Covering Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea and the islands of the South Pacific, Australasia has a wealth of unique and inspiring destinations to choose from. We’ve picked our Top 10 things to do and see on your next trip down under.
1: Become a Castaway
Australasia is made up of thousands of islands scattered across the South Pacific from Australia to South America. Once only accessible by a long and treacherous sea voyage, many are now easily reached by regular flights. Vanuatu has some of the best beaches in the region, as well as intriguing caves, sunken WWII ships and an active volcano; Mt Yasur has been erupting regularly since the islands were discovered by Captain Cook in 1774. However the volcano is generally well behaved and visitors can usually climb to the summit to view the lava up close.
2: Bungee Jump In New Zealand
Taking inspiration from ‘land diving’ rituals in Vanuatu, AJ Hackett set up the world’s first public bungee jump on the Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge just outside of Queenstown. There are now several jumps in the area as well as bungee swings. If plummeting head first off a bridge doesn’t sound like your sort of thing there’s plenty of other ways to get the adrenaline pumping; try speed boating, skiing, climbing and rafting before sampling the town’s excellent nightlife.
3: Search for Lost Tribes
Papua New Guinea is often thought to be one of the places where modern humans evolved from our more ape-like ancestors. At Kuk, archaeological evidence suggests that humans were farming in the area around 10,000 years ago, making it one of the oldest pieces of farmland in the world. The country still has a reputation for being untouched by the modern world, with many locals live without electricity or running water and there are rumours of jungle tribes who have never contacted the outside world. For the intrepid traveller, an expedition to some of the remote forests of Papua New Guinea is about as far off the beaten track as you can get.
4: The Great Barrier Reef
So big it’s visible from space, the Great Barrier Reef curves 2300km around north east Australia. The warm clear water and incredibly biodiversity found on the reef make this one of the most important ecological areas on Earth and a must see for anyone even slightly interested in marine life. There are plenty of areas suitable for snorkelling and diving, as well as numerous boat trips, from quick jaunts in a glass bottom boat to week’s cruising the reef in a luxury yacht. Make sure you pick a reputable tour operator to ensure your visit helps to protect and maintain the coral, as many parts of the reef are under threat from pollution and climate change as well as irresponsible tourism.
5: Enter the Nuclear Age
In the aftermath of World War II, the USA conducted 23 nuclear bomb tests at the remote Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The terrible destructive power seen in these tests set the Cold War in motion and has shaped global politics ever since. The islands were evacuated prior to the testing, but the nuclear fallout was so great that the inhabitants have never been able to return as no fruit or vegetables can be grown without contamination. Diving tours visit the atoll by boat; after seeing the wreckage of the ships sunk during the nuclear tests tourists can spend a small amount of time ashore.
6: Sydney Harbour
Sydney has an undeniably iconic skyline, with the distinctive elegant sails of the Sydney Opera House contrasting against the industrial heft of the Harbour Bridge. The Opera House was designed by Danish architect Jørn Utzon and took over 14 years to build; political interference in the construction eventually lead to Utzon resigning before the project was complete. It’s now listed as one of the most important examples of modern architecture in the world. The Harbour Bridge was opened in 1932 and remains one of the longest, tallest and widest arch span bridges in the world. For a truly unique view of the bridge, harbour and Sydney, book on to a bridge climbing tour.
7: Swim With Humpback Whales
Tonga is one of the places frequented by migrating humpback whales and their calves, with the warm calm seas around the island of Vava’u making an ideal nursery. Visitors can easily spot the whales from boats, with some tour guides offering snorkelling alongside the whales as well. Conservation of the whales and their environment is a key concern and the best tour operators will spend time allowing the whales to become comfortable with their presence before entering the water. Back on land, check out the islands’ ancient temples and traditional culture.
8: Discover Maori Culture
Long before Europeans arrived, the Maori inhabited New Zealand. Colonisation deprived the Maori of much of their land and suppressed their culture, but New Zealand now recognises the important connection between the Maori and the country and is taking steps to repair historical damage. Museums such as Te Papa in Wellington give a great introduction in to Maori history and culture and there are numerous Maori villages that allow tourists to experience Maori music and dance, as well as traditional food cooked in a hangi (a type of firepit oven). Tongariro National Park has been designated a World Heritage Site due to the cultural and spiritual significance of the mountains to the Maori people; trekking or cycling through this stunning landscape it’s easy to see why.
9: Eat Fresh
The Cook Islands has one of the most interesting food scenes in the Pacific, blending traditional dishes and local ingredients with global influences (The Cook Islands are a former British colony and have close links with New Zealand). Head to Avarua to sample classic Polynesian dishes like ika mata (marinated raw fish) or rukau (steamed taro leaves). Punanga Nui market has rows and rows of amazing fresh produce as well as stalls selling snacks, barbecued meat and delicious tropical smoothies. In the evening, try Muri Night market for fragrant curries, decadent desserts and a smattering of live music.
10: Island Hopping
Fiji is well established on the tourist trail and is an ideal destination if you are looking to experience the best Australasia has to offer but don’t have the budget, time or energy to explore the whole continent. The capital Suva is the nearest the South Pacific comes to a big city, but there’s also historic colonial architecture in Levuka, incredible surfing at Cloud Break, tropical jungle, amazing reef diving and a unique cultural mix from Fiji’s past as a key trade stop; and don’t forget the perfect white sand beaches either! Fiji has a wide range of accommodation from bargain backpacker hostels to luxury water bungalow resorts so there’s something to suit everyone.