Sitting at a waterfront seafood restaurant in Rose Bay, watching the floatplanes take off from the glittering expanse of Sydney Harbour, it is hard not to feel a twinge of envy for the inhabitants of this most civilized, cosmopolitan and jaw-droppingly beautiful of modern cities. But then, no one can really begrudge the Australians their good fortune, as they’re such a delightful bunch in the main, with their unaffected friendliness and unassailable good humor. And what is true of the Aussies is equally so of their neighbors, the Kiwis, who may be marginally less extrovert, but who also seem to regard hospitality as a crucial matter of national pride. Of course, in other ways the two countries could scarcely be more dissimilar. Australia’s immense desert heartland stretches to the mysterious Red Centre of Ayers Rock, while off the northeast coast the coral ramparts of the Great Barrier Reef (which, unlike the Great Wall of China, really can be seen from space) extend for hundreds of miles. In contrast, New Zealand’s green and fertile landscape is dotted with azure lakes and dominated by snowcapped peaks. Ultimately, though, both countries derive their essential character from the great outdoors and the pioneering spirit it has engendered. Perhaps this, more than anything else, helps to explain their instant appeal to most Americans. Sydney may be as sophisticated as San Francisco, and New Zealand’s wine industry may currently be giving the Napa Valley a run for its money, but in the end, it is the big skies and the empty spaces, like those of the American West, that have forged the two nations’ respective souls. For Americans flying out from the West Coast, a relaxing idyll in the South Pacific after trip to Australia or New Zealand makes perfect sense, both geographically and spiritually.

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