The who, what, and why of the Polynesian journey is not entirely understood by historians, although there are some agreed-upon facts that have established a rough picture of the narrative. Polynesians are primarily from Asian descent, and despite there being conflicting reports as to why they embarked on their original journeys, we now recognize that they were most certainly intentional and not accidental. Explorers took enough mating pairs, plants, and animals needed to establish sustainable colonies. Over the course of the next 800 years, they explored and settled every single habitable island in the South Pacific, including Hawaii and Fiji. Their final destination brought them to the shores of Polynesia’s largest land mass, New Zealand.
You will recreate this journey and learn all about the varied Polynesian culture, from the origins of Hawaii’s Aloha spirit to the modern-day villages of Fiji and Maori indigenous culture of New Zealand. You will absorb, explore, interact with, and understand the beautiful diversity and development of culture throughout the region. Your days will be as varied as the countries you visit, with a fusion of hands-on volunteer work, connecting with locals through interactions and workshops, unforgettable outdoor adventures, and seriously healthy doses of beaches.
✓ Want to relax on some of the most beautiful beaches in the world
✓ Are interested in immersing yourself in Polynesian culture
✓ Love activities like rafting, mountain biking and snorkeling
✓ Are enthusiastic about conservation and ecosystem enhancement
✓ Want to enjoy the ultimate combination of beach time, culture and nature
My Pacific Discovery trip was absolutely a life-changing experience. I not only had an excellent time and made 13 new best friends, but also gained perspective that changed the way I look at the world. Meeting people from local communities and learning about their way of life has inspired me to think differently about my own life and about those I meet. Coming home from this trip, I am more thoughtful, inquisitive, independent, and mature and will be much better prepared to handle what the future brings."
- Emily Bosworth
Our Program Quiz can help you find your perfect Program match! Or get the full 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!
**This is a guide to what you can expect to do on Program. The order in which the activities occur might vary**
Aloha! On arrival in Hilo, you will be met by your program instructors. We are taking a trip to the small town of Pahala in the district of Ka’u, where we will have a comprehensive program briefing and taking a deep dive into native Hawaiian traditions, from making beautiful and delicate leis from the local trees to learning the importance of Hawaiian history and how that has shaped the place we are visiting today. We will even learn the basics of Hawaiian language to get a more connected experience. Pahala is known for its black sand beaches and abundant wilderness, fuelled by the warm sunny days and nightly rainfall that is common on this side of the island.
It’s also time to fully embrace one of the oldest Hawaiian traditions, the Imu, a form of underground oven. We’ll ground taro leaves, set the stones and prepare the food whilst sharing stories with our local hosts. When it’s ready, we’ll get to work taking the food from the ground to the table, ready to feast! There are so many unique landscapes on this environmentally rich island, and the next few days have you exploring one of the coolest! This is sure to be an adventure of otherworldly perceptions, with self exploration and hiking throughout Volcanoes National Park, one of the most unique landscapes in the world.
In 2018, it was also the primary location of a volcanic eruption, which has led to extremely rugged, largely underdeveloped infrastructure. We learn about the impacts the lava flows have had on the local farming practices, and explore the still-cooling lava rocks as well as the stunning seaside cliffs on the coastline. We will walk through barren lava fields and experience exceptional views of the active volcano Kilauea Caldera and a volcanic crater. The adventurous spirits even get the chance to end the day with an evening hike to watch an unforgettable sunset and see lava glow from a crater!
By the end of the week, we will have grasped the value that native Hawaiian’s hold for their land. It provides them with the food which they eat, the water which they drink, and the energy which they cultivate. We will explore one of only four green sand beaches in the world to take in all its beauty.
Ohh, Hilo on the eastern side of the island, with its rainforests and lush green landscape, it’s a much different vibe and energy. We’ll spend our days exploring the Japanese Gardens and Coconut Island, hiking to some spectacular waterfalls like Akaka Falls, getting fresh fruit at the local farmers market, and venturing down the mysterious Kaumana caves. We’ve scheduled our yoga sessions for the morning to allow for relaxation, and to start our days present and fulfilled.
We’ve also been given an incredible opportunity to get out into the water with a locally run community organization that focuses on fishpond restoration and ocean conservation. We will be working alongside experts learning about the marine ecosystem and how to protect and encourage sea life in these beautiful pockets of the ocean that surround Hilo. We will get to learn about sustainable fishing techniques as well as testing our own skills and trying our hand at throwing fishing nets. Prepare to get stuck in mud and get a little wet over these days!
We start the week working for a foundation that gives back to the community in Hawaii. This volunteer project is always changing depending on the needs of the island which makes it exciting and rewarding.
We will also roll up our sleeves for three days and get involved in the efforts of a non-profit while learning all about the legends and land from Aunty K! This hands-on non-profit was founded for research and educational purposes to discover and understand how Hawaiians sustained rain-fed intensive farming for centuries; and how it may inform our current efforts to live sustainably.
Our time in Hawaii is coming to an end. But not before a few days of adventure. We will be snorkeling in the crystal clear waters off the coast and also joining a manta ray boat charter. Snorkeling and seeing the manta rays swim gracefully underneath us is an experience that we will never forget!
We make our way from Honolulu to Haleiwa because let’s be honest, to truly understand the culture of Hawaii you need to get on a board and walk the walk. Or more aptly, surf the surf.
For three days we will have surf lessons from a local legend, who is sure to get even the most unathletic of us at least skilfully wobbling on the waves. We’ll learn to laugh at ourselves as we no-doubt tumble into the turquoise waters and we’ll learn to trust ourselves as we slowly develop the skills and strengths needed to master this graceful art. These days are physically exhausting, so the afternoons will be quite a bit of rest and relaxation, so we’ve got plenty of time to recharge our batteries. We will also get the chance to go snorkeling in the reef-protected Shark Cove, which did not get its name from unwanted visitors, but from its shape that resembles a shark. Back in Honolulu, we will be treated to an experience unlike any other - what goes on when a museum is closed.
Having traveled around two of Hawaii’s islands by now, the Big Island and Oahu, we will discuss the contrasts between the two and the impact tourism has had on Hawaii. We’ll spend these days partnered with local communities and experts maintaining and restoring wilderness diversity on Oahu. Prepare yourselves to learn about habitat creation and maintenance, the different species of flora and fauna that live on the island and learn about invasive species removal and its importance in conservation. We’ll be getting outdoors and learning all there is to know, expect to get grubby and a little wet during these days of service!
At the end of this incredible adventure, we admire the Moana Falls as they cascade 150 feet down the mountainside, and walk around gardens that boast a collection of 5,660 thriving tropical plants and trees. When our feet have grown tired, we will give our arm muscles a workout during an afternoon of ocean kayaking. We will search for secret spots throughout the bay, keep our eyes peeled for marine life and give ‘kayak surfing’ a go when paddling back to shore.
A flight to the island of Fiji means we are off to our next adventure and destination. After two nights in Nadi getting some rest after a transpacific flight and exploring Nadi Town markets to pick up some sarongs we head off to our first village stay!
We will spend the week immersed in many cultural activities that show us how to live as a local, for instance by taking part in a Kava ceremony. Kava is made from the ground root of the yagona plant and gets mixed with water during a ceremony that involves traditional song and prayer. We will also learn about Fijian fishponds and help the villagers plant and harvest food on their plantations. These activities will introduce us to life in Fiji. Activities that you wouldn’t experience if you were to just visit here as a tourist. In between there will be plenty of singing, dancing, games, and checking out beautiful beaches.This is Fiji after all!
After a weekend in Pacific Harbour relaxing and river tubing, we head to the Nasautoka village to spend a week with another local Fijian community. Our days will be a mix of volunteer work and cultural experience. Aided by locals, our mornings will be spent helping out around the village with any construction or maintenance work and after lunch, our projects will be set aside. The afternoon is dedicated to local craft making, planting local crops, collecting firewood and playing local sports. Don’t forget the delicious local meals from breakfast till dinner.
Don’t forget to bring your dancing shoes! Each time you leave a village, you will participate in a farewell ceremony full of song and dance!
In our last week in Fiji, we rejuvenate by relaxing in mud pools on the Coral Coast. This Coast is full of beautiful scenery of sugarcane fields, pine forests and amazing views of the South Pacific Ocean. We will take in some of these views as we explore Sigatoka National Park for our sand dune conservation project.
We end our stay in Fiji with a few days of rest and relaxation on Mana Island. We explore this beautiful small island by diving into picturesque water to take in the variety of sea life, walking up the hills for gorgeous sunsets, and taking in the last of Fijian beach time.
We say ‘vinaka’ and goodbye to Fiji and head to the land of the long white cloud, New Zealand.
We head up to Whangarei before heading to Paihia in the jaw-droppingly beautiful Bay of Islands. We’ll discover this island paradise of golden, sandy beaches and charming small towns while we’re here, and even explore the Bay of Islands by canoe. It’s also home to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, the birthplace of New Zealand. Here, we'll learn how New Zealand's history was shaped, marvel at cultural Maori (indigenous) performances in the Maori Meeting House, discover the world’s largest waka (canoe) and walk through native gardens with spectacular views of Paihia and the many islands.
We'll 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.
While this week will be focused on a conservation project, the area we are working in is stunning and there will be time to swim, surf and snorkel. This is one of the best surf spots in the North Island of New Zealand and if you are lucky you might see the elusive Kiwi bird!
After finishing off our conservation work we head south, we travel to the geothermal and cultural heartland of the country - Rotorua! You’ll smell it before you see it… the distinctive egg smell is there because of the amazing volcanic vents, boiling hot mud pools and natural geysers all over this area! 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 also get the opportunity to mountain bike in Rotorua. The world-renowned network of nearly 200 kilometers of mountain bike trails in Whakarewarewa Forest consists of expertly built trails crafted to suit everyone, from absolute beginners through to extreme downhill competitors. After, we’ll cool off with a ride down the world’s largest commercially rafted waterfall!
The students get to choose their own activities during the last few days of the week, which is often reported by students as one of the program highlights. Ahh the chaos and creativity of the group designing and developing their own itinerary!
The group gets a few more days to choose what they want to do and how they want to do it - all within the confines of the budget they are given. We then head to Wellington, New Zealand’s compact capital, which is a vibrant city with great shopping, museums and restaurants… and well worth the drive! We’ll gain insight into Maori culture through an intimate Maori educational experience at the National Museum and then head to wildlife sanctuary Zealandia, which is a protected natural area in Wellington. It's the first urban completely fenced ecosanctuary, where the biodiversity of 225 hectares of forest is being restored.
Sadly, the time has also come to begin processing the once-in-a-lifetime experiences that the last 70 days have taken us on. We are sure that you will reflect on how amazing it was to have a chance to take a break from everything, learn about ourselves, but also prioritize time to experience and have gratitude for our own beautiful and historic culture and environment. We say ‘Haere rā’ goodbye to New Zealand and a farewell to our program friends.
*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
✓ Certificate of Program Completion
Medium Activity Level: 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.
Medium Camping Level: You will be doing some camping on this program, but you will spend most of your time in comfortable hostels and lodges.
Medium Service 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 international 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.