A 10-Day Adventure in New Zealand and Australia

Lisa Penfield headshot
Lisa Penfield
June 25, 2024

This blog post is a bit late… but as they say, better late than never! I wanted to write this post or, well, re-write this post (see my last post about "Challenges Being Abroad" for context) to not only highlight a fun mid-semester trip but to also provide ideas if you’re planning a trip!

During the mid-semester trip, I joined four friends and traveled to Queenstown on the South Island of New Zealand and Sydney and Airlie Beach in Australia. To read about our trip planning and budgeting tips, check out my “Trip Planning and Budgeting for Mid-Semester Break” post!

Queenstown, New Zealand

The first leg of the 10-day mid-semester trip was a three-day adventure in Queenstown!

Day 1: Biking

When we first arrived, my friend and I decided to bike around the area. We biked along the shoreline, following Lake Wakatipu, until we reached a dock surrounded by a few cliffs. We ended our short day by relaxing and watching the beautiful sunset with some live music in the central town area!


A girl sits atop a concrete structure and wears a purple rain jacket, jeans, and an orange shirt. She sits in front of the Queenstown landscape, consisting of water, trees, and cliffed regions.


Day 2: Milford Sound

The second day in Queenstown started at 6 a.m. as we headed to the Southern Discoveries Visitor Center for our long-awaited journey to Milford Sound, a fiord famous for its gorgeous waterfalls and peaks carved by glacial activity. We had an early start since the drive to the national park took about four hours. As my friend and I booked our trip to Milford Sound through Southern Discoveries, we traveled to the national park by coach bus with a lively driver named Greg and cruised through the Fiordland on a ship. The cruise lasted approximately two hours, and while there, we passed breathtaking views of never-ending cliffs brushed by light cloud cover, lengthy cascading waterfalls, and vast expanses of dark water (photos and videos below)! Overall, I highly recommend visiting Milford Sound if you travel to Queenstown.


A large waterfall falls from a steep forested cliff. The sky is dark and cloudy.
White clouds loom over the large mountain face of Milford Sound. There is a road that snakes through the landscape.


Day 3: Gondola, Fergburger, and Queenstown Hill

For our last day, my friend and I did the classic “touristy” activities: rode the Gondola, ate at Fergburger, and hiked the Queenstown Hill Track. The Queenstown Skyline Gondola, the steepest in the southern hemisphere, took us to a beautiful sky deck area where we could see the entire town and were met with paragliders! Eventually, after making our way back down, we joined the long line outside of Fergburger, a Queenstown staple that provides decadent, gourmet burgers. I ended up trying the classic Fergburger, and it was certainly delicious! To end our day, we hiked up the Queenstown Hill, which I think is an understatement as it’s a 500m ascent. The top was serene and peaceful as we could see past the town area.  


A vast body of water surrounded by several mountains and the buildings of Queenstown. A paraglider is shown in flight.
Two girls pose for a selfie at the top of the Queenstown Hill. The girl on the left wears a white shirt and jeans, and the girl on the right wears a pink shirt and black pants. The background shows a few mountains and a clear sky.
Landscape of Queenstown with a few mountains, vast water, and a clear sky. There is a small person in the right corner, showing the expanse of the landscape.


Sydney, Australia

In Sydney, we mostly explored the city, visiting Bondi Beach, the Sydney Opera House, the Taronga Zoo, the White Rabbit Gallery, the Australian Museum, and the Blue Mountains!

Day 1: Bondi Beach

When our plane landed mid-day in Sydney, we decided to set up a picnic and watch the sunset at Bondi Beach. Although it was a beautiful and pleasant change of pace from chilly Queenstown, it seemed that we made irreversible mistakes in terms of food choices as we brought Thai food to the beach. Not only did we enjoy our spicy drunken noodles, but so did the seagulls as they constantly flocked to us. 


Five girls pose on a beach. The sky is orange blue as sunset is passing and there are dark clouds looming.


Day 2: Sydney Opera House & Taronga Zoo

To kick off our first full day in Sydney, we staked out a place in front of the iconic Sydney Opera House and had a lovely little photo shoot. Luckily, as the weather was a bit rainy, it was quite easy to get a photo without people in the background. After many photos, we decided to head to the Taronga Zoo. A ferry is required to get to the zoo, and the ferry ride was a bit windy, to say the least… luckily no one was blown off the boat. Once we reached the zoo, we enjoyed seeing iconic wallabies, kangaroos, and koalas. What surprised us most about the zoo was how close you could get to the animals, as there were no barriers between them and visitors.


A girl wearing a green shirt and black pants jumps in front of the Sydney Opera House, a performing arts center that has distinctive pointed shell-like features as its roof.
A photo of a small wallaby or kangaroo.
A furry koala is nestled high up in a tree.


Day 3: White Rabbit Gallery & Australian Museum

Day 3 was similar to Day 2, a bit rainy, so we decided to stay inside, visiting the White Rabbit Gallery and Australian Museum. The White Rabbit Gallery is one of the largest galleries that feature contemporary Chinese artwork. It had four floors with varied pieces of artwork, from canvases to sculptures and full-room displays. The gallery also had Soundcloud recordings, allowing you to learn more about the artwork. My favorite pieces are shown below! 

The Australian Museum was huge, not only in its collection size but also in its breadth of displays, showcasing various natural and historical aspects of Australia. One display that caught my eye was the “T-Rex Autopsy,” an elaborate piece that showed the majestic size of the dinosaur. 


An oil-painted canvas of a large city with various colors.
 A room showcasing an empty bar and disco balls on the ground. Red and yellow lights light the room.
The head of a large life-size model of a T-Rex is displayed.


Day 4: Blue Mountains

The day we visited the Blue Mountains was quite eventful, mostly due to public transportation chaos. The Blue Mountains, a vast expanse of forest and mountains, sits approximately 50 miles west of Sydney and typically takes two to two and a half hours to reach by public transportation. However, the day we decided to go, although nice and sunny, was after two days of heavy rainfall, flooding train routes and causing mayhem at the stations as buses replaced regular trains and announcers urged travelers to not use Google Maps. After the trying five hour commute, we made it to the Blue Mountains, a bit frazzled but ready to explore the park. We walked the well-paved paths and saw various sites, such as the Three Sisters and the Leura Cascades. 


Five girls pose in front of a mountainous backdrop. The sky is filled with wispy and puffy clouds.
Three tan rock formations jut from the ground in the bottom left corner. The rest of the photo is forested land with a few mountains in the far distance. The sky is blue with bright white clouds.


Airlie Beach, Australia

I’d argue that our time in Airlie Beach was the most eventful as we had two jampacked days, consisting of boat tours of the Great Barrier Reef and the Whitsunday Islands. The highlight of this trip segment was scuba diving and redeeming myself from my last snorkeling adventure. 

Day 1: Great Barrier Reef

On the first day, we headed to the Great Barrier Reef on a large cruise ship. While there, we enjoyed some cruise ship lunch, put on beautiful blue stinger suits (don’t want to get stung by thumb-sized invisible jellyfish!), and gathered our gear. During this time, I was trying to suppress my nerves as we prepared to scuba dive. Eventually, my friends and I were called to scuba dive, and we half-excitedly and half-nervously entered the underground meeting area with tanks on our backs, flippers on our feet, and goggles on our heads. Luckily, as this experience is geared towards new scuba divers, the instructors were patient as they guided us through breathing exercises and reviewed safety protocols. After a 15-minute tutorial, the instructors took our hands and began leading us into the water. The instructors never let go of us (thankfully) as we explored the coral reef. Once I got the hang of breathing, it was simply amazing as I saw several adorable fishes and sea anemones!


Four girls pose in blue stinger suits and hold a large banner that says Great Barrier Reef 2024.
A girl waves at the camera as she scuba dives. She has goggles on her face and a mouthpiece helping her breathe. There is a fish in the bottom left corner.


Day 2: Whitsunday Islands

On the second day at Airlie Beach, we cruised through the Whitsundays, finding more beautiful lookouts, paddleboarding on the beach, and snorkeling at a smaller coral reef. It was certainly a relaxing day to end an eventful trip!


A large landscape of turquoise blue water is shown in the foreground. Tree cover and a clear sky are in the background.
Three girls sit on a paddleboard while another girl stands up and paddles. Two boats are behind them, and the sky is clear with a few puffy clouds.

Editor’s Note: We're proud to amplify unfiltered student voices through our Correspondent program, recognizing that every study abroad adventure is unique. While we don’t edit our student blogs, it's important to note that IES Abroad policy includes a Code of Student Responsibility, expecting students to take responsibility for their actions. Injuries or harm from participating in activities involving ropes, such as hang gliding, parachuting, or bungee jumping, are not covered by the mandated IES Abroad medical plan.

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Lisa Penfield headshot

Lisa Penfield

At Tufts University I’m a Sustainable Solutions Fellow, a member of the Chinese Students Association, and a Volunteer Coordinator for the Food Rescue Collaborative. Outside of school, I enjoy running, baking, and learning to play frisbee!

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Engineering - Environmental
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