Most people harbor a particular image of Australia, such as the Opera House or Ayers Rock, yet these famous icons do scant justice to the richness of Australia's natural treasures and its cultural diversity. Australia offers a wealth of travel experiences, from the drama of the outback and the spectacle of the Great Barrier Reef to the cosmopolitanism of Sydney and arguably the best beaches in the world. Australia is an enormous country, and visitors expecting to see an opera in Sydney one night and meet Crocodile Dundee the next will have to re-think their grasp of geography. It is this sheer vastness, and the friction between the ancient land steeped in Aboriginal lore and the New World culture being heaped upon it, which gives Australia much of its character.
New Zealand is a country of rare seismic beauty: glacial mountains, fast-flowing rivers, deep, clear lakes, hissing geysers and boiling mud. There are also abundant forest reserves, long, deserted beaches and a variety of fauna, such as the kiwi, endemic to its shores. Any number of vigorous outdoor activities - hiking, skiing, rafting and, of course, that perennial favorite, bungie jumping - await the adventurous. You can swim with dolphins, frolic with newborn lambs, whalewatch or fish for fattened trout in the many streams. The people, bound in a culture that melds European with Maori ancestry, are resourceful, helpful and overwhelmingly friendly. The extraordinary place names - try Te Awamutu, Whangamomona or Paekakariki for tongue-trippers - are resonant and, with a modicum of practice, easy to pronounce. Because it's such a compact place, travel within New Zealand - whether by plane, bus, rail, car or campervan - is affordable and efficient. Accommodation, too, is cheap and varied. And the culinary promise of venison, fresh seafood, sublime ice cream and award-winning wines should more than whet the appetite.