With More Time, Travel for Less
Australia and New Zealand Welcomes Independent-Minded Seniors
By Marilyn C. McDonald
When it’s autumn in New York it’s springtime down under. So what are you waiting for?
Some people need and can afford packaged tours, but my husband and I like the challenge of making it up as we go along and interacting with people who live and work in the countries we visit. In Australia and New Zealand, everyone we met was friendly and helpful.
If you are an able-bodied backpacker, Australians and New Zealanders will welcome you and accommodate you. They will even help you find short-term employment and hostels. If you are retired senior citizens with the luxury of time, like us, you may be able to travel for less.
When we arrived at Sydney’s Central Railway Station we each bought my tickets for unlimited travel by suburban train, bus, or ferry. We used a credit card at every opportunity.
We travel light. Our small backpacks had handles and wheels. Since our triple passes were good day and night in and around Sydney, we didn’t need a car.
We frequently took the train from Central to Circular Quay Station. From there we walked or took one of the numerous ferry boats in and out of the many harbors. We went to the symphony at the famous opera house, visited the animals at the Tonga Zoo, and explored museums. From a second floor window of The Rocks historical museum you can see the Governors Mansion where Governor Arthur Philip established the British penal colony of New South Wales in 1788. Today the Rock hosts artists, specialty shops, and fine restaurants.
We took full-day bus tours to the Blue Mountains, stopping to watch the round-up at a sheep station, practice boom-a-rang throwing, and drink Billy tea.
After a week in Sydney, we took a trip to Brisbane, a city of many culinary surprises along its winding river. From Sydney we booked a very reasonable flight and camper van rental package for New Zealand.
Campervans and backpackers were everywhere on the South Island. You can park a van overnight at any beautiful scenic area on public land. The camper van is the best way to see the countryside. Hillsides and valleys were covered with golden spring wildflowers resembling Scotch Broom. Lupine in shades of purple, pink, yellow, and white blanketed the roadsides and meadows. Sheep dotted every green landscape, and because it was spring lambs were tagging along with their mothers. We stopped frequently just to drink in the overwhelming freshness and beauty of nature.
After returning to Christchurch for a day and a half of walking and exploring the city, and making the last call for latte at Starbucks on a Sunday afternoon, we began the long journey home. We never toured the North Island, nor did we get to the Fiordland National Park or Milford Sound. But that gives us a reason to go back someday.
Budget Travel in Australia and New Zealand
Use your credit card whenever possible to get the best conversion rate. Also, your bank statement gives you some travel history.
Use local currency for cash purchases. There are plenty of ATMs to use your debit card.
Unlike travel in the U.S., there is no penalty for booking one-way air, train, or bus. You can fly from city to city, an advantage in a country as huge as Australia. For best fares book two to three weeks in advance, using in-country websites.
There are many campervan rental companies in both countries. Check internet sites or book through a travel agency when you arrive. You can pick up in one city and drop off at another to avoid making a loop. Smaller vans get better gas mileage.
New Zealand allows off-road over-night parking (dry camping) on public land. When renting a vehicle get automatic shift. It’s awkward enough sitting on the right, shifting on the left and driving on the left side of the road. Take the insurance offered or required. Pay the extra fee to free yourself of responsibility for a big up-front deposit or cost in case of an accident. Our campervan insurance was an additional $50 per week.
Buy Multi DayPass (train, bus, ferry boat) in Sydney. Check similar passes in other major cities.
Lodging is plentiful and reasonable—lots of bed and breakfasts if you travel by car.
Allow plenty of time. You may not get back to Australia or New Zealand for a long while.
MARILYN C. McDONALD writes from La Pine, OR.