Gap Year in New Zealand

A Gap year in New Zealand offers a wide range of opportunities to young people.

And with stunning scenery all around, it's easy to see why this small, far-flung country is such a popular choice.

Why take a gap year in New Zealand?

New Zealand, otherwise known as Aotearoa [The Land of the Long White Cloud in Maori] was one of the last lands to be settled.

The Polynesians arrived in around 1280, and the Europeans, in form of one, Abel Tasman in 1642.

Abel gave the area the name, Staten Landt believing that it was attached to South America.

Dutch geographers, realising the error, renamed it Nova Zeelandia, and Captain James Cook claimed the islands for the United Kingdom, anglicising the title to New Zealand.

Once described as being like "England in the nineteen fifties", New Zealand has marketed itself as the adventure sports capital of the world.

Well known for bungee jumping, though the thrill was practised in Mexico and on Pentecost Island in the Pacific before New Zealand developed it as commercial activity in the nineteen eighties.

Certainly from a population of around four million the country’s sporting achievements are impressive. So you could go for the sporting and active leisure opportunities, or for the quiet beauty of a southern land.

Things to see and do

Queenstown on South Island is an important base for skiing during the winter.

It also features, white-water rafting, skydiving, paragliding, trips in stunt planes, and the ubiquitous bungee jumping.

In addition, apparently, there is extreme golf, where you are flown by helicopter to a remote ledge half way up a mountain, and there you can drive your ball in to the wide blue yonder never to be seen again [no change there then].

The area was also the site of a gold rush in 1862, and gold is still being found today; not enough to make your fortune, but might help defray costs.

Milford Sound, in the south west of South Island was described by Rudyard Kipling as, ‘the eighth wonder of the world’.

A fifteen mile long inlet from the Tasman Sea, if features spectacular sheer rock faces with peaks including, The Elephant and The Lion.

Milford Sound is, arguably the most visited place in New Zealand despite its remoteness, being three hundred kilometres from Queenstown and two hundred and eighty kilometres from Invercargill.

The area has very little accommodation, with most visitors coming on tour buses from the above cities. Other attractive ways to see the area are by boat, or by helicopter or fixed wing aircraft from Milford Sound Airport.

New Zealand is composed of three main islands: North Island, South Island and Stewart Island.

The latter is located thirty kilometres south of South Island, its Maori name is Rakiura, which translates to ‘the Land of Glowing Skies’, probably a reference to the Southern Lights [Aurora Australis].

Here it’s about a bit of peace and quiet, hiking and wild life. There is only one town, though apparently it has two names: Halfmoon Bay and Oban.

From here there are numerous hiking trails across the island. As this is a remote and sparsely populated area, preparations and precautions are required for some of these hikes.

Five species of penguin are known to frequent Stewart Island namely the: yellow eyed, Snares crested, Fiordland crested, rockhopper and southern blue [not to be confused with the Norwegian Blue – beautiful plumage]. Now, where’s my Penguin Book of Penguins?  - or my copy of Penguin Island by Anatole France published, of course by Penguin Books [enough of the penguin references].

Stewart Island is accessible via ferry service or helicopter or fixed wing flights; travel time by air is about twenty minutes. More info from the tourist website

Auckland, on North Island, is New Zealand’s largest city. There seems to be a theme in this country of, visit a location then jump off it, either with a bungee or a parachute attached.

So, here you can admire Auckland’s Sky Tower [over a thousand feet high] and/or Auckland Harbour Bridge and then get the adrenaline flowing. More details from and

For something a little more laid back there is the black sand beach at Piha for a bit of rest and recreation, or hop on the ferry to Waiheke Island [about thirty five minutes sailing time from Auckland] and do a vineyard tour followed by a sample or two.

Christchurch is the largest city on South Island. There is a downside to some of New Zealand’s natural beauty; in that being on a fault line also brings forth earthquakes like the two tremors which hit the city in 2011.

Rebuilding is well under way and the cathedral, which was badly damaged, is being replaced by a Transitional Cathedral.

The original, designed by George Gilbert Scott, and completed in 1873, being replaced by a modern construction from architect Shigeru Ban using cardboard within the structure. Yes, it is waterproof!

Akaroa, around seventy kilometres from Christchurch, is notable for originally being a French settlement.

A group of whalers believed that they had purchased the Bank’s Peninsula, on which Akaroa sits, from the local Maori tribe.

In 1840 a group of French and German settlers arrived to make a new life there. However, they arrived to find the Union Jack flying because; in February of that year the Treaty of Waitangi gave, in the eyes of the British, sovereignty of New Zealand to Her Majesty.

Nevertheless, the immigrants stayed and you can find French influence there today. Akaroa is a base to explore the natural beauty of the Bank’s Peninsula.

Rotorua, in the north of North Island is popular for its hot mud pools and its geysers.

The Pohutu Geyser at Whatarewarema performs about twenty times per day, with spouts to around thirty metres.

In Kuirau Park, as well as dangling your feet in a hot rock pool, you can visit the Te Wairoa buried village.

Engulfed in a volcanic eruption in June 1886, the site features a small museum displaying artefacts and details of the event.

Mountain Biking is a good way to expend energy and see the beauty of some of the area. The Whatarewarema Forest has numerous trails, and was the venue for the 2006 Mountain Biking World Championship.

Before you go

Wellington is the southernmost capital city in the world, despite this the country enjoys a temperate climate.

The summer months: December, January, February have a general temperature range of twenty to thirty degrees centigrade.

The winter months: June, July, August – fifteen to eight degrees centigrade.

With altitude temperatures can be considerably colder, and New Zealand is well known for its rapid changes in the weather.

Currently a visa is not required for tourists staying less than three months providing they have sufficient funds to maintain themselves during their stay, and a return ticket.

As with Australia, there is a Working Holiday Scheme where a twelve month stay is allowed providing, amongst other things, the visitor does not work for one employer for more than three months.

As always, information changes, so check; - phew.

The currency is the New Zealand Dollar, which has done well in the recent currency turmoil meaning the country is not as economical a visit as it once was.

Should you have some NZ Dollars over at the end of your visit and fancy some pacific island hops; the currency also circulates in the Cook Islands, Niue, Tokelau and the Pitcairn Islands.

Further information

For more advice on taking a gap year in New Zealand, please see: