Staggering snow capped mountains, vast green rolling hills, creepy caves, and mystical forests aren’t just words that describe the fantasy world in The Lord of the Rings films. Long before New Zealand was known for hobbits and wizards, this island was conjuring thrill seekers from all around the world with the desire to surf, ski, and jump out of airplanes! New Zealand’s adventure sports aren't for the faint of heart, but anyone is captivated by the nation’s wonderfully diverse ecosystems. From sandy beaches to mountain ranges and tropical rainforests, there is so much to discover as a volunteer in New Zealand, including some amazing volunteer projects for nature lovers!
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New Zealand is comprised of two main islands, along with many smaller islands. The North and South island differ greatly in climate and geology, and each island has unique cultural identities as well volunteer opportunities. The North boasts a much larger population than the South, where you will find the big cosmopolitan cities of Auckland and Wellington.
New Zealand's largest city, Auckland, encapsulates the natural splendor and laid-back attitude that the country is known for, along with all the fun and excitement of city life. There is no shortage of things to do in Auckland, as there are plenty of art museums, hip restaurants, and the beach too.
Moving from one end of the North island to the other, Wellington is New Zealand's capital city. Those who choose volunteer opportunities in Wellington will find the seat of Parliament, the National Art Gallery, and numerous theaters and universities. Although it has a smaller population than Auckland, Wellington is considered the official cultural center of New Zealand.
In the North, you will also find Rotorua, a hot-bed of indigenous Maori culture in more ways than one (hot springs anyone?). The weather also tends to be warmer on the North Island, meaning lots of sand, surf, and scuba diving!
The South island is where you will find staggering mountain ranges that put hobbits to the test, along with more opportunities to spot wildlife in national parks. The alpine terrain and lush wilderness are what put the South Island on the bucket lists of adventure seekers the world over. On the South Island, you will find an abundance of volunteer opportunities for conservationists, and be sure to sneak in a little zip lining in too.
The largest city on the South island, Christchurch has a more relaxed vibe than Auckland and Wellington, and is within close proximity of the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve. Christchurch is a gateway to spectacular mountain vistas, national parks, and adventure sports that, along with Queenstown (New Zealand’s adventure sport capital), distinguish the South island.
Volunteering in New Zealand
As one of the last bits of real estate to be settled by humankind, the plants and animals of New Zealand had plenty of time to develop to the astounding variety we are so captivated by today. With such a small area of land, where both animals and humans must coexist, it is essential for Kiwis to preserve the rainforests, wildlife, and coastal areas that surround them. It should, therefore, come as no surprise that the biggest volunteer opportunities in New Zealand fall within the scope of environmentalism and conservation.
Many volunteers choose to volunteer in New Zealand by planting trees, in order to restore the nation’s forests, while others opt for working with wonderful wild animals in the field. Animal welfare volunteer opportunities in New Zealand give volunteers the chance to get their hands dirty on a farm, and sometimes even immerse themselves in kiwi culture by staying with a homestay family. Since agriculture is a key aspect of New Zealand’s economy, you will find plenty of hands-on volunteer programs in New Zealand to teach you how to sustain yourself and live off the land.
Who wouldn't want to plant trees in the forest or hang out with dolphins all day? Well, there are some of you out there. For those of you who’d prefer to volunteer in New Zealand to help humans, there are program options for you too! Although New Zealand is a developed nation with a high standard of living, there are always underserved populations that result in a need for volunteers in areas such as community development and teaching. Additionally, there are caregiver placements for volunteers interested in social work, giving volunteers the opportunity to work in a facility that helps elderly persons or those with mental or physical disabilities.
Costs & Affordability
As a travel hotspot for tourists, New Zealand's prices can get ya’ if you’re not careful. Of course, the usual advice would apply here: if you eat and live like a local you can stretch your budget further while volunteering in New Zealand. That means buying groceries to avoid eating out all meals of the day, which could mean being hard pressed to find a basic lunch for under $15. For the most part, the cost of living in New Zealand is similar to many cities in the U.S. Plus, many volunteer programs in New Zealand include a stipend for food and accommodation as part of program fees. While you will not be paid for your volunteer work in New Zealand, you could get some help from family, friends, or people in your community willing to support a good cause by doing your own fundraising.
Accommodation & Visas
Your accommodations will likely feature circular doors and four foot high ceilings. Just kidding! Unless you’re really into the whole hobbit thing, you will most likely live with a host family or in apartment/dormitory style accommodations with other volunteers. Either way, volunteering in New Zealand will give you a chance to immerse yourself in Kiwi culture and get to know your fellow volunteers from all over the globe.
If you are an American and plan to volunteer in New Zealand for less than three months, you can enter as a tourist and bypass the visa process. If you’re planning on volunteering in New Zealand for longer than this or you want to extend your stay, you’ll need to apply for a visa. Even though the visa process in New Zealand is pretty painless compared to other countries (they have an online portal), make sure you get an early start on your research, as there can always be unexpected delays. GoAbroad’s Embassy Directory is a good place to start.
Benefits & Challenges
It is no wonder the native Maori call their home Aotearoa, or “the land of the long white cloud," because New Zealand is basically heaven on Earth! But, even paradise has its challenges, as both new and seasoned travelers alike can experience culture shock when adjusting to a new place.
New Zealand is a nature lover's dream, but all those long hikes through the forest can be hard on the body too. With so many volunteer opportunities in New Zealand bringing volunteers out into the field, they should be prepared for “roughin’ it.”
If you are a first time traveler, you’re in luck because New Zealand is widely regarded as one of the friendliest and most welcoming places to visit. The flight is sure to be a long one, but once you arrive your main challenge might be resisting the peer pressure to bungee jump (or not!).
They say travel is all about the journey, not the destination, but as far as destinations go, New Zealand is pretty great. Volunteering in New Zealand is sure to be one of the most unforgettable experiences of your life; it will be one that you look back on and reminisce about how you faced your fears and took a leap of faith (or off a cliff), swam with dolphins, or maybe just met some new friends! Deciding to volunteer abroad in New Zealand you give you all the adventure you could ever dream of, and so much more, and you’ll leave knowing that your hard work has helped preserve the uniqueness of New Zealand for generations to come.
In the words of J.R.R. Tolkien, “Not all who wander are lost,” so if this is your first experience volunteering abroad, then it is sure to not be your last. Your life’s journey is just beginning, and just like Bilbo Baggins, you’re sure to become an adventure junkie for life after volunteering in New Zealand.