Vibrant cities, open vistas, friendly locals -- there are many great reasons to spend your gap year in New Zealand. Whether you spend your gap year trekking famous routes, exploring the islands, or live local in one of New Zealand's dynamic cities, your gap year will make this small nation occupy a big place in your heart.
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Volunteer Now New Zealand has opportunities that span all areas of volunteerism, from the arts to education to fire fighting. And because it’s a network for locals and international visitors alike, it is an excellent source for volunteer programs for those who want to meet locals and assimilate into Kiwi life.
Some programs last for a certain length of time – an opera season, or a school year – while others are tailor made for those who want to travel throughout the country, staying in cities such as Christchurch and Auckland for only a few weeks at a time.
New Zealand is renowned around the world for adventure sports and activities - including skiing and snowboarding, bungee jumping and white water rafting. If you're looking to use your outdoor interests as a way to make friends, Oz Adventures arranges group adventure tours throughout New Zealand especially geared toward gap year travelers and residents.
Have a ton of time? The Te Araroa “tramping” (hiking) trail traverses both islands, from one tip to another, and takes four months to complete; however, its pit stops in many villages throughout the country means you can do daylong or weeklong hikes whenever time permits.
Professional internships are available in all New Zealand's major cities, with internationally known companies thriving in an active business climate. You can apply for an internship directly through the website of the company you chose, or through a third-party internship program. If you need a starting point to browse internships and see what's available, there are two websites where you can get started:
- New Zealand Internships – The internships are by industry category, and do not list specific company names. You need to sign up for the service to apply for jobs through the website; this includes having a CV ready to upload. The internships they have available are unpaid, and nothing is included (e.g., airfare, housing, etc.). But there is a real community feel to the website, with a lot of built-in support and resources.
- Grad Connection New Zealand - This site has an extensive search function, including benefits offered, "office perks", and how much the company lets you surf the Web on their dime. Internships are listed by company, which can be a help if you want to do additional research on what they're looking for. You can also narrow down your geographical preferences as well. Clicking on company profiles will tell you if they are currently accepting applications.
Planning Your Trip
Visas for New Zealand:
Visitors from most major countries do not need a visa to enter New Zealand for a three-month duration; check the NZ embassy website for a list of visa-waiver countries. Otherwise, the following visas are available for those who want to spend more than three months in New Zealand:
- Temporary Work Visa – for people 18-30 who have a job offer, or for students who are studying or have studied in New Zealand and want to continue their stay while working
- Working Holiday Scheme – depending on your country, people 18-30 can apply for a stay of up to 12 months. You can work, but not accept a permanent position, and you can also sign up for classes/courses while in country.
- Note that a return ticket and a certain amount of money in your bank account are among the requirements.
Cost of Living in New Zealand
The cost of daily living – rent, food, utilities – is quite reasonable compared to many popular gap year countries. And because of New Zealand's successful cotton and wool industries, there are great deals to be had on outdoor clothing. Electronic and tech items do tend to be more expensive as they're imported and New Zealand has a 15% GST, so stock up at home on that new laptop or MP3 player. Let's take a look at some particulars, with a median monthly disposable salary of NZ$2500-4000.
- Monthly transportation pass: NZ$90-120
- One-bedroom apartment in city center: NZ$900-1440
- Internet: NZ$40-100
- Domestic beer: NZ$5-8
- Loaf of white bread: NZ$2-3.20
- Movie ticket: NZ$15-17
- Levi 501 jeans: NZ$100-125
Culture and Etiquette in New Zealand
Visitors to New Zealand are struck by the friendliness of Kiwis; you'll often get a cheery hello from a stranger, and they tend to be open, welcoming and generous to strangers and friends alike. However, while everyone is nice to a fault, it doesn't mean they're your instant BFFs. It takes time for a Kiwi to let you in.
In terms of basic cultural differences, here are a few quick tips:
- Leisure dress is casual, while business dress is conservative.
- Business appointments should be made several days in advance.
- Most business meetings begin with personal interaction, but presentations, interviews and meetings are dominated by facts and figures rather than emotion.
- Tardiness is not tolerated.
- A small gift is customary when going to someone's home.
- Keep your elbows off the table, but your hands above the table.
- Elaborate tattoos are something that you'll want to get used to quickly – traditional Māori tattooing is symbolic of family and tribal affiliations.
- A traditional Māori greeting involves pressing noses together.
- Be reserved about eye contact with Pacific Islanders living in New Zealand.
- And perhaps most importantly, a strong Trans-Tasman rivalry exists so it’s best not to lump New Zealand and Australia together!
Māoritanga, or the Māori culture, is an important part of Kiwi life and is much more integrated into the general culture than, say, the indigenous cultures of Australia and the United States. However, it is not without its significant tensions and it's not a subject you should bring up lightly, or simply as a way to make conversation.
Health & Safety
In terms of street crime, New Zealand as a whole is a safe place. Crime has been on a downward trend for the last few years, with 20,289 fewer offenses in 2011 than the year before – the lowest in 15 years. Of course, that doesn't mean you should turn off your streets smarts when spending your gap year in New Zealand. Avoid badly lit streets, find out which neighborhoods are sketchy, and don't be shy about grabbing a friend if you need to head out late at night. The emergency number for the police, ambulance or fire brigade in New Zealand is 111.
As New Zealand is the unofficial capital of extreme sports, it’s likely that you end up sky diving or bungee jumping or something equally as exhilarating. Before participating, it is advisable to check your travel insurance policy for any exclusions, and make sure the firm offering the experience is reputable.