Australia and New Zealand – A Question of Managing Travel Expectations
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Australia and New Zealand – A Question of Managing Travel Expectations

Travel expectations? Well, when somebody asks me how I like Australia and New Zealand, it’s not so easy to give a good and complete answer. An answer that considers all the beautiful places these “islands” have to offer. The unique flora and fauna, the colors, the friendliness of its people.

But also the disappointment we were left with again and again when we realized that the once-in-a-lifetime – experience, which was described in the most colorful words in travel guides, blogs, reports from friends – was nothing more (and nothing less) than “ok”. Of course, that’s just my point of view and a personal view is always subject to what you have seen and done in your life so far. However, I do feel that there are others out there who also consider these countries as somewhat overrated.

It’s the perfect marketing strategies who are to “blame” in my opinion, presenting you a highly optimized version of reality. And this way nurturing high travel expectations. Even though we know about this phenomenon we still get influenced by the feeling those pictures trigger subconsciously, deep inside.

Freedom. Adventure. Peace of mind. Vastness.

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Let’s take a look at New Zealand. Everybody I know either has already been or wants to go there. How come? This country was not on the radar 25 years ago and today it’s a dream destination for adventurers, nature lovers and families.

Why? Because the ones in charge know how to make the most out of what they have. The official tourism website of New Zealand says “100% pure” in thick block letters. Making you think the country is the last resort for pure nature and pure adventure. Setting those travel expectations.

This just sometimes goes too far. Let me give you an example. There is this little chapel called  “church of the good shepherd” in the village of Tekapo with its 400 inhabitants. It was built in 1935 as a memorial to the pioneers of the region and does not offer regular services. It’s a small one – room building with wooden banks and a crucifix.

Nevertheless it has become the best-known sight at amazing Lake Tekapo and is one of the most visited and most photographed churches in all of New Zealand! Probably every NZ – tourist has visited the place, since it’s one of the Must-dos. Hyped to being an icon of the area.

Yes, it is a perfect location to take pictures – if you happen to be lucky enough not to have hundreds of other tourists polluting your shot. But there is nothing about the chapel beyond that. At all.

I just would have been glad if someone had warned me. Because high travel expectations can ruin your journey. Looking back, there were some hints, but I probably just overread them. My mistake probably.

So I decided to make it crystal clear what to expect – or better – what not to expect when traveling to New Zealand and Australia with your family. I know everybody has a vision of the perfect journey, but if reality cannot live up to the dream, the heat is on. True for me, at least.

So here are my travel hacks for your mind on how to manage travel expectations and how to avoid disappointment when going anywhere (with New Zealand and Australia as examples).

1. It’s Not Always Hot and Sunny

Cold, rainy days can be a killer when you are on the road. Everybody knows that, but are we aware of what this means? I was told that the perfect travel time for Australia’s East Coast would be fall (from March to June). For New South Wales this means that it does get as cool as 10- 15°C at night. And those Aussies do have rain, too! Then, due to winds it will not be perfect swimsuit weather most of the time. It can be really warm in the sun (up to about 27°C) but at the same time pretty chilly in the shadows. Meaning that jumping around in your wet bathing suit after a swim is not an option. You will always be better off taking a light jacket with you especially in the mornings and evenings.

Same is true for the wet tropics of Queensland. Tropical weather here isn’t always like what you might know from Asia or Africa. So, be prepared for cooler evenings and some rain. If you are looking for guaranteed summer temperatures, I’d recommend you travel in the late summer/early fall months of February to April. To give you an impression: I’ve spent a number of autumn holidays in Southern Europe, and the weather was always (!) nicer than at Australia’s East Coast.

If you are traveling to New Zealand, choose the summer months if you want to enjoy the sun, but keep in mind mass tourism. Locals are on holidays in summer, too. In the warmest month of January, the average temperature for Auckland is 20°C, Wellington 16°C and Dunedin far South 15°. Compare this to Spain (average temperature in July 24°C), one of Europe’s most popular holiday destinations, or my home country Germany (average temperature in July 18°C, but less windy). Take warmer clothing for the South Island, as it can still be pretty chilly depending on where you go, no matter what time of the year. Simply be prepared for all kinds of weather here.

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2. Don’t Let The Superlatives Fool You

Aussies as well as Kiwis are proud of their countries, no doubt. And they have every reason to be. But seemingly their marketing strategy is to praise what they have in sometimes reasonable, but more often not so reasonable superlatives. It’s always the best, largest, fastest. It’s all about the image. Especially Europeans may have issues with that kind of advertisement since we are more drawn by understatement. So, if you stumble upon the superlatives, deduct 50% and make up your own opinion.

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3. Know Yourself And Your Limits

Three months in a motorhome just isn’t for everybody. Think about the way and where you want to travel well in advance and don’t let romantic views and thoughts misguide you. Cleaning up a campervan toilet at a public dump point is a shitty job, literally! A campervan sure is an adventure, if you’re 25, going with a friend and don’t have other options anyway. But now, advanced in years, you might want to look for something more comfy.

Or you choose a combination of options, there is so much out there these days. Take the campervan for a couple of weeks, then spend some time in a nice cottage near the ocean. Choose the option one that suits you and your family best even if it might be an unconventional or more expensive solution. This will mean less stress for all of you and provide you with better resources if something else is not working out the way you want it to.

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4. Remind Yourself That Pictures Show the Brightest Side

That magical moment where people are enjoying a romantic picnic by the lake at sunset? Cuddled up in a warm blanket, a little fire burning on the side? All alone in the wilderness?

That’s a pose. There is hardly any place where you can be all by yourself on a beautiful lakeshore, and chances are you won’t be allowed to have an open fire. If you’re comparing your own special moment to a scripted one, taken by professional photographers with professional models, you’re predestined for disappointment. Travel is imperfect, travel expectations are often set too high. Beautiful places these days are hardly ever secluded. Although there are some left, definitely!

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5. Be Flexible And Get Creative

We all know how challenging travels with children can be. Especially if you visit this beautiful playground by the beach just to find out it’s nothing more than an old rotten swing and a tiny sandbox. The beautiful bay is not so special at all and the boulders are too high to climb on.

This won’t ruin your vacation – try to take it positive and get creative. You might even be creating family memories! Make a game out of it: who will find the craziest words or make the funniest faces to describe this terrible, ugly swing? Yeah, I know, we’re not cheerleaders. This action will cost some energy which traveling parents of preschoolers most likely do not have in abundance. Otherwise relax by having an ice-cream by the sea – there will be a gelateria somewhere close to you, I’m sure! Always carry a book (this one is a great guide for kids traveling Australia) or a travel game with you.

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6. Don’t Expect Rich History and Culture

Don’t measure by European standards. The first white settlers who made their way to Australia and New Zealand came some 250 – 350 years ago. They are both “young” countries. There simply are no impressing, historical buildings with the scent of centuries-old dust. No statues that tell us stories about heroes from the middle-ages. No picturesque old-towns.

What they do have is the totally different, but fascinating culture and history of the indigenous peoples of the two countries. Although it’s not so easy to find traces of their culture in everyday life. Maybe with the exception of names of towns etc., tourist information centers or art galleries and exhibitions.

Both Maori and Aborigines are living a “western” lifestyle today – not much of a surprise if you think about it. There are shows and cultural centers where the old way to live is being presented. Which to the natives is a job no different from others – some do it with pride, some do it for the money. And yes, there still are a couple of Aboriginal clans in the outback who live in a more traditional way.

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7. Expect Overexpensive

There are countless things to do, great experiences to make. Hop on a boat to the amazing outer Great Barrier Reef, take diving or surfing lessons, swim with the dolphins in their natural surroundings, go skydiving or white-water rafting. Take an educational tour with an Aboriginal guide who will tell you all about the ancient culture. Try out horse-riding by the beach. See the geysers and combine with an original Maori lunch. Take a scenic flight to the glaciers or over the reef.

Or… hang on, think again. If you have to pay for a family of four, any trip you book can cost you up to the price of a week’s vacation at home. Or  more. Thank goodness there are so many things to do and see without having to book a trip.

Australia and New Zealand are incredibly expensive countries, New Zealand in particular. Traveling in a motorhome is everything but cheap. Our big, but low budget vehicle easily cost us AUD 240 – per day. This includes  rental cost, insurance, diesel and tolls, but doesn’t include campgrounds which additionally cost between AUD 30 – 60 a day. Also add a budget for fines, which can be surprisingly high – ouch! Oh, and do not forget, you still have to put some food on the table and do the laundry.

A one-day visit to Fraser Island, Australia with only one paying child costs you AUS 575. Double that for a two-day trip and you can have a week’s vacation in another place.

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8. Keep Things in Perspective

Okay, maybe the beautiful place or the amazing animal encounter could not live up to your travel expectations. Remind yourself of the position you’re in. You don’t have to sit behind your desk. You don’t run late for that Monday morning meeting. And you don’t have to wake up sleepy kids early in the morning to drag them to school, especially when it’s freezing cold outside. Instead you have the possibility to experience great things, like learning about wildlife or snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef. Teach your kids about this huge ecosystem and the dangers it’s facing. You are creating memories of a lifetime! And your kids are learning for life! Does it really count that something is not thoroughly perfect?

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9. What About Food Culture?

You mean pizza? As I mentioned, don’t think of “culture” in the old European way here.  If you want to experience “real Australian” food, you will  have to go for the BBQ, burger or fish’n’chips kind of thing. Nicely arranged, of course, and really tasty. But apart from the big Cities, it’s going to be hard to find something that is “outstanding” either for taste or atmosphere. Huge servings, tomato sauce (aka ketchup) everywhere, meat and fish mostly deep fried. Yes, it is multicultural thanks to the influence of countless tastes from all over the world. But, let’s be honest, where in the western world today do you find a place that is not multicultural when it comes to food?

 

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10. Have They Heard About That “Thing Called Internet”?

When it comes to staying connected to the internet New Zealand sometimes makes you feel like traveling in a developing country, just that those countries today often have better internet access.

Forget about public WIFI and WiFi on campgrounds in both Australia and New Zealand. It is either slow, unstable or expensive. Often all of it at the same time. Do not rely on it.

Instead, buy a local SIM card and a pocket WIFI device. This gives you a fast and affordable connection to the internet – without losing your shirt on roaming. Read more about how to stay connected while traveling here.

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Don’t get me wrong. Australia as well as New Zealand are both amazingly beautiful countries! I could make up 1000 reasons why traveling those countries is a thing everyone should simply do at least once in a lifetime.  Think of stunning beaches, fascinating natural landscapes, animals you see nowhere else in the world, and tremendously friendly people. Sports, traditions, lovely quirks. Safe and family friendly. I will definitely go there again some day!

Only with some more realistic travel expectations. Obviously, as the world has become smaller, you can go anywhere and do anything – and you may expect more. But there is no way judging a country just because it’s simply not so different from what you’re used to!

So, despite all my moaning, there are those picture-perfect spots in both countries. Check out our articles on New Zealand’s North Island, Australia’s Whitsundays and Daintree Rainforest – just to give you an impression.

Family travel will always be a challenge no matter where you go. But if you manage your travel expectations, see the positive sides and try not to take it all too seriously, you will be fine. Finally, disappointment is mostly self-made.

Have you been to Australia and/or New Zealand yet? What were your impressions? Do you think we are completely out of our minds or can you somehow relate to what we are trying to say? Let us know in the comments section!

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