Heading to New Zealand soon? Read my honest Kiwi Experience review so you can decide if it’s the best way to travel around New Zealand for you.

New Zealand prides itself on being one of the most accessible countries for backpackers. It can be attributed to its good quality hostels and reliable ways to get around the country.

From campervans to bus tours, there isn’t a shortage of transport options at your disposal. 

I visited New Zealand as a first-time solo traveller and I decided to book the popular hop-on, hop-off bus tour operator, Kiwi Experience because I didn’t drive and I wanted an easy way to meet other travellers.

If you’re thinking about doing the same, keep reading. In this review of the Kiwi Experience, I share how it works, where it goes and what it’s like travelling around New Zealand on the Big Green Bus.

Strap in!

What is the Kiwi Experience? 

kiwi experience review. Green bus on the road in New Zealand.
Kiwi Experience, aka the ‘Big Green Bus!’

Kiwi Experience is a flexible hop-on, hop-off bus tour that takes its passengers around the North and South Islands of New Zealand. It’s been going for over 30 years now so it’s a well-established tour operator.

Recognisable by the big green bus, Kiwi Experience tours cover the length and breadth of the country, showing passengers all the bucket list highlights and hidden gems New Zealand has to offer. 

Passengers are given a flexible amount of time to complete a tour of their choice, with some tours allowing up to 12 months for completion, hence the ‘hop-on, hop-off’. That’s one of the biggest selling points of the tour.

You can then tailor your itinerary and accommodation along the way to suit your budget and travel style.  

Kiwi Experience’s signature green bus has gained a reputation for being a bit of a party bus among the locals as it caters predominantly towards 18-30-year-old backpackers; a little like Freshers Week on tour some say.

Nevertheless, it’s a useful and popular way to travel around New Zealand if you’re a first-time traveller, solo traveller, or simply don’t fancy the hassle of driving.  

And you don’t have to get involved with the party antics if you don’t want to. You can always hop off that particular bus and join another one.

For the record, my buses had 18-year-olds up to 60-year-olds so don’t let ’16-30′ put you off!

How the Kiwi Experience works 

A girl with blonde hair standing at the back of a boat looking at the water and snow-capped mountains of Milford Sound.
Hop on and hop off as much as you like on Kiwi Experience

Booking your Kiwi Experience bus pass is as easy as visiting the website and following the steps.

You can tailor your Kiwi Experience how you wish by choosing from a range of flexible hop-on-hop-off passes that cover New Zealand’s North and South Islands in as little or as much detail as you like. 

The tour operator also has the option to choose small group tours promising a maximum capacity of no more than 24 people at a time or private tours with just your group.

Although you have a slightly limited amount to choose from, these tours offer a quieter and more personal holiday experience. The small group tours range from 8-24 days and cost from NZ$1599 to NZ$5459.

Dedicated snowsports tours are also available in winter for those wanting to seek out the best slopes and ski resorts the country has to offer. 

A typical Kiwi Experience hop-on, hop-off bus pass can be as little as 2 to 25 days minimum, covering specific points of interest along the length and breadth of the country. 

Some passes allow you to start and finish anywhere whereas others are limited to the selected starting points.

To break it down, there are eight main types of bus passes you can do:

  • Start / finish anywhere
  • North Island only
  • South Island only
  • Start in Auckland, finish in Christchurch
  • Start in Christchurch, finish in Auckland
  • Start in Wellington, finish in Auckland
  • Start in Auckland, finish in Queenstown
  • Start in Queenstown, finish in Auckland

If you want to get your money’s worth then I recommend choosing one of the lengthier bus passes depending on how much time you have.

Why? 

A) You might as well see as much of the country as you can while you’re there. 

B) Kiwi Experience is always running sales on their bus passes so you’re guaranteed to find a bargain. 

The beauty of the Kiwi Experience bus pass is that once you buy it, everything is sorted from your transport to your itinerary.

All you need to do is book your flights and have enough money saved up for your accommodation, food, drinks and activities. Easy. 

I went all in and booked the biggest Kiwi Experience bus tour for New Zealand – the Whole Kit and Caboodle.

True to its name, it left no stone unturned, covering the very tip of the North Island to the deepest south of the South Island in a minimum of 25 days.

The original price of this whopping tour was NZ$1779 but I managed to bag it for 40% off in a sale, paying NZ$1067. The original price has now gone up to NZ$1899 but keep reading to find out how to save dollars on these tours.

The Whole Kit is the most flexible bus pass on offer, allowing its passengers to start and finish anywhere with unlimited travel for up to 12 months. 

Why I did the Kiwi Experience 

Milford Sound in New Zealand. Back of a blonde girl's head with a lake and mountains behind.
Milford Sound was one of the highlights of my Kiwi Experience tour

I was travelling to New Zealand on my own. It was my first official long-haul solo trip so I wanted something hassle-free and easy so I could enjoy my trip without worrying about the intricacies of the itinerary.

The Kiwi Experience provided a safety net with a touch of flexibility, allowing me to strike out on my own when I wanted. 

I discovered the bus tour operator through STA Travel (it’s no more, sadly).

It appeared to be the perfect choice for first-time solo travellers who were overwhelmed by the thought of planning a trip to the other side of the world on their own. 

Review: what Kiwi Experience is really like

A girl in a white top and black leggings standing and looking out across a long sandy beach. Cape Reinga in New Zealand.
Cape Reinga in the very north of the North Island

The Kiwi Experience may have gained a reputation for being a party bus, but the tour operator had its fair share of early mornings with scheduled departures long before 10am most days.

I would be lying if I said it wasn’t painful but after a few days of 7am starts it started to get a bit easier. I learnt very quickly that the key was to unpack as little as possible the day before. 

The bus spent a minimum of one night at each stop unless scheduled otherwise. Half the day was usually spent driving and the rest of the time was allocated to activities we had booked en route or relaxing at the hostel. 

On a few occasions, there was more driving than usual simply because there was a lot of ground to cover. I didn’t mind though as New Zealand wasn’t lacking on the scenery front.

Staring out of the window had never been so interesting! There were always regular pit stops along the way if you got peckish or fancied a stretch. Note, there are no bathrooms onboard the bus.

The drivers are an integral part of the Kiwi Experience tour. Depending on what bus pass you choose, you have several different drivers in one tour that operate on specific routes. Some of them have been doing it for decades. 

Your Kiwi Experience bus driver is more than just a driver, they’re your tour guide, entertainment manager and friend.

They’re full of stories about bygone trips, facts about each stop and jokes to make you laugh during the journey. 

Read More: 11 of the Best Responsible Tour Operators in the World

The pace of Kiwi Experience tours

A girl with blonde hair sitting on a jetty and looking out across a big blue lake with snow-capped mountains in the distance. Nelson Lakes, New Zealand.
Looking out across Nelson Lakes

Kiwi Experience can pass very quickly through its scheduled stops so it’s a good idea to hop off from time to time to give yourself a chance to rest, see more of the area and put on a much-needed clothes wash. 

If you do decide to stay a bit longer all you need to do is log into your Trip Planner (which you get access to once you book a tour), browse the bus timetable and book the bus that coincides with your dates.

If you need help, fire off a quick email or call the office and let them know the dates you plan to be getting off and what date you would like to be getting back on.

It’s vital to do this a few days in advance, particularly during the peak season (December – March) as buses tend to be full and you don’t want to get stranded –  as lovely as each stop is. 

Activities you can do with Kiwi Experience

A girl in  a red and white striped top and black trousers standing in front of the big red circular door of a hobbit house at Hobitton Movie Set in New Zealand.
Checking out the famous Hobbiton Movie Set!

Without giving too much of the game away, just some of the activities on offer include: 

How to book your activities and accommodation with Kiwi Experience

Two girls sitting on the edge of a jetty looking out across a glassy-grey lake with mountains in the distance in New Zealand.
Kiwi Experience is a good place to meet like-minded people

Your bus pass doesn’t include accommodation and activities but they’re easy enough to arrange en route.

Accommodation

Kiwi Experience works with accommodation providers which are typically well-known (and well-rated hostels like Nomads and some cool independent ones like Bazil’s Hostel & Surf School.

On my bus tour, the driver passed around a clipboard for us to sign if we needed somewhere to stay at the next stop and then they called ahead to make the booking for us. It was the same deal for the activities. Then we just showed up and paid.

Now, Kiwi Experience’s Trip Planner is a lot more organised and you can book accommodation and activities at the click of a button. Simply log in and book the accommodation for the minimum number of days (usually one night with the occasional two or three nights).

Accommodation bookings are fully flexible so you can change them as many times as you want without charge in the Trip Planner. As a rule of thumb, it’s best to have accommodation booked at least 48 hours in advance to guarantee somewhere to stay.

If you’re staying somewhere for longer, your easiest option is to arrange extra nights directly with the accommodation or book somewhere different.

I did this a lot through Booking.com (it’s how I got to Genius Level 3 which gives you more savings, by the way!).

Activities

On my tour, they passed around a clipboard for activities too and we signed our names next to the ones we wanted to do.

Now you can pre-book in your Trip Planner and make changes to your bookings as much as you like without charge. If you prefer to book as you go, that’s fine too. Kiwi Experience always reserves spots so no one misses out.

Nothing is compulsory (it’s a holiday after all!) and you’re at perfect liberty to make your own activity and accommodation arrangements should you wish.

You just need to make it back to the bus in time. 

The pros and cons of travelling with Kiwi Experience 

A girl sitting on a rock looking out towards the sea. Cathedra Cove, New Zealand for this Kiwi Experience review.
The beauty of Cathedral Cove

Pros of Kiwi Experience 

1) The Kiwi Experience has a bus pass to suit most budgets so you can spend as much or as little as you want. 

2) Its hop-on-hop-off nature allows you to tailor your tour to your own pace, giving you an unhurried and flexible way to experience New Zealand. 

3) The company is passionate about its conservation efforts and works to support local businesses wherever it can. 

4) You’re with the same group almost 24/7 so it’s a great opportunity to make friends fast. 

5) While passes are an initial upfront investment, you can often get exclusive discounts on accommodation and activities.

Cons of Kiwi Experience 

1) The demographic on the Kiwi Experience is predominantly a young backpacking crowd so it might not suit everyone’s travelling style. 

2) Buses can get full and cliques can form. 

3) The bus pass’s flexibility is certainly a bonus but joining a new bus full of travellers can be a daunting prospect if they’ve already had time to form friendship groups. 

4) Bus passes for the whole country are expensive.

Cost breakdown of how much I spent

Queenstown from the hill above. Rooftops of houses surrounding a lake with snow-capped mountains in the distance.
We were able to stay longer in Queenstown

New Zealand is well-known for being an expensive country. Here’s a breakdown of the cost of one month on the Kiwi Experience (bus pass included): 

What:

Cost:

The Whole Kit & Caboodle pass

NZ$1067 / GB£543.16

Food and drink

NZ$675.24 / GB£343.69

Activities

NZ$967.56  / GB£493.15

Accommodation

NZ$807.66 / GB£411.89

Miscellaneous

NZ$444.07 / GB£226.30

Total:

NZ$3,960.16  / GB£2,018.19

*Currency exchange rates are likely to fluctuate, so use the chart as a rough guide.

It’s worth noting that it took me nearly two months to complete my bus tour as I was keen to take my time.

This means that not every hostel and activity is accounted for here but it should be a helpful snapshot of the Kiwi Experience in full swing. 

Is the Kiwi Experience value for money?

Snow-capped mountains surrounding a glassy-blue lake. Milford Sound in New Zealand.
For views like this, I would say it’s worth it!

Just like any travel experience, you want to make sure what you’re getting is value for money.

I would say if you’re a first-time traveller or solo traveller, the Kiwi Experience is worth the money because you don’t have the hassle of planning transport, activities or accommodation. You can turn up and enjoy the ride.

It’s also cheaper than renting a campervan on your own.

If you’re a more experienced traveller or travelling as a couple or with friends, you might have a better time building your own flexible itinerary with either a campervan or a bus pass like InterCity.

To get the most value for money, buy your bus passes when they’re on sale. Kiwi Experience runs plenty of sales throughout the year.

Kiwi Experience bus tours can get you discounts on selected activities and accommodation so you can save money as you’re travelling too!

Kiwi Experience sustainability initiatives

A person standing on a gold sandy beach at Abel Tasman in New Zealand.
Kiwi Experience helps keep beaches like this clean

Kiwi Experience prides itself on being a low-impact form of travel.

It stands by the philosophy ‘green, not mean’, a commitment made by the tour operator to protect the communities it visits and the wildlife and nature it interacts with. 

Kiwi Experience takes part in numerous projects dedicated to preserving the flora and fauna of New Zealand.

Such projects include tree planting, regular beach cleanups in Westport which save on average 250kg of rubbish from entering the ocean each month and conservation efforts that are crucial to the survival of New Zealand’s iconic native bird, the kiwi. 

All Kiwi Experience buses have been fitted with a fuel monitoring system and every driver guide has been trained in ‘Safe and Fuel Efficient Driving’ (SAFED) to support the company’s commitment to reducing its carbon emissions by 20% in the last two years. 

Read More: 31 Best Responsible Tourism Destinations

Top tips for travelling with Kiwi Experience

A girl standing next to a retro truck with mountains behind. The Central Otago region of New Zealand.
Budget for the activities you want to do
  • Use your Trip Planner to look ahead during your tour, book accommodation, check bus timetables and start budgeting for activities.  
  • Do a Kiwi Experience tour during the shoulder or off-peak seasons (April-November) as buses are quieter which means you’re always guaranteed a place on the bus if you book it. 
  • Budget. It’s easy to go a bit crazy and book up anything and everything but some of the top activities can be expensive. Make sure you set aside a budget for the activities you don’t want to miss out on. Talk to your driver if you’re unsure about the costs. 
  • Don’t buy your bus pass at full price. The Kiwi Experience does regular sales so booking your tour far in advance won’t necessarily give you the best rate. 
  • Invest in a freezer bag and a few Tupperware boxes when you’re in New Zealand. More often than not you will be staying in hostels and cooking your own meals, which will mean grocery shopping and leftovers!
  • Pack comfortable clothes that you don’t mind getting a little worn and muddy. Kiwi Experience is all about adventure and the outdoors so comfort is key. 
  • If you decide to hop off the bus always make sure you have your next bus confirmed beforehand (particularly during the summer months). I heard plenty of stories of travellers getting stranded for weeks on end because there was simply no more room.
  • Don’t feel obliged to take part in every single social engagement. It’s your holiday and you’re at perfect liberty to book a private room and get an early night should you wish to. 
  • Don’t miss your chance to do an activity because you think you might do it later instead (I’m talking mainly about skydiving and bungee jumping here). You have no idea if the weather will be in your favour later on and you could miss your chance altogether. 
  • The ferry from the North to South Island is not included with your bus pass so make sure you budget about NZ$20 each way!

Read More: Epic Day Trip From Queenstown You Need to Do

Kiwi Experience Review: My verdict

Green Kiwi Experience bus on a road heading towards a church with snow-capped mountains behind in New Zealand.
Kiwi Experience is a hassle-free and flexible way to explore New Zealand

The Kiwi Experience is a fun and stress-free way to explore New Zealand. Perfect for first-time solo backpackers, it offers straightforward yet flexible tours that can give you as much or as little independence as you want.

The bus tours provide hassle-free access to some of New Zealand’s most treasured landmarks on the North and South Islands.

Its social vibe allows you to build fast friendships but catering predominantly to a younger demographic, it may not be suitable for older or more seasoned travellers.

Nevertheless, it’s a jam-packed, adventure-fuelled tour that takes you to the heart of New Zealand and beyond. 

I loved my experience and it gave me the confidence to push out on my own as a solo traveller.

To find out more about Kiwi Experience hop-on-hop-off bus passes, visit the Kiwi Experience website


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