I had a great time in New Zealand but the Kiwi Experience is exactly that, an experience. After spending a month in the country, hopping on and off those big green buses, here are my top tips!
Before you do anything – download the Kiwi Experience App!
The app is genuinely great. It tells you all the stops, accommodation, activities and even the weather. It was really a life-saver on our way around the country.
- Make sure you’ve done a little bit of reading first and figure out where you would like to stay for longer than the minimum time. Get that booked in with the Kiwi Experience office so that you don’t have to worry about it! Don’t worry, you can still change it on your way around but it’s always good to have a vague idea first.
- Don’t be surprised when the driver drones on and on – you are on a school trip basically. Just be patient and it won’t bother you nearly as much.
- If you are staying more than the guaranteed nights in a place, book hostels and buses in advance! During the summer months, try and do this as soon as possible as the buses and accommodation are super busy.
- When you call the Kiwi office to book yourselves on to buses, if it’s far enough in advance and you’re on standby, chances on you’ll get on the bus. If you want to leave tomorrow, chances are you won’t. There’s a $50 fine for a no-show so only the people with the money or who are too hungover to move don’t make it to the bus. Also, make sure they email you a copy of your itinerary and keep it handy.
- There are cheaper and nicer places to stay, especially in the bigger towns/cities than where the bus brings you to, so do your research.
- It is a great way to make friends and if you do this early on, you’ll end up with nearly private rooms your whole trip – I found that the Maori experience was a great place to really meet people as you all eat and drink together.
- Places I would advise hopping off the bus are:
- Wellington – you get there really late at night, so try and get at least 3 nights there.
- Wanaka – you could easily do 2 nights here, it’s called starting to become the ‘New Queenstown’ as Queenstown is always so fully booked
- Taupo – you get given 2 nights here but you could easily do more if the weather is nice. Having a few more also gives an extra day in case the crossing gets called off due to bad conditions
- Queenstown – get 4 or 5 nights here if you can. If you have the money there are so many activities you can do (just check the Kiwi Experience app), it’s also just a bit more lively than the small towns you’ll pass through
- Kaiteriteri – on the Kiwi app/online it says that you stop in Abel Tasman, but in fact, the hostel is in slightly south in Kaiteriteri. Truth is, Kiwi still doesn’t any accommodation in Abel Tasman national park and therefore if you’d like to go explore it, your best bet would be to hop-off here for a couple of days. I didn’t personally get to go but i’ve heard the national park is beautiful.
- Get the sheepdog pass and not the funky chicken. This is the one that ends in Christchurch and avoids you having to pay for the ferry a second time and going to places you have been before (it’s also cheaper). The reason funky chicken goes on sale so often is if there are bums on seats, it’s easier to get the buses back up to Auckland where most people start their journey.
- Pick and choose which activities you want to do carefully – unless you have the money to do them all! The 3 that I did which I really enjoy and thought were worth the money were the Nevis Swing, the glowworm tubing/blackwater rafting and the white water rafting, however, I really wish I had the money to do the Franz Josef glacier heli-hike.
- New Zealand as a country is beautiful. The scenery is stunning and there are a lot of lovely walks/hikes you can go on. However, not a lot of people live here. Auckland has a population of 1.2 million and that is more than the whole of the South Island. Most of your time is spent driving through the country-side and staying in tiny little towns. Even the big towns such as Queenstown and Christchurch feel small and quite deserted. This isn’t a bad thing at all, just very different to what I’m used and what I was expecting.
Although it may sound like I’ve complained a lot, not having to think too much about where you’re going or what to do is lovely. The free app they have is amazing, it tells you about the place, the activities you can do, the itinerary for the travel days as well as the accommodation and weather. It’s a really easy way to meet people and we made some really good friends and although some of our bus drivers were nuts, there were also some golden ones and they really do go out of their way to help you with anything you might need.
It is definitely the easiest way to see New Zealand and the drivers take you to places you would have never found on your own. If you do your research and go in with the frame of mind that this is somewhere in the middle of a school trip, a tour bus and just a normal bus, you’ll have an absolutely fantastic time.