At the time of booking my trip, after a heap of research I decided as a 26 year old solo female traveler, the best option for me to travel around New Zealand was by using the Kiwi Experience travel network.
The Kiwi Experience advertises itself as being a hop-on-hop on bus, guarantees your first night’s accommodation at each stop (but only your first night mind) and whilst travelling with kiwi, the bus driver is also your savvy guide and a mine of information – so pick their brains and ask lots of questions!
There are of course pros and cons to using the kiwi bus. On the whole I did not have much choice, with my options being:
1. Wait in Auckland to meet someone/a group who would be willing to hire a campervan and travel NZ with.
• This was not an option for me as I only had 6 weeks in NZ and couldn’t afford to spend a lengthy amount of time waiting to meet someone to travel with.
2. Hire a campervan alone.
• Clearly this is a big no no. How lonely that would be!
3. Hop from city to city using the bus services (InterCity, Nakedbus)
• This is fine for a few trips such as Christchurch to Kaikoura, but they don’t stop along the way and it is much more stressful to have to book each and every jouney seperately if you are not staying in each place for a lengthy amount of time. Time saving and easier to just book a pass on Kiwi Experience!
4. There are not many bus tour packages in New Zealand, after all it is a small country that does not want a million buses running through it every day, therefore the Kiwi Experience and Stray are the 2 favoured companies to go with.
• Kiwi experience had better reviews over Stray and generally seemed more popular, which is why I booked a ticket and decided to travel with them.
Having made my decision, I booked the ‘fush&chups’ pass, which was made up of the core ‘funky chicken’ pass with the ‘bay & cape’ extra added on. Here you can find a fab PDF outlining all the different passes available and the routes taken by the Kiwi bus.
So, let’s start with the Pros
- I met some great friends on the Kiwi bus, whom I have kept in touch with since returning home. There is no doubt you will meet ALOT of people, so if you are new to travelling solo, this is a great way to meet some new friends and start to experience something new.
- The bus is a great way to travel around New Zealand for solo travellers, especially if you don’t want to pre-plan everything and have someone tell you the highlights and what to do/see. Most of the kiwi drivers are friendly, approachable and very helpful.
- Although advertised as a hop-on-hop-off bus, if travelling in summer season (Dec-March) you need to pre-book your bus journeys as far in advance as possible. Doing so a few days before won’t cut it. However for the remainder of the year (March-November) you are normally fine to call a few days before you are ready to leave a place for a spot on the next bus round to the next destination.
- The Kiwi Experience guarantees your first night of accommodation in a dorm room at every stop-over destination. However this said, if you are travelling in summer, ensure you book your own accommodation if you plan to stay in a city for longer than 1 night (as you should do!)
- The Kiwi Experience drivers usually make regular stops to the big supermarkets for people to jump off and do some food shopping for dinner/lunches. I would recommend you use these stops and save a fortune on your food spenditure by cooking yourself. Or go in with a group and make a big chilli con carne or spaghetti bolognaise – works out cheaper, filling and share the cooking/cleaning duties between you all. Everyones a winner 🙂
- As you are going with a knowledgeable kiwi leader, they often make point-of-interest and photo stops that you would otherwise not have known about and would probably have drove on past.
- Activities! Kiwi Experience offer discount on most of the activities on offer around the country. They can also help by booking you on most of the activities which is a big help. Here is fantastic list of all the activities that are available to you if you book with the bus.
- Add-on passes: You are able to buy a core pass and then add on a few extra packages according to were you would like to do/how much time you have witht he pass or at a later date. These include trips to the most northern point of the country in ‘Bay of Islands & Cape Reinga’, and the most southern towns in ‘Milford explorer’ and the ‘deep south’.
- I would strongly recommend if you are going to visit New Zealand and travel on the kiwi bus, doing so by avoiding visiting in January and February in-particularly will make for a much more enjoyable trip for yourself. If you plan to visit during these peak summer months, I would advise hiring a camper-van which would also take care of accommodation for you.
- Upon boarding the first kiwi bus, the driver told us that this year the demand for kiwi experience was at an all-time high! This meant to ensure you had a place on the bus out of your chosen starting point, you needed to pre-book your place at least 2 weeks in advance. (especially if starting your pass/onward travel from Auckland!) This goes against the concept of being able to turn up and jump on the bus which the kiwi advertises itself on, however the amount of people travelling during the summer season has doubled over the past few years. In some instances Kiwi Experience were running double bus services just to try to accommodate the overflow.
- Kiwi Experience only guarantees Accommodation for the First Night. If you plan on spending more than 1 night (as you should!) at a town, I would seriously recommend you book a hostel well in advance! This is especially the case for: Auckland/Taupo/Wellington/ Queenstown/Wanaka/Lake Tekapo/Kaiteriteri.
No I am not just saying this or making it up. Accommodation was fully booked all over New Zealand due to the high influx of tourist’s this summer, and many travellers who wanted to stay an extra night in places simply could not as there were no accommodation available what-so-ever.
As I did not book extra nights’ accommodation in Wanaka or Lake Tekapo, I was unable to stay there for my anticipated 2 nights in each place and forced to continue on the kiwi bus the next day. Please make sure you book well ahead on hostelworld – better to change your mind there than want to stay somewhere longer and not be able to!
- Getting from point A to Point B often took a lot longer than necessary! As the bus would often leave between 9-10am and the next destination’s check in would not be until 2-3pm, the bus drivers detoured and made a lot of unnecessary stops and short walks to drag out the time. I found this very frustrating; however some people didn’t seem to mind. Again, having your own car and with a little bit of research you could do this yourself at a much more enjoyable pace.
If travelling alone, I would recommend the Kiwi bus. However, I cannot emphasize enough – if you plan on visiting New Zealand during summer, book accommodation and the Kiwi Experience bus ahead of time. Obviously if you are a solo traveler it is up to you if you want to risk being able to find somewhere when you arrive, sometimes you might get lucky (although experience tells me this is unlikely), however if you are a couple or group of friends travelling together, please ensure you do this. I’d do it anyway in hindsight.
TIP – Bus timetable available here: http://www.kiwiexperience.com/before-your-nz-trip/nz-bus-timetable I recommend saving a version of this on your iphone/ipad etc – it was great to have as a reference point throughout my trip!
If you are travelling with a friend/partner or group of people, rent a campervan or self–drive. You will still meet plenty of people in hostels but will save you a lot of time and hassle getting from A to B on the bus!
I hope this was helpful if you are considering using the Kiwi Experience to travel new Zealand 🙂