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Great tour! The bus drivers are very knowledgable and friendly.
The 3rd day is too much bus. Would have prefered stayed a half day more in Bays of Island to return to Auckland in the afternoon, sleep there and go to Rotorua only the next day. That would also have made sense to visit the Waitomo caves on the way from Auckland to Rotorua.
Apart from that suggestion, every thing was perfect and I strongly recommend this 5 days tour!
This is a semi-independent tour. The travel agency arranges for hotel, buses between cities, transfers to and from hotel and excursions. You will not be traveling with the same people nor on the same bus all the time. We were very impressed with the logistics! Seriously, considering that we took different buses with different drivers each way between cities, excursions and multiple transfers, we were surprised that everything went without a single issue. All the buses and transfers were on-time except the last bus from Mata Mata to Auckland which the Agency reps mentioned that regularly 15 min late. They offered to pick us up at the hotel in downtown Auckland but because our hotel coming back was by the airport, they weren’t unable to accommodate that transfer and we ended up taking a taxi.
The communication with the agency was good. I had called before the trip to let them know that I wanted to see the itinerary a bit before the 1 week mark and they complied by sending it two weeks prior. Please ensure to check your emails sent from Viator as they do not send the itinerary directly to your email. We read everything on the itinerary and made hard copies of it. During the trip I only called them to make a reservation to the Tamaki Maori Village dinner and cultural experience and on our last day as we were waiting for the bus to Auckland and were concerned because it was a few minutes late. I guess we had been spoiled with getting every single driver on time. The hotel in Paihia was ok, well situated in town’s center, close to everything. We absolutely loved our hotel in Rotorua, the Sudima hotel by the lake.
This tour covers a lot of attractions in a very short time, therefore there will be a couple of days where everything will be jam-packed and there will be a lot of driving, but to be fair, unless you plan to drive yourself and stay on each location you visit, I don’t see how you can cover all these attractions in such a short time. This tour is perfect for people like us, that do not like driving abroad and have little vacation time. The third day, it is mostly spent on two intercity buses from Paihia to Auckland and Auckland to Rotorua. They do make a few stops where you can go to the restroom and a 45 min transfer at Auckland. We were worried about this mainly to reading other people’s review but we were pleasantly surprised as it wasn’t as bad as depicted. All you have to do is make sure is to take advantage of the scheduled stops and bring some snacks for the road. You can always buy lunch at the bus station in Auckland. We arrived Rotorua a bit early in the evening, the bar tender at the Sudima recommended to visit the Town’s center and check out the market(on Thursdays only) then we headed to the Polynesian Spa next door to unwind in their hot baths.
Most drivers were very knowledgeable and extremely personable, only a couple were a bit weird. Most of them seem to be local therefore they provide good information while going sight seeing.
The only thing I would recommend to the agency is to ensure to specify on the itinerary that there are any bus changes for certain excursions or if the lunches will be provided by a different bus driver than the one that you leave for during the excursions. On our way to Waitomo cave, the driver began by saying that the bus was going to Auckland instead of specifying that some people will be returning to Rotorua on a different bus. We got a nervous and began asking questions, and then he let us know that some of us will be returning on a different bus and that lunch was going to be served on that other bus.
Overall an Excellent experience, this is a good way to see the main sights of the North Island is a very short time. Grey Sights and Gray line did a fantastic job coordinating this tour, we really enjoyed it.
Not really a tour. More of an itinerary. They use local Intercity bus lines- one trip from Pahai to Auckland had 10 stops- but no bathroom breaks. Grouchy drivers. We hauled our luggage 4 blocks both ways to meet their buses. If you've been on tours with door to door service or has a tour guide and enjoyed that experience- this is not the tour for you. This is an expensive do it yourself type thing.
The actual tours we went on were all fine, but the transportation arrangements were not what we expected. On a typical day we had to get on 3 to 4 different buses/transfers all with different drivers and sometimes with different companies. The InterCity transfers on the third day were a complete waste of our precious travel time. Basically these were simply a city/state bus like Grayhound or Badger Coach that made multiple stops in different cities on our way from Paihia to Auckland to Rotorua without any commentary at all. It took all day to travel and the morning portion was 5 hours long without any planned bathroom/restroom stop at all. This is not the way to spend a vacation and we were very disappointed with this aspect of the trip. Okay trip if your a younger backpacker/tramper, but would not recommend for anyone that is looking for cohesive tour.
This is actually an "independent coach tour", which means they book you on the various day tours and intercity buses and you need to be able to follow an itinerary sheet yourself; might be obvious for Europeans and Aussies/Kiwis who have a strong backpacking culture, but it would not be clear from the tour descriptions to Americans and Asians.
There were a couple glitches with the tour: 1. Bay of Islands cruise was canceled by the local tour operator due to rainstorm and they said they would give refund through whomever paid for the cruise, but when I asked the travel agent that is selling this tour on Viator, they said they cannot give refund to me and told me to either go get travel insurance, or they would only give refund for the cruise minus a $25 "administrative fee"; 2. On the itinerary sheet, Waitomo Caves tour title says excluding lunch but the description paragraph below says includes lunch, and when I asked the travel agent about it, she said to only read the part that says excluding lunch; 3. There was no transport provided from Sky City bus terminal back to my hotel on the last day.
It annoys me that the company that organized this tour believed that they are not accountable for any of the issues that occurred (always had excuses or said it was another person's responsibility). However I give them 3 stars for always responding very quickly and finally gave me partial cruise refund after multiple emails. The actual local tour guides and bus drivers for each of the day tours were wonderful though, always friendly and helpful. Also note that on Day 3, bus trip from Paihia to Rotorua, there is a 45-minute gap at Auckland Sky City bus terminal where we waited to switched buses, however we were responsible for our own luggage since this is an independent coach tour, so if you have a large suitcase, you might end up stuck at the bus terminal with your luggage for that time. I only had a backpack, so I was able to walk out of the bus terminal to get lunch.
This tour fit our needs for touring the North Island so I didn't need to stress over driving on the left side of the road.
I was very impressed when I arrived at my hotel and we received a confirmation in the form of a letter from Great Sights confirming bus pick up the next morning. I thought this would be the norm for the rest of the trip - each morning- NOT SO!.
Be aware that each day is a different tour, with a different organization.
Day 1- We had a very informative tour guide on the bus to Paihia. The Waitangi Treaty Grounds was interesting. We arrived to the pier shortly before embarking the ship, with no time to get any food. There were few choices on the ship. My advise is to prepare to bring food for each day on this tour as you don't know when you will get a chance to eat. The bay of islands was beautiful with plenty of seating on the boat. We saw dolphins and then set sail for some of the islands. You see the islands from the boat and the captain was mindful of photo ops and turning the boat around each island to capture pictures from each side. We were tired after a long day and were not prepared for a stop at the last island and were asked to disembark and tour the small island. We were tired and anxious to get back to Paihia and eat. We did get off and walked up a steep hill to get spectacular views. After being on tour all day and arriving to our hotel late we expected to be notified what time and where the bus would be picking us up the next morning. There was no notification. We asked the hotel front desk and they thought it would pick us up in the morning at the hotel between an hour scheduled time based on our tour for the day. One thing I was not happy about... we stayed at the Kingsgate great location right on the water and a block from the maritime center and beautiful sun sets. Our luggage was delivered to the hotel while we were on the boat. It stayed in the hotel lobby very small location right in front of maps and touring information for about 5 hours with access to anyone. I would have preferred it was stored in a safe location.
Day 2 - Fun day packed with great sights and adventure. 90 mile beach was exciting and the sandboarding was a lot of fun. There is ample time at Cape Reigna and each location to see all the sights and take great photos. Again after an all day tour we arrived back at the hotel with no notification for the following day. We were to travel back to Auckland and then to Rotorua. They had no idea where we were supposed to meet. There was no notification about the pick up time or where we were supposed to meet.
Day 3- After an hour of frustration trying to figure out where to meet the bus I called the information on our Viator confirmation. The New Zealand Fine Touring Group was the contact. The associate was very nice and told us where to meet the bus. She also notified us that we were supposed to have received a full itinerary we did not, and she would email it to us. This was the worse day! It was over 9 hours on a city bus. Something they don't explain is you are not on a tour today. This day is transporting you by city bus to Auckland and then on to Rotorua. It is very cramped and picking up the public at several stops. There is no time to get food or go to the bathroom. Prepare for this day! We were on our own to figure out how to get to Rotorua from Auckland also as we still had not received our itinerary. That night we arrived in Rotorua and were able to access email and the itinerary. Hallelujah! It was very informative and stated we would have a taxi pick us up at the bus stop to take us to the hotel. The bus was an hour and a half late. We called the travel agent and they scheduled a taxi to pick us up right away. We stayed at the Sudima. A nice hotel on the lake.
Day 4 - The bus driver picked us up from the hotel lobby. The countryside is beautiful this time of year - very green! The caves were wonderful. Our day in Rotorua was spent looking for a restaurant to eat. There are a lot of great things to do in the city however. The Maori dinner was wonderful, entertaining and very informative. The food was good!
Day 5 - A packed day of tours. We had a great bus driver and went to the 3 tours before arriving in Hobbiton. Hobitton is definitely the high lite of the 5 days. Beautiful scenery and though crowded, people were mindful of those taking photos. We were taken to a bus to return to Auckland. This time it was a tour bus and a straight shot to Auckland. What a difference that made.
To review the whole trip... Make sure to have your detailed itinerary before you arrive for the tours. Get food! Most of the tours don't accommodate eating at your leisure. We learned to get food each morning to last the day. New Zealand is beautiful and I feel we were there at the best time of year with mild temperatures and green, green hills and diverse scenery.
SAW LOTS OF GREAT STUFF BUT THIS IS NOT A TRADITIONAL TOUR!
A great way to see a lot in a small amount of time. There is a lot time spent on the bus but it was worth it for the most part. Someday, I would like to go back to spend more time at Cape Regina, 90 Mile Beach and the Hots Springs. We spent a lot of time driving to locations and then we only had a short time to visit but it was the only way to cram in all of the sights.
My only complaint is that this was not a TOUR! This was several tours pieced together by the bus company. There were some occasions when I had to find my own way to the pick-up spot or my manage my own transportation back to my hotel carting my own luggage around. There is one full day of being on a bus driving from the northern part of the island to Rotorua. The trip could have been done in 5 hours but the bus made lots of stops along the way to pick up and discharge customers so it took 10 hours. We also had figure out how to change buses in Aukland. Your daily bus drivers have no idea what you are doing from one day to the next as they are only with you for the day. Everyone on the bus is doing their own customized tour for various numbers of days so don't expect them to be with you the entire tour. After Hobbiton, a group of us were dropped off at a bus stop on a street somewhere and had to wait 45 minutes for our next bus to come pick us up. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't horrible but I was expecting a traditional 5 day tour where you are picked up on day 1 at your hotel and everything is coordinated until you are dropped off at your hotel at the end of day 5. Be aware of what you are signing up for.
Overall the tour was great. What I would have liked to have known before going on the tour is that it is not a 5 day tour with the same group of people but it is instead a collection of half day/ day tours. The coaches were comfortable, had wifi and the drivers were friendly and knowledgeable. Highlights were the bay of islands - especially the hole in the rock and the Hobbiton movie set. I paid slightly extra and stayed in the Kingsgate and Hotel ibis - both very nice hotels close to local bars/ restaurants. I noticed sometimes there was not always enough time allocated to get food - usually it was a rush to arrange lunch so I would definitely recommend taking snacks to have on the coach.
Overall the tour was good. The guides were knowledgeable, friendly and informative. Waitangi treaty grounds tour was rushed and at times the guides commentary was too fast. The Intercity bus trip from Auckland to Roturua had lots of stops and the driver was somewhat rude. After the conclusion of Hobitton tour - wait for the bus back to Auckland was the most disappointing. It was a open shelter - extremely windy, cold and there was heavy downpour while waiting for the delayed bus. We were dropped off without much info other than your connection will be here shortly. Calls to your tour center was also unhelpful. For the tour costs paid for a Superioir Gold package the shortcomings were extremely disappointing.