We are a family going to Australia and New Zealand in December and early Jan. We only have a short time and want to see some highlights. Thinking of flying into Cairnes and making our way south to Sydney, then to the South Island of New Zealand. We need ideas of inexpensive accommodation, places we mustn't miss and ideas of whether to rent a car, travel by train, etc, for the longer distances. We will have only 10 days in Australia and 10 in New Zealand. Any recommendations would be appreciated. We are on a budget.
10 days is far too short a time for going down the East Coast from Cairns to Sydney by any other form of transport than plane (at least assuming you actually want to see things along the way; luckily flying within Australia is often dirt cheap: look up what specials Virgin Blue and Qantas have (there's also jetstar, but those are too cattle class for my tastes)). I'd do something like:
day 1-3: Daytrips around Cairns (Great Barrier Reef, Cape Tribulation + rainforest)
day 4: fly to Brisbane
day 5-6: Amusement parks around Brisbane/Surfer's Paradise, or just sightseeing.
day 7: fly to Sydney
day 8-10: Seeing Sydney (beaches, botanic gardens, e.a.) and doing a daytrip to the Blue Mountains
Maybe replace Brisbane with Bundaberg and do Fraser Island from there if the children aren't into amusement parks and/or you're not feeling into doing those.
The South Island in New Zealand is much more doable in ten days. I'd recommend a basic loop similar to:
day 1: See Christchurch.
day 2: Rent car and drive to Lake Tekapo. (~3 hours) Climb Mt. John. Eat pizza at Pepe's.
day 3: Drive to Mt. Cook Village. (1 hour) Walk the Hooker Valley track.
day 4: Drive to Queenstown (~4 hours). See Queenstown.
day 5: Milford Sound daytrip (by bus; really long day which I don't recommend to drive yourself).
day 6: See more of Queenstown.
day 7: Drive to Franz Josef Glacier (~6-7 hours).
day 8: Go glacier hiking; make certain to stop by Peter's Pool as well for mirror-perfect reflections of the glacier.
day 9: Drive to Arthur's Pass (~3 hours), look around there.
day 10: Drive back to Christchurch (~3 hours).
There's also daily buses in New Zealand that do the individual parts of the above loop, with the caveat that you need to do the last part by taking a bus from Franz Josef to Greymouth, and then take the train from there (bus and train connect, and the train stops in Arthur's Pass, but that means that you'd arrive back in Christchurch somewhere in the evening, which might mess up with the flight out).
Note that it'll be peak season in New Zealand, and especially the South Island is packed. If you opt to go camping, you should be fine, but hostels will need to be booked a lot in advance, particularly if you want to try and get the family rooms.
[ Edit: Edited at Sep 10, 2006 3:59 PM by Sander ]
you can do it on a budget, but if you dont already have flights booked for December it will be expensive!
Having just ten days in Australia, I would suggest that you do Cairns, the Whitsundays, and Sydney...
3 nights in Cairns at somewhere like the Cairns Colonial Club would be good. Cheap quality accomodation, free airport transfers, several large pools, and free shuttle bus into town centre. Very family-oriented hotel. As for day trips - Quicksilver reef trip is good and do a family price; Hartleys Crocodile Farm might be good for the kids; and maybe a trip to the Daintree River, where you can ride in a boat and see wildlife.
From Cairns, you can fly to Hamilton Island: 2-3 nights here would again be fine. Hamilton Island is very family-friendly. Children stay and eat free, and there are loads of childrens activities and kids clubs for them to get involved in. Reefworld is a good day trip out to the reef; and maybe a trip to Whitehaven Beach too.
From Hamilton Island you can fly to Sydney: 4-5 nights here to spend seeing the harbour, beaches, Blue Mountains, and maybe to Port Stephens for a day trip to go dolphin spotting.