The South Pacific and Wonders Down Under

Dec 09, 2013 Avatar Wendy Carlson Wendy Carlson

Few places have a more romantic appeal. Palm-fringed islands float on a cobalt sea; coral reefs teem with neon-colored fish; and fascinating people share a laid-back lifestyle in world-class cities that dazzle the senses. As often as I’ve dreamt my way to this intriguing part of the world, I never tire of golden “G’days” wrapped in Aussie friendliness, Kiwi warmth and the endless beauty of the tranquil South Seas.

Sydney by the sea. I’m in heaven, with my book, my private veranda, and beautiful Sydney rising over the bow (cruising is my favorite way to go). When the Captain announces our entrance into Sydney Harbour, I head for the open deck and my favorite viewing spot. From here I can take in the city skyline and all that surrounds me to starboard and port. Believe me, this panorama is one of cruising’s most iconic sights. Step ashore to experience the Sydney Opera House from Bennelong Point and Mrs. Maquairie’s Chair. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, take a guided climb on the Harbour Bridge that’s not for the faint of heart. Later, special reserved seating for a live Opera House performance takes your Sydney experience over the top. There are so many intriguing things to do in Sydney I don’t have space to mention them all. But I recommend a meal at Sean’s Panorama (the view is to die for and so is the paddock-to-plate cuisine). After a surfing lesson at Bondi Beach, I can’t resist the sunset, the sea and a buttery Chardonnay. There’s shopping with the locals at Paddington’s Oxford Street, exploring the art galleries of Surry Hills, taking a ferry ride to Taronga Zoo or wandering the trails of the Royal National Park. I also recommend the charm and surprise of the Susannah Place Museum.

  • Great Buys. Fine jewelry made from opals and pearls, beautifully woven Coogi sweaters, and, of course, boomerangs, didgeridoos and aboriginal art.

The Back of Beyond. I’m a bit of a wine buff so a winery tour of the famed Barossa Valley is my top choice for what to do in Adelaide. Brisbane is the political and cultural capital of Queensland and the ideal place to experience digeridoo music and the traditional dance of the Yuggera Aboriginals.

  • Fancy an emu or kangaroo on your plate? Their meat is low in cholesterol, high in iron, and is virtually fat-free. Look for Billabong Jerky on your city walkabouts. A sampler with emu, kangaroo, and crocodile jerky is billed as “the taste of Australia—mate!”

Cairns is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and a full-day snorkeling tour features a wonder so vast it can be seen from space. In Darwin, I channel Crocodile Dundee and in Melbourne, I enjoy sightseeing through the Dandenong Ranges aboard “Puffing Billy”, a narrow gauge train.

  • Did you know? The “National Cake of Australia is the Lamington, a square-shaped sponge cake coated in a layer of chocolate icing and coconut. The National Trust of Queensland named it one of Australia’s favorite icons. Be sure to give it a try!

Charming New Zealand. Kiwi friends in Auckland and Wellington draw me to Australia-New Zealand itineraries. The geothermal wonders of Rotorua on the North Island and the snow-capped mountains, mystic rainforest, and pastoral sheep farms of the South Island vie for my attention (think “Lord of the Rings”). You can play the beach bum in Auckland where the misty Waitakere Ranges lead to the legendary sands of Karekare, Muriwai, Piha and Bethell’s Beach. In the capital city of Wellington, opt for a cycling tour around some of the best wineries of Martinborough. You can taste some great Pinot Noirs and make a favorite purchase to savor back home.

  • Souvenirs in NZ. I’m a sucker for anything jade, so New Zealand greenstone catches my eye. And the local “paua” shellfish (pronounced “pawa”) lends itself to artful creations in iridescent purple, green and blue.

The South Pacific. I’m rarely without my snorkel and fins in Bora Bora. But when I can pull myself away from the water, I grab my camera and set off to explore. A sightseeing tour with a photographer guide adds professional insight. And you can hop aboard a colorful “Le Truck” to take in the sights from Fa’anui to Tahiti Point. Fiji is the place to witness the astonishing feat of the Fijian fire walkers and an authentic Kava ceremony brings the culture to life. Who can resist a cheese and wine tasting in New Caledonia and for World War II history buffs Vanuatu showcases relics of the Pacific Theatre. With its unique blend of French and traditional culture plus some of the best snorkeling in the world, Vanuatu is a must. Here are some of the adventures I’ve enjoyed plus some that I plan to enjoy on my next trip.

    • Efate’s waterfalls via helicopter (hope to try it by horseback)
    • Shopped my way through Port Vila
    • Watched land diving on Pentecost Island (the original “bungy”)
    • Hope to climb fiery Mount Yasar volcano

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