After our lovely and relaxed week in Melbourne, we said goodbye to Australia and flew over to its neighbour, New Zealand. Helping us to explore the north and south islands were the Kiwi Experience. We’d board a big, green bus nearly every day, drive through scenic landscapes, with regular stops in interesting places, until we reach the town where we’re staying. Everyone would get off the bus, explore, take part in the suggested activities and stay a night or two before getting back on the bus and heading to the next destination.
We landed in Christchurch and had a day to wander round before getting our first Kiwi bus the following day. We found that after some devastating earthquakes, the town was under a lot of construction to rebuild the roads and buildings that had been destroyed. It felt like we’d arrived into an abandoned ghost-town. We would walk down these eerily, silent streets with no-one around and see all these broken buildings – it was quite a change after being in busy Melbourne!
We were left wondering what the rest of New Zealand was going to be like – and hoping that it wasn’t going to be this quiet everywhere! After that one day in Christchurch, we were ready to get out of there and see some busier places!
At 7:30am the next morning we joined the bus and started the 5 hour drive up to Nelson and onto Kaiteriteri (Abel Tasman). The drive over the mountains on the South Island was incredible and very picturesque, so I don’t think anyone minded the long drive! Other overnight stops included Westport, Lake Mahinapua, Franz Josef, Wanaka, Christchurch, Lake Tekapo (although we didn’t get to stop here, I’ll explain later), Nelson, Taupo and Auckland.
My favourite parts of New Zealand
- Queenstown & the AJ Hackett Ledge Bungy – we had a few nights in Queenstown so really got to explore, settle in and fit in a few nights out. Unlike other stops, it was actually a populated city and it felt great to find some evidence of human life again! While in Queenstown I also did a bunny jump, which has to be one of the most fun things I’ve ever done! Although it wasn’t as graceful a jump as I was hoping for, the whole thing was incredible and I wanted to do it all over again straight after!
- Lake Mahinapua – although this place was literally a pub and lake in the middle of nowhere, it was one of the most enjoyable nights. Everyone on the bus joined in with a dress up theme and the pub throws the party – after giving us a delicious and much-needed roast dinner! Everyone on the bus got to know each other more this night so it was the start of many new friendships!
- Nelson Lakes and Lake Matheson – We saw a fair amount of lakes and many, many mountains while in New Zealand, but these two were by far the most beautiful ones. Nelson Lakes was sitting in front of two mountains, glittering away in the sun and Lake Matheson is famous for being the most reflective lake in the world. The pictures don’t do them justice!
How our time in New Zealand could have been better
By following the bus timetable we were given, we were in New Zealand for 2 weeks. We were staying the minimum time in each place but this didn’t actually work out too well as the bus would arrive somewhere at 3pm and would be leave around 8am the next morning. In some stops we only saw the inside of the hostel before we were leaving again.
Before starting the Kiwi Experience, we weren’t too sure how the whole thing worked. During the trip, it all became clear and it seemed to be a really good way to see New Zealand, as we didn’t need to organise any of our own travel or any activities – Kiwi Experience did that all for you.
What we should have been told was that we wouldn’t have time to do many of these activities as we weren’t going to be in the places for long enough. Instead we were up and back on that bus nearly every single morning. By the end of the fortnight we’d spent a lot of the time driving and we were exhausted with the constant packing and moving on. We got to see some good stuff in the South Island but there wasn’t much point in us even travelling to the North Island – we only saw the hostels.
Then there was Lake Tekapo, the stop after Queenstown. When the three of us tried to get on the bus out of Queenstown, we were told that only 2 of us were booked onto it… It turns out that following some emails with Kiwi Experience, they had booked for 1 of us to leave Queenstown the day before the other 2 – a stupid mistake seeing as we were travelling as a group. It also worked out that this was the only day the bus was completely full, so there was no way we could get on and travel to Lake Tekapo as planned. Following some unhappy and inconclusive phone calls with the company, we had to find our own way out of Queenstown, so we could get to Auckland in time for our flight to America. As it turned out, we did see Lake Tekapo as the InterCity bus we ended up taking did stop there on its journey. We would then catch up with the Kiwi bus we were meant to be on in the first place and continue our journey up to the North Island.
This mistake, the cost of fixing it and the fact that Kiwi Experience would not reimburse us for cost of fixing their mistake meant the rest of our journey with them was not as enjoyable as it should have been. We also didn’t get to say goodbye to many of the friends we had made, as they were leaving on that full bus out of Queenstown and their trips ended after that.
I don’t want to end on a negative note, so I will say some more good things! The other passengers on the bus were all around our age and were all very nice. We made some of our closest travel friends on that bus and will make sure to stay in touch with them! The bus drivers were also really friendly. They were easy to like and a lot of fun. Theoretically, Kiwi Experience should work out to be a great way to travel New Zealand…
But it’s safe to say we were more than ready to move on by the end of that fortnight and were keen to head to Los Angeles – our next stop!