Post-Christmas Travel in Australia and New Zealand?
March 28, 2010 5:03 PM   Subscribe

What is travel like in New Zealand and Australia in the two weeks following Christmas?

In researching our upcoming vacation, I have read that the weeks after Christmas are when many natives take their vacations. I'm interested in knowing what we can expect with respect to crowds and driving in Australia and New Zealand in the two weeks after Christmas.
posted by bryanzera to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total)
Australia, at least, is a pretty big place. Can you be a little more specific?

Yes, you are correct in that the couple of weeks after Christmas are the biggest holiday weeks in Australia. Most Australians tend to drive somewhere for their holidays. The ones with the least driving ability always seem to do so in big SUVs towing big caravans.

Any popular holiday area (such as coastal towns) will be full of people and traffic. A few years ago we made the mistake of driving between Melbourne and Sydney along the coast between Christmas and New Year and got stuck in some of the worst traffic I have ever seen (we eventually ended up diverting via Canberra, which increased the length of the trip by about 50%, but avoided the worst of the traffic).

And it's hot too, which always makes the traffic so much more bearable, doesn't it?

But if you have any more specific destination in mind, please say so, and we may be able to provide more help.
posted by damonism at 5:12 PM on March 28, 2010

You can expect flights between the two countries to be heavily booked for most if not all of that period. (I assume if you're looking at Australia AND New Zealand you'll be travelling between them at some point)

Holiday spots might not be completely packed on Christmas Day itself as many people will have family gatherings at non holiday locations, but will head off on holiday over the next couple of days and by New Years eve the traditional holiday spots should be bursting at the seems.

I see you're in Chicago, so you might not know that in NZ and AU the Christmas / NYE period is traditionally the time for families to take their summer vacation as many business will close down for one or two weeks.

Can't really comment too meaningfully on Australia, but it seems largely similar.

Having said all that, the crowds are no doubt minuscule compared to USA holiday spots, and you'll find driving in NZ a rather different experience no matter when you visit given that you'll not only be driving on the "wrong" side of the road, but that (esp in NZ) the roads are TINY by comparison.

In conclusion, come on over, the water's lovely.
posted by Suspicious Ninja at 5:17 PM on March 28, 2010

Huh. I was toured the north island of New Zealand during New Year's week a few years ago and found it rather peaceful and mostly empty. If that was the holiday rush, I'd hate to see a dead spot.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:22 PM on March 28, 2010

On Christmas Eve to the day after New Years day, roads will be clogged all over New Zealand, tapering off a bit after that. The quality of driving will be even worse than the usually low standard too, with some people driving inconsiderately slowly and others overtaking like maniacs. The Coromandel Peninsula and the Kapiti coast will be particularly awful as will anywhere within 100km of Auckland. Christmas Eve, the 26th of December, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day will be particularly bad as people head to and from festivities.

By international standards the beaches will be uncrowded, even as the locals tell you that they are packed. I might be over-egging the pudding wrt traffic too, but I don't have holiday driving experience elsewhere to compare it to.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 5:23 PM on March 28, 2010

In NZ, you will encounter jams leaving Auckland and Wellington on Boxing Day, and maybe one or two other days when city people leave en masse to go to the beach. Elsewhere in the country, and especially the South Island, there are hardly any people, and only traffic jam you'll get stuck in is one of these.
posted by dydecker at 5:23 PM on March 28, 2010

OK, so if I can see other cars, it's too busy.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 5:29 PM on March 28, 2010

Best answer: I did almost exactly this two years ago.

As above, my experience in NZ is that almost nothing is crowded by US or European standards. I was able to find spontaneous accommodations along the road everywhere I wanted to stop.

I also spent New Year's in Sydney. I highly recommend it, lovely city and people. BUT New Year's is a big deal there. There are crowds, and by the time I started looking, the only hotels left were in the $1000 US range. I was lucky enough to find some friendly couchsurfers to host me, but that was after dozens of emails, since everyone else was trying the same thing.
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:36 PM on March 28, 2010

Yeah, it really depends where and when you're traveling, exactly.

Flights: book well in advance, it will be difficult getting discount fares.

Roads: It really depends on the road, and the time. I've driven around the east coast of Australia quite comfortably in the Christmas/New Year period - the times to avoid are right before weekends/public holidays, when a lot of people will be heading out to their holiday destination.

Caravan Parks / Campgrounds: Will be busy. Book well ahead.

The busiest places will, obviously, be popular holiday destinations. Lorne/Apollo Bay in Victoria. Byron Bay, Batemans Bay in NSW. Actually, I would probably avoid NSW any day of the year, but that's just a personal bias. The Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast in Queensland. Victor Harbour in South Australia. These are the places people can tend to flock to, but there are plenty of other spots where things won't be nearly as bad.
posted by Jimbob at 5:52 PM on March 28, 2010

We rented a car and took a day trip to Apollo Bay and then all the way back to Phillip Island outside of Melbourne while on vacation just before NYE 2009. I have no way of knowing whether that is the norm, but we were stuck in traffic – literally – for many hours (it was still worth it.) Also, expect most nicer restaurants to be closed until the second week of January or so.
posted by halogen at 6:10 PM on March 28, 2010

It's school holiday in Aus, and everybody is out for their summer vacations. It's the busiest time of year for all popular holiday activities (except going into the interior, where it's excitingly hot). East coat Australia will especially be busy.

NZ, a few years ago on the south island anyway, was quite nice, but busy enough that you didn't feel lonely.
posted by defcom1 at 6:43 PM on March 28, 2010

Yeah, let us know more closely where you're planning on going, and you'll get a lot more useful advice. There's stacks of Aus-NZ metafiltrists.

NYE is a big deal in Sydney as drjimmy said. Book travel and accommodation as soon as you can if you'll be here over New Year's. If you want to eat out, book a restaurant too.

In general: don't try to drive in or out of Sydney or Melbourne on Boxing Day, New Year's Eve, any afternoon immediately preceding or following a public holiday or school holiday: everyone else has put their children in the back of the car and is off to join the roadqueue. The Pacific Highway (Brisbane-Sydney) Princes Highway (Sydney-Melbourne via the coast) and Hume Highway (Sydney-Melbourne inland) are particularly notorious. On any other road or any other time, you'll probably be fine.

People will be drunk and in a hurry. As a result, post-Christmas driving in Australia involves stopping frequently for police random breath testing, and other people driving really badly and aggressively.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 6:45 PM on March 28, 2010

Two years ago my family spent Christmas & New Years in NZ. South and North Island. We encountered nothing -- literally nothing -- that I would considered crowded, by Los Angeles standards. It was gorgeous and we had a grand time. I highly recommend it.
posted by BlahLaLa at 7:25 PM on March 28, 2010

Yeah I think that by most developed world standards, you've got nothing to worry about whatsoever. On Boxing day and the 27th, try not to head towards the coast from Sydney or Melbourne. On Monday 3 Jan 2011, try not to be heading back into one of the big cities. Apart from that, camping sites will be booked out, but you'll still get hotels nearly anywhere, especially if you book ahead.
posted by wilful at 9:12 PM on March 28, 2010

Canberra is empty, and everything decent is closed. No markets, no Silo, nada.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 3:53 AM on March 29, 2010

In the large Australian cities many small businesses like bars, cafes, restaurants and small retail are closed in the first 2 weeks of January. The city streets are also very quiet, as many city workers are on holiday. It can take away some of the nice vibe and experience you would get otherwise, for instance coming just before Christmas, when everything is bustling.
posted by dave99 at 4:29 AM on March 29, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you for all the info!

@damonism> We are looking to split our time between Cairns, Sydney and *somewhere* in NZ.
posted by bryanzera at 9:00 AM on March 29, 2010

I've never been to Cairns, but I suspect it's a bit of a tourist town, so everything is probably going to be open. It will also be really, really hot. Someone who knows Cairns better may be able to add something useful.

Sydney, as mentioned above, does a big New Years Eve. It's worth seizing a beachhead and watching the fireworks over the harbour on NYE. But because it's pretty popular, it will be worth booking accommodation in advance. And it will be a little more expensive than other times of the year. The Aussie Dollar is pretty strong compared to the USD at the moment, so you may save some money by waiting to see if the Aussie drops, but predicting currency fluctuations is a mug's game, so you also might just decide to risk it and book now. Traffic is always pretty crap in Sydney, and I don't think it will be significantly worse than usual between Christmas and New Year. Sydney will also be pretty hot, and likely quite humid, that time of year.

Remember to pack your togs!

Oh, and just to clarify, you're not thinking of *driving* between Cairns and Sydney, I presume? Because that would not be a fun experience.
posted by damonism at 11:26 PM on March 29, 2010

Australia AND New Zealand in Two Weeks???

It's the wet season in Cairns - not so many tourists, but maybe not ideal. (We have a place there).

Hotels in Sydney usually bump their prices up to full rack rates (approx. double WITH a three night minimum) around New Year's Eve. It may not be a factor, but might be of interest.

Don't drive between Cairns and Sydney - even going the inland route (the coast will be murder at that time of year), it a hard, three day slog, and the roads aren't anything like yout are used to in the US. The roads between states don't equate to US Interstates.

Anywhere on the coast between approx. Melbourne and Central Queensland will be busy (by local standards) from around mid December through to February.

New Zealand is nice then (and some of the best times for the weather). Especially if you want both North and South Island.
posted by Flashduck at 3:53 AM on March 30, 2010

Just following on from damonism and Flashduck above - if you are even remotely thinking about doing NYE in Sydney you need to book your accommodation NOW to have any chance of getting anything mid-price/affordable close to the Harbour. I left it to August for last NYE and ended up paying uber-top-dollar for one of the handful of rooms left.
posted by bright cold day at 6:58 AM on March 30, 2010

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