New Zealand 2019

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Welcome to New Zealand

Today we’re more connected than ever. Yet with all our technologies, it’s still hard to make a human connection.

Connecting with others is what makes us feel alive. No app will ever be as satisfying as putting a smile on someone’s face, and no device will ever compete with the feeling of doing something genuinely kind for another person.

Modern technology is magical. But helping other people—whether friends, acquaintances, or strangers—is where the real magic happens. On this adventure, we’re going to remember what connection is all about.

Welcome to Unschool Adventures New Zealand 2019.


Nov 6 – Dec 18, 2019
(may shift slightly)


New Zealand


10-12 participants (ages 14-19, flexible)


Ari Kosel, Nick McEachern, and Katie Mitchell



Apply Now

The trip is full, but we are accepting waitlist applicants.

Apply now to be ready in case a spot appears.

All photos are from the Unschool Adventures New Zealand 2013 and 2016 trips.

Trip Purposes

Every Unschool Adventure trip is created with specific purposes in mind. Here’s what we’ll set out to accomplish.

Connecting, every day

Each day we’ll ask ourselves a few simple questions: How can we put a smile on someone’s face today? How can we connect with someone new? How can we combine our talents, interests, creativity, and hard work to do something kind, helpful, entertaining, or meaningful—without asking for anything in return?

This will be the ongoing challenge of the adventure: to do something for someone else every day, and in the process, to form meaningful connections. The trip leaders will inspire you to think up fun and different ways to do this, but fundamentally it will be your decision how to make this happen.

There are so many ways to build connection and positively impact others. Let’s say you’re staying in a hostel in Queenstown, where there’s a lot of tourists walking around: maybe you create your own free walking tour and share your favorite spots and local tips that you’ve discovered with others. Or let’s say you’re staying at a campground near a wilderness area: perhaps you decide to make a delicious carb heavy feast to share with your neighbors who are returning from an epic long day of trekking.

Some days you’ll venture out in small groups of 3-4 people, and some days the trip leaders will challenge you do something as a whole group. Maybe you’ll ask a farm owner what she needs and end up painting a mural on the side of her barn. Maybe you’ll offer to do everyone’s dishes in a hostel and turn it into a big cleaning-dancing party. Maybe you’ll find a way to volunteer in a home for the elderly or learn more about local Maori communities. Maybe you’ll organize a potluck picnic in a park—accompanied by a free workshop about unschooling—and advertise it with hand-made flyers that you drew and posted that morning.

In addition to those big, fun, and adventurous ways of connecting, we’ll also ask ourselves: What are the quieter, less visible, yet still powerful ways that we can connect with others? Active listening is one such method, and we’ll set out on a regular basis to hear the stories of people we meet—whatever story it is they want to tell. Maybe it’s the story of why they live where they live, why they do what they do, or where they found their famous scone recipe. We’ll invite you (and show you how to) to record these stories along the way—through writing, photography, art, or another medium—as a way of deepening the connection and offering something in return to the person who generously shared their story with you.

The possibilities for connection are unlimited—as are the smiles you might put on people’s faces, the memories you’ll make, and the fun you’ll have along the way.

Spending lots of time outside

November and December are summer in New Zealand. You’ll be leaving the cold weather and short days of North America for the sunny warmth of the southern hemisphere. We’ll take full advantage by spending lots of time outdoors: walking, hiking, swimming, and maybe even going on a short overnight backpacking trip.

Camping will be a big part of our adventure. Everyone will bring their own tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad on this trip, which will enable us to be highly flexible with our itinerary because we can always find a place to pitch our tents. You should plan on spending at least half your nights camping out—a highly memorable experience in itself! (Who else gets to say that they camped for 3+ weeks in the middle of winter?)

Longer-term volunteering

In addition to connecting with people on a day-to-day basis, we will do a few longer-term volunteering opportunities where we’ll help the same family, farm, vineyard, or conservation project for 3-5 days. This will give us a chance to get to know a certain place (and people) in New Zealand to a deeper level and experience a different type of connection.

The longer-term volunteering gigs will likely involve ~4 hours of manual labor per day. Think: splitting wood, pulling weeds, installing fencing, or cleaning out a dirty ditch—all of which previous Unschool Adventures NZ groups have done! We are still working on securing the volunteer opportunities for this adventure, but you can rest assured that you’ll get to do good while also getting dirty, using your body, working alongside your friends, and being outside.

Putting smiles on each other’s faces

Finally, we won’t just put smiles on other people’s faces; we’ll put smiles on each other’s faces too. As with every Unschool Adventures trip, you’ll enjoy ample opportunity each day to spend time with other trip members, no matter whether you want to hang around the hostel/campground, walk into town together, go on a mini-adventure, or just have long conversations. We also recognize that quiet personal time is important, and if you want to just do your own thing at our home base for the day, that will almost always be an option too.

One other way that we’ll put smiles on each other’s faces is with… food! We’ll cook dinner for each other every night of the trip, usually in teams of 2 teen participants assisted by one staff member. This is a great chance to develop your skills as a meal planner, grocery buyer, and dishwasher. (Don’t worry if you “can’t cook,” we’ll guide you!) Cooking is the oldest and best way to put a smile on someone else’s face, and you’ll get many chances to do just that.

In summary

If you’re excited about doing good for others, going on wild-and-weird mini-adventures, using your body in the outdoors, sleeping under the stars, and spending six weeks in the land of sheep and hobbits—then this is the adventure for you. Welcome!

Where We’ll Go

Below you’ll find a rough outline. We’ll go most places by bus.

North Island:
Paihia / Waitangi
Rotorua / Lake Taupo

South Island:
Nelson / Abel Tasman National Park
Mount Cook National Park
Lake Tekapo
Te Anau

Everyday Activities

While each day will look different, they’ll all include:

  • Breakfast provided by UA
  • Morning group meeting
  • Free time for exploring and relaxing
  • Lunch purchased by you
  • Dinner provided by UA
  • Dinner clean-up
  • Evening group meeting and check-in

A Taste of New Zealand

If you don’t know much about New Zealand, check out the Lonely Planet page to get a feeling for it. Even better, browse photos from our two previous 6-week group trips to New Zealand (each of which had a different and unique mission): New Zealand 2016 photos / New Zealand 2013 photos.

Casey, one of our New Zealand 2013 participants, made a wonderful video about her trip. It offers a feeling of New Zealand and daily life on an Unschool Adventures trip. Thanks, Casey! (Please note, the 2013 trip was much more hiking-oriented than the 2019 trip will be.)

Frequently Asked Questions

Who are the trip leaders?

The co-leaders for this trip are Ari Kosel (who was a trip leader on the Unschool Adventures Southeast Asia 2017 and Adventure Semester 2015 programs) and Nick McEachern (a first-time Unschool Adventures trip leader). Both Ari and Nick are highly experienced guides from the Outward Bound world.

They will be assisted by Katie Mitchell, who previously participated in the Unschool Adventures Adventure Semester 2015.

Learn more about all the leaders here.

What are the extra costs on this trip?

The program fee of $5500 includes:

  • Breakfasts and dinners
  • All accommodation and ground transport
  • All UA-sponsored group activities
  • Laundry (once a week)
  • Trip t-shirt

In addition to the program fee, participants are responsible for:

  • International group airfare to New Zealand from San Francisco International Airport (which may include one internal NZ flight between the islands), purchased through the U.A. group travel specialist (estimate: $1500-$1800)
  • Domestic airfare to/from San Francisco International Airport, purchased independently
  • Personal budget for lunches and snacks (we suggest US ~$10 per day)
  • Personal budget for souvenirs, toiletries, and activities* not sponsored by UA

*e.g. bungee jumping in Queenstown or taking a day tour of Milford Sound

Why New Zealand?

There are many different places where we might have fulfilled this trip’s mission—so why did we choose New Zealand?

First of all, we wanted good weather in November and December. Second of all, we wanted an English-speaking country so that we didn’t have to try to connect with people in a foreign language. That narrowed the choices down to Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.

We ended up choosing New Zealand because we’ve run a few trips there before, it’s safe for youth groups, and it’s simply a beautiful place. New Zealand has excellent public transport, hostels, hiking, and camping options. Perhaps most importantly, everyone in NZ (foreigners and locals alike) seem really happy to be there. Happy people are easier to connect with. So here we are!

How can I stay in touch with people at home?

New Zealand is a highly developed country with free wifi available in many places (hostels, campgrounds, cafes, etc), although the connection is typically not very fast. You’ll be able to message and email reliably; video and other services requiring more bandwidth will be challenging sometimes.

I’m not a huge fan of hiking and/or camping. Should I apply?

While there will be many opportunities to hike on this trip (it’s New Zealand, after all!), virtually none of them will be required. You’re free to opt out and stay back at home base (whether that’s a hostel or campground) anytime you wish. The only possible exception is if the group decides to go on a short overnight backpacking trip, in which case everyone will need to join.

Camping is something you will need to enjoy—or at least tolerate with a smile on your face—to have a successful trip. We will be doing a lot of camping, and we don’t want you to be miserable! Luckily, you’ll have ample time to prepare a comfortable camping system in the months before the trip. We’ll ask everyone to spend at least 3 nights in their tent before departure (even if it’s just in your backyard) to ensure that your sleeping system works well for you.

I don’t really care about helping other people—I just want to hang out with people and enjoy New Zealand. Should I apply?

No, you shouldn’t. :) Ha, sorry! This isn’t the right trip for you. We only want participants who are genuinely motivated to do good and make connections with new people. Please don’t apply if you don’t care about this mission or suspect that you’ll give up on it half-way through!

To be clear, this isn’t a full-blown service trip. On an average day, connection-oriented activities will absorb 1-4 hours, and much of the rest of the day will be yours.

Can I go anywhere and do anything during my free time?

Unschool Adventures gives its participants more freedom, responsibility, and opportunities for self-direction than the typical trip-leading company. We’re also still responsible for your safety, and to that end, we have some basic non-negotiable guidelines for unsupervised time:

  • When you go out, we ask you to stay in groups of 3 or larger—that means no solo wandering around town, sorry!
  • We require you to spend the night in UA-sponsored residences, and we sometimes won’t let you go out in small groups after dark (if we feel it’s too risky).
  • While we don’t have formal bedtimes, we do ask that you act like responsible young adults and not bother other people in our hostel / campground during the night. If we see that you’re not getting enough sleep to participate in our group activities, we’ll firmly request that you get your act together.
  • We have zero-tolerance rules about alcohol and drug consumption/possession.
  • Potentially risky or dangerous activities (e.g. renting bicycles, going on your own wilderness hike) always require trip leader approval first.

Is this an anti-technology or “digital detox” trip?

No! Despite the opening remarks on this page, we will not restrict your technology use in any way, aside from asking you to put your phone away during group meetings and check-ins. We invite you to Snap and Insta and Whatever your heart out, although we can’t always guarantee that we’ll have high-speed wifi (or any wifi at all) every day.

Our goal for this trip is to help you remember how awesome it feels to create meaningful real-world connections. You might even forget that your phone exists… at least for a little while ;)

I heard that a previous New Zealand group picked up rocks as their volunteering project.

That’s a statement, not a question. And yes, it’s true! It was hilarious in its own way. We’ll do our best to avoid completely mindless labor when arranging our longer-term volunteering gigs. But you never know… it just might be our fate to pick up some rocks! As long we’re doing it together, we’re confident we’ll have a good time.

What will the weather be like?

Check out the seasonal weather averages for New Zealand’s South Island here. You can expect warm days and cool nights with a mixture of sunny and rainy days.

Connecting sounds great, but… do we have to do it every single day?

We get it. Being an awesome, generous human being can be exhausting. So we’ll take one day “off” from the connection mission each week; we invite to spend that day in self-centered revelry!

What’s the shower and bathroom situation?

We’ll have warm showers and toilets available everywhere, with the exception of the brief time we may spend at a more rustic campground or doing a brief overnight camping trip, in which case you might not have a shower and the toilet will be composting instead of flush.

Do I need any special visas or vaccinations for New Zealand?

Americans and Canadians are issued a free 90-day tourist visa upon arriving in NZ, so there’s nothing to worry about there. Nor are strange vaccinations required; see the CDC guidelines for generally recommended precautions.

What gear do I need to bring?

We’ll provide a full packing list upon registration. Essentially, the only special gear you’ll need will include a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, sturdy shoes appropriate for hiking and outdoor manual labor, and a backpack that’s capable of carrying everything on your back. If you don’t own this stuff already, we recognize that it can be quite an investment. We recommend borrowing gear from a friend if possible. If not, please contact us and we’ll brainstorm together!

Can you accommodate my special diet?

We can accommodate vegetarians, vegans, and gluten-free diets. But please remember that while traveling and preparing meals with minimal cookware, it’s not easy to cater to special diets. The more restrictive your diet, the more flexibility and patience you’ll need to have a successful trip. Don’t worry, we’ll make sure you always get enough to eat!

What happens if I need medical attention?

A trip leader will take you to the nearest hospital or clinic. New Zealand has a modern healthcare system similar to that of the United States or Western Europe. We require that all participants are covered by health insurance, either through their primary insurer or via a supplementary traveler’s insurance policy.

When is the program fee due? How about the international flight?

A non-refundable deposit of $1500 is due upon enrollment to secure your spot. The balance of $4000 is due in early August. The program fee is payable by check or money order; you may also pay by credit card with a 3% surcharge.

The international plane tickets purchase happens 2-4 months before departure date, facilitated by our group travel specialist. Plane tickets are payable via credit card.

How do I apply? What are the steps? I’m ready to do this!

Applying is easy! Click the big “Apply Now” button, fill out the online application, and pay the $30 application fee. Apply by the Priority Application Deadline (February 24th) for your best chances of joining the trip!

In early March we’ll conduct our first round of Skype interviews with trip leaders. We do these brief interviews to ensure that you’re a good fit (in terms of motivation and preparation) for our adventure and to answer any questions you may have about the trip. Read more about preparing and interviewing for an Unschool Adventures trip.

After completing interviews with those who applied before the Priority Application Deadline, we’ll make our first round of enrollment offers. You’ll have two weeks to make up your mind about joining the trip. After that, we’ll start interviewing those who applied after the Priority Application Deadline and offer enrollment on a first-come, first-served basis.

Cheers, Kia Ora, and we’ll see you in New Zealand :)

More Questions?

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