Australia and New Zealand are both fantastic Oceania countries. Time permitting, it’s a solid plan to visit both nations on the same trip given their close proximity. But for many people, limited time or budgetary constraints may force a choice. Both countries offer excellent getaways, so the Australia or New Zealand debate comes down to your personal interests and preferences.
Upon careful comparison, one is likely better suited over the other for your trip. I’ll break down specific comparisons between Australia and New Zealand in various categories like city getaways, culture, wildlife, landscapes and wineries. This should make the decision of which to choose easier for you!
Bell is originally from Australia, and I spent a year living there (We got married at the Melbourne courthouse nearly 20 years ago!). I’ve subsequently made five separate visits to Australia since residing there, returning on average every 3-4 years, including a recent 2023 trip. I previously wrote this in-depth article on great tips for planning a trip to Australia.
During my recent trip, I included a visit to New Zealand afterwards, which had been on my bucket list. The previous time I traveled to Australia in 2019, I combined Japan and covered a 12 day Japan itinerary including Tokyo, Kyoto, Hakone/Mt. Fuji and Osaka- which has become a popular article on this website. There are indeed some interesting contrasts between New Zealand and Australia beyond subtle accent differences. Let’s break it down by category!
Australia or New Zealand: A Quick Comparison
In a nutshell, Australia wins for lovers of city getaways as both Sydney and Melbourne are bigger than New Zealand’s largest city of Auckland. New Zealand wins for landscapes, with higher mountains compared to Australia.
Australia wins for wildlife, with more diversity compared to New Zealand. However, that also has pros and cons since New Zealand does not have poisonous snakes.
New Zealand wins for culture in my opinion. Maori culture is more incorporated into everyday New Zealand life compared to Aboriginal culture in Australia – in many places, particularly big cities.
Here’s a more in depth breakdown of these differences, to help you plan your vacation to Australia or New Zealand!
Big City Lovers: Australia wins
Australia is home to around 25 million people. It’s a highly urbanized country with around 60% of its population living in its four largest cities of Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane. Just over 5 million people reside in New Zealand. Nearly 5 million residents call Sydney and Melbourne home, meaning each city houses almost the entire population of New Zealand.
Auckland, New Zealand is the fifth largest city in Oceania after Australia’s four biggest cities
Home to 1.7 million people, Auckland is the only city with more than 1 million people in New Zealand. Wellington, the nation’s capital, is the second largest city, and is home to around 542,000 people. From sports to concerts and general entertainment, dining and nightlife, there are fewer options in New Zealand compared to Australia. Albeit, Auckland is a lovely city with great restaurants, bars, museums, nightlife and a scenic waterfront.
Sydney, Australia is considered by many to be one of the world’s most beautiful cities. The Sydney Opera House is one of the most iconic structures in the southern hemisphere, and a magnificent showpiece of Sydney Harbor. The Sydney area is also home to world class beaches, like Bondi Beach, Manley Beach and Coogee Beach. I wrote this article on great Sydney pubs and restaurants to visit.
Australia’s second-largest city rests along the Yarra River of Victoria. Melburnians are proud of being the sports and arts capital of Australia. Melbourne is home to the Australia Open every January, one of the four tennis grand slam tournaments. The Australian Grand Prix Formula One race takes place in Melbourne each March. It also hosts Australia’s most important horse race each November, the Melbourne Cup – which is the Kentucky Derby of the nation. The Melbourne Cricket Ground seats over 100,000 and is the largest stadium in the southern hemisphere, playing host to the Australian Football Grand Final every September. Here’s great things to do in Melbourne from sports to arts.
Diversity of Culture: New Zealand wins
This one is debatable because it can depend on where you travel in New Zealand or Australia. While Australia does have diversity in its cities, 90% of the population of the nation is of European white origin. The Australian government recently held an Australian Indigenous Voice referendum, for the First Nation Aboriginal people to have a constitutionalized greater say in the country’s parliament. Unfortunately, the majority of Australians voted against “the Voice” constitutional referendum in a recent nationwide election in October 2023, so it did not pass.
Native Maori are more incorporated in New Zealand’s Culture Compared to Australia
In New Zealand, a “Voice” is a reality for native Maori people. All signs and announcements in New Zealand are in both English and Maori. Simply put, the Maori are more a part of New Zealand’s culture than Aboriginals are in mainstream day-to-day Australian life. I noticed this immediately upon arrival at Auckland International Airport. This is not to say that all the colonized issues have been sorted out.
Australian cities like Melbourne and Sydney have diverse populations from around the world, like smaller (and cleaner) versions of New York City. This contributes to fantastic diversity in restaurants and entertainment. Auckland is similarly diverse, like a smaller version of Sydney and Melbourne. You can find just about any global cuisine in these cities.
For those that think Australia and New Zealands cultures are the same, with different accents, visitors to both will notice that simply is not the case. New Zealand is also more socially left compared to Australia, similarly to how Canada is more left compared to the United States.
New Zealand is only around a 3 and 1/2 hour flight from east coast Australian cities. Australians enjoy visiting New Zealand, and visa versa. This also makes combining the two nations possible if you have time. Hawaiian Airlines has direct flights between Sydney and Honolulu, and Auckland and Honolulu, which I recently flew. Speaking of diverse destinations, read my article on ways to save money on a Hawaii vacation.
Abundance of Wildlife: Australia wins
Australia is home to diverse native wildlife including kangaroos, koalas, emus, wombats, wallabies, dingos, echidnas and platypus. Indigenous Australian bird species include magpies, galahs, kookaburra, Rainbow lorikeets, Sulphur-crested cockatoos, Australian king parrots, frogmouths and honeyeaters.
Kangaroos are ubiquitous in Australia, similar to deer in the United States. I’ve encountered kangaroos on golf courses not far outside Melbourne. We recently saw many kangaroos in the majestic Grampians National Park in Victoria. Koalas are more difficult to see in the wild, but you can often see them at Australian wildlife preserves, which are typically well run.
Australia is a wonderful destination for bird watching. Pink galahs are a beautiful bird frequently seen in Australian parks and even towns and cities. Kookaburra are another cool bird, but don’t let their cute stocky looks fool you. We recently witnessed a Kookaburra swoop in to steal a meat pie right out of the hands of an older lady who was sitting on a picnic table in the Grampians National Park.
New Zealand has less native wildlife compared to Australia. But that also means there are fewer predators and poisonous species in New Zealand. New Zealand is not known to have snakes or any other large land predators, aside from humans. The iconic Kiwi bird is the most famous indigenous New Zealand species. Kiwis are so beloved that Kiwi is also the nickname for New Zealanders.
Magnificent Landscapes: New Zealand wins
There are many good reasons Lord of the Rings was filmed in New Zealand. Visitors to the North Island can even visit the charming Hobbiton Movie set tour. Tongariro National Park features seemingly otherworldly topography, making it the idyllic spot for “Mount Doom.” In reality, visitors can ski and hike atop active Ruapehu Volcano, among three active volcanoes.
New Zealand’s South Island (Te Waipounamu) is especially spectacular, famous for its mountains, lakes and glaciers. A significant highlight of the Southern Alps is Fiordland National Park, featuring steep-sided Milford Sound. Abel Tasman National Park is popular for ocean kayaking, hiking trails and its golden beaches.
The Southern Alps line the length of the South Island and are home to Aoraki (Mt. Cook). At 12,218 feet, Aoraki is the tallest mountain in New Zealand. That’s nearly 5,000 feet higher than the tallest peak in Australia, which is Mount Kosciuszko at 7,310 feet (2,228 meters) tall.
Visitors can fly into Queenstown and base themselves there. It’s a short drive to Fiordland National Park, which can be explored by rental car or taking a tour. Queenstown is also popular for adventure sports like bungee jumping and skiing.
Australian Landscape Highlights
Australia is a huge country, with a bounty of fantastic natural wonders gracing its coasts, hinterland, outback and national parks. Uluru (Ayer’s Rock) is a magnificent monolith sandstone located in the Northern Territory. The “red center” is also a sacred site to aboriginal Australians. The Great Barrier Reef in Queensland is world-famous for diving and snorkeling.
Australia has magnificent landscapes from the 12 Apostles in Victoria to the Daintree Rainforest in northern Queensland, to the rugged coast of western Australia. But New Zealand gets the slight edge here – also because its most significant highlights are closer together than Australia’s.
Both Australia and New Zealand have excellent wineries. Australia produces excellent chardonnay and shiraz. New Zealand produces world-class Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah and Pinot Noir. Tasmania also produces some of the world’s best pinot noir. Wineries are ubiquitous in both countries.
Many of Australia’s best wineries are located around the southeast of the country, from South Australia to New South Wales. Adelaide is a great base for exploring the nearby Barossa Valley. The Yarra Valley is only around a 90-minute drive outside Melbourne. And the Hunter Valley is just a few hours drive from Sydney. I’ve enjoyed visiting all three of these wine regions over several visits to Australia.
New Zealand Wineries
The North Island’s most famous wineries are located on Waiheke Island, in Hawke’s Bay and Martinborough in the Wairarapa. Waiheke Island is just a short ferry ride from Auckland, making it an excellent day trip. While on Waiheke Island, you can take a winery tour, rent a car, or avail of public buses to enjoy the wineries and beautiful scenery. It’s a unique island, dotted with both palm trees and vineyards.
New Zealand’s Hawke’s Bay is arguably the nation’s finest wine region. Its scenic landscape features a blend of majestic mountains, rugged ocean coast and pastoral plains. Its 91 wineries excel in Te Awanga Chardonnay and Bordeaux blend production. Hawkes Bay’s signature reds include rich Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blends, among its Bordeaux blends.
Visitors can enjoy excellent wines and beautiful scenery at vineyards in both Australia and New Zealand. So I have to rate winery visits at a tie between these two countries. Ultimately, it’s going to come down to individual wineries and personal preferences in this category.
Australia and New Zealand are both fantastic destinations to visit. With a quality itinerary, visitors will have an amazing time in both countries. But depending on your interests, one can offer more than the other. Australia is generally preferable over New Zealand for city escapes and wildlife viewing in National Parks. New Zealand is generally better for jaw dropping landscapes and diversity of native culture. Both countries offer great local wine, and fantastic memories to cherish for a lifetime.
Have questions about planning a trip to Australia or New Zealand? Leave a comment below or email me at alex(at)wanderlustmarriage.com and I can assist you!