This post is a little different to my other posts. This is about my not so great experience of "hop-on hop-off" coach travel in New Zealand. Basically, i'm having a bit of a whinge... Now before I get into it I should express this is just my experience and opinion of the particular company I used... I wont name them but lets just say I feel led aSTRAY...
When researching my trip to New Zealand late last year it was recommended to me by a friend that I should get myself a hop-on hop-off bus pass as they are the best and most flexible way to explore all the parts of New Zealand as and when I wanted without the expense of hiring a car. This sounded like an awesome idea so I started googling and there were tons of companies to choose from.
After comparing prices, routes etc. I decided on my pass and then recommended the same company to 3 of my friends who were going to be travelling in NZ at the same time (sorry again guys). We all read up and agreed that the price and routes on offer fit our different timescales and it seemed as though it was the best option.
Anyway a few months later, all booked up and paid for we landed in Auckland ready to start our NZ adventures... This is where the issues began and this was before we had even caught sight of a bus! At this point there was 4 of us all booked onto the same bus leaving Auckland on the same day, same time, great.. no problem...
Unfortunately when we met up the day before and tried to book our onward travel we were informed that only 2 of us could book on the bus from our first planned stop and the others would have to stay behind for a further two nights and get another bus which didn't fit with ANY of our travel plans or timescales. I know this wasn't the end of the world but it was an inconvenience we had to sort out.
We were told in our confirmation emails that onward travel should be booked a week or so in advance to guarantee bus seats which is fair enough and being 8 days ahead of our planned travel we thought this was enough time. We contacted the customer services and explained what was going on and we were then told over the phone that we should be booking our seats on the bus over a MONTH in advance to guarantee seats... Now hang on a minute, this was meant to be a hop-on hop-off service, flexible and to quote the website "Gives you flexibility to hop on and off the bus along the way stopping to spend time in the places you love." How is that possible when you need to book seats a month in advance?? Short answer, you cant.
To try and rectify this situation we hired a car for the first part of our trip until we could get to a stop we could catch up with the bus and actually use the service we had all paid for.
After a rocky start and several emails and phone calls the customer services girl booked our onward travel for us and told us to check online in our online booking itinerary which ironically is used to make "LAST MINUTE reservations" This is where things started to get even more frustrating and f**ked up for us. Yes she had booked us all on buses but no buses that actually ran concurrently on the route and not all at the same time, i'll give you an example... my friend was booked on the bus from Hamilton to Raglan, but not on the bus from Raglan to Waitomo, however they were booked on the bus from Waitomo to Rotorua... keeping up? When we queried this we were simply told that they would need to make their own way from Waitomo to Rotorua?!? Great service we paid for hey. This wasn't an isolated incident either, literally our whole itinerary was like this and simply being told to hire a car/make our own way between stops and catch up with the bus where we could was an absolute joke!
Still trying to salvage what we could of the trip we did actually manage to get the bus on three occasions... that was enough for us to know that we had had enough of the bus. At no point on the company website does it mention "group guided travel" but in essence this is exactly what it was. You go to the sights they pre-arrange with the companies they are affiliated with and in certain stops on the route you have to stay at their pre-organised accommodation with no other options and all at what I found to be an inflated cost. If I wanted group travel I would have booked group travel not the hop on hop off bus I thought I paid for.
Further on in my travels through New Zealand it was really surprising and unsurprising at the same time that I met a number of travelers who had the same bad experience of being mis-sold group travel as a hop on hop off service with this company. One girl described it as a party bus/babysitting service for 18 year olds. (no offence to 18 year olds, I used to be one after all)
But in an attempt not to be completely negative on my brief experience of this particular bus company, there are tons of companies that do offer a purely hop on hop off service for those who want the flexibility to do what they want and travel their own way.. I've added a couple of links to the bottom of this post.
To summarise, if you want a true hop on hop off service then look to the companies like intercity listed below or if group travel and a more organised trip is your thing look at companies like Kiwi Experience. Don't be led astray...