When it comes to New Zealand, the most popular ways to travel the islands are by car, campervan or the Kiwi Experience bus. As a solo traveller (and not a very confident driver), I opted for the third option. In February 2018 I travelled by Kiwi bus from Auckland to Queenstown and had a fab time! Before I reached New Zealand, former passengers had told me the bus felt something like an adult school trip, and this proved pretty accurate. While labelling itself a ‘hop on, hop off’ bus, in reality, the Kiwi Experience is more like a tour bus as you are stewarded from place to place with your fellow travellers. Here’s some information about the bus company and a review of my experience to help you decide if it’s the right option for your trip!
How it works:
In theory, the Kiwi Experience is a hop-on, hop-off bus, meaning you can stay at each destination for as long as you like and simply re-join the bus when you’re ready. However, in my experience, it wasn’t always that simple. I travelled in February, which is peak time for New Zealand tourism, meaning the buses were very busy and often full. This meant that if I wanted to stay somewhere longer than my original itinerary, I risked not being able to get on the next bus and becoming ‘stuck’ in one place for a long time. Although in my case it never came to this, this did put a bit of a downer on the experience, as it took away the freedom that the Kiwi Experience supposedly offers.
On the other hand, the range of locations that the Kiwi Experience offers is really great. They stop everywhere I’d planned on going when researching New Zealand. As well as overnight stops, they break on route at sightseeing spots, such as Cathedral Cove, both giving you the chance to explore these places and to stretch your legs. My route covered both the North and South Island, and you’re also given the opportunity to visit the Deep South as well. Along the way your driver also acts as a tour guide, providing commentary and information about the places you visit. All the drivers I had were lovely and they definitely make the Kiwi Experience something more than a standard bus.
At each location, the Kiwi Experience provides a choice of optional activities, from white-water rafting, to necklace carving, to bungee jumping. Basically every pursuit you’ve ever imagined is on offer at some point, and the choice is great. On the downside, the activities can be quite expensive and I sometimes felt pressured to take part if my friends on the bus were doing them. After all, I didn’t want to arrive at a destination and have nothing to do. However, after about a week I realised that these activities aren’t the only options. Often if you do your own research, there are lots of other things to do that don’t involve spending as much money. While it was amazing to take part in the once-in-a-lifetime opportunities offered by Kiwi, such as tubing through glow-worm caves, I also really enjoyed taking myself on free adventures, such as tramping around the Franz Josef glacier.
The social side
If you’re looking to meet lots of people while travelling New Zealand, the Kiwi Experience is for you. The bus is very sociable and you make good friends quickly, which is perfect for solo travellers. While you have the choice to leave the bus and go your own way, most people stick together, particularly as you’re generally in the same hostels. Similarly, in my experience, there was quite a lot of drinking, but it wouldn’t be difficult to abstain from this. However, there is definitely a specific type of person who gets this bus. The standard Kiwi passenger is in their early-20s, British, and enjoys a cold bev. However, that’s not to say it’s not right for you if you don’t meet this specification – on my buses there were older passengers, a wide range of nationalities and personalities. Just don’t be surprised to board the bus and find thirty Brits cracking open a Scrumpy at 2pm.
The Kiwi Experience is definitely a cheap way of getting around New Zealand, particularly if you’re a solo traveller and don’t have someone to split car rental and fuel costs with. They always seem to have sales on their passes, so it’s worth holding out to get a good deal. Personally, I found New Zealand to be very expensive. Not necessarily because of the price of everyday living, which is similar to Australia –expensive but expected. However, the experiences you go to New Zealand for are what really break the bank. It’s a catch-22 though, as you don’t want to miss out on these opportunities. My advice would be to plan in advance – check the Kiwi Experience app, choose which activities you really want to do and budget for this. And remember you can’t do everything – unless you’re Richard Branson, you might struggle to ride in a helicopter, bungee jump, skydive and still be able to afford dinner.
New Zealand is definitely up there in my all-time favourite countries, and this is definitely partly down to the Kiwi Experience. I had an amazing trip and would recommend them to anyone looking for a sociable and easy way to explore the two islands!