New Zealand High School Expedition

Split by glacier-carved mountains and fringed by wild beaches and stunning fords, New Zealand’s South Island beckons thrill-seekers to find adventure amid its natural wonders. Experience the island’s epic landscapes, exploring them as an adventurer would—from hiking and biking to snowboarding and rafting.

June 27 – July 14, 2019
July 15 – August 1, 2019
Airfare is not included. We have arranged group flights from Los Angeles to Christchurch, connecting through Auckland, and return to Los Angeles.

Trip Highlights

  • Soar over New Zealand’s highest peaks and discover ice caves while snowshoeing atop a glacier.
  • Learn the art of adventure photography, and practice conveying motion while shooting your group’s mountaineering, horseback riding, and zip-lining excursions.
  • Ski or snowboard down the powdery slopes of the Southern Alps, and document all the action for a short adventure film.
  • Go black-water rafting in a cave lit by glowworms, and take a wet ride along natural rock water slides.

Itinerary | 18 days

Days 1–3

View Images

Our expedition begins in the coastal city of Christchurch. Head out on your first assignment to document the city's innovative street art installations, interview shopkeepers at an outdoor market, or snap portraits of local artists. Visit an animal sanctuary and get up close to native species from around New Zealand, including the peculiar kiwi bird.

Days 4–8

Travel north to the alpine village of Hanmer Springs. With camera in hand, explore forests of giant redwoods on foot or mountain bike, and soak in thermal pools. Then head to the spectacular West Coast to explore the rugged coastline on foot, hiking to hidden caves and taking photos of powerful sea bursts surging up through Punakaiki's intriguing "pancake rock" formations. Spend a day black-water tubing through caverns lit by thousands of tiny glowworms, traveling to the cave entrance via zipline and finishing the adventure on a series of natural rock slides. Continue south to Westland Tai Poutini National Park, home to the Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers, and take in the views on a sunrise hike around Lake Matheson. Practice light painting and night photography on Haast Beach, at the heart of the Te Wahipounamu World Heritage area.

Days 9–11

Spend two days exploring Wanaka, one of the best skiing and snowboarding destinations in the Southern Hemisphere. Hit the slopes, and then hone your action photography and filmmaking skills as you capture local athletes doing jumps and tricks. One of the iconic symbols of the area is the Wanaka Tree, a lone tree that grows tenaciously out of the waters of Lake Wanaka. Rise early to photograph the tree at sunrise, set against a backdrop of snowy peaks. Traverse the surrounding wilderness on horseback, and hike up Mount Iron for panoramic views of the surrounding lakes and mountains.

Days 12–14

Kick the adventure into high gear with a mountaineering expedition on the slopes of New Zealand's highest peak, Aoraki, or Mount Cook. Soar above the snow-covered Southern Alps, and touch down on top of the massive Tasman Glacier. Outfitted with snowshoes and ice picks, we'll join expert guides to explore this wintry wilderness of glacial icefalls and otherworldly ice caves. Later, dive into a glacial pond for a chilly bath. Break out your camera to frame an amazing sunrise over these spectacular landscapes, or go on an after-dark photo or video shoot to capture scenes of a star-studded sky.

Pull Quote
New Zealand is such a mystical place, with breathtaking landscapes and amazing people who have a spiritual connection to the land.
Ulla Lohmann, National Geographic Photographer

Days 15–18

Head east to the colonial town of Oamaru and try your hand at sheep shearing during an overnight stay in a farming community. See the giant spherical Moeraki Boulders on a visit to Koekohe Beach, and ride a high-wheeled penny-farthing bicycle. Then spend the night in a marae, or meeting ground, and delve into Maori culture with tribal elders. Our adventure concludes in Christchurch, where we'll wrap up our On Assignment projects and present them to the group before your flight home.

Our high school expeditions are for students in grades 9-12, and offer opportunities to get out into the field and discover fascinating destinations across the globe through the lens of an On Assignment project. Each expedition offers a choice of two or three areas of focus, such as photography, geology, or wildlife conservation. Students travel alongside a team of highly-qualified trip leaders—college graduates with extensive experience in the field, who love working with students. A National Geographic expert joins for a portion of the trip (four to eight days) to share their insights, and inspire students with their passion for the work they do and the places they will discover. The group size ranges between 14 and 28 participants, and the student-to-trip-leader ratio is usually between six and eight to one and never more than nine to one.
This expedition includes several active excursions, such as hiking, skiing, and biking. Students should be physically fit and enthusiastic about outdoor exploration.
We stay in family-run inns, small hotels, and family-style cabins throughout the expedition.

Jason Edwards, Photographer

Meet Our Experts

Award-winning Australian photographer Jason Edwards has been at the forefront of natural history photography for two decades. A passion for animals and the environment defines his extensive career. Since embarking on that career at the Royal Melbourne Zoo, Jason has produced images for everything from environmental campaigns to Hollywood blockbusters. His work has appeared in hundreds of publications including National Geographic magazine, BBC Wildlife, Australian Geographic, Sports Illustrated, Condé Nast Traveler, and The New Yorker. Jason is also the host of the National Geographic Channel’s Pure Photography, and an author of science education books. Jason will join the July 15 departure of the New Zealand expedition.

Ulla Lohmann, Photojournalist and Filmmaker

Photojournalist, filmmaker, and adventurer Ulla Lohmann has sailed around the world, explored volcanoes in some of the most remote places on the planet, and traversed the African continent using only biodiesel. She spends much of her time working with indigenous cultures in Australia and the South Pacific. Based in the German Alps, she is a regular contributor to the National Geographic Channel and National Geographic magazine (France and Germany), and recently published a book about Italy’s Dolomites with National Geographic Books. Ulla will join the June 27 departure of the New Zealand expedition.

On Assignment Projects

Discover New Zealand’s natural beauty through your camera lens and document your adventures among the South Island’s summits, glaciers, and gorges. Capture athletes in motion, snapping shots of snowboarders catching air or rugby players lining up for a scrum. Shoot scenery under a variety of light conditions—from skies lit by Southern Hemisphere constellations to beaches aglow at sunset—and experiment with techniques like time-lapse and panning. There is a supplemental fee of $150 for this On Assignment project.
Strap on your camera or GoPro and record high- impact footage as you trek across glaciers, get an aerial view of the Southern Alps as you soar above the Tasman Glacier, and tear down powdery slopes on a snowboard or skis. Document the ethereal light of thousands of glowworms as you black-water raft through caves. Film your friends throughout your explorations, and use mobile-editing technology to produce short action and adventure films. There is a supplemental fee of $250 for this On Assignment project.