First in Service News

Just Back From: Australia + New Zealand

  • 12 Apostles, Great Ocean Road
  • Sydney Opera House
  • Bamurru Plains Safari Lodge
  • Water buffaloes in the wetlands
  • Matakauri Lodge, overlooking the Remarkables
  • Matakauri Lodge, Queenstown
  • Susan Quillin with son Samuel
  • Milford Sound
  • Taking off from the Solitaire Lodge, overlooking Lake Tarawera
  • Barossa Valley vineyards
  • The Louise, Tanunda
  • Cooking class at Casa Carboni in Barossa
  • The kangaroo, one of Australia's most iconic animals
  • Sunset at Bamurru Plains Safari Lodge

Our leisure associate Susan Quillin has been to Australia nearly 20 times. Always for business. Last month, she finally played tourist, adding New Zealand to double the wow factor of her three week adventure.

Why go Down Under?

It’s bliss for anyone who yearns to experience eco-tourism at its best. There is tremendous biodiversity, sophistication and generosity in both lands. Go off the beaten path, shed the cities, hit the ranges, plantations, coastlines, and vineyards, and embrace the spirit of Australia’s Aboriginal and New Zealand’s Maori peoples for the ultimate in experiential travel.

How did you split up your three weeks?

Touch down in Sydney (AU), an unusually captivating city shaped like a hand, each finger (neighborhood) surrounded by water. Art, design and architecture explode off the streets with a pulsating energy that rivals New York! Next stop, Bamarru Plains Safari Lodge (AU), where the plains meet wetlands and swell to the sea, where water buffalo, white crested cockatoos, magpie geese, wallabies and crocodiles dot the horizon.

Cross the Tasman Sea to Queenstown (NZ -South Island), a town at the base of the Remarkables – mecca to skiers and snowboarders, and home to unsurpassed pinot noir. Helicopter over the impressive Fiordland glaciers to pristine Milford Sound, where waterfalls, sea lions, and dolphins captivate. Fly up to Auckland (North Island), a sparkling base for super yachts, unparalleled accommodations and volcanic islands. Then drive to Rotorua, a nearby geothermal destination rich with luxury eco lodges, icy lakes and natural hot springs sitting nicely between ancient volcanoes.

Melbourne (AU) is known for café brunches, farmers markets, green parks, unsurpassed museums, street art, and penguins nesting in St. Kilda at sunset.  Barossa Valley (AU) offers vineyards from shiraz to chardonnay, the most famous cellar door being Penfolds.  My favorite?  Seppeltsfield Winery specializing in 100 year-old fortified wines or port. Tap your waiting barrel to celebrate your age so long as you do not predate 1851!

Finally, end with a drive from Barossa to Victoria along the Great Ocean Road (AU) to the famed 12 Apostles. Every curve leads to a spectacular oceanographic photo op. The drive is steeped in anticipation, emerging from deeply forested koala territory onto ranges filled with grazing sheep, cattle, alpaca, and dramatic whale watching cliffs.

What were your five most memorable activities?

1. “Heli” experience from Queenstown, skimming the glaciers, sailing across crystalline waters only to land in the middle of Mount Nelson Range, in time for tea and cakes in a beckoning storybook cottage.
2. Riding across icy Lake Tarawera in Rotorua for a dip in a hidden geothermal “pool.”
3. An afternoon in the company of revered Maori artist, Delani Brown, in Taupo, NZ. A true inspiration as he mentors younger, disadvantaged children of Taupo.  Delani consults with the gods before making any decision.  I’d like to thank the Maori gods for my time in his presence.
4. Hiking untold kilometers on a raw and drizzly morning to Karekare Point, a black sand beach on the coast of Auckland where Jane Campion filmed The Piano. Every sand-filled step through the bush was worth the mystical seascape that unfolded before us.
5. Driving from the Barossa Valley to Melbourne along the Great Ocean Road for three days of breathtaking oohs, ahs and magic with my son.

How is the cuisine?

In both countries, indulge in lamb and more lamb!  And beef, and fish.  The local catch of the day will never disappoint. Inventive chefs and regional diversity abound. Most rely on locally grown and harvested ingredients. Remember – shiraz in Australia and pinot noir in New Zealand.

What is the best time of year to go?

These are year round destinations and the seasons are reversed.  From December to March, temperatures can reach 100 degrees in Melbourne, Sydney, Ayers Rock, Darwin and New Zealand. I prefer August to November, when there is plenty of snow for skiing, chill for hiking in Fiordland, South Island, and spectacular spring weather along Australia’s central and southeast coast.

Where did you stay?

Bamarru Plains Safari Lodge (AU). A phenomenal eco safari camp experience.
Matakauri Lodge, Queenstown (NZ).  A magnificent alpine property overlooking Lake Wakatipu.
Solitaire Lodge, Rotorua (NZ).  Exceptionally warming lakeside views from its perch amid volcanoes.
The Louise, Tanunda (AU). Think understated luxury, and endless cellar door tastings.

Top tips for first time travelers?

Be flexible, travel light.  Bring your sense of wonder and leave your Louboutins at home. Australians and New Zealanders are casual and unpretentious. Check the weather wherever you are traveling and be prepared to have the time of your life.


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