Where to head when wanderlust hits?
I was about to finish my Masters degree in Sport Management when I realised that wanderlust was stronger than being reasonable and taking up a job offer. Getting started, I selected a few countries I’d love to see and did some research about what might be feasible. For most students – including me – just travelling is not affordable. Even though there is nothing better than buying a campervan and heading off - I also liked the idea of working abroad and diving into a different culture as well as exploring the sights.
Here, are some important things I used to organise myself a new home for my Gap Year.
Working: What's available?
There are heaps of opportunities to work abroad: Internships, Au Pair, work away, woofing, helpx, work and travel etc… Most of these options are unpaid, but room and board are free. If you are a student from Europe and opt for an internship, you can also apply for a scholarship called PROMOS.
Eventually, I chose an internship in New Zealand, at Hiking New Zealand, with a planned stop-over in Australia, to travel the world and gain professional experience along the way.
Working: What’s needed for a visa and health insurance?
Getting a working holiday visa for New Zealand is fairly easy, rather a formality than an application. You’ll get your Visa within a few days. But click through NZ’s Immigration website to find your best visa fit. In terms of health insurance hansemerkur is quite popular (at least in Germany) and will be agreed at once.
Climate: Why are New Zealander’s ignoring winter?
When heading to New Zealand don’t forget that from a European perspective everything is upside down here: seasons are swapped around and the further north in NZ you base yourself the warmer it is. I arrived in New Zealand in March, escaping the German winter and swapping it for a lovely autumn before the New Zealand winter in June – August. New Zealand's climate is mild, and ranges from subtropical in the north to temperate in the south. No matter the season, plenty of attractions are open year-round. The weather changes quickly and you might have several seasons in a day. What most Europeans miss when they live here during the winter is central heating and double glazed windows. You often find a log burner in South Island houses and if it is an older home it is usually only single glazed. I find it different to Germany where you enjoy freezing-cold outdoor activities in winter but whenever you are coming back home it’s warm and cosy, that’s not the case in New Zealand. So, make sure you have something warm to wear whilst you light the log burner or wait for the heat pump to heat your house. Or adapt quickly to the local attitude: wear jandals and shorts instead of fleeces and jeans ;)
Equipment: Less is more
Whoever reads this heading and saw the luggage I arrived with will laugh out loud!I read this advice as well but failed to follow it.
First of all, you can get everything in New Zealand. Maybe remember to bring an adaptor with you, a proper rain-jacket and comfortable hiking boots. Like everywhere else, in terms of hiking it’s an advantage to use several layers and apply the ‘onion-principle’.
Because New Zealand is an island, some goods are banned and you can’t enter the country with them (e.g. fresh fruits, honey), and other high risk goods need to be incredibly clean (e.g. camping equipment). Leave your mosquito repellent at home and buy some once you are here because sandflies and mosquitos don’t seem to be repelled by any European lotions.
Getting the full experience: Freedom-camping and Hiking
Besides working, you probably want to see as much of this beautiful country as you can. Several facebook groups exist, to buy/ sell a car, get a lift, meet travel mates etc. A very useful app is called campermate. You also might take advantage of transfer cars from one airport to another. At bookme.co.nz you can find great deals especially during the shoulder season. Public transport is limited compared to Europe, but still using the intercity bus system is quite handy to hop from city to city.
Buying a campervan and sleeping at remote places without any tourists around might be your plan. Just be aware of the rules regarding self-contained campervans and check out further information about freedom camping. Prices of official camping-grounds and hostels start around NZ$25 (non-powered campsite / dorm).
By the end of the peak summer season, all the backpackers try to sell their cars, vans and camping equipment. This is a great chance to get everything you need quite cheap but if you are selling it is a different story.
You can legally drive in New Zealand for up to 12 months if you have either a current driver's licence from your home country or an International Driving Permit. If you rent a car, a valid and full/unrestricted driving licence issued in Australia or New Zealand, -or- a legally confirmed English translation of your driving licence, accompanied by a valid driving licence from your country, is often required. And a little side note: oncoming traffic is on the left and vehicles are right hand drive.
Plan ahead! New Zealand has nine so called Great Walks, which are premier, well-groomed tracks and serviced (have gas) backcountry huts that pass through spectacular country. All Great Walks are booked through the DoC website well in advance (about 6 months) especially during the peak season (October-April). Don’t be limited to the Great Walks as there are numerous fantastic multi-day hikes throughout the country. If you are not an experienced hiker you may want to consider joining a small group tour such as Hiking New Zealand’s Kiwi-style hikes to gain some experience.
Be happy that you have chosen one of the most beautiful countries in the world and enjoy heaps of great activities in an uncrowded natural environment!