After a decade long vacation hiatus, I decided to spend roughly a week visiting New Zealand and Australia before starting my life as an attending physician. Although this trip seemed very rushed, I had so much fun exploring both Auckland and Sydney! Let me take you through my journey.
AIR NEW ZEALAND FLIGHT
Living in Houston has many advantages, one being that Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) has some awesome nonstop flights around the world. Air New Zealand offered such a flight from Houston to Auckland (roughly 14 hours long). Unfortunately there was a fairly long delay after boarding, so I was actually in the plane closer to 16 hours, but made it to Auckland without any other issues after takeoff.
This was my first “really long” flight, and I struggled with it initially. A memory foam neck pillow didn’t help. Sitting next to the window didn’t help. Coming prepared with electronics loaded with games and movies didn’t help. The economy seat was small, and unfortunately, the woman sitting in the aisle was, erm… well… *insert expletive of your choosing.* Next time, I’m definitely sitting in the aisle and won’t mind standing up a hundred times during the flight to let others use the bathroom or stretch since I won’t sleep anyways. The only thing that got me through the flight was listening to classical music on my Sony XM3s.
Auckland Airport was fantastic! I was immediately surrounded by Maori-inspired artwork and history. The terminal itself was like a mall with so many fancy brand names that you’d think you’re in some high end shopping district. Of course I gravitated towards the (duty-free) technology section! 😉
AUCKLAND SKY TOWER SKYWALK
I arrived to Auckland on my 32nd birthday. After checking in to the Crowne Plaza Auckland hotel, I went across the street to do the “skywalk” at the Auckland Sky Tower. Walking on a narrow ring over 600 feet above the city was exhilarating! 🙂
HOBBITON MOVIE SET
The next day, I went on a tour of Hobbiton, the movie set used in the Lord of the Rings (LOTR) and The Hobbit trilogies. The movie set is actually situated within a family farm (I’d love to be in that family, hah), and so much natural greenery, hills, and livestock roaming freely! There are so many tours through this area and definitely worth checking out… even if you’ve never seen one of the associated movies. The LOTR fan in me ran absolutely wild!
WAITOMO GLOWWORM CAVES
After Hobbiton, the tour group drove to Waitomo to check out the glowworm caves. Glowworms are insects found only in New Zealand and the eastern coast of Australia. Thousands of glowworm larvae illuminate the ceiling of the caves with their bioluminescence to attract insects. The caves were discovered by a Maori chief over a century ago, and to this day, many of the tour guides are directly related to him.
We were surrounded by stalagmites/stalactites and incredible acoustics due to the porous nature of the limestone walls. We took a boat ride under the glowworms and enjoyed this natural spectacle in near silence to not disturb their habitat. I couldn’t help but imagine if I was that Maori chief wandering into the caves for the first time thinking: “Wow, what are those lights?”
The rest of my time was spent touring the city of Auckland. From the beautiful harbor just down the road and the black sand beaches of Muriwai to the famous “hokey pokey” ice cream of New Zealand and the ongoing city development, there is so much to see in this beautiful city! The weather was absolutely perfect, and the people warmly welcomed this American tourist. 🙂
OFF TO SYDNEY!
The following morning, I jumped on a 3.5 hour flight to Sydney, Australia to begin the next leg of my vacation.
First of all, here’s a picture I snapped just before landing at Sydney Airport. In the image, I’ve labeled the Sydney Opera House (‘A’) and the Pullman Quay Grand Sydney Harbour (‘B’) where I stayed during this trip. I honestly didn’t see these landmarks when I initially took the photo. Talk about dumb luck!
SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE
For roughly 50 years, the Sydney Opera House multivenue performance arts center has held countless performances and attracted tourists from around the world! I’ve longed to see its architectural magnificence as well as the beautiful surrounding harbor. It sure didn’t disappoint! While I was waiting for my room to be prepared, I strolled five minutes down the harborside to see this iconic building. Unfortunately, this is when I learned about the variety of flies found in Australia. Despite insect repellant, I somehow found myself constantly swatting away these pests.
FEATHERDALE WILDLIFE PARK
The next day, I began an all-day tour which started with a visit to Featherdale Wildlife Park. As a first-timer to Australia, I naturally wanted to see the unique animals this country has to offer… especially the koalas and kangaroos! 🙂
BLUE MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK & RIVER CRUISE
Before heading to the Blue Mountains, our group stopped for lunch in Leura, a small mountain town with plenty of shopping. At this point, I was freezing and ended up purchasing a jacket before we ventured on to the national park.
From a distance, the mountains appear blue because eucalyptus oil droplets dispersed in the air coupled with dust and moisture create Rayleigh scattering. This definitely brought back (not-so-great) memories studying for echocardiography boards! Once we arrived at the park, we took several cable cars (including the steepest one in the southern hemisphere!) suspended over Jamison Valley while marveling at the landscape’s natural beauty. Waterfalls, mountains, the rainforest, creeks, wildlife… just don’t see this stuff in Houston!
After wrapping up at the Blue Mountains, we drove back towards Sydney for a river cruise back into the harbor. The ~45 minute cruise was a great way to bring closure to the day… and provide some amazing sights!
BONDI TO BRONTE BEACH WALK
Per the recommendation of MANY locals, I went over to Bondi Beach to walk along the coast to Bronte Beach the next morning. The weather was cool and the beaches were relatively empty… but that didn’t stop the surfers! Afterwards, I went to visit the Public Library of New South Wales (a 5 minute walk from the hotel) and was surprised to see so many exhibits available… for free!
Between both Australia and New Zealand, I was fortunate to experience perfect weather the entire time. I saw so much of the countryside and coast that I already miss while writing this post. The people were friendly, Apple Pay was available practically everywhere, and there were countless other tourists venturing around with me.
WALKING AROUND SYDNEY
Here are some random pictures I took while walking around Sydney!
I hope to return one day to explore even more of these great countries! 🙂
Drop me a comment with questions, and let me know if you too have visited New Zealand or Australia!