If you have done any sort of research into travelling around New Zealand, you will probably have heard about “hop-on hop-off”. Hop-on hop-off is a type of backpacker bus network in New Zealand, which, simply put, is a flexible bus tour for adventurous travellers!
With a mix of free and optional pay-as-go activities, the bus trip around New Zealand is action-packed. What’s more, the “hop-on hop-off” aspect of the bus trip means you can opt to get off the bus and enjoy some independent travelling at any point during the route, making hop-on hop-off a popular means of transport for backpackers.
Kiwi Experience and Stray
The two hop-on hop-off bus companies operating in New Zealand are Kiwi Experience and Stray. Although they take different routes around New Zealand and offer slightly different passenger experiences, they work in very similar ways in terms of how you travel with them. The rest of this article will explain how Stray and Kiwi Experience work in more general terms. However, should you want to compare the bus companies take a look at What is the Difference Between Stray and Kiwi Experience.
How to use hop-on hop-off bus for transport
The hop-on hop-off bus companies offer a variety of bus passes, from their entire bus route to just one island to any smaller section in between. You cannot, however, buy a bus pass for a one-day trip. You need to be committed!
Once you have your bus pass, you can complete the route within 12 months, allowing you full flexibility! Book your route with the bus company’s reservation team and hop-on the bus to begin your adventure. You can either follow the same bus around the route in the minimum amount of days, or hop off the bus at any time or location along the route. Then, when it comes to hopping back on the bus, book with the reservations team again and get back on the bus on your next chosen departure date.
Activities and Accommodation with the backpacker bus
Not just a means of transportation, the hop-on hop-off bus in New Zealand is like a flexible tour, meaning your days travelling with the bus will be action-packed. Expect both free and optional paid activities, as well as being booked into the bus company’s recommended hostel (if you choose to).
Activities on the hop-on hop-off bus
Along the route, there will be a wealth of short hikes, lakes, waterfalls, hot pools and more to take advantage of. The bus will stop at these noteworthy locations to take part in some free activities. With each day that you travel on the bus, there are also a selection of optional activities to take part in, which are added extras to pay for once you arrive at the activity provider. You can usually sign up to one or two activities per day or as little activities as you want. The bus driver books these activities for you so it’s hassle free.
Accommodation with the hop-on hop-off bus
If you stay with the bus company’s recommended hostel/lodge/overnight accommodation, then the bus driver books this for you. The first night at each location is guaranteed. More nights can be booked but this is subject to availability. You don’t have to stay in the recommended accommodation. In this case the bus driver can usually transport you as close to your chosen accommodation as possible, but you will need to book your own accommodation yourself.
There are a number of costs you need to consider when taking the bus because these are not all-inclusive tours.
Price of the hop-on hop-off bus pass
The prices of bus passes fluctuates with the sales. Plus, prices really depend on which bus pass you buy. For a full national pass the price can be anywhere between NZ$1000-2000. Keep an eye on those sales and read our 5 Tips to Get a Better Deal for a Backpacker Bus Pass.
Price of activities and accommodation
Although the bus driver can book accommodation and activities for you, you pay for these as you go. You can expect to pay around NZ$20-30 per night for accommodation (with a couple of exceptions, which you can read more about in our How to Budget for a Hop-on Hop-off Trip Around New Zealand). For activities, the prices can range from NZ$10 to NZ$400+ including the discount you often get by booking through the bus company, so making your own personal activities budget is essential. We’ve made a list of typical activity prices in The Cost of Backpacking in New Zealand.
Price of food
You will need to provide your own food and drink on the trip. By either stopping in a destination with a supermarket or making a supermarket stop during the day, you will have regular access to a supermarket to buy your own food to cook at the hostel, which is the best way to keep food costs low. Having group meals with your fellow bus passengers is another way to reduce food expenses.
How you want to travel around New Zealand is a personal and important decision to give yourself the best gap year or backpacking experience possible. That’s why we have ‘heaps’ of articles on backpacker transport, so you can make a well-informed decision! Take a look at these beauties: