I totally agonized over which bus pass to buy in New Zealand. The transportation options are: go by car or camper van, go by regular bus, or go by hop-on hop-off bus. The car option is out, since I’m traveling alone. I could get rides and do ride-shares, but that’s too dependent on who you meet and when. And I’d like to see most of the south island and some of the north in one month. Going by the regular bus, Intercity or NakedBus.com was doable, but I didn’t come to New Zealand to rush from point A to point B, and the thought of booking each individual leg of my trip sounded tedious. So I decided on buying a hop on hop off bus pass, but it’s just not that simple! New Zealand has three hop on hop off buses: Kiwi Experience, Magic, and Stray. (UPDATED POST TRIP:) After traveling through New Zealand for a month here’s my impression of each of these hop on hop off buses.
- The green Kiwi Experience bus is called the F*** Truck for a reason. The Kiwi bus has the worst reputation of all the buses, as it’s often (not always) the party bus.
- Average passenger: 18-22 year old Brits on their gap year.
- Buses book up quick, which means you may be staying places much longer than anticipated. (Although I didn’t take the Kiwi bus, I met several people who had been “stranded” for days in different towns, unable to get a reserved space on the bus. This was not only frustrating for them, but it screwed up their NZ itinerary)
- Fewer stops along the way. That’s either a pro or a con, depending on how you like to travel. Kiwi is usually the last to leave and the first to arrive.
- The Magic buses don’t seem to have a “typical” traveler like the Kiwi bus. You can see a 65 year old couple and then an 18 year old gapper get off the bus. Definitely recommended for mid-30’s and over.
- Magic seems to have more buses running, I heard no complaints about reservation woes.
- Magic is a very “middle of the road” kind of service.
- The Stray bus is a smaller bus system than Kiwi and Magic. They tend to “go off the beaten track” more.
- Average passenger: 18-30 year old Europeans and North Americans, also more of an outdoorsy crowd. (You won’t typically see Stray passengers trying to hike the Tongariro Crossing in flip flops, like the Kiwi kids.)
- Stray has fewer buses (and a more limited off-season schedule), some towns they only pick up every other day. The good news is, that since it’s not as crowded as Kiwi and Magic, you don’t even have to reserve a spot. You can usually just show up at the bus stop and hop on. Great for last minute plans.
- More stops along the way. Again, this might be great for you, or might drive you crazy. Stray is typically the first to leave and last to pull in, but you stop more often for quick hikes and “secret spots” the driver wants to stop at.