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Day by Day Itinerary

Travel to Australia as well as neighboring country New Zealand and discover a region of true natural and cultural diversity on our Australia & New Zealand Tour. Few travelers get to visit the South Pacific as affordably and comprehensively as you can with Grand Circle Travel. From Australia’s Great Barrier Reef to New Zealand’s alpine South Island, you’ll find great opportunities for learning and discovery on this popular vacation. And you’ll do it up close, as your resident Program Director introduces you to Aussie cattle experts and New Zealand's native Maori—all the engaging people who give this part of the world its deserved reputation for friendliness and good cheer.

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    You depart Los Angeles today and fly over the Pacific.

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    Crossing the International Date Line westbound, you lose a day (you’ll gain it back on your return flight).

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    You’ll arrive this morning in Sydney or Brisbane, and a Grand Circle representative will assist you in connecting with your flight to Cairns. On arrival at the airport in Cairns, another Grand Circle representative will meet you and assist with the transfer to your hotel, where you'll meet your fellow travelers, including those who took our Melbourne & the Outback pre-trip extension. The balance of your day is at leisure to relax after your overseas flight before beginning your Australia & New Zealand tour in earnest.

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    After breakfast this morning, depart for Hartley's Crocodile and Wildlife Park for an up-close visit with crocodiles, koalas, and kangaroos. Hartley's is a working crocodile farm located in the Australian Bush. You'll have the opportunity to meet a cuddly koala, hand-feed kangaroos in a private enclosure, and watch the crocs at feeding time. You'll also take a boat cruise on Hartley's Lagoon, a natural habitat for the saltwater crocodile. A behind-the-scenes tour of the park will provide you with an informative and entertaining experience with the region's rich array of wildlife and the keepers who care for it.

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    Then enjoy some time at leisure to visit beautiful Port Douglas on the Coral Sea. Originally established as a link to the gold fields, Port Douglas is now a favorite Aussie vacation spot. The year-round tropical climate creates a warm and welcoming atmosphere.

    Perhaps you’ll browse the shops lining the marina’s boardwalk, or find an enticing restaurant for lunch, which is on your own. After your stop in Port Douglas, depart for Wetherby Station, stopping along the way to join your Program Director for a look at a contemporary Australian institution—an authentic Aussie pub. After a drink and some mingling with the locals, continue on to Wetherby Station, where you’ll experience life at a working cattle station (ranch).

    Just as New Zealand is renowned for its lamb, Australia is world-famous for delicious beef. In fact, the country is one of the world’s largest cattle producers (the U.S. ranks first) and one of the world’s leading beef exporters.

    You'll get a taste of the Australian beef industry—literally and figuratively—during an exclusive Discovery Series presentation and dinner at Wetherby Station, one of the oldest cattle properties "Down Under." Wetherby Station is located in northern Queensland, the heart of Australia's cattle country, about 13 miles southwest of Port Douglas in the Tablelands around Mount Molloy. Established by William Groves in 1870 (and named after his hometown in Yorkshire, England), Wetherby was once a working, million-acre station (ranch). Learn about this history, and enjoy a hearty meal of authentic Aussie tucker (food).

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    After breakfast today, you'll board a high-speed catamaran with a choice between two activities which are both located in the Great Barrier Marine Park—a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. Stretching 1,240 miles, the Great Barrier Reef comprises acres of multicolored coral supporting an array of exotic sea creatures.

    One choice is an included excursion, for which you will get off the catamaran at Green Island, a spectacular 6,000-year-old coral cay located in the inner reef. Green Island is approximately 37 acres in size and the only coral cay on the reef with a rain forest growing on it. Home to several bird species and more than 100 native plant species, it is surrounded by magnificent coral gardens. Here you can swim or snorkel among colorful tropical fish and coral formations or behold the underwater world from a glass-bottomed boat. You'll be dazzled by paradise of angelfish, clown fish and riots of lacy anemones as you explore the rocky canyons and fingers of soft and hard coral. Then enjoy a buffet lunch and an exclusive guided walk on this unique island, after which you'll return to your hotel and free time for the remainder of the afternoon.

    Or, join an optional tour to the Outer Great Barrier Reef, a fantastic spot from which to explore this ecological wonderland. You'll board the same high speed catamaran, but instead of disembarking at Green Island, you'll remain onboard to the outer reef, where you'll arrive at a stationary pontoon-style observation post—your base for reef-viewing. The Outer Barrier Reef provides the best views because it is further from the shore and free from the run off from the rain forests that can cloud the water. Additionally the outer reef supports a more diverse range of marine life than other locations. At the outer reef you can swim or snorkel, probe the lower depths in a semi-submersible vessel, or behold the underwater world from the lower deck of the stationary pontoon. A local reef expert will also be on hand to enlighten you about this unique ecosystem and enhance your experience of the reef. A buffet style lunch is included with this optional tour. You'll return to your hotel in the late afternoon.

    Dinner tonight is on your own.

    Please note: Weather conditions may affect your marine life-viewing experience. On rare occasions, strong winds or severe weather may prevent your visit to Green Island or the Outer Barrier Reef.

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    This morning, perhaps you'll join us for an optional Tjapukai Aboriginal Culture Park, Skyrail & Kuranda Village tour. At Tjapukai Aboriginal Culture Park, you’ll watch Aborigines perform traditional dances and learn about their controversial history in this region of Australia. Later, let them dazzle you with their boomerang skills—perhaps you’ll even try your hand at the boomerang yourself. Afterward, ride up the beautiful Whitfield Range in a skyrail gondola to Kuranda, a quaint and picturesque village nestled in one of the Earth’s oldest rain forests.

    Returning to the hotel later, you’ll have some time at leisure before an exclusive Discovery Series discussion. A speaker with ties to the local Aboriginal community will discuss the life and culture of Aborigines Today, sharing with you the fascinating beliefs and contemporary challenges of the continent’s first peoples.

    Tonight, enjoy an exclusive visit to the Cairns branch of the Returned Services League, which supports veterans and present members of the armed forces. Here, you'll sit down for an included dinner.

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    This morning, you'll transfer to the Cairns Airport for your flight to Sydney. Upon arrival in Sydney late this afternoon, you'll enjoy dinner at a local restaurant.

    After dinner, transfer to your hotel.

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    After breakfast, get to know Australia's oldest and largest city on a guided tour.

    Begin with the Opera House, where you'll stop for a guided tour of this famous landmark. Opened in 1973 by Queen Elizabeth II, the Opera House is a classic example of the innovative Postmodern movement in architecture. Its design, engineering, and scope are modern marvels. The building contains 1,000 rooms and five theaters. More than two million visitors each year are entertained by more than 3,000 performances.

    Then you'll have a seat in Mrs. Macquarie's Chair, a bench cut into a sandstone rock formation, for panoramic views of Sydney's picturesque harbor, followed by a drive through Sydney's Eastern suburbs to Bondi Beach. Bondi is an Aboriginal word that means "water breaking over rocks." This famous strip of coastline was established as a public beach in 1882, and is home to the oldest surf life-saving club in the world, the Bondi Surf Bathers' Life Saving Club.

    After an included lunch at Bondi Beach, you will visit a Sydney opal store, where you will learn about the various types of opals in Australia and how they are produced. You'll then enjoy a special glimpse at the world's largest gem opal when the staff opens their safe to reveal the "Olympic Australis," which weighs in at 17,000 carats. The rest of your afternoon and evening are at your leisure.

    Or, tonight, see Sydney in a different light on an optional tour. Begin with dinner at a local waterfront restaurant in the Rocks district. Then ride to Sydney Aquarium aboard a water taxi, taking in spectacular views of the harbor en route. Your exclusive guided tour of Sydney Aquarium—courtesy of an expert aquarist—introduces you to Australia's fascinating aquatic species, such as platypi, a myriad of tropical fish, and sharks.

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    You start this morning by riding to the historic “Rocks” area for an exclusive Discovery Series walking tour. Overlooking Sydney's beautiful harbor, the delightful Rocks district of today bears little resemblance to its scandalous incarnation circa 1788. That's when colonial expatriates—primarily English convicts and their families—arrived on the scene and established a lively settlement in this prime location. For the next several decades, the neighborhood's picturesque location amidst sandstone outcroppings (the "rocks" alluded to in its nickname) belied its rough-and-tumble reputation. However, what was once a bawdy warren of warehouses, taverns, and houses of ill repute is now one of Australia's most charming enclaves, with fine shopping and superb restaurants.

    As you explore the colorful, cobbled streets lined with bistros and boutiques, your Program Director will regale you with tales of the Rocks' illustrious history.

    You then stroll to Circular Quay at the heart of Sydney's waterfront. Circular Quay is a hub of activity where a constant flow of ferries and water taxis transport commuters and day-trippers to their destinations all around the harbor.

    The remainder of the day is at leisure for you to relax or explore Sydney at your own pace.

    Or you can join an optional Sydney Harbor cruise, spotlighting the upper reaches of the beautiful Middle Harbor. More than two centuries ago, European settler Captain Phillip proclaimed this the finest natural harbor on Earth; you'll know what he meant as you pass countless sheltered coves, dotted with yachts and lined with elite homes. You'll return with plenty of time for lunch on your own and an afternoon at leisure. Dinner tonight is on your own.

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    Enjoy an additional day at leisure in Sydney and a chance to get to know Australia's largest and oldest city better. Perhaps you'll use the time to discover attractions in and around sprawling Hyde Park, including St. Mary's Cathedral, the Great Synagogue, and the Australian Museum. You could also visit the world-renowned Taronga Zoo. Or simply relax at one of Sydney's waterfront cafes, and enjoy the view of the sailboats dotting the harbor.

    Dinner is on your own this evening; your Program Director will gladly offer dining suggestions.

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    After breakfast this morning, depart for the airport, and then fly to Queenstown, your home for the next three days as you start your New Zealand tour.

    Upon arrival, you'll transfer to your accommodations and get to know your surroundings with an orientation walk. After the rest of your afternoon at leisure, join fellow travelers for an included dinner at a local restaurant.

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    This morning, perhaps you'll discover the spectacular Twin Rivers on a thrilling hour-long optional jet-boat ride. A native New Zealand invention, the jet-boat takes in water and ejects it from the stern under great pressure to create the propulsion. It needs very little room to maneuver, making it capable of handling twisting channels with ease (not to mention impressive moves like 360-degree spins). With a skilled jet-boat driver at the controls, you'll fly through the crystal-clear waters of the Kawarau River, set against the backdrop of the aptly named Remarkables Mountains. Then, skim the shallows of the famous Shotover River, the second-richest gold-bearing river in the world. (Please note: The operation of this tour is dependent on the river's water levels.)

    Or, enjoy a leisurely breakfast and a morning to spend as you wish. You'll then walk to Queenstown's Wharf, where you'll board the TSS Earnslaw, a historic steamship that first launched in 1912. Cruise across Lake Wakatipu to Walter Peak Sheep Station for a guided farm tour.

    Since Captain Cook brought sheep to New Zealand in 1773, sheep farming has grown to be a mainstay of the country's economy. Today, New Zealand (with ten sheep for every person!) is the world's foremost producer of prized, strong wool. At Walter Peak, you'll learn about life on a Queenstown sheep farm, see sheepdogs run through their paces and watch a live sheep-shearing demonstration. To top off your visit, you'll enjoy a traditional English tea.

    You'll cruise back to Queenstown and arrive at the hotel mid-afternoon. Spend the balance of your afternoon as you please. Even if you are not inclined to ski, boat, raft, bungee jump, hang glide, horseback ride, or sky dive, you can have fun watching these activities and appreciating the incredible scenery all around you.

    The late afternoon is yours to spend as you please before rejoining your fellow travelers for an included dinner at your hotel.

    Please note: An alternate vessel will be used during late May through early July 2015, as the TSS Earnslaw will be on annual survey during this time.

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    Today, enjoy what is sure to be a highlight of your New Zealand tour, during a full-day tour of Milford Sound, hailed by Rudyard Kipling as "The Eighth Wonder of the World." Dense forests, shimmering Lake Te Anau, and a pass known as "The Avenue of Disappearing Mountains" mark your route. Marvel at towering cliffs and the stunning perfect cone of Mitre Peak. You'll see thundering waterfalls, impressive beech forests, and unique flora and fauna as you cruise along Milford Sound's famed fjords, enjoying an included lunch on board. After your cruise, you'll return to Queenstown by motorcoach, where dinner is on your own.

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    Today, you’ll stroll the main street of charming Arrowtown, which has been faithfully reconstructed with wooden buildings that evoke a bygone era. The town today contains some of the best shops in the country—selling popular products like jewelry, gold nuggets, jade, and woolen goods.

    The population of Arrowtown grew to more than 7,000 during the Gold Rush, but has recently settled at around 2,000 residents. Walking around the town, you may mistake your surroundings for a Hollywood movie set—the deserted miners' cottages, historic wooden buildings, and old-time shops appear much as they did during the Gold Rush period.

    After an included lunch at a restaurant in town, you'll visit a local winery, sampling vintages and learning about the wine-making process in New Zealand. The oldest existing vineyard here was established in 1851, although New Zealand has been producing wine since colonial times. Most of the vineyards are located near the coast, where the temperate climate allows the grapes to ripen slowly—retaining their vibrant and distinctive flavor.

    Return to your hotel late this afternoon, where the rest of the day is yours to spend as you please in Queenstown. You can explore on your own, or reach out to your Program Director for suggested activities. Tonight, enjoy an included dinner at a local restaurant.

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    After breakfast, transfer to the airport for your flight to New Zealand's North Island. Arriving in Rotorua, a small city known for its Maori culture and natural thermal pools, you'll check in to your hotel and enjoy time to unwind.

    This evening, enjoy a Home-Hosted Dinner with a local family who can tell you about Rotorua's rich culture and their daily way of life.

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    On today’s included tour, explore the city of Rotorua with your Program Director, and get to know this gem of New Zealand's North Island better. You'll start by learning more about the local Maori traditions during an exclusive Discovery Series event as you visit the Maori village of Ohinemutu. Here you can admire a Maori Church, as well as a hand-carved meetinghouse built on a marae, an ancient ceremonial site. Then learn more about the culture and history of the region during a visit to the Rotorua Museum. Enjoy time for lunch on your own and independent discovery this afternoon. You can continue your time at leisure for the remainder of the day if you wish.

    Or join an optional evening excursion to Te Puia Cultural Center, featuring a visit to New Zealand's national carving and weaving schools, a tour of natural geysers and thermal pools, and a traditional dinner with Maori storytelling and entertainment.

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    This morning, transfer by motorcoach to Auckland to continue your discoveries of New Zealand's North Island. Enjoy an included lunch en route.

    In Auckland, the “City of Sails," you'll find a fine waterfront, well-used by ferryboats and sailboats of all sizes. Auckland Harbor hosted the exciting 2000 America’s Cup Challenge, in which the Kiwis successfully defended their title against the American challengers. The downtown area is a great place to stroll and drop in on the street-level cafes.

    This evening, unwind at the hotel before dinner with your fellow travelers at a local restaurant.

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    This morning, enjoy a memorable hands-on sailing experience aboard the 50-foot sailboat, Pride of Auckland. As you cruise, you’ll enjoy a new perspective of Auckland Harbor, New Zealand’s bustling commercial port.

    After, you’ll enjoy an included tour of the city, offering a closer look at such iconic sights as the Sky Tower, Auckland Harbor, and the America’s Cup Village.

    Take the afternoon at your leisure. Perhaps you’ll visit the Auckland War Memorial Museum or explore the Viaduct Basin, an entertainment area that was once home to the America’s Cup. You can take a stroll to mingle with locals and visitors alike at more than 20 restaurants and bars. Or try your luck at the Sky City Casino.

    You'll rejoin your fellow travelers at the hotel tonight for a Farewell Dinner.

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    • Meals included:

    If you've chosen our post-trip Bay of Islands extension, you'll transfer to Paihia in the morning. Otherwise, you’ll transfer early this morning to the Auckland airport for a connecting flight in Sydney or Brisbane before your return flight to the United States. You’ll gain a day as you fly east, crossing the International Date Line.

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Weather & Regional

Before you travel, we encourage you to learn about the region of the world you'll discover on this trip. From weather and currency information to details on population, geography, and local history, you'll find a comprehensive introduction to your destinations below.

Visit our “What to Know” page to find information about the level of activity to expect, vaccination information resources, and visa requirements specific to this vacation.

What to Know

For more detailed information about this trip, download our Travel Handbook below. This document covers a wide range of information on specific areas of your trip, from passport, visa, and medical requirements; to the currencies of the countries you’ll visit and the types of electrical outlets you’ll encounter. This handbook is written expressly for this itinerary. For your convenience, we've highlighted our travelers' most common areas of interest on this page.

Download the Travel Handbook

What to Expect

  • This Australia & New Zealand Tour features a fair amount of walking, often through sites and airports without ramps or elevators.
  • For your comfort and safety, we recommend this program only to individuals in good physical condition. If you have difficulty walking or are wheelchair-bound, please consult our Travel Counselors for guidance.
  • We reserve the right for our Program Directors to modify participation, or in some circumstances send travelers home if their limitations are impacting the group's experience.

Travel Documents

Passport

Your passport should meet these requirements for this itinerary

  • It should be valid for at least 6 months after your scheduled return to the U.S.
  • It should have the recommended number of blank pages (refer to the handbook for details).
  • The blank pages must be labeled “Visas” at the top. Pages labeled “Amendments and Endorsements” are not acceptable.

Travel Documents

Passport

Your passport should meet these requirements for this itinerary

  • It should be valid for at least 6 months after your scheduled return to the U.S.
  • It should have the recommended number of blank pages (refer to the handbook for details).
  • The blank pages must be labeled “Visas” at the top. Pages labeled “Amendments and Endorsements” are not acceptable.

Visas

U.S. citizens will need a visa (or visas) for this trip. In addition, there may be other entry requirements that also need to be met. For your convenience, we’ve included a quick reference list, organized by country:

  • Australia: Visa required.
  • New Zealand: No visa required, but travelers making their own international air arrangements will need to send us their flight ticket numbers. The form to do this will be mailed with the Australian visa application.

Travelers who are booked on this vacation will be sent a complete Visa Packet— with instructions, applications, and a list of visa fees—approximately 100 days prior to their departure. (Because many countries limit the validity of their visa from the date it is issued, or have a specific time window for when you can apply, we do not recommend applying too early.)

If you are not a U.S. citizen, do not travel with a U.S. passport, or will be traveling independently before/after this trip, then your entry requirements may be different. Please check with the appropriate embassy or a visa servicing company. To contact our recommended visa servicing company, PVS International, call toll-free at 1-800-556-9990.

Vaccinations Information

For a detailed and up-to-date list of vaccinations that are recommended for this trip, please visit the CDC’s “Traveler’s Health” website. You can also refer to the handbook for details.

Before Your Trip

Before you leave on your vacation, there are at least four health-related things you should do. Please check the handbook for specifics, but for now, here’s the short list:

Step 1: Check with the CDC for their recommendations for the countries you’ll be visiting.
Step 2: Have a medical checkup with your doctor.
Step 3: Pick up any necessary medications, both prescription and over-the-counter.
Step 4: Have a dental and/or eye checkup. (Recommended, but less important than steps 1-3.)

What to Bring

In an effort to help you bring less, we have included checklists within the handbook, which have been compiled from suggestions by Program Directors and former travelers. The lists are only jumping-off points—they offer recommendations based on experience, but not requirements. You might also want to refer to the climate charts in the handbook or online weather forecasts before you pack. Refer to the handbook for details.

Insider Tips

Accommodations

Main Trip

  • Rydges Tradewinds Cairns

    Cairns, Australia | Rating: Superior First Class

    The Superior First-Class Rydges Tradewinds Cairns is located on the Cairns Esplanade overlooking Trinity Bay. To experience the Cairns lagoon and night markets, take a short and scenic stroll along the Esplanade. At this oceanfront hotel, enjoy the outdoor resort-style pool and spa, as well as two on-site restaurants. Your air-conditioned room features cable TV, telephone, refrigerator, minibar, coffee- and tea-making facilities, and private bath with shower and hair dryer.

  • Holiday Inn Darling Harbour

    Sydney, Australia | Rating: First Class

    The First-Class Holiday Inn Darling Harbour is located near Sydney’s bustling Chinatown district and scenic Cockle Bay Wharf, providing you with plenty of options for nearby dining and evening entertainment. The hotel also features an on-site restaurant and bar, serving boutique brews, as well as a fitness center and relaxing sauna. Each air-conditioned room includes coffee- and tea-making facilities, cable and satellite TV, in-room safe, and private bath with hair dryer.

  • Rydges Lakeland Resort

    Queenstown, New Zealand | Rating: First Class

    Nestled between the mountains and Lake Wakatipu, the First-Class Rydges Lakeland Resort is a modern lakefront hotel, convenient to a variety of the outdoor activities Queenstown has to offer, from horseback riding to water skiing. Shops and restaurants are just a short walk away, along the shore of Lake Wakatipu. The hotel features a bar and restaurant, heated outdoor pool, and a spa; your room includes coffee- and tea-making facilities, refrigerator, safe, satellite TV, and private bath with hair dryer.

  • Distinction Rotorua Hotel

    Rotorua, New Zealand | Rating: Superior First Class

    Set among beautiful gardens, the Distinction Rotorua Hotel offers 133 rooms with amenities including a TV, refrigerator, coffee- and tea-making facilities, minibar, and Internet access. During your stay, enjoy the outdoor spa and swimming pools, underground grotto spas, and a choice of three on-site restaurants.

  • Rydges Auckland Hotel

    Auckland, New Zealand

    The First-Class Rydges Auckland Hotel is located in the heart of the city, near the scenic Viaduct Harbor waterfront district, and provides easy access to a number of dining and shopping opportunities close at hand. The hotel features an onsite restaurant, bar, and coffee shop, while each room includes air conditioning, wireless Internet access, and private bath with hair dryer.

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  • Citadines on Bourke Melbourne Hotel

    Melbourne, Australia

    The Citadines on Bourke Melbourne Hotel is located in the heart of Melbourne's city center. Take a short walk to world-renowned restaurants, entertainment, and shopping areas, including the Bourke Street Mall and Queen Victoria Village (QV). Several trams, bus stops, and train stations are accessible from the hotel. Amenities include a fitness center, indoor pool, sauna, sundeck, and an on-site restaurant. Your air-conditioned room features kitchen/kitchenette, direct-dial telephone, cable TV, wireless Internet access, safe, and private bath with hair dryer.

  • Desert Gardens Hotel

    Ayers Rock, Australia | Rating: First Class

    This two-story, First-Class hotel is your home base for Ayers Rock, approximately a half-hour drive away. The hotel complex includes a gift shop, bar, and laundry facilities. Your air-conditioned room features a radio, cable TV, minibar, refrigerator, coffee- and tea-making facilities, and private bath with shower and hair dryer.

  • Copthorne Hotel and Resort

    Paihia, New Zealand | Rating: First Class

    With 180 rooms designed to reflect the Bay of Islands' idyllic beauty, the Copthorne Hotel and Resort boasts spectacular views and international standards. Each room features a TV, minibar, telephone, coffee- and tea-making facilities, hair dryer, and in-room safe.

  • Novotel Auckland Airport

    Auckland, New Zealand

    Novotel Auckland Airport combines New Zealand's natural beauty with modern design elements. This hotel features 263 rooms in addition to a restaurant, bar, and gym.

Flight Information

Flight Options to Personalize Your Trip

You can choose to stay longer before or after your trip on your own, or combine two vacations to maximize your value.

  • Extend your vacation and lower your per day cost with our optional pre- and post-trip excursions
  • Choose our standard air routing, or work with us to select the airline and routing you prefer
  • Make your own international flight arrangements directly with the airline, applying frequent flyer miles if available
  • International airport transfers to and from your ship or hotel, including meet and greet service, are available for purchase
  • Stay overnight in a connecting city before or after your trip
  • Request to arrive a few days early to get a fresh start on your vacation
  • Choose to "break away" before or after your trip, spending additional days or weeks on your own
  • Combine your choice of Grand Circle vacations to maximize your value
  • Upgrade to business or premium class

The air options listed above will involve an additional fee of $100 per person for confirmed requests (as well as incremental airfare costs based on your specific choice).

Standard Air Routing

w/out standard air $3095
w/ standard air $4795

Photos From Our Travelers

On location in South Pacific

Here’s how Grand Circle travelers have captured moments of discovery, beauty, friendship, and fun on previous departures of our Australia & New Zealand vacation. We hope these will evoke special travel memories and inspire you to submit your own favorite Grand Circle Travel trip photos.

   

It was a typically beautiful day at Sydney Harbor as Steve and Barbara Scammell, 4-time travelers from Summit, New Jersey, and Suzanne and Dennis O'Malley, 5-time travelers from Califon, New Jersey (left to right) pause before the Sydney Opera House.

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How to submit your photos:

Please submit individual photos in jpeg format to: GCTtravelerphotos@gct.com.

Please be sure to include the name of your OAT adventure, along with the travel dates. Tell us where you took the photo and, if you’d like, tell us why. And don’t forget to include your name and contact information.

Please note: By submitting a photo, you (i) represent and warrant that the photo is your original work created solely by yourself and does not infringe the intellectual property rights of any party; (ii) grant to Grand Circle LLC and its affiliates a worldwide, royalty-free, perpetual, transferable, irrevocable, non-exclusive and fully sublicensable right and license to use, in any and all related media whether now known or hereafter devised, in perpetuity, anywhere in the world, with the right to make any and all commercial or other uses thereof, including without limitation, reproducing, editing, modifying, adapting, publishing, displaying publicly, creating derivative works from, incorporating into other works or modifying the photo and (iii) hereby release and discharge Grand Circle LLC and its affiliates, officers and employees from and against any and all claims, liabilities, costs, damages and expenses of any kind arising out of or relating to the use by Grand Circle LLC of any photo submitted.

What Makes This Trip Unique

Exclusive Discovery Series Events:

  • Wetherby Station dinner & cattle demonstration. Discover country life on a working cattle ranch.
  • Great Barrier Reef discussion. Learn about the natural history of the reef and environmental factors threatening its future.
  • Aborigines Today discussion. Hear from a local expert how indigenous peoples have adjusted to the changing population in Australia.
  • Returned Services League dinner. Get to know veterans and hear their stories of service in Australia's armed forces.
  • "The Rocks" tour. Explore the neighborhood overlooking Sydney's famed harbor.
  • Home-Hosted Dinner. Break bread with a family in New Zealand, and take the opportunity to ask questions about local life.
  • Ohinemutu community visit. This Maori community is a fascinating peek into indigenous life in New Zealand.

Enjoy the opportunity to visit 4 UNESCO World Heritage Sites

  • Great Barrier Reef
  • Sydney Opera House
  • Wet Tropics of Queensland
  • Fiordland National Park

The Rise and Emergence of Australia

How Sydney’s penal colony transformed into one of the freest countries in the world

by Pamela Schweppe, for Grand Circle

Thrust from an urban setting into an inhospitable wilderness, the convicts had to quickly overcome adversity just to stay alive.

Transport yourself to the London of the 1780s. Under the English Penal Code, known colloquially as the “Bloody Code,” more than 200 crimes are punishable by death. Perhaps you are hungry and desperate and turn to pickpocketing to survive, or maybe you’re a soldier guilty of insubordination. Which would you prefer: being put to death, or being transported to the underbelly of the world, where you will be left to fend for yourself? Or are these two options essentially the same thing? For many British convicts in the late 18th century, being exiled to Australia may have seemed like a death sentence—and for many, it was. At the time, London was the most populous city in Europe, having grown to 800,000 people. Crime was rampant—so much so that it was unwise to venture out after dark. What to do with all the criminals had become a major issue. Prisons were scarce and overcrowded, so transporting prisoners to remote lands had become the preferred alternative to execution. During the 17th and 18th centuries, roughly 60,000 prisoners were sent to North America. When Britain lost the Revolutionary War, however, they also lost a vast continent on which to deposit convicts, so a new site needed to be sourced. It happened that, in 1768, Lieutenant James Cook had been commissioned by King George III to explore the South Seas. In 1770, his ship, the HMS Endeavor, became the first European vessel to touch the eastern shores of Australia. The place where the ship landed is now called Botany Bay. On August 18, 1786, a decision was made to develop a convict settlement at Botany Bay. On May 13, 1787, the First Fleet set sail from English shores. The fleet consisted of eleven ships: two naval ships, six convict ships, and three supply ships. On board were roughly 1,500 passengers, of whom around 800 were convicts. As it turned out, the voyage did not end at Botany Bay. On arrival on January 20, 1788, the leader of the expedition, Captain Arthur Phillip—soon to become Australia’s first governor—determined that the unprotected waterfront plus a lack of green fields and fresh water made the site unsuitable. The fleet sailed on to Port Jackson—better known today as Sydney Harbor—where permanent anchor was made. The date was January 26, 1788.

A typical day for Australia’s first European settlers

Conditions for those first European settlers were harsh. Scurvy and dysentery were rampant. Thrust from an urban setting into a wilderness, the convicts were responsible for finding a way to sustain themselves with food and shelter. Crops were sparse, and much of the livestock was lost. Still, Governor Phillip quickly arranged for the new settlers maximize their skills, whether farmers, shepherds, carpenters, nurses, or record keepers. Days were long and rigorous, and yet the convicts enjoyed a measure of freedom that would never have been afforded to them in London. Still, the mortality rate was high among the new settlers, who waited impatiently for more food to arrive with the Second Fleet. The next ship to arrive, however, was not what the colonists expected. Crimes against Australia’s indigenous people, the Aborigines, reached an extreme when an eight-year-old Aboriginal girl was raped. In response, British Home Under-Secretary Evan Nepean decided that the behavior of the men of the new penal colony would be improved with the arrival of more women, so he ordered that 225 women from prisons throughout England be sent to Australia aboard the Lady Juliana.

The special plight of women

For some of the female prisoners aboard the Lady Juliana, transportation to the new penal colony was ironically freeing—a chance to cast aside social strictures and carve out a new life. For most women, however, being sentenced to Sydney Cove was tantamount to being forced into prostitution. Even though most of the women transported were guilty of a first offence (as opposed to multiple offences for most of the men)—and that usually a misdemeanor—they were assumed to be vulgar, low-class women with loose morals. Sexual abuse usually commenced even before arrival in Australia—aboard the very ships that took them there. Besides, with men assigned the tasks of farming, manufacturing, and construction, there were few jobs left over for women. There was little demand for servants, and factory jobs were scarce. With little incentive for men to marry, even the respectability of marriage was out of reach for most women, and for decades, those who did marry still could not escape the stigma of being considered a prostitute.

From penal colony to, simply, a colony

As the years went by, the focus of the settlement turned from punishment to colonization. By 1810, convicts were building roads, bridges, hospitals, and public buildings. Some were even gaining their freedom. Free citizens also began arriving in 1793, increasing the proportion of free citizens and adding to the demand for democratic change. Real reforms were enacted under Lieutenant-General Sir Richard Bourke, the ninth governor of New South Wales (1831-1837). Governor Bourke began waging a campaign against excessive punishment and inhumane treatment of the convicts, and also began granting rights to free convicts, including the right to own property. In 1850, transportation to Australia as a form of punishment was abolished. In all, approximately 165,000 convicts had been transported to Australia aboard 806 ships. The colony was now self-sustaining. Today, January 26 is celebrated as Australia Day, a national holiday comparable to America’s Fourth of July. Is there irony in the fact that the U.S. observes its birthday on the signing of the Declaration of Independence, whereas the Aussies mark the anniversary of the arrival of prisoners? Perhaps not, when you consider that the brash and easygoing character we associate with the Australian people is founded on a band of convicts who had ample reason to cherish and pursue the very notion of freedom.