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How to Budget for a Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Trip Around New Zealand

Those damn clipboards!

You start off with good intentions: “Ok, I’ve got my bus ticket. I’m going to spend as little as possible while I see has much of New Zealand as possible. I haven’t bought or rented a car, so I’ve definitely gone with the most wallet-friendly option… Lahh-dee-dahh-dee-dahh.” But then… those activity clipboards start making their way around your bus. All these activities sound freakin’ amazing! Your new-found bus mates are doing the activity so… Sign me up! Sign me up! Then there’s all the coffee and food stops. “But the New Zealand coffee is just so smooth and I can’t be bothered making food in a hostel.”

Next thing you know, you’re checking your bank account a week into you hop-on hop-off bus route and you’re like: “Shit.” You won’t be doing as much in Queenstown as you thought.

Ok, so that’s the worst-case scenario, as the hop-on hop-off buses are actually a cost-effective way of experiencing New Zealand, but it can easily spiral out of control when you are caught up in the excitement. You can still have the time of your life on a New Zealand hop-on hop-off bus while you are on a budget, so take a look at our tips below.

What costs can you expect on the hop-on hop-off bus?

The two hop-on hop-off bus companies that operate in New Zealand are Kiwi Experience and Stray. They both have daily expenses to consider when budgeting for your hop-on hop-off bus trip, which are:

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Accommodation

Because the hop-on hop-off buses in New Zealand are catered to backpackers, passengers will stay in backpacker hostels and lodges across the country. You will pay for your accommodation as you check-in the hostel. With both Kiwi Experience and Stray, you are guaranteed the first night of accommodation with the bus’ partner hostel. Booking more nights is subject to availability.

All Kiwi Experience’s chosen hostels cost around NZ$20-35 per night. This is the same for Stray, however there are two accommodations on the route that cost NZ$75-80 because food and extra activities are included in the price.

You also have the choice to pick your own accommodation and the bus drivers do what they can to drop you off as close to your chosen accommodation as possible.

How can you save more money on accommodation?

Passengers usually prefer to stick together by staying at the same recommended hostel by the the hop-on hop-off bus company, which is great! Always pick the cheapest option, as you may get a choice of 4-bed dorms to 8-bed dorms. If you end up hopping off the bus, search for cheaper hostels in the area, as the buses don’t necessarily pick the cheapest hostels.

  • Accommodation – NZ$20-35/day of travel

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Food

The hop-on hop-off buses make sure you have access to a supermarket daily. If there is a supermarket at that day’s final destination, then the driver will probably feel no need to stop at a supermarket on the way. If your final destination is the middle of nowhere – a common occurrence in New Zealand – then your driver will make sure there is a supermarket stop on the way.

Then you have no excuse not to buy your own food. Food prices are pretty similar to other “western” countries, however, it’s usually pretty hard to find super cheap deals. Check out The Cost of Backpacking in New Zealand to see our list of typical food prices in New Zealand supermarkets. We also list the price of common take-away foods.

How can you save money on food when on the hop-on hop-off bus?

We have a good bunch of articles showing you 11 Backpacker Tips to Save Money on Food, as well as which supermarkets are the cheapest in Food Shopping in New Zealand. All of these tips can be made use of while on the hop-on hop-off bus.

There is one rule of thumb when it comes to backpacking in New Zealand: make your own food in the hostel! Buy take-away food as little as possible! As mentioned above, the bus makes a lot of coffee and food stops, where you’ll always notice that a small group on the bus buys NZ$5 coffees at every stop. Trust us, all that coffee really adds up.

Finally, because the hop-on hop-off is such a social experience, it is easy to find a group of people to cook with. This not only keeps the cost down, but you’re more likely to make something healthier and cooking together is a nice way to spend time with people. Suggest it to your bus mates. Often, the bus driver will suggest a group meal too.

  • Food – NZ$10-15/day of travel

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Activities

Ok, this is the biggy. The hop-on hop-off buses offer a wide range of activities every day, as they work with a whole host of activity providers to get discounted prices for their passengers. Before arriving at each destination with the activity, the bus driver will give a convincing sales pitch, usually saying how, “This skydive is the best one in New Zealand.” Only to say the exact same thing as you approach the next town!

Bus passengers then sign up to activities on a clipboard that makes its way around the bus. The bus driver books the activity for you then transports you there and back. All you have to do is pay on arrival. The process is made so easy that people can get carried away with trying out as many activities as the day allows!

Activities cost anywhere from NZ$10 for a bar crawl to NZ$400+ for a heli-hike glacier ice climb. We have a typical activity price listing in What is the Cost of Backpacking in New Zealand?

If you care deeply about your budget, then never fear! There will be loads of other passengers in the same situation and both bus companies offer a great selection of free activities. Mother Nature has so much to offer in New Zealand, so Stray and Kiwi Experience utilise this as much as possible. You’ll visit free hot pools, do hikes, and see amazing sights like waterfalls, wildlife, viewpoints and more.

How to save money on activities on the hop-on hop-off bus?

Be choosy! Before you set off on your hop-on hop-off bus trip, take a look at the activities on offer with either Kiwi Experience or Stray. Work out how much you can spend with your budget and pick out the activities that appeal the most to you.

Remember, you don’t even have to do the activities suggested by the bus company. If there is something you really want to do, hop off the bus and spend some time picking activities independently.

Finally, make the most of the free activities. There will also be a few people on your bus that want to save money for a later stop, so get together and go for a hike.

Don’t forget to take a look at our activities section of BackpackerGuide.NZ to help you make an informed decision on which activities you want to do in New Zealand.

  • Activities – We recommend NZ$1200-1400 for the duration of the national pass. However, you can easily spend more or less. 

Want to know more about the hop-on hop-off bus?

Well, you’re in the right place!

As seasoned travellers who have taken the hop-on hop-off buses in New Zealand, we know a thing or two about them. Read more about Kiwi Experience and Stray in our articles.

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