Sir Peter Jackson did not choose to film the Lord of the Rings films in New Zealand simply because it was his homeland. Nowhere else in the world do vertical peaks, lazy sand beaches, temperate rain forests and kelly-green farmland compete for a few square miles of space. Known as a playground for adults, New Zealand is a mecca for outdoor adventure, unique ecosystems, and is known for being one of the world’s friendliest countries. Aotearoa, the native Maori people call it, “land of the long white cloud,” is heaven — or “Godzone” — to citizens and visitors alike. For volunteering abroad, New Zealand can be nothing short of a fantasy land.
With only 4 million inhabitants spread over two islands (the third, Stewart Island, is mostly national park), the inner-city problems that plague many a big metropolis are limited to Auckland and the capital, Wellington. Crime rates are relatively low, and the country’s social welfare system strives to take care of all its citizens, both indigenous and immigrant.
Unlike its neighbor across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand’s Maori population has acclimated and been accepted into colonial society to a level far surpassing that of the Aboriginals in Australia. While some Maori communities struggle with issues of domestic abuse and violence, substance addiction and cultural identity, most Kiwis (as New Zealanders call themselves) are proud of this indigenous culture. The Maori language is taught in public schools, and their artwork and images are plastered over souvenirs and travel sites.
Though opportunities for volunteering abroad in New Zealand are more limited due to the general prosperity of the country, you can still get involved through:
The nearest landmass is nearly a three-hour flight away, leaving New Zealand in one of the farthest corners of the globe. Its isolation resulted in a highly specified and irreplaceable ecosystem of native plants and birds. No large mammals or predators ever threatened this fragile environment until humans arrived. Now, the country has some of the strongest and most progressive conservation policies, with national laws promoting recycling, composting and wildlife protection. Due to government example, most Kiwis are eco-role models.
Programs tend to be short term (one day-four weeks), and many incorporate outdoor adventure activities, such as rafting and hiking, into the itinerary. Programs often charge a fee, most of which goes towards the project itself. Accommodation and some meals are typically provided. Volunteers may also contact the national Department of Conservation for free volunteer opportunities in New Zealand through government conservation programs.
Most of New Zealand’s immigrants arrive from Asia and the island countries of Polynesia, such as Tonga and Samoa. Especially in Auckland, which holds over one-fourth of New Zealand’s population, these minority populations face larger challenges of cultural adjustment, poverty, and substance abuse. International volunteers are also able, in limited capacity, to work with rural Maori communities, persons with disabilities, and troubled youths. Several programs offer teaching and leadership opportunities with minority populations. These tend to be short term (1-3 weeks) and charge a fee, most of which goes towards the project itself. Accommodation and some meals may be provided.
Most international programs do not place volunteers in this field; interested candidates can research available programs in advance of traveling to the city. Opportunities arranged directly through local organizations are typically free, but may require an international volunteer to live in the city, at their own expense.
While the country has some of the toughest border protection policies — guarding it from invasive species, plants, and other biological concerns — most people wishing to volunteer abroad in New Zealand may enter and stay for a limited period of time without a visa. If you plan to stay for a longer term, your volunteer program may arrange the appropriate visa for you. Or, if you are not volunteering in New Zealand through a pre-arranged international program, contact Immigration New Zealand for visa information relevant to your plans.