Intern Down Under celebrates the best of Auckland and Sydney with a five day orientation in both locations. We take students to the wild corners: from remote beaches to mountain trails. Learn about the Aboriginals and the Maori people who first roamed these lands. Discover wildlife unique to the Pacific. Hear from locals on what makes their homes so unique.


Blue Mountains

The Blue Mountains caught my imagination some fifteen years ago when I first traveled the country. The chance to share the eucalyptus-covered canyons with Intern Down Under participants was surely the highlight of my trip. The Park is home to waterfalls, steep cliffs, and both dry and wetland forests. Our crew emerged from the trails a tad redder, but all the better, for the experience.

My Impressions of the Blue Mountains

By Alana Elliott

We started our Blue Mountain adventure at the Culture Center in the town of Katoomba. Here we learned a little about the mountains and the animals that call the place home. We found ourselves in a beautiful exhibit that had projections of local plants and trees up on the wall and sounds of the animals completed the ambiance. After taking in some facts, I headed to the trails with a new perspective and excited to witness one of the most fascinating areas I have been lucky enough to visit."


Since I'm not the biggest hiker, I decided on a short 30-minute trail called Three Sisters Walk. Hannah and I were delighted by the trail we chose. The mountain views were stunning. There were plenty of lookouts to take photos. They showed the natural beauty of Australia and let us brag a little to our friends and family back home. The trail was very easy which allowed us to joke around and dance as we meandered, as opposed to the guys and their five-mile intense mountain climbing. Thirty minutes later we finished our loop.

With nearly three hours before the boys would return, we decided to walk up the road towards town and see what other fun things were in the area. We first stopped at a small chocolate shop which had free tastings, the perfect reward after our strenuous (a little bit of an overstatement) hiking! We continued and found ourselves in an amazing alleyway called Street Art Walk Katoomba. We explored the alley and found colorful murals sprawling over all the sides of the buildings. We had an impromptu photo shoot with some of the images in the background and after about twenty minutes made our way back to the trails.  Once the boys had finished their hike, we all hopped back in the van for our two-hour journey back to our new homes, filled with the excitement of the day!

Royal National Park

Royal National Park was an off-the-beaten-track stop on our Sydney tour. Our crew wanted to visit places that they might not otherwise see and Royal certainly met the criteria.  An hour drive south of the city, Royal boasts hiking opportunities where you start in the lowland hills and end up on secluded coastlines. Pulling off the scenic road, we only had to walk a hundred yards into the bush to discover the unique wildness of the area. Together we discussed the philosophy of Park preservation and how the idea is one of the great exports of the West.   A popular destination in the Park are the Figure Eight Pools. They provide a stunning reward after a bush hike.  

Bondi Beach

Bondi Beach is one of the most happening places in Australia. Coming over a hilltop, we caught a glimpse of the swarms of people with sunburnt flesh. There was a collective “wow” that came from all seats in the van. In short, this was THE beach that they had seen in pictures and imagined when they got on the plane to Australia. We had some “foodies” who spent their time in search of unique cuisine. Others were content to shed their shoes and walk near the shore break. Still, others curled up under trees to read a favorite book. Like many of our stops, this was a place where everyone got to do their own thing. One of the highlights of the area were the “Icebergs” – man-made pools with waves crashing over their sides.

Dee Why Beach

Dee Why Beach is just forty-five minutes north of Sydney and has a remarkably wild feel given its proximity to the big city. Our crew spent half a day enjoying birdlife, hiking the shoreline, and swimming in the Pacific Ocean.  The town has a unique array of restaurants and coffee shops with an international flavor.  The group got a kick out of the boisterous sulfur-crested cockatoos moving tree-to-tree. The birds split time receiving handouts from nearby homeowners and “beak fare” of fruits and berries from the preserve.  The group got a kick out of the boisterous sulfur-crested cockatoos moving tree-to-tree. The birds split time receiving handouts from nearby homeowners and “beak fare” of fruits and berries from the preserve.

Manly Beach

Manly Beach really turned heads with this group. There was instant excitement as soon as the van door opened and our crew poured into the streets. With so many restaurants and pubs to choose from, there was a lot of discussion before a final sit down. One of the most famous surfing beaches in all of Australia, Manly offers golden sand with opportunities to snorkel, dive, and barbecue. The area is also a marine protected area that supports some of the best coral reefs on the Northern Beaches. 

The lively town has some landmark hotels that locals frequent on weeknights where they play competitive ping pong or try their hand at bar trivia. Manly is a great compromise for people who love to spend their time both in nature and in city. A definite stop within the Northern Beaches! 


Wangarei Falls

Whangarei Falls was our first long road trip out of Auckland. The journey took us a good two-and-a-half hours north across a mixed landscape of wooded hills and farmland. We had lunch at a Western motif “saloon” in the town of Whangarei and then onto the Falls. The adventurous among us hiked around the lake and under the cascades.  

Rukaka Beach

Ruakaka Beach, thirty minutes south of Whangarei, provided the quintessential South Pacific beach experience. The adventurous unpacked boogie boards and headed into the water. While they were slipping and sliding, others played nerf football and endured a lot of dropped passes.

Before our return to Auckland, we gathered in a semi-circle to discuss the natural history of the area. We reviewed the role of plate tectonics and hot spot volcanism in shaping the landscape before us. We considered how the islands in the distance would have been part of the hill country connected by dry plains when ocean levels were lower during the last ice age.  

Waipapa Marae

Waipapa Marae introduced us to Maori architecture and a traditional meeting compound. As explained by our guide, the ancestor deities of the Maori people look over the courtyard but welcome respectful visitors. In a real way,  Waipapa is a pan-Pacific gathering place with visitors from Fiji, Cook Islands, Hawaii, and others are welcomed by the Maori community.  


Auckland Domain

Auckland Domain is where New Zealand history comes alive. At the National Museum, we took in the largest Maori exhibition in the world.  Specifically, I spoke to our group about Polynesian voyaging techniques and the sailing prowess of the Maori and how they settled one of the remote island chains in the world.  


Next, we headed outdoors to the grassy fields and gardens that surround the area. Joined by a licensed guide, we learned about the New Zealand’s participation in the battle of Gallipoli and ANZAC day which commemorates the tremendous loss of life in that battle.  


The nearby gardens were a big hit. Landscapers transformed an unsightly mining pit into a fern forest. Hannah had a chance to return to the Auckland Domain and take in a traditional Maori performance. Other group members returned to catch the famed Lantern Festival. Food stations with Asian treats and beautiful pools filled with detailed lanterns afloat made it a night to remember.    


Piha Beach

Piha Beach was a highlight for many on the trip. Led by a local guide named Jafa Dave, the crew traveled an hour from Auckland to the black sand beaches of Piha. Born of recent volcanic episodes, the landscape boasts impressive cliffs interspersed with biologically diverse wetlands. The crashing Pacific Ocean is never out of earshot. 

Piha is also one of New Zealand's most famous surf beaches with people traveling from all over the world to catch the waves. Jafa Dave led the group up nearby cliffs to take in views like the one above. They also had a nice “toes-inthesand” sit down with Dave to learn about local customs and what it was like growing up in the Auckland area.  


Arataki was my favorite day of the tour. As a native Minnesotan, I have a soft spot for forests and lakes. Arataki offers a world-class interpretive center as well as challenging trails through the densest bush on the North Island.


I hired a botanist who worked at the Park to interpret the diverse flora and fauna of the area. He happened to be a world-class jujitsu master in his off hours. How those two things go together, I cannot tell you. However, he certainly caught the attention and imagination of our group whose questions alternated from plant propagation to take-down techniques. We finished our day hiking on the Sir Edmund Hillary trail.


With magnificent views of the Lower Nihotupu Reservoir and the Pacific Ocean in the distance, Arataki is a must see. 

Mission Bay

Mission Bay is one of the locations that makes living and working in Auckland such a treat. A short ten-minute drive from our apartments, Mission Bay is a world apart from the big city. Our crew made the most of their time renting paddle boards, swimming, and walking the coastline.


After some beachcombing, Hannah and Alana discovered a local favorite,    
Movenpick Ice Creamery. A terrific place to spend a Friday night. Mission Bay restaurants are open late and a boutique theater treats visitors to movie night Auckland-style.    

The University Auckland

The University of Auckland provided a glimpse of higher education New Zealand style. Joined by a professional guide, we got an introduction to the unique history of the campus and surrounding neighborhoods. Our guide focused on the architecture with its mix of historic, modern, and postmodern designs.

Impressed by the gym on campus, one of our crew signed up for a membership and went there regularly after work.

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