I'm 23/24 from London and heading to Australia in mid-late Jan. My plan is to travel the East coast and I'd also love to go to Alice Springs and down to Adelaide and Melbourne as well before doing a tour of New Zealand. As I'm traveling alone (although I would like to meet people out there) I've looked at some of the group tours on sites like Contiki, G Adventure and Topdeck. They look great fun, but I don't want to feel like I'm on a school trip! I'd much rather travel at my own pace, as I might get to a place and really like it and want to stay a few days etc etc. and it's more exciting?! Does anyone else feel the same, but a bit unsure whether or not to go for it? The tour seems like the easy option as you're guaranteed to meet people, but I don't feel very adventurous doing it! I might be totally wrong though. I've read about these "hop-on-hop-off" buses where you can either buy a ticket for a certain route or for a certain distance and just hop on and off wherever you want. I think the only restriction is that you can't backtrack on the same ticket. I feel like there must be other people out there who are interested in doing the same thing! Let me know if you are or if you've done it and would recommend.
To me, those (Kiwi Experience, Stray, Oz Experience) still felt too much like a tour bus.
Regular bus lines (InterCity, Nakedbus, Greyhound) also have bus passes allowing you to do a certain route, or a certain number of kilometers, or a certain number of days (those last two include backtracking as an option, too), and that I liked much better. Significantly cheaper, too, no forced middle-of-nowhere overnight stops at certain points along the route, no upselling of activities while on the bus, and generally a good mix on the bus of backpackers and locals.
Socializing and meeting people is easy enough at hostels that you don't need to be on the same bus tour to feel like you're getting to know people.
(Note, all that is personal opinion. Many people are perfectly happy with what these companies offer, and really, it's hard not to have a great time in Australia and New Zealand, regardless of which transport option you go for.)
A tour does save a lot of hassle but you get to go where everyone else goes and miss the out of the way places that they all miss.
On your own, you also get to spend more or less time in places, depending on whether you like them or not. Distances are great and sometimes it is better to fly than spend endless hours on buses (there is little scenery on such road trips).
Tours of NZ is often the southern half of the South Island and misses out on so many other places.
Looking at your photo, you are going to have no trouble getting friends, though you might need a stick to beat off some of the local guys. You may pick up with some lady friends on the way as there are so many other tourists in these places, and go visiting with them.
I'm doing the kiwi experience but not until august next year. They have unlimited travel now so you can backtrack and use the service as much as you want for the year. I also have a friend who has just finished the kiwi experience and he loved it