Polynesian Journey Gap Semester

START Hilo, Hawaii |
FINISH Wellington, New Zealand |
DURATION 10 weeks |
AGES 17 - 22 |

Recreate the path Polynesian ancestors traveled in the South Pacific!

Immerse yourself in the epic Polynesian journey on this gap program! Explore the rich cultures of Hawaii, Fiji, and New Zealand, from traditional villages to the vibrant spirit of Aloha.  Volunteer alongside locals, learn ancient traditions, and experience the beauty of the South Pacific through hands-on adventures and beach bliss.  This program is your chance to retrace the footsteps of Polynesian explorers and discover the heart of their enduring legacy.


Paddle across Kailua Bay's crystal-clear waters, soaking in the stunning scenery of Oahu's coastline.  This eco-friendly journey isn't just about the destination; it's a chance to spot playful sea turtles and vibrant fish darting through coral reefs. Upon reaching the secluded Moku Nui island, explore hidden tide pools teeming with marine life or embark on a scenic hike to discover breathtaking views. This unforgettable kayaking adventure offers a chance to reconnect with nature, challenge yourself physically, and create memories that will last a lifetime.

Take on the mighty Kaituna River and conquer the world's highest commercially rafted waterfall – a heart-pounding 7 meters! You'll be surrounded by the lush beauty of the Okere Falls scenic reserve.  More than just a physical challenge, this raft trip fosters teamwork and builds confidence as you conquer the rapids together.  Prepare to emerge exhilarated, empowered, and with bragging rights for tackling the world's most epic commercially rafted waterfall!

In Nasautoka Village, you'll connect with the local community, offering your skills and learning about their way of life firsthand.  This cultural exchange fosters understanding and creates lasting bonds.  The adventure continues as you tackle a sand dune conservation project.  Get your hands dirty, helping to preserve Fiji's delicate coastal ecosystem while learning about the importance of environmental sustainability.  This rewarding experience allows you to give back, connect with the Fijian people, and make a positive impact on this beautiful island nation.


This is a guide to what you can expect to do on program. The order in which the activities occur might vary.

Click download to view the full 10 week sample itinerary.

Download Sample Itinerary

Orientation and Hawaiian Cultural Fest

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 and 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 local 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.

Marine Conservation & Sustainable Farming

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!

Mid week we move to the Waimea Region to work for a foundation that gives back to the community in Hawaii.

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.

Surfing, Kayaking, & Restoring Wilderness Diversity

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 skillfully 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.

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.

Our time in Hawaii comes to an end, we will discuss, and reflect on what we learn so far. We will have gratitude for our own beautiful and historic culture and environment. We say ‘Mahalo’ goodbye to Hawaii and get ready for new adventures in Fiji.

Program Details

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


For full program details, please request the information booklet.

Request Information Booklet

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.

Have you got any questions before applying?

Polynesian Journey Gap Semester