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Kiwi Experience or Stray

Travel Forums Australia / New Zealand & The Pacific Kiwi Experience or Stray

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Last Post This thread is marked as being about New Zealand
1. Posted by Sam I Am (Admin 5588 posts) 9y Star this if you like it!

Hello all!

Okay, this is a slightly strange question perhaps, but which of these two organizations would you prefer and why? They offer a very similar product and I'm wondering which is considered 'best/coolest/most hip' etc. right now. Let's say you had the opportunity to offer either of these products to independent travellers (up to 30'ish in age) and had to choose one to sell.

If you are a staff member of either, please add that info to your reply!

Thanks for any help/advice you can provide!!


2. Posted by Sander (Moderator 5178 posts) 9y Star this if you like it!

Honestly? Probably neither.

There's a crowd for which Kiwi is perfect; but it thins very swiftly once ages go above age 23 or thereabouts. (No offense to the 29 year olds who're going with the kiwi experience and love it; I'm sure you exist. But I'm also pretty certain that if you'd look around at other travellers aged 25+, you'd agree they aren't really the target audience for this.) And even for the 18-23 year old age bracket, I think the majority (e.g. 50%+) would be disappointed with the kiwi experience. I know I was for the few days I travelled with them; they didn't add nearly enough value above what I could do myself for cheaper, the constant upselling grated on me, and although I avoided the party crowd, I could very much see where all the less-flattering nicknames for the kiwi experience come from. (It starts with "the party bus", goes on to "the big green slut machine" and quickly goes downhill from there. E.g. definitely not considered 'best/coolest/most hip' in the backpacker circuit; rather "avoid, avoid!" (That's overblown and not deserved; but it exists all the same.))

Stray I like in theory: they're definitely talking the right talk with smaller groups, being a bit more active and getting away from the beaten path a bit (although it must be said that kiwi experience has some pretty unique destinations of their own). Unfortunately the places they pick for "off the beaten track" are absolute dumps. There's a reason you don't hear anyone raving about Barrytown. (Stray's stop on the west coast.) Back while I was travelling over there, I heard negative stories like that from two separate sources (people I got to know rather well before they travelled with Stray, and then met up with again afterward); and once picked up stray travellers on the west coast who'd just had their fifth bus in a row break down. I'm not 100% certain they were travelling with Stray, but given them overnighting in that very same Barrytown... yeah, pretty certain all the same.

I know this one wasn't amongst the choices, but of the big three backpacker tour bus companies, the only one I've never heard negative stories about (plenty of neutral "meh, not really worth it", but also lots of good) is the Magic Bus. I wouldn't travel with them myself, but there's people to whom I could see myself recommending them.

If you do have to choose between solely Stray and the Kiwi Experience, and don't want to go for "neither", then I'll have to give the edge to Stray.

Finally, note that this information is mostly based on impressions gathered in 2003-2005. As far as I could tell during my visit in 2008, nothing has changed; but I do have to state that I was only in the country for three weeks, which isn't really enough time to get a thorough impression.

[ Edit: Edited on 19-Jan-2009, at 09:50 by Sander ]

3. Posted by Sam I Am (Admin 5588 posts) 9y Star this if you like it!

Thanks for the very detailed reply Sander; will have a look at Magic bus as well!

4. Posted by Sander (Moderator 5178 posts) 9y Star this if you like it!

iirc bex travelled with magic at one point; I assume she'll see this thread sooner rather than later, but if not, might be worth PMing her.

5. Posted by bex76 (Moderator 3898 posts) 9y Star this if you like it!

Hi Sam

I travelled with Stray in 2005 round the south island for a month; I have never traveled with Kiwi Experience and never would do to be honest! As sander says, they are geared towards a younger, party crowd, so anyone for whom partying is not a priority would probably not find it suitable. I’ve heard bad things about them, and I think there is a lot of pressure to join in with the partying. Our Stray bus driver claimed to have picked up 2 travellers who had been travelling with Kiwi Experience and were ‘begging’ to be let on the stray bus, as they hated kiwi experience so much, but this could have just been a tale stray like to tell to bad-mouth kiwi exp I guess so not sure how true it was. I really enjoyed travelling with stray – it generally attracted an older age group (mid to late 20s and upwards), and there as no pressure to party, but there were always people keen to go out if you wanted to. I found everyone on the bus were like minded travelers whose main priority was to see NZ rather than to party or get drunk. They do claim to get off the beaten track but as Sander says, the only place of note that falls into this category is Stewart Island, which was really good. Some of the buses were a little bit dilapidated and the drivers often quiet crazy - I think the ‘crazy’ driver is part of the wacky image that they like to portray.

I also travelled with Magic on a previous tour of the south island (and also on a 3 day tour from Auckland to the bay of islands) and would recommend them over stray. The routes they offer and age groups they attract are similar, but they just seemed more professional and the buses were in better condition.

6. Posted by Sam I Am (Admin 5588 posts) 9y Star this if you like it!

Thanks so much for the reply Bex! I'm definitely leaning towards Stray and/or Magic now. I had hear about Kiwi being quite party style, much like I think Oz Experience probably was before Adventure tours took it over a few years ago. But that it really had that 'bad' of a reputation is kind of new to me, so thanks again. I guess it also depends a lot on the person travelling; plenty that do like that, although these days I wonder how they manage to keep up with it

Thanks again for the firsthand feedback!!

7. Posted by RickiDee (Budding Member 5 posts) 9y Star this if you like it!

Kia ora Sam,

I’m from the Kiwi Experience crew and noticed a few of the comments up here on this topic thread. We totally appreciate people’s opinions and thought I’d throw in my 5 cents.

Kiwi Experience is hugely popular. We’re New Zealand’s longest running hop-on, hop-off transport bus network. We’ve been going for 20 years and had over 400,000 passengers. We’re pretty packed at the moment – this is because of our legacy that has made us such a popular option to travel around New Zealand. We offer the most stops and pass options around the country for the type of product that we offer. We’re the only company that guarantee’s your first nights dorm accommodation in every overnight destination even in peak season. We also get great deals with activity suppliers because of the excellent relationships we’ve formed over time.

The ‘party bus’ comments. This may have been the case in the early days, but like any company, we’ve grown up. We provide a high quality service; the only organised party is at Lake Mahinapua (our unique West Coast over night destination). This is one night out of 27 possible overnight stops and it’s a choice night out, when I did my trip when I first started, it was definitely a highlight and I made friendships which have lasted years after the trip finished.

We do have a large youth market, and a lot of our customers are under 25. Our main age group is 20-35 years old, but we’ve had customers in their 50s, 60s, 70s and our oldest customer was an 83 year old Hungarian woman – who had a blast. Our product is all about attitude not age (we know it can sounds clichéd, but when you see such a variety of people as we do, you’ll know why we say it).

Stray and Magic are both great products. We all offer something different and we’re not against healthy competition – it keeps us all honest.

Check out our Facebook group to hear what our passengers say about us. Our group is called Kiwi Experience – The Official Group.

Whatever you decide, we hope you have a great holiday here in New Zealand; it’s a spectacular country with loads on offer.

Travel safe and be well

Haere ra,
Ricki Hudson

8. Posted by flying kiw (Budding Member 15 posts) 9y Star this if you like it!


im actually a flying kiwi staff member but as you invited comments from others didnt think you would mind a post. we are another consideration with the big few - for a slightly older, more outdoors focussed crowd :)


9. Posted by joey22 (Respected Member 561 posts) 9y Star this if you like it!

I don't work for any of the above but have travelled with Oz Experience in Australia and Magic Bus right after that in NZ.

I thought I would chuck my two penneth worth into the mix anyway.

Here goes.

I was 18, pretty green and up for a party, meeting people, getting laid, getting drunk and seeing some sights. The world was my oyster etc etc.

Oz exp ticked these boxes and then some....;) I saw loads of the country (as you will in NZ as their network covers a lot of places) and had a blast.

Magic bus was more sedate - still a cool experience and we saw loads of New Zealand. I rated them a lot too.

Travelling by hop on hop off bus takes a lot of the hassle out of the trip - they book accomm, pick you up, drop you off etc. They also organise tours/excursions/bungee jumps etc..

Kiwi/Oz Exp has a bit of a reputation for being the 'big green party' bus but I had heard that this had changed slightly of late and that a slightly older crowd were getting in on it.

What I would say is that you have options as to where you stay each night or in each place. So if all the 18-23 yr olds are heading to such and such a hostel to get smashed, go out and make noise etc and you can't be arsed with that then you get yourself booked into another hostel. Simple.

All the hostels they will offer you will be in a guidebook - read that, make your choice and then check out the sheet as it comes around. If you feel like a wet t-shirt pub crawl that night then get stuck in. if not then no-one is gonna make you. The Kiwi Exp don't set up this sort of thing all that often but I am basically trying to suggest that there will be people on the bus who fancy a bit of a party and hititng clubs etc. Theyw ill group together and headout en masse perhaps.

I am now 26 years young, pretty well-travelled and have visited some much more 'hardcore' countries and travelled all by my lonesome. My travel tastes have refined and I tend to seek adventure- off the beaten track destinations, fewer people, maybe not everyones cup of tea places etc etc. I love Africa and have been to India several times etc.

I would do the Kiwi/Oz Exp bus again though - it takes you all over the place and is a laugh. I would be confident that I wouldn't be seen as an old fart. I wouldn't expect to find myself partying every night like it was 2001 again - the hangovers hurt now. Nor would I be out chasing skirt. My girlfriend is my world But I do like a good night out and know that the big green bus could sort that out for me.

The next day I would head for a nice quiet spot and escape for a while. Read my book, draw stuff, go trekking, surf, snowboard - New Zealand rocks!

You don't have to stay with the group at all times. Besides you choose how long you stay in each place - you can easily shake off the people that get on your nerves by staying out for a few days, waiting for them to head off and then moving on yourself.

I doubt this will help much - I don't know you or anything about your interests, tastes etc. But it might help to give you an idea that the products are a bit pigeon-holed - I would (in fact, don't hold me to this but maybe will) actually book myself a Kiwi Exp pass when I next visit New Zealand (Mid 2010 Inshallah) and see how I get on.

Strong brand, good product, cheap excursions/sky dives/bungees etc.

Don't write them off.


10. Posted by magykal1 (Travel Guru 2026 posts) 9y Star this if you like it!

I did some travel around New Zealand with Stray in 2004, mostly because I was worried about being able to get around by public transport. I wouldn't worry about this now, so wouldn't do it at all.

Having said that, I found the experience mostly to be a positive one. All of the destinations the bus stopped at were of interest to me in one way or another. I didn't even mind the infamous 'Barrytown' stop, as I took the opportunity to walk the Croesus track which starts from the village. The majority of fellow passengers/travellers/whatever were thoughtful, friendly, outgoing types who had chosen Stray for its more 'off the beaten track' reputation. I didn't feel that there was a particularly hard sell on the activities and accomodation promoted by the company - when I chose to do other things this was accepted readily.

Disadvantages (other than the obvious lack of flexibility) - the tone of each stretch was set rather by the character of the driver, but only one driver I encountered was a complete tosser. We were on 2 buses that broke down, one of which was repaired and one of which had to be towed although a replacement was found. Stray did have rather a reputation for this, but not sure what its like now. There were some poor music choices on the bus too .

As a footnote, we turned up the first night's accomodation at Franz Josef (can't remember the name??? stayed at Glow Worms after which was pretty good) to find that a Kiwi Experience party had trashed the place the night before - vomit and broken bottles everywhere. Made me glad I hadn't been on that bus - not really my scene.