There's something about seeing the image of the Sydney Opera House and expansive Harbour Bridge that leaves you dreaming of your vacation to the South Pacific long after it ended.
And although you will enjoy every moment exploring cosmopolitan cities such as Sydney in Australia and Christchurch in New Zealand, it is the natural landscape of these two countries that leaves an indelible impression.
Nature was inspired when it created Australia. Rain forest, coastline, outback, mountains and savannah paint a colorful palette of magical sights against an azure sky.
From the moment you step off the plane in the beautiful Victorian city of Melbourne, spectacular scenery is everywhere. Your first afternoon there, travel to Phillip Island, a renowned nature reserve and home of the world's largest colony of little penguins
The little penguin is protected on Phillip Island and a staff of rangers works diligently to study and protect these lovable birds. The experience of watching as hundreds of these birds waddle out from the sea and cross the beach to their burrows in the dunes makes you appreciate the balance between man and nature.
Adding to the enjoyment of your afternoon will be a visit to the interpretation center, where you will learn about the life of the little penguins and their significance to the area.
The next morning it's off to Cairns, the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. On the outskirts of Cairns in Tropical North Queensland is the Tjapukai (pronounced Jab-a-guy) Aboriginal Cultural Park - one of the most awarded indigenous attractions in Australia. Here an Aboriginal language and culture that was once in danger of extinction has not only been saved, but shared with thousands of visitors from throughout the world.
Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park is a mystical experience dedicated to preserving authentic Aboriginal culture and includes five theaters, a museum, art gallery and a traditional Aboriginal camp, which give visitors a meaningful glimpse into a culture dating back more than 40,000 years.
As you sit in the audience waiting for the "show" to begin, the anticipation in the air is so thick you can feel it. Bodies still, the audience's attention is completely focused on the two men at the front of the theater. Dressed in traditional Aboriginal garb - loincloths and ghostly white body paint - they crouch over a small pile of leaves and brush, one holding a horizontal stick, the other twirling his hands up and down a vertical one. Their aim is to create friction, which leads to heat, and ultimately the fundamental element to human existence - fire. You will be enraptured, imagining what it must have been like for their own ancestors to know that the creation of so small yet significant a thing as a flame could mean the difference between life and death.
For a moment it seems as though nothing else will happen, but suddenly a flash of orange appears. One of the men bends low, gently blowing on the infant flame to coax it to life. In a whoosh it catches, and he jumps back as the brush is rapidly engulfed. He triumphantly holds a flaming branch aloft to the haunting accompaniment of a didgeridoo. As one, the audience erupts into cheers and applause as the Tjapukai man proves once more the most basic, ancient element that sets humans apart from beasts - control over fire.
You may learn later that many members of the audience were part of a Collette Vacations tour that included Tropical North Queensland and the visit to Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park. Here they had the opportunity to meet members of the Tjapukai people, learn about their history and culture, hear their music and Dreamtime stories.
If you're game, you can also try your hand at playing a didgeridoo or throwing a boomerang, one Collette traveler related to me.
Aboriginal culture is just one facet of a visit to Cairns in Tropical North Queensland. The region's most famous attraction is undoubtedly the Great Barrier Reef - one of the world's greatest natural wonders and the largest single living organism on the planet.
The Great Barrier Reef stretches down the Queensland coast for more than 1,200 miles and covers an area of more than 155,000 square miles. You can visit some - or all - of these reef formations - each one unique - on a Great Barrier Reef day trip.
One of the rare natural wonders in this area is Green Island, a short journey by fast catamaran off the Cairns coast. Green Island is a 6,000-year-old coral cay perfectly located for exploring the reef - from the water or from the comfort of a glass-bottom boat.
But there's more to this island than the reef alone. Over centuries, a cool rain forest has developed, along with white coral sand beaches - yours to explore with a Colette Vacations day trip.
The city of Cairns is a vibrant coastal town with fabulous shopping and dining ranging from traditional "Aussie bush tucker" to alfresco cafes and five-star restaurants.
The Queensland Outback, with its miles of open spaces, amazing land formations and mobs of free-roaming kangaroos, is only a couple of hours drive inland. However, you may chose, instead, to set off for Sydney where you can spend two fabulous nights. The tour here may include highlights such as Kings Cross, the Harbour Bridge, Chinatown, the Rocks, Circular Quay, the Botanic Gardens and the fashionable suburb of Paddington.
Later, you will enjoy a fascinating opal presentation and learn how raw opals are processed from the dark mine shafts to your favorite jewelry store.
On day two in Sydney, embark on a delightful cruise of Sydney Harbour and pass by two of Australia's most famous landmarks: the renowned Sydney Opera House and the world's largest steel arch bridge, the Harbour Bridge.
Afterwards, travel with a group to Koala Park to see koalas in their natural habitat. You will even have the chance to feed the kangaroos and pet a wombat. Later that night, enjoy a tour, dinner, and performance inside the Sydney Opera House - surely to be the highlight of your trip.
The next morning will say "So long Australia and hello New Zealand."
The moment you arrive in Queenstown, this charming South Island town will captured your heart. The first evening there, take a gondola ride to dinner at the Skyline Restaurant, which overlooks Queenstown, Lake Wakatipu and the mountains.
Although the scenic beauty of such sights as the Hollyford Valley and Milford Sound are not to be missed, one of the best things about traveling is meeting people along the way, especially the locals.
On this adventure Down Under, you might have the privilege of dining with a local family "Kiwis," as they're called. They may take you into their home, where you will enjoyed a traditional, home-cooked meal and absorbed some kiwi culture. These are the experiences you remember long after your return trip home.
New Zealand's most famous national park, Mt. Cook, is where you can spend a leisurely afternoon after leaving Queenstown. This is truly one of the most impressive mountains in the world. You can choose to view the massive glaciers and extensive snow-covered mountain-top terrain on an optional glacier flight tour, or just enjoy the park during a simple nature walk.
Your tour of the South Pacific begins to wind to its end in the historic city of Christchurch. Here you can participate in a short sightseeing tour of "the most English city outside of England" highlighting magnificent gardens, the Neo-Gothic Cathedral and the downtown park district.
One of your fondest memories in this area of New Zealand will be a visit to a Canterbury farmyard to take part in a sheep shearing demonstration and see how a New Zealand family farm works.
Throughout your 15 days in Australia and New Zealand, you are sure to find a world of relaxation, beauty, adventure and fun all waiting to be discovered and appreciated. I can't wait to go!
Rose Mascarenhas is a travel consultant with Gadabout Travel in Sebastian. Call (772) 589-0633.
Gadabout Travel also has an office in Melbourne. Call (321) 253-3674.