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Pros and Cons of Traveling New Zealand by InterCity Bus

Lake Pukaki road to Mount Cook

For two lovely months, I traveled around both New Zealand’s north and south islands, and I did it all by bus. While that’s all in the past now, I still remember back when I was just starting out planning my trip. I was really nervous whether I was making the right decision in traveling by bus and on which bus company I was choosing. There was so much information on why you absolutely need to see New Zealand by camper van instead, or why this bus company’s route was so much better than that other one’s. Now that my own trip is complete, I’m sharing the pros and cons of my decision to travel New Zealand by InterCity FlexiPass, in hopes of giving you all a bit of the information I wish I had!

Tasman Sea along Abel Tasman Coastal Track
Tongariro Alpine Crossing Hike, North Island, New Zealand
Mt Cook Aoraki, Hooket Valley Hike, New Zealand

TRAVELING NEW ZEALAND BY INTERCITY BUS


(And, in case it needs saying, InterCity is in no way paying me for this article. I just decided to use them and am sharing what I’ve learned and wished I knew.)

Queenstown, South Island, New Zealand

Types of InterCity Bus Travel

If someone says they’re traveling New Zealand “by bus,” they probably mean by InterCity bus. Yes, there are public city buses, but in terms of one, nationwide bus system both foreigners and locals can use to get around the country, it’s going to be InterCity. But there are three different ways to use InterCity. So let’s delve in, shall we?

InterCity FlexiPass

InterCity’s FlexiPass is an hours-based pass. You purchase a certain amount of hours, starting from 10 hours and increasing in increments of 5 hours. Then, you use those hours to book whichever rides you like on their route. The price per hour gets cheaper the more hours you buy, and you can even use hours to purchase the InterIslander ferry ride between the north and south islands (which can be a huge steal, as the ferry ticket is otherwise NZ$65).

InterCity TravelPass

InterCity’s TravelPass is a route-based pass. InterCity has pre-made itinerary routes, so you purchase a pass for the itinerary you like, and then travel that route at your own speed.

Individual Bus Trips with InterCity

Lastly, there’s also the option to simply buy a regular bus ticket. If you book out far enough, sometimes these tickets are just NZ$1! But while researching my own trip, I only saw a NZ$1 fare once for one route, so I imagine you’d have to purchase way in advance if stringing a few bus rides together for a holiday. Every other ticket price was significantly more than the same ride would cost with the FlexiPass.

Which InterCity Option is Best?

To me, the FlexiPass is a no brainer if you are traveling a lot of the country by bus. I bought the 70-hour pass, which came out to NZ$7.38 per hour (less than US$5). This was significantly cheaper than doing the same route with the TravelPass or with individual tickets. 

Peter's Viewpoint on Lake Punaki, South Island, New Zealand.

Disadvantages of Traveling New Zealand by InterCity Buss

Let’s get all the bad stuff out of the way first, shall we?

You Will Miss Cool Destinations

Yes, the InterCity route is pretty good. But I was pretty disappointed to ax the Coromandel portion of my trip because there wasn’t a way to travel to all the points of interest there. Or skipping all the in between towns on the South Island’s west coast (thankfully I got to experience Punakaiki, though!)

InterCity is pretty good at getting you to the nearest big city or town, but once you’re there, you’ll have to get around on your own. For most places, this isn’t a problem. But if you’re looking to get even remotely off the beaten path, it will be a hassle.

You Will Miss Cool Free Activities

Even if you can get to your destination, once there, you’ll only be able to experience the bare minimum, unless you can catch a ride with someone else. This means skipping some of the free and less-touristy stuff, like the hot river outside Rotorua, or some cool hikes in the South Island. 

Additional Transport Can Be a Rip-Off or Inconvenient

So once you get to the big town, can’t you just book a shuttle or hop on a local bus to get where you want? Well, usually yes. But it isn’t usually cheap. Like in Rotorua, where tours to Wai-O-Tapu geothermal park were around NZ$90, but entrance to the park was less than NZ$30. They added NZ$30 each way for the 30-minute drive! Or when getting to and from Raglan, when I had to wait at Hamilton bus terminal for 2-3 hours each time because of the difference between the local and InterCity bus schedules.

You Are Stuck to a Schedule

You do get flexibility in that you can use your passes whenever you want within one year. But many bus routes are only once a day, so you can’t “leave early to beat the crowds,” hop on or off the bus at any point that isn’t a proper stop, and you might have to stay an extra night some places simply because you arrived after the only bus for that day.

Auckland, New Zealand

Advantages of Traveling New Zealand by InterCity Bus

Wow, that probably sounded like a lot of bad things! But there’s a reason traveling New Zealand by bus is as popular as it is! Keep reading for all the good stuff.

You Don’t Have to Drive

It’s pretty stressless when you just hop in a vehicle and get to stare out the window to New Zealand’s gorgeous scenery. No worrying about driving on the opposite side of the road, no stopping to fill up gas, no searching for parking spaces and campsites. Just get on, and get off.

It’s a Pretty Decent Price

As mentioned before, I purchased a 70-hour pass for two months. This came out to NZ$515, or US$313, for pretty all my transport in New Zealand. Good luck finding a good rental plus gas for that! This is also much cheaper than the Kiwi Experience or Stray buses, though of course, the main point of those is the social experience.

Security Knowing You’ll Get to Where You Need

Of course, the most budget-friendly option is to catch rides with those you meet or hitchhike. But I liked knowing I was getting to my next destination, rather than having to keep in mind that I still needed to secure a ride.

Some Buses Have WiFi

The buses were pretty comfortable, many of those on the North Island even having WiFi. Can’t say the same about the South Island, though!

Some Bus Drivers Double as Tour Guides

On almost all my South Island rides, the bus driver acted as a tour guide. They’d give us history of the areas, point out worthwhile sights as we passed, and even stop for some photo opportunities. I wasn’t expecting this, so it was a lovely surprise addition!

It’s a Pretty Good Bus Route Overall

InterCity has a pretty expansive bus route. There’s definitely room for additions, but you can get to every single one of the most touristy spots using their route. You can even use your FlexiPass hours to book tours (like Hobbiton, the Waitomo Glowworms Cave, or a Milford Sound day trip from Queenstown).

ANY OTHER QUESTIONS?

Overall, I was happy with my decision to travel New Zealand by bus, and with my choice of the InterCity FlexiPass. I did miss some things I would have loved to see, but it’s the price I paid to have skipped all the effort and costs of getting a vehicle.

Do you have any more specific questions for me as you plan your own trip to New Zealand? Let me know in the comments section below, and I’ll get back to you!

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2 Comments

  • Tui
    June 11, 2024 at 4:27 PM

    I am 70 this year and love taking buses trips around New Zealand. It Enables me to see many places on a tight budget and at a relaxing journey. I also use the city link buses to get to zoos etc plenty to see this way.

    Reply
    • That Travelista
      June 12, 2024 at 5:58 AM

      Thanks for sharing, Tui!

      Reply

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