This program is for the water and ocean lovers of the world - those who have a passion for the ocean and restoring our waterways.

In this program, we partner with the non profit ‘Litter Intelligence’ to tackle the Marine debris issues. Students will gain a ‘Lead Citizen Scientist’ qualification, learning methodology and tangible skills to help in the fight against marine debris, and be able to plan and apply those skills throughout the program to coordinate their own beach clean-ups along the way.

We’ll experience different aspects of the ocean, rivers and lakes; from snorkeling and fishing in beautiful deep sounds and coves, to learning to surf, to a river journey via canoe. We’ll experience natural hot water springs flowing into the ocean, and a spectacular voyage of the seas, sailing through islands and learning to navigate.

While students dive deep into water ecosystems, they will also immerse themselves in Maori culture through stays in maraes (Maori communal buildings), traditional feasts, and learn about the cultural significance of the land and sea for the culture.

    Voted Best Gap Year Program


This Gap Year Program Is For You if You...

✓ Are excited about getting involved in creative climate solutions

✓ Want to detox from society and spend lots of time in nature

Learn about sustainable foraging and living

Learn to sail and voyage on a real life pirate ship

✓ Want to have a deeper understanding of the world around you

Thoughts From a Former Pacific Discovery Student

   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


Not sure where you want to go yet?

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!

Request Online Catalogue

  • Service-learning and Volunteer Projects 
    • Learn about sustainable foraging: forage for abalone and shellfish and fish for your own sustainable feast
    • Learn beach clean up methodology , gaining your Citizen scientist qualification to plan and conduct beach clean ups around New Zealand to tackle the marine debris issues
    • • Learn sustainable population sampling techniques with kina, aka sea urchins
    • • Undertake volunteer projects based on conservation and restoration of the local ecosystem
    • • Actively regenerate native species and remove invasive plants
  • Outdoor Adventures
    • • Paddle a 5 day Whanganui River journey canoe expedition, staying in local Maraes along the way
    • • Learn to surf in the small surf town of Raglan
    • • Learn to sail and voyage on a real life pirate ship on the ‘R Tucker Thompson’
    • • Hike some of the Queen Charlotte Track
  • Cultural Immersion
    • • Gain insight into Maori (indigenous) culture through an intimate Maori educational experience
    • • Learn about the local culture through working alongside local communities
    • • Stay in 'Marae's - the local Maori meeting house where you'll sleep and eat together communally.
    • • Learn about the principle of Kaitiaki - our role as stewards of the natural land and resources
  • Personal Development
    • • Become a global citizen with a global perspective on environmental issues
    • • Take control of the itinerary and learn to work as a team with planning and executing Marine debris beach clean-ups
    • • Participate in facilitated workshops on values, identity, and climate change solutions
    • • Apply innovative leadership in a student-led sailing passage of the R Tucker Thompson boat from Bay of Islands to Aotea

Week 1- Orientation, Marine Debris Collection and Journey to the Sounds

Our amazing journey starts in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. After arriving and getting some rest, we’ll get to explore this cultural city interspersed with orientation sessions to set us up for an amazing program!

After orientation, we have a day with a local non-profit “Litter Intelligence” who are tackling the global plastics and marine debris issue. They will train us how to properly do a beach clean up with correct methodology, with each student gaining their Lead Citizen Scientist qualification. We’ll head down to the local beach to do one ourselves and input the data into the national database, where the data is analyzed and used to affect change and policy on a national level. 

These skills will come in handy, because from here students will be in charge of planning and conducting beach clean ups throughout the rest of the program. We’ll be going to a lot of different beaches, rivers and lakes, so there will be ample opportunity to put these new skills to use!

From Wellington, we’ll board a boat to take us to the South Island to Pacific Discovery’s own eco-farm property deep in the Marlborough Sounds. This will be our home for the next few weeks!

Week 2 - Marlborough Sounds - Hiking and Native Tree Replanting

Once we have ourselves settled into our yurts that are nestled among the native bush deep in the Marlborough Sounds, we’ll start our efforts on restoring it! This property was once a farm and when purchased in 2020, it was covered with rubbish and invasive weeds. We’re slowly working to remove weeds and turn this into a lush native ecosystem once again. Students will get their hands dirty planting native tree species, pulling out weeds, learn about the damage done from the local forestry, and what we can do to help. As the property is right on the waterfront, you can wash off the muck from the day with a jump off the jetty!

This property is also right next to the world famous Queen Charlotte Track, so we'll take some time to hike around the stunning Marlborough Sounds, all the while getting an understanding of how colonialism has affected the indigenous Maori population. 

Week 3 - Marlborough Sounds Marine Conservation

This week we’ll dive deep (literally!) into learning about the coastal environment, its interaction with the land, and our role in protecting it. We’ll have experienced facilitators teaching us how to monitor freshwater ecosystem health, and we’ll be doing hands-on sampling of our own home stream on the Pacific Discovery property. You’ll learn water sampling techniques and through looking at the organisms that live in the stream, we can understand the stream health and how that may contribute to the coastal environment. 

From here, we’ll jump into the Sounds for a snorkel and look at what's under the surface to better understand how the protection of marine reserves affects the environment, comparing the ecosystems outside of reserves and within them. We’ll embark on a journey of learning about sustainable foraging while discussing the effects of overfishing on the region. We’ll culminate the week with a sustainably foraged feast of Paua (abalone), mussels, fish and the brave might even want to try ‘Kina’ (sea urchin!).

Finally, it’ll be time to wave goodbye to our homestead in the Marlborough Sounds, and voyage back over the Cook Strait to Wellington. Together we’ll travel up the coast to visit Kapiti Island (a protected wildlife reserve) to learn more about marine conservation in the area. We’ll also have the opportunity to put our beach clean-up skills to use!

Week 4 - Whanganui River Journey and Maori Cultural Immersion

From the small mountain town of Taumarunui, this week we’ll take a voyage in canoes down the Whanganui River, a river that holds a high significance in Maori culture. From high mountains through lush native forests and through deep gorges, we’ll float and paddle to Pipiriki towards the sea. This is listed as one of New Zealand's ‘Great Walks’, despite being in a canoe! 

By day, we’ll paddle down the river in double canoes, stopping off to explore beaches for lunch and learning about the native flora and fauna that live along the river. At night we’ll stay in Maori Maraes, or meeting houses, where we’ll be deeply immersed in Maori culture. Over dinner we’ll learn about the Maori myths and legends that this river holds. We’ll have professional guides with us, so you don’t have to worry about being a hardcore paddler - they’ll teach you! By the end of the 5 days, you’ll have paddled 145 km, so you’ll be a seasoned pro!

Afterwards we’ll head back to Ohakune for some well earned rest before venturing on towards Rotorua with a few stops at waterfalls along the way!

Week 5 - Geothermal Wonderland and Surfing

Rotorua is known as a geothermal wonderland as it’s surrounded by steaming vents, erupting geysers and boiling hot mud pools! You’ll know you’ve arrived when you smell the distinctive sulfur (*ahem, rotten eggs) smell!

We’ll explore these wonders and then once again take to the water - this time rafting down some white water rapids! The Kaituna River is Rotorua rafting’s playground, and home to not just one, but three impressive waterfalls, including the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world – Tutea Falls at 7 meters tall!

Rotorua is also a place of mighty significance to Maori, and we’ll again immerse ourselves by staying in a local Marae. Here you’ll be able to learn and practice your Pepeha, a way of introducing yourself in Maori, with reference to the people and environment of your home town. Our group will also learn how to prepare a hangi feast - a traditional Maori meal that’s cooked underground!

From Rotorua we’ll travel over to the west coast of New Zealand to the vibrant surf town of Raglan, which is known for its black sand beaches and long surf breaks. This town is full of creatives and surfers, and we’ll be able to chill here and jump into 3 days of a surf camp. The friendly local guides will help you no matter what your skill level is, from learning to stand up right through to perfecting turns. With each lesson, instructors will introduce new techniques and provide feedback to help improve your surfing.

Week 6 - Hot Water Beach and Tawharanui Service Learning

As we zig zag up the North Island of New Zealand, we’ll switch from the black sand beaches of the west coast, over to the Coromandel Peninsula on the east coast. We’ll venture up to a great area called ‘Hot Water Beach’ because you guessed it… there are naturally occurring hot springs right on the beach! We’ll take a shovel and head to the beach at low tide to dig out your own personal spa pool! 

As you can imagine, this is a popular beach, so among the excitement of the personal spa day, we’ll also discuss the impacts on the marine environment, and see if this is a potential site for a marine debris clean-up.

We’ll continue north with our next stop at Tahwaranui Peninsula, where we’ll camp on-site next to the predator free reserve. This area has been carefully reclaimed back to native vegetation and eradicated of pests, so the native New Zealand birdlife can flourish. While here we’ll be working alongside the Department of Conservation within the reserve. This might be helping to build trails, plant trees, or weeding. At some point we’ll do a night walk to see if we can spot the famous kiwi bird!

As we’re camping right next to the beach, we’ll get in our water fix and put our beach clean-up skills to the test once again. Tawharanui boasts some of New Zealand’s most beautiful white sandy beaches, rolling pastures, shingled bays, native coastal forest and regenerating wetlands.  

Week 7 - Paihia and Voyage Preparation

This week we’ll head north again, now coming to the town of Paihia, known as the gateway to the “Bay of Islands”. This is right next to the small settlement of Waitangi, where New Zealand’s ‘Treaty of Waitangi’ was signed in 1840 and independence was declared. We’ll explore this historically significant area and prepare ourselves for the voyage ahead. 

We’ll wave goodbye to one of our instructors as we prepare to set sail on the R Tucker Thompson boat where we’ll be joined by 4 specialized crew: one skipper, one First Mate and two crew members who will help to teach us to sail this amazing ‘pirate ship’ through the oceans to Aotea/Great Barrier Island. 

The ship is a gaff-rigged topsail schooner and has a full sail wardrobe of 9 sails. Unlike the sails on modern yachts, which are made of Dacron, our sails are made of Oceania canvas. The R. Tucker Thompson has a very high reputation in the traditional sailing world and is considered a perfect example of a working tall ship with the advantage of being new and safe. 

Week 8 - Sail Training in the Bay of Islands

We’ll be welcomed aboard the boat - our home for the next 3 weeks - with a powhiri ceremony at the Kororareka Marae and become acquainted with all things sailing! Over the course of the week we’ll explore the many islands and arms of the Bay of Islands, all while learning sail training, boat safety, rig climbing and the history of the Bays. We’ll also have time for some snorkeling and an introduction into our service learning project working with Kina (sea urchins). This week focuses on skill learning, conservation (Kaitiaki) and leadership. 

Toward the end of the week we’ll nominate a student captain, crew and other positions, and ready ourselves for a student-led voyage out across the ocean to Great Barrier Island. 

Week 9 - Passage to Great Barrier Island and Connect with Locals

This is it! We’ll spend two days voyaging out to Aotea/Great Barrier Island! This will be a student-led voyage where you’ll use your newly learned skills to sail the boat yourselves, under the watch of the experienced crew. 

Aotea is an offshore Island with an eclectic population of locals living there amongst stunning nature hikes and dramatic sandy beaches. Once we arrive we’ll anchor up and take to the land, hiking the lush green hills, staying in the local marae and visiting the local Okiwi school. 

Over here ‘island time’ is a real thing, and you’ll forget about the outside world being immersed in the stunning nature with friendly locals. We’ll take on an overnight backpacking hike across the island where we can swim under thundering waterfalls, and have 360 degree views from the island's highest viewpoints.

With Aotea being surrounded by stunning sandy beaches that are at the whim of offshore currents, this might be an interesting site for another beach clean-up to compare the type of marine debris present. 

Week 10 - Sail back to Paihia and Program Wrap

The final week will be spent voyaging back to the Bay of Islands, stopping off to snorkel and explore Kawau Island and the Poor Knights Islands along the way. The Poor Knights Islands are known as one of the top 10 diving and snorkeling sites in the world, with both tropical and temperate currents converging in a marine reserve where you’ll swim through towering sea arches and among schools of beautifully colored fish and majestic stingrays.

Once back in the Bay of Islands, we’ll again dive into our service learning project, helping to do population sampling with kina (sea urchins). With the problems of overfishing, the kina numbers have exploded, to the detriment of the local seaweed and kelp. By understanding the population densities, we can create action plans to solve the issue. 

Finally we’ll sail back to Paihia to wave goodbye to our crew and friends who have taught us so much aboard the R. Tucker Thompson boat. After some rest in Paihia, we’ll head back towards Auckland for our final dinner and program wrap. The group will have time to reflect on their amazing voyage together, taking home with them their many learnings, both personally and about our world, before flying home


*Each week there will be some designated free time so that you can catch up on email, do 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.

What's included?

✓ 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

✓ Natural Resource Management Internship Certificate (40 hours)

Activity Level


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 a few hikes and some physical work during the volunteer projects on the program, like trail building or the removal of invasive plants.

Camping Level


Medium Camping Level: You will be camping for a couple of nights on this gap year program whilst on the expedition, but you will spend most of your time in comfortable yurts, hostels, and lodges.

Volunteering Level


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.


Frequently Asked Questions

Our accommodation will be in comfortable yurts on our wilderness homestead in the Marlborough Sounds for the first part of the program. The yurts are heavy canvas with 110ml of merino wool insulation and locally sourced timber framing with a fireplace to keep students toasty and warm in their bunk beds. There are hot showers at the wilderness homestead and an indoor kitchen. The homestead has wifi, boat access and is set on the path of the iconic Queen Charlotte Track.

On the organized road trips through New Zealand, students will be staying in a mix of tents and comfortable, clean hostels, lodges and maraes. Laundry and Wi-Fi facilities will be available most days, except during the time in the field on volunteer projects and on expeditions. On the R.Tucker Thompson boat students will sleep in bunks.

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. Whilst on the road trips through New Zealand, the group will cook at the hostels and lodges, with the occasional meal out. Any snacks are at an additional cost, which we recommend budgeting around $10 per day for.

This program has an emphasis on fresh produce and cooking, and the group will be growing and harvesting as much as possible from the garden at the wilderness homestead! Students will get lots of support along the way to improve their cooking skills. Food creation and preparation responsibilities are shared by all students.

It’s up to the group, but a regular day on the program would consist of the following:

  • Breakfast: Fuel up for big days out and about. Think cereals, porridge (oatmeal), toast, spreads, eggs, yoghurt, fruit, tea, and coffee.
  • Morning tea: Fruit, tea, coffee, homemade slice, biscuits, muffins.
  • Lunch: Have a break from activities and head in for wraps, sandwiches, salads, and dinner leftovers.
  • Dinner: An epic opportunity on this program is to cook on campfires using dutch ovens; they make the best roasts and apple crumble. Other nights barbecue something delicious and combine it with vegetables and salads, potato salad, or perhaps pasta, chili, stirfry, lasagna, fish and chips burgers.

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.

We have answered the most frequently asked questions in the FAQ SectionIf you still have any other questions, feel free to schedule a call with our admissions team for more information.

Fall Dates 7 Sep - 15 Nov, 2023
Spring Dates 18 Feb - 27 Apr, 2024
Duration 70 days
Program Tuition $19,899 USD Estimated Flight Cost $2,500 USD
Availability Closed
Group Size 11 Students & 2 Instructors Ages 17 - 22 ideal Covid-19 Vaccination Requirement Vaccination Required
Optional College Credit Yes Start/Finish Start in Wellington, New Zealand
Finish in Auckland, New Zealand