We did a ton of cool stuff, travelling the entire length of NZ and stopping in various places known only by the locals, and doing stuff like hiking up Franz Josef Glacier, white water rafting (down a 6 m waterfall, btw), black water rafting (the river is inside a cave!), zorbing, riding the world's longest flying fox, skiing Cardrona, ATVing across mountains, seeing rare kiwi birds, and riding the Shotover Jet in 4 inches of water! Some people went bungee jumping where it was first invented, and skydiving on their free time. Every ISV program has 5 awesome activities included, but you're going to need to pay for an 'Optional Activity Package' (OAP) for an additional 5 programs (about $350 last year), and yes, you do want it, literally everyone had it on my trip. The activities vary depending on the country but its always fun.
However, the most memorable and fulfilling part of ISV is the first two weeks. Yes, rafting and all that was exciting, and that takes place in the adventure tour part of the trip. Before exploring the country, you have to go to work. Depending on the country you choose, it will either be helping people or helping the environment. NZ is a developed country, but it also has a very fragile ecosystem. Before humans came along, there were absolutely no mammals around, no poisonous plants, and no grass. Birds, like the Pukeko and Kiwi, have taken to the ground. But with the people came dogs, possums, snakes, weeds, etc... Ridding the entire country of this stuff in one go is impossible, so they've started with islands. That way, its harder for the invading species to repopulate cleared areas. In any case, their methods work, and we got to see the difference student volunteers are making. It is really rewarding to know that your effort isn't for nothing. Our location was on Motuihe Island (mow-two-ee-hey for the native Maori people, or mow-tuh-hee for the locals). We were told about its history, from Maori legends, to escaped fugitives in the 1800s, to a WW2 lookout point. We were taught Maori words, how to identify native birds and fauna, and how to talk like the locals (Kia Ora = hello , Sweet as = Cool , etc). I can't even begin to describe everything, but it was really cool. But of course, we were there to work too. Every morning we wake each other up at 7:30, prepare breakfast and head out by 8:30. The entire morning, we are doing one thing, be it planting trees, weeding (ramnus [a type of weed] became a swear word, it was so annoying), digging up fences, beach cleaning, nursery work (potting and weeding) on the really windy days, and other stuff. We break an hour for lunch, then resume with something else until 5:30. By that time, you're tired, some are sore, and everyone's asleep by 9:00, literally. But you're doing all this with 8 other students from around the world, a project leader from ISV who is usually a crazy enthusiastic local, and someone from the local volunteer organization who helps. These guys become like family. Its really hard to convey in words just how much fun we had on the island.
When you're done the volunteer portion, and travelling around the country, people will ask what brings you to their country. When you tell them about everything you did, you might be shocked to hear a very sincere 'Thank you'.