I clearly remember stepping foot on the big green bus in Auckland and thinking, “O no, I am going to be stuck on a coach with these strange people for the next three weeks.” By the time I stepped off the bus in Queenstown these ‘strange’ people were my dearest friends. We’d formed a close family-like unit as we traversed and explored New Zealand, encouraging each other to take part in ever more scary activities. Even the driver was a part of this unit, steering the bus and the group it ferried in his patriarchal role.
Before signing up for the Kiwi Experience I had never considered myself the adventurous type; more often found in a bar or on the beach than up a mountain or in an underwater cave. Sitting on the Kiwi Experience bus, however, it became all too easy to say yes to activities I had never even heard of. Before arriving at every new stop on the tour a clipboard would come down the aisle of the bus listing the activities available in that location. Words like luging and zorbing were introduced into my vocabulary and with encouragement, support and a tiny bit of bullying from my fellow passengers I found myself putting a tick in the box next to them. I continued to tick boxes throughout our journey across New Zealand and ended up having the most amazing experience; trekking through Abel Tasman National Park, hiking the Franz Josef Glacier, black water rafting (black because you are in a cave in pitch darkness!), white water rafting and then the big one – sky diving! When the rest of my newly formed family unit were throwing themselves head first from a plane it felt rude not to join them. (You can read more about my experience of falling gracelessly through the sky here.) Watching the resulting DVD with the rest of the Kiwi Experience group in the screening rooms afterwards was one of my funniest days in memory – people make some strange faces and movements whilst jumping from a plane!
The social side of the Kiwi Experience is one of the highlights for me. Some evenings the tour bus would stop in tiny, one pub towns where men still have mullets. Playing cards and sharing a beer with fellow passengers from all over the globe turn these little towns into the pinnacle of entertainment. A legendary stop on the Kiwi bus circuit is the Mahinapua Hotel, home of the Poo Pub and Poo Party! The bus stops in town during the day and passengers are given the opportunity to source fancy dress outfits – the theme for our party was ‘Beach’. Then you are driven to the Mahinapua Hotel, the group get all dressed up, a BBQ is served and the Poo Party begins. Guaranteed to be an evening you will never forget.
If you are lucky you may get a bus driver as awesome as mine. Our drivers name was Eamon – or Matt Damon as we liked to call him. He made the sometimes long distances driven between destinations as fun as the outdoor activities. With quizzes, music and lots of laughter we had as much fun on the bus as off it. Eamon also went the extra mile for his passengers, organising an impromptu fireworks party on the beach for bonfire night and sourcing me a towel when I accidently left it in the hostel bathroom one morning.
It is well known that there is much adventurous fun to be had in New Zealand but I highly doubt I would have enjoyed it as much, or even taken part in some activities, if it hadn’t been for the Kiwi Experience. Have you explored New Zealand on the big green Kiwi bus? What was the highlight for you?