So You Are Going to New Zealand?

I am home, back in Detroit and enjoying summer in the Great Lakes.  Being home has been an incredible whirlwind.  I have spent time with family, started  wedding planning, taken a restorative justice class, visited friends, and attended a National Endowment for Humanities summer seminar on Frankenstein and adaptations.  This is my first summer that I have not not taught summer school and it has been so nice to relax and ease back into life in the United States.  Despite enjoying being home, I keep thinking about my time in New Zealand.

I am so grateful for my Fulbright experience.  New Zealand is such an incredible place.  Everywhere is beautiful, really everywhere, which makes it difficult to recommend places you must visit.   Below I listed some Wellington specific advice and some places I really enjoyed traveling to in New Zealand.

Wellington Specific Advice

1.)  Arrange housing before you arrive.

This should be abundantly clear during orientation, but secure housing a few months before arrival.  Major cities in New Zealand are facing a housing crisis, this is particularly amplified in Wellington.  The demands are extremely high for housing.  The Fulbright stipend is generous and will support housing, but it definitely needs to be secured before arriving.   I lived in Aro Valley, which is just down the hill from Victoria University.  The neighborhood was great.  It was about a twenty minute walk to the harbor and a ten minute walk to Cuba Street.  I shared the apartment with another Fulbright DAT.  I loved having a roommate while there; we were able to travel together, support each other with the inquiry project, and process the experience together.  I have heard of previous Fulbrighters finding Kiwi roommates and enjoying that experience as well (if you are interested in this, trademe may be a good site to look into).

If you are looking for a more budget friendly neighborhood that is not directly in the CBD, I would recommend looking at places in Newtown.  It is a diverse neighborhood with great restaurants and tons of public transportation.  It is very easy to get to the CBD and Victoria from here as well.  If I were to live in Wellington long term, this is the neighborhood I would prefer to settle in.

2.)  Use public transportation.

Speaking of public transportation, it is definitely available and fairly easy to operate in the Wellington region.  You will want to get a Snapper card upon arrival.  They are available at most bodega type stores.  With your Snapper card, do not forget that you need to tap on and tap off, otherwise it will charge you for the entire route.  The Snapper card will work for buses, ferries to the local islands, and the cable car.  If you use your Snapper card on the cable car, you wont have to wait in the long line to purchase one.

The schools I visited were mostly outside of the city, either in the Hutt Valley or near Porirua.  You need to take the train to get to these areas.  When you go to purchase your train ticket, you can purchase a 5 fare card, which will save you money long term.

3.)  Get a Zealandia membership. 

Zealandia is the world’s largest urban island sanctuary.   It is breathtaking and a wonderful way to spend a few hours.  Memberships are discounted for students (just bring your Vic ID).  With a membership you get free admission, half off admission for up to 5 guests, and half off tours for yourself and your quests.  I did the night tour several times there because I am obsessed with kiwis and loved seeing them roaming around.  Also, you can see the Takahe, one of the rarest bird species in the world.

Image result for takahe

4.)  Take advantage of the Fulbright network

I waited far too long to do this, and definitely wish I would have earlier.  When you first arrive, it is challenging to get into schools and build a network.  Many of the former New Zealand Fulbrighters are happy to have you come visit their schools or recommend a colleague’s school/ classroom to visit.  Fulbright arranges a mixer after orientation, which is where I was able to make connections.  Also, the Fulbright NZ office has a list of current and former Fulbrighters, and they are happy to share contact information of teachers who may be useful to your project.  Join them for morning tea and inquire about who may be able to help.  I also reached out to a former DAT after reading her blog and realizing our projects were fairly similar.  She was able to give me recommendations of schools to visit.

5.)  Explore the greater Wellington region- so many great day trips 

The greater Wellington region is beautiful.  Some of my favorite day trips were; going up the Kapiti coast and exploring the beaches, Putangirua Pinnacles and hiking around, seeing the seals at Cape Palliser, bike/ wine tour in Matinborough, and taking the ferry to Picton.

Green Jersey Cycle Tours offers tours or transportation to many of the above places.  We used them to get to Martinborough because the train schedule from Wellington to Martinborough is not the best.


Traveling in New Zealand is easy and fairly cheap.  I often used grabaseat to find good deals on airline travel.  I also recommend traveling early.  When I arrived I was eager to explore Wellington and spent my first few weeks staying in the city.  In retrospect, I wish I would have used this time to travel.  Once you begin working on your ethics application, you have considerably less free time and you will need to stay in Wellington to meet with your adviser and do revisions to the application.

Below are some of my favorite experiences I had while traveling in New Zealand.

Penguin watching in Dunedin

The Otago Peninsula, right outside of Dunedin, is home to the albatros, blue penguins, yellow eyed penguins, fur seals, and sea lions.   We arranged a small tour to go to see wildlife and it was one of the highlights of my time in New Zealand.  While there we were able to watch penguins coming in from fishing and hop into the forest where they sleep at night.

Biking around Hawkes Bay

Hawkes Bay is a fairly easy four hour drive from Wellington.  It is a large agricultural region in New Zealand, and has orchards and fresh fruit everywhere.  We rented bikes and did a wine tour through the countryside.  We ran into fig farms, apple orchards, and vineyards while biking.  Napier, which is the Art Deco capital of the world, is located in Hawkes Bay.  There is an Art Deco festival in February that we missed by one weekend.

Visiting the far north and rural schools

The Northland region was one of my favorite areas in New Zealand.   Small towns, incredible farmers markets, beautiful beaches, and an opportunity to the visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds.  Amanda, my roommate, met a teacher who used to work in that region, and gave her contact information for a principal, Queenie, in a small rural school.  The school was a k-8 school and had about 25 students.  We visited on a Friday morning and were welcomed with a powhiri and the boys in the school performed a haka.  We also happened to visit on a day where the local men were doing a hangi fundraiser.  The kids took us on a bush walk and we had morning tea with the teachers.  Our conversation about pedagogy over morning tea (while roosters casually meandered into the kitchen) was one of the most memorable conversations I had while in New Zealand.  Because the school is so small, the teachers have complete freedom in their curriculum and decision making.  The school focused on culturally responsive, play based instruction.  The students were designing their own playground and then building it based on the materials they requested.  They were also planning a foraging and hunting festival for the town.  The staff at the school were intentional about the curriculum being relevant and personal to the students.  They were huge proponents of play and outdoor education.


Renting a campervan

I was intimidated to rent a campervan, but was encouraged by nearly everyone I met to do so. I decided it had to go on my New Zealand bucket list.  We rented a campervan and did the nothern west coast of the South Island.  The roads in the South Island are smaller and less populated than the cities in the North, which make them fairly easy to navigate, even with a large vehicle.  It is a completely different feeling by campervan.  We went with Britz and did not have any problems with them.  I definitely recommend taking the plunge and renting a campervan.


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Gabrielle Popp

My name is Gabrielle Popp. I am a high school English teacher at a center based special education school for children with severe emotional and behavioral disorders. I work with children from all over Wayne County, Michigan. This February, I will be going to New Zealand on a Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching grant. I am looking forward to researching best practices on increasing community engagement opportunities for children and adults with special needs. This blog is an opportunity to share my insights and thoughts about teaching special education in the United States and aboard.

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