Australia, New Zealand, Fiji | Cultural Exploration

Join us for an active cultural adventure in the South Pacific on this summer program for high school students to Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji. Experience the otherworldly Australian outback, the alpine winter landscapes of New Zealand, and the island paradise of Fiji. With the help of local experts and your knowledgeable Putney Student Travel leaders, get beyond the typical tourist itinerary and experience these unique places and cultures in engaging and exciting ways.

  • June 27, 2016  –  July 28, 2016
  • July 4, 2016  –  August 4, 2016
Students completing grades 9 – 12
Cultural Exploration
Typical Group:
16 – 18 students, 2 leaders
32 days


  • Spot red kangaroos and thorny devils as you explore the rugged Australian outback.
  • Become a part of the crew as you sail among the tropical Whitsunday Islands.
  • Participate in a traditional haka dance and learn about its significance to the Maori people of New Zealand.
  • Observe sea turtles and giant clams up close as you scuba or snorkel the Great Barrier Reef.
  • Ski the light powder snow of New Zealand’s Southern Alps.
  • Participate in a traditional Fijian kava kava ceremony with our local hosts.


Adventure Down Under

This high school summer travel program to Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji combines outdoor adventure — snorkeling, sailing, skiing, and camping under the stars in the outback — with cultural exploration — living in rural New Zealand and lending a hand on a sheep farm, strolling the streets of cosmopolitan Sydney, hearing myths told by Aboriginal guides, as guests in a Maori village, and joining a Fijian ceremonial meal. In the course of just five weeks you can meet a wallaby, swim in turquoise water off a deserted South Pacific beach, take the wheel of your sailboat as you cruise along the Great Barrier Reef, visit the Sydney Opera House, milk a cow, learn to the rules of rugby with Kiwi friends, and lay down fresh tracks in Southern Hemisphere powder.

Local Experts

With over 30 years of experience running programs ‘Down Under’, we rely on the on-the-ground knowledge of Putney’s longtime contacts, who insure that you travel as an insider. From Aboriginal guides in the outback, experts in the natural and cultural history of the region, to our native Kiwi hosts, who introduce us to life on a sheep farm as well as the ski fields of the Southern Alps, to our hosts in a small Fijian village, Putney’s contacts grant us unique exposure to the places we visit.

Explore the outback while getting to know your fellow program participants.

Explore the outback while getting to know your fellow program participants.

Homestay Experience

Midway through the program, spend five days living with a Kiwi host family in the South Island’s sheep and dairy farming region.  This is an unusual and fascinating opportunity to participate in life in rural New Zealand while getting to know a local family. Help out with household and farm chores like cooking and sheep-shearing, and join the family on an outing to a rugby game, to spectacular geological sites such as the Moeraki Boulders, or to a traditional Maori hangi, a cultural performance and feast.

Final Adventure

After extended stays in Australia and New Zealand, we enjoy five days visiting the island paradise of Fiji, staying at a rustic eco-lodge. It is an ideal place to relax, defrost from the Southern Hemisphere winter, and reflect on the adventures we have experienced together as a group.

“I found a sense of independence in myself that I didn’t know I had. I think this program allowed me to be who I wanted to be. Our group was so close, and I was able to be myself around everyone. It brought out the best in me.”

— Helen Williams, The Hockaday School, Dallas, TX


Accommodations range from small family-run inns to campsites in the Australian bush, and berths on a sailing yacht to refuges high in snow country. We form cooking and cleaning crews for the skiing and bush portions of the itinerary. We eat most other meals at restaurants, as picnic lunches, or in the homes of our Kiwi, Aussie, and Fijian friends.

Physical Challenge Level

Our programs are active. Days are filled with movement — snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef, walking the streets of Sydney, or snowboarding on Mt. Cook are all activities you might participate in during this program. You do not need to be at peak fitness to participate, but it is important that you have a desire to be physically active, and that you are excited about trying all activities.

What to Expect

This is a physically active program. You should be enthusiastic about outdoor exploration and varied daily activities. Experience in skiing is not required. Beginners can take lessons and enjoy the range of terrain available. If you are scuba-registered, you will have an opportunity to take multiple dives in Australia and Fiji. You must be willing to contribute to the daily chores that are part of living cooperatively both with the group and in your homestay.

At Putney we take pride in our reputation for careful, thorough planning and attention to detail. The descriptions of our high school summer travel programs are based on our experiences in previous summers and our plans for this summer. It is inevitable that some things described here will not happen exactly as presented. To get the most out of the Putney experience, participants need to be flexible in responding to unforeseen situations, and creative in taking advantage of unexpected opportunities. We expect Putney participants to share responsibility for the success of their experience. Rules that provide a safe and structured environment, set curfews, and prohibit the use of alcohol, drugs, and tobacco are in place and enforced. We expect you to behave in a mature and productive way at all times.


$9,790 plus airfare


Putney organizes and reserves seats for students on a round-trip group flight from a gateway U.S. airport to your program destination. One or more of your group leaders will be at the airport to welcome you and to fly with the group on both departure and return. Please consult us for fares.


Learn about last year’s program by reading the 2014 Australia, New Zealand, Fiji Blog.

This program begins and ends at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). The following is a sample itinerary.

Departure • Travel day • Join the group to begin your adventure Down Under.  The group flight departs from Los Angeles International Airport, where you meet your leaders and set off for Sydney, Australia. One day is lost while crossing the International Date Line

Sydney 3 days • Experience life in lively Sydney. Take in a rugby match, explore the city by bike, visit the world famous Taronga Zoo, and have a picnic lunch down on “The Rocks”. Visit the Opera House, try out surfing, and enjoy cafes and galleries as you explore the streets and “laneways” of this thriving, cosmopolitan city.

Australian Bush 4 days  • From Sydney, fly to the town of Alice Springs and begin your adventure across the outback towards Uluru, the largest monolith on earth. Camp out at night in the “bush” and sleep under the stars. Listen to Dreamtime stories told by Aboriginal guides, catch a sunrise over this other-worldly landscape, and learn about the cultures that have lived here for over 40,000 years.

Set sail in the Whitsunday Islands.

Set sail in the Whitsunday Islands.

Sail the Whitsunday Islands5 days • Fly to Airlie Beach and board a yacht for a multi-day sailing trip through the spectacular Whitsunday Islands.  Snorkel or scuba on the Great Barrier Reef, sleep on deck under the brilliant Southern Hemisphere stars, and relax on white sand beaches. Lend the crew a hand as you learn the basics of sailing. Spot whales, dugongs, and dolphins from the ship as you make your way among the islands.

Christchurch and the Maori Experience 3 days • Bid goodbye to Australia and fly across the Tasman Sea to the Gothic city of Christchurch on the ruggedly beautiful South Island. Explore the gothic city of Christchurch and spend two days in a Maori village, learning the ancient traditions of New Zealand’s oldest surviving culture. Learn the haka, the fierce Maori war dance, discover how artists represent the Maori mythology in their art, and participate in a traditional Maori hangi ceremony.

New Zealand Homestay • 5 days • Join Kiwi host families for a five-day homestay.  Participate in sheep shearing or try your hand at milking a cow, watch a rugby match with homestay brothers and sisters, learn to make a traditional New Zealand meal, or take a “tramp” with your Kiwi family.

Ski or snowboard down Mount Hut.

Ski or snowboard down Mount Hut.

Skiing in New Zealand • 4 days • Visit a selection of New Zealand’s most famous “ski-fields” where adventurers of all abilities ski or board in snow-filled basins above the timberline. Lessons are available for beginners. Explore the alpine town of Wanaka, get lost in the mazes and illusions at Puzzle World, and break into cooking teams to prepare dinners back at the lodge.

Fiji 5 days • Wrap up your adventure at a rustic eco-lodge in Fiji, a tropical paradise in the South Pacific. Visit a local village elementary school, spend an afternoon learning about Fijian culture, and participate in traditional Fijian ceremonies. With its white sand beaches and opportunities for snorkeling, scuba diving, canoeing, surfing, horseback rides, and volleyball, it is an ideal place to relax with new friends from the group before the journey home.

“This trip solidified my daughter’s capacity to do things on her own, to face new experiences wholeheartedly, without fear.”

— Luz Sabillon and Carlos Acosta, parents of Laura Acosta Sabillon, Country Day School, San Jose, Costa Rica

Return • Travel Day • Fly with the group and leaders from Nadi, Fiji, to Los Angeles International Airport. Continue to your final destination on a connecting flight.

This itinerary represents our best projection of the group’s schedule.  However, we may implement changes designed to improve the quality of the program.



Background • The South Pacific is an area as rich in cultural history as it is in biodiversity and scenic beauty.  From the stunning coral of the Great Barrier Reef to the snow-capped peaks of New Zealand’s Southern Alps and the white sand beaches of the Fijian islands, we explore the unique landscapes and cultures of these three countries. Through visits to Aboriginal, Maori, and Fijian communities, learn how indigenous cultures are managing to maintain traditions in increasingly diverse cultural landscapes.

Head to the South Island for homestays, hikes, and visits to local farms.

Head to the South Island for homestays, hikes, and visits to local farms.

Population • The population of Australia is approximately 22 million, with nearly 5 million living in Sydney.  New Zealand is home to a population of over 4 million. Fiji has a population of 850,000, most being indigenous Fijians.

Language • English is an official language in all three countries.  In New Zealand, Maori is also spoken, and in Fiji most of the population speak either Fijian or Hindi.

Climate • Our summer is winter Down Under. Temperatures in Sydney are cool, with highs in the 50’s and 60’s. Temperatures in the Outback can drop to the 30’s at night and climb to the 60’s during the day. In the tropical climate of Queensland, daytime temperatures are typically in the mid 70’s to low 80’s, with little rainfall.  Winter in New Zealand means temperatures in the 40’s at lower elevations, and snow in the Southern Alps.  Fiji is tropical — warm  and humid, with highs in the 80’s.

Teens travel to Fiji on summer program abroad

Spend some time with Fijian friends.

Cuisine • The strong British influence in Australia and New Zealand can be seen in their cuisine: meat pies, fish and chips, stews, and hearty breakfasts.  Recent immigration has brought along with it cuisine from the Mediterranean and Asia.  Traditional Fijian cuisine incorporates seafood, root vegetables, and coconut milk into many dishes as well as fresh tropical fruits.

Currency • The currencies used in Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji are the Australian dollar (AUD), New Zealand dollar (NZD), and Fijian dollar (FJD), respectively.  We will have regular access to ATMs in all three locations.

“We could not be more pleased with the trip. Drew came back a more mature and open young man. He will hold dear the memories and experiences from his trip for the rest of his life.”

— Ruth and John Schmid, parents of Drew Schmid, Francis Parker School, San Diego, CA

Visa  U.S. citizens must obtain a tourist visa to enter Australia. Since a valid passport is a part of the visa application, it is important to obtain your passport well in advance of departure. Putney Student Travel provides detailed information about how to apply for a visa. Non-U.S. citizens must check local visa requirements, including requirements for countries passed through in transit.


The Cultural Exploration Australia, New Zealand, Fiji program is directed by Hannah Gilkenson. If you have questions, are interested in receiving more detailed information, or would like to talk further about the program or any of our high school summer programs abroad, please get in touch!

Hannah Gilkenson

Hannah Gilkenson: University of Michigan, B.S., Anthropology, Zoology. Before joining Putney as the ecology instructor on a Foundations program, Hannah had spent six years studying monkeys in Costa Rica. She has led programs in Costa Rica, Peru, Ecuador, Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji. She has also served as the Director of the Foundations Costa Rica and the Director of our Pre-College program at Amherst College. Hannah oversees programs in Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji and coordinates curriculum and hiring for our Pre-College Programs. A Vermont native, Hannah loves hiking with her husband, son, and dog, snow shoeing in the winter, camping in the Green Mountains and, of course, traveling.

How To Apply


If you are new to Putney Student Travel, visit our Online Application.  
If you are a Putney Student Travel alumni family, 
use your existing account information to Log In.


You can hold a space in a program by completing the Online Application Form, submitting a signed Agreement Form, and providing the $700 Application Deposit by Mastercard, Visa, or Discover Card through our secure online system or by sending a check to our office. Our admissions staff is also available to take credit card information over the phone.  We will hold a space in a program for a reasonable time, pending completion of the full application process. See Step 3.

After March 15, we will hold a space temporarily as above, but we must receive full payment by check or wire transfer within three days to continue to hold a space in the program.


Before we can make a final admissions decision, an application must be complete.  In addition to the Application Form and Application Deposit described above, a complete application includes:

  • Applicant Statement – Attach a statement explaining why you would like to join a Putney program and what you feel you can contribute to it. Your application cannot be processed without this statement. Approximately 150–300 words is sufficient. Global Action applicants’ statements must be 300-500 words addressing these questions, and detailing their interest and/or experience in the country and issues on which they wish to focus.
  • Two Teacher Reference Forms

These documents are available as part of our Online Application.  We review a completed application within a few days, and notify families of our admissions decision by e-mail.