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Few places can match Australia and New Zealand for adventure and natural spectacle. The beguiling isles of the South Pacific add their own remote depth and variety

Long viewed by snooty Europeans as cultural backwaters, in the last decade Australia and New Zealand have been rocketed to the top of travellers’ wishlists by two spectacular global events: the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and the NZ-set Lord of the Rings film trilogy.

So now the world knows what visitors knew all along – that these two little-and-large neighbours pack in more adventure, natural wonder and (breathe it) cultural wallop than almost anywhere else on earth. Add in the 7,500 beguiling isles of the South Pacific – from the enigmatic big heads of Easter Island to the land-divers of Vanuatu – and you have a traveller-friendly region with enormous depth and variety.

The classic first-timer’s tour of Australia – ‘Sydney, Rock and Reef’ – ticks off its world icons: the feelgood harbour city, the jaw-dropping desert monolith of Uluru (Ayers Rock), and the divers’ paradise of the Great Barrier Reef.

Many equally rewarding experiences lie further afield. though. Western Australia offers true wilderness adventures in the outback; Arnhem Land, in the Northern Territory, is perhaps the best place to learn about Aboriginal culture; and Tasmania boasts world class rafting, hiking and rainforest.

New Zealanders like to call their home ‘God’s Own Country’, and for anyone with a taste for outdoors, they’re probably right. The larger, craggier South Island often grabs the headlines, but the North Island is quieter and no less beautiful. Take your pick from fjord-lined Milford Sound, the coastal Abel Tasman and Queen Charlotte tracks, the volcanic Tongariro Crossing – and dozens more hiking gems.

Want to go faster? Queenstown is a mecca for adrenaline sports – the bungee jump and many more lunatic endeavours were invented here. New Zealand’s Maori culture is also fascinating and easily accessible through museums, cultural tours and homestays.

This part of the world is often called Oceania, and for good reason: the South Pacific defines everything from Bondi Beach’s surfers to New Zealand’s yachties. And strung out to the north and east of New Zealand, the far-flung islands of Polynesia – settled by pioneering sailors – retain a strong seafaring culture.

Most visited is Fiji, the hub of South Pacific air travel. Here there are luxury resorts a-plenty, but also many chances to experience traditional, conservative Polynesian village life. Nearby(ish) Samoa is emerging as a less-developed alternative. Tonga has world-class humpback whale-watching and the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu have great diving and are home to remarkable tribal cultures.

Further afield, paradise islands like Rarotonga, Tahiti and Bora Bora are firmly in luxury honeymoon territory. However, the passenger-carrying freighter Aranui is still the way to visit the remote Marquesas Islands on one of the world’s greatest and remotest boat journeys.

So what are you waiting for? Start planning your Australasian adventure today…

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Articles on Australia, NZ and South Pacific

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