Every year, we try to visit a new place on the planet. We get to appreciate a different culture, learn about history and geography. The whole process is extremely educational which can be meditative in itself. This year we decided to see the Aussie Great Barrier Reef and the Kiwi Glow Worms. We wanted to see GBR before it dies 😦 https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/15/science/great-barrier-reef-coral-climate-change-dieoff.html and http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-great-barrier-reef-not-dead-20161014-snap-story.html
GBR and Glow Worms did not disappoint. They were TOTALLY AWESOME!
How to plan a great trip on your own without any professional tour guides. I recommend you start one year before our trip. The really popular places get booked up quickly. It can saves a lot of money if you DIY. Plus you get the bonus of going at your own pace. You do have to do some leg work though. The preplanning is part of the journey. Lots of family discussion as to what everyone is interested in and wants to do. The dreaming and planning is as enjoyable as the trip. By preparing all the details yourself, you remember and appreciate so much more.
On the other hand, the advantages of going with an organized tour, is there is much less planning involved. Works if you are too busy and just want to pick up and go. The tour company takes care of many of the details. But you do take a chance if you go with a small group tour that you get put into a group of people that you have nothing in common with such as a group of alcoholics. That happened to us once: out of a group of 8, 4 of the travelers started drinking at breakfast and continued to drink through out the day. They made my kids feel uncomfortable. You lose autonomy to some extent when you go with a group. After that experience, I prefer bigger groups.
Anyway back to our 2017 adventure. These 2 countries, Australia and New Zealand are fairly easy to navigate and get around as long as you are comfortable driving on left. It also helps that they speak English and have the same or higher level of technology use such as google maps! (usually buy a month of local cellular service- Australia was $10 and New Zealand was $5 (there usually is a sale somewhere – google it before you go). For our iPhones we changed out our SIM cards with the new local ones. This protects us from any billing surprises back in home. Disadvantage is no one from home can contact you who does not have your new number – so you need to forward them your new number. iMessages and FaceTime still works esp when you get wifi).
Although, I say it is enjoyable, it can be daunting to think about planing a trip to a foreign country. What to see and do in Australia if you have only 1 week. It is a huge country. Lonely Planet (https://www.lonelyplanet.com/australia) is a wonderful resource to help learn what a the country has to offer visitors. You can read about it and make a list make a list of what you would like to see. From that list, circle your must sees. New Zealand our choices were limited to North Island because the further south you go in July, it gets very cold. Easier to plan when there are fewer choices! I give myself a free day whenever we have to change hotels. This allows for travel time to new place and packing and unpacking. You don’t want to feel rushed. It is not only an adventure but is a vacation too.
Tripadvisor is also a blessing. Just search places and you can get advice and opinions from people who have been there. Just remember to look at the dates that the comments are written. January and July down under are not the same experience. Their winter and summer are the opposite of ours: when we have summer, they have winter. I booked our places to stay thru www.hotel.com. I like Hotel.com because they generally have a cancelation policy where you can get a full refund and also a choice to pay now or at hotel. Note though if you pay at a foreign hotel, there is an exchange rate (which can fluctuate) and possible fee for the exchange (at the time, American Airline Credit card had no foreign transaction fee). Hotel.com has a free night program where after you accumulate 10 paid nights with participating hotels you receive a free night based on the average cost those 10 nights.
Since my must sees were Great Barrier Reef, we stayed in Cairns (Cairns City Apartments) and Daintree Rain Forest (Tea Tree Cottage). Then for New Zealand and the Glow Worms, we stay in Taupo (Sails Motor Lodge across from Taupo Lake).
We did a day trip out to GBR w this Diving company which I reviewed on TripAdvisor because they really took good care of us:
1.Black Sapote or Chocolate Pudding Fruit- Tastes like is sounds – delicious Chocolate!
2. Wattle Seed tea and Ice cream – tastes just like coffee but no caffeine.
3. Jackfruit Burger
4. Other tasty Vegan treats
Finally a summary of our trip in video:
This video summarizes our trip (filmed with iPhone and a GoPro HERO5).
Addendum: Tours are great when you are going to a country where you don’t speak the language and or you have very little time. We took a Caravan Tour of Costa Rica once. We lucked out with the BEST group of people ever. Highly recommend that tour.