We are also planning a trip to Australia next New Years. We will probably cruise the Western coast, going to the Great Barrier Reef and New Zealand. I would love to be in Sydney for the fireworks on Jan 1. I think cruising will be our most economical way to see Australia. I hear food can get pricey there.
As far as what to see there.....I hear we should see Sydney Harbor, the Great Barrier reef, New Zealand, and Aires Rock. If we cruise, we will have to pass up Aires Rock. Its tough sailing in the interior of Australia.
We spent 6 weeks travelling in Oz and NZ in 2009. It was not long enough! Although I did a huge amount of research, we still struggled to keep to our schedule ... Oz is huge and distances are vast ... NZ is a stunning country and we kept stopping off in unscheduled locations.
We flew London to Sydney (via Hong Kong) and back the same route with a 3 day stop in HK. Our route in Oz was just to Melbourne (great wine area) and then up to Cairns to do the Reef and beaches/rainforest. We then transferred to Christchurch (NZ South Island) via Brisbane. We returned from Wellington (NZ North Is) to Sydney and spent our final week in Sydney.
Things we did that we enjoyed
Oz ..... Melbourne - Mornington Peninsula ... Cairns - Great Barrier Reef / Mossman Gorge / beaches ... Sydney - too much to list!
NZ ... South Is ...... Christchurch ... Fox Glacier ... Milford Sound ... Abel Tasman Reserve (near Nelson) ...... North Is ...... Martinborough (12 vineyards within walking distance of the hotel ... heaven!)
Things that we wished we had done
Oz ...... Ayers Rock ... we met a number of people who had been there in the Sydney Marriott at the end of our trip ... they all found it stunning
NZ ...... Milford Sound ... we did a daytime trip along the fjords ... everyone who booked the overnight cruise, thought it amazing
In Sydney, we stayed at the Sydney Harbour Marriott ... great staff and great Concierge Lounge with great views. You could possibly see the fireworks from here, but the atmosphere would no doubt be better down by the Opera House ... but probably a bit of a crush. There is a nice rooftop restaurant in the Customs House near the Marriott ... "Cafe Sydney" ... if you booked far enough in advance, you may be able to get a table with the right view? Alternatively, one of the many harbour ferries will probably do midnight cruises ... but this is a guess.
Unfortunately, there are no Marriotts in NZ ... tragic!
Whatever you do, I am sure that you will have an amazing trip ... but ... like us, come back knowing that you have missed a lot!
If you need any more specific suggestions/info ... just ask ... as Jerry says, Jasper has a wealth of knowledge on this part of the world.
Enjoy a great year of planning and looking forward to your trip!
So I'll offer what I have regarding Sydney: very little, but perhaps of some help regarding bridge fireworks watching. If you Google map Sydney Harbour, you'll see that there are dozens of mini peninsulas that have a view of the bridge. I visited Watson's Bay at the harbor head, which had a lot of open area and seemed very safe. It had a spectacular view of the harbor, but I can't remember how well I could see the bridge. There are many, many other peninsulas that may be great for fireworks viewing. Check out Ashton Park or Royal Botanical Gardens. Field glasses would be a good idea from any locale I would think. There are also a lot of vantage points in North Sydney, and actually that's where I would place my hat. Kirribilli is probably too crowded, but perhaps the area near Luna Park or better, on McMahons Point, there is Blue Point Reserve and Balls Head Reserve. I would vote for one of those two. I will ask my sister (who has a view from her own property, but may know of some choice, untouristy public spots). You can bring a blanket and a picnic basket with wine and 'take away,' and enjoy yourself while you wait for the show to begin. Hopefully chat up some interesting folks. Sydney is a wonderful city. We metro train across the bridge from North Sydney and walk, walk, walk throughout the CBD. Walking is the best way to see everything. If you stay at the Marriott, it is a great location, right in the middle of it all. See Darling Harbour, Queen Victoria Station, the Strand Arcade, Hyde Park (and surrounding cathedrals, St. Andrews, St. Mary's), Circular Quay (pronounced 'key'), the Opera House of course, the Rocks, and even the zoo and Botanical Gardens if you have time. The week I was there, Roberta Flack performed at the Sydney Opera House. Ticket prices were reasonable. The Opera House, realizing that tourists don't typically pack fancy clothes, has no expectation for fancy attire, as it wants people to experience it's World Heritage venue. Also Watson's Bay is worth the visit, gorgeous, and you don't want to miss the local but world reknown beaches, Bronte Beach, and Bondi Beach while on your outing to Watson's Bay. And if you will have a car, head to Manly Beach, Whale Beach, and Palm Beach. The wonderful thing about dining in Sydney is that all restaurants are independent. No chains. If you like Italian, Pendolino's in the Strand Arcade offers a fantastic dining experience and atomosphere. Loved it. For Indian, Blu Ginger, for Thai, Thai Riffic, both in Mc Mahon's Point. Can google and get there by metro train easily. So that's my limited take on Sydney. I have never been to Uluru Nat'l Park, and it looks hecka far from Sydney, but I've seen some pictures that have put a desire in my heart. Below are some Sydney pics.
Hyde Park (and my sister)
Your Harbour Bridge, taken from the Rocks
Enjoyed a respite at this pub in the Rocks
The fresh fish here is amazing, and I don't use that word lightly.
It was overcast. Can't find my pics of Watson's Bay, Bondi Beach or the Opera House. I promise, it's all as great in person as any travel pics you've seen.
I agree with chrisf .. Australia is a big country. Australian's don't think twice about travelling the distance, but this often over looked by people planning their holidays.
Travelling around Australia .... fly ! You'll find competitive airfares from Qantas, Virgin, Jetstar and Tiger Airways.
New Year's Eve in Sydney ? .... try the Botanic Gardens and avoid the crowds
Food in Australia ? It has the best that every other country has to offer, at far more affordable prices. Don't just think about restaurants ... try a cooking class such as those run by the Sydney Seafood Market
Worried about food allergies ? Just tell the waiter what you need ..... most restaurants will cater for you without a second thought
Where to visit ? It depends on what you want to see and more importantly want to do ! Do the tourist things ( like Sydney ), but think about going to the Blue Mountains ( a few hours from Sydney ), the Hunter Valley ( again, a few hours from Sydney) for stunnning wineries, Nelson Bay is nearby for beautiful beaches. Go up to Brisbane or the Sunshine Coast and spend a few nights at Noosa or Sunshine Beach. Go further north and enjoy Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef. There's alway Uluru, Darwin or Broome if you have any energy left ! Melbourne has even better food, more theatres, more wineries .... and a lot more class than Sydney. Try a twilight dinner at Melbourne Zoo .... see the fairy penguins on Phillip Island, the Great Ocean Road, the wineries of the Yarra Valley, just to name a few, Then there's the Margaret River region a few hours drive from Perth & Rottnest Island in Western Australia. Rest & recover in South Australia or Port Lincoln on your way back to Melbourne for a ferry trip to Tasmania
How ever long you were planning on spending in Australia on holidays ... double it ! And you'll still need more time !!!
Both loorifleenor and chrisf really covered it for Sydney. It's a great walking town and is flat. One destination not mentioned was Featherdale Wildlife park, which is on the outskirts. While there you can hold a koala bear and hop along with some kangaroos. It's sounds a bit hokey but it's very well done. I would also recommend a tour of the Opera House and as mentioned, walk through the Strand. The Great Synagogue was an interesting stop as it gave the history of the Australian Jews. No trip would be complete without a ride up to the top of Sydney Tower, just make sure it's a clear day.
We also visited Melbourne and enjoyed that city as well, although I would not recommend the usual tourist trip to Phillip Island to see the Fairy Penguins. It's a very long trip and once you've seen one penguin, you've seen them all.
Both Sydney and Melbourne are great eating towns, so do your research before hand.
Our last stop was Cairns and we took the train to Kuranda. This aboriginal town turned out to be somewhat interesting, but the train ride and walk through the rainforest was the best part. We ended the trip with an all day excursion to the Reef. There were a lot of sick people on the catamaran ride and it took several hours, so unless you have good sea legs, you may want to forgo this type of adventure. I did fine and was taken in by it all. Since Cairns is all the way north, the climate is subtropical and feels a lot like Miami, humidity and all.
Australia is a different kind of place. All the time I was there (12 days), I did feel like I was a world away from the US. It's really hard to describe. But by the same token, it's probably the only place in the world that I've been where it felt just like the US. The suburbs look identical to those of the US, in terms of house design and subdivision layout. Many American brand stores line the landscape, from Safeway supermarkets to Lenscrafter's to Target. If it weren't so far away I'd go back in a heartbeat.
I just read the comments on Australia. Up until 8 years ago, I traveled to Sydney & Auckland NZ periodically on business trips. These posts made me remember why I must return. I personally think Sydney is one of the best places to visit anywhere. Besides the amazing things to do, the people especially are friendly towards Americans. The barrier reef is beyond belief and Melbourne is also a fine place to vist. You should plan with travel time to spend at least 3 weeks on the trip.