Gap Year Guide to Australia and New Zealand
So you’re thinking of taking a gap year to explore Australia and New Zealand? Good on you – as the Aussies say – you’re in for a great time! Of course, getting ready to say “g’day” to a whole new country can be nerve-wracking. There’s a mountain of things to plan, check out and decide, which is exactly why we’ve put together this handy intro to planning your gap year Down Under.
Working: what’s available?
What’s the most logical way to fund your time overseas? Working, of course. Gap year travelers typically find work serving in restaurants, making coffee, or become employed as promoters at special events, in retail and, of course, as fruit pickers and packers. For jobs in hospitality or customer service, you’ll need to show your ability to work in English, whereas less customer-focussed work (such as fruit picking or cleaning) won’t necessarily require a high level. Newly arrived? Many hostels will help find you work or will employ guests themselves (in reception or as cleaners) while they find their feet. To snag a job, hit the streets with a well-written CV or have an agency set you up with work.
Working: what’s needed for a visa?
Temporary working visas and reciprocal agreements are available to citizens of Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong, the UK and many European countries, allowing them to work for 12 months in Australia. The “Working Holiday Maker Programme” offers the Working Holiday and Work and Holiday visas (find out more at the Australian Immigration’s website), offered to young people (18-30 years old) wishing to supplement their Australian travels by working. Travelers must hold return tickets and show proof of funds for their trip (around AU$5,000 is recommended).
Travelers interested in exploring New Zealand should click through NZ’s Immigration website to find their best visa fit.
Volunteering: best resources
Saved up and plan on skipping employed life altogether? Consider volunteering: there are plenty of ways to volunteer your time to an excellent cause. Check out listed opportunities at charities on sites such as Volunteering Australia.org, GoVolunteer.com.au and Volunteering NZ, find reviews of existing volunteer programs on GoOverseas.com or head to interest-specific sites such as Conservation Volunteers Australia or UNICEF NZ.
On the other hand, networks like WWOOF and HelpX allow travelers to “work for their keep” on farms, B&Bs and lodges (among other hosts), offering a cheap and rewarding way to get to know the country.
Studying: taking an English course
While you likely had to prove a working knowledge of English before applying for your Tourist, Student or Working Holiday visa, you’ll probably want to dive deep into your studies once you land. Working with real live locals in a café, office or in a shop will boost your level to no end, but if you’re keen to follow a more studious route, taking a longer English course is a great way to progress academically and meet other travelers.
But in a big country like Oz, where should you study? In Australia, bright-lights Sydney and sunny Brisbane are top choices for language students, with both cities sporting lively international communities, postcard-worthy beaches and quality language schools. In New Zealand, head to charming Auckland.
Living: finding a home away from home
Finding awesome accommodation in Australia and New Zealand is not a one-size-fits-all sort of situation. If you’re staying put in a city for some time because of work or study, you might like to share a flat or house with others. To get started, browse sites like Flatmate Finders and Flatmates.com.au, chat to your work colleagues or speak to reception at your hostel or language school.
If you want to experience living in a typical Australian or New Zealand home, but don’t want to be a fully-fledged renter, a homestay might be for you. Homestays are cultural exchanges – usually for students – in which a family or couple hosts your in their home. In a homestay situation, you’ll be given your own room, share meals with your hosts and may even go out with them to explore their city. (Begin searching at the Homestay Network or arrange this through your language school.)
For even cheaper options, housesitting provides a way to travel long-term while saving on accommodation costs (start your search on sites like Housecarers.com and Trustedhousesitters.com). House sitters are responsible for caring for a local’s home (and sometimes pets) while they are away, so – needless to say – you must be able to demonstrate trustworthiness and honesty. This option best suits travelers who have lived alone or in shared houses and who wish to stay for several weeks or months in a single location.
On the other hand, if you’re planning on taste-testing a selection of cities, beaches and towns, Couchsurfing might be a better fit. Using this international network, travelers stay in locals’ homes for free and sleep on anything from a mattress on the floor, to a couch or spare bedroom. This system also relies heavily on trust, so it’s essential to do your research before approaching a potential host.
Traveling: where to head when wanderlust hits
Most of Europe fits inside Australia, meaning it’s no small cookie of a country, while tinier, neighboring New Zealand is packed with choice for adventurous travelers. With so many corners to explore, you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to planning your gap year Down Under. Beach and surfing fans usually head to Queensland’s Gold and Sunshine Coasts, or go west to the Indian Ocean’s shores.
Lovers of diving and snorkelling generally make a beeline for North Queensland’s tropical beaches and epic dive sites along the Great Barrier Reef and the Whitsunday Islands, while hikers can’t go wrong on Tasmania’s world-renowned Overland Track or New Zealand’s Milford and Routeburn Tracks. If lights and city life are what you’re hoping for, make no mistake: Sydney and Melbourne don’t disappoint while littler sisters Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and New Zealand’s Auckland provide more laidback city life alternatives.
Snow bunnies can strap on their gear at Thredbo and Perisher in Oz, or head across the spit to New Zealand’s Queenstown. Want extreme sports? New Zealand – full of bungee jumping, kayaking, mountain biking, sky-diving, and more – should be your base camp.
Bonus tip: how to cover the country
Both countries are driver-friendly and make for great road trip destinations. In fact, it’s common for long-term travelers to buy a vehicle upon arrival (usually a van or campervan) and drive/camp their way around before selling it on to another group at the end of the road. (There are also a number of companies specializing in campervan rentals.)
If driving isn’t your thing, Australia and New Zealand both have good domestic flight networks, or you can take advantage of their “hop on, hop off” bus services.
Image by Fred Hsu, Flickr / Creative Commons