The Ultimate Guide to Travelling by Bus in New Zealand
Which bus should you take to travel New Zealand? That’s right, you don’t need a car to travel New Zealand; travelling by bus is a super popular way to see the country. So popular, in fact, that there are three different ways to travel around the whole of New Zealand by bus! We’ll go through them all extensively in this ultimate guide to travelling by bus in New Zealand.
Bus travel and public transportation are not only ideal for the budget traveller but are also ways to explore New Zealand in an action-packed way while getting to meet loads of interesting people. This guide will go through all the ways you can travel by bus in New Zealand, including the pros and cons of each. We’ll even give you some quick details on city buses and day tours too.
Before we begin, be sure to bookmark the 10 Best Ways to Travel Around New Zealand for even more tips for getting around without a car.
Quick Tips for Travelling New Zealand by Bus
Our guide will go into detail about what is involved with each way to travel New Zealand by bus. But first, here are some quick tips for a New Zealand bus trip.
- Purchase your pass in the low season (April to August) when you can get the best deals; bus passes can usually be activated within a year
- Ask the driver which is the best side of the bus to sit on for views
- Pack some snacks so you can offer them around for a killer icebreaker
- Pack a lunch for bus trips that don’t have lunch included – this will help you save a killing on buying cabinet food in cafes and bakeries
- Pack a layer with you on the bus when the air conditioning gets too cold
- Buses are never on time in New Zealand but still, don’t be late because they will leave you, that goes for lunch stops on the coach buses too
- You need to wave city buses down; don’t expect them to stop at every bus stop.
For more tips, head to the 15 Tips to Make the Most of Your Bus Trip and 5 Tips to Get a Better Deal on a Bus Pass in New Zealand.
National Coach Buses: Public Transportation to Get Around New Zealand by Bus
The most extensive public transport network in New Zealand is the national coach buses. This is the mode of public transport which will get you to most places.
Which Companies Run the National Buses?
The main national coach bus service in New Zealand is InterCity which is covering the main tourist spots of the North Island and South Island. Atomic Travel is another national coach option running in the Canterbury and Otago regions of the South Island.
Which National Bus Companies Have Closed in New Zealand?
You might have heard about some other cheap buses in New Zealand. However, the following bus companies are no longer operating:
- Magic Bus
- Naked Bus
- Skip Bus (suspended until further notice)
How Do National Buses Work?
With national buses, single trip tickets can be purchased taking you from A to B. Bus passes can also be purchased, which is a great option if you plan to use InterCity on a regular basis. For example, InterCity do a FlexiPass bus pass which runs on a “travel hours” basis, and they do a TravelPass bus pass which is a bus pass for a set route around the country including a few activities. Find out more in What’s the Difference Between InterCity Bus Passes?
What is it Like to Travel with InterCity?
Using the national buses are easy. You can book your trip online or with most travel agents and accommodations in New Zealand. Then, just show up at the required bus stop 15 minutes before the departure time. The bus driver usually asks for a name and booking number (or bus pass details) then you hop on the bus. Bus trips usually involve a couple of 10-minute toilet/coffee breaks, as well as a 30-minute lunch break. Bus drivers give commentary on the speakers along the way and announce when approaching stops (so you’ll know when you reach your stop).
Night Buses (Sleeper Buses)
InterCity also offers a service between Auckland and Wellington throughout the night on their “Sleeper Buses“. These buses are kitted out with beds for a more comfortable journey. Find out more in the 9 Things We Love About the New Sleeper Buses.
Pros of Travelling with InterCity
- This is the cheapest transport method to get around New Zealand
- It allows for independent travel, so you can plan your own trip and where you want to go
- There are daily departures all over the country
- See more pros in the 10 Reasons Why Bus Travel is Actually Awesome in New Zealand.
Cons of Travelling with InterCity
- It’s not as social as other bus options
- The bus doesn’t make any stops for photos or short walks, etc. along the way.
New Zealand Tour Buses: How Tourists Get Around New Zealand
Another way to see New Zealand is on a bus tour. This is a guided route around the country with a group, a bus and a couple of tour guides or driver guides. Bus tours come with a lot of inclusions, such as accommodation, meals and some activities.
Who are the New Zealand Bus Tour Companies?
There is a huge range of bus tours available in New Zealand, from backpacker bus tours aimed at 18 to 30-year-olds to bus tours with specialised activities like hiking and snowsports to bus tours for seniors and luxury travellers. Compare the bus tours by flavour in the following articles:
- The Best National Bus Tours in New Zealand
- The Best National Coach Tours in New Zealand
- The Best Backpacker Bus Tours in New Zealand
- The Best Small-Group Tours in New Zealand
- The Best New Zealand Tours for Seniors
- The Best New Zealand Hiking Tours
And compare bus tours by duration in the following articles:
- The Best 5-Day Tours of New Zealand
- The Best 5-Day Tours of the North Island
- The Best 5-Day Tours of the South Island
- The Best 7-Day Tours of New Zealand
- The Best 7-Day Tours of the North Island
- The Best 7-Day Tours of the South Island
- The Best 10-12-Day Tours of New Zealand
- The Best 10-12-Day Tours of the North Island
- The Best 10-12-Day Tours of the South Island
- The Best 20+ Days Tours of New Zealand
… And compare bus tours by starting destination with these:
- The Best New Zealand Tours Starting in Auckland
- The Best New Zealand Tours Starting in Christchurch
- The Best New Zealand Tours Starting in Queenstown
- The Best New Zealand Tours Starting in Wellington
How Do New Zealand Bus Tours Work and What is it Like to Travel on a Tour Bus?
With bus tours, you have a huge variety of tours to choose from ranging from 3 to 24 days. You pay for the whole trip before your chosen departure date, which often includes accommodation, at least one meal a day and some activities. You also have the option to choose some activity add-ons, upgrade to a private room, and provide information on any dietary requirements.
From there, you travel to New Zealand and, usually, tour groups will have an “introduction” evening giving you a chance to meet everyone the day before the tour. Otherwise, turn up at the designated bus stop or meeting place at the departure date and away you go!
You will have a tour guide or two who will look after you and your group for the whole trip. They will help organise bookings for any additional activities you might want to do. Plus, make you aware of each days’ itinerary. They usually prepare meals or organise to make meals together as a group. As all tour guides do, they also give commentary as you are travelling through the country.
See how some New Zealand bus tours work, like Contiki, G Adventures and Wild Kiwi, in Contiki Vs. G Adventures: Comparison for New Zealand and What is it Really Like to Travel With Wild Kiwi?
Pros of Travelling New Zealand on a Bus Tour
- This is a stress-free way of travelling with everything planned for you
- It’s a great way to meet new people
- It’s action-packed; you’re either always on the move or always doing something.
Cons of Travelling New Zealand on a Bus Tour
- You have limited time to yourself and not much scope for independent travel
- There’s no flexibility
- As it’s mostly all-inclusive, it’s the most expensive bus option upfront.
Hop-on Hop-off Buses: How to Travel Around New Zealand Without a Car
Like bus tours, hop-on hop-off buses follow set routes across the country with the option to “hop-off” just about anywhere along the route. Unlike bus tours, accommodation, meals and activities are not included in the price but are run on a more “pay-as-you-go” basis.
Which Companies are Hop-on Hop-off Buses?
The two main hop-on hop-off buses that run very similar to each other are Kiwi Experience (check them out on Viator and Tripadvisor) and Stray, which we compare in What is the Difference Between Stray and Kiwi Experience?
Flying Kiwi also allows you the option to hop-off their bus tours for 9-day+ periods. For this guide, we’ll focus on hop-on hop-off as being Stray and Kiwi Experience, but head over to this article if you want to know how Flying Kiwi works.
How Do Stray and Kiwi Experience Work and What is it Like to Travel on a Hop-on Hop-off Bus?
Bus passes for a chosen route are booked and paid for before departure. You can even buy a pass and decide your departure date later (as long as it’s within 12 months of purchasing the pass). When you’re ready, book your departure date and meet your bus at the given location and time. From your departure date, bus passes are valid for one year. For national routes, you are able to complete a route multiple times with a few conditions.
You will meet your driver-guide who is your driver, tour guide and travel agent, where you will give your name and/or passenger number to get on the bus.
Throughout each day that you travel on the bus (as opposed to the days that you hop off and do your own thing), there will be plenty of toilet/refreshment stops, short walks, photo stops, supermarkets and more. Clipboards will go around the bus to sign up to accommodation choices and activity choices (if any) that you want the driver to book and organise for you.
Accommodations are usually hostels with a communal kitchen and lounge facilities. You pay for your accommodation and activities on arrival to the accommodation or activity. Because meals are not included, you have the choice to eat out (if available) or cook in the hostel kitchen with food you would have bought at the supermarket stops.
If there’s anything we’ve missed in this explanation, it will probably be in How Does the Hop-on Hop-off Bus Network in New Zealand Work? or What is it Really Like to Travel with Kiwi Experience?
Pros of Travelling with Stray or Kiwi Experience
- Best of both worlds in terms of stress-free tour bus-style travel and choice to be more independent by hopping off the bus, choosing your own activities and accommodation
- It’s a great way to meet new people
- They are action-packed tours, while you have the option to slow down by hopping off the bus
- See more of the 10 Things We Like About the Hop-on Hop-off Buses.
Cons of Travelling with Stray or Kiwi Experiences
- It can get quite expensive by paying as you go. You need to be quite strict on yourself on what activities to do if you are on a tight budget – check out our advice in How to Budget for a Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Trip Around New Zealand
- The term and conditions of travel can be a little cloudy, for instance, the “unlimited travel” policy and there are some locations you can’t “hop off”. That is explained more in the video over on our What is the Difference Between Stray and Kiwi Experience page.
- During the busy summer season, it can be hard to get yourself booked onto the next available bus when buses are full and book extra nights in accommodation on the spot.
Other Buses in New Zealand
Aside from bus transport for getting around New Zealand, buses can also be found as public transport in cities or as a transport method for day tours. Get details on the different types of buses in What is the Difference Between the Buses in New Zealand? Otherwise, check out the quick overview below.
Local City Buses: New Zealand’s Public Transportation
New Zealand’s larger cities have their own bus networks to connect the suburbs with the city centre. Check out some of our public transport guides for more information.
- Public Transport in Auckland
- Public Transport in Christchurch
- Public Transport in Wellington
- Public Transport in Queenstown
- Public Transport in Dunedin
- Public Transport in Palmerston North
- Public Transport in Gisborne
- Public Transport in Invercargill
How Does New Zealand Public Transportation Work (and Does New Zealand Have Good Public Transportation?)
City buses provide a cheap way of getting around the city. You pay for one-way tickets which are usually priced on how many “zones” you pass through. For those of you staying in a city for a while, perhaps working on a working holiday visa, then you might want to consider getting a travel card for discounted fares, such as the AT Hop for Auckland, Smartcards for Wellington, Metrocard for Christchurch, Bee Card for Queenstown, etc.
While New Zealand public transportation is pretty affordable and reliable, travel times can be slow, especially in congested cities like Auckland, so always factor much more time into your travel plan than you might usually do when driving or when taking the bus in cities with bus lanes.
For more advice on taking the bus, check out How to Catch a City Bus in New Zealand.
Day Tours: The Other Way Buses are Used in New Zealand
Some tours in New Zealand involve tours by bus. These tours usually involve activities and food. The most popular day tours by bus are trips from Queenstown to Milford Sound (see the 10 Best Milford Sound Tours from Queenstown & Te Anau) and Cape Reinga tours (see Fullers GreatSights on Klook and KKday or see Dune Rider). Check out other locations around New Zealand with popular day tours in Places in New Zealand Only Accessible by Bus.
Day tours are booked as an activity rather than a mode of transport. For more information on booking activities, see The Essential Guide to Booking Activities in New Zealand.
More About Getting Around New Zealand by Bus
That’s it for our complete guide to bus travel in New Zealand, but there are a few more articles we can point you to if, for some crazy reason, we haven’t already given you enough:
- What You Need to Know About Booking Transport in New Zealand
- A Day in the Life of a Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Passenger
- Bus Networks in New Zealand
Finally, don’t forget to consider all of your transport options listed in What is the Best Way to Get Around New Zealand? and bookmark The Travel Guide to New Zealand on a Budget for more money-saving tips.