I landed in Christchurch in the beginning of February, also known as Peak Season when everything is booked out (which I of course was completely unaware of, and just going with the flow with no premade plans). After booking a required flight out of the country back to Australia in Melbourne airport, I had 20 days to get me from the South Island to the North, with a plan to see as much as possible and to spend as little money as I could (yet still going black water rafting in a glow worm cave etc).
Even though New Zealand is known for its’ hospitality, I decided not to opt for hitchhiking, but to travel around the South Island and across the strait to the North by bus. The famous backpacker hop on hop off travel company Kiwi Experience caught my eye with their Trans-Alpine Dog Leg, combining the bus experience with the scenic train ride across the Southern Alps. Cheap ass like I am, I decided not to book the buss pass (valid for 12 months on your chosen route) in advance from their website, as I was hoping for some sweet deals in NZ. Well…lucky me, since there was no special deals and after waiting 45 minutes on the queue on the phone, I also found out that there would be no way I could complete the journey to Auckland in time, since all the buses were already fully booked. Trashing my dreams of the train, I also rang up a more “off the beaten path” bus company, Stray, to hear the same news: no can do.
At this point I had been in New Zealand for 15 hours, eaten two protein bars I smuggled to the country, and spent the night trying not to breathe too heavily in the direction of my very sick German roommates who coughed the whole night. A little desperation was crawling in my gut, but with the strong will and dedication from the travel lady in the hostel (All Stars in Christchurch, unlimited wifi!), we decided to build a trip on my own, no backpacker groups no nothing (which is probably a good thing, I didn’t want to share rides with 20 year old Germans anyway, and I am not that into tours in general, with my Mekong Delta experience in mind).
After 2 hours of looking pictures of places online and trying to suss out what I actually wanted to see, this is what my itinerary looks like, with bus durations in brackets:
4.2. Christchurch – Mount Cook (5:30)
5.2. Mt Cook – Queenstown (4:05)
8.2. Queenstown – Wanaka (1:40)
9.2. Wanaka – Franz Joseph (6:25)
10.2. Franz Joseph – Nelson (10:15)
12.2. Nelson – Picton Picton – Wellington (5:50, Ferry)
14.2. Wellington – Rototua (7:05)
16.2. Rotorua – Waitomo (4:01)
17.2. Waitomo – Auckland (3:23)
I bought a 50hr Intercity Flexi bus pass for $379 NZD, leaving me 1 extra hour to use and the possibility to buy additional hours to use to go North of Auckland for a night. I also conveniently booked 10 nights at Base hostels for $269 with a Base Jumping card, and the rest were done via hostelworld. All in all, I paid $648 NZ dollars for 10 nights accommodation and all the buses. In comparison, the cheapest Kiwi Experience pass costs $772 NZD, not including accommodation. On average, the passes are well over $1000, so I am pretty happy with how things turned out.
After actually starting my trip I can give more insight on how the travels actually went. Intercity buses don’t do pick-ups from hostels unlike the Kiwi Experience, but most of the places I am visiting are apparently so small that you can walk anywhere and everywhere.
Things to keep in mind when traveling to NZ: Have a ticket out. Don’t bring along any fruit or anything that has had fruit in it. Exchange money in advance. Prepare for hospitality and loads of Germans. Note that supermarket food is so expensive it might be on par with eating out (at least if you make 2 meals out of one portion). Everything a tad interesting will cost money. Heaps of money. But she’ll be alright.