Shutterstock/21699619/Neale CouslandPopular images of Australia are as varied as they are strange: the shimmering sails of Sydney Opera House; the brooding red hulk of Uluru; the paint-daubed Aboriginal; the cute koala and peculiar platypus; and the vast emptiness of the outback. They’re all here, but the Australian experience is far more subtle and profound than that. The ‘Great Southern Land’ offers beauty and diversity in spades, the world’s oldest living culture and the very last word in weird wildlife.

Australia is a land of extremes, of scarcity and excess. Some of the best things about the country, its space, sunshine and wildlife, can also be its worst, but it is exactly this element of the untameable that makes Australia an exciting destination. Then, of course, there’s the size of the place. The word ‘big’ doesn’t even begin to cover it. Australia is about the same size as the USA or Europe, yet is one of least densely populated countries in the world. 

New Zealand or, as the Maori call it, ‘The Land of the Long White Cloud’, is living proof that small can not only beautiful but also incredibly diverse and complex. The two main islands, North Island and South Island, are both quite different. North, which is far less mountainous, is home to more than two-thirds of New Zealanders, or ‘Kiwis’, who live life to the beat of a faster rhythm than their countrified neighbours to the south. For the tourist, North Island generally holds less aesthetic appeal than South Island, but few miss, or indeed forget, the expansive views across Auckland from its hypodermic Sky Tower; the dramatic displays of Maori culture in Northland; or the brooding and colourful thermal features in and around Rotorua.

South Island, however, is said to offer the ‘true essence’ of New Zealand. To travel through it is like a fun-filled lesson in geography and guarantees to have the digital camera running on overload. Vast empty beaches where you feel guilty leaving a single set of footprints; endless mountain ranges blanketed in snow and rainforest; pristine lakes, waterfalls and fiords; giant glaciers; vast limestone caves and arches; natural springs and fizzing hot pools. Whatever your intention, if you choose New Zealand, although it may seem at the end of the Earth it is certainly heaven upon it.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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