Hit the road, bro
You meet heaps of people when you travel, different kinds of people. That’s the beauty of it. I’ve noticed that plenty people, like me, enjoy organising things themselves when exploring a new country. I prefer using local information and there are times I don’t even open my Lonely Planet. When I visit a country I want to see as much of it as possible, without rushing things. I say it’s better to pick a few highlights and do them properly than race around with a checklist.
There are also people that don’t organise a single thing themselves. And there are backpackers that find a spot they like and stay there for ages. Personally, I’d go crazy, but to each their own, right? There was a girl in my Sydney dormroom once and she had spent AUD 9000,- in the six weeks she was in Australia. She hadn’t even left Sydney (and she wasn’t working). I could travel a lot longer with that kind of money!
My point is, whatever you want to get out of a travel, I think it’s most important to stay true to who you are. A country like New Zealand caters to different travelling needs and there is something for everyone. What works for one person, doesn’t work for another.
One thing that everyone needs, however, is a way to get around. Below, I’ll list various options of transportation, concentrating on busses. If I have any experience with them I’ll share.
Probably the best way to get around New Zealand is with your own car or campervan. You have heaps of freedom, can stop whenever, wherever and you’re not tied to schedules and time tables. Whether you buy a car/van from a backpackers market or rent one of those flashy painted ones, if I could choose, this is how I’d go around the islands.
My travelmate and I bought a red Toyota Hiace from a backpackers market in Auckland. The van had everything (bedding, cooking materials, Santa suit, tv etc) and already ran for 400.000 km! We haggled down the price, because it needed a lot of repairs. In the end it gave us a lot of freedom until travelmate and I decided to part ways.
– if you’re staying at a hostel, check if they have parking spots and if you have to pay for on-street parking. In Wellington it was a nightmare to find parking space and we ended up using a parking garage down the road.
– make sure you have enough fuel to make it to the next gas station. You may laugh, but when my travelmate and I toured around with our van that ran 1 in 8 ‘180 km to the next gas station’ was a bloody long way. Yeah. That was on the ‘Forgotten World Highway’ by the way, scenic but very remote.
– if you’re going camping, get a listing of DOC campsites. Those campsites are often basic and cheap, but in beautiful areas and you don’t have to book in advance.
The New Zealand ‘Greyhound bus’ if you will. Locals and backpackers both use it. Get a Flexi-pass and book your seat online. You can also top-up online. It’s super super easy! Check for deals too, because every once in while they offer one or two seats in a bus for NZD 1,-! I couldn’t believe my eyes! But these special offers run very fast, so be quick.
What I like about this bus is that the driver often acts like a tourguide, pointing out interesting things along the way. They try to time the longer breaks at interesting spots, so it’s a bit of a tour as well. On the way from Queenstown to Christchurch, they hold a break at a Mt. Cook lookout point and at Lake Tekapo. On the bus from Greymouth to Nelson, they have a big break at the Pancake Rocks. I’ve used Intercity heaps of times and am very satisfied with their service. Even when the bus broke down and I was stuck in Cromwell for an hour 😉
This bus service only runs on the South Island. It’s sort of the same as Intercity, but they have some different routes and destinations that Intercity doesn’t run. Could come in handy! I’ve heard they sometimes pick up and drop off at your accomodation instead of the allocated point. I’ve only used Atomic Shuttle once and they didn’t do it that time. But that doesn’t matter, it’s still a great service. What I like is that they often use smaller busses than Intercity.
I needed transportation to and from the Routeburn track and this service was recommended to me. I’d never heard of them before. They only run on the South Island, use small busses and offer great service. I booked with them again when I wanted to go from Invercargill to Queenstown. I highly recommend Tracknet when you’re going on a Great Walk and need a way to get there and back again!
I’ve never travelled with them myself, but I’ve heard good things. Generally a more mature audience than the infamous Kiwi Experience. It’s a hop-on-hop-off bus service. When I travel I’m always a bit antsy to committing myself to a month long travel with a predefined route. Sure, you can hop-on and hop-off, but still. The bus driver can book rooms and activities, so you don’t really have to do much yourself.
I booked a sailing trip in Abel Tasman N.P. and most of the people on the boat were travelling around using Stray. That’s when I first heard about it. Downside of being a solo traveller amongst a group of people that have travelled the same itinerary for a long time is that they knew eachother and were a bit cliquey.
I’d say travelling this way is handy if you want to see the country but are uncomfortable doing it all by yourself. An added bonus is instant opportunity to meeting heaps of fellow travellers. Admittedly, I’ve never had a problem meeting other travellers going about it solo. 🙂
Maybe on a next trip to New Zealand, I can give Stray a try with a short route 😉
In my efforts to travel through the Catlins, a stunning and remote area many people skip, I found the Bottom Bus. It offered a trip from Dunedin to Invercargill. With a bit of planning, I stayed in Curio Bay for two nights. Don, the driver, was an absolute treat. He was friendly and very knowledgeable, having grown up in the area himself. The bus was small and the travellers…varied. Two people were really nice though (fellow Trekkies, can’t go wrong!).
What I didn’t know, however, is that the Bottom Bus is part of/run by the Kiwi Experience. I must’ve overlooked that information. I caught a glimpse of what it must be like travelling with Kiwi Experience. One girl was bored and didn’t care about anything. She was only complaining why it took so long. She was straight up rude. She used other people’s belongings to sleep on and she didn’t want to go on any activities. An older, but not ancient, woman kept complaining about the volume of the music (so we couldn’t play any) and the cold (ehm, hello…it’s New Zealand, the bottom of New Zealand). Such frustrating people. Oh, and they kept changing their minds about accommodation, so poor Don. When Don picked me up a few days later, the people on the bus were less terrible, but still not the crowd I’m comfortable with.
If I hate the Kiwi Experience so much, then why do I include it in my post? Well, travelling means different things to different people and in my opinion it’s important to find something that suits you. If 18-year-old partykids with hangovers appeal to you, then go ahead. But if you know it’s not your crowd, then don’t go with them. Be aware that hop-on-hop-off services often have deals with hostels and those might not be your first choice in hostels. If you’re fine with it, then there’s no problem.
I’m only saying this because I had a friend who took the Kiwi Experience because it was ‘easy’. She was not a party person at all and had a crap time on that bus. She regretted her choice so much. She had troubles getting into hostels she liked, because she arrived on the Kiwi Experience. She had a hard time convincing hostel owners that she was a decent, well-mannered backpacker. It worked most of the time, but not all the time.
Google taught me that Magic Bus is now run by Kiwi Experience. I’ve never travelled with them, but heard the crowds were somewhere in between Stray and Kiwi Experience.
In sum, whatever means of transportation you choose, choose something that suits you. Read about it, ask other travellers. Travelling can be about freedom, getting to know yourself, having a good time. Travelling means different things to different people, so listen to yourself and make your trip unforgettable! 🙂