Bus tours are one of the most popular methods of travelling around New Zealand for backpackers, longer term and budget travellers. The most popular options are Kiwi Experience, Magic Bus, Stray Travel, and the public transport network, but which is most suitable for you?
Most of the transport options below will offer some kind of ‘hop on, hop off’ comprehensive tour of New Zealand, or a more tailored trip for a specific area of New Zealand. Costs will vary enormously depending on how far you travel, and more specifically what time of year. Travelling off season can give you some huge savings. If you are longer tours you often don’t have to specificy specific dates, and you can book on each leg the day before you want to travel depending on availability.
Kiwi Experience are one of the better known backpacker tour buses……but not always for the right reasons. Kiwi Experience travel in large groups, in large buses and can dominate a destination or accommodation venue they stop over in. Ideal for younger backpackers who want the party crowd.
Kiwi Experience also have operations in Fiji so you can combine a tour taking you there as well 🙂
Magic Travellers Network (Magic Bus)
Magic buses also tend to be large coaches but they sell themselves on having less enforced overnight stays, and a bigger network of destinations with daily departures year round. Passes include options with a ‘coach and jet pass’ so you can get a domestic flight to your start location – e.g. if you were starting in Auckland and finishing the coach tour in Christchurch.
Stray pride themselves on providing active tours, using smaller buses to take you that little but further off the beaten track (although they still use coaches on some routes!). Unique stopping points are Raglan (surfing), HaHei beach (hot water beach), Stewart Island, bone carving in Barrytown, a stop off in National Park, and a ‘more authentic than the rest’ overnight Maori experience. All the places mentioned above are places that many wish to visit, but that are often missed out due to being slightly out of the way – a great reason to pick Stray I would say. With Stray you are still going to get the budget experience, but will be able to stay at some unique locations that many travellers would only access if they had their own transport, or paid for an add on to another tour.
Stray use a variety of accommodation from the main hostel networks as well as wilderness lodges and cabins. Their tours are active and involve walking and wildlife so if that’s not your thing…..well, if that’s not your thing why are you coming to New Zealand 😉
With Stray Travel you are more likely to get a more mixed crowd, have adventures off the beaten track, and still have the fun. According to their website they have an extremely high rate of referrals on their tour, which must be a good thing.
Naked Bus / Naked Passport
Naked Bus provides budget individual bus trips around New Zealand, or you can look at their Naked Passport passes to offer bigger trips, and a pass with unlimited travel for a year for an amazing $597! Naked Passport can be described as a ‘low cost national bus pass’ which offers excellent value and can take you round the country. Although Naked probably couldn’t be described as a full holiday company like some of the others mentioned, you can still book side tours (‘add-ons’) and discount ferry travel through them, and they’ll take you to almost everywhere you’ll want to go. Note that any side trips should be booked at the same time as booking your passport to get any discounts but there are always people willing to take you places when you arrive at your destination in New Zealand! If you don’t buy an unlimited pass note that Auckland to Hamilton or Auckland to Wellington are both classed as ‘one trip’ so you’d get more value for money if you used this for longer trips. If you purchase an unlimited pass you can only travel between two destinations directly once in each direction, but this isn’t a big restriction as you can repeat the journey if you break it up into smaller segments.
Passes are sold going from 5 to 30 trips in 5 trip increments, or you can go the whole hog and use them as often as you like for $597. This must be one of the cheapest travel passes around and probably beats public transport. Sometimes you’ll get bargain $1 fares from their website.
We like Naked Passport for people who want to travel independently and make up their own holiday.
Of course you could still use the more standard bus networks to get around New Zealand like Intercity Coachlines as it is still comprehensive and covers all the ‘big ticket’ areas. There are other key companies around such as Tranzit that you can use for bus tours as well but you won’t get the same ‘travelling’ experience as the more upbeat budget tours above. At the end of the day it all comes down to what experience you want, and how much you want to have planned for you or not. Although all the big companies above will try to get you on tours and into hostels you are still free to use most of them just as a means of transport, but you won’t be getting the most out of them that way.
Things to watch out for
Nowadays many of you are in a rush and want to cram in as much as you can in a short space of time. Despite everyone telling you to travel slow and take in the experience, you just can’t help yourself wanting to go everywhere can you? Who knows when you’ll be back to New Zealand right?
If this sounds like you, watch that the travel network you go doesn’t restrict you to enforced stopovers in places you don’t really want to stay at. Whats a forced stopover? If you’re bus travels a route you may end up having to stay the night and some of the following day in a destination, even though your priority is to get to the next place.
Some tours will start in Auckland and finish in Christchurch so you’ll have to add in a flight to get you back unless you have planned your international flights that way. Stray’s full experience will allow you to start and and end your trip from any point on the circuit (e.g you can start and stop in Queenstown).
Luckily all the websites linked to below are really comprehensive so check out the most suitable passes for you.
Costs of these tours vary a great deal so you will need to check out the latest prices online and check for any offers. If you travel off season you can get some really good deals such as from $399 for a North to South pass*, $489 for Kiwi Experience 20 day North / South Island combo**, $235 for a North Island 3 day tour***, to around $1800 for the full tour experience in high season.
Many of the passes will not include accommodation so you may still need to be a member of YHA, BBH or another network to get the most benefit.
The travel networks above are the tried and tested backpacker and budget travel options however this is New Zealand, the home of adventure tourism so there are many other choices depending on your style of travel. Haka Tours is one example of more specialist company catering for both public and private groups and you can choose a higher level of tour, but the costs go up correspondingly to a maximum price of over $3500 for a month’s trip.
* – Magic Bus special deal, 11 days, September 2010
**- Kiwi Experience Special Deal cardholder price (Standard price $1143), 20 days minimum, September 2010
*** – Magic Bus Auckland to Wellington, 3 days minimum, September 2010