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The Best Backpacker Bus Tours in New Zealand

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Which New Zealand backpacker bus tour to choose?

Want to see New Zealand in an adventure-packed tour with a bunch of like-minded travellers? Then you need to jump on a backpacker bus tour. Don’t worry, New Zealand has heaps and probably a lot more than you realised! From super flexible hop-on hop-off bus tours around the country to hassle-free all-inclusive tours, there’s an amazing selection to give you the trip of a lifetime. We go through them all in this comparison of the best backpacker bus tours in New Zealand!

Most of the backpacker bus tours in this list offer multiple tours just exploring the North Island or the South Island or just a bit off both if you are on super limited time. We suggest taking a look at all the offerings for each bus company. However, to make this comparison as easy-to-follow as possible, we have compared each backpacker bus company’s biggest tours around New Zealand. For more information on the types of buses available in New Zealand, take a look at Travel by Bus in New Zealand: The Ultimate Guide.

What to look at when comparing backpacker bus companies

We believe that their is no “best” bus company, as we are all looking for different travel experiences. However, it’s almost impossible to not have a blast on every single one of these bus tours. But to help you make the best decision for yourself, here are a few tips!

  • Compare the type of tour. Are you a fully independent traveller that wants a cheap way to travel? Choose a coach network. Do you want some flexibility to leave the tour to make the most of an extended trip in New Zealand or working holiday? Choose a hop-on hop-off bus. Or do you want an experience with the least organising to do as possible and just want to make the most of your limited time in New Zealand? Choose an all-inclusive bus tour!
  • Compare the activities and accommodation. You’ll get the best value for money if the tour includes activities that you want to do or at least gives you the option to. If accommodation is important to you, then compare accommodation, as some will be in tents, hostels, hotels, cabins and more. Is there chance to upgrade to a private room if you want to?
  • Compare what the passengers are like. Taking a backpacker bus tour is a social experience and you’re bound to meet some amazing people! People often make (or break) the experience. Although most of the backpacker buses advertise as “18-30s”, you’ll find some buses typically having younger passengers, while others will attract slightly older. Plus, some of you might want to travel with similar nationalities or different. We’ll do our best to tell you what type of passenger to expect on each tour in the comparison below.
  • Compare the destinations they visit. Does the bus company visit the New Zealand locations on your bucket list? Remember, even if they don’t stay the night in every destination around New Zealand, it’s likely that they will pass through giving you enough time to at least quickly visit the place. All the destinations in the comparison below are where the buses stay at overnight.
  • Compare prices. Prices are important, right?! We’re not made of money! With all the inclusions taken into consideration, is the price worth it? A trick we like to do is to divide the price by the number of minimum travel days on a bus pass – the result will give you a better idea of how much you are paying for the bus pass and its inclusions per day. For more advice on budgeting for a bus trip, see How to Budget for a Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Trip Around New Zealand and 5 Tips to Get a Better Deal on a Backpacker Bus Pass in New Zealand.
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Flying Kiwi

Flying Kiwi

Type of Tour

All-inclusive Hop-on Hop-off Bus Tour. Flying Kiwi is mainly travelled as a set bus tour taking one set route around the country. Food (mainly breakfast and dinner) is included as well as camping accommodation. However, there is the option to “hop-off” the bus anywhere along the route and then “hop on” another bus at an arranged time and date. For more information on how Flying Kiwi works, see this guide to Flying Kiwi.

Activities & Accommodation

Paid activities are on an optional pay-as-you-go scheme where the bus driver will book activities and transport you to those activities as book. There are a few paid activities included in the tour, such as Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Park, Queenstown Gondola and Marlborough wine tasting. There are always free options such as hikes and stopping at free attractions along the way. Hiring a bike is a popular option with Flying Kiwi, where the team will have your hired bike on board and stop at plenty of bike trails along the way. Accommodation and food is already arranged, with accommodation being in two-man tents, with upgrades available in some campsites.

Typical Passengers

Although Flying Kiwi claims to have passengers of 16-60 years old, they mostly have passengers aged between 20 years old to 40 years old with an average being the mid-20s. The trips are popular with UK and European travellers, however, you will still find the odd mix of travellers from the Americas. Group sizes are around 10-20 people per bus.

Destinations Visited

There are multiple passes to suit travellers’ different travel times. Flying Kiwi’s full national bus pass has a minimum travel time of 27-28 days hitting the following locations:

  • Auckland
  • Coromandel
  • Rotorua
  • Taupo
  • Kapiti Coast
  • Picton
  • Kaikoura
  • Peel Forest
  • Lake Pukaki
  • Moeraki
  • Dunedin
  • Milford Sound
  • Te Anau
  • Queenstown
  • Boundary Creek
  • Fox Glacier
  • Okarito
  • Punakaiki
  • Marahau
  • Wellington
  • New Plymouth
  • Bay of Islands
  • Orewa
Typical Prices

The full price for a national pass with Flying Kiwi is around NZ$4,500.

InterCity

Intercity

Type of Tour

National coach network. Intercity is a coach network used by locals and travellers alike in New Zealand, mostly for an affordable way to get between towns and cities across the country. InterCity offers a couple of different bus passes to travellers: the FlexiPass and the TravelPass. FlexiPass gives travellers a set amount of “hours” to travel anywhere in the country, while the TravelPass is a set route around the country typical of other backpacker bus tours in New Zealand. Find out more about how they work in What’s the Difference Between InterCity Backpacker Bus Passes?

Activities & Accommodation

Travelling with InterCity is a much more independent travel option in comparison to other bus tours, so accommodation and activities are not typically included in your bus ticket. However, some TravelPass bus passes have activities included, such as a Milford Sound day trip and cruise, Hobbiton Movie Set and a Bay of Islands dolphin cruise. The ferry between the North Island and the South Island, as well as the TranzAlpine train journey is also included in the national TravelPass. You will need to book other activities, accommodation and buy food independently.

Typical Passengers

InterCity has the broadest range of passengers out of all the backpacker bus tours on this list, due to the fact that it is the largest (and only) national coach network in New Zealand. There will be a mix of travellers from all over the world and New Zealanders.

Destinations Visited

With InterCity, you can travel to almost anywhere in New Zealand with more than 140 daily departures. With the FlexiPass, you decide the destinations. With the TravelPass, you choose one of the set routes on offer. Head to the InterCity TravelPass page for more information.

Typical Prices

A full national TravelPass with activities included is NZ$1,045, while a 60-hour FlexiPass costs around NZ$460 (which will get you to around 13 destinations from the top of the North Island to the bottom of the South Island and back again).

Contiki

Contiki

Type of Tour

All-inclusive Bus Tour. Contiki is a bus tour following a set route around the country. At least two meals a day are included, as well as accommodation with some activities. For more information on how Contiki works, see Contiki Vs. G Adventures: Comparison for New Zealand.

Activities & Accommodation

Accommodation is included in Contiki bus tours in the form of hotels and lodges. You may share a room with 1-4 other passengers or upgrade to get a private room. Some activities are included in your bus pass, such as a Hobbiton Movie Set Tour, Maori Hangi meal and more. For other paid activities you can either add them onto your tour when booking your pass or book with the driver as you travel. Food is also included in Contiki tours, usually breakfast and dinner and sometimes lunch.

Typical Passengers

Contiki tours are aimed at 18-35 year olds with the majority of passengers are usually 18-25 years old. There is usually a ration of more females to males. There can be a mix of nationalities, however, most passengers are from the Americas and Australia. Group sizes are usually a full large coach in the peak season and about half a large coach in the shoulder seasons.

Destinations Visited

There are multiple passes to suit travellers’ different travel times. Contiki’s full national bus pass has a minimum travel time of 19 days hitting the following locations:

  • Paihia
  • Auckland
  • Rotorua
  • Taupo
  • Mt Ruapehu
  • Wellington
  • Christchurch
  • Lake Ohau
  • Franz Josef
  • Queenstown
  • Te Anau
Typical Prices

A full national pass with Contiki is around NZ$3,820, but the pass is very often on sale. You can usually pick up a national pass for around NZ$3,400.

Wild Kiwi

Wild Kiwi

Type of Tour

All-inclusive bus tour. Wild Kiwi runs bus tours following a set routes around the country. Accommodation and some meals are included (mostly breakfast). Some activities are included in the pass with options to add-on paid activities. Flights between islands on the national pass are also included. For more information, see our guide to Wild Kiwi here.

Activities & Accommodation

Paid activities are on an optional pay-as-you-go scheme which you book with your driver. There are some paid activities included in the pass, such as surf lessons and the Wai-O-Tapu Geothermal Park. There’s also the opportunity to do free activities like hikes and stop by free attractions along the way. Accommodation is also included in the form of hostel and cabin accommodation where you will share a room with fellow passengers.

Typical Passengers

Wild Kiwi passengers are 18-35 year olds with an even mix of males and females. There are a range of nationalities, usually Europe and the Americas. Group sizes are kept small with up to 18 passengers.

Destinations Visited

There are multiple passes to suit travellers’ different travel times. Wild Kiwi’s full national bus pass has a minimum travel time of 21 days hitting the following locations:

  • Auckland
  • Coromandel
  • Rotorua
  • Napier
  • Taupo
  • Raglan
  • Christchurch
  • Kaikoura
  • Picton
  • Abel Tasman National Park
  • Punakaiki
  • Hokitika
  • Franz Josef
  • Mt Cook
  • Milford Sound
  • Queenstown
Typical Prices

The full price for a national pass with Wild Kiwi is around NZ$3,900.

Stray Travel

Stray

Type of Tour

Hop-on Hop-off Bus Tour. Stray follows a set route following one direction around New Zealand. Passengers have the opportunity to “hop off” the bus almost anywhere along the route then “hop-on” another bus at an arranged time and date, no matter if it’s the next available bus or in three months time. Certain passes allow “unlimited travel” meaning you can do the route multiple times while your pass is valid (usually 12 months from your start date) as long as you travel in order and when there is availability.

Activities & Accommodation

Paid activities are on an optional pay-as-you-go scheme where the bus driver will book activities and accommodation (mainly hostels) for you as you travel. However, you can choose to arrange your own activities and accommodation as you wish. There are opportunities to do free activities as you go, as your driver will stop at free walks and attractions along the route.

Typical Passengers

Stray boasts tours for 20-something year old backpackers wanting to get more “off the beaten track”. While you will find a diverse range of ages and nationalities, Stray passengers are more likely to be anywhere between 18-30 years old. There is usually a ratio of more females to males, mainly coming from the UK, Europe and the US. Expect group sizes to fill a large coach bus in the peak season and smaller groups to fill mini buses in the low season.

Destinations Visited

There are multiple passes to suit travellers’ different travel times. Stray’s full national bus pass has a minimum travel time of 31-35 days hitting the following locations:

  • Bay of Islands
  • Auckland
  • Coromandel
  • Tauranga/Mt Maunganui
  • Raglan
  • Rotorua
  • Lake Aniwhenua
  • Whakahoro
  • Raetihi
  • Wellington
  • Marahau
  • Franz Josef
  • Wanaka
  • Queenstown
  • Invercargill
  • Milford Sound
  • Stewart Island
  • Mt Cook
  • Peel Forest
  • Christchurch
  • Kaikoura
Typical Prices

The full price for a national pass is around NZ$1,735, but you will never pay the full retail price for a Stray bus pass. Sales on bus passes happen year-round, usually bringing you around NZ$1,200 for a full national bus pass.

Kiwi Experience

Kiwi Experience

Type of Tour

Hop-on Hop-off Bus Tour. Kiwi Experience follows a set route following one direction around the country. Passengers have the opportunity to “hop off” the bus anywhere along the route and “hop-on” another bus at a prearranged time and date, no matter if it’s the next available bus or in three months time. Certain passes allow “unlimited travel” meaning you can do the route multiple times while your pass is valid (usually 12 months from your start date) as long as you travel in order and when there is availability.

Activities & Accommodation

Paid activities are on an optional pay-as-you-go scheme where the bus driver will book activities and accommodation (mainly hostels) for you as you travel. However, you can choose to arrange your own activities and accommodation as you wish. There are opportunities to do free activities as you go, as your driver will stop at free walks and attractions along the route.

Typical Passengers

Kiwi Experience boasts a bus tour experience for 20-something adventurous backpackers. 18-25-year-old passengers from the UK and Europe are often the majority with a larger ratio of females to males. Nevertheless, you will still find a diverse range of people outside of the “typical” age range and nationality. Expect group sizes to fill two large coach buses in the peak season and almost fill one large coach bus in the low season.

Destinations Visited

There are multiple passes to suit travellers’ different travel times. Kiwi Experience’s full national bus pass has a minimum travel time of 30 days hitting the following locations:

  • Bay of Islands
  • Auckland
  • Coromandel
  • Rotorua
  • Waitomo
  • Taupo
  • Ruahine Ranges (River Valley)
  • Wellington
  • Kaiteriteri
  • Lake Mahinapua
  • Franz Josef
  • Wanaka
  • Queenstown
  • Invercargill
  • Dunedin
  • Lake Tekapo
  • Christchurch
  • Kaikoura
Typical Prices

The full price for a national pass is around NZ$1,650, but you will never pay the full retail price for a Kiwi Experience bus pass. Sales on bus passes happen year-round, usually bringing you around NZ$1,000 for a full national bus pass.

BackpackerGuide.NZ

Topdeck

Type of Tour

All-inclusive Bus Tour. Topdeck offers a bus tour following a set route around the country. Breakfasts and some dinners are included, as well as accommodation and some activities. The ferry between the North Island and South Island is also included.

Activities & Accommodation

Accommodation is included in Topdeck bus tours in the form of hotels, lodges, cabins, hostels and a Maori marae. You may share a room with 1-4 other passengers or upgrade to get a private room. Some activities are included in your bus pass, such as a Wine tasting, Maori cultural performance and more. Other optional paid activities are booked with the driver as you travel. Food is also included in Topdeck tours, all breakfasts and seven dinners if you are taking the full national pass.

Typical Passengers

Contiki tours are aimed at 18-30 year olds with the majority of passengers are usually 18-25 years old. There is usually an even ratio of males and females. There can be a mix of nationalities, however, most passengers are from the Americas and Australia. Group sizes are usually a full large coach (36 people) in the peak season and about half a large coach in the shoulder seasons.

Destinations Visited

There are multiple passes to suit travellers’ different travel times. Topdeck’s full national bus pass has a minimum travel time of 19 days hitting the following locations:

  • Christchurch
  • Fox Glacier
  • Queenstown
  • Lake Ohau
  • Kaikoura
  • Nelson
  • Wellington
  • Tongariro National Park
  • Rotorua
  • Auckland
  • Bay of Islands
Typical Prices

A full national pass with Topdeck is around NZ$3,500, but the pass is very often on sale. You can usually pick up a national pass for around NZ$3,000.

G Adventures

G Adventures

Type of Tour

All-inclusive Bus Tour. G Adventures offers bus tours following set routes around the country. At least two meals a day are included, as well as accommodation with some activities. For more information on how G Adventures works, see Contiki Vs. G Adventures: Comparison for New Zealand.

Activities & Accommodation

Accommodation is included in G Adventures bus tours in the form of hostels, lodges and budget hotels. You may share a room with other passengers or upgrade to get a private room. Some activities are included in your bus pass, such as boat tours, kayaking tours, surf lessons, Maori cultural experiences and more. For other paid activities you can book with the driver as you travel. Food is also included on tours with G Adventures, usually breakfast and dinner almost every day.

Typical Passengers

G Adventure tours are aimed at “18-30 something” year olds. The majority of passengers are usually in their mid-20s. A mix of nationalities can be found on the G Adventures buses from Europe, the Americas, Australia and more. Different tour styles that G Adventures offers are slightly catered to different groups, such as the “National Geographic” tours aimed at those in their late-20s early-30s, and the “Yolo” tours aimed at the younger crowd. Most of the tours available in New Zealand are the “Yolo” tours.

Destinations Visited

There are multiple passes to suit travellers’ different travel times and styles of travel. G Adventures’ full national bus pass has a minimum travel time of 24 days hitting the following locations:

  • Bay of Islands
  • Auckland
  • Raglan
  • Rotorua
  • Tongariro National Park
  • Wellington
  • Abel Tasman National Park
  • Westport
  • Franz Josef
  • Wanaka
  • Queenstown
  • Milford Sound
  • Te Anau
  • Otago Rail Trail
  • Christchurch
  • Kaikoura
Typical Prices

A full national pass with G Adventures is around NZ$4,300, but the pass is very often on sale. You can usually pick up a national pass for around NZ$3,400.

Kiwi Vibes

Kiwi Vibes

Type of Tour

All-inclusive Bus Tour. Kiwi Vibes offers bus tours following set routes around the country throughout summer. Breakfast and some other meals are included, as well as accommodation and some activities. The ferry between the North Island and South Island is also included.

Activities & Accommodation

Accommodation is included in Kiwi Vibes bus tours in the form of hostel dorm rooms shared with your fellow passengers. Some activities are included in your bus pass, such as wine tasting, party boat cruise and more. For other optional paid activities you can book with the driver as you travel. There are plenty of free attractions and walks included along the way. Food is also included on tours with Kiwi Vibes, including breakfast every day and lunch and dinner most of the time.

Typical Passengers

Kiwi Vibes tours are aimed at 18-30 year olds. A mix of nationalities can be found on the Kiwi Vibes buses from the UK, Europe, Australia and more. Groups can be up to 30 people with an even ratio of males and females.

Destinations Visited

There are multiple passes to suit travellers’ different travel times and styles of travel. Kiwi Vibes’s full national bus pass has a minimum travel time of 22 days hitting the following locations:

  • Bay of Islands
  • Coromandel
  • Tauranga / Mt Maunganui
  • Rotorua
  • Wellington
  • Kaikoura
  • Hokitika
  • Franz Josef
  • Queenstown
  • Lake Ohau
  • Christchurch
  • New Plymouth
  • Raglan
  • Auckland
Typical Prices

A full national pass with Kiwi Vibes is around NZ$3,680, but the pass is usually advertised as being on sale at around NZ$3,500.

Cheeky Kea Tours

Cheeky Kea

Cheeky Kea are new to the backpacker bus tour scene in New Zealand, so we have limited information on their tours. We will update this section as more information is made available.

Type of Tour

All-inclusive Bus Tour. Cheeky Kea offers bus tours following set routes around the South Island. Breakfast and some other meals are included, as well as accommodation with some activities. 2018/19 will be the first summer they are running.

Activities & Accommodation

Accommodation is included with Cheeky Kea bus tours. Some activities are included in your bus pass, such as a Milford Sound cruise, kayak rental, bike rental and more. For other paid activities you can book with the driver as you travel. Breakfast is also included every day with some days having dinner included.

Typical Passengers

Cheeky Kea aims tours at 18 to 30-something year-olds.

Destinations Visited

Cheeky Kea’s South Island bus pass has a minimum travel time of 15 days hitting the following locations:

  • Christchurch
  • Akaroa
  • Mt Cook
  • Queenstown
  • Te Anau
  • Wanaka
  • Franz Josef
  • Punakaiki
  • Abel Tasman National Park
  • Blenheim
  • Kaikoura
Typical Prices

A South Island bus pass is around NZ$2,300, but is on sale for its first summer season at NZ$1,750.

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Naked Bus / Manabus

Naked Bus and Manabus are no longer operating in New Zealand.

We thought it would be worth mentioning them at the end of this backpacker bus tour comparison, as they have a long-standing reputation that will have a few of you wandering: “What about Naked Bus?” But it’s true, they are no longer around.

The closest comparison to Naked Bus and Manabus is InterCity.

Videos About New Zealand Backpacker Bus Tours

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