Back from Australia and New Zealand—Overall Thoughts

My family’s 15-day trip to Australia and New Zealand came to an end late Saturday. We had a fantastic time! Admittedly, we were also very excited to get back home.

I’m slowly getting back to a normal sleep schedule and my regular life. The trip was so intense that honestly we’re still processing it a bit. But, I do want to share my overall thoughts.

Cathedral Cove

Cathedral Cove, New Zealand

Don’t Let the Long Flights Deter You—Just Go

For many years, I didn’t give visiting Australia or New Zealand a thought. The 20+ hour flights seemed so daunting. I knew that even with miles and points, my family would have to fly in economy or coach class, and I figured we’d be miserable. I remember flying 14 straight hours from Korea, and it wasn’t fun.

The only reason we  even attempted this trip is because of my husband. He talked me into it. I figured that we would just suffer through the flights because the prize would be worth it.

But guess what? The flights weren’t even an issue! Our 17-hour nonstop flight on Qantas from Dallas to Sydney was downright enjoyable. My husband and I agreed that it was our most comfortable long-haul flight ever. We all slept, and the time flew by.

My daughter prefers to sleep on the tray table

On the trip back home, our longest flight segment was 12 hours from Auckland to San Francisco on United. While we didn’t sleep this time and the entire experience wasn’t as nice as our flight on Qantas, it really wasn’t that bad at all. Sure, we are still trying to get used to the current time zone, but I really had prepared for much worse travel conditions. I plan to write a separate post just about the long flights and the tools that helped us the most.

I’ve seen a few travel bloggers mention that they won’t fly down under unless it’s on a lie-flat seat. Award availability is hard to find on those routes, which means some folks just don’t go. No, no, no! Just go!

We Loved Sydney More Than We Expected

The primary purpose of our trip was to see New Zealand. We decided to stopover in Sydney for three days to get over jetlag and get used to the new time zone before attempting to drive on the left side of the road in New Zealand. We really didn’t have any expectations for Sydney. However, we were pleasantly surprised at how much we loved the city.

Circular Quay area, near the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge, is spectacular. The opera house itself is stunning, and I could stare at it all day. Sydney was very easy to get around, and we especially loved the ferry system.

And of course, interacting with koalas and kangaroos was very special.

Rotorua Is a Great Home Base in New Zealand

We stayed at a farm seven miles south of Rotorua on the way to Taupo. Rotorua was an excellent place to stay for a longer period of time. In the area, there are many thermal/volcanic attractions as well as extreme sports/recreation, cultural performances, museums, hiking, mountain biking, etc.

Since we used miles and points for our flights and other lodging, our biggest splurge was on our house rental in Rotorua. I have no regrets. We looked forward to coming home to that farm every single day.

Some people describe Rotorua as the “Las Vegas of New Zealand.” We couldn’t have found that to be farther from the truth. Of course, we went in the off-season, but we couldn’d find many similarities between the two cities.

We did notice that there appears to be a friendly rivalry amongst New Zealanders as to which island is superior. We heard a few natives on the North Island talk about the crazy cold of the South Island. At our last stop on the coast, we talked to a South Islander who told us we went to the wrong island for scenery. I’m not even sure how that’s possible, as the scenery on the North Island was breathtaking. We saw rolling green hill after rolling green hill, interfused with rainbows, forests, waterfalls and majestic coast line.

The Food Was Unremarkable

When I told a friend about our trip a few months ago, she told me that the food in Australia wasn’t very good based on her experience. I have to agree.

It wasn’t that the food was bad per se, but there was nothing spectacular about it. Fish n Chips was a staple everywhere. And both countries used a lot of barbecue sauce on everything.

Two of my kids are picky eaters, so being in another country was a good test for them. (Our trip to an all-inclusive in Mexico didn’t really count—there was so much variety on the buffet that they had no problems there). In Australia and in New Zealand, my kids really had to adjust their expectations and make compromises.

On one excursion, my son was very hungry, and the only option was eggs. He doesn’t like eggs. But he was desperate, so he tried eggs again. Lo and behold, he ate eggs the rest of the trip and somehow doesn’t hate them anymore.

For my picky eaters, they learned to order meat without sauces. In one restaurant, they both ordered burgers with no sauce. My daughter is especially fond of plain burgers with nothing on them, just meat and bun. We laughed when both burgers arrived with no sauce, “except for barbecue sauce, of course”. Waiters looked at us like we had two heads if we didn’t have barbecue sauce on everything.

On some trips, food is a huge part of the culture and plays a prominent role in tourism. On our previous trips to France and Italy, the food was spectacular. I’m just advising not to go to Australia and New Zealand for the food. Not that those places are known for excellent food anyway.

We Traveled Too Long

As much as I’m embarrassed to admit this, especially because I am a travel blogger, our trip was just a few days too long for us. After 10-12 days, we’re just done. We start to miss our beds, our dogs, our food, our friends, etc.

I already knew this about my family, but because the flights were so long and we used so many miles to get there I figured we’d maximize my husband’s vacation time from work. In retrospect, we should have stayed just five nights in Rotorua and shortened our trip by two days.

Bottom Line

Our trip to Australia and New Zealand was the trip of a lifetime. I felt like I was dreaming or in another world much of the time. I’m so glad we tried a new destination and went outside of our comfort zone a bit. I’ll be writing more posts about our experiences soon! Hit me with any questions you have.

Our vacation music video:

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Author: Nancy

Nancy lives near Dallas, Texas, with her husband and three kids. Her favorite vacations include the beach, cruising and everything Disney.

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17 thoughts on “Back from Australia and New Zealand—Overall Thoughts

  1. I just love that video! I’m sure there will be families planning a trip to NZ and Australia after watching it. 🙂
    On a side note, now I can’t get the song Fireflies out of my head. I remember hearing it on my car radio for the first time when I found out that I was pregnant with my son.

    • Thanks, @Leana! I love that song. It mentions planet earth, and I thought it was very fitting for New Zealand. Everywhere we went and all the locals seemed very focused on nature, the environment, etc.

  2. What was it about Qantas that was so comfortable? I’m 6′-4″ and can’t sleep on a plane for anything. So the thought of flying coach to Australia sounds miserable. But man do I want to visit!

    What points/flexible currency did you use for Qantas?

    • @projectx We used AA miles (40k each) to book our flights on Qantas. I purchased a one-month subscription to ExpertFlyer for $4.99 to check award availability. I could see award availability on ExpertFlyer on Qantas, but it wasn’t available on aa.com. I had to call AA to get the seats. I had read on Flyer Talk and TripAdvisor that Qantas is a better airline all-around to fly to Australia over AA, so I was really motivated to get the seats on Qantas.
      So what made Qantas so comfortable? The seats were cloth/fabric and just thicker and comfier than the thinner vinyl seats on many other aircraft. My husband is 6’0″ and we splurged about $90 to get him a seat in economy that had no seat in front of him. There were a few on the aircraft map, all in the middle section of 4 seats. So he had plenty of legroom and nobody in front of him to recline into him. He had a tray table and entertainment screen that lifted up from his arm rest.
      It helped that our flight left at 10:25 p.m., so it was a natural sleeping time for all of us. Also, using the Qantas-provided eye masks and our noise-canceling headphones was a great combo and allowed us to sleep. Between dinner and some sleeping, we just had to entertain ourselves for the last 5-6 hours of the flight. And there were plenty of movies and TV shows to choose from on the screens, plus power outlets to charge our devices.

  3. @Nancy I’ve taken a couple domestic red eye flights… despite leaving at a typical bed time and still can’t sleep. But yes, I’ve heard nothing but good things about Qantas. Can you book an economy seat and pay to upgrade to Premium Economy? Those seats are 63k each way, but I wonder if a person might be better off paying for the upgrade if it’s possible.

    • @projectx I totally get it! My husband and I are not plane sleepers. We both flew to Russia, Korea and Europe without sleeping a wink. I think this specific flight had all the right ingredients and we somehow managed it. Qantas has a bidding system for upgrading to premium economy. Also on our flight, there was the option to pay extra for the whole row (like a row of 3 seats). The man behind us did that. My husband’s seat with extra legroom was well worth the money for him.

      • The only way you can get 3 seats on Qantas is to pay for 3. The guy behind didn’t want to share the empty seats next to him. On Air New Zealand you can purchase a second seat at a discount.

      • Nancy, this is a good one. QF DFW-SYD is the only route and the comfort row is only available if all seats in the row are free at airport check-in. This is because the route distance is pushing the A380 to its limit and they can only fill the plane if the headwinds are favourable! So seats are usually free on this flight, the second longest in the world.

  4. Welcome back Nancy. Really enjoyed your video. Did the melatonin work well on your flight? Which noise canceling headphones did you get for the kids? Any other tips? We have an 8 hour flight to Italy next spring break on Emirates which is “long haul” for us. Where is your Italy trip report?

    • @Natasha Yes, the melatonin worked, although my kids didn’t even need it. I’ll look up the headphones and post a little later. Unfortunately, I went to Italy before I started blogging. Loved every minute there!

  5. Not sure where you ate in Australia. I can’t speak for NZ, but the food in Australia has been described by the late Anthony Bourdain as “ridiculously good at every price level” and Gourmet Traveler rated Australia as the second best food destination after France. Fish and Chips and BBQ sauce reminds me of the 70s. I guess if you have fussy eaters the cheap cafes and ethnic restaurants which most Australians prefer are off the agenda. Food is now a reflection of the fact that Australia is now the most multicultural nation on earth.
    Rural NZ could be a different matter.

    • @cleobasset For sure, my experience with food was based only on 3 days in Sydney. When we return to Australia, it sounds like we need to do more research to find these good food places.

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