Most of the world's acclaimed beautiful countries don't spoil you with travel options quite like New Zealand does. Perhaps that's why it now sits at the top of most backpackers bucket lists. But deciding can be a struggle if you're not equipped with the right information on each of your options.
Luckily, we've straightened them out for you.
100% Freedom and Flexibility with Campervan Hire
There is no other travel option that’ll offer the freedom and flexibility offered by a campervan- you can go wherever you like, whenever you like, and your chosen itinerary can change by the day.
New Zealand can sometimes feel like it was tailor-made for a campervan roady. There can’t be many better feelings than rolling your home-on-wheels through some truly epic scenery, with only sheep for company, following random road signs pointing you to unknown lakes, waterfalls and new adventures. It’s the stuff of travellers dreams.
There are some aspects of campervan rental that don’t quite line up with the fantasy though- are you used to driving on the left side of the road? In pouring rain and snow? Do you know your travel-mates well enough to spend weeks in each other's pockets? Are you prepared for it to be FREEZING COLD?
People often underestimate the size of the country- yes NZ is smaller than their neighbours across the Tasman but there is still a risk of spending most of your time driving, and not enough time enjoying yourself. Allow yourself up to three weeks for each Island to avoid burnout and you’ll get to really appreciate your surroundings.
It’s also worth spending time really considering the various vans available for hire. A self-contained van (one with its own toilet and wastewater facilities) means you can camp almost wherever you like, but without these facilities, you will have to stick to paying for campsites- limiting your potential to stop wherever and whenever you like. You can also find vans with, or without, facilities such as leisure batteries, onboard wifi, a banging stereo, heating, cooking facilities, and USB charging for all your devices. Can you do without Instagram for a few days or is that a dealbreaker?
Ultimately though, as long as you’re careful when budgeting and choosing a van, and you’re realistic about the time your trip will take; you’ll find the cold and the long drives to be totally worth it when you get off the beaten track and wake up to spectacular, remote sunrises that only the intrepid get to see.
Flexibility without Responsibility with a Hop On Hop Off Bus Pass
Hop-on-hop-off bus companies offer you a lot of the flexibility of a campervan rental, but without the stress of driving, without the risk of a breakdown, and without the hassle of navigating remote country roads in horrendous weather. If you’re a less experienced traveller or are going solo for the first time, they offer an enticing combination of structure and flexibility where you have the freedom to decide your own itinerary, but with help at hand every step of the way.
The drivers on hop-on-hop-off buses double as informative guides, who without exception have a passion for showing off the best of New Zealand. They are there to help with any questions you may have, to help you plan and book activities as you go round the country, and to show you their favourite secret spots along their route. A great thing about these buses, particularly for solo travellers is that your fellow passengers are all after the same thing- a mind-blowing travel experience in one of the most beautiful countries in the world. With this much common ground between you right off the bat it should be really easy to make friends.
Hop-on-hop-off passes are also a great option for those combining work and travel. Passes are typically valid for up to twelve months and sometimes allow you to repeat parts of your journey. Want to stop somewhere to work for a few weeks/ months? Going to stay with a friend for a few weeks? No worries! As soon as you’re ready to resume your journey you can hop on the next bus- you’ll never be waiting more than a couple of days before the adventure can continue.
Hop-on-hop-off bus passengers also benefit from guaranteed slots in accommodation at every overnight destination. This is a major stress reliever in the summer months where hostel beds are either at a premium or completely unavailable. Just let them know you’re getting on the bus, then sit back and relax.
Waste Zero Time with a Point to Point Bus Pass
This new kind of bus pass is similar to a Hop-on-hop-off pass but without any of the frills. It uses the public coach network instead of having dedicated buses and is a great alternative to these companies for those on a shoestring budget.
You pay for a bus ticket that takes you from one point in NZ to another, then have up to 12 months and as many stops as you need to complete this itinerary. Super simple and the rest is up to you!
Unlike the Hop-on-hop-off travel companies, repeat travel along the route is not allowed, the driver is not there to offer you any guidance, and impromptu stops at points of interest en-route are off the menu.
However, if you’re an experienced traveller who can do without the en-route information of a driver-guide, if you don’t mind sorting out your own accommodation at each location, and if you’d rather surround yourself with genuine New Zealanders as opposed to backpackers from your home country- this could be the best travel option for you!
Guaranteed New Friendships with Fully Guided Tours
Some people don’t mind being called tourists not travellers, some people just don’t like the stress that comes from planning an entire trip, and some just have enough money to let other people do the planning for them! If you fit into any of these groups a fully guided tour might be the best option for you.
There are numerous companies offering accommodated tours with activities, guidance, and meals included to suit almost any demographic and budget, in group sizes ranging from 2 to over 50. They offer carefully planned, action-packed itineraries which will take you to all the must-do locations in total comfort with a group of like-minded individuals. The accommodation available ranges from budget backpackers hostels to swanky hotels, depending on your preferences and spending power.
The benefits of a trip like this are obvious, and you are pretty much guaranteed a great time as long as you’re willing to sacrifice spontaneity. Tour providers have abundant experience showing a good time to every different kind of traveller and make the job of enjoying yourself as easy as possible.
While it is an awesome way to see the highlights and you're certain to leave with some great memories, what is rarer on a fully guided tour is to be shown the secret waterfall, the back-street restaurant where all the locals go, or the stunning-yet-deserted mountain hike. For some, these are the most magical travel experiences and it’s important to be aware of this when booking a package tour.