Arcadia assisted with finding housing, arranging the financial payments to the University in Wellington, and also offered activities and outings even after the initial orientation in Auckland. They took us to Abel Tasman National Park for a weekend and organized all of the transportation and housing, as well as an agenda for the weekend; they took us to Weta Studios for a tour of the practical effects workshops; they took us to a rugby game.
Food and most other activities were left for us to organize ourselves. I was assigned the housing at Everton Hall which, unfortunately, required that we pay for electricity, internet, and laundry. Arcadia offered some compensation for this, but it wasn't always necessarily enough; they were receptive to these comments from the Everton residents though, so hopefully, they'll be a little more on top of it in the future.
Personally, I really enjoyed the activities they planned/provided for us and I would highly recommend taking advantage of them. Additionally, over the two-week break nothing is planned which leaves room for students to plan their own activities. I went backpacking in the Tongariro National Park, two of my friends backpacked in the Fjordlands, and many of the other students in the program took the opportunity to explore the South Island either through bus passes or car rentals.
Food was relatively affordable, especially if you take advantage of the farmers' markets in Wellington (which are on Sundays year-round!). I was able to live off a food budget of around $60/70NZD (roughly $40/45USD). The exchange rate was the real hero of the trimester.
Take advantage of the weekend markets--not only are they fun but they are also pretty affordable and will help keep a budget. Also, get to know your flatmates! I got along really well with two of my flatmates but didn't really know the other two because they hid in their rooms a lot... Two of my good friends from the program, though, were homies with their flatmates, which made going over to their places a lot more entertaining (Kiwis are hilarious and very sarcastic, so be ready for that).
One helpful thing that the program managers told us during orientation was to keep in mind that, although study abroad is incredible and you'll have a ton of unforgettable experiences, not every day can be an adventure. So don't be afraid to take a day for yourself just to stay home and watch Netflix. Mental health is really important so don't feel like you're wasting your time if you wanna just chill for a day.
Wellington is honestly a dream, though, so take advantage of Cuba St. and the Te Papa museum and all the hiking that's just a bus or train ride away. It's a very walkable city so walk away!
WARNING: it is very hilly and windy, but gorgeous! Be prepared for your calf muscles to be t o n e d.
I had a relatively light class load, fortunately, so I had more time to just bum around. But generally, I would walk up to campus and go to a cafe called Koha (Amazing establishment, by the way, and surprisingly empty most of the time! Definitely a favorite spot). Then I would go to class, hit up The Lab for a smoothie,* and play frisbee with some friends in Kelburn park for a bit.
Then I might go downtown to walk about or get coffee and do work. Tuesdays we almost always went to Rogue and Vagabond for tacos ($2NZD tacos--essentially free), and we almost always went to the night market for $6 samosas on Saturdays and the farmers market on Sundays for groceries for the week. I also quite often made dinner with friends--budget-friendly + quality time. A few weekends we did short backpacking trips or hikes.
I was concerned about being so far away from friends and family, especially with the substantial time difference between New Zealand and the States. I'm fortunate in that I go to college away from home so I've experienced the 'displacement' before. Still was a little intimidating though! I was also lucky because I knew another person doing the program, so I wasn't completely alone in a new country.
That being said, the program managers and staff are super sweet and supportive and available most of the time to help with any issues and the orientation in/around Auckland is a great opportunity for everyone to get to know each other which made the transition into Wellington even easier. We pretty much remained a squad the whole quarter, plus Wellington/New Zealand is pretty small so we ran into each other a surprising amount of times.
Hiking highlights around Wellington: Red Rocks (NOT the amphitheater in Colorado), Paekakariki, Mt Victoria, Colonial Knob, Mt McKerrow, etc.
Red Rocks has seals which are a sight to see! It's also a site of filming for the Lord of the Rings, fun fact: when Frodo, Sam, and Gollum reach the Black Gates and Sam falls down the rocky cliffs thing.
Paekakariki is drop-dead gorgeous. Mind-boggling, even. It stretches along the coast and has a few suspension bridges. Be warned though, it's a one-way track from one train stop to another and there are a lot of stairs... I would recommend starting at the north end of the trail because then more of the stairs are going downhill.
Mt Vic is in Wellington and pretty short, but also beautiful (like all of New Zealand) and is also a LoTR film site: the road out of the Shire when they run into the Black Rider.
Colonial Knob is pretty easy and through farm country, so lots of cows and sheep!
Mt Mckerrow is where we went backpacking one weekend. There are several tracks in that area and the Mckerrow track leads to the Clay Ridge Track which led to the campsite we were aiming for. These are 'advanced' tracks though (Department of Conservation rating) which means they're pretty steep and you have to pay attention to where the trail is going.
Budget hacks: As I said before, the farmers' markets are the move for produce. Very affordable, but bring your own bags and cash!
If you're into Taco Tuesdays, Rogue and Vagabond has those sweet $2 tacos.
Koha is great because it's essentially pay-what-you-can! Koha means gift in Te Reo Maori, so when you leave you're encouraged to leave a donation. The people who work there are super nice and accommodating. However, they mostly do just coffee, hot chocolate, and tea--nothing fancy like lattes and cappuccinos because they don't have the equipment. Sometimes they do have yummy baked goods though!
The Saturday night markets have a truck that does two sizable samosas for $6.
There are two supermarkets, mainly: Countdown and New World. I've found Countdown to be more affordable in general.
Also if you are 18 (which you probably are) and want a bargain, JJ's on Cuba St has $10 jugs and free pool/billiards upstairs (free if you buy a drink, so mostly free).
Also a bunch of good thrift shops around. We found a 'tour de thrift' of shops in the Wellington area.
Favorite things to do: Botanical Gardens (Botany). Beautiful and free. They're a great place to walk around or sit and read or chat or what have you and they're super close to campus. Plus there are GLOWWORMS here (so you don't have to pay for the caves if you don't want to! You just have to venture and find them).
Te Papa Museum: Also free (except for like one exhibit) and very fun and informative to wander around.
Watching the sunset on the water: Stunning. Need I say more?
Oriental Bay: Great place to hang if you want to go to a beach/pier area.
Mt. Vic: Great panoramic views of the city.
Cooking with friends/Movies and Wine nights: Great, low-budget way to spend time with the homies.
But, you know, it's your life so live it the way you want I'm not here to tell you what to do.