Join us on an epic journey recreating the path our Polynesian ancestors traveled through Hawaii, Samoa, Fiji and New Zealand!
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. Considering the lack of maps and sailing routes, it was likely they used the stars as navigational devices and the trade winds as a natural support. Over the course of the next 800 years, they explored and settled every single habitable island in the Pacific, including Hawaii, Samoa, and Fiji. Their final destination brought them to the shores of Polynesia’s largest landmass, New Zealand.
You will learn all about the varied Polynesian culture, from the history of Samoa’s warriors and the origins of Hawaii’s Aloha spirit to the modern-day villages of Fiji and cities 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 during village stays, camping under the stars, a multi-day kayak trip and seriously healthy doses of mountains and beaches. This 70-day semester offers you an good mix of environmental volunteer projects, sailing, snorkeling, white water rafting, hot springs, cultural immersion, and, of course, non-stop adventure!
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 picturesque Hawaii, you’ll be met by your program leader. After a comprehensive program briefing, we’ll immerse ourselves in the epic nature surrounding our new home base. Our days will be spent hiking the local tracks for panoramic views, exploring the local town and its exotic fruits and veggies, and getting to know our fellow participants.
We’ll spend the next few days being introduced to the culture and history of the Hawaiian people. From workshops on building and rigging canoes, to gathering and preparing a full imu feast, we’ll learn what life for this Polynesian tribe was like hundreds of years ago, and what it’s like today. Complete with Hulu lessons and spiritual storytelling, these days will be nothing short of magical.
Time to challenge our physical strength on a bike tour through the impressive mountain ranges and lush rainforests of the Big Island’s National Park! We’ll spend the next few days observing the variety of flora and trying to spot the native fauna, and we’ll even venture out to Akaka Falls and visit Green Sand Beach. Time to disconnect from the online world and reconnect with the outside world.
It's also time to get our hands dirty! While the project revolves around food harvesting, dam reconstruction, and border stone building, we’ll also be learning about the legends of the island, the local medicinal plants, and even take a workshop or two in lei- and dye-making!
We say Bula Fiji! A 6-hour early departure flight lands us in Nadi where we’ll stay for one night to re-orientate and get ourselves onto a new time zone, Fiji Time. Everything moves a little slower over here, and you’ll soon realize that there is ‘no hurry, no worry’, the people are overwhelmingly friendly, and that everything is better with a guitar and some singing!
Our first day in Fiji we’ll be moving onto the Coral Coast and getting involved with some sand dune conservation. The Coral Coast is the stretch of coastline between Sigatoka and Suva. It’s here that we will get a feel for Fijian life and community whilst getting involved with some fulfilling volunteer work. We move onto Vatuele Island and take our hands to Tapa making, fishing and local crafts. They’ll welcome you in with a traditional Kava ceremony and make you feel right at home. Live, eat and work with your Fijian family as they show you what it’s like to be a part of a village living on this beautiful coral and volcanic island.
On departing Vatuele Island, we’ll move on to Pacific Harbor, a hub of activity on Fiji’s main island, Viti Levu. Here we have 3 days where you can do as little or as much as you’d like! There’s the option to try your hand at White Water Rafting, or why not have a go at Kayaking? These few days are a good time to stop, relax and reflect on what’s been a pretty full on 3 weeks.
Afterwards, we head to the Nasautoka village to spend a week with our Fijian family hosts and locals. Our days will be a mix of project 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 and the afternoon is dedicated for local craft making, plating local crops, collecting firewood and playing local sports. Don't forget the delicious local meals from breakfast till dinner. Day 30 brings us back Nadi, with a stop off on the way at some local hot springs and mud pools for a bit of relaxation after a tough week or volunteering.
We end our stay in Fiji with 2 days of rest and relaxation. We’ll take a private tour out to Cloud 9 island in the morning. This is a tiny sand island with just a restaurant and jetty for sunbathing, snorkeling and kayaking on it. A total rarity! We say ‘vinaka’ and goodbye to Fiji and get ready for our next adventure, New Zealand! With over a month of intense and beautiful experiences behind you, you can get hyped for the next month of what’s yet to come!
A short plane ride takes us to Auckland, New Zealand. We make our way north to the stunning Tawharanui Regional Park for our first volunteer conservation project. The area is home to many endangered species and has an abundance of marine life. While we’re 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.
After we a couple more days of volunteer work, we continue our travels up north to Paihia, a little town nestled in the Bay of Islands. This beautiful town is home to the Waitangi treaty grounds where we will discover the story of New Zealand’s history, and the story of two peoples coming together as one under the Treaty of Waitangi, Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Three nights here gives us plenty of time to relax and reflect on the history of the countries we have explored so far, with some free time for you to do your own exploration if you’d like.
Heading south we travel to the geothermal and cultural heartland of the country. In Rotorua we stay in a Marae, the traditional village meeting hall and spiritual home to Maori belonging to that Marae and the home to the spirits of their ancestors. We whitewater raft the Kaituna River and mountain bike in the Redwoods Bike Park. We’ll also relax, catch-up on email and laundry, and explore this lakeside town.
It’s also time to bring this Polynesian journey full circle with an in-depth learning experience about the Maoris and their discovery of the last – and largest – landmass within Polynesia. You will learn about their days spent on the water before landing on its shores, as well as how they developed and settled amongst its majestic and challenging mountainous landscapes.
New Zealand is known for many things that are good for the soul – connecting to nature, connecting to culture, and connecting to your inner animal! You’ve already checked off the first two by now, so it’s the perfect time to channel your wild with the option to jump off a bridge in the birthplace of the bungy jump! Your last day in New Zealand is a free one, rest, relax, reflect, or go wild! Although it will be sad to say goodbye to this special country, we can’t wait for the next, and final, leg – Samoa!
After a hearty breakfast, we will embark on the short boat journey to Samoa’s Savai’i island. We will arrive at our homestay for the week, a local village that will teach us all about their customs and day-to-day lives. Our stay will include visits to the local school, a tour of the local Koko plantation farm (which provides the cacao seeds for New Zealand’s world-famous Whittaker’s chocolate brand!), and hikes around the local lava fields. The final night we will get to experience a traditional Umu dinner, which we will help prepare in the Earth Oven!
Spend a day exploring the local beaches, paddle-boarding, snorkeling, catching up on laundry, and emailing everyone back home about what a journey it’s been so far!
Get ready after this… it’s arm day! Okay, maybe more like arm multi-day because we are embarking on a three-day kayaking adventure! Our guide will take us to hidden beaches and uninhabited islands, where we’ll fish for our own meals and swap fascinating stories.
This week’s conservation project focuses on joining the efforts of the local matai, men, women, and children who work to protect and conserve the natural and cultural heritage of their local village. They are broken up into three distinct groups, one that focuses on the ridge, one that focuses on the rainforest, and one that focuses on the reef. We will have a chance to be involved in all three!
Your last days will be spent wrapping up the program, digesting your experiences and sharing in the town’s beauty with your fellow participants. Celebrate all your accomplishments at the final dinner before packing your things and departing this fabulous country.
*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 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. All meals are included in the program cost. Food preparation, shared by all students, is fun, social and often a highlight.