New Zealand and Australia are two of the most ecologically intact and diverse countries in the world, and this experiential travel semester offers an amazing immersion during the temperate southern hemisphere spring and summer months.

It combines three week-long service-learning conservation projects in diverse national parks and marine reserves; an introduction to multi-day outdoor expeditions including hiking, canoeing, rock climbing and surfing; and educational adventure travel through New Zealand and Australia’s stunning mountain, forest and beach environments.

Facilitated by our supportive and experienced Program Instructors, this is an excellent study abroad or gap year option for students wanting to develop personal and leadership skills, have new experiences and challenge themselves, be immersed in unique environments and learn about sustainability.

The program is open to high school graduates, university students and graduates, ideally 18 – 24 years. Optional transferable academic credit is available to all participants.

This program can be combined with Summer, Fall, or Spring program options in other regions of the world (Nepal and Tibet, South America, Southeast Asia) for an in-depth and enriching global gap year experience.


"You told us at the beginning of our journey that Pacific Discovery was created with the hope of impacting peoples lives. After two months in New Zealand and Australia, we all agree that the program has affected us all in a positive and unforgettable way! Together we have felt what it is like to be physically and mentally pushed, we have witnessed incredible sights, and reaped unbelievable rewards, overcoming our fears and learning so much on this journey. Thank you so much!"
New Zealand Australia Semester group 2009

  • Rewarding volunteer conservation projects in National Parks and wildlife reserves, partnering with New Zealand’s Department of Conservation and Australia’s Parks and Wildlife service
  • Multi-day adventure expeditions:
    • Whanganui National Park, NZ, 4-day self-sufficient river canoe journey
    • Kahurangi National Park, NZ, 4-day self-sufficient tramping (back packing) trip
    • Rock-climbing skills camp, 3 days, on the shores of Lake Wanaka, NZ
    • Surf camp, 4 days learning to surf on Australia’s East Coast
    • Fraser Island, 4 days exploring the largest sand island in the world, by foot and by 4WD
  • Enjoying culture in the friendly cities and towns of Wellington, Nelson, Queenstown, Byron Bay, Sydney
  • Visiting Parliament and the National Museum in Wellington, New Zealand’s vibrant capital
  • Traveling the West Coast of NZ’s South Island – one of the top-ten road trips in the world – stopping overnight at Punakaiki and Franz Josef Glacier
  • Snorkeling with turtles and tropical fish in Byron Bay
  • Canyoning in the spectacular Blue Mountains
  • White-water rafting on the Kaituna River
  • Informal lectures and discussions on history, culture, society and environment
  • Very personalized and supportive small group experience – maximum 12 students
  • Two experienced and inspiring Pacific Discovery Program Instructors supported by local guides
  • Can be combined with Summer, Fall, or Spring program options in other regions of the world (Southeast Asia; South America; the Himalayas) for an in-depth and enriching global experience.

Note regarding Fall Semester Programs (Sep – Nov): The itinerary is in reverse order, to accommodate warmer spring temperatures in Australia at program start.

Week 1. Auckland, New Zealand Arrival, Orientation and Northland Project

Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city, sprawling across an incredible landscape of harbors and the eroded cones of extinct volcanoes. On arrival you’ll be met at the airport by your Program Instructors and transferred to our group accommodation in the city center. We commence with an in-depth orientation and complete an ‘Amazing Race’ style urban adventure in small groups.

We make our way north to the stunning Mimiwhangata Coastal Park for our first volunteer conservation project. The area is home to endangered shore birds and has an abundance of marine life, including whales, penguins, dolphins, gannets and many other species. Mimiwhangata is managed by the Department of Conservation and contains a number of archeological sites - it was home to numerous Maori settlements. While here we camp, and will be cooking all meals together. Our days are spent participating in volunteer conservation initiatiatives, exploring this spectacular area, and getting to know our group mates really well.

Week 2. Rotorua and Whanganui River Expedition

Heading south we travel through the geothermal and cultural heartland of the country, stopping enroute to raft the Kaituna, mountain bike in the the Redwoods Bike Park, and soak in natural hot springs. We have a day in Rotorua to relax, catch-up on email and laundry, and explore this lakeside town, before we plunge into our first expedition.

Our four-day canoeing trip takes us through the heart of the Whanganui National Park – pristine native forest and an area rich in Maori history. We will be self-sufficient on the river, canoeing with our clothing, food, tents etc. with us. It’s a great journey on a safe river and you’ll enjoy river life – paddling, splashing, swimming, camping and evenings around a campfire. We’ll spend our last night along the river in a beautiful marae – a traditional Maori village.

Week 3. Wellington and Marlborough Sounds Project

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 four days in the Marlborough Sounds area, camping and assisting on volunteer conservation projects under the guidance of fantastic Department of Conservation bio-diversity rangers. On our final day we continue to Nelson, where we have a day to relax and prepare ourselves for the next expedition.

Week 4. Kahurangi National Park Expedition and Nelson

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. 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.

Week 5. West Coast Road Trip and Wanaka Climbing Camp

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 historic tunnels, remnants from the 1800s gold rush in the region, 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. There’ll also be time for swimming in the lake, walking and hiking on the hills around Wanaka.

Week 6. Queenstown to Fraser Island National Park, Australia

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 celebratory atmosphere in town. On our last day in New Zealand we drive to Christchurch, in preparation for an early morning flight to Australia the next day.

We fly from Christchurch, New Zealand to Brisbane, Australia – departing the youngest land mass on earth for the oldest. We drive north up the Sunshine Coast, staying at Noosa and having a day at Australia Zoo (established by Steve Irwin, The Crocodile Hunter), before heading out to our favorite place in Australia! Fraser Island is the largest sand island on earth. We embark on a 3-day adventure across the island exploring by foot and by 4WD... spotting turtles, dingoes, hiking in diverse rainforest, swimming in stunning freshwater lakes lapping sandy beaches, traversing epic sand dunes. We camp or stay in simple cabins on the beach near the coast each night. After coming off Fraser Island we return to Noosa.

Week 7. Byron Bay and Surf Camp!

We drive south to 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 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’re keen to really 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!

Week 8-9. The Blue Mountains, The Crossing, and Sydney

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.

Our final conservation project will be based from The Crossing, 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 may 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. This is also the perfect spot to reflect and process over two months of incredible personal growth and life-changing experiences.

Bold, brash and beautiful, Sydney is arguably the world’s most vibrant city. Settle into our downtown accommodation near Sydney Cove, where the first European settlement in Australia was established, over 200 years ago. Explore Sydney’s famous harbor and beaches by ferry, visit the Opera House and Australia Musuem, check out the local beaches and shopping areas. On the last day we’ll farewell Australia and each other, returning home with a lifetime of memories, experiences and bonds formed during this trip.

Note: Each week there will be some designated free time in a town or city so that you can catch up on email and laundry, relax and have your own independent experiences with others in the group.

For full program details, please request the information booklet

Core Components

1. Three week-long service-learning conservation projects

In different areas of New Zealand and Australia, run in conjunction with the Department of Conservation (DOC), New Zealand’s pre-eminent conservation and resource management organization (the equivalent of the US Forest Service and National Park Service).  Project work may include species preservation and monitoring, controlling introduced pests, managing visitor impacts, trail building etc. Participants will get a hands-on introduction to strategies initiated to protect and care for these eco-systems and the plants and wildlife they contain.

2. Multi-day outdoor expeditions and activities

Including a 4-day surfing camp, a 4-day canoeing journey, and a 4-day backpacking trip.  The purpose of these activities is to teach participants the hard-skills needed to overcome the natural challenges specific to each activity and more importantly to teach soft-skills, including lateral thinking, initiative, leadership, decision-making, and teamwork. Participants will experience a great deal of personal growth, gaining confidence in themselves and their abilities.

3. Overland travel component

Travelling through New Zealand and Australia’s stunning mountain, forest and beach environments, experiencing activities such as hiking on spectacular Fraser Island, evenings around the campfire, swimming in crystal clear lakes and rivers. Participants will gain insight into local indigenous cultures, examine historical and contemporary society, discover some of the world's most livable cities, and experience firsthand the legendary Australasian welcome.


Open to students, graduates and non-students, ideally 18-24 years. This program is suitable for anyone of average fitness with an enthusiasm for the outdoors, conservation and new experiences. You need to be committed to, and prepared for, some physical work whilst on the volunteer component of the program i.e. trail building or the removal of invasive plants and while on the outdoor activities, be prepared to give-it-a-go. You don’t need to have had any previous experience in any of the activities offered.

The program is a shared group experience. We expect you to join the 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 mixture of camping (tents supplied) and comfortable and clean hostels and lodges. Laundry and WiFi facilities will be available most 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. 85% of meals are included in the program cost. Food preparation, shared by all participants, is fun, social and often a highlight.  The remaining few meals are not included to allow a choice of when, where and what we eat. For the meals not included, you will have the option of dining out, or self-catering with others in the group. We recommend you budget the sum of $10 per day for snacks, drinks, and meals not included in the program cost (approximately $600 for the program).

Program Tuition Includes

Visa for Australia (with flights booked through STA Travel only); Visa for New Zealand*; All in-country travel and transport including a mid-program international flight between New Zealand and Australia; All accommodation; Most meals; All activities, excursions, entry fees and adventure travel as described in the itinerary; Environmental education and service learning projects; Informal lectures from resident experts on conservation and eco-tourism; Experienced Program Instructors and local guides; Online image library for your program. *Free 90-day tourist visa is issued on arrival in New Zealand.

The Pacific Discovery New Zealand and Australia Gap Year semester combines conservation volunteering, adventure travel and experiential learning through the North and South Islands of New Zealand, and East Coast of Australia.


Spring Dates (A) 20 Jan - 23 Mar, 2017
(B) 27 Jan - 30 Mar, 2017
(C) 3 Feb - 6 Apr, 2017
20 Jan - 21 Mar, 2018
Fall Dates 13 Sep - 14 Nov, 2017
Duration 63 days
(plus independent extension options)

Program Tuition $9,350 USD Estimated Flight Cost $1,600 USD
Availability Open
Group Size 12 Students & 2 Instructors Ages 18 - 24 ideal
Optional College Credit Yes Start/Finish Fall: Brisbane, Australia / Queenstown, New Zealand
Spring: Auckland, New Zealand / Sydney, Australia
(we assist with flight arrangements)