Unless you have a large travel budget and can afford to fly around New Zealand, the only other options are to hire a car, or, travel by bus. Train services do run, but they are expensive and the main routes do not run during the winter months (May to October). There are a number of bus travel options depending on your budget and in this article I offer advice on travelling New Zealand by bus.
Bus travel options in New Zealand
For GAP year travellers there are a few companies that will take you around New Zealand to various destinations and tourist attractions. You pay an amount of money for the tour. The benefit is you will meet lots of people your own age group, and they take you directly to central hostels. The most popular companies are Kiwi Experience and Stray Bus. All you have to worry about is waking up in the morning to jump on the bus to your next destination. I didn’t use either of these companies so I cannot personally recommend them; I know that they exist and appear to receive good reviews from speaking with other travellers.
The two main bus companies are InterCity and Naked Bus. While in New Zealand I have used both companies and have been happy with the service provided. Out of the two, InterCity stood out the most because on all of the routes I travelled with them on, they offered very fast free WiFi, and the bus drivers were much more friendly and helpful than Naked Bus. Both companies offer a travel pass, depending on the number of routes you plan to travel. This can save you a lot of money and hassle.
Travelling through New Zealand by bus tips
Keep your wallet, passport, and any other essential travel items with you on the bus, in other words, do not leave them in your bag in the baggage hold. While your baggage will be secure while travelling, there is a chance that someone could take the bag on one of the stops on your route – also bear in mind that on many routes a 10-40 minute rest break is common and while the driver should secure the baggage hold, there is a chance he/she might not. Don’t risk it.
On most routes there is at least one toilet stop; make sure that you listen to the driver instructions and how long he is going to be at the stop for. If you are late back to the bus, they will not wait for you. Another suggestion would be to put an item on your seat if you leave the bus, because new passengers will get on and could take your seat.
If you often get travel sickness, do not sit at the back of the bus. I am normally a good traveller, but from Kaikoura to Christchurch I felt sick while sat at the back. Remember that the roads in New Zealand aren’t great, especially when you get outside of the main cities.
With tickets I would advice that you save the ticket on your mobile device and also write down the ticket reference. Some drivers are stricter than others, where they will not let you on the bus until you have given them your ticket reference, and just giving your name is not enough.
Most of the buses stop outside or near an i-Site office (New Zealand tourist information office), so you can go inside and pick up a map, and leaflets to any activities and tours you might want to book. My advice would be to know which street the bus drops you off on and use a tool like Google Maps to get directions to your accommodation. The staff at the i-Site offices are incredibly helpful and don’t be afraid to go in there and ask any questions.
In general I had a very pleasant experience travelling through New Zealand. The scenery is incredible, and all of the buses were pretty much running on time. The only negative things to highlight are that Naked Bus drivers could be quite abrupt and where Wi-Fi was supposedly available on the bus, it wasn’t. Journeys on Intercity were in my opinion a better travel experience.
Local bus ticket tip to save money
When using local bus services have a look on the ticket because some companies (not sure if this applies to all) allow you to transfer to another bus service within a given time frame. So, in Christchurch, I could travel from my accommodation to the City Centre, and within two hours, travel back without paying. This saves you money if you’re going to a local attraction and know that you will be transferring to another bus service within a few hours.
Hopefully you will find this useful for planning your travels by bus around New Zealand.