To get to Australia, we took an overnight flight on Jetstar from Narita to Cairns. It was about 7 hours in the air. They also fly a simultaneous route from Narita to Gold Coast. Since it is a discount carrier, there are no meals included in the flight. You either need to take your own or purchase ahead of time from Jetstar when booking your reservation. They also have ipads loaded with shows and games available to rent for $15 AU. We were very surprised when we arrived at Narita and they would not allow our 1 year old to take her car seat on board because it was not Australian. They re-ticketed her to infant in arms at the gate but please note this if you are traveling with a small child.
In order to enter Australia you must have an ETA visa which you can apply for online at www.immi.gov.au. The cost is $25 AU per person. Cairns has a million things to do. Cuddle a Koala, feed a Kangaroo, swim the Great Barrier Reef, watch bats during their evening migration on the Esplanade, explore the Daintree rainforest, day trip to Port Douglas, and much more. We only stayed for 2 days but could have spent a week. For us the highlight was our day on the reef with SeaStar – they were incredibly kid friendly and the boat was small enough we got personal service.
To Australia and to New Zealand we flew Jetstar and Virgin Australia discount carriers. From Cairns we flew 2 hours south to Gold Coast and stayed near the beach in surfers paradise. The surf was very strong for our 1 and 3 year olds and even though they had a good time playing in the waves it wasn’t an ideal beach situation for them. We spent one day at Sea World which was fun but not up to US standards. With older kids there are many theme parks to enjoy, and they offer combo tickets which really helps with the price. From Gold Coast you are also close to many rainforest experiences.
On to Sydney, another 2 hour flight – the harbor was enjoyable (Opera house, Sydney bridge, botanical gardens). We did not have time to venture outside of Sydney to the beaches or the Blue Mountains but these looked very interesting. We found a wonderful playground in Darling Harbor after visiting the Sea Life Aquarium and from there took a cheap ferry back to Sydney Harbor, giving incredible views of the Opera House without the crowds.
From Sydney we flew to Queenstown, NZ. Entry into New Zealand does not require a visa. However, their customs is VERY strict. They will inspect all food (even prepackaged) and clean anything that could track in unwanted items (your shoes, bike, tent, etc.). Plan for it to take a while to get into the country. Car rental was very reasonable, although gas was pricy. Also plentiful were companies renting converted mini-van camper vans. There are not hotels in the smaller towns on the south island so we had the luxury of staying in bed and breakfasts that were very lovely. Our tour of the south island included Queenstown, Te Anau and Milford Sound, Wanaka, Lake Tekapo, and then we flew out of Christchurch. Highlights were the Milford Sound cruise we took with Real Journeys, jetboating on Lake Wanaka, and the Earth and Sky tour of Mt. John Observatory in Lake Tekapo. For an incredible cottage stay check out the Park Brae Estate in Tekapo. – Amanda Martin, December 2013; Observatory photo courtesy Earth & Sky Ltd., turtle photo courtesy Sea Star Cruises.