After many a month exploring the antipodes, I thought I’d put Australia and New Zealand head to head on some main travel points (Culture, Food, Cities, Sport and Scenery), and see which comes up trumps. I’m preparing to get major stick for this, as I’m definitely biased on certain things, and I’m sure I’ll be making some sweeping generalisations. We spent a lot more time in New Zealand, so I did have more of an in-depth trip there. However, they’re both often compared to each other (even though they are actually quite different), and people frequently ask me which I prefer and which I would go back to. They both have pros and cons, and I’ll try and be as balanced as possible!
New Zealand: This one can be judged in many ways. New Zealand has some good galleries (Auckland Art Gallery was particularly enjoyable) and the national Te Papa museum is fantastic. Both Te Papa and the Otago museum have some really informative Maori exhibitions, exploring New Zealand’s cultural history, which is not only important for New Zealanders to know about, but is another part of world history for tourists to learn about too. It feels like New Zealand makes a big effort to incorporate both Maori and Pakeha (white European) cultures into everyday life. New Zealand feels like a dual-cultured society; you hear Maori on television every day and the two top highest grossing Kiwi films are by a Maori director, featuring predominant Maori characters (Hunt for the Wilderpeople and Boy, which are both fantastic films). I don’t think this used to be the case, and I think it’s important and really good that Maori people still have a voice and clear cultural influence on the country.
Australia: Australia is a more multicultural country; it has a bigger population and you would’ve thought this would be reflected in its galleries and museums. The big cities do have some good ones, but none that stick out as much as Te Papa in Wellington. Museums in Canberra are fairly good, but for national galleries and museums I feel as though they could be better. Perhaps if they had more visitors they would be better, but that would mean more people need to visit Canberra. I also got this impression that Aboriginal cultural influence ends as soon as you leave a museum. Many museums in Australia feature art by and exhibitions about Aboriginal people, but it’s very hard to find their presence out in society, which is really sad. I would say that Melbourne is an exception to Australia’s slightly bland cultural scene, it had a lot more interesting things going on, from music to street art to outdoor cinemas.
I think New Zealand wins here. Australia felt like it was lacking a little, even in the big cities.
New Zealand: We spent most of our time in New Zealand living with Allan and Rhondda (our adoptive kiwi parents!), so we were spoilt rotten with plenty of home cooking. However, I’ve got to try and compare the countries as a whole, so I can’t just talk about Rhondda’s brilliant roast dinners! New Zealand’s main downfall for me was a lack of choice. It’s a teeny tiny country in terms of its population, so imported foods are expensive and it’s still fairly traditional in its eating habits. It’s not really difficult being veggie in New Zealand, especially in cosmopolitan and trendy cities like Wellington, but there’s not much of a choice in supermarkets, and it can be fairly expensive to buy meat substitutes like veggie sausages. You can, however, usually buy cheap and fresh local produce, and we frequently bought our fruit and vegetables in farm shops. Most cities also have brilliant coffee, again, especially Wellington, which has more cafes and restaurants per head than New York. Oh, and New Zealand does really good ice cream.
Australia: Australia has an advantage here. Its population is about five times the size of New Zealand’s, it’s more multicultural and that’s definitely reflected in its food. It’s about as expensive as New Zealand, so they draw in that respect. Similarly to New Zealand, it’s home to a traditional barbie in the sunshine, but each city is also home to an array of authentic Asian cuisine and plenty of vegetarian and vegan options (luckily, it’s rather trendy there). Supermarkets also have a lot more choice, especially when it comes to things like varieties of cheese. Imported European foods are a lot cheaper, so we took the opportunity to binge on pesto and halloumi before we left for Asia. The other three also enjoyed kangaroo steak, which I don’t think you can get in New Zealand!
Overall, Australia wins on this one.
New Zealand: Auckland, home to 32% of New Zealand’s population, would only be the fifth largest city if it was in Australia. However, nobody really goes to New Zealand for its cities. We stayed for the longest time in the small, coastal city of Napier. It was Art Deco in style, and the sun (nearly) always shined. However, few Kiwi cities have the character that Napier has. They are mostly low-rise and a bit plain. Most travellers use the towns and cities as a base, and then venture out into the beautiful countryside/mountains/beaches. I would say that Wellington is another exception, though. It’s home to New Zealand’s most creative and interesting characters. It’s a fun city with lots to do, and it’s a very short drive out to the local beaches (for ice cream and fish n chips, naturally). All in all, Kiwi cities aren’t much to write home about, but that isn’t what New Zealand is all about anyway.
Australia: Again, it’s a bit of a numbers game on this one. There are more Australians, and more of them live in cities. More people means livelier cities with more things to do. Brisbane was a sunny and cheerful city with lots of green outdoor space. Sydney was shiny, fast-paced and modern, but with beachy suburbs to escape to. Melbourne was arty and cool and definitely very liveable.
Australia wins again, but I would like to point out that Australia is home to the worst city we’ve visited this whole trip (Canberra), and New Zealand is home to one of my absolute favourites (Wellington). But on average, Australian cities are just a bit more happening.
New Zealand: The All Blacks are mega famous all over the world. They are the best international rugby team and they are loved by the whole nation. New Zealand doesn’t have many celebrities (which is quite refreshing), but the All Blacks are an exception. New Zealanders are so proud that their little country has produced a team so good; we were there when they won the rugby World Cup, and we went to the Rugby 7s in Wellington. I’m not even that much of a rugby fan, but you can’t help but get sucked in when you’re in New Zealand, I think I might even know more All Blacks players than England!
Australia: Australia is also obviously really good at rugby, but we didn’t experience it as much there. They’re into a bigger variety of sports, so the passion is a bit more spread out. They like rugby league a lot in Queensland and New South Wales (the State of Origin competition was on when we were there, which is when players from New South Wales and Queensland go head to head for three games). Aussie rules football is huge in Melbourne, and we went to a game at the MCG, which was a fun day out – even if I didn’t understand all the rules! Maybe we weren’t there for long enough, but it didn’t feel as though Australians had a united passion as much as Kiwis did.
Although Australia probably has a bigger variety, New Zealand wins this one. They’re such a small country and they’ve proven to be world class, and the support they give their national teams is brilliant.
Scenery and Wildlife
New Zealand: This is where New Zealand shines. It’s cities may not be up to much, but people visit New Zealand to get out into the wild, breathe in that fresh air and enjoy the great outdoors. New Zealand really does have it all in that respect. It has great beaches, beautiful vineyards, impressive snow capped mountains, crystal clear lakes and lush green forests. For a group of fairly small islands, the diversity of scenery is incredible, and it means that New Zealand is gorgeous all year round. You don’t have to go far to find somewhere beautiful. The wildlife is quite understated, but they do have a variety of unusual tropical birds, and of course the famous kiwi. I’m not even a bird enthusiast, but I’m a huge fan of the Fantail – a small little bird that loves to show off by flying around in front of you, presenting its pretty fan shaped tail at any opportunity. Toby really likes the Tui bird, which is a little bit like a blackbird with two white pom poms on its throat. It sings a beautiful song that becomes a soundtrack to life in New Zealand.
Australia: Australia’s wildlife is very different from home, in some respects this is cool (I’m thinking of tropical birds, kangaroos and koalas here), but some of it is downright terrifying (huge spiders, deadly snakes and sharks!). Horror stories are rife and Australians love scaring tourists with tales of deadly stings, bites and people being ‘taken’ by sharks and crocodiles. We got less of a chance to experience Australian scenery, a lot of our trip was hopping from city to city, but the bits we did get to see (Mount Tamborine, the beaches of Byron Bay, Gold Coast, Sydney and Melbourne, the Blue Mountains and so on) were cool, but not really a patch on New Zealand. However, that’s not necessarily a criticism of Australia, New Zealand is very hard to beat when it comes to the great outdoors.
You may be able to guess which way this one is going; New Zealand wins hands down.
So there we have it – New Zealand wins with three points to Australia’s two. I would definitely visit New Zealand again over Australia, and I highly recommend it to everyone. I feel like that settles the age-old debate and I have tried to be as balanced as possible, except perhaps for the fact that all of my Kiwi friends would kill me if I said Australia was better!