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

How to Budget for a Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour of New Zealand

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Article Single Pages©
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How Much is Your Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour of New Zealand Going to Cost?

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 as 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 newfound bus mates are doing the activity so… Sign me up! Sign me up! Then there are 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 your hop-on hop-off bus tour and you’re like “Shit.” You won’t be doing as much in Queenstown as you thought. Maybe you should have made a budget for a hop-on hop-off bus tour of New Zealand?

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. The point we are trying to make is that 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.

Don’t know what a hop-on hop-off bus is? Maybe you should start with Hop-On Hop-Off Buses in New Zealand: Complete Guide + How Do They Work.

What Costs Can You Expect on the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus?

The two similar hop-on hop-off bus companies that operate in New Zealand are Kiwi Experience and Stray, while another company, Flying Kiwi, offers a more “all-inclusive” hop-on hop-off experience. Both Kiwi Experience and Stray have daily expenses to consider when budgeting for your hop-on hop-off bus trip, which are:

In this guide to the cost of Stray, Kiwi Experience and Flying Kiwi, we’ll break down the costs further so you can plan your backpacker bus tour budget.

How to Budget for a Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Trip Around New Zealand© THL - Kiwi Experience

The Cost of a New Zealand Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Pass

The cost of your hop-on hop-off bus pass with Kiwi Experience and Stray ranges from NZ$85 for a four-day pass to NZ$1,200-NZ$2,000 for a 20+ day national pass. Kiwi Experience tends to be slightly cheaper than Stray. Both Stray and Kiwi Experience often have their bus passes on sale. So how do you know you’re getting a good deal on a New Zealand hop-on hop-off bus pass?

One way to look at it is to get the price per day of travel by bus. To do that, find out the “minimum days of travel” of a pass that is stated on the brochure or on the website. Then divide the price of a pass by its minimum day of travel. You will get a price per day of travel. For that price, remember you are getting these things included: transportation + many stops along the way + some kind of free activities + commentary + fun times with like-minded people + the guarantee of one night’s of accommodation when you arrive at each destination.

After doing this calculation, a good deal for Kiwi Experience is NZ$40 per day of travel and for Stray NZ$45 per day of travel.

On the other hand, Flying Kiwi is an all-inclusive hop-on hop-off bus tour, including accommodation and some meals in their bus passes. Therefore, the price of a 20+ day full national bus pass with Flying Kiwi is approximately NZ$5,500.

For advice on getting a better deal on your hop-on hop-off bus pass, check out our 5 Tips to Get a Better Deal on a Backpacker Bus Pass in New Zealand.©

The Cost of Accommodation with the Hop-On Hop-Off Buses

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 at 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$25-$35 per night. This is the same for Stray, however, there are some 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 will do what they can to drop you off as close to your alternative 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 hop-on hop-off bus company, which is great! Always pick the cheapest option, as you may get a choice of 4-bed 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.

Flying Kiwi Accommodation Costs

The Flying Kiwi bus includes accommodation in the price of the bus pass. Accommodation is a shared tent with one other passenger. However, there is a chance to upgrade to cabins or your own tent. Of course, with accommodation included, this means there is more money to pay up-front for the bus pass.

How Much to Budget for Accommodation on Stray and Kiwi Experience per Day?

Budget for NZ$25-$35 per day for accommodation when travelling with Stray or Kiwi Experience.©

Food Costs with the Hop-On Hop-Off Buses

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.

While no meals are included with Kiwi Experience and Stray, at least one meal a day is included with Flying Kiwi.

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 takeaway foods.

How to 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 takeaway 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.

How Much to Budget for Food on Stray and Kiwi Experience per Day?

Of course, food is a personal choice for everyone. In general, however, we suggest that you budget NZ$15-$25 per day for food with Stray or Kiwi Experience if you are mostly cooking your own meals.©

The Cost of Activities on the Hop-On Hop-Off Buses

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 for activities on a clipboard that makes its way around the bus. The bus driver books the activity for you and 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$450+ for a heli-hike glacier ice climb. Check out the typical activity prices listed 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, Kiwi Experience and Flying Kiwi 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. For an idea of free activities, take a look at the 50 Best Free Things to Do in New Zealand. Plus, don’t forget to take a look at our 101 Things to Do in New Zealand: The Ultimate List to help you make an informed decision on which activities you want to do in New Zealand.

How Much to Budget for Tours and Activities on Stray and Kiwi Experience?

We recommend budgeting NZ$1,200-$1,400 for tours and activities for the duration of your national pass with Stray or Kiwi Experience. That’s approximately NZ$45-$55 per day. However, you can easily spend more or less.

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

How Much Does a Bus Tour with Kiwi Experience and Stray Cost?

With our full New Zealand hop-on hop-off bus cost breakdown, how much does it cost to travel with Kiwi Experience and Stray?

The cost of Kiwi Experience and Stray is approximately NZ$135 per day if sticking to a budget or NZ$3,650 for a full national pass (27-day trip).

See how this compares to alternative ways to travel using NZ Travel Budget: How Much Does a Trip to New Zealand Cost?

More About How to Budget for a Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour of New Zealand

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:

Finally, don’t forget to bookmark Travel by Bus in New Zealand: The Ultimate Guide for even more tips.


The information in this guide has been compiled from our extensive research, travel and experiences across New Zealand and the South Pacific, accumulated over more than a decade of numerous visits to each destination. Additional sources for this guide include the following:

Our editorial standards: At NZ Pocket Guide, we uphold strict editorial standards to ensure accurate and quality content.

About The Author

Robin C.

This article has been reviewed and approved by Robin, who is the co-founder of NZ Pocket Guide. With more than 15 years of experience in the New Zealand tourism industry, Robin has co-founded three influential tourism businesses and five additional travel guides for South Pacific nations. He is an expert in New Zealand travel and has tested over 600 activities and 300+ accommodations across the country.

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