The Southwest Pacific, or Oceania, is a phenomenal vast ocean space with thousands of islands rich in fascinating wildlife - home to diverse cultures and extraordinary history.
There are fourteen independent countries within the region with Australia, New Zealand and French Polynesia being the most popular travel destinations.Oceania is considered to be one of the most biologically diverse and beautiful regions in the world and is home to unique animal and plant species.
Australia, the Land Down Under where you are never far away from a friendly ‘G’day, mate’, is vast - or, to be more precise, just under eight million square kilometres (Europe is just over 10 million!) With extraordinarily diverse landscapes, famous landmarks and over twenty World Heritage Sites there is so much to explore, from the glittering cities of Sydney and Melbourne to the haunting splendours of the outback desert and from the incredible Great Barrier reef, the breath-taking Gold Coast with its perfect golden beaches and surf, to the iconic arkosic sandstone structure Uluru (also known as Ayres Rock) and Daintree, one of the oldest tropical rainforests on the planet.
With such contrasting terrain is it any wonder that the wildlife is equally diverse wildlife? From stubby-tailed wombats, long-legged kangaroos, eucalyptus-munching kolas and egg-laying platypus to mighty crocodiles, six varieties of sea turtle, dolphins, whales and a coral sea life that is positively kaleidoscopic.
Australia boasts over 65 wine regions and its vineyards produce over 100 different grape varieties, from the Leeuwin Estate in Western Australia to Jacob's Creek in the Barossa Valley of the South, so you are never far away from a good glass of vino! And the food is world class too. We all know that a good Aussie loves a simple barbie, but you will also find a flourishing and innovative culinary scene fusing a wide range of cultural flavours.
Enjoy delving into the ancient culture, history and traditions of the Arrernte Aboriginal people whose spiritual home, in what is now Alice Springs (The Aborignial name is Mparntwe), dates back over 30,000 years and is strongly and spiritually linked to the natural world, from the plants and terrain to the celestial skies and changing seasons. There are many galleries in Alice featuring fascinating Aboriginal Dreamtime works telling stories through visual iconography.
Alice Springs was also the first European settlement in central Australia, established in 1872 as a telegraph town to relay messages between the towns of Darwin and Adelaide. (It was named after the wife of Charles Todd, an Englishman who conceived the idea of creating a transcontinental telegraph line, and acted as Postmaster General for Southern Australia.) The first European exploration of Australia is believed to have been by a Dutch navigator in 1606. Other European explorers followed until, in 1770, James Cook charted the east coast of Australia, returning with the suggestion for colonisation at Botany Bay. Nearly twenty years later the First Fleet of British ships arrived to establish a penal colony.
Australia holds a special fascination for travellers. The country is a dynamic mix of urban cityscapes, breath-taking wilderness, laid back beaches and an attitude that embraces the idea of putting aside stress to appreciate the good things in life.
New Zealand is on many travel-bucket lists, and rightly so – it enjoys a reputation for being one of the most beautiful places on earth.
New Zealand is a paradise for nature lovers, with fantasy-like scenery that takes your breath away. (There is a reason the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit were filmed here!) Made up of two large islands surround by a scattering of small ones, the country offers diverse climatic conditions, from sub- tropical temperatures in the North to alpine conditions in the South. The sheer beauty and contrasts in this amazing country are bewitching.
Awaiting you are heart-stopping beaches of white, black and golden sands, volcanic cones, dense ancient forests of ferns and botanical wonders, spouting geysers, therapeutic hot springs and bubbling mud pools rich in healing minerals.
Wonder at the iconic Ninety-Mile Beach, a strip of sand in the North stretching from Ahipara to Scott Point (the actual distance is closer to 60 miles long) offering views of the most perfect sunsets, and the magical glowing Waitomo Caves, a series of cavernous grottos illuminated with glistening glow worms.
Tongariro National Park is New Zealand’s oldest national park and the first place in the world to be listed as a World Heritage Site for the spiritual and cultural values the extraordinary landscape holds for the indigenous people in the area. Here the beautiful blue-green colour of Emerald Lakes contrasts with white limescale hills, boiling mud pools and a still-active Red Crater. Delicately beautiful alpine plants, including orchids, flourish in the harsh climate, as do alpine trees such as mountain cedar (kaikawaka) and mountain beech (tawhairauriki).
In Rotorua, a geothermal wonderland in the stunning Bay of Islands, enjoy the rich history and incredible Māori culture, a proud tradition of manaakitanga (hospitality) and kaitiakitanga (guardianship of this land). At Tamaki Maori Village, the ‘most awarded’ cultural attraction in New Zealand, you can stay overnight, immersing yourself in local Maori customs, history and mythology. Discover cultural artisans, experience live performances then feast on a traditional Hangi, the Māori method of cooking food using heated rocks buried in a pit oven.
The Fiordland National Park in the South is one of the most incredible scenic parts of New Zealand and the best ways to see it is by boat. A designated World Heritage area, it is home to waterfalls, tall mountains covered in either a blanket of snow or flowers (depending on the time of year you visit.) The Fiord is home to fur seal colonies, penguins, and dolphins, all of which you may be lucky enough to spot as you gently sail on the crystal-clear waters.
New Zealand’s wildlife has evolved quite distinctly from the rest of the world and is home to many species that are now rare or endangered. Probably the best known of these is the kiwi bird, a cultural icon after which New Zealanders are affectionately referred. This extraordinary bird lays an egg one-quarter of its own body weight.
With a long history of wildlife conservation, New Zealand offers an amazing opportunity for those wishing to experience many encounters with wildlife, none of which are dangerous! For bird-lovers there is the Korimako bird, whose song was described by Captain Cook as ‘small bells exquisitely tuned’; the Kea, a highly intelligent and inquisitive bird with bright olive green feathers and the only parrot in the world adapted to an alpine environment and the dainty Fairy Tern/tara iti, the world's rarest breeding bird with only forty known left to live in the wild.
Auckland, affectionately known as The City of Sails, is a vibrant harbour city and the biggest city in the country. Sometimes referred to as the 'Stockholm of the South Pacific', it shares a similar savvy style, love of water and the natural environment mixed with high-tech sophistication. With a myriad of restaurants, galleries, shows, shops, sporting events and parks to enjoy, it is a fascinating hub of cultural diversity and forward-facing innovation. Hawke’s Bay in the East is famed for its sensational food, beautiful art-deco architecture, and world-class wine (there are over 200 vineyards, and 70+ wineries,) while Wellington, situated near the North Island’s southernmost point on the Cook Strait, is a working harbour with a waterfront promenade and colourful timber houses scattered on rolling hillside. From Lamton Quay you can enjoy the iconic red cable card ride to the beautiful Wellington Botanic Gardens.
New Zealanders are passionate gardeners and, with a climate and landscape that can grow just about everything, you are never far away from an amazing garden. Airlies Garden and Wetlands in Auckland was created over fifty years ago by Beverly Mcconnell, revered as ‘the first lady of horticulture in New Zealand - the Vita Sackville-West, Gertrude Jekyll and Rosemary Verey of Down Under. Regarded as a national treasure, the garden is comprised of magnificent lawns, stunning informal borders, ponds, and waterways. Monty Don said of his visit, “I left elated by the scale and vision and dream-like intensity of colour and size.” Often described as a 'museum', Hamilton Gardens has five gardens, each one visually telling the story of how gardens developed over time and across cultures. The grounds of New Zealand’s only castle, Lanarch, are considered a Garden of International Significance, with a unique collection including the Patterned Garden, the Lost Rock Garden, the Serpentine Walk, the Rain Forest, the South Seas Garden, the Alice Lawn, and the Laburnum Arch and Green Room.
Many visiting New Zealand will want to visit Hobbiton for an entertaining experience in The Shires, the famous set of The Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit trilogies. Explore this legendary village, home of the curious and brave halflings with hairy feet, visit Bag End, Bilbo Baggins's house, the mill, the Party Tree, farms and bridges, then head for The Green Dragon Inn for a refreshing cider or ginger beer.
From either New Zealand or Australia there are many more other Pacific Islands to hop over for a visit, from the tropical Fiji, Rarotonga, Tahiti, and Samoa, to the pine scented shores of Norfolk Island and New Caledonia.
While your journey across the Pacific might seem long, it will reward you with a wealth of incredible attractions, sweeping vistas and remarkable experiences. If your interest in exploring this phenomenal region has been piqued we have some suggestions…and if there are additional visits you might like to enjoy on your adventure, such as stopping over in Singapore or Bali let us know as we are always happy to look at adapting a tour programme to suit.