Since its inception in 2001, Pacific Discovery has taken more than 2,000 students and many faculty-led groups on our experiential journeys. We value our incredible team of experienced, qualified and passionate Program Instructors. We have an excellent safety record, comprehensive safety management systems and a database of alumni, parents, advisers and faculty, who are happy to be contacted by you, to discuss their experience.
Pacific Discovery has undergone independent safety accreditations with Gap Year Association (USA), Year Out Group (UK), and OutdoorsMark (NZ).
Our summer, semester and gap year programs are grounded in the philosophy of experiential education, where learning is facilitated and hands-on. Our programs are overland journeys, blending cultural immersion, personal and leadership development, volunteer and community service projects, experiential education, wilderness exploration and optional transferable academic credit. Our Mission is to offer the world’s best experiential programs - providing insights into our increasingly global society, developing empathy for other cultures, furthering understanding of international issues, heightening appreciation for the earth’s wild places, and assisting you to stretch and grow.
Kiwi’s Rachel Sanson and Scott Burnett, founded Pacific Discovery in 2001, utilizing experience gained through working in environmental and outdoor education, teaching, tourism, grass-roots community development and extensive travels. From the start the focus was offering deeply meaningful programs where students would gain new insights and ways of thinking about our world, through educational journeys. These journeys were ethically sound, ensured a positive outcome for host communities, and a lower impact on the environment. Initially based in Oregon, they relocated Pacific Discovery's home to New Zealand in 2005 to raise family.
In 2018 the reins were handed to another kiwi, Zach Johnston. Alongside continued input from Rachel and Scott, Zach’s varied educational and leadership experience made him the perfect person to continue the focus on authentic and inspiring international travel. As a Senior Instructor in Leadership Development, General Manager in the Tourism Industry, Field Based Outdoor Educator, International Expedition Leader, and Operational Ambulance Officer with extensive travel experience around the world, his input into program development and commitment to consistency of service is apparent.
Today, Pacific Discovery runs 25+ programs annually. We continue to be a small and personal organization that strives to offer authentic, inspiring and pivotal experiences.
As an organisation, we remain passionately and personally involved in all aspects of the program, from answering phone and email enquiries, to researching, developing and evaluating programs. We even manage to get out and lead programs from time to time. This means you have a very personalized experience and can trust that we are always focused on providing you with an inspiring and safe journey with Pacific Discovery.
Visit our Gallery of Appreciation to see a group photo from every Pacific Discovery program.
“You will grow in ways you'd never imagine. You will learn what you never could inside a classroom. Come for the adventure, you will get so much more.”
Pacific discovery is more than a tour company. It's a close family embodied with the true spirit of travel. This adventure is unique in that it doesn't fall under any particular category. One day you’re relaxing on a cruise ship in Ha Long Bay, the next you’re trekking through the Laotian jungle and spending the night with a native hill tribe. The variety of activities offered on this trip is incredible. Each day of the itinerary is thoughtfully planned. You can tell that Rachel and Scott really care about the experience they are providing for their participants. This program offers a great balance between group and independent travel. The perfect ratio of structured activities, to free time, to explore and make the trip our own. Many participants feel comfortable enough after the trip to extend their stay, traveling either with someone they met on the trip or independently. I spent a week learning Thai massage, living in Bangkok and went on a ten day silent meditation retreat. PD was more than helpful with preparations such as my visa extension paperwork. I remember before leaving to go on the program I was at REI and had a question about a whether I needed something and they responded to my email while I was still in the store. This is only one example of their passion and dedication. I'm bringing home a deep understanding of Southeast Asian culture, great memories, and friendships that will last a lifetime.”
Eli Susman, 2014
“I look back now and I realize how much has changed. Not so much on the outside but on the inside there are new thoughts, ideas, new wisdoms and new attitudes towards life. The patience and compassion I found when dealing with people of different cultures and all the respect I have for the people I met along the way. Memories of landscapes more beautiful than anything I've ever imagined have been etched into my mind.”
Emily Hanley, 2003
University of Maine
When we created Pacific Discovery, we were two young New Zealanders living in the United States. We were very conscious of the vast ocean between our old and new homes.
Covering 1/3 of the earth’s surface and larger than the entire combined land areas, the Pacific Ocean was named the ‘peaceful ocean’ by Spanish explorer Magellan during a voyage of discovery and the first circumnavigation of our planet in 1521.
Polynesian seafarers had earlier undertaken some of humanity’s greatest journeys of discovery over the 2,500 years preceding Magellan, as they gradually explored and settled the Pacific Ocean, voyaging from Asia to South America, to New Zealand and to Hawaii.
Magellan's voyage was an important early step in an accelerating process of making us aware of ‘our world’, a process that today is of critical importance as we stretch the capacity of our planet to provide for us all.
The name Pacific Discovery celebrates these early journeys of discovery and celebrates the journeys of discovery that our students undertake on our programs, as they deepen their understanding of our world, their understanding of themselves, and understanding the perspectives of others.
Our students undertake a Pacific (peaceful) Discovery - treading lightly on our world, learning the perspectives of others, and in the process becoming a force for peace and humanity.
Our logo incorporates a blue circle representing the Pacific Ocean. Inside this is the silhouette of two of our students. They are looking out from a peak. We love their embrace of the view and an openness to the world in all its richness, beauty and fragility. This moment encapsulates what our programs are all about.
“Before I came on this trip, I'd travelled quite a bit in Asia on my own. I wasn't sure if it was worth joining a group tour rather than doing a similar trip independently. But I got so much more out of the trip than I would have otherwise.”
In the past I'd spent countless hours lugging a heavy backpack in the heat looking for a place to stay, which would frequently turn out ugly or filthy or overpriced. Instead we stayed in amazing guesthouses that were much nicer than anything I ever found on my own. All the treks we did seemed less touristy and more authentic than some of the other ones available. Our leader knew all the areas really well and could suggest things to see or do, great places to eat, and worthwhile places to go out. Finally it was really wonderful to have a group of people to share everything with. I would recommend this trip to anybody interested in Southeast Asia. I would recommend this trip to anyone who has never thought about Southeast Asia. It was a totally unforgettable experience and I had the time of my life.”
Ellie Laird, 2006
Bryn Mawr College
|Forum On Education Abroad - advancing best practice in the education abroad field|
|NAFSA - the National Association for International Educators|
|IEE - the Institute of International Education|
|Generation Study Abroad – the US government initiative to increase the opportunities for US students to study abroad|
|Diversity Abroad – an initiative to support under-represented populations to study abroad|
|Gap Year Association|
|The Year Out Group|
|Everyday Ambassadors - A network of people and organizations committed to community centered international education and exchange|
“I have known Scott and Rachel for several years, and I can recommend them in the strongest positive terms. In my opinion, they run the most impressive student-oriented programs available anywhere. I have led numerous study abroad programs and worked with many other companies over the years, so I am most confident in this assessment.”
I worked with Pacific Discovery extensively in the planning, development, and implementation of a Texas State School of Social Work study abroad program to Cambodia and Thailand in winter 2007-2008. This was a three-week in-country program involving fifteen students. I was immediately impressed with Pacific Discovery by their excellent, extensive website, and their quick and professional response to my initial inquiries. They were very attentive to the details of the trip as well as responding to my needs. They gained my full confidence very quickly. Our planning time was shorter than desirable, but they were able to make it all happen very efficiently and effectively. They handled every aspect of the program from start to finish without any problems of any kind, and I truly enjoyed their pleasant, friendly attitude.
Scott was our tour leader, and the students really loved him. I appreciated that he not only managed the logistics of the program so well, but also greatly enhanced the academic quality with his extensive knowledge of Southeast Asia, particularly the history and contemporary culture of Cambodia and Thailand. In addition, Pacific Discovery arranged for several very unique learning opportunities, such as staying with a wonderful family in a village, visiting local schools to interact with students and donate books, volunteering at non-governmental social service agencies, and touring an ecologically-based nature preserve.
I can say that Scott and Rachel changed our lives through this amazing adventure.” Read more Catherine Hawkins, 2019
Professor of Social Work
Honorary Professor of International Studies
Texas State University-San Marcos