New Zealand or Australia? Your Decisive Guide

New Zealand or Australia
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The age-old debate of New Zealand or Australia. Who has the better landscapes, the better beaches, the better nightlife? Who invented the well-loved pavlova? Who’s better at rugby and cricket? Is it Fish and Chips or Fish un Chups?

Not only do Kiwis (what New Zealanders call themselves) and Aussies debate who has the better country, many travelers are forced to decide which they’ll explore first. Will they visit the mind-blowing scenery of New Zealand or the pristine beaches of Australia?

Deciding between the two is no easy task. While they may sit close to one another on the map and are often grouped together in the ‘down under’ category, there are more differences between the two than similarities. Hence, we’ve put together a definitive guide of New Zealand or Australia to decide which takes the cake once and for all.

The general vibe – New Zealand or Australia

beach christmas in Australia
Photo by tap10/Getty Images

From an outside perspective, the general vibe of New Zealand and Australia will seem similar at first. Both countries sit at the bottom of the world where life’s a bit slower, where Christmas lands in summer, and where shoes are nearly always optional. Both Kiwis and Aussies share a warm culture and are always happy to help if you are in a sticky situation.

However, upon a deeper look, you can certainly spot the differences between the two. Australians are louder and prouder. You’ll know when there’s an Aussie around, and if you ever ask an Aussie which country is better, they’ll explain why Australia is the sure win. 

Kiwis, on the other hand, are a more humble crowd. They tend to just get on with things, and if they run into a problem, they’ll use their renowned ‘kiwi ingenuity ‘to solve any problem. Kiwis also prefer to do things themselves. Whether the house needs some DIY or it’s time to go on a road trip, Kiwis prefer to do their own research rather than spending money to have someone else do it for them.

When visiting New Zealand and Australia, you’ll notice these small cultural differences as you travel around. Beach parties tend to be a bit louder in Australia, and New Zealand culture ensures everyone has a campervan set up with all the toys for an epic road trip.

The verdict: New Zealand. The moment you step off the plane, there’s no doubt you’ll feel welcomed into their warm, happy-go-lucky culture.

Weather – New Zealand or Australia

busy beach weather
Photo by Tourism Australia

Surprisingly to most, New Zealand and Australia have very different weather. Besides the fact that they are both located in the Southern Hemisphere, and experience seasons opposite to most, the similarities end there.

Being a rather small country located in the middle of the ocean, weather can change unexpectedly. No matter when you visit New Zealand, you can expect to encounter four seasons in one day. Even if the forecast says all day sun, you may be hiking in glorious sunshine, and the next minute you could be caught in a rainstorm. Always pack plenty of layers and bring both sunscreen and a raincoat when heading out for an adventure in New Zealand.

Australia, on the other hand, has more consistent weather. Days upon days of sunshine can be expected, and rain is often a welcomed retreat from the intense Australian heat. If you’re visiting Australia intending to relax on the beach with a cold beer in hand, the chances are in your favor you won’t have to raincheck.

Even with their size difference, both New Zealand and Australia have a wide variety of climates. In New Zealand, the South Island has warm summers, cool winters, and the Southern Alps get covered in snow. The North Island sees hot summers and mild and rainy winters. Australia is characterized by its vast desert climate stretching across most of the country, with the southern corners having a temperate climate. 

The verdict: Australia. With endless sunshine and little rain, it’s hard to compete.

Ease of travel – New Zealand or Australia

windy road in the south island
Photo by markrhiggins/Getty Images

Comparing getting to New Zealand versus Australia is rather pointless. Unless you happen to live on one of the Pacific Islands or in Indonesia, both New Zealand and Australia will require a lengthy flight. So instead, we’ll compare traveling within New Zealand and Australia.

With so many things to do and see in both countries, you’ll want to make good use of your time. As we mentioned above, because neither country is particularly easy to travel to, you’ll want to tick off a few bucket list items on one trip. Luckily for New Zealand, it’s a relatively small country, close in size to Colorado or the UK. With two weeks, a rental car, and an adventurous spirit, you can explore from the top of the North Island to the bottom of the South Island. Just keep in mind that with the windy roads and many mountain passes, distances can take far longer than expected.

Australia, on the other hand, is practically impossible to explore in its entirety by vehicle. Even if you have far longer than two weeks, as Australia is roughly 29 times large than New Zealand, even exploring one coastline is challenging. If you prefer traveling by car, it’s best to pick one region of Australia and do it well rather than spend your entire time behind the wheel. 

For even quicker journeys between destinations, both New Zealand and Australia have cheap and easy domestic flights. 

The verdict: New Zealand. In just 2 hours, you can go from hiking in the middle of the Southern Alps to lying out at pristine beaches. Hardly anywhere else in the world can you have such an incredible road trip.

Beaches – Australia or New Zealand

bondi beach
Photo by RugliG/Getty Images

On first thought, you might think this one is a no-brainer. Australia is known around the world for its beaches – from the bustling Bondi Beach in Sydney to the hipster paradise of Bryon Bay. There are more beaches than you could visit in a lifetime. Ocean temperatures warm up beautifully in the summer and autumn, making it an ideal location to surf, snorkel, and swim.

But did you know New Zealand has its fair share of incredible beaches? At Hot Water Beach in the Coromandel, where water under the ground is heated from a hot stone left over from an ancient volcanic eruption, you can dig yourself an incredibly scenic personal hot tub. Just South of Auckland, Raglan Beach is perfect for those looking to surf or bask in the laid-back surf culture. And the far-stretching white sands of Ohope Beach are perfect for families, surfers, and those keen to enjoy beach walks.

If you plan on surfing or swimming in New Zealand, do be ready for chilly water temperatures. While temperatures do warm in the upper North Island in summer, you’ll want a wetsuit outside of summer and all year round in the South Island. 

The verdict: Australia. There’s no beating it.

Mountains – Australia or New Zealand

hiking in the mountains
Photo by Kamchatka/Getty Images

Opposite to the beaches, on first thought, you’ll likely think this one 100% goes to New Zealand. The Southern Alps stretch from the top to the bottom of the South Island, providing endless New Zealand hiking opportunities in summer and plenty of skiing opportunities in winter. The North Island has Mt Taranaki, a picture-perfect dormant volcano, and Mount Ngauruhoe, famous for Lord of the Ring’s Mount Doom. The mountains are incredibly accessible, with basic but cozy backcountry huts placed perfectly along the trail. Plus, there are hardly any dangerous animals in New Zealand to encounter on the trail.

When it comes to Australia, the mountains may not be as ‘in your face’ as New Zealand, but that’s not to say they don’t exist. The Great Dividing Range runs parallel to the coasts of Queensland, New South Wales, and Victoria providing both hiking adventures and busy ski fields. Then there’s Tasmania, home to Cradle Mountain, which can either be hiked in a day or part of a six-day adventure on the Overland Track.

Unlike New Zealand, you will need to be extra cautious of dangerous spiders and snakes when hiking in Australia. As summer sees scorching temperatures, you’ll also want to bring plenty of water and sunscreen or stick to hiking in spring and autumn.

The verdict: New Zealand. Not only are they incredible to look at, but the mountains in New Zealand also provide an endless playground for adventure seekers.

Things to do – Australia or New Zealand

bungy jumping in new zealand
Photo by David Robinson/Getty Images

As you can tell from the last two categories, both New Zealand and Australia are all about the outdoors. If you love hiking, biking, surfing, wandering, or simply enjoying a cup of coffee with a good view, you’ll never run out of things to do in either country.

Besides playing in nature, the story is a bit different in New Zealand. The bigger cities of Auckland and Wellington cater well to rainy days, with plenty of shops, museums, unique food, and shows to check out. However, you may find yourself bored after a few hours of rain in the smaller towns. Luckily, it’s unlikely to rain all day in New Zealand, so once the sky has cleared, you can indulge in one of the many adrenaline adventures on offer. New Zealand is the birthplace of bungy jumping and zorbing, and you can also go sky diving, paragliding, or be shot off a cliff like a catapult (attached, of course!).

Australians are also all about the outdoors. If you prefer water to land, there are plentiful opportunities to go scuba diving, surf, enjoy a cruise, or swim in the warm waters. In Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, and Perth, you’ll have endless options of indoor activities to keep you busy should the heat or rain drive you indoors.

The verdict: Australia. Whether you’re a nature lover, art enthusiast, beachgoer, or nightlife lover, Australia will have plenty of options to keep you entertained.

Nightlife – Australia or New Zealand

New Zealand or Australia nightlife
Photo by vgajic/Getty Images

Nightlife is a bit of a hit or miss in both New Zealand and Australia. Similar to the scenario above, in larger towns like New Zealand’s Auckland and Wellington or Australia’s Sydney and Melbourne, you can easily party well into the night. Hipster bars, high-end cocktail bars, and pubs alike are all easy to find.

New Zealand, in general, has a much more laid-back nightlife scene. Very few places have a dress code, prices are reasonable, and you’ll rarely have to pay a cover charge. In smaller towns, pubs will stay open as long as there are patrons there and you’re almost always guaranteed a fun time with a mix of locals and tourists drinking the night away. If you happen to be in Queenstown, a small resort town, you’ll be amazed at the variety and energy of the nightlife no matter what day of the week it is.

Australia’s nightlife is more action-packed with dive bars, great live music, beach clubs, and a robust underground party scene. You’re also likely to find both tourists and locals partying at any time of the day, especially up in the Whitsunday Islands, where party cruises are abundant. You may find yourself paying more for drinks compared to New Zealand, but with it, you get an atmosphere like nowhere else in the world.

The verdict: Australia. If you’re looking for a party, you won’t be disappointed in Australia.

The final verdict of New Zealand or Australia

kangaroo on beach in Australia
Photo by JohnCrux/Getty Images

It doesn’t get trickier than deciding between these two bucket-list destinations. If you’re looking for the best in the world hiking, mind-blowing scenery, and a laid-back culture, you simply cannot pass up New Zealand. Whereas if you prefer all-day beach days and vibrant nightlife, Australia is absolutely your go-to.

If we had to pick, we’d choose Australia. With the infinite sunshine, endless beaches, and never too far away mountains, both nature lovers and cities dwellers can enjoy this incredible country. Just be sure to head back and check off New Zealand next time around to decide for yourself.

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