When we were planning New Zealand I looked at three different bus companies which ran the hop on – hop off routes: Stray, Magic and Kiwi Experience. In the end we booked with Kiwi Experience purely because the tickets were half price in their winter sale. A week or so before we were due to leave I decided to book our buses up in advance only to realise that even though our pass said we needed 18 days to complete the route. We couldn’t start until three days after arriving in Auckland because of the limited winter timetable.
We threw back and forth several ideas and eventually settled on missing the Bay of Islands, giving us the chance to leave Auckland after two days and then spend four days in Queenstown with minimum time at the rest of the stops. The winter timetable sucked for anyone wanting to really hop on – hop off as the next bus behind us was four days away!
Roll on a few weeks and we are boarding our first Kiwi bus in Auckland. We learn that there are many Magic passengers on our bus following the merge of the two companies. This meant those going for the ‘quieter’ Magic bus compared with the ‘fun and adventurous’ Kiwi bus weren’t too impressed with the change. Magic had failed to inform their passengers until days before they left! This actually gave the group a larger dynamic and age range.
Our group started with 26 people and as we travelled south became bigger and bigger until we hit 40 just before Queenstown. Having experienced the two different sized groups I have to say I very much enjoyed our original smaller group. You were able to get to know everyone, the bus had so much space and it was just so relaxed and friendly. When we basically doubled our size in Wellington I suddenly felt shy and intimidated. There were all these people we didn’t know and it wasn’t the friendly banter bus of the north. I guess I was just glad we hadn’t come in summer because this is what the bus would have been like every day! Still it wasn’t long before I stopped feeling shy and intimidated.
We had the friendliest bunch of people ever and soon we knew more of the bus than not. This wasn’t even because of some drunken nights; it was from group activities arranged by our bus driver Mangee. Sitting on Westport beach around a bonfire while the guys had a few beers was one of my highlights because EVERYONE in the group got along. There was no pressure to always be drinking but when we did go out and drink it was fun. The group was equally happy getting together for a movie as they were going out.
With a huge age range (19-29) it’s surprising at how well we all got along. Several of the group were teachers on their holidays, others on gap years around the world and others were having a month out over the summer. I loved how diverse the group was, it wasn’t just another typical conversation about where you’re from, what countries you’ve been to or are going to etc. I had life conversations with these people I had barely known for a week.
Once we hit Queenstown we were all extremely sad for the group to be going their different ways. We may have only known each other for three weeks but we really did have the best time because of our driver. Mangee was on top of his game when it came to being an excellent driver. After seven years in the job it’s clear he still loves his job: going out of his way to organise group evenings, taking extra stops just because he could, having the best knowledge of this country and organising everything for us so smoothly. We were told the bus driver could help make or break a trip and Mangee certainly made our trip amazing.
From hearing others talking about their time on the Kiwi bus and how everyone was constantly drinking, had a bad driver or how not everyone got along made me realise how lucky we got! We were not a bus dominated by 18-19 year olds. There was no gossiping behind everyone’s backs and no, not everyone hooked up with each other.
We travelled as a couple on the Kiwi bus and tended to use hostels other than the recommended options because it was cheaper. However, Kiwi Experience had the best price guaranteed for all activities. I would highly recommend using the Kiwi Experience bus to explore New Zealand either as a couple or a solo traveller. I only used a North to South pass and felt like I got to visit most places. We barely hopped off but I would highly recommend doing so as some places I feel like I barely saw. Thumbs up to the Kiwi Experience and THANK YOU to Mangee, our amazing driver guide.
PIN FOR LATER