Incredible Cultural Experiences in Australia and New Zealand

Go Ahead Tours is the sponsor of a new series called World Experiences, which will be published every other week on BootsnAll. Founded in 1990, Go Ahead Tours is part of the EF Education First family of companies and offers more than 100 tour packages to all seven continents.

We’ve all seen postcard images of Down Under: the dusty, red Australian outback; the verdant, sheep-dotted hills of New Zealand.  Within these alluring settings are a host of incredible cultural experiences that can help visitors connect with and understand the people of Australia and New Zealand.

Both countries were colonized by the British and their societies developed by adapting European lifestyles to the realities of a hostile environment (Australia) and geographic isolation (New Zealand).  Despite the influence of the settlers, the Aborigines in Australia and Maori in New Zealand have retained many of their cultural traditions.

Over the past few centuries, the indigenous groups, European settlers, and newer immigrants from around the world (particularly Asia) have contributed to the local cultures.  The results are unique histories, traditions, and artifacts that define life in the antipodes.  Be sure to get a feel for the culture of Australia and New Zealand with a few of these experiences.

Snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef, Australia

The Great Barrier Reef is larger in area than Italy, and one of the most diverse habitats in the world, boasting thousands of different animal species.  The reef system is home to endangered species like the dugong and large green sea turtle.

The rich diversity of the Great Barrier Reef has long been important to Australian Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, who fished and hunted in the area.  Archaeological evidence of Aboriginal art and tools exists on some of the islands around the reef, indicating a human presence probably thousands of years before Captain Cook famously struck the reef in 1770.  The turtles and dugongs of the reefs also feature in Aboriginal dreaming — an individual’s guiding set of spiritual beliefs.

The best way to see the reef is with the help of a snorkel and a pair of flippers, where you can get a bird’s eye view of the colorful coral and vibrant marine life that has captured the attention of people for thousands of years.  Snorkeling trips are available all over the Great Barrier Reef, departing from Cairns and other towns along the coast.

Browse the shops at Kuranda, Australia

Nestled in rainforest that is part of an extensive UNESCO World Heritage Site, Kuranda is arguably one of the most picturesque small towns in Australia.  The lush rainforests are some of the oldest on earth and contain valuable fossil records of the evolution of Australia’s unique wildlife.

The tropical rainforest in north Australia was settled by Europeans in the late 1800s, and the area around Kuranda was developed for timber and coffee growing.  Set in a dense rainforest, near an impressive waterfall and benefitting from pleasant weather, Kuranda became a popular destination for travelers and settlers.

In the 1960’s, an influx of people looking for more alternative lifestyles began settling in Kuranda.  The legacy of these communities has been a strongly artistic culture: Kuranda is home to a number of art galleries and craft market stalls — be on the lookout for one-of-a-kind souvenirs.

Learn the origin myth of Uluru in Australia

Located in the heart of Australia, an enormous rock formation known as Ayer’s Rock, or Uluru, is one of Australia’s most iconic landmarks.  Comprised of sandstone, the monolith stands tall over the flat, outback horizon and is best viewed at dawn or dusk, when the light causes it to glow red.

Also in the park are 36 rock domes, known as the Olgas.  The Olgas and Uluru are both sacred sites to the local Aborigines, and archaeological evidence indicates that humans have been interacting with the site for over 10,000 years.  Check out the petroglyphs on Uluru for evidence of prehistoric Australia.

Aboriginal mythology offers a few origin stories for Uluru, as well as legends about the Olgas.  A tour with a knowledgeable, local guide is a great way to get a feel for the cultural significance of these geological wonders.

Try the sauvignon blanc in Nelson, New Zealand

With a sterling reputation and prolific vines, the Marlborough region seems to define New Zealand’s contribution to the world of wine.  However, neighboring Nelson is no slouch when it comes to producing worthy sauvignon blancs— by awards per acre of grape vines, Nelson is the winningest wine region in New Zealand.

Wine is a natural fit with the culture of Nelson, which is largely laid-back (the city is among those boasting the most annual sunshine hours in New Zealand) and food-and-art-loving (Nelson is home to more artists per capita than any other region in New Zealand).  Besides the many vineyards offering tastings, Nelson is full of cafes and restaurants serving up glasses of local vintages.

To accompany the wine, many of the town’s creative minds have built unique menus to complement the chardonnays and sauvignons as well as to make use of the abundance of local produce and seafood.  While you’re at it, take a look at the local art that no doubt lines the walls of these restaurants.

Attend a hangi in Rotorua, New Zealand

The most distinctive aspect of Maori cuisine is the hangi — a traditional method of cooking involving an underground oven.  A hangi is made by filling a pit with stones, heating the rocks with a fire, placing food (vegetables and meat) in baskets on top of the hot stones once the fire is out and covering the baskets with soil in order to slow cook the food for one to two hours.

The feast takes time and effort to prepare, and it’s common for the food and labor to be enjoyed by a group. As in many cultures, sharing food is an important aspect of Maori life.  Attending a hangi is both a fabulous introduction to Maori cuisine, as well as a unique opportunity to celebrate togetherness the way it has been celebrated in New Zealand for hundreds of years.

Rotorua, famous for its natural hot pools, is a major destination for cultural tourism.  Here, you can enjoy a hangi as well as watch a traditional poi dance or a haka — most dinners include the chance to see a traditional performance.

Check out the following articles to find out more about Australia and New Zealand:

Experience all of these highlights and more with a Australia & New Zealand tour package from Go Ahead Tours. Go Ahead’s team of local Tour Directors will give you an insider’s view of these fascinating countries. With included airfare, a Best Price Guarantee and over twenty years of experience, once you travel with Go Ahead, you’ll understand why they accept nothing less than “the journey of a lifetime, every time.”

Photo credits:  I. DeSouza, Kuranda, global oneness project, Discover ArrowtownMarkus Koljonen, Sarah M Stewart