If you followed me for a while here, on my Instagram or my Facebook page, you know that I am not a big fan of organised tours and guided trips, but back in September, after 13 months travelling all around the world, I was quite exhausted of all the planning, researching AND driving, so when Kiwi Experience, the leading kiwi bus tour operator, invited me aboard their big green bus around Middle Earth, erm..New Zealand, I jumped at the opportunity and said “Sweet As!” I chose the Rangi Pass which basically consisted of six weeks of being comfortably escorted to gorgeous places, planned routes, accommodations and activities sorted, leaving me all the time for enjoying, photographing, making new friends and taking in all.
I love walking everywhere and be able to see everything at my own pace, but when you are extremely stretched with time, the Hop on hop off Explorer can be the best solution to make the most of the time at your disposal without rushing from place to place and missing out on things. With a very interesting and useful commentary, this is the best way to see all the big 14 attraction the city has to offer including the Sky City and Sky Tower, the cute Parnell Village, Auckland Waterfront and Mission Bay Beach and of course the stunning Auckland Museum.
A must see for visitors and locals where three expansive levels tell the entire story of New Zealand as well as the Maori and Pacific cultures which all merged on this unique country. In the Volcano section you can also experience a close-to-terrifying first-hand earthquake experience…. yup, it felt real. There is also a great Maori Cultural Performance every day at 11am, 12pm and 1.30pm. Not far from the museum, there are the wonderful Winter Gardens set right next to a duck pond and a natural spring (free of charge).
Must stop for breakfast or a coffee break here:
Location. Location. Location. Right in the middle of Queens Street you have this huge hostel which, not only offer basic dorm accommodation, but also ensuite rooms so high up that you would feel like you can touch the sky (and the Sky Tower) with a finger. The hostel also offers a great Base Travel “agency” to book all your trips and excursions around New Zealand and beyond. And if you are here on a working holiday visa, you can also get tips and job interviews through their Job Search office.
Another large hostel with plenty of floors and dorms to choose from. This, like all the other XBase/Nomads hostels, is also a party hostel. Don’t expect to have long, relaxed night sleep here (unless you book a private room and buy earplugs), but who’s here to sleep anyway?
* in all Nomads/Base hostels the Wi-Fi isn’t included and it’s 5 bucks for 24 hrs, not cool (but very common in New Zealand)
Bay Of Islands
Enjoy a day cruising around the 144 islands that make this stunning bay. Stop to admire pods of dolphins jumping and playing with the boat and enjoy an earthy lunch on a deserted island like a modern castaway.
For a different perspective of this gorgeous area mixed with a little bit of adrenaline, book your flight with Kiwi Parasailing in Paihia.
A very cute collection of low-raised dorms with that beach vibe. You have a small hot tub outside and a great bar with happy hour and a delicious bbq what else you need? Book here
Hot Water Beach
Visit this nature’s wonder where you can soak in your own hot water pool right on the beach. Stay as long as you want, but definitely until sunset!
One of the best walks on the northern island where the landscape, with the green grass on the left and the ocean on the right, just fills your soul and lift your spirit.
Dream at Top 10 – Hot Water Beach
Top 10 Hot Water Beach was one of my favourite stay in the northern island as I managed to get an upgrade to one of the deluxe cabins – yup all by myself. My hut was extremely cute, clean, tidy and there was everything I needed (including a fridge, kettle, coffee and the most amazing mattress in whole New Zealand!)
There is so much to do in Rotorua that at least a couple of nights at XBase are necessary. This is another cool place to spend some quality time especially in the large pool outside.
About 30km south of Rotorua, there is one of the largest and mystical geothermal areas in New Zealand. Waiotopu (Maori for “sacred waters”) has many colourful hot springs as well as the Champagne Pool, the Artist’s Palette and the beautiful Primrose Terrace. If you are there in time, try and catch the Lady Knox Geyser at 10.15am daily.
After a long day walking around the wonders of Waiotopu, there is nothing better to relax and soak in the peace and the wonderful view from this gorgeous piece of paradise. Make sure to go there before sunset and just enjoy the peace and the warmth filling you from the inside.
As mentioned above, I’m not a big fan of organised “cultural” experiences where you get to see artists performing ancient rituals and dances.
But my overnight stay at the Tamaki Maori Village was surely something different, where everything felt authentic and unstaged. A few lucky ones (those staying for the night) were welcomed by a great afternoon tea, we had the honour to play some of the traditional Maori games followed by a great feast at dinner in buffet style.
I was amazed by the haka dance and pleased to learn a few words in a song we all sang together at dinner. Book your experience at Tamaki if you wish to get a first understanding of the Maori culture and tradition.
Taupo is one of the many beautiful kiwi towns sitting on the shore of a beautiful lake. At first sight, I knew Taupo was the place for me and in fact, I extended my stay an extra night at XBase. During my time there I did a couple of extreme activities. Firstly, throwing myself off at 47m attached to just what looks like a normal rope as my first-time bungy jumping with Taupo Bungy.
Secondly climbing up the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, one of the most exhilarating, incredible, beautiful walks of my entire life with Tongariro Expeditions.
The tour of the North Island finishes off in Wellington also known as Windy-Welly where the museum Te-Papa offers the most interesting and interactive space I’ve ever seen as well as providing the most incredible experiences for children as well as taller children. In Wellington, I also decided to spoil myself to an AMAZING pizza and I can swear by it (I can’t swear by many outside the Italian borders and this is one).
If you have time, make sure to grab a flat while or brunch at Caffe L’Affare and to catch the cable car to the Botanic Gardens. Also, if you like me are wi-fi and books addicted, make sure to check the Wellington City Library (super fast and FREE wifi) and make sure to stop at Unity Books for a general browse or to pick up a new travel book for your journey. I, appropriately, bought Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide To Getting Lost, a witty, well-researched and fascinating investigation into loss and getting lost, that combines personal memories, philosophy, psychology and it will open up a world of new thoughts. The perfect companion for my trip around New Zealand (and the endless one inside myself).
And again, best hostel in town is XBase, great location, fun staff and here again I was upgraded to a double room. Sweet As.
More about KiwiExperience in New Zealand
The buses offer all modern comfort and huge windows to admire the landscape outside. The drivers are all super-knowledgable and fun to hang out with. Especially Kyle and Fly were incredible and they went over and beyond their role to help us.
+ first-time travellers with little experience of planning/researching and/or travel-exhausted people (like me) who want to be spoiled and escorted from place to place for once 😃
– young backpackers who are manly looking to party at night and have a great time meeting lots of new friends in New Zealand
– English-speaking travellers: all commentary and info are only in English so if you don’t have a fluent English you might end up missing your bus or most of the stuff going on
– as an independent traveller and a photographer I suffered lots as we couldn’t stop to take pictures of the incredible landscape that were passing in front of our eyes from the bus’ window -> I would highly recommend much more photo stops, at the end most people come to New Zealand once in their lifetime!
– lots, lots, lots of paper to fill every day, that could easily be integrated by an extension in their nice app. The papers, despite the very old-style method, make everything smooth and easy ahead of arriving at your next destination
– the check-in process at Base needs big improvements. When the +50 disembark the bus and run to the check in desk it can take a good 45 minutes to finally get into your room. Same for checking out 😔
If you wish to book your own Kiwi Experience bus, you should head here and make sure to tune for my second post about the South Island soon-ish! 😃 If you are interested in booking accommodation with Xbase / Nomads click here.
1 – I was a guest of New Zealand’s Tourist Board in collaboration with Kiwi Experience and the partners mentioned above. All opinions are always – authentically and completely – my own.
2 – There are affiliated links on this post – as you know travel writing is one of my many jobs, this means that if you book through the links above, a small % of your payment goes towards this blog and my further travels.
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