This epic gap year program through New Zealand and Australia will reveal the wonders of life Down Under, before you hike, climb and camp your way through Aotearoa.
New Zealand and Australia are two of the most ecologically intact and diverse countries in the world, and this experiential travel gap semester offers an amazing immersion during the temperate southern hemisphere spring and summer months.
It combines week-long conservation volunteer projects in diverse national parks and marine reserves; multi-day outdoor expeditions including backpacking, canoeing, rock climbing and surfing; and educational adventure travel through New Zealand and Australia’s stunning mountain, forest and beach environments!
Check out this video of one of our previous New Zealand and Australia programs: 63 Days in 3 Minutes, Go!
This gap semester program is perfect for high school graduates, college graduates, and gap year students, ideally 17 to 22 years old. Optional transferable academic credit is available to all participants.
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!
After an in-depth program orientation and ice-breaking sessions where we get to meet and bond with our new program friends.
We then head off on a self-supported canoe journey into the Noosa Everglades, part of Great Sandy National Park. Canoeing, camping, swimming and hiking. Great Sandy National Park is a UNESCO Biosphere reserve and is home to almost half of Australia’s bird species.
We make our way south towards Byron Bay, via Australia Zoo (established by Steve Irwin, The Crocodile Hunter). We visit the on-site animal hospital before exploring the extensive zoo.
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 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 spend a day canyoning – a unique adventure involving hiking, scrambling and rappels through sculptured rock canyons.
We 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.
Bold, brash and beautiful, Sydney is arguably the world’s most vibrant city. Settle into our downtown accommodation near Sydney Cove, where 200 years ago, the first European settlement in Australia was established. 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. Including talking about what we have learned along the way and what new ideas we are taking to New Zealand!
We will be meeting everyone in Auckland, New Zealand. We make our way north to the stunning Tawharanui Regional Park for our first volunteer conservation project in New Zealand. The area is home to many endangered species and has an abundance of marine life. While here we camp, and will be cooking all meals together. Our days are spent participating in volunteer conservation initiatives working alongside park rangers and a local group of community volunteers.
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. These incredible, surreal places will leave you in awe and provide the most amazing backdrop for your photography.
We will be introduced to Maori culture while visit Rotorua. Māori are tangata whenua — people of the land. They came to Aotearoa from Polynesia in the 13th century and created a new language and culture.
We whitewater raft the Kaituna River, mountain bike in the the Redwoods Bike Park, and soak in natural hot springs. We’ll also relax, catch-up on email and laundry, and explore this lakeside town, before we plunge into our next expedition.
During this time you’ll also be busy planning before commencing the student-led section of the program between Rotorua and Wellington. You can stay together as one big group or split the group in half, with one instructor accompanying each small group, depending upon your groups interests. You'll be given a budget and suggestions then you and your group-mates plan and execute your own travels and manages 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 (more interesting than it sounds), 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. Based out of Endeavour Inlet with the ocean on our doorstep, we settle into Pacific Discovery's very own environmental center. 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, chickens, 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 to catch up on the last week. 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 wish 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 spend a night at Punakaiki to view the impressive blow holes, then two nights at the tiny settlement of Franz Josef, close to the glacier. We’ll explore and learn about the mighty glaciers.
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’ll 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 and our program as a whole. What a journey it has been! We will have traveled through two countries on the other side of the world and learned a lot along the way!
On the last day in New Zealand, we will depart from Christchurch back home!
*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.
This gap year program is perfect for high school graduates, college students and graduates, and non-students, ideally 17-22 years old. Anyone with an average 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 some physical work during the volunteer projects on the program, like trail building or the removal of invasive plants. As a guideline, you should aim to be comfortable hiking 4-6 hours with a backpack, but you don’t need to have had previous experience with any of the activities offered.
The program is a shared group experience. Join this program with an open mind and a willingness to work together with your group mates to make the program an amazing experience for the whole group. Additionally, the program will be as much about the inner journey of personal growth and learning about yourself as it is about what you will experience in the outer physical journey. We expect you to be open to learning and challenging your ideas and assumptions.
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