New Zealand takes my breath away. Each place I visit is more beautiful than the last. Yesterday morning I left Queenstown on the InterCity bus, bound for the South Island’s remote west coast town of Franz Josef to hike its amazing glacier. The west coast of New Zealand is the country’s last frontier. Although there is an airport at Franz Josef it provides only flightseeing over the glacier or charter service, so the only access to this part of the country is by car or bus.
Let me digress for a moment to say that the bus service in New Zealand is nothing short of spectacular. I have purchased a 20-hour FlexiPass that combines bus service from three companies (InterCity, Newmans and Northland). With a day’s notice I can phone toll-free to reserve a seat on any scheduled bus and the hours required to reach the destination are automatically deducted from my pass. When I run out of hours I can phone them up to “top off the pass,” using my credit card to add more hours. It can even be used on the ferry running between Wellington on the North Island and Picton on the South Island. The cost for 20 hours was $214 New Zealand (about $160 US) and with the exception of my flight from Auckland to Queenstown, I have used it to get to all my destinations.
Riding the bus here is nothing like taking a bus in the US. The coaches have comfortable reclining seats, footrests, and huge expanses of sparkling clean windows that are perfect for viewing the spectacular vistas revealed around every corner. Incredibly, the bus drivers (keep in mind that these are regularly scheduled inter-city buses – not tour buses) provide a running commentary along the way, entertaining the passengers with bits of history, local gossip, and explanations for what is passing by our windows. Regular stops are made at pullouts where the government has constructed restrooms that are maintained in a sparkling clean condition. These restrooms are always located at scenic overlooks or at trail heads, where a five or ten minute walk along a path takes you to, for instance, a stunning waterfall, and the bus stops long enough for everyone to take a quick jaunt down the path.
*Image of Pancake Rocks, Punakaiki, West Coast, New Zealand via Shutterstock