Reviews of Gap Year Programs in Australia & New Zealand

Oceania is a continent comprised of roughly 34 sovereign countries, territories and republics spread over four regions: Australasia, Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia. But there are also bio-, eco-, geo-, and physiographic regions that include different groupings, and can stretch all the way to Japan and Hawaii. So, you can imagine that with that many countries over that much distance, there's bound to be enough of a variety to fit everyone's budget, desires and skills! Let's take a look at some of the places that gap year travelers call home, if only for a little while.

  • Population: ~35.6 Million
  • Area: ~8.5 Million km2
  • Oceania is composed roughly of 14 countries and 25 dependencies
  • New Zealand was the first country in the world to give women the right to vote, in 1893. (NZ History)
  • When Australians want to speak to someone over the phone, they don't say "call" or ring" - they say they're going to give someone a "bell." (Australian History)
  • Cannibalism was practiced in Fiji until the mid-19th century. (BBC)
  • If a family in Samoa has too many boys, it is not uncommon to raise at least one of them as a girl. (ABC)
  • The Solomon Islands is plural - in total there are over 1,000 separate islands. (World Atlas)

Gap year opportunities vary greatly, depending on where you want to base yourself. Australia and New Zealand have a good mix of outdoor adventure and business advantages; for the outlying Pacific Islands, there is a lot of eco-tourism, conservation work and plenty of development volunteerism to help remote and rural areas join the modern age.

Punakaiki Pancake Rocks
The Punakaiki Pancake Rocks in New Zealand
Volunteering:

Build-A-Bridge Volunteer Fiji allows gap year volunteers to teach, do care work, and take part in community projects. Everything from swimming skills to computer savvy is much needed here.

The YWCA Australia has opportunities to volunteer for a year in the Solomon Islands. You'd work with the community on several ongoing projects, such as women's literacy and reproductive health access for teens.

New Zealand's Volunteer Service Abroad, based in Wellington, offers longer volunteer stints for agricultural, business and tourism volunteers in Samoa. While there is down time, this program is a bit more serious than a vacation-oriented volunteer program. However, they do provide accommodation.

Wildlife Conservation:

South Pacific Projects has a spectacular dolphin conservation program as well as coral reef ecosystem surveys and helping communities in Fiji manage Marine Protected Areas.

Internships:

Australia - particularly Sydney - is a financial hub for the South Pacific, so business-minded gap year travellers should head there for the best opportunities in the region. Listings for available positions are available at Grad Connection and AIFS Internships.

Another network with top-notch connections and a good reputation is Australian Internships. Their service takes into account that an Australian internship helps to further your career - which means that you get serious offers from high-placed companies. If you're serious about your career, this is a great resource. And finally, the Go Overseas Internships in Australia section provides access to a broad range of internship companies offering placements.

The Harbour Bridge in Sydney, Australia
The Harbour Bridge in Sydney, Australia

New Zealand also has a wealth of business internship opportunities. New Zealand Internships lists internships by industry category, although they do not list specific company names and the listings are for unpaid internships with nothing is included (e.g., airfare, housing, etc.). Grad Connection New Zealand does list company names and has company profiles that indicate whether the company is currently accepting applications. Listings of internship companies offering placements is also available on the Go Overseas Internships in New Zealand section.

When planning your budget, there are some things you'll see are cheaper, and some that are considerable more expensive, than you're used to at home. The thing to remember is that, especially in the outlying islands but also in Australia and New Zealand, these are all, more or less, patches of land in the middle of an ocean. If they can't make it themselves, it has to come from very, very far away - and that has a price.

So, you might want to make sure that you have all electronics that you may need (remember that this region will have a different electrical system than yours, and a different DVD region as well), and you probably won't want to spend your savings on clothing you could easily get at home for much cheaper.

Cost of Living in Oceania:
  • Apartment (3BR) - Australia: $3,523, New Zealand: $2,512, Fiji: $2,385, Samoa: $2,571, Solomon Islands: $3,266
  • Jeans - Australia: $102, New Zealand: $88, Fiji: $75, Samoa: $75, Solomon Islands: $51
  • Internet (mo.) - Australia: $56, New Zealand: $49, Fiji: $13, Samoa: $53, Solomon Islands: $121
  • Loaf of bread - Australia: $2.75, New Zealand: $2.17, Fiji: $0.82, Samoa: $2.81, Solomon Islands: $3.66
  • Meal, two people, mid-range rest. - Australia: $77.42, New Zealand: $65.17, Fiji: $16.42, Samoa: $70.16, Solomon Islands: $49.52
  • Movie ticket - Australia: $16.59, New Zealand: $12.52, Fiji: $5.75, Samoa: $17.28, Solomon Islands: $10.52
Maori God of Wind and Storm in New Zealand
The Maori God of Wind and Storm in New Zealand
Visas for Oceania:

New Zealand: Visitors from most major countries do not need a visa to enter New Zealand for a three-month duration; check New Zealand Immigration for a list of visa-waiver countries. Otherwise, there are several different types of visas available for those who want to spend more than three months in New Zealand. (NZ Immigration)

Australia: Everyone visiting Australia needs to have a Tourist Visa. These visas are generally valid for three months. For those who would like to extend their stay, or combine a holiday with working, there are several visa options: a Visitor Visa, a Working Holiday Visa, and a Work And Holiday Visa. Check the Australian immigration website for more information about eligibility and requirements.

Fiji: Citizens of most countries do not need a visa before entering Fiji; one will be issued when you arrive, and is valid for four months with a two-month extension option. In order not to be turned away upon arrival, your passport needs to be valid for at least six months after your departure date; you need to show your return tickets; and you already need to have an entry visa into any other relevant country that is not your home country. (Fiji HighCom)

Samoa: Like Fiji, Samoan visas are issued upon arrival - but they're only valid for two months. You still need to have your passport be valid for six months after your departure. In addition to a return ticket and the entry documents needed for your next destination, you'll also need proof of funds for your stay. (World Travels)

Solomon Islands: The entry requirements here are complex; there are many countries, on every continent except North America, for which a visa prior to arrival is necessary. For everyone else, you will be issued a visa upon arrival. There are also requirements regarding proof of health and a lack of criminal history, and there are also documents needed for families traveling together. In short? Contact the embassy or consulate closest to you for exact information. SB Commerce.

The Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef
Health and Safety in Oceania:

While there are no travel restrictions to the Solomon Islands, there has been some civil unrest in some areas. In Fiji, there was a military coup in 2006 that has largely been resolved, but rallies can still happen with little warning; steer clear just to be safe.

In Samoa and the Solomon Islands, mosquitoes are your main concern as far as your health goes. Cover yourself in long sleeves especially at night, and sleep with a mosquito net. Also, in both countries it's important to be aware that property owners do not take kindly to trespassers - even if it's just to admire a tree or take a photo. Make sure you don't stumble onto private property by mistake without being invited - you may be asked to pay a "fee" by a land or beach owner.

All of the countries in this report drive on the left side of the road, with Samoa joining the ranks in only 2009. In rural areas roads can be bad (and sometimes not even formally paved in their entire history), so drive slow if the weather is bad or if you're unsure.

Outside of Australia and New Zealand, the culture can still be a bit conservative; dress modestly, always cover up when entering a place of worship, be sensitive to people's archaic views on homosexuality, and never, EVER be anywhere near drugs - the punishment is severe.

Generally speaking, though, petty theft is going to be your worst problem - so stay alert, don't travel alone at night if possible, stick to populated areas, don't flaunt wealth, and have emergency numbers ready:

  • Australia: Medical and Police: 000
  • New Zealand: Medical and Police: 111 (911 gets redirected to 111)
  • Samoa: Medical: 996, Police: 995, Fire: 994
  • Solomon Islands: Medical: 999, Check local numbers for faster service
  • Fiji: Medical: 000, Police: 000
Chocolate Mountains
The Chocolate Mountains in the Philippines

Outside of Australia and New Zealand, basic medical care can be, well, basic - hospitals and clinics can run out of blood and even aspirin. Make sure you have travel insurance that includes repatriation, and visit your doctor about two months before leaving to ask about any vaccinations you may need and to ask for any tips for a first-aid kid.

Why Take a Gap Year in Oceania?

Wow! That's a lot to think about. Just one thing, though, before you make your decision: while these countries may seem exotic and so very away from your life now, remember that English is at least one of the official languages in each place - so you won't have to add a language barrier to the list of differences you'll encounter.

The other factor you may want to think about is that, as just said, Oceania is probably quite far from where you're living now. When you're out of school and have a limited amount of vacation time in your adult life, this area of the world won't be nearly as accessible to you. Europe may sound tempting - but why not go to a place where the time you're able to dedicate to it can really make a difference?


Contributed by David Wright

David Wright is the Operations Manager at Travel Insurance Cover. Travel Insurance Cover operates in Australia and New Zealand, and provides travel insurance for residents and non-residents. More information including full policy terms and conditions can be found on their website.

Photo Credit: Punakaiki Pancake Rocks - Harbor Bridge - Maori God of Wind and Storm - Great Barrier Reef - Cape Reinga Lighthouse

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