First trip to Australia and New Zealand

Old Feb 1st, 2010, 11:40 PM
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We lived in Houston for five years. To this day we still refer to it as our first foreign assignment. The average Texan will probably tell you there's Texas, and then there's Houston.

Houston wreaked serious havoc on my waistline...man, they've got some good resturants down there, some of which I still miss (and we left in 1993!).
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Old Feb 2nd, 2010, 02:45 AM
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"Houston wreaked serious havoc on my waistline...man, they've got some good resturants down there, some of which I still miss..."

I'd like to visit Texas some time, but Houston sounds like a dangerous assignment. Particularly as I'm happiest with peasant food (think ribs and fried chicken).

Louisiana, in fact all of the South we saw, was a heart attack waiting to happen too. I don't think I'd like to see Cajun life expectancy figures.

Some years ago my wife got Fanny Flagg's Alabama cookbook out of the library and for fun made her banana cream pie. We halved the sugar as soon as we saw the jaw-dropping quantity, and it was still too sweet. And both of us have a sweet tooth.
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Old Feb 2nd, 2010, 09:36 AM
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That's right pick on us humble Texans....we have thick skins!

Neil, Well, this (Houston) Texan felt right at home in your country...the lamb was to die for...

"I'd like to visit Texas some time, but Houston sounds like a dangerous assignment. Particularly as I'm happiest with peasant food (think ribs and fried chicken)."

Come ahead on...we have great ribs and fried chicken...my husband makes some of the best ribs, but the others aren't bad either.

I will say, for my taste, Texas and the deep South cooking is some of the best eating in the world, you just have to "plow the south 40", with a mule everyday to eat like that!

Beth,

Do some internet research for the cities and towns you will be visitng/driving through. Look for B&Bs and cottages to stay in and book ahead if you find something that looks good since most only have a few rooms, book out ahead of time.

If you can have a few set places along the way, your trip may be more enjoyable. Try to spend two or three nights at each major stop. We found the little towns in Western and South Australia that we visited to be absolute gems!

My husband doesn't like to be looking for a place to stay after a day of driving, so I booked ahead for every night. That is our style, but Australia seems to have some great cottages hidden away in neat places. You just have to search a little,

We didn't explore southeastern Australia, except for our time in Sydney and our trip through the Blue Mountains though that may not even be considered the southeast, just didn't have enough time, but I read about some great places when I was in the planning stage.

Driving in Australia is very easy. Even though there weren't the freeways like we in the US are use to, the traffic isn't bad outside of the cities. Plus the countryside is interesting. Just heed the warnings not to drive late when the critters are active. I know they talk about the distances between places, but for us, it was really no different than what we do when traveling at home. We drove to Alaska and back this summer...a 18,000 mile round trip.

Have a great time!
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Old Feb 2nd, 2010, 02:16 PM
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Hey guys, I'm loving these Texas jokes!
Unfortunately, I'm living outside of Texas now but all the family is there and my son just moved there to go to college (University of Texas at Austin, of course), so we've got another excuse to visit. We'll be there in a couple weeks and my mouth is watering for BBQ, Mexican food, and Whataburgers.
Melnq8, did you know that there's a chain of hotels in Texas that offers Texas-shaped waffles at the breakfast buffet? I love digging into Houston...and Austin...and Dallas...and El Paso and...
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Old Feb 2nd, 2010, 04:29 PM
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Thought you'd laugh, longhorn55; you've been here enough to know we only tease the people we like
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Old Feb 2nd, 2010, 04:46 PM
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Hi longhorn55 -

Nope, didn't know about the Texas shaped waffles, but can't say I'm surprised.

Now for the Aggie jokes. Who wants to start?
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Old Feb 4th, 2010, 10:56 AM
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WELL, I SEE YOU ALL KEPT AT IT WHILE I HAVE HAD MY NOSE IN EVERY GUIDE BOOK I CAN GET MY HANDS ON...I'M THINKING THIS IN ITSELF IS A MISTAKE...TOO MUCH TO TAKE IN AND TOO MANY CHOICES ! THE BOOKS ARE STACKED SO HIGH THEY COULD BE USED AS A FORTRESS! ANYONE HAVE A PREFFED GUIDE BOOK? I KNOW SOME OF YOU MENTIONED THE LONELY PALNET SERIES..NOT TO WORRY THAT'S IN THE STACK,ALONG WITH FODOR'S FROMMER'S,'AUSTRALIA FOR DUMMIES'(FITTING FOR US I MIGHT SAY)..
SO, MY HUSBAND AND I HAD A BRIEF 'MEETING OF THE MINDS' YESTERDAY...AND WE HAVE COME UP WITH SOME SORT OF ITINERARY,WHICH CAN BE CHANGED AT ANY TIME BASED ON YOUR ADVISEMENT...SO HERE WE GO WITH OUR WISHLIST...

MARCH 19TH
LEAVE TAMPA,FLORIDA (WONDER WHAT JOKES YOU HAVE UP YOUR SLEEVES AB0UT FLORIDIANS??!!BUT,EVEN BETTER,WE MOVED HERE FROM UPSTATE NY 3 YEARS AGO !!

MARCH 21ST
ARRIVE IN SYDNEY

MARCH 22ND
A DAY TO TRY AND REMEMBER WHAT OUR NAMES ARE AND WHERE WE ARE...CLEAR OUT THE JET LAFG

MARCH 23RD
1 DAY CAR TRIP TO BLUE MOUNTAINS

MARCH 24TH
FLY TO THE GREAT BARRIER REEF (CAIRNS) IN THE AFTERNOON.

MARCH 25TH
BOAT TRIP TO GREEN ISLAND

MARCH 26TH
TRAIN TRIP TO KURANDA

MARCH 27TH
FLY BACK TO SYDNEY IN THE AFTERNOON

MARCH 28TH
ANOTHER FREE DAY, BUT WILL MOSTLY DECIDE TO HOP IN THE CAR AND HEAD TO MELBOURNE AND STOP SOMEWHERE ON THE WAY FOR AN OVER NIGHT (ANY IDEAS??)

MARCH 29TH
ARRIVE IN MELBOURNE AND START TO 'TAKE IT ALL IN'

MARCH 30TH (are you still with me or have I lost you to complete boredom??)
Full day exploring Melbourne (the guidebooks seem to love this city !!)

March 31st
FULL DAY IN MELBOURNE

APRIL 1ST
DRIVE BACK TO SYDNEY (WE KNOW FULL WELL THIS IS AN 8-10 HOUR DRIVE...NOTHING WE'RE NOT USED TO!!)

APRIL 2ND
PURCHASE 2 DAY BUS TOUR PASSES OF SYDNEY AND START THE ADVENTURE (HAVE TO TRY AND NARROW DOWN WHAT TO SEE..ANY SUGGESTIONS?)

APRIL 3RD
SPEND THE DAY TOURING SYDNEY

APRIL 4TH
FLY MIDMORNING TO THE NORTH ISLAND OF NEW ZEALAND (AUCKLAND) AND DO A FEW OF THE TOUR GUIDE SUGGESTIONS, gloworm caves,Rotura,TePuia geysers,agrodome,rainbow springs..any other ideas??

APRIL 10TH
FLY BACK TO AMERICA 9which includes a stop @the post office to pick all the accumulated mail....BILLS!!!

SO, WHAT DO YOU THINK? CAN WE DO IT ? CAN WE SEE IT COMFORTABLY AND SOMEWHAT LEISURELY?
PLEASE ADVISE!!!

WHAT'S THE GAS PRICES?
ALSO...IF WE ARE TRAVELING MAJOR HIGHWAYS, ARE THERE FRQUENT EXITS WITH SEVERAL HOTEL CHOICES AND GAS STATIONS? SHOULD WE KEEP OUR TANK PRETTY FULL AS WE TRAVEL BECAUSE GAS STATIONS ARE NOT AS AVAILABLE AS THEY ARE HERE?

NO...WE HAVE'NT MADE ANY HOTEL RESERVATIONS OR CAR ARRANGEMENTS YET,OR BOUGHT OUR FLIGHTS TO GB REEF YET, BUT ARE PREPARED TO DO SO....

PHEW....THANK YOU FOR INDULGING ME WITH YOUR TIME AND PATIENCE..

BETH

OOPS...WILL THE TOUR BUSES AND SITE SEEING LOCATIONS BE OPEN FOR US TOURISTS ON GOOD FRIDAY AND HOLY SATURDAY???
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Old Feb 4th, 2010, 12:18 PM
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Just to take a couple of points at random -

First, unless things have changed or we just had bad luck on the day, we were very, very underwhelmed by Green Island. At the time it was owned by a Japanese company, you had to change your money to theirs (that's Green Island money, not yen) and when we got there in company with hundreds of Japanese fellow-sufferes there didn't seem to be anythng much to spend it on anyway. Hopefully a local (Pat?) can provide an update, but a proper Reef excursion further out seems to me a much better investment.

Second, re gas stations (called "service stations" here in Australia, and "gas" is "petrol") - yes, there are regular "service centres" along major highways, usually with (sorry about this) McDonalds, KFC and Hungry Jack Burgers outlets. But as in less populated parts of the US it's always a good idea not to let your tank get too low.

To make your day, you'll buy petrol by the litre and all the distance signs will be in kilometres, speed limit signs in km/hr. There are a bit less 4 litres in a US gallon. A kilometre is about 0.6 (5/8th) of a mile.

Having said that, don't try to wrestle with conversions, just go with the flow. The upside is that when you see a sign telling you the next town is "80" you'll get there faster than you think, because 80 km is 50 miles.

Be very careful to adhere to speed limits, as many areas are infested with police radar traps and fines are heavy. You may not even know you've been booked until you're back home and the car rental company sends you the bill. Watch especially for fixed speed cameras - in New South Wales you get a warning sign - a sporting gesture - when you're approaching one, but I'm told that's not necessarily the case elsewhere.

Petrol in both countries is more expensive than in the US. Last time I looked (Tuesday), standard unleaded petrol in my part of Australia was AU$1.25 per litre. For what it's worth that's AU$4.73 per US gallon or (currently) about US$4.20.

Given the dire food situation at highway service centres I prefer to turn off into an actual township not far off the highway and find a cafe - if you have time (and given your hectic schedule that's a bit problematic) you'll also get a feel for Australian country towns.

Hopefully a New Zealander will chime in at this point.

(PS, beth, no offence, but can I suggest switching to lower case? Capitals are a bit disorienting and although I know it's not your intention, on internet forums you run the risk of being accused of "shouting".)
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Old Feb 4th, 2010, 12:48 PM
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Gas in NZ was about $1.72 a liter in January. It varied from a bit from day to day. Don't try to shop around, virtually every location has the exact same price.

Sounds like you are planning to go to Rotorua. It will take you a few hours to get there from Auckland, also bear in mind that many attractions in NZ have fairly limited hours, eg the thermal sites will probably have last admissions at around 4pm. So for the places that you've picked out to visit, check their websites for hours and plan accordingly.

I like the outdoor Polynesian pools which should be open until quite late. Bring an old bathing suit that you were planning to discard as the water is quite stinky!

Don't expect to be able to travel at the posted speed limit (100 kph), you'll find slow moving vehicles, construction zones, curves, etc will slow you down considerably.

Cheapest lunch foods are typically sandwiches, pizza and fish and chips. Avoid the Hoki. If they have something written in hand such as Blue Cod or Snapper (Yum!) that is a better choice. And go for the Kumara (sweet potato) fries (chips) at least once.
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Old Feb 4th, 2010, 01:08 PM
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I also think you would miss the whole idea of the Great Barrier Reef if you did Green Island. You must do a tour to the outer reef.
Why are you flying from Cairns to Sydney? Why not fly straight to Melbourne. This will give you more days in and around Melbourne and give you probably an extra day to drive back to Sydney,which would then mean you could take a more interesting route, either the coastal road or the Olympic Way.If you are interested in these latter suggestions get back to me and I will explain.( I live in Melbourne)
As for New Zealand I would do the South island -I have done 2 separate 10 day tours to the South Island -but you only have 4 days which would seem to me you could either do a drive north to the Bay of Islands or a circuit down to Rotorua( but don't breathe too heavily there though)
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Old Feb 4th, 2010, 01:15 PM
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Beth, the drive to Melbourne is a straight 10 hours if you get a good run on the Hume Highway which, IMHO is far from an interesting road, unless you veer through Canberra. That, of course would add some time. A more attractive alternative, and about 13 hours, is via the South Coast. I did this run in December and loved it. I had a very leisurely drive, leaving Sydney around 5pm, overnights at Mollymook and Port Albert.
It had been my intention to come home via the Hume and Monaro Hwys, but enjoyed the Coast road so much, I decided to go that way again, staying at San Remo and Lakes Entrance.

Here´s the Google link. I find it really useful for routes, distances and driving times. http://maps.google.com.au/maps?f=d&s...73&ie=UTF8&z=6

Unless you´re absolutely set on driving both ways, I´d suggest you fly one leg, to maximise your time for sightseeing etc. By the time you add the car rental, accommodation, food and fuel, it will probably come close to the cost of two airfares, if not a fair bit more. Lots of specials available on Qantas and Virgin Blue.

As Neil-Oz says, our highways are vastly different from those in the US and Europe. These are not triple or more lane straight line super highways, with nothing around them. These are more often dual and sometimes single lane roads with bends, sometimes very acute, through townships, with trees close to the road on both sides. The Hume is also the main thoroughfare for interstate transport trucks. A lot of them.

I´m not trying to frighten you, or to cast aspersions on your driving ability, just to emphasise the differences, especially as this is your first time here. Our road tolls are a testament to people who don´t understand the road conditions. And of course, speeding.


GREEN ISLAND. I´d rethink this one too. Very expensive and, as I understand it, the mecca for boatloads of daytrippers.

If you check the Search facility under Cairns, GBR, Green Island, I´m pretty sure there are some recent threads which would be helpful. Alternatively, post something like ¨GBR, alternatives to Green Island¨. There´s a local poster, and lots of others who know that area intimately and who would be able to give you good advice.
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Old Feb 4th, 2010, 04:40 PM
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Just some general thoughs...

Do keep an eye on the gas tank and fill up before it gets to low, you probably do that anyway.

The rental cars are small and ours got great gas mileage, so we didn't really notice the higher price.

If you drove around in upstate NY on the local roads, you will be OK driving on roads in Australia. I don't think we drove ant thing but two lane roads after we got out of Perth, Adelaide or Darwin.

We didn't go to the areas you are except for Cairns and Sydney, but we did fly one way Perth to Darwin and Adelaide to Sydney (or rode the trains, Sydney to Perth and Darwin to Adelaide). Flying is good advice and the regional fares are reasonable.

Since you have a whole day for the GRB, do yourself a favor and spring for the day trip to Lizard Island if you can swing it. I wish we could have done that trip. We went with Reef Majic instead. In was barely OK. The reef sites that are close enough to be visited daily by the tourist boats are getting really beat up, but I can say, I have been on the reef and saw the great clams!

Lizard Island is a fly in, so the number of daily visitors is really limited. Do a search for some great reports here on Fodors. The plus is you don't have to worry about setting sick and you get the see the reef from above which is an experience in its self. We did have rough water going out to the platform and if the motion bothers you, you might have a hard time with just having the option of the boat or the water with some of the smaller boat groups.

Do fly direct to Melbourne from Cairns, you are wasting alot of time waiting around in airports breaking the flight up with a stop in Sydney. You have to fly back south from Cairns anyway...get the most bang for that day of flying. If you want more time in Sydney add it at the beginning or end.

Cairns, Sydney and Melbourne have lots of hotels to pick from. Search for a neat B&B on your drive back to Sydney...there have been some neat sounding ones mentioned on the board. You will miss one of the best things about Australia if you don't spend at least one night in one of the smaller towns. Our favorite memories involve our time spent in the small B&B's and cottages in the villages.
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Old Feb 4th, 2010, 04:57 PM
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I agree with Bokhara2 about the Hume Highway being tedious, but it's multi-lane except for a short stretch north of the NSW-Victoria border. The Sydney-Melbourne trip is best done over at least two days, whichever route you take (certainly the coast).

As for subsidiary Australian roads, I don't find them any worse than many rural areas in the US or the Pacific Coast Highway north of the Bay Area.

The economics of a small population in a big country mostly preclude US-style interstates. But if you want to actually see America it's best to stay clear of the interstates, where much of your attention is focused on not being flattened by an 18-wheeler or an erratic monster RV. Much the same holds true in Australia.
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Old Feb 4th, 2010, 06:14 PM
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I really appreciate the feedback thus far. So specific and helpful. And will definitely look into flying directly to Melbourne on our return from Cairns...that certainly would be a time saver. Please tell me...do you think we are over extending ourselves? Are we trying to see too much in too small a time frame? The last thing we want to do is cram in too much and not really see or experience or the 'vibe' if you will of anything..I want to be able to not only describe what I saw when I get home, but also have a clear sense of the wonderful people and the culture itself. I would be so dissapointed to come home and not have an understanding or a grip on what I just saw and experienced. Do you think we can comfortably keep this itinerary?
I'm so glad you all spoke about the trip to Green Island while visiting the reef. I read about it as part of an actual guided tour group itinerary. I thank you for saving us from the dissapointment. Are there other 1 day boat excursions elsewhere besides Green Island? And who mentioned 'Motion Sickness'?? Goodness, have I had some memorable ferry rides between some of the islands around Madeira Island Portugal. Just the memory makes me nauseous!! How about the train ride to Kuranda ? Will 2 full days be enough in the Cairns/Great Barrier Reef area or are we cutting it too short?
Is the entire itinerary doable?? Would any of you eliminate any portion of it?
The price of 'Petrol' is not that big a surprize as we are used to those prices and the metric system because we spend lots of time in Toronto,Canada where prices appear to be similar.
This is an exciting time and we will absolutely love our visit and I am just dying to chat with people during my travels...but, I have to say, this task of deciding is overwhelming to say the least. I am adamant about not trying to do to much, just hate when that happens...
Thank you for all the'heads up'regarding the driving/speeding. We are used to watching for police when we drive up the east coast from Florida...My last trip back a couple months ago had me 'clocked' at 91 mph...not smart, but it can easily happen at night when it's just you and the truckers on the road. We all seriously mean business at those speeds, I promise we will drive with great caution on our trip..
Again thanks to all of you for your help and advisement, I've come to count on it...maybe I can return all these tour books to the book store !!
And thank you to Neil_Oz, for the 'small case' reminder. I certainly don't want to appear as if I was shouting...although not hard to imagine being a native New Yorker...
I don't know, maybe we should just forget this trip (way to many decisions to make!!) and just head over to Disney World for the 25th time,it's only 68 miles from my house. The last time I was there, I caught Minnie Mouse smoking a cigarette in the ladies room...boy have things taken a turn huh??

Thanks again everyone, just let me know if our itinerary is workable and if not Green Island, then where specifically ?
You Guys are SOOO (sorry Neil_8) helpful...
Beth
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Old Feb 4th, 2010, 06:35 PM
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"I don't know, maybe we should just forget this trip (way to many decisions to make!!) and just head over to Disney World for the 25th time,it's only 68 miles from my house. "

Perish the thought! You'll have a fabulous time here. I know it can seem daunting but if you don't do everything on your list, what the heck? It's not "The Great Race" - you don't have to tick boxes & report to a judge

I'll ask our resident FNQ (Far North Queensland) expert to have a look at the Green Island thing for you. There are a lot of other posters on here who've been there quite recently, so you should get some responses if you post that section separately. Good idea if you refer to this thread too, so everyone knows what's been planned/said so far.
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Old Feb 4th, 2010, 07:14 PM
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beth, I don't remember anyone shouting at me or even being rude in NYC (well, OK, one cabbie maybe). I'm sure it's New Yorkers themselves who spread these vicious rumours.
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Old Feb 4th, 2010, 08:05 PM
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The problem you have if you read reviews of Green Island by people who have seen nothing else of the GBR they will think it is tremendous whereas the outer reef is far beyond that .It is not cheap at about $200 each but it is well worth it and something to rave about when you return home.Similarly unless you research some alternate drives and towns to go through between Melbourne and Sydney you again will miss the real Australia.Can I suggest an itinerary for a drive from Melbourne to Sydney.From Melbourne drive though the Yarra Valley (Wineries) Via Healesville , via Marysville to get a glimpse of the devastation of the fires of last year,Via Alexandra,Bonnie Doon and join the Hume Freeway at Benalla Call at Glenrowan To learn of our famous bushranger Ned Kelly continue on the Hume Freeway to Jindera and then take the Olympic Way via Wagga Wagga Cootamundra Young,Cowra,Bathurst and then though the Blue Mountains to Sydney.You would find this route a pleasant drive on good roads and with lesser traffic.It would take you through some of the early settled towns in Australia such as Cootamundra,Young and Bathurst and all its historic significance.This distance is approx 1000Km.Your itinerary then could be something like this.Fly Melbourne 27th.March,O/N Melbourne 27th&28th. ,Stay at a B&B in Yarra Valley 29th.(1 hour drive) Stay Albury 30th.(4 1/2 hr) Young 31st.(3 hour) and Bathhurst 1st April(2 hour).This would then give you 2 nights in Sydney.Bookings would not be necessary if you stayed in motels in the towns mentioned. A B&b at a winery you would have to book.
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Old Feb 4th, 2010, 09:53 PM
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Wow, what a long thread! No wonder you're getting a bit over-whelmed, Beth.

Regarding Green Island, because of its proximity to the mainland from Cairns it is highly visited by Asian tour groups who have very little vacation time. Its a beautiful little true coral cay with its own rainforest, and good sandy beach, unfortunately its coral has suffered somewhat. Its a totally different world when the daytrippers leave at about 4pm, but you'd need to stay at its very nice resort to experience the tranquility. I probably go to Green Island twice a year as its a great spot to take small visiting grandchildren who aren't up for a full day on outer reef, and I have to say there has been a vast improvement in its coral on the eastern side over about the last 5 years. Sea grasses looked very healthy, and were supporting many sea-turtles.

But as you have only time for one reef experience I'd go with a trip to outer reef, plenty of good choices which I know and trust, from about AU$129-AU$189pp - Sea Star takes only a maximum of 30 passengers, www.seastarcruises.com.au; Passions of Paradise, www.passions.com.au; Silverswift, [email protected], Ocean Spirit - www.oceanspirit.com.au (the Michaelmas Cay trip has a semi-submersible); and for a pontoon trip on Moore Reef with semi-sub, Reef Magic, www.reefmagiccruises.com

Neil, that "funny money" on the Great Adventures catamarans was nipped in the bud years ago. Stupid idea it was, my daughter worked on one of the cats then and I can remember her complaining about the abuse thrown at the staff from tourists. Daikyo, the Japanese company which owned Great Adventures, lease on Green Island Resort and many other holdings in area sold out a few years ago, Quicksilver Group of Companies now own Wavepiercer, Silversonic, Wavedancer out of Port Douglas, and Great Adventures to Green Island, pontoons on both Moore and Norman Reefs, Silverswift, Green Island Resort and Pro-Dive liveaboards, out of Cairns.

You probably didn't want to know all that!
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Old Feb 7th, 2010, 11:34 AM
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Beth, we just moved from Tampa to Auckland last year!

Here are some things I would do as day trips/overnight trips from Auckland:

Piha Beach or other west coast beaches: really, these are stunning and different from anything you'll see in the US. Just don't plan on swimming much because the currents are dangerous, but the beauty of the beaches make up for the danger. This is something we always take our guests from the US to.

Rotorua: I agree that this is a good choice. I think it's a 3 hour drive, so you might plan to stay the night. I haven't been yet myself, but it's a must-do in New Zealand.

If you are keen to visit other places in NZ, the flight times are quite short. Wellington is an hour flight, Christchurch 90 minutes, etc. You can often get $99 flights round trip, so it's doable.

If you are staying in Auckland, make sure to visit the Auckland Museum. It's extremely well done and worthwhile.

Also, if you are staying around Auckland, a ferry ride to Waiheke Island might be nice. You can rent a car there and check out the beaches and wineries.

Finally, here is a day trip that I haven't done yet: http://travel.nytimes.com/2008/01/13....html?emc=eta1 This sounds fabulous and you can sample some of the local wines and foods from New Zealand.

If you want more ideas for day trips out of Auckland, just let me know!
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Old Feb 7th, 2010, 12:53 PM
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"You probably didn't want to know all that!"

Actually I did, Pat, because I don't want to be unfair to Green Island on the basis of a single day trip years ago. Thanks for the detail.
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