Auckland, Rotorua, Christchurch and Queenstown. From each of these cities there are day trips offered to other attractions.
Hope you rethink your plans.
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Old Oct 1st, 2005, 05:04 AM
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Vandy -

With all due respect, you're trying to do WAY too much in too short a time.

NZ and Australia aren't as close as you might think - direct flights between Cairns and Auckland take about 4.5 hours. With the time getting to and from the airport and the unavoidable waiting around you've easily lost a full day that could be spent actually enjoying your holiday.

If you're set on seeing both OZ and NZ, I strongly suggest you limit your options within each country. You might consider spending all your OZ time in one location, say Sydney and environs, and leave Cairns for another time (or vice versa).

Same goes for NZ. I suggest choosing one island, or skipping OZ this time and spending all your time between the North and South Islands OR skipping NZ and spending all your time in OZ. You won't regret taking your time and fully experiencing these wonderful countries instead of merely flashing by a few major sites.

Just a few comments about your South Island itinerary:

It is feasible to take the train from CH to Greymouth, then drive to Hokitika in a day. The train takes 4.5 hours to reach Greymouth and it leaves at 8:15 am, so you won't have any time to sightsee in CH the same day however.

The drive from Hokitika to Franz Josef takes about 1:45, then it's another 40 minutes to Fox Glacier. Hokitika to Mt Cook (assuming you're talking about Mt Cook village, and not just a flight from the glaciers) takes 6:20.

There's just no way you can do all that in one day AND take a helicopter ride AND drive to Haast (approx 1:50 from Franz).

Day 17 is also unrealistic - the drive from Haast to Te Anau takes over 5 hours. Glenorchy is in the opposite direction - it's a 40 minute drive from Queenstown - you can't get to Te Anau via Glenorchy in a vehicle.

I suggest you narrow your options and take a good look at map - distances in NZ can be misleading. The following site has some realistic driving distances that might help you in your planning.

Good luck.

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Old Oct 1st, 2005, 05:30 AM
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Hi Vandy,
I agree with what has been said...

If you do decide to see both the north and south islands of NZ, then consider flying from Auckland to Queenstown and skipping Christchurch and the glaciers... You don't have enough time to do the itinerary you posted due to the looooong driving days. Alternatively, you could fly into Christchurch and drive a loop through Greymouth, Hokitika, the glaciers, Haast, Wanaka, Mt. Cook, back to Christchurch in 6 days.

We also have about three weeks allotted for our trip to Sydney and NZ (with additional time in Fiji).... We decided to spend 7 days in SYD and 13 in the south island. I still don't feel that we have enough time in the south island!

We had a very difficult time narrowing our itinerary. We decided to skip GBR and Uluru in Australia due to the high temperatures (and humidity in Queensland) during that season, while it will be great temps in NZ that time of year.

I hope that helps.
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Old Oct 1st, 2005, 10:00 AM
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Thank you all for great suggestions. I agree I was trying to do a lot in short time. Melnq8 the site you gave is really good. I will look at distances and rethink the itinerary.

Can somebody give me more informations/experiences with Paihia and Bay of Island?

Basically I think we have 2 options now:
1. Australia one week. 3-4 days in North Island (skip paihia etc) and remaining (9-10) days in South island.
2. Skip Australia altogether. Spend 1 week in North Island and remaining time in South Island. (but I really wanted to do Scuba diving... any places in NZ to do that??)
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Old Oct 1st, 2005, 12:13 PM
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So you definitely have to see the North Island? SCUBA diving anywhere in NZ will not compare to the GBR.
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Old Oct 1st, 2005, 04:53 PM
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Poor Knight's Islands out of Tutukaka on the NI. Named by Jacques Cousteau as one of the top ten dive sites in the world. However I'm not sure December is the best time of year. You might want to do a bit of research on that.
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Old Oct 1st, 2005, 05:01 PM
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Try www.divenewzealand.com
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Old Oct 2nd, 2005, 11:10 PM
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Thanks for the info.
I guess we will stick to option 1 and do diving in GBR.
Tim and Liz, our flights are through auckland. So we thought we will spend few days in North Island too.. particularly to do Zorbing in Rotoura which I believe is great fun. Have always wanted to do it after watching it on Amazing Race!
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Old Oct 3rd, 2005, 02:25 AM
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Hi Vandy

You will have a great trip with option 1 which I believe will give you the essence of both countries. I agree with your decision to skip Paihia & 90 mile beach.

There are amazing places in both countries that you just won't have the time to appreciate. Stick to the maximum impact one's which you cover in option 1.

If you manage to get a earlyish flight on each travel day, you will still end up with the latter part of the day for exploring.

I'm glad you aren't skipping GBR - I spent a day on the reef last year and it was awesome. I only had one free day there, so couldn't do the rain forest but you should be able to.

If I was planning it it would probably do
Day 1 Fly into Sydney
Day 2-3 Sydney with day trip to Blue Mountains
Day 4 Fly to Cairns
Day 5& 6 Reef & rainforest
Day 7 Fly to Auckland
Day 8&9&10 Auckland-Rotorua-Taupo-Waitomo-Hamilton Fly form Hamilton to Christchurch
Day 11-19 South Island.
Day 20 Fly home from Christchurch Via Auckland

Must do's are:
1. GBR
2. Queenstown
3. Milford sound
4. Sydney
5. Huka Falls - Taupo
6. Rainforest Queensland
7. Rotorua

You could cut out Waitomo Caves if you are doing the caves in the Blue Mountains. I confess I haven't been to the Waitomo caves so can't compare the two.

You could consider doing Paragliding at Queenstown rather than skydiving at Taupo. The views from the air at Queenstown would be so much better.

I wouldn't recommend you do any diving in NZ on a trip of this length. It won't compare to the diving you will get to do at the GBR.

To get the most out of a limited time, you should book accomodation as close to the centre of where your staying as possible and go on some organised tours.

The Tranzalpine train trip between Christchurch and Greymouth is supposed to be great and means you can limit the driving.

Have a great holiday.
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Old Oct 3rd, 2005, 07:25 AM
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Vandy, thanks for posting this question. We also have 3 weeks and would like to see some (and I agree that it will be only "some&quot of both Australia and New Zealand. We're planning to go in June since that's when I have the time off to do it and so the weather will be very different, but it's been helpful to read some of the responses to your question. We are thinking that we will just focus on Sydney and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. We had debated Alice Springs and Uluru, but decided that was too much. I still need to research New Zealand a bit more and talk to our friends who are from there, but your itinerary gives me some food for thought (although I doubt we will do much swimming with dolphins in the winter!).
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Old Oct 3rd, 2005, 03:12 PM
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Hi Vandy
I'm a Kiwi now living in the US so can offer some ideas on the NZ leg of your trip. Can't give you much on Aussie as I've only been to a couple of places there, and heaven forbid I might offend the fierce LizF. There are some really unfriendly folks on this forum, aren't there? Too much time on their hands and not enough manners. I hope they didn't put you off. Personally I am delighted anytime someone wants to visit my home country no matter how little time they have to spare!

My suggestions for the NZ leg:
I'm from Auckland so I can say this; limit your time there. Its a nice city but a small scale version of other world cities so you'd probably be disappointed with the museums, nightlife, attractions. IMO they don't stack up to other cities. You should use it as a base to day trip out to a couple of nice beaches. I'd suggest Whatipu or Muriwai beaches on the west coast, or Pakiri beach on the east coast. Both are about 1 hour by car from the city and spectacular. There is good snorkelling& diving near Pakiri beach at a location called "Goat Island". It's a wildlife sanctuary and marine biology research base.

Personally I think Paihia is overrated. I had my honeymoon there and was disappointed. I think its one of the least pretty coastal areas. I think if you take in some beach scenery closer to Auckland you can cut the 90 mile beach/Pakiri part off your trip and you won't miss it. You can always take an organized tour from Auckland to do your dolphin swim. Its a long day but manageable if someone else is doing the driving.

I agree with the advice to check out driving times across NZ. Its deceptive because the distances aren't far but it will take a while to get around. NZ doesn't have large multi-lane freeways to whiz around on once you leave the city. A lot of your driving will be on two lane roads with infrequent passing opportunities. The mountain and coastal roads can be very steep and curvy (but gorgeous scenery so don't be put off!)There's a travel calculator and maps here: http://www.aatravel.co.nz/map/search...l?locationId=1

Rotorua is a great experience unless you have already seen the Yellowstone type geysers, boiling mud, etc. If you've already done that in the US then skip Rotorua too.

If you're only going to Taupo to sky dive then maybe you should miss that town and find a skydive somewhere else.There are plenty of operators around the South Island and there'd definitely be one in Auckland.

I'm a huge fan of the South Island. I'd do 2-3 days Auckland/beach and ocean experience with daytrips then spend the rest of your time in the South enjoying the forests, mountains, and fiords.

In the South Island I feel you need a rental car. That train ride you describe is wonderful but once you get to the West Coast then you're stuck without many transport options. You'll see just as nice a view from the car.

My itinerary
Day 9 - Auckland - explore beaches
Day 10 - Auckland - dolphin swim
Day 11 - Auckland - sky dive
Day 12 - Fly to Christchurch, night in CHCH
Day 13 - Take rental and drive west across the plains. Take Arthur's Pass through Mountains. Night in Hokitika.
Day 14 - Hokitika to Haast. Stop at glacier. (You only need to see one of the two)
Day 15 - Helicopter ride and head for Wanaka in afternoon.
Night in Wanaka.
Day 16 - Wanaka or Queenstown.
Day 17 - Queenstown and surrounds. Jetboat and Bungy. Day 18 - Te Anau & Milford Sound (sea kayaking sounds fabulous)
Day 19 - Back to Queenstown.Relax on a vineyard tour.
Day 20 - Flight to Auckland/ Flight to US

We usually get fares around $1200 or $1300 USD when returning to NZ so your ticket is not a bargain but not too bad. For some strange reason Air New Zealand is usually the most expensive way to get there. Try airlines like Air Tahiti.

Make sure you check out your connections from the South Island back to Auckland well in advance because the timetables are limited in some towns and flights stop early in the evening and a discount carrier may not fly into places like Queenstown. Air New Zealand will fly into smaller places. Qantas operates domestically in NZ as does an airline called Origin Pacific.
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Old Oct 3rd, 2005, 09:07 PM
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We spent 3 weeks in Australia and the South Island of New Zealand in 2001. Here is what I think: FIrst of all, it depends on how you like to travel. I can't take the one night here, one night there if it is rushed. I like it to be doable drives and enjoy where I am, which is why I like a minimum of 7-10 days in a country, if not longer. So keep that in mind as I list my itinerary, it may not be for you; and it depends as always on where you've been. I have spent over a month in France, Italy, Spain, England, Prague, Budapest, Hawaii, etc so there were some things I did not do or wished I hadn't out in NZ b/c too similar to other places/experiences.

We went to only the South Island b/c my feeling was the North Island was more developed/and Auckland, etc reminiscent of smaller versions of european/large city areas. I felt the South Island less developed and like a flashback in time. I didn't miss not seeing billboards ruining the landscape, and I didn't miss the golden arches - I will honestly tell you, I was not disappointed in my choice to do only the south island -it is my favorite all time trip: and I don't say this lightly. I hope to go back for several more weeks at some point, b/c we never got near the Milford Sound area. It is a long flight and while I knew even then the likelihood of my going back to be remote, I just couldn't rush and cram everything and even w/out Milford Sound, felt like I left satisfied. You can never do everything unless you are going to move there - my friend spent 10 weeks on the South Island and she a nd her husband still wanted to go back ! Here is what we did:

Flew to Auckand and connected to Christchurch. Immediately got rental car and drove to Arthur's Pass and stayed in a great eco-lodge, Wilderness Lodge Arthur's Pass, owned by Gerry McSweeney back then, hopefully still so - great guy, great place, working sheep farm, we walked with him up the hills with the sheepdog doing his round up, - great hikes, fishing, canoe, etc all with employees of lodge who might be serving you dinner one night and taking you on kayak trip or hike (all levels) the next morning - this is one of the most magnificent places I've ever seen -
From there we drove across Arthur's Pass and did a detour up to Pancake Rocks and Greymouth and I could have done without both. Pancake Rocks, while interesting, reminded me enough of Hawaii and not cool enough to go up to come back down same side of coast. I wouild also skip Hokitika. Then we ended up at Franz Josef glacier - I don't think you need to do Fox and Franz, choose one. We had dinner, to bed early and up early for our hike.
At Franz, we walked up thru the rainforest, with guide, to the base/ put on equipment and hiked up to glacier top. beautiful . then we drove down coast for magnificent drive and views/ cross the parallel/animals crossing the street stopping traffic/ beautiful vistas/ etc to Lake Moeraki, where we stayed at second eco-lodge owned by McSweeney - Wilderness Lodge Lake Moeraki - on where one of the employees/guides took us out by kayak out to Tasman Sea (about 10 guests went) and the guide spreads out "tea and cookies" for us on the beach, and we all sit and talk and then spread out and walk the beach and eventually kayak back. amazing. and flyfish, day hikes and they;ll pack you the picnic and go with you or not, night walks to see stars, etc (all planned and guides provided by the eco-lodge workers who doubld as tour guides. and from there drove towards Queenstown - stopped at Gibbston Valley winery for a great lunch, then for the kids to bungy jump at Kawarau bridge, and on to city center of Queenstown for dinner/bed. The next day we did Shotover Jet Boat ride which for me was more of an amusement type/thrill ride then what my daughter of I want, but my husband and son loved it,- afternoon walked around Queestown and spent that night and left the next am (and that was enough time in Queenstown for me; too commerical/ chain shops/ great view but not greater than others I've seen and what i liked about NZ was the space, the nature, the lack of touristy junk at the eco lodge areas, etc. From Queenstown we drove to Christchurch, where we spent one night before flying to Australia and I can tell you that was more than enough for me in Christchurch. A few hours to walk the town, do a drive through, check out local church, etc and then it was over/ so unless I missed something I wouldn't spend any time there except 1/2- 1 day when coming or going if it works for you, and if it doesn't I would much prefer to spend my time in any of the aforementioned places.

We flew to Sydney, and we only did this b/c my niece had moved there and we wanted some face time with her. So we spent 2 nights in Sydney. Opera House, waterfront and I was done. It's a lovely, lovely cosmopolitan city, some nice architecture, and the people were great so this is nothing against Sydney - but it's another cosmopolitan city - and again, this is preference, but I can see Bostons, New Yorks, Torontos, etc and they are all a bit different, but how often can you spend time in the less developed type surrounding of natural beauty that is elsewhere and when you have to choose , I choose the essentials in a city when necessary (cathedral, internationally known museum, etc and then I like to hit the road) What do you want to see in Sydney? the aquarium? the waterfront? the opera house? the zoo? choose the things you love most and can't do or see elsewhere. The zoo is great and overlooks the water and opera house but unless you have to see a giraffe or gorilla, if there is a zoo near where you live or travel, then skip it.

After Sydney we went up to Great Barrier Reef (based from hamilton island so I can't comment on Cairns, but if there is snorkeling /scuba there with good reputation, it is closer to Sydney and less travel for you to get up to one of th eother islands. We spent the last four days relaxing, swimming, sail trip, snorkeling, scuba on or from Hamilton Island Then we flew to Sydney, and from Sydney home.

I have snorkeled/scuba'd in other places - St. John, Virgin Gorda, the Indians, caves, Tortolla, Bermuda, Belize, and nothing compared with the great barrier reef if you go out far enough when doing the scuba. would give up the bl mountains for more time here.

Also, I would research milford sound more/ it is a long trip in and out as a day trip and if fog, etc it makes for a lousy time, and if you don't have enough time to really get in there and enjoy it I think it is a lot of time out of your vacation unless you are going to stay out there on one of the boats for a few days.

I hope this helped and didn't confuse you.
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Old Oct 3rd, 2005, 11:07 PM
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These are wonderful suggestions! Thanks a lot all of you. BostonPippa and Kiwi2, the itineraries you suggest will work out great for us. Now on to researching accomodations. Again if you have suggestions, please let me know.
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Old Oct 4th, 2005, 05:34 AM
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Also - remember whatever your flight plans, that if you are going to scuba, you need to figure x amount of hours before and after flying so don't plan on doing a scuba in the am and flying later that day. And I agree with previous post, nothing compares with scuba/snorkeling in gbr. so either do it there or save it for another separate trip ifyou tihnk it's on the horizon.
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Old Oct 4th, 2005, 06:39 AM
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I learned how to dive in New Zealand (in Kaikoura). It was a great place to learn and I enjoyed hanging out with sea lions, but it's no substitute for the GBR.

Poor Knights Island Marine Reserve (north of Auckland, near Whangarei), though, is a great 2nd best choice to diving the Australian GBR. It has been ranked by some as one of the top dive sites in the world. It has been a marine reserve since 1981, and there are oodles and oodles of fish, other critters and other stuff to look at. I dived there (with Dive Tutukaka - great dive outfit) in early December 2003 and it was spectacular. http://www.doc.govt.nz/Conservation/...ands/index.asp

The following year, I went to Heron Island in Australia, and I think Poor Knights was just as good. (The primary difference was that the dive boat trip at Heron Island was only 5-10 minutes long, whereas it takes about 30-45 minutes to get to the dive sites from the dock for the Poor Knights Dives.)

If you're short of time, you could do what I did and buy a cheap one way fare from Auckland to Whangarei, spend a day or two diving and then take the bus back to Auckland (or drive) - to avoid having to limit the amount of time you dive because of flying after diving issues.

Buy a copy of Lonely Planet's scuba guide for New Zealand. It will give you an idea of what's available. Then check out scubaboard.com for more specific suggestions.
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