New Zealand on the Kiwi Bus
The kiwi bus is essentially a big green bus that transports you around New Zealand. It’s a sort of hybrid between a standard bus company and a tour company.
You get the ability to be completely flexible on timings (more on that later) but have discounted activities with guaranteed 1st night (sometimes two nights) accommodation.
The kiwi bus definitely targets a backpacker crowd, with the majority of its passengers 18-25. Though, don’t be put off if your slightly older, it’s an easy way to get around and it’s not all partying.
Pros and Cons
Like all things the Kiwi bus has some amazing pros but also some annoying cons. Have a read of the below to see if it’s for you.
- Ideal transport method to meet people, great for social people and solo travellers.
- First night accommodation guaranteed, two nights in popular locations such as Franz Josef, Taupo and Queenstown.
- Discounted prices for activities.
- Allocated spots for popular activities such as heli hike in Franz and Sky diving.
- You have 1 year to use the pass, so you can spend a lot of time in each place.
- Bus drivers with great knowledge of the country, it’s history and what’s available at each stop.
- Kiwi don’t highlight to you when you book the importance of getting your bus dates locked in for the whole trip. This is especially important for busy periods December-March. It’s very hard to change your dates if your on a tight time scale. You will find yourself on standby which could mean you don’t get on the bus. Do your research, know where you want to spend extra days and get that booked in to avoid delays (I have included below where I wished I could have spent more time).
- Only initial night is guaranteed, fine if you are doing minimum time but if you want to stay extra nights you will need to make these bookings in advance. This is especially important in the busy period. Locations such as Queenstown get super booked up, well in advance and remote locations too (not a problem if you are willing to plan).
Sorry there’s more
- The stops on the route you select are mandatory, this means even if there is nothing you want to see or do there you have to stop.
- It can kind of feel like your on a school bus, with scheduled stops on bus routes which can add time to your journey that could otherwise be avoided (walks, toilet stops, lunch stops – sounds great but there are a lot of them).
- Some of the bus drivers are unorganised and loading and time management can be poor.
- Even though Kiwi get allocated spaces for activities nothing’s guaranteed, especially in peak season.
Should I go with kiwi?
Now don’t be put off by the cons above, majority of them can be avoided if you are willing to do a bit of planning in advance and decide how long you want to spend in each location.
I would also advice trying to not do minimum time everywhere, this means spending a lot of time on the bus and less time exploring the beautiful New Zealand.
Which pass to go for?
This is a tough one, but it primarily depends on how long you have.
I personally wouldn’t recommend doing anything less than two weeks. Even two weeks would only scrape the surface of what New Zealand has to offer.
The majority of the passes stop at the major locations, but I recommend downloading the kiwi experience app, clicking through the stops to review the activities and noting down the places that are a must for you.
That way you can make sure your pass stops at the places offering the activities you want to do.
Another thing to take into account is sales. Kiwi often has certain bus passes on sale, this may mean it’s cheaper to get a bigger pass with discount than a smaller pass without.
Shop around too, sometimes it’s cheaper to buy through agents such as STA travel than direct.
I booked through Ratpack travel, and used the where’s Mollie discount to get a further 10% off the sale price listed on kiwis website.
Whole kit and caboodle
I booked the whole kit and caboodle pass which is a minimum of 30 days. Though I decided to skip the Deep South section in favour of spending more time in other places.
Also top tips:
- Start your pass in Auckland, this is what the majority of people do and means it’s easier to meet people and form groups that you will travel around the country with.
- Gain an extra 4 nights to spend in places you love by flying from Christchurch to Auckland rather than taking the bus back up through the stops you have already done. If you book in advance these flights are super cheap and save so much time. P.S even when you get the bus back up you still have to pay for the ferry crossing which is $55.
Auckland to Paihai – Bay of Islands
It’s an early start with the bus leaving at around 7am to get to the Bay of Islands by lunch time.
Paihai is a seaside town located in the heart of the bay of islands. It’s a really beautiful quaint town with stunning views.
⁃ Cape Reinga day tour (included in some passes)
⁃ Hole in the rock Cruise (boat trip to see the bay of islands and dolphins)
⁃ Cream trip (boat trip to see bay of islands with a couple more stops)
⁃ Dolphin eco encounter (boat trip plus swimming with wild dolphins)
⁃ Island adventure (cruise around the island)
⁃ Coastal kayaks
⁃ Spot X fishing
Accommodation: Pi Pi Patch
Good hostel with a great BBQ and drink deal.
On my first day of Kiwi it was a really sunny day, so I decided at 11am to jump out of a plane that afternoon.
In NZ the weather is very changeable and the bus drivers have a motto, ‘if it’s sunny jump’.
I’m so glad I did, the weather wasn’t great further down the country. The views were stunning and the experience incredible.
P.S always do the highest jump it means maximum free fall time. It’s worth the extra $ I promise.
It’s another early start for the Cape Reinga your, but well worth it. The scenery at NZ’s most northern point is stunning and the sand boarding is a lot of fun!
Accommodation: returning to Pi Pi Patch
Paihai to Auckland
The bus doesn’t leave for Auckland until 2pm so you have the morning to get involved with more activities.
We decided to do the hole in the rock boat cruise, we thought it fairly expensive for a boat cruise but it turned out to be incredible.
The scenery was beautiful and we were so lucky, we saw so many dolphins, including mother and baby.
At 2pm you get the bus back to Auckland to spend a night there before heading south.
Top tip, get off the bus as quickly as you can to get to the front of the queue for accommodation, as the wait is very long (this applies to all your accommodation with kiwi bus). Or do as we did and miss the line by heading to the pub instead!
Auckland to Hot water beach
Hot water beach is a pretty special place it’s rated within the top 10 beaches worldwide according to the lonely planet and as the name suggests you can dig yourself a hot water pool on the beach.
The bus gets you to Hot Water beach early afternoon, giving you plenty of time to do activities and explore.
Cathedral cove kayaking
I personally recommend going for a walk then heading down to the beach to chill in the hot water pools. Be careful it can get VERY hot! Be sure to mix the hot and cold water to find a balance.
Accommodation: Hot water beach top 10 holiday park
Probably one of the nicest hostels we stayed at in NZ, really cute modern cabins and good outdoor seating. Just be careful not to make to much noise, security and her big dog won’t be pleased!
Hot water beach to Waitomo
Waitomo is famous for its glow-worm caves and scenery.
⁃ The legendary black water rafting company Black Abyss (abseiling, glowworms, waterfall jumps and tubing)
⁃ The legendary black water rafting company Black Labyrinth (all of the above without abseiling)
⁃ Ruakuri caves (see the glow worms quickly and without getting wet)
I did the Black Labyrinth tour and it was amazing, freezing but so much fun. The glow worms are incredible and it’s a great experience tubing through the caves in the dark.
Accommodation: Kiwi Paka
Nice accommodation with spacious rooms.
Waitomo to Rotorua
Rotorua boasts stunning lakes and scenery as well as geothermal activity. It also has a whole host of activities available.
⁃ Hobbiton movie set (guided tour of the movie set)
⁃ Tamaki Maori village (experience Maori culture with an overnight stay and show)
⁃ Kaitiaki adventures (white water rafting)
⁃ Te Puia (largest geyser in the Southern Hemisphere)
⁃ Ogo (like zorbing)
⁃ Kiwi encounter (see a kiwi bird)
⁃ Skyline (like go karting)
⁃ Polynesian spa
⁃ Glow worm experience
Accommodation: base hostel or overnight village.
This is a prime example of one of the cons of Kiwi. During peak times they lay on two buses, great to ensure you get on the bus but not so great for activity availability.
We signed up for the Maori village overnight stay but we’re not able to go due to limited spaces.
The clipboards are passed from front to back, usually behind the driver first. So try to sit at the front on the right to get the best availability.
Though this didn’t work for us as when we got off for a stop some, what I would call bratty passengers, scrambled and snatched at the clip board to get their names down. Not cool guys not cool.
Kiwi probably need to find a fairer way to allocate places, snatching and behaving like children in my opinion should not be rewarded, maybe I’m just getting old?
So unfortunately we missed out, but we heard it was amazing. Us unlucky ones resorted to getting drunk in the hostel bar so not all bad!
Rotorua to Taupo
Taupo has beautiful forests and volcanic mountains as well as the largest fresh water lake in Australasia. It’s one of the most popular stops on the north island.
⁃ Huka falls jet experience
⁃ Tongariro crossing (hiking Mt Doom)
⁃ Sail Barbary (sailing experience on the lake at sunset)
⁃ Bungy and cliff hanger
⁃ River float tour (kayaking)
Accommodation: Base hostel
Nice hostel, we were lucky enough to be put in the woman’s retreat. Peaceful no snoring nights!
We were desperate to do the Tongariro crossing, sadly the weather was not on our side and our trip was cancelled.
Despite having two nights in Taupo (kiwi guarantee both nights) meaning two opportunists the weather did not clear up.
This is very common, I recommend if this is high on your list to allow at least 3/4 days! Just because it’s summer doesn’t mean its going to be good weather either!
This is a free day. As I note above we were not able to do our trip so instead we went to the cinema (it was chucking it down).
Taupo to River Valley
River Valley is in the middle of nowhere, literally no where, there’s no phone reception, shops or people other than those staying at the lodge.
It’s considered the best place to do white water rafting in NZ.
Though like I noted in the cons this is one of those places I could easily have skipped. It was made more annoying by the fact it didn’t stop raining the whole time we were there and there is a very long walk, up a bloody big hill.
Still they do a roast dinner and the evening of drinking with everyone is lots of fun!
⁃ Horse riding
⁃ White water rafting
Accommodation: River Valley lodge
This accommodation is a little weird. There are some traditional dorm rooms, but the majority of people sleep in what is effectively one big bed.
There are mattresses laid in rows right next to each other and that’s how you sleep. Cosy huh!
River Valley to Wellington
Wellington is NZ’s undisputed capital of culture, the arts and food.
There isn’t an abundance of activities to do with the kiwi but it’s good to just spend some time exploring the city and enjoying all it has to offer.
Accommodation: Base (standard)
You arrive late in the evening and leave early the next day if you are doing minimum time. I recommend hoping off the bus for an extra night to explore all Wellington has to offer.
Wellington to Kaiteriteri
Kaiteriteri is the gateway to Abel Tasmin National Park. Surrounded by beautiful sand, and crystal waters it’s the ideal stop for those seeking sun and stunning views.
⁃ Abel Tasmin sailing adventures
⁃ Kahu kayaks
⁃ Sky diving
⁃ Hikes of various lengths and difficulty
If you are interested in doing the hikes then I recommend doing extra time here as you will not have time to complete these otherwise with the minimum Kiwi time.
Accommodation: Kaiteri lodge
Nice accommodation with a bar and restaurant serving Kiwi deals. You are required to pay a key and cutlery deposit.
Kaiteriteri to Westport
Westport is the regions oldest town, there are rugged beaches which boast great surf spots and more sunny days than many other areas in NZ.
⁃ Basils surf school
⁃ Stand up paddle boarding
We were allocated the large dorm room, around 16 beds, all very cramped and squished together. Though our room did have a kitchen and toilet.
They do a pizza deal where you get a stone baked pizza for cheap which was yummy.
Westport to Lake Mahinapua
Lake Mahinapua has a stunning beach and beautiful lake. It’s an ideal walking spot.
⁃ Jade (greenstone carving)
⁃ Visit a brewery
⁃ Tranzalpine Train journey
Accommodation: Lake Mahinapua hotel
This is a pretty amazing hostel, it has jacuzzis, volley ball courts, and a mean roast dinner and pancake breakfast!
I turned 25 the night I stayed here and kiwi do a fancy dress party. Our night was ABC theme, anything but clothes.
During the day you stop at a small town and grab any fancy dress stuff you may need, I went as a Greek lady wearing a bed sheet. But you had all sorts of weird and wonderful choices, bin bags, balloons, backpacks… you get the idea.
Dinner was served at 7pm and it was a pretty delicious (by NZ standards) roast dinner. After dinner everyone gets their costume on and heads to the bar.
All the old school songs are played and everyone gets merry. The girls had planned a little birthday surprise for me, so at 12 my friend Rachel climbed up on the bar did an announcement. Everyone sung happy birthday and I was taken to the bar where I had 4 shots waiting for me.
Later on in the evening we all headed down to the lake to watch the stars. It’s pretty cool so see all the stars and very peaceful.
Lake Mahinapua to Franz Josef
Franz Josef is the doorway to Te Wahipounamu world heritage site. Here there are two glaciers, Franz Josef and Fox. The glaciers formed during the ice age thousands of years ago and are a major attraction in the South Island.
⁃ Franz Josef glacier guides
⁃ Glacier kayaking
⁃ Helicopter rides
⁃ Paint balling
⁃ Horse riding
Accommodation: Rainforest retreat
This is a really cool modern hostel, the bathrooms and bedrooms are great and there is the added bonus of a jacuzzi. The bar attached to the retreat is also a very popular spot in Franz Josef, even with the locals.
Day 15 + 16 + 17
Usually Kiwi only does 2 nights in Franz Josef, but we decided to hope off the bus for a while.
If you want to do the heli hike I recommend hoping off for at least 3 nights if not 4. The weather in Franz Josef is very unpredictable and getting a suitable slot for the heli hike can be difficult if your time is limited.
We therefore had two nights guaranteed at Rainforest and had to look elsewhere for that other 2 nights as they were fully booked.
For the third night we had no choice but to couch surf (unless we were willing to pay in excess of $150 each).
My friend Beth had found a guy near town who was willing to put us up, so at 11am we trudged to his house with all our bags.
When we arrived we were a little put off the find it was a one bed property, Kahu (the guy) was hungover, stoned and the house was a mess. He also said there would be other couch surfers turning up (where the hell are we all sleeping were out next thoughts). Still we had no choice so we decided to dump our bags and head out.
Later that evening we returned, and were pleasantly surprised to see Kahu had tidied the flat and looked a lot fresher.
We showered then had a few beers and played card games. At this point there was still only us 3 + Kahu, we had all relaxed and were actually enjoying ourselves.
9:30pm rolled round and 6 more couch surfers showed up. Now we really were thinking where are we sleeping, but a couple of bottles of wine and some beers had been consumed by now so we went with it.
Our new 6 friends joined in and we ended up having a really fun evening. We played games, chatted and Kahu even made hot dogs.
Whilst it was VERY cosy sleeping arrangements we had a really good time, and we are thankful we took the risk and went with it. Kahu was an amazing host and we appreciated his kindness greatly.
Walks in Franz
There are so many walks to do whilst in Franz Josef, my favourite being up to the glacier.
We decided to walk from town to the glacier and back which is around a 4.5 hour walk. But you can get a mini bus to the car park making the walk only 1.5 hours.
You pass waterfalls and are able to see the mountains and glaciers from all different angles.
I did the glacier horse riding trip which was really enjoyable. You spend an hour and a half in a small group riding around the base of the glacier and through the woods.
The staff were really lovely and the horses despite mine being very cheeky were lovely too.
Franz Josef to Wanaka
Wanaka is part of the stunning Lake District with massive mountain ranges. People venture to the area to camp, fish, swim, boat, and ski.
⁃ Puzzle world
⁃ Wanaka bike tours
⁃ Wanaka heli bike
⁃ Wild wire
Wanaka to Queenstown
Queenstown is situated on the shores of lake wakatipu opposite amazing mountain ranges and was the site of the largest gold rush in the country.
It is often considered the adventure capital of the world with an abundance of activities to choose from.
⁃ Shotover canyon swing
⁃ Canyon fox
⁃ Shotover Jet
⁃ Dart river stables
⁃ Nevis bungy
⁃ Nevis swing
⁃ Kawarau bridge
⁃ The ledge bungy
⁃ Bar crawl
Accommodation: Nomads Queenstown
Our first night in Queenstown we decided to head out for some drinks. You can do the kiwi bar crawl but as there was already a big group of us we decided to do our own thing.
There are lots of bars all over Queenstown to start drinking at but it seems everyone ends up at world bar.
On the Kiwi bus you get a minimum of 2 nights (3 if you are doing Milford sounds) in Queenstown. It gives you an opportunity to do any of the activities but also explore the beautiful town itself.
The Milford sounds trip comes as part of many of the kiwi passes but you can also choose to add it on.
With this trip you enter the Fiordland National Park and get photo opportunities at the following locations:
⁃ Eglington valley
⁃ Mirror lakes
⁃ Holyford Valley
⁃ Monkey creek
⁃ Homer tunnel
⁃ Cleddau valley
⁃ Milford sound
⁃ Mitre peak
⁃ Bowen falls
You also get to cruise abroad the juicy boat at Milford sound.
It’s a very long day of travelling but if the weather is nice like it was for us it’s definitely worth it.
Day 22 + 23 + 24
Again we decided to hop off the bus here and spend some extra time exploring Queenstown.
There are so many extra activities not listed on Kiwi to do, and some pretty incredible walks.
My favourite was the tiki trail leading up to Ben Loman. It’s not as easy walk up but the views are incredible and there is a cafe at the top to get refreshments.
Queenstown to Lake Tekapo
Lake Tekapo is one of the most photographed locations in New Zealand and it’s easy to see why. It’s absolutely stunning and a dark sky UNESCO world heritage site.
⁃ Tekapo spring star-gazing
⁃ Tekapo springs
⁃ Air safaris
⁃ Mt cook connections
⁃ Earth and sky MT John tour
Accommodation: lakefront lodge
We didn’t do any of the paid activities but we took a walk around the lake and up to the top of Mt John to soak in the views.
Then spent the evening with a bottle of wine playing cards under the stars.
Lake Tekapo to Christchurch
Christchurch is the largest city in the South Island, I’m 2011 it suffered a large earth quake which saw many of the city crumble or unsafe. Now the city is undergoing the most expensive repair program in the world.
Unfortunately this was the end of my exploring in New Zealand. I flew from Christchurch to Auckland that evening and left for London from Auckland the following evening.
But if you don’t fly this is where you do the bus route back up to Auckland via some of the stops of the north island that you already visited.
Spend an extra night in Christchurch so you actually get to explore the city!
The kiwi bus is ideal for solo travellers, but you do need to do a bit of forward thinking. Plan your stops and where you want to do extra time so that you can get the most out of the experience.
I highly recommend sky diving, horse riding, hole in the rock cruise and Milford sounds.
Perhaps considering travelling at non peak times to get more availability.
New Zealand is absolutely beautiful, think wide open spaces, vast mountain ranges and stunning lakes.