Posts Tagged ‘Magic Bus’

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Backpack New Zealand on a Student Budget

October 2, 2010

nzmapYou know where I’d rather be right now? New Zealand. It’s beautiful, it offers a ton of activities and adventure sports and sights, the locals are awesome, and as far as getting around, New Zealand is a student traveler’s dream destination.

No matter what your budget is, there’s a transportation option for you. What you choose depends on your style, your interests and the experience you want to have.

I Want Total Freedom
If you don’t want to be on anyone’s schedule but your own, you’re best off traveling by standard get-me-from-point-A-to-point-B bus. Book as you go, picking the times that are best for you, and answer to no one!

You might also consider renting a car, especially if you’re traveling with friends and can split the cost.

I Want Some Freedom, But Don’t Want to Plan Every Detail
The hop-on hop-off bus is for you. These services stop at different sights between pick-up and drop-off points, can help you organize activities like skydiving, rafting or pub crawls, have drivers who can tell you about what you’re seeing, but also let you jump off whenever you like. Passes are typically good for 12 months, so you can get back on the bus days, weeks or even months later. You aren’t stuck with the group like you are with a full-on tour, so you have more flexibility in your itinerary.

I’m doing most of my travel by Magic Bus, with some day trips of my own thrown in between stops. This way I don’t have to worry about booking lots of separate bus trips, but I can also take time to do things I want to do that aren’t included in the usual schedule. I’ve also used the Oz and Kiwi Experience buses in the past and had a great time.

I Want Someone Else to Plan It All For Me
You need a tour company, like Contiki. All of your transportation and lodging will be planned for you and some meals will be included. You won’t have to do anything except show up on time and enjoy yourself, but you also won’t be able to abandon your group and hang at the beach for a few extra days if the mood strikes you. If you’re on a tight budget and only have a fixed number of days for traveling though, this can be a good way to maximize the amount of ground you cover.

Once you decide how you’re happiest when you travel, you’ll be able to narrow down the options and find what’s right for you.

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New Zealand Travel Guide: Paihia to Auckland

May 7, 2009
Back on the Magic Bus

Back on the Magic Bus

The drive out of Paihia was really lovely and our Magic Bus driver stopped to let us take some photos from a lookout over the bay. We also took a quick look in the Hokianga Historical Society to watch a video about Opo the Dolphin.

Opo swam into the bay in 1955 and created a tourism boom as news spread that there was a dolphin there who did tricks, played with children and would let people swim with or ride him.

The video shows Opo making everyone happy (except for the little girl whose ball he takes to bounce on his nose), and leaves you feeling like you really missed out by not living in this simpler time when everyone was kind and happy and could be entertained for hours by a dolphin with a ball. I gave a $2 donation because the elderly woman who started the VCR for us seemed very hopeful that we would get out our wallets, and because the video of the playful Opo put me in a pretty good mood.

Welcome to Opononi, home of the murdered dolphin.

Welcome to Opononi, home of the murdered dolphin.

Then our driver told us that what the video left out. Opo was found dead after just a few months, possibly killed by a local who was sick of all the traffic and crowds the dolphin caused.

Yeah. Kind of a downer.

There was one more stop on the way to Auckland, to see Tane Mahuta, the tallest kauri tree in New Zeland. I had really hoped to have an extra night at the end of my trip to do the Footprints of Waipoua trip, where you go into the forest after dark to see the trees. It’s one of Lonely Planet’s “Code Green – Experiences of a Lifetims” and I read nothing but good things about it.

Tane Mahuta would have been the greatest Ent ever.

Tane Mahuta would have been the greatest Ent ever.

Luckily the Magic Bus includes the forest as a stop, and while I don’t think it’s quite as moving as seeing it at night, at 51 meters tall and more than 1200 years old, Tane Mahuta is still damn impressive during the day. Our Magic driver told us that before the forest became a sanctuary in 1952, many of these trees were cut down. Because of their size they were difficult to move, and some ended up at the bottom of rivers and lakes, too big to float downstream to the logging plants.

First the death of Opo, then the pointless slaughter of these majestic trees. This really wasn’t the happiest day of the Magic tour. Maybe going back to the big city wasn’t such a bad idea.

Next: I meet a Hot Kiwi Guy, then leave the country.

 

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New Zealand Travel Guide: Paihia, Bay of Islands

May 6, 2009
We're not in Auckland anymore.

We're not in Auckland anymore.

Flying back to New Zealand from Sydney, I thought about all the things I wanted to do in my last few days before going home. I had to go back to Cuba Street and shop, spend a little more time in the Botanic Gardens and maybe have another look around Te Papa.

Then I realized that all of those things were in Wellington. I was flying back to Auckland.

Hmmm.

Leaving Paihia behind to look for dolphins and big holes.

Leaving Paihia behind to look for dolphins and big holes.

For the rest of the flight I kept telling myself that I was going to Auckland, but pictures of Wellington kept popping into my head. Unfortunately, it was too late, mid-flight, to change my destination.

Luckily, I only had one night in Auckland before getting back on the Magic Bus (woo hoo!) and heading north to the Bay of Islands. And thank goodness for that. I stayed at the International YHA and it was one of the most miserable nights of my trip. Noisy, dirty and uncomfortable, I was up even earlier than I needed to be just so I could pack up and get out of there.

I only had two and a half days left in New Zealand, so although I would have loved to go all the way to the north tip of the North Island and gone sandboarding at Cape Reinga, I only had time to make a trip to Paihia and back. Not that there’s anything disappointing about Paihia.

In fact, there were five English guys in my dorm room at base backpackers, and they’d been in Paihia for four days, swimming, playing volleyball, and just hanging out with other travelers. They said they’d meant to only stay a day and then go further north, but they were having such a good time catching up on sleep during the day and hanging out at the Pipi Patch bar late into the night, they just never got around to leaving.

There are the dolphins.

There are the dolphins.

When they all came into the room after dinner, I assumed they were on their way back out again and would stumble in drunk around 3:00 a.m., obnoxiously waking everyone up. So it was a big surprise when, after chatting with everyone in the room for a couple of hours, one of them said, “It’s 11:00, should we get to bed?” Then they all brushed their teeth, got into their bunks, said goodnight, and turned out the lights.

I suppose even the most hardcore English pub boys need a good night’s sleep every now and then.

After Sydney and Auckland, it was a nice change to be in a small town. Paihia has two main roads, a handful of shops, a row of hostels, pubs and restaurants, and tons of activity providers.

And there's the big hole.

And there's the big hole.

If you want to relax, try a cruise out to the Hole in the Rock. I did the Fullers tour and was shocked at how many dolphins we saw on the trip. They weren’t just swimming around, these little attention-seeking dolphins jumped and flipped and seemed to love having an audience.

You can also swim with the dolphins, go for a sail in a tall ship, or do a kayaking tour into the bay. To learn more about the region’s wild past, hop the ferry over to the town of Russell, New Zealand’s first capital.

Next: Time’s up! Back to Auckland.

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20% Off Busabout Europe! No Foolin’.

April 1, 2009
Get on the Busabout!

Get on the Busabout!

Traveling around New Zealand is really easy with a hop-on, hop-off service like the Magic Bus. You can spend days, weeks or months to get around one or both islands, you have a driver who helps you figure out what sights and activities you want to do, where to stay, and where to get the best deals on drinks. (Yes, that’s an important one.)

If you like that style of travel, you can do it around Europe too. There’s no Magic Bus, but there is Busabout. With Busabout you can choose one of 15 different passes depending on where you want to go. Their routes cover 30 of Europe’s most popular destinations across 10 countries, so you have plenty of options.

Busabout doesn’t operate all year, but any pass you buy is good from May to October, which gives you all summer and then some to travel. And right now, Travel CUTS is giving you 20% off Busabout Flexitrips, Flexiroute loops and Flexitrip one-way passes if you purchase between April 1st and 30th.

If you know you’re doing Europe this summer, take a look at this deal. If bus travel isn’t for you, give them a call anyway to see what they have for you in a Eurail pass, or maybe just a couple of cheap flights to get you from Paris to Lisbon, or Rome to Munich, or wherever your adventure takes you.

Show me the American deals!

Show me the Canadian deals!

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New Zealand Travel Guide: Taupo to Wellington

March 4, 2009

Day Six

Today was mostly a Magic Bus day. It was tempting to relax and sleep a little on the bus, but there was just too much to look at as we cruised through the country, heading south from Taupo to Wellington.

In fact, I would call this a postcard drive, because every few minutes the scenery would change and I sat there thinking, “That could be a postcard. That could be a postcard. That could be a postcard.”

Here’s my day in pictures:

The scenic Magic Bus.

The scenic Magic Bus.

Stop at the Flat Hills Cafe

Stop at the Flat Hills Cafe

A sheep comes running up to me to be friends.

A sheep comes running up to me to be friends.

Volcano

Volcano

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New Zealand Travel Tip #3: How to Take Advantage of Your Magic Bus Driver

March 2, 2009

This is what I imagine the help wanted ad for a Magic Bus driver looks like (based on Driver Greg and a few other Magic drivers we’ve crossed paths with along the way):

“Must be somewhere between totally cute and ruggedly handsome as well as charming, knowledgeable about the local sights, cheeky, and full of stories about your own travels in and out of New Zealand. Must also be able to drive a big bus.

Decent taste in music optional.” (Seriously, I’ve heard more Hootie and the Blowfish in the last two days than I have in years. It’s cool though, it’s a different culture here. They seem very pro-Hootie.)

Driver Greg has been with Magic Bus for almost three years now. No stranger to bus travel, he’s been around the world twice, including a trip to Europe for a 40+ day Contiki camping trip across 17 countries.

Every morning Greg gives us our itinerary for the day, lets us know his own recommendations of what not to miss and where not to waste time, and he always invites us up to have a chat if we have any questions.

You’re going to have questions, so go up and have the chat. Using your driver’s inside knowledge is the best way to make the most of your time any money, and it probably helps him to pass the time on the road.

For example, Greg let us know that although a lot of travelers plan to wait until they get to Queenstown to do the big adventure sports (sky diving, rafting, bungee), the exact same activities are most often cheaper and sometimes better in Rotorua and Taupo. Sky diving is a good $100 cheaper in Taupo, so that’s a big savings.

Magic Bus drivers are a relaxed group – they have to be to do what they do without going insane – and they’re the kind of guys (Do they have any female drivers? I’ll have to find out.) who you’d like to hang out and have a beer with at the end of the day, so why not offer to buy your driver a drink?

Sit him down, find out where he’s been, where he’s going next, what kind of travel wisdom he has to share. I didn’t get a chance to drink with Driver Greg, but I wish I had. Maybe the next time he’s in San Francisco we can catch up and talk about old times.

Every day on the bus, you’re the one who ultimately decides what your vacation is going to look like, but your driver is the person who can help make your travel dream a reality, so don’t be afraid to ask for help.

To learn more about the Magic Bus and other transportation options in New Zealand (I think most of them have cute drivers), talk to the student travel experts at Travel CUTS. They helped me plan my trip and they can help you too.

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New Zealand Travel Guide: Welcome to the Magic Bus!

February 28, 2009

Day Three

“New Zealand begins where Auckland finishes.”
– Kiwis who don’t live in Auckland

The problem with most big cities is that they’re all about the same. They have different art in their museums and different skylines, but mostly they all offer shopping, dining, cafes, more shopping, some statues, a park or two, several Starbucks and more shopping.

Some cities still stand out. I would never tell anyone to skip Paris, or New York City. But most of the time, I think one full day in a city is enough. After that, head out of town and start to see the rest of the country, which is exactly what I was ready to do.

There’s nothing like starting the day with a bus ride and stroll through town with 50 pounds of luggage strapped to your body. Well, maybe 20 pounds, but at 6:30 in the morning, everything is heavier.

Hop aboard the Magic Bus

Hop aboard the Magic Bus

I was on my way to the Magic Bus office on Albert Street, ready to get out of Auckland and see more of the North Island. My Magic driver, Greg (pronounced “Grig”, just like Bret is pronounced “Brit” – I freaking love those Conchords), picked people up at several hostels, then drove us up to the top of Mt. Eden, an old volcano, for a full panorama of the city.

Once you’re on the Magic Bus, the driver passes around lists of activities for the day and accommodation for that night. Prices for everything are listed, and the Magic price for most activities is $5-10 cheaper, sometimes more. You sign up for whatever interests you and your driver makes the booking. Want to catch a cultural Maori show? Do some whitewater rafting or bungee jumping? The driver can help you decide what you can fit into your schedule and budget.

Just sit back and relax.

Just sit back and relax.

In the busy summer season it’s not a bad idea to book your own accommodation ahead of time, especially if you and a friend really want a room to yourselves, but if you just need a dorm bed, you should be ok waiting to book until that day. Your driver will let you know if you should book in advance for a town a couple of days down the road.

After a quick snack stop in Hamilton (birthplace of the Rocky Horror Picture Show – I’ll bet you didn’t know that) it was on to Waitomo for black water rafting and glow worms.

Next: Tell me about the glow worms!