New Zealand & Kiwi Experience

Photos from top to bottom:
1. Lake Mattheson 2. the road to Milford Sound (it was a misty day and yeah it was misty on the boat around the Sound also hence I have no photos here), 3. The road back to Auckland near Tongariro National Park (where Lord of the Rings' Mount Doom is located – the flat top volcano is Mount Doom itself soz to name drop) 4. Black swans and rocks on the road from Taupo to Auckland – fun game if you're really looking to kill time; can you guess which are rocks and which are swans?) 5. Sunset over the thermal lake at Taupo 6. Lunch near Tongariro National Park 7. The beaut location of the Nevis Bungy, taken from the bridge you jump off (I just watched, of course) 8. Me a at the bottom of the melting Franz Josef glacier (one of the most beautiful walks I've ever done thanks to rainbow waterfalls, a white glacial river and snow in the sun) 9. Hobbiton 10. Again more Tongariro clearly love this place 11. The lone tree within the lake at Wanaka (there were about 200 people sat by the river bed with expensive looking cameras waiting for the sun to go down behind this phenomena) 12. Me on top of Mountain Iron near Wanaka. 

New Zealand has never appealed to me. I've never seen, or heard, anything about NZ that made me think 'Wow, I've really got to go there'. Unlike the vast beaches and surfer lifestyle of Australia, and the white sands, beautiful turquoise waters and exotic temples of Fiji and Bali, I just didn't feel a pull. Perhaps for a similar reason to the one that stopped me interrailing around Europe – it just seemed so similar, or familiar (climate and landscape-wise, at least) to the UK. Close-minded, maybe, but this was just how I felt.

So when my friends were planning to leave Australia to travel New Zealand after our six amazing months travelling and working (a lil bit) in Oz (read more about that here), I had a decision to make. NZ wasn't going to be cheap (the bus ticket alone was $800AUD), and I had never planned to go anyway, however, despite believing I'd hate the traveller lifestyle and want to return to England a couple months in (max), I surprised myself by absolutely loving every minute, or almost every minute because to be fair who could love extinguishing hostel room cockroaches in order to sleep peacefully. It's all part of the experience though.

Anyway, eventually I decided, YOLO, I'm so far around the world that I might as well make the most of discovering this side of the hemisphere. I also would have major FOMO if it did, in fact, turn out to be an amazing trip.

Luckily for my indecisive self, it did indeed prove to be amazing, and I would have had the worst FOMO of life if I had decided against going.

Initially I had quite a few reservations when it came to the Kiwi Experience. It’s a well-known tour company, both around New Zealand where small town residents must get so sick of seeing the big green bus roll up with 30-50, often hungover, millenials, all ready to swarm the local supermarket in search of microwave noodles, but also throughout the world, or at least the world of travellers. However, this was the only fact (knowing so many had gone before me) that convinced me the ticket was worth the money.

To put the cost into context, our discounted (because there are four of us, and you can always haggle) Kiwi Experience ticket, which we needed only to get us around NZ for one month, was almost double the price of our Greyhound ticket, which took us all the way along the East Coast of Australia from September to December. To be fair we got one of the most comprehensive tickets available, we added on extra destinations such as Bay of Islands and Milford Sound, and when you get to NZ and realise how much all the activities cost there (almost $500 to skydive and roam the Franz Josef Glacier etc) you may well, like I did, change your opinion on the cost of the bus ticket, file it away under ‘bargain purchases’ and forget all about it.

Another thing I didn’t realise (because I literally did zero research and just let my friend sort and book everything), is that Kiwi does actually take you to many amazing places that you just wouldn’t know about, well unless you did extensive research and itinerary planning but who has time for that when you can pay someone else to do it for you. Plus, they basically give you a guided tour of the entire country as you drive around it, hand out useful little sheets of activities such as bungy jumping (totally didn’t realise you spelt bungy like that either, but I swear it’s how they spell it in NZ), rafting, horseriding, Maori stone carving blablabla as you’re on the way to the destination where said activity can be completed. This is particularly useful if you’re travelling alone or hoping to make friends when you arrive, because you can check what they’re doing and stalk their itinerary if you wish.

Additionally, still on the subject of the driver guides because they were my potential highlight of the entire experience, they are so entertaining. The driver we had for the majority of our trip, Simon, was honestly the most hilarious commentator. Sometimes when guides start talking and you’re listening to a really dece song/drifting off you just don’t want to bother making the effort to listen but with Simon I always sacrificed my headphones for his ramblings. He’d often tell facts that turned out to be utter bullshit but I’m not going to lie, those were my faves. He also let a 10 year old drive our bus at one point, which was my personal adrenaline activity of New Zealand. He later told us that three years prior the same boy (aged seven!?) had reversed the bus into a hostel, knocked a wall down and despite not injuring anyone was understandably traumatised for quite some time. Shockingly I don’t think this was one of the bullshit tales.

Anyway, moving on to the rest of the experience. The drivers were totally worth a whole paragraph lol. Would I, cost considered, do it by car/campervan if I was doing it again? I mean, potentially for a bit of variety as I’ve already done the Kiwi Experience once, but no, if you haven’t done it I one-hundred-percent recommend Kiwi Ex. You meet so many like-minded travellers along the way, which you simply wouldn’t going it alone, even if you were staying in hostels. Kiwi organise social events like bar crawls (the Queenstown bar crawl was so good and featured the best pizza from London halfway through), and a fancy dress party. We met some lovely people, had a hilarious time and I’m pretty certain we’ve made friends for life, or if nothing else, gained plentiful Instagram followers.

Kiwi Experience summary:

How it works: You choose your ticket (you can opt for one covering just the North Island, just the South Island, both, or both plus extras such as Bay of Islands, Deep South, Milford Sound (the latter is just a day trip really). Once you have your ticket you can call or email the office, let them know what dates you’ll be travelling from or two (it’s valid for a year or two but the entire circuit can be done in a month, which is how most people do it). When you’re there you can change dates of travel to and from certain places if you change your mind about what you want to do, or make friends and want to stick with them. in high season the buses go every day but they reduce this in May.

Our pass cost: $800

Places covered: Everywhere major across the North and South Islands, including Bay of Islands (optional extra) and Milford Sound (same). The only place we didn’t visit as far as I’m aware is the Deep South.

Unforeseen expenses: The bloody ferries to and from the South Island, which were $55 each way.