Tasmania vs Big Island of Hawaii vs NZ South Island
September 9, 2016 2:55 PM   Subscribe

I have the chance to spend 1-2 weeks on one of these 3 islands. It would be in December or January regardless of the choice. We like hiking, but are not highly skilled adventurers. We would be interested in amazing natural sights over everything else. Which to choose?

Disclosure of preexisting bias: Have been to Hawaii several times and love it, but never the Big Island, and would probably have chosen to return to Kauai if not for these specific circumstances. Have been to North and South Island of New Zealand for a short trip in which we saw many of the major sights and have fantasized about returning ever since. Have no significant knowledge of Tasmania, though of course platypuses and kangaroos would be interesting, and have never visited Australia.

Our best vacation experience ever by far was a glamping multiday hut to hut hike in the mountains. We would prefer long/tough day hikes over camping on our own. We have done some volcano hiking (Tongariro Crossing, Haleakala Crater) and really like epic hikes of that nature.

Hawaii is a much easier flight (from continental US), which means more vacation time vs airport time, but also is a place we know we'll make it back to, in general. Driving on the left is not a problem. Weather is not a major consideration - cold/wet is fine, we're not escaping a harsh winter.

I am mostly asking to hear the sales pitch on Tasmania - I think I'm afraid that I'll compare it to NZ and wish I had spent the travel time getting back there instead. Is the effort worth the trouble for a shorter visit or should I choose the Big Island trip instead? I also am not particularly familiar with the Big Island and have heard negative things about it from others, but they were not as interested in hiking as we are. So what's great about these places and which one should I pick?
posted by pekala to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, it pains me to say this, but large parts of the Tasmanian wilderness suffered devastating bush fires earlier this year.
posted by Thella at 3:17 PM on September 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've been to all three!

For me I'd say New Zealand, just because it has the most diversity of things to do. No big surprise; it's a big place and half a country. The farmland around Nelson is lovely, Christchurch is supposed to be nice (didn't go), Dunedin is sort of interesting. Queenstown has lots of fun adventury tourist stuff and amazing scenery. The Milford Sound visit is popular (we flew in a helicopter, which was completely great). There's fly fishing further south, lots of remote wilderness, and if you want something really unusual hop over to Stewart Island for a night or two. Plenty to do in two weeks.

NZ is the king of places for glamping and hiking. The Milford Sound trek is super famous (and probably hard to get a spot for). But there's lots of other well provisioned and marked trails for 3-7 day trekking journeys. I believe there's one down on Stewart Island if you want true remote.

My Tasmania visit was short: Hobart, a day trip to Port Arthur, and a trek across to Strahan to ride the steam train and see the rainforests. I enjoyed Tasmania quite a bit but it felt pretty small and limited. I'm sure there's enough to do for two weeks, but you'd be looking to fill it.

I also enjoyed our time on the Big Island but after six days I was ready to go. We were staying at the luxury Four Seasons resort, which is very nice but kind of dull unless you want to spend all day by the pool / on the beach. Hilo is worth a visit, as is the Volcano park, maybe Mauna Kea. But the Big Island sort of lacks for a lot of depth and history, it felt more like strung together tourist experiences than a place to be. Also the weather there is pretty starkly divided; very hot and dry on the west side, super wet and lush on the east side, and very little "just right".
posted by Nelson at 4:23 PM on September 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

If you haven't been, that's a fantastic time of year to go to Tasmania. It would be a great opportunity to hike the South Coast Track, or raft the Franklin River. Don't worry, you won't run out of things to do in Tasmania in two weeks.
posted by superfish at 8:52 PM on September 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

New Years is the Taste of Tasmania food festival in Hobart and you'd get to see the ships from the Sydney to Hobart race come in. I agree that it's the best time of year for Tassie!
posted by quercus23 at 8:54 PM on September 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Tasmanian Overland Track is one of my favourite hikes in the world, and is essentially untouched by the fires.
posted by zamboni at 10:29 PM on September 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

I don't hike, but I know a lot of people who live in Hobart, and so many of them do. And the Tasmanians who've moved away miss it terribly. It's certainly part of the culture, I think you'd find plenty of options.
posted by kjs4 at 4:39 AM on September 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

One point in favor of the Big Island is that a few weeks ago, a lava flow started entering the ocean for the first time in three years. When I visited the Big Island back in 2005, I got to watch the lava flow enter the ocean at nightfall. It was a truly impressive experience. Unfortunately, the new ocean entry at Kamokuna is not as accessible as the one I saw back then (we could hike in and out easily, but the new one is 5 miles one-way from the nearest road), but boat tours are available.

Lava is inherently unpredictable, so it may be that the lava is flowing a different direction by the time you visit the island in December/January. But if it's still going at that point, I highly recommend making the effort to see it; it's a really spectacular and unique natural phenomenon.
posted by Johnny Assay at 6:31 AM on September 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

I have been to all three of these places. For sheer natural beauty and spectacular views, I would pick New Zealand. If the animal aspect appeals to you, for sure Tasmania - beautiful birds, wallabies and many other little marsupials hopping around everywhere, wombats, etc. (though platypus are pretty hard to see unless you go somewhere specifically known for them at the crack of dawn). In terms of natural beauty, Tasmania does have a variety of lovely forests, beaches, alpine lakes, etc. that I really enjoyed seeing - but if you're going to be constantly comparing it to the scenery in NZ, in my opinion it doesn't quite measure up. However, the going somewhere new factor can also matter, so don't discount that if it feels significant to you. FWIW, I don't think you'd have a hard time filling up two weeks in Tasmania - you just need to rent a car and move around some, and there is very different (and interesting) scenery in different parts of the island.

If you pick Hawaii, my suggestion would be to potentially divide your time between a couple of base areas - somewhere in the south around the volcanoes and somewhere in the north around the rainforest, and skip the whole touristy Kona coast. This way you will spend much less of your vacation driving to the places you want to hike.
posted by unsub at 10:04 AM on September 10, 2016

Also been to all of these places, and nthing New Zealand. Both Tasmania and Hawaii are lovely, but the scenery and diversity of attractions has nothing on New Zealand.
posted by ryanbryan at 3:42 PM on September 11, 2016

I am impressed by the number of people who have been to all three relatively obscure places! Of course it's more complicated than the basic choice I presented. Basically I had 8 days planned on the Big Island in December, tied to a spousal work thing, but then another spousal work thing in Hobart emerged. We can actually manage almost 2.5 weeks in late January for the antipodal option, and there's no way to do both because of childcare. Unlike the usual NZ travel advice, I haven't found anything saying that Hobart can't be enjoyed for the ~5 days we would need to be there, so I'm currently leaning towards going for those days, see as much as possible, and then afterwards "hop" (I realize it's 6+ hours) to NZ for the rest of the trip. It also happens that the airfare with the hop is cheaper than flying back directly from Australia thanks to an Air NZ sale. Giving up my winter Hawaii plan hurts a little (I was excited about the ocean lava), but we'll make it there later with kids in tow. We took them to Maui in February and they loved it.

To future searchers: do NOT do this if you haven't been to NZ before; it's not enough time. I'm only going to be able to see a small part of the S Island. It's still not enough time but it's a priority to get back there for me.
posted by pekala at 8:34 AM on September 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

Sounds like a great trip! If you're able to spend some time outside of Hobart, I'd recommend day or overnight trips to Bruny Island, Maria Island (pronounced like Mariah), and the Central Highlands. Closer to the city, the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) and the Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary are fun to visit.

In terms of finding animals, I found the book Where to See Wildlife in Tasmania really helpful - if you can't find a copy in the states, you can almost certainly pick up a copy at The Hobart Book Shop in Salamanca Square, which is a very charming (though also very trendy) part of town.
posted by unsub at 6:39 PM on September 12, 2016

MONA FOMA Festival is on in Tassie while you're there. The lineup hasn't beeen announced yet but it's always amazing, and the natural beauty is pretty cool too.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 11:56 PM on September 12, 2016

« Older Chart showing estimated reserves of elements   |   Weekend getaway near Los Angeles and Santa Ana? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.