Please help me with my trip to Australia and New Zealand
July 15, 2005 8:00 PM   Subscribe

I'm off to spend the wintery month of August in Australia and New Zealand. Im visiting Sydney, Melbourne, Cairns, and Uluru in Austalia, then flying over to New Zealand where I'll work my way down from Auckland to Christchurch. I'm looking for recommendations on where to stay, where and what to eat & drink, and what to see and do, as well as answers to a few specific questions.

I'm a fairly experienced traveler, but this will be my first big trip alone. 27, male. I'm looking to have fun and meet people, but not necessarily do the crazy backpacker scene every night. I enjoy museums, nature, food & drink (and love food & drink factories), and photography. My budget isn't unlimited, but I've planned pretty well, so if there's a must-see/must-do or whatever, I ought to be able to manage it.

I'd appreciate general recommendations, but also have a few specific questions about the trip.

1. Is car travel in NZ difficult or expensive compared to buses and trains? Anyone know a good car hire?

2. A friend recommended staying in Glebe when I'm visiting Sydney. Is that so far as to be inconvenient or uninteresting, or is it pretty easy to get into the city proper?

3. I'm thinking about bringing my laptop (3lbs) to do some writing and store photos. What can I do to keep it safe from theft on days I don't carry it with me? Can I find grounded outlets pretty easily? Is this a completely foolish idea?

4. Do I need a voltage converter, or just plug adapter, for my laptop, ipod, and digital camera?

Thanks MetaFilter!
posted by jewishbuddha to Travel & Transportation around Australia (31 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Do I need a voltage converter, or just plug adapter, for my laptop, ipod, and digital camera?

uh, we can't answer that (and several other questions) if we don't know where you're coming from.

Your profile has an American-looking zip, so I'll assume the USA :)

Aus and NZ run at 240V 50Hz. For your laptop, and anything else based on switch-mode adaptor (as opposed to the (heavier) transformer-based adaptors), you should only need the plug adpator, not a converter. It should say on any such power supply something like "110-220V 50-60Hz". If it doesn't say it's ok at voltages above 200V, assume it isn't unless you know what you're doing.

Can you drive on the left hand side? If so, getting around NZ by car is pretty easy - it's much smaller than the USA, and traffic is generally better, (though it seems to e getting worse each time I go there).
The Alpine Express (I think it's called) is a passenger train that goes from Christchurch (east cost) to Greymouth (west coast). For a scenic train ride you might check that one out.

If you rent a car (which seems like a good idea), you'll either have to book a car spot on the interislander ferry (try to do that in advance or, like a plane fare, you pay more), or rent another car in the South Island (I'm not sure how many rental companies let you rent at A and drop off at B instead of back at A)

Make sure you visit a lot of corner fish'n'chip shops. Fish and chips are a wonder of the world that does not exist in the USA, even though greasy things of the same name are sold. You can get a entire meal for $3, and it tastes divine. Some people live off the stuff.

Another thing to check out is fresh cheese buns, sold in most supermarkets that have an in-store bakery. Again, while cheese has been combined with bread in the USA, this is something else again. I practically live on the stuff when I'm in NZ :-)

Since your zip sounds like washington. Not sure about Oz, but in NZ, a red light means stop - even if you're turning along the curb and no traffic is coming, you can't turn until the light is green.

The museums in Auckland, Christchurch (and probably Wellington too) are pretty good, well worth checking out.
posted by -harlequin- at 8:50 PM on July 15, 2005 [1 favorite]

Also (assuming you're Washington) - if you come to a four-way stop sign, or four-way give-way in NZ, you yeild to your right, rather than whoever reached it first goes first. If the car is oncoming (ie you're both on each other's right), yeild if you are turning into their path. All this stuff will be online here anyway, stick it in your laptop. But I think I've covered the main differences.
posted by -harlequin- at 8:55 PM on July 15, 2005

2. Glebe is just about perfect -- on the edge of the city proper, an easy walk to buses and trains that will take you anywhere you'd want to go. It's also a hub of backpacker activity, meaning as much social life as you like, good pubs and cafes and eateries, and lots of advice on what to do and see.

Since you like nature, if you feel like getting away from it all for a bit while you're in Sydney, check out the Church Point YHA hostel. It's in Kuring-gai Chase, only takes a couple of hours to get there by public transport from the city, and it's bloody marvelous. The Blue Mountains have about a zillion miles of trails if you want some serious bushwalking -- again with the YHAs, but the Kuranda one is great and really handy to lots of nice day walks.

Oh, and a red light means stop in Aus, just like harlequin says. If you can turn right on red, there'll be a sign saying so in most places (think Melbourne is the only place that's common anyway).
posted by sennoma at 9:09 PM on July 15, 2005 [1 favorite]

sennoma writes "If you can turn right on red, there'll be a sign saying"

That would be: "..turn left on red, there'll be a sign saying". You can't turn right on a red - it's across traffic, as we drive on the left. *Sydney*

Melbourne has changed a bit I think traffic-wise---- they used to have funny rules until a big tram debacle some time ago.
[ditto on the Glebe thing. Great suburb.]
posted by peacay at 10:54 PM on July 15, 2005

Make sure you try the meat pies, espeically with potato peas and gravy. My favourite is Yatala pies just off the main highway between the Gold Coast and Brisbane. They are famous. Brisbane is a nice place to stay. The Gold Coast is Touristy, but with nice beaches. Motels / Hotels are plentiful on the Gold Coast.
posted by Dag Maggot at 10:58 PM on July 15, 2005

Response by poster: Your profile has an American-looking zip, so I'll assume the USA

Sorry for leaving that out. I am in fact in the U.S., right near Los Angeles.

The laptop is definitely 100-240V, and I think the camera and ipod are as well, but I'll definitely confirm that.

Thanks for everything so far.
posted by jewishbuddha at 11:19 PM on July 15, 2005

As for as NZ goes, feel free to email me with specific questions (address in profile).

Car travel is easy here, with the following provisos:
- we drive on the left, as do the Australians. Your reflexes are wrong. Some people adapt easily, others have fatal accidents. YMMV.
- our road system is pretty primitive compared to other coutries, owing to our low population density. You will encounter contours, surfaces and conditions you are not familiar with.

We run on 240V 50Hz AC here. Grounded outlets are standard.

I would be no less cautious with my laptop than you would be at home. In particular, backpacker hostels are a bad place, unless they offer a secure lockup. I personally would leave it at home and take a notebook instead. If you don't have it, you can't worry about losing it.

Must sees? We have more scenery than you can shake a stick at, so whatever you do you will miss out a lot.

If you're on a budget, I would be buying food from supermarkets and preparing meals at backpackers (although you're welcome for dinner here one night, anyway :-)

There will still be good snow in August if you ski. I don't ski, but I'm told we have better snow than Australia, so I'd plan any skiing for NZ instead.

The Waitakere ranges are close to Auckland and underrated by tourist operators. You could also do worse than head up north to Paihia and kick around the Bay of Islands for a while. Anywhere in the South Island has wild majestic scenery. If you are going as far as Christchurch you should make an effort to get over the Southern Alps (perhaps via the Transalpine Express train) to the West Coast and get rained on. Seriously.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:40 PM on July 15, 2005

While in Cairns, get your self onto the Quicksilver reef tour. The boat leaves from Pt. Douglas, but there are busses from Cairns.

Often, when it comes to "tours", the common wisdom is to stick to the smaller, personalized tour groups, rather than the big ones.

In this case, if you want to check out the Barrier Reef (and you aren't an experienced scuba diver) I truly believe the opposite is true. Quicksilver is one of the biggest, which means a big boat, a very friendly crew, lots of people to meet (and places to escape from them), and the boat actually docks at a floating pontoon out at the far reef, where they have a variety of activities; snorkelling, scuba, glass-bottom boats, lunch included, decent bar. I was very impressed with it all, actually.

The Skyrail / Kuranda Train duo is another touristy thing that's well worth doing, although it's a good idea to bring some headphones for the return train trip, due to the obnoxious on-board commentary / advertisements.

Heading up to Mossman Gorge is a must. If you can hire a car (and there are some very reasonable car hire places in Pt. Douglas, and I'm sure there are in Cairns too), get there yourself. don't bother with a tour. Just go for a wander.

How are you getting to Uluru? Plane? Pity you aren't coming through Canberra, where the best museums and art galleries are. Or through Adelaide, where the best food and drink is ;)
posted by Jimbob at 12:27 AM on July 16, 2005 [1 favorite]

Peacay's right. I was thinking of a hook turn.
posted by sennoma at 12:27 AM on July 16, 2005

When in Melbourne, take a short tram ride out to Richmond, in particular Victoria, Bridge and Swan Streets, which have a wealth of good eatin' - Victoria Street is known for exceptional Vietnamese.
posted by mikeybidness at 12:33 AM on July 16, 2005

Oh, why not, some notes on NZ as well. The national museum in Wellington is fucking fantastic. I loved it.

The Tranzalpine train, from Christchurch to Greymouth, mentioned above, is well worth it.

As an Australian, I feel inclined to have a bitch about New Zealand driving conditions. Narrow, windy, poorly signposted (compared to Australia) roads, crazy drivers who either drive way too slow or sit on your arse and then overtake on blind corners. Driving over the range north of Wellington was particularly harrowing. But I'm probably just spoilt, with the big, flat, empty landscapes I'm used to.

If you're stopping by Rotorua, you have to check out the Waimangu Volcanic Valley. There's an excellent tour you can do that involves a hike down the valley, though some very curious landscapes, then a boat trip across the lake with excellent views of the volcano. I'd never seen anything like it.
posted by Jimbob at 12:34 AM on July 16, 2005 [1 favorite]

Guilty as charged, Jimbob. We lack the civilised veneer of other Anglophone drivers. Watch out.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:06 AM on July 16, 2005

Re: Sydney: It's always difficult I think as a local to make tourist recommendations -- visitors usually have a better appreciation for the places that are de rigeur to see during a holiday -- one place in Sydney I'll vouch for, noting incidentally that many Sydneysiders are ignorant about it is: Cremorne Point [just left of '47'] (preferably on a Sunday afternoon).

It has (to me) the BEST view of the harbour and bridge/Opera House, there's a lovely National Park rim around the headland with paved walking track for 1/2 of it, a salt water swimming pool actually in the Harbour, a brilliant view of the ubiquitous sailing craft and is the best place to take a picnic lunch and just chill. Buses to this north side of the Harbour hideaway go from Wynyard station in the city.
(oh...catch a ferry somewhere from Circular Quay -- either to Cremorne Point as mentioned, Manly or up the Parramatta River --- all great trips.)
posted by peacay at 1:09 AM on July 16, 2005

2. A friend recommended staying in Glebe when I'm visiting Sydney. Is that so far as to be inconvenient or uninteresting, or is it pretty easy to get into the city proper?

It is close enough, but a bit of a walk into the city. There are a lot of great places to eat (Almustafa).

4. Do I need a voltage converter, or just plug adapter, for my laptop, ipod, and digital camera?

I bought a couple back in '97 and have used them every time I've gone over (3 times total). They're around $20 at Radio Shack and it's easier than finding out the hard way that your camera adapter doesn't work on 220v.
posted by wakko at 1:09 AM on July 16, 2005

Some NZ recommendations, Rent-a-dent is a cheap rental place, or you could buy a car in Auckland and drive it down for around $1200, then resell in Christchurch. Petrol is about 3.50 (USD) per gallon right now, so that can add up quickly. Kiwi Experience could be an alternative is you'd rather take the bus. And yes they are worse drivers than L.A. and the give way rules for driving are retarded.
You can carry your laptop if you don't want to just burn your photos to CD in any of the net cafes, just carry it with you or leave it in a safe if you are doing outdoors stuff.
It is also rather bone-chilling wet cold in the South Island this time of year for Californians. Bring a thick coat.
posted by arruns at 1:35 AM on July 16, 2005

More NZ stuff: A friend from the US driving a Rent-a-Dent around the South Island right now for NZ$25 a day. It costs a stupid amount of money to take a car over from the North Island to the South on the ferry (I think around $170 for the car plus extra for you) so I'd aim to pick up a new car on arriving in Picton.

Like everyone has said already, the Transalpine Express is well worthwhile. It's 4-5 hours, the rail system here is dated but the scenery is amazing, especially in winter. Give yourself time to see a little of the west coast too if you can - it's a whole other world.

I don't know about North Island drivers, but Christchurch drivers are rubbish. I promise not to cut you off, though.
posted by tracicle at 1:51 AM on July 16, 2005 [1 favorite]

Skip the boring bit between Picton and Christchurch and drive through Marlborough/Nelson/West Coast/back to Christchurch.

In fact skip the boring bit between Auckland and Wellington and spend some time in the mountains/ Otago/Fiordland. That's where the real jaw-dropping NZ is.
posted by dydecker at 2:31 AM on July 16, 2005 [1 favorite]

I'd recommend not relying on train travel at all in New Zealand (with the exception maybe of the Trans Alpine in the South Island). Especially, stay the hell away from the moribund and depressing Overlander service between Auckland and Wellington. Car hire is definitely the way to go.

Climate-wise, I'd be recommending Northland as a travel destination at this time of year, but since it looks like you won't be doing this, the Coromandel Peninsula would be a good place to go. Coromandel township itself is an attractive little place with plentiful backpacker-style and B&B accommodation; the east coast of the peninsula has the sandy beaches and spectacle. (Note that rental-car companies won't allow you to drive on a number of Coromandel roads -- these will be marked on the tourist maps they'll supply you with.)

In Auckland, the War Memorial Museum is very, very good -- especially for its Maori, Pacific and Eastern exhibits. Good coffee and cafe food are also pretty easy to find. In terms of nature, spleen's tip about the Waitakeres is good -- you could also investigate the possibility of day-tripping to the Gulf Islands, especially the bird/botanical sanctuary on Tititiri Matangi Island.

In August, the Volcanic Plateau in the centre of the North Island will be bleak, but scenic. The West Coast of the North Island, especially State Highway 4 through the King Country to New Plymouth is a beautiful part of the country (if a little spooky, if you know the colonial history). New Plymouth is a bit isolated, but it has the perfect, Mount-Fuji-like volcanic cone of Mount Taranaki, forests, and good food and, oddly enough, art museums.

I'm not really a fan of the Te Papa museum in Wellington (for many of the reasons outlined here), but I guess it's an impressive building. Wellington's the closest the country comes to a real city, and a good place to spend a few days. (I'll be moving there myself in August.)

If you have any questions, feel free to email me at the address in my profile.
posted by Sonny Jim at 2:32 AM on July 16, 2005

would be no less cautious with my laptop than you would be at home. In particular, backpacker hostels are a bad place, unless they offer a secure lockup. I personally would leave it at home and take a notebook instead. If you don't have it, you can't worry about losing it.

If you're going to be in any metropolitan areas you can also use Internet cafes for really cheap, thanks to the backpacker culture. I travelled to Australia and brought my laptop and found that I pretty much only used it at friends' houses, not anyplace else. I was able to move around with my key drive and buy an hour's worth of net time for $3USD many places and do my writing and emailing there. While there was some free wireless where I was staying [mainly Sydney and Adelaide] it was mostly fee-based and pretty darned expensive. The only thing I was really happy I had my laptop for was getting the pictures off of my camera.
posted by jessamyn at 7:44 AM on July 16, 2005

Response by poster: Wow. You guys are great. Thanks so much!
posted by jewishbuddha at 10:54 AM on July 16, 2005

As an American who doesn't drive that much, I found NZ driving (my first on the left) occasionally terrifying but totally worth it. If you need an automatic, be sure you know how to use those lower gears -- some of the mountainous regions are pretty steep and my cheap little rental just did not cut it until I figured out to downshift.

Another unexpected peril was that there were far fewer gas stations per mile than I was used to. Fill up more often than you think is necessary.

As far as car costs go, even with full insurance NZ rentals were dirt cheap compared to those in the US. Get a quote and you may be fine just going to a standard international car rental company.

(I'm going back next year and I can't wait.)
posted by nev at 12:27 PM on July 16, 2005

One thing no one's mentioned so far is this is your only opportunity to have any exposure to Maori culture. Rotorua is the centre for touristy things Maori, but other centres may also provide the opportunity to stay on a marae or whatever.

Do you surf? We have good surf.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:45 PM on July 16, 2005

Oh yeah, and don't be alarmed if local TV, or movies has Jengo Fett and various Clone Troopers out of uniform pretending to be doctors or abusive husbands, or whatever :)
posted by -harlequin- at 5:40 PM on July 16, 2005

Auckland's west coast beaches are pretty easy to reach from the city and you shouldn't miss a visit.

Also, since I now live in Melbourne feel free to email if you want to meet up for a beer while you're here.

you're not in Guatemala now, harlequin
posted by nomis at 7:40 PM on July 16, 2005

I'm also going to new zealand. This thread is great.

We should have an internation mefi backpacker meetup.
posted by exois at 11:04 PM on July 16, 2005

PS: this is really embarassing. I was wrong. We have 230V AC here. Shouldn't really make any difference to you though.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:28 AM on July 17, 2005

As a fairly new American in NZ, I've been interested to read these posts. One thing I can't believe you Aussies/Kiwis have neglected is the fantastic wines and vineyards Down Under. Unless you visitors are just not into wine at all, take the time to visit the Yarra Valley (near Melbourne), Barossa Valley (Adelaide), Hawke's Bay (near Art Deco capital Napier), and Marlborough (northeastern S. Island). Beautiful regions, wonderful wines! More info here and here, for starters. Slainte!
posted by rob511 at 3:06 AM on July 18, 2005

Response by poster: take the time to visit the Yarra Valley (near Melbourne)

I was planning a day trip to the Yarra Valley. Any specific wineries I should visit? If I'm only going for the one day, am I better off taking an organized tour from Melbourne, or should I just go it alone?
posted by jewishbuddha at 6:22 AM on July 18, 2005

You are in for a treat. NZ is brilliant! I can recommend...

NZ Glaciers: Don't miss a days hike on either Fox or Franz Joseph Glacier (South Island). If you're feeling flush you could get a helicopter/light aircraft to take you for a day/couple of days onto the Tasman Glacier - stunning!

NZ Wildlife: Go to Dunedin and see the Yellow Eyed Penguins and Albatross colony (the only mainland colony of albatross in the world I think.) You might also want to swim with dolphins/seals (at Kaikoura or Akaroa). And of course whale watching (Kiakoura). If you want to see some kiwis, go to Willowbank Park (Christchurch) one evening (lots else there besides kiwis). The only place you're even remotely likely to see one in the wild is Stewart Island.
Hire a kayak at Marahau (for a few days?) and go on a mini expedition around the coast/rivers of the Abel Tasman National Park (Unforgettable!!).
Pony trekking is available in lots of places too and is a nice way of seeing the sights.

Museums: "Te Papa" in Wellington is the best one.

North Island things: Rotorua (stay in the excellent YHA youth hostel.) Tongoriro Crossing day walk, VIsit some thermal areas: Orakei Korako (Hidden Valley) (the best one IMHO, Craters of the Moon, Hells Gate...
Go to a Maori "cultural show" for traditional Maori food (Hangi) and to get an about their culture (quite expensive but probably worth it). It is also worth paying a visit to the wonderfulWaitomo caves.

Drinking: Speights - drink it, and visit the brewery for a tour in Dunedin. (there's also the Cadbury's chocolate factory tour here.) Lion/Steinlager tours in Aukland, Tui in Pahiatua , Canterbury in Christchurch and Mac's in Nelson. You should also visit some winerys.

As for accomodation, the youth hostels I've stayed in have nearly all been really good (and very reasonable) - providing ample opportunities to hook up with people for trips/ share of car hire etc.. Transport is not too bad (bus) and I'm told that hitching is not to difficult. However, hiring a car is relatively cheap (at least compared to the UK) and provides the opportunity to go off the beaten track. Some places do super cheap deals where you return cars to the main depot for them. If time is limited, flights between N and S islands (if booked in advance) are pretty good.

I hope you have a superb time!
posted by jonesor at 7:54 AM on July 18, 2005 [1 favorite]

JewishBuddha, I'd ask an Australian to recommend best tour or winery in the Yarra Valley. BUT, reading Jonesor's suggestion to try a brewery tour, thought you all might enjoy the very funny, (deliberately) sexist Tui commercial, which you can download here. Under "Video Library," choose the proper modem speed under "Tui Advert/Brucetta."

A word of warning: if you do take the Tui tour, there may be some staff changes since the commercial was filmed!
posted by rob511 at 12:23 AM on July 19, 2005

As if it makes any difference, when I say State Highway 4 in the above post, I actually mean State Highway 3. SH3 is the coast road -- if you're coming through in the second half of August, you'll hit whitebait season, and be able to pick some primo whitebait fritters in coastal towns on that route, like Mokau.

SH4, on the other hand, is good if you like complete and total isolation. From absolutely everything. Um, sorry about that.

posted by Sonny Jim at 2:48 AM on August 12, 2005

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