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Which Tour Operator Should I Choose?

There are a ton of tour companies out there offering to show New Zealand visitors a great time so how on earth do you decide which one to go for? Which are the best companies? Anyone looking to go hard on the party front or take in a heap of adrenalin activities is hardly going to find camping in a remote wilderness heaps of fun. Transversely, those looking for total immersion in nature and tranquillity are not going to want to spend their whole time sharing a bus with 20 somethings intent on fun and frolics.

So, first up you need to decide what kind of trip or adventure you are looking for. And are you happy to go all back-to-nature and earthy or do you need a few home comforts? Do you want to be active hiking, biking and kayaking every day or are you more inclined to relaxing with a few activities thrown in? And if you really can't decide there are plenty of choices for those who want a bit of everything.

Here's an overview of the major tour operators in New Zealand, to help you explore a little of the type of thing available so you can find your own personal idea of the perfect adventure.

 


Flying Kiwi

Generally recognised throughout the New Zealand tourist industry as a top contender, Flying Kiwi offer a whopping range of camping, cycling, hiking and adventure tours. Aimed at the budget-conscious market, this New Zealand owned company is the Kiwi original which means they have had more than two decades of getting things honed to perfection making it something of a slick operation.

Unlike many of the other tour companies who separate their tours according to interest – e.g. hiking, biking, camping etc – each of the Flying Kiwi tours are multi-activity which means you have the choice of doing a bit of everything; an ideal option perhaps for those who can't make up their mind whether strapping on their walking boots or climbing into the cycle saddle are more appealing ways to see this stunning country. And you can change your mind everyday if you want - you only have to decide what you are in the mood for once you stumble out of bed. There are also snow options for those who want some winter sport activity too.

Because some of the tours lean more heavily towards one theme or another, each tour has a 5 star ranking with regard to hiking, biking and activities. At a glance potential customers can see exactly what they are signing up for and choose their own personal best-suited.

Flying Kiwi also pride themselves on their going-beyond-the-tourist-trail emphasis for some real nature and cultural immersion with tours aimed at those who want to hang with the locals According to them they not only go where other tour companies don't but also check out some of the country's best secret spots that others don't even know exist. This might be a night time walk along secret trails lit by glow worms, a deserted road bike ride, a dip in a rainforest-surrounded natural swimming hole or the chance to sample the best muffins found anywhere in the country.

Flying Kiwi also have a number of other major selling points going for them which include being a highly-awarded eco-tourism company, offering a good range of free included activities, a vast selection of optional add-on activities and a heap of lake/mountain/beach-side accommodation bases to get you fully nature-immersed.

For more info on what Flying Kiwi offer read our Guide to Flying Kiwi.

 


Haka Tours

Established in 2006, small team NZ-owned and operated Haka Tours offer a huge menu of tours covering both islands in the adventure, snow and mountain bike categories as well as offering custom made options too.

They tend to elicit rave reviews from independent customer-contribution rating sites such as 'Rankers' (99% rating from 301 votes) and if you are impressed by crammed trophy cabinets you are unlikely to find anything to rival the impressive collection of Haka Tours. The awards collection includes such scoops as a NZ's Best Tour/Activity from the 2016 Golden Backpack Awards (one of the industry's most established awards dedicated to the backpacking travel element). They also seem to make something of a habit of winning the Ranker Supreme Award Winner - the most prestigious traveller voted award in NZ tourism.

The idea here is to select a base tour and then customise it by adding on just what you need by way of activities and experiences or accommodation upgrades.

Adventure tours - The 7 different options in the Adventure Tours category tend to run along a specific theme such as the 'Adrenalin Junkie Tour', the Winterless North Tour' and the 'Dirt and Snow Tour' which allows you to combine biking with snow activities. If you can't decide there is the 'Epic NZ Tour' which covers pretty much everything.

Snow tours - The snow tour menu is made up of 5 separate options and in some cases offers three levels of packages – a base package for those with a bit more ski/snowboard experience and their own gear, a lift pass + equipment hire package and a beginner package which offers the same but also includes lessons. Tours on offer include a heli-ski option and an 8-mountain 'Snow Odyssey' aimed at intermediate to experienced riders/skiers looking to get off the beaten track.

Mountain bike tours – There are four options here and include downhill, single track and back-country choices covering both the North and the South Island.

For more info on what Haka offer read our Guide to Haka Tours.

 

Image Credit: Sidetracks
Image Credit: Sidetracks

Sidetracks

This German-owned outfit runs a tagline promising its customers something 'out of the ordinary' with their range of walking, cycling, camping and adventure menu of tours. Specialising in small groups, their options are divided into 4 guided walking tours on private land, a couple of cycling holiday choices and 4 adventure camping choices. Those in the adventure camping category tend to lean heavily towards a theme such as a trekking tour or another aimed at nature and wilderness lovers called 'Natural Wonders NZ'. Additionally they also offer 'Comfort Holidays' originally aimed at the over 50s market but today offered to all those who want a slice of adventure without foregoing some level of comfort along the way. Last but not least is the choice of custom tours.

While the private land guided walking tours only cover the South Island, the other choices encompass both islands. Most of what is on offer is intended to show you some well-established country highlights and favourites mixed up with a fair helping of the lesser know gem variety.

They offer a good variety of additional add-on activities too as well as some included freebies; in some cases lots of included freebies.

Quite what you get accommodation-wise depends heavily on which tour you opt for but the Sidetracks range includes hotels, cabins, camping, home-stays and B&Bs. You will often be offered a mix of accommodation options within the same trip.

For more info on what Sidetracks offer read our Guide to Sidetracks Tours. 

 

Image Credit: G Adventures
Image Credit: G Adventures

G Adventures

Originally started by just one man in the 90s, G Adventures is today a large company which offers adventure, outdoor and cultural tours all over the globe, with a choice of 11 options in New Zealand and a further choice for a trip which takes in both New Zealand and Australia.

G Adventures New Zealand tour menu is broken down into categories called 'Classic Tours', 'National Geographic Journeys', Yolo and 'Active'. Some cover both islands while others concentrate on just one or even a more specific region of that island.

Classic/1 tour choice – These adventure tours are aimed at mixing up a range of activities and experiences which include the must-sees as well as lesser known secrets and provide some true insider access as well as offering cultural contact.

National Geographic Journeys/1 tour choice (NZ only) – These offer 'a greater hands-on exploration' and offer higher levels of comfort, upgraded accommodation and a greater number of free inclusions.

Yolo/6 tour choices - Aimed at budget-conscious 18 to 39-year-olds, these options are all about celebrating the you-re-only-young-once philosophy and tend to be fast-moving and fun-focused.

Active/3 tour choices – This category places greater emphasis on multi-sports which include hiking, biking, rafting and kayaking.

Accommodation varies considerably depending on which tour category you opt for. The Yolo, Classic and Active experiences are mostly simple hotels, lodges and hostels but have some unusual inclusions such as a floating boat hostel. The National Geographic Journeys are a higher standard of hotels and also sometimes include nights on a cruise boat.

For more info on what G Adventures offer read our Guide to G Adventure Tours.

 

Image Credit: Contiki Tours New Zealand
Image Credit: Contiki Tours New Zealand

Contiki Tours

Contiki are a huge international company who started out way back in the 60s and now offer 18 to 35-year-olds tours around the globe including a vast number in New Zealand.

Aimed at the 'young, wild and free', the Contiki tour menu includes everything from short breaks toepic-type options and is broken down into different categories. There are 5 'Short Trips and Festivals', 1 ski option and more than 20 each of their 'In-depth Explorer' and 'Discoverer' tours.

The short trips cover set music festival and cultural events as well as party points in the calendar such as New Year or Christmas. The 'In-depth Explorer' options are for those who want lots of activities but also free time while the 'Discoverer' is a non-stop, crammed-to-the-hilt something-of-everything kind of tour which can cover multiple countries.

Whether you are looking for furious partying or something rather more slow-paced and tranquil Contiki can probably deliver. Some of their trips focus on either just the North or the South Island but there are plenty which take in both. The type of accommodation you will be offered by Contiki Tours totally depends on the type of trip you opt into but is quite often hotels and lodges with a fair smattering of camping, especially for the festival options.

For those with a conscience it is good to know Contiki has a responsible tourism policy in place called 'Contiki Cares' and includes a fair number of environmental and social projects.

For more info on what Contiki offer read our Guide to Contiki Tours. 

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