The Kiwi Experience - over the years it's been known by many cheeky nicknames and has built up a legacy that is rather well known around the world over the most 25+ years. The big green buses are now something of an icon rolling around New Zealand with a quite a few backpackers hitching a ride, convincing us all to try some of the countries best adrenaline activities on offer! For me, it encompassed everything I want to get out of a cracking trip - new experiences, the ability to learn about a different culture, a flexible method of moving around and the perfect way to meet new like minded travellers!
The Kiwi Experience was the first tour styled trip I tried, and I have to say I was a little apprehensive at first. I was used to simply using public transport to go wherever my little heart pleased, whenever it pleased. Of course, I was able to compromise somewhat by using Kiwi. It's a hop on / hop off bus so you're not restricted to following the umbrella wielding tour guide from point to point on a rigorous schedule of site seeing and tourist shopping where they get a cut of everything you buy, but a more flexible way of travel. Essentially, if I arrived at one of the stops and didn't want to leave for 3 months or so, I could stay until I was ready to move on. All the passes (I think) are valid for a year from activation so you're good to go for as long as you want with 365 days of starting!
You won't find a tour guide with Kiwi, you rather have a 'driver guide' who encompasses everything - your in house DJ, driver, a hub of knowledge containing everything you'd want to know about New Zealand, your way of booking accommodation and activities, a new friend, a motivator (when you're about to jump out of a plane with a crippling fear of heights they're fairly awesome), the person helping you gather firewood for your beach bonfire and so much more. My list could go on forever! These guys really are superheroes and can do everything I swear. Obviously, with the trip being hop on / hop off styled, you change driver all the time as the buses move on while you stay, but with the 5 or 6 I met, all were equally as awesome as the next. They'll get as involved as you want them to be, so if you really don't want interaction they will leave you to it if that's what you'd prefer - but when someone has that much knowledge on a country why wouldn't you pick their brains?!
I also found that if a few of us on the bus wanted to see somewhere that perhaps isn't on the route, they'll do their best to work it in for you if other travellers don't mind. The guys also take you on some stunning walks to break up the driving days a little. They truly go above and beyond! When I wasn't sure how to hire a car for a day to visit another stop, our guide, 'Cuddles', simply gave me his phone and suggested a few companies for me to look up, then helped me book the best value one! I also wanted dropping off about an hour outside of Christchurch which isn't a planned stop to stay with family, and the driver at the time was more than happy to go slightly out of the way to drop me off!
But let's not beat around the bush, if you're not a people person, don't get on the bus. This is made for people who want to meet other like minded travellers, experience some new adventures and get to know a new country. Don't, however, get confused between being shy and a people person! It's perfect for those who are a little nervous about meeting others as you get the opportunity to meet a new friend along the way without it being forced with individual introductions by a tour leader - they're always so awkward . But if you're idea of hanging out with lots of people for a few weeks straight, and staying in hostels on a regular basis is like living through a scene from a Tim Burton movie - maybe just hire a camper van...
I'd also say it's not for the more seasoned traveller. This isn't to say you won't absolutely love it as I did, but I know that everyone has their own idea of how they like to travel. For me, I sure do love going out solo and getting myself into trouble, but it is sometimes nice to just take the easy route sometimes which is what Kiwi Experience can offer. A few people seem to think it's too much of a 'party bus' or just for young travellers; something I didn't find at all! I had more early nights watching sunsets while having a beer on the beach than I did partying, I think we went out maybe 4 times the whole time I was there, mainly in Queenstown. When you've got New Zealand scenery around you, not many people want to waste it hungover even on this 'party bus'. It was much more tame involving regular evenings of shared cooking, exploring new walking tracks and a couple fish & chip takeaways soaking in the evening heat. While I travelled at 20, I was the youngest by a fair few years most of the time, so if you haven't been on the buses yet - simply stop saying it's for 18 - 22 only as it's realllllllllllllly not. The oldest person on one of the buses was something like 58.
I won't get too into discussing the routes as they hit a full range of New Zealand hot spots, and you can check out in depth information appearing under the Oceania tab for each one of these destinations. You can also see a route map from my trip which encompassed all but the 'Deep South' section that Kiwi Experience run, this may have changed though by the time your reading this! The true highlights for me however was the Bay of Islands as this was my first experience I took part in, and also the Milford Sound!
Top tip for booking your Kiwi Experience pass - there is always one on sale. I think very few people actually pay full price for the passes unless they want a particular pass or are buying a shorter route. The long trips are amazing value with the sale packages, and it doesn't matter which pass you have as it's just one route that's travelled, it just depends on the add on's you've bought and the start / finish point you have that changes the price.
My end note for you guys if I haven't emphasised it enough already? If you want to meet a cracking group of people while travelling New Zealand this is the perfect way to do it. I've made lifelong friends and travel buddies who live all around the world. I've met a fair few of them in different places around the world and each one of them played a part in encouraging me to try a new adventure activity while out there. I skydived, black water rafted, tackled raging rivers and so much more. So I guess the only question left to ask is what are you waiting for?
This post was not sponsored by Kiwi Experience and has been written to share a good experience with readers. Where sponsorship has been provided for a review, this will be fully disclosed. Cover image and route map provided by Kiwi Experience on request.