Explore the wonders of life Down Under, before you hike and climb your way through New Zealand on this epic gap year program!
New Zealand and Australia are two of the most ecologically intact and diverse countries in the world, and you'll be able to see it all. From the Great Barrier Reef and the Outback in Oz to the sheep-dotted green hills and dramatic mountains of Aotearoa (New Zealand). While traveling around both countries, you'll try your hand at white water rafting, rock climbing, snorkeling, surfing and canyoning, while also immersing yourself in the Maori indigenous culture by attending cultural performances and a traditional hangi feast. So if you’re looking to get stuck into a myriad of different activities, both on land and at sea – this program is most certainly for you!
But that's only half of the adventure! You will also give back to the local communities by doing hands-on volunteer work at several coastal national parks and even Pacific Discovery's very own environmental center. You will work alongside park rangers, help plant native trees, and learn all about native New Zealand and Australian ecology and wildlife, while also getting he chance to spot endangered birds, camp under the starry night sky, and relax on beautiful white sandy beaches at the end of a rewarding day of volunteering.
Australia has reopened its borders to vaccinated tourists and New Zealand is welcoming back vaccinated tourists from Visa Waiver Countries (this includes the USA, Canada, UK and most of Europe) from May 2022. This means our New Zealand & Australia Students can feel confident that this program is going ahead.
✓ Want to relax on some of the most beautiful beaches in the world
✓ Are interested in immersing yourself in Maori (indigenous) culture
✓ Love activities like rock climbing, hiking, canoeing, rafting and snorkeling
✓ Are enthusiastic about conservation and ecosystem enhancement
✓ Want to enjoy the ultimate combination of beach time, culture and nature
Visiting Australia and New Zealand had always been on my bucket list, and I couldn't be happier that I got the opportunity to experience it with Pacific Discovery. You can tell how much meticulous planning they put into curating each program's itinerary and making sure that you'll see as much of Australia and New Zealand as possible in your 70 days there. ” On the program, you'll embody the traveler's spirit, always on the move and never staying in any one place for more than a couple of days. Looking back, the breadth and depth of activities you get to partake in on this program are amazing. From surfing on Australia's pristine beaches to taking in New Zealand's most famous glacier, your experience with PD will leave you with memories that last a lifetime."
- Emily Simons
Our newest Program Quiz can help you find your perfect Program match! Or get the full Fall Program run-down in our catalogue. This catalogue provides information about Pacific Discovery's values and program design, as well as program descriptions and testimonials!
Having arrived in New Zealand, we head to Paihia where we will have an in-depth program orientation and ice-breaking sessions where we get to meet and bond with our new program friends. Once we have finished orientation we will visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds and Waka Taua'Canoe in the Bay of Islands.
Waitangi is one of the most important places in New Zealand's history. Often called the ‘Birthplace of our Nation’, Waitangi weaves together the strands and stories of many people, events and places to reveal the rich cultural history of Aotearoa New Zealand, offering an inspiring and meaningful experience for every visitor. Waitangi Treaty Grounds is a place for all New Zealanders and the place where much of New Zealand’s history was shaped through the signing of the Declaration of Independence, He Whakaputanga, in 1835 and the Treaty of Waitangi, Te Tiriti o Waitangi in 1840. But you will learn so much more when you visit!
We'll then make our way to the stunning Tawharanui Regional Park for our first conservation volunteer project in New Zealand. Tawharanui boasts some of New Zealand’s most beautiful white sandy beaches, rolling pastures, shingled bays, native coastal forest and regenerating wetlands.
The sanctuary is a unique blend of conservation, recreation and sustainable farming within Tawharanui Regional Park. Our days here are spent participating in volunteer conservation initiatives working alongside park rangers and a local group of community volunteers, and our nights are spent under the starry night sky as we camp in this beautiful location.
Heading south, we travel to the geothermal and cultural heartland of the country. Spouting geysers, bubbling mud pools, steaming vents, boiling lakes and colourful sinter terraces are just about everywhere in and around Rotorua. Besides taking advantage of our glorious hot pools, we will visit the spectacular geothermal parks – each one so different from the others – in and around the city. Our days here are full of adventure and energy as we go mountain biking in the Redwoods, and spend an afternoon rafting down the Kaituna River. The Kaituna River is Rotorua rafting’s playground, and home to not just one, but three impressive waterfalls, including the highest rafted waterfall in the world – Tutea Falls at 7m!
We will also be introduced to Maori culture while visiting Rotorua. Māori are tangata whenua, the indigenous people of New Zealand. They came here from Polynesia in the 13th century and created a new language and culture. We will finish our stay in Rotorua at the Tamaki Maori Village for an evening experience, consisting of a cultural immersion and a traditional hangi feast.
During this time, we’ll also be busy planning before commencing the student-led section of the program between Rotorua and Wellington. We can stay together as one big group or split the group in half, with one instructor accompanying each small group, depending upon the group's interests. You'll be given a budget and suggestions and you plan and execute your own travels and manage your budget. This is often a highlight of the program and teaches valuable independent travel skills.
Wellington, New Zealand’s capital city, is vibrant - great cafés and nightlife. We’ll visit Parliament to learn about New Zealand’s political system, and gain insight into Maori culture through an intimate Maori educational experience at the National Museum, before giving you free time to explore independently.
From Wellington, we board a ferry bound for the South Island, cruise through the twisting arms of the glacial carved Marlborough Sounds, and come ashore in Picton. We have a second conservation project planned, and this one is in the location of a lifetime. Rolling hills, crystal clear waters and a wealth of fishing, kayaking, walking and biking trails surround us and we'll have the opportunity to explore it all! This project is based around land conservation and restoration, as well as local ecosystem exploration and education. There is so much to unpack and discover in this incredible part of New Zealand, we know you're going to love it! Keep your eyes peeled for dolphins, penguins, seals and of course our native weka birds, sheep, stingrays and big blue cod.
The next four days will be spent in a remote section of Kahurangi National Park, hiking/backpacking, camping, and exploring our way through spectacular wilderness. Tramping (the New Zealand word for backpacking) is one of the best activities to do in New Zealand. Enabling everyone to enjoy the vast and dramatic landscapes of New Zealand! On our last day we return to civilization for some well-earned rest in Nelson.
Enjoy some free time in Nelson to explore and take in the wonderful city. There are great swimming beaches and rivers nearby, a weekend market to explore, and no doubt a mountain of laundry to catch up on. Nelson is also a popular place to try tandem skydiving, stand-up paddle boarding, and mountain-biking – which you can do independently if you want to.
Voted one of the top ten road trips in the world, we travel the length of the South Island’s West Coast from Nelson to Wanaka. Enjoy rugged coastlines, beautiful rainforest and spectacular glaciers. We will spend a night at Punakaiki to view the impressive blow holes, then two nights at the tiny settlement of Franz Josef, to explore and learn about the mighty glaciers that are located nearby.
From a simple lodge at Glendhu Bay on the shores of Lake Wanaka, we learn how to rock climb. Our fantastic instructors introduce us to climbing technique, belaying, rappelling, and take us safely through 2 ½ days of climbing instruction, tailored to all levels of climbing ability and fitness. There will also be time for swimming in the lake, walking and hiking on the hills around Wanaka.
Queenstown is the world’s adventure capital. We have some free time here to try some of the options on offer – bungy jumping is a popular choice. In the evenings you’re sure to enjoy the magical sunsets over the lake, a bit of frisbee golf or swimming in the lake that surrounds the town.
We then make our way to an isolated farm, where we will take time to reflect on our time in New Zealand. What a journey it has been! We will have traveled through this amazing country on the other side of the world and learned a lot along the way and we still have Australia to explore! We will start by heading to Brisbane, Australia!
On arrival in Brisbane you’ll be transferred to a location outside the city where we will get accustomed to life down under in Australia! We will also start with a few days where you take the reigns as a group and decide what to do. There will be plenty to choose from, you just have to plan it yourself!
We then head off on a self-supported canoe journey into the Noosa Everglades. Hidden within the Cooloola section of the Great Sandy National Park, the Noosa Everglades are a tropical wetland and one of only two everglades systems in the world. ... It’s also one of Australia’s most diverse ecosystems, boasting over 40% of the country’s bird species. Immerse yourself in the wilderness of the Upper Noosa River; kayak the river of mirrors, experience the serenity, walk to the ancient Cooloola Sandpatch and camp in the bush beside the cool waters of the Noosa Everglades. This canoe trip will see us really explore the wilderness and beauty that Australia has to offer.
We make our way south towards Byron Bay. On a sensational section of coastline, Byron Bay has been a hippy hang-out since the 1970s and is today, the quintessential surfing town. Tie-dyed hippies mix with bronzed surfers, artists and large numbers of local and international tourists, there to enjoy its beaches, boutiques and cafes. It’s a great place to relax. While here, we’ll take a boat trip out to the Julian Rocks to snorkel with turtles and tropical fish – dolphins and whales are also regularly seen in the waters around the headland. This is the place to try an optional scuba dive if you really want to immerse yourself in this amazing underwater world.
Heading south to an isolated section of coast, we stay at a surf camp and learn to surf from our surfing-guru instructors on the myriad breaks in the area. Spend evenings relaxing at camp, debriefing each day and hearing the instructor’s wild stories before a great sleep in preparation for a sunrise surf!
At the heart of surfing is a connection-to-nature philosophy. We get to experience this in a hands-on way by undertaking volunteer conservation work alongside National Parks staff in a coastal National Park.
The project revolves around ecosystem enhancement in Arakoon National Park. It is connected to a state-wide program called ‘Saving our Species’ which aims to halt and reverse the growing numbers of Australian animals and plants facing extinction. This program aims to secure as many threatened species that can be secured in the wild as possible for the next 100 years.
Continuing our southward migration, we skirt Sydney and head inland to experience the wonder of the Blue Mountains National Park. Based from the main township, Katoomba, we'll get outdoors to discover for ourselves what makes the ‘Blueys’ so special. We will spend a day canyoning – a unique adventure involving hiking, scrambling and rappels through sculptured rock canyons.
This week, we will help out at an outdoor education center, which involves young people in positive environmental projects, inspiring them to conserve. We learn about permaculture and sustainable living. Project activities include site landscape work for sustainability education, tree planting to regenerate a key wildlife river corridor, and habitat survey expedition days to identify forest vegetation communities and koala territories.
Next, we settle into our downtown accommodation near Sydney Cove, where 200 years ago, the first European settlement in Australia was established. Bold, brash and beautiful, Sydney is arguably the world’s most vibrant city. Explore Sydney’s famous harbor and beaches by ferry, visit the Opera House and Australian Museum, check out the local beaches and shopping areas. In our last couple of days, we will reflect and discuss our time in Australia and our program as a whole during program wrap. What an incredible journey you have been on in the South Pacific, through two amazing countries with a small group!
*Each week there will be some designated free time so that you can catch up on email, laundry, rest, and explore independently with others in the group.
**Pacific Discovery reserves the right to alter and/or change the order of the itinerary, the focus of the projects or the activities themselves due to dates, availability, and safety precautions.
✓ All in-program travel and transport, excluding flights
✓ All accommodation
✓ All meals
✓ All expeditions, activities, excursions, volunteer projects and entry fees as described in the itinerary
✓ Experienced Program Instructors and local guides
✓ Informal lectures from resident experts on conservation and eco-tourism
✓ Experiential core curriculum that pushes students to reflect and ask questions of themselves
High Activity Level: Anyone with an moderate to advanced fitness level and an enthusiasm for the outdoors and new experiences will have a great time on this gap semester! You will need to be prepared for a multi-day hike in Kahurangi National Park and for some physical work during the volunteer projects on the program, like trail building or the removal of invasive plants.
Medium Camping Level: You will be camping for a couple of nights on this gap year program, but you will spend most of your time in comfortable hostels and lodges.
Medium Learning Level: You will be able to make a difference to the local community during your stay. Be prepared to get your hands dirty and do some hands-on learning about local issues.
Our accommodation will be a mix of camping (tents supplied) and comfortable, clean hostels and lodges. Laundry and Wi-Fi facilities will be available some days, except during the weeks in the field on the volunteer projects and on expeditions. Accommodation is diverse, comfortable and carefully chosen to fit our needs.
Meals are fresh, tasty, healthy and varied. Special dietary requirements and vegetarians are catered for. Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner are included in the program cost. Any snacks are at an additional cost, which we recommend budgeting around $10 per day for.
Food preparation responsibilities are shared by all students. It’s fun, social and often a highlight. An average day on program would consist of the following:
Camping meals will be adjusted to the cooking equipment at hand
To make things easy for you, we partner with a full service travel agency that can arrange flights, appropriate travel insurance and post program arrangements for our students.
They have access to a "Cancel For Any Reason" or CFAR travel insurance for US citizens in participating states. This optional travel insurance product allows travelers to cancel for any reason whatsoever up to two days prior to departure and still receive a significant refund. This allows you to keep planning for the future while avoiding the stress and the financial worry of canceling a program if you need to.
Our program locations and itineraries have been carefully selected and modified to minimize risk of exposure to anyone outside the group with most being located in rural areas. This allows for a more focused learning environment, as well as a safe haven from the stress of our modern world.
We've been working hard and watching closely to any CDC recommendations about group sizes and testing requirements to come up with options that will allow you to have a safe, healthy, and stress-free Gap Year experience. We do the hard work so you can come and enjoy the fresh air, adventures, and new friends!
We have been running successful gap year programs in Spring, Summer and Fall 2021. The students shared their experiences in testimonials and wrote their stories down in blog posts - feel free to have a look.
Check out the information on our COVID-19 page to find out more about our Covid-19 policies, procedures and updates.