My wife and I just returned from 19 days in Australia and New Zealand, 14 of which were visiting various ports via the Volendam.
Sydney is truly a beautiful city largely due to its spectacular harbor. It exudes some of the natural scenic attributes of San Francisco, without the 7 hills and the weather and beaches of Los Angeles (with higher humidity).
We didn't visit any of the beach communities as we live one mile from the Pacific Ocean in Los Angeles county, but we did take the very worthwhile Captain Cook's 2 hour coffee cruise (10 am-12 noon). This and attending the opera Tosca at the architecturally stunning opera house were the highlights of our 2 1/2 days in Sydney. The congeniality of the Australians was the other highlight.
As we mentioned it is a truly beautiful and exciting city. Make sure to take the harbor cruise and see the opera house or an opera.
Those who don't live by the ocean should take time to visit the beaches, and if you like zoos the Tonga zoo is highly recommended. We enjoyed a couple of hours at the Maritime Museum at Darling Harbor and also the aquarium and wild animal park appeared to be popular attractions. Outside of the city one can take tours of the blue mountains.
This port has a tram within walking distance of the port (6.80 AUD all day bus/tram ticket). Get off at CBD and take the free city circle tour bus (45 minutes) across from the Museum of Motion Art. The train station is a 19th century building which is very ornate and there are many shops and restaurants along the river. The botanical garden, which the free bus goes by, is quite large. By the tram stop at CBD there are some good souvenir shops with quite reasonable pricing. The tram takes no more than 20 minutes from the port to the CBD.
We took the train trip on the Taire Gorge railway for 76 NZD each. There is a free shuttle from Port Chalmers to downtown Dunedin (the Octagon) with the train station being a two block walk. The trip through the gorge is very picturesque, but it does take up about 3/4 of the day, so you won't be able to see much of the lovely Scottish town. We managed to have lunch, walk around the Octagon, use an Internet cafe and purchase some chocolate at the Cadbury factory, but not explore the city as the train arrived back in Dunedin at about 1:45 pm. Whatever you decide to do it is a really nice town. Many tours can be arranged independently through the I-Sites (this one at the Octagon where the shuttle disembarks).
Wellington is another clean and picturesque city, though quite windy. There is a shuttle ( 5 NZD return) from the port. We took the cable car, which is a funicular, up to the top of the hill. There are beautiful views and you can take an easy walk back into the downtown through the splendid botanical gardens. You exit the walking track, marked be pink paw prints, by the Parliament (there are free tours available). Then we took a city bus to the excellent Te Papa museum, where we spent 2 hours learning about the geology, geography and cultures of New Zealand. There are many shops, inexpensive Internet cafes (about 4 NZD/ hour) and gift shops (Naturally New Zealand and the New Zealand Shops are good for quality souvenirs). Clothing is expensive by US pricing, but a lot of it is made in NZ and not China so the workers are paid a fair wage.
Auckland was our port where our wonderful 14 day journey disembarked. We stayed one night at the Quadrant Hotel- comfortable modern room with a good staff. They will hold your luggage for you, which they tag, and then transfer it to your room. Nake sure you ask for a room with airconditioning, as Auckland can be warm and hummid in the summer ( not as uncomfortable as the southern US, but no the warm dry weather of the Pacific Coast).
We took the harbor cruise, though it is not nearly as spectacular as the Sydney Harbor. Thus we would recommend simply purchasing a ferry ticket to Devonport (10 NZD return) and spending 4 hours walking throught the town or and a bus tour of the island. There are good resturants and a two branches of a good chocolate factory.
The University district has a nice park and the Auckland museam is a good place to spend some time if it is quite warm outside. The viaduct at the harbor has resturants and many of the yachts which were in the America Cup race.
There was a listing to our other ports: Christ Church, Picton, Napier and Taurang. There were free shuttles into town for all these ports. Christ church is a beautiful city- the largest on shouth island and worth a full day visit itself. We visited the cathedral, the Avon river, the Museum , which is in the botanical gardens (an excellent Antarctic exhibit and a good cafe to eat lunch). The botanical gardens where the best we saw on the trip.
Picton- rented a car ($65 NZD) from Pegasus rentals and toured the Marlborough Bay wineries in the Blenheim area (30-45 minute drive). Even if you don't drink wine the scenery is worth the visit- reminded us of California, Oregon and Washington wine countries, but much more compact.
Napier- took the 3 hour scenic tour by MountClassictours.co.nz (65 NZD). It includes a couple of nice Hawkes bay wineries and a spectacular climb to 1400 feet mountaintop up the Craggy Hills and a stop for fresh fruit and ice cream.
Tauranga- took Mount Classic Tour 3 1/2 tour of Tauranga, fruit orchards, the Rev. Brown house, and a Kiwi Plantation. The guide was the best we had. He knew almost everything about NZ culture, geography, political system and geology.