There are so many options when choosing a New Zealand holiday, it can be difficult to know which type of trip to take.  

If you’re wondering what the difference is between a small group tour and travelling independently on a self-drive tailored holiday itinerary, we’re here to help you understand why you might pick one over the other so you can make a fully informed decision.

Are all group tours the same? Will I get support if I travel Independently? 

Small Group Tour

Although travelling by large coach has been around for many decades, our smaller group tours are very different to a bus full of 50-odd people following a flag-waving leader into the distance. Our organised small group trips have been developed based on traveller feedback and are constantly evolving.  

We discovered that some of the experiences people really wanted to have whilst on holiday in New Zealand were virtually impossible as part of a large group. With high passenger numbers and parking limitations, the case could be made for a more personalised, flexible style of travelling by guided tour. 

Independent Travel

Travellers who want to go solo are finding that it is becoming much easier to do so by booking through a specialist New Zealand tour operator. Using a tour operator who can plan key elements and help guide you on the best travel options, can prove invaluable when it comes to making the most of your time in New Zealand, as well as help you save money where you may otherwise overspend.  

We can advise which trips will need pre-booking to guarantee a spot or beat the queues, and which can be booked on arrival depending on how energetic you’re feeling on the day.  We’ll recommend accommodations based on your budget and idea of comfort, and there are multiple ways to make the same journey. 

Booking through a tour operator not only brings a wealth of experience for organising a dream trip, but also ensures there is someone at the end of the phone in case of any difficulties. 

Who will I be in contact with?

Small Group Tour

Our group travellers will be given their driver-guide’s mobile number shortly before departure so they are directly contactable whilst you’re away.  

Independent Travel 

Independent visitors receive details for our office in Hamilton, North Island, so that if you have any issues you can contact someone in the same time zone as you.

Of course, the team in Nottinghamshire will also be on hand should you prefer to get in touch with us in the first instance. We know that planning travel during a pandemic is not something to be taken lightly, and so we have created our Covid Promise, to reassure our customers they’ll be looked after even if travel is disrupted.

Travelling Style

Small Group Tours

Our unique small group tours allow a maximum of 16 like-minded passengers on board, and of course, there’s no need for a designated driver at the winery stops as we’ve already arranged one for you!  

You can sit back, relax and enjoy the scenery, and perhaps get to know some of your fellow passengers too, making it the ideal choice for solo travellers.  

Unlike many other tour operators, our vehicles are company-owned and our drivers operate out of our New Zealand office, making us all part of the same family.  We can be confident that the minibuses you travel in will be well-maintained, comfortable and suitable for the job with reclining seats, individual air vents and storage for your luggage (not a trailer).  

The local driver-guides will provide commentary over the PA system – they have driven all over the country and know some of the best places to eat, the best walks and the best secret hangouts, and will happily answer any questions you have about New Zealand.  

You’ll also find that travelling by smaller vehicle means that you can get into more of the hidden corners of New Zealand – and you’ll hopefully spend more time exploring than trying to reverse out of a tight parking spot!

Our small group tours are designed to encompass the best of New Zealand and to give you a real essence of the country. Many of your days are filled with captivating sights but there are also “free” days with the opportunity to do whatever you wish.  

Travellers are encouraged to get off the minibus and engage with New Zealand, rather than just gazing through the (admittedly, panoramic) windows. We like to be as flexible as possible with our travel days, so if the whole group decides they want to get in half an hour later one evening and spend a little longer at a beauty spot, we can usually arrange it. 

Independent Travel

Travelling independently often means a bit more freedom in that you will be driving yourself. Although, we can arrange public transport on many routes throughout New Zealand if preferred, and we will usually recommend a scenic cruise or Tranz Alpine rail journey to take a break from the driving.  

We always quote based on an intermediate automatic rental vehicle with ample boot space for a 23kg airline luggage limit, but we can offer alternatives, including SUV-sized vehicles. We’ll give you driving directions and can also arrange for a GPS system if desired – although, this is usually only useful in the cities as many of the smaller towns have one road in and one road out!   

Manual drive vehicles are uncommon in New Zealand as the combination of winding roads and hills make constantly changing gear very tiring.  

Driving in New Zealand is very easy – they drive on the left and outside of Wellington and Auckland, you’ll rarely encounter a traffic jam. Unless it involves sheep; the biggest danger is forgetting to concentrate on the road instead of the scenery.  

If you’re in a hurry and need to travel some distance, we can also organise domestic flights, and if not, we can make suggestions for stops you may wish to make so you can linger a little longer. Although, it’s important to remain conscious of the travel times we give you to ensure you reach your next accommodation in time.   

What’s the accommodation like?

For both our small group and tailor-made itineraries, we like to include a mix of accommodations, with comfortable beds, en suites and laundry facilities as standard.  Our experience is that small, centrally-located hotels are usually best in the cities, as it enables you to walk to restaurants for dinner- ideal if you’re planning on having a couple of glasses of wine.  

In the more rural areas (the majority of New Zealand), we find B&Bs are usually people’s preferred choice. Often in picturesque locations and very comfortable, the local knowledge of your hosts will be second to none. Forget your stereotypical lace doilies and frilly bedspreads– we’d consider B&Bs in New Zealand to be more like modern guesthouses, with gourmet breakfasts, and just the right mix of friendliness and privacy.  

Small Group Tour

Our small group journey customers are not left out when it comes to choosing their preferences. Many of our trips offer a “Your Choice” option, allowing you to decide between staying at a rural homestay for a night, or a more centrally located hotel in town. 

Independent Travel

For our tailor-made holiday customers, of course, we will accommodate you in whichever style you request. 

So, if you’d rather self-cater in motels or apartments, we can guide you as to the best quality options available. For those who wish to indulge whilst they’re away, New Zealand has an array of luxury 5-star lodges that offer that extra bit of something special, whilst avoiding pretentious formalities.  

What is the food like? Can I do my own thing for dinner?

Most of the properties travellers choose tend to be on a “bed and breakfast” basis, usually with an option for continental or cooked.  Some of the more isolated places may offer “dinner, bed and breakfast” or “full board” as standard if there are few other options nearby.  Motels and apartments are usually room-only, so if we are creating a tailor-made itinerary for you, do discuss your requirements with us.  

Lunch can be picked up from a deli, a local café or a country pub, and can be as light or substantial as you wish!  New Zealand’s cities are proud of their gastronomic offerings, with options from cheap and cheerful to gourmet and a variety of world cuisines to choose from.  

Coastal locations are rightly lauded for their seafood, with fish pie being the ubiquitous meal of choice in a back-country pub. Vegetarians are widely catered for, and we do ask for any dietary requirements, allergies and intolerances at the point of booking so we can inform ahead.

Small Group Tour

The majority of our small group evening meals are to be enjoyed as you wish – independently or with friends you have made along the way – and we will always point you in the right direction for some good grub!  

However, some of our tours do include a couple of feature dinners, which we believe encompass some of the most iconic dining experiences in New Zealand – from learning more about Maori culture, to relaxing in a winery restaurant. Some of our tours even offer the chance to discover how one of NZ’s signature desserts, pavlova, is made.  

Independent Travel

Interesting dining options for both group and independent travellers include meals with a view at Skyline in Queenstown and at the revolving restaurant in the iconic Sky Tower Auckland. Or for those preferring to dine at a lower level, how about a 4-course sightseeing meal on the Christchurch Tram?

New Zealand is also well known for its café culture, with a flat white adorned with a silver fern image being the speciality.

Christchurch Tram - Silver Fern Holidays

Which experiences are included? Do I have options? 

Small Group Tours

Our Small Group Trips are packed full of included activities, as well as days where you are free to explore independently. So, whether you want to look for dolphins on a beautiful scenic cruise, or dress up as a character from one of the Lord of the Rings movies in Hobbiton, you’re sure to find your ideal New Zealand adventure in one of our itineraries.  

We include a variety of experiences tailored for Silver Fern customers. With enthusiastic local experts introducing you to Maori culture, plenty of coastal and rainforest visits, and of course, a cruise on the famous Milford Sound. 

We’ve chosen these activities because they’re some of the best on offer in New Zealand and are those that are most likely to appeal to our travellers – but having the hassle taken out of planning a trip doesn’t mean you don’t get options. With our “Your Choice” alternatives in each small group trip, you can have the best of both worlds by choosing the trip, or accommodation, that most suits you, at no extra cost.

Independent Travel

Planning an independent itinerary does require decisions, but doesn’t have to be stressful – that’s what we’re here for! Take a look at our suggested holiday itineraries – they’re a great starting point to get those creative juices flowing.  

The number of excursions available can be overwhelming, so allow our specialists to make suggestions for trips that will suit you based on your interests. If you’ve heard about something in particular that you’d like to do, let us know and we can work it into your itinerary, whether it’s a transport museum, hot springs, or bungee jumping in Queenstown!  

The key to a bespoke holiday itinerary is that it will be created entirely around your requirements, your budget, and your schedule. Perhaps you are celebrating a special birthday, or have always wanted to check out a Kiwi music festival? We can arrange local guides where necessary, and whatever you wish to tick off your bucket list – it’s our pleasure. 

Is a group tour cheaper than independent travel?

Small Group Tours

This is a difficult one to answer.  Our small group trips are very good value for money – after a day of included sightseeing, you can avoid travel fatigue by being driven to your accommodation, with an informative commentary along the way.  

Apart from the free days, your trips and some of your meals are included, meaning you have less to pay (and arrange) when you actually arrive in New Zealand. The tours are priced differently according to season and the length of the trip; check out typical prices for our longest and shortest New Zealand tours to get a better idea of the itineraries and expected cost. 

Independent Travel

Our independent travel itineraries offer you the choice to prioritise your spending – you may wish to spend more of your budget on trips and less on accommodation, for example.  

By their very nature, you’ll need to allocate some of your budget to spending on arrival – petrol, for example – and save some for any of the trips you chose not to pre-book.  

We always ask for a rough budget when we are designing your personalised itinerary to help us work out the style of accommodation and length of trip to fit your planned expenditure.  We’ll usually include a few trips within the initial itinerary to give you an idea of expected costs, and you may wish to add more or remove some accordingly. 

Indicative prices are available on suggested independent travel itineraries so you can get a better idea of what independent travel may cost initially. 

New Zealand Independent Travel - Silver Fern Holidays

How long should I spend travelling around New Zealand?

Small Group Tour

If you’re unsure as to how long you should visit for, our small group trips range from 11-23 days. We also offer a range of departure dates throughout the year to enjoy New Zealand’s varying seasons, so there will be something to suit everyone.  

Independent Travel

With a self-drive itinerary, the duration and dates are entirely up to you. Although our sample itineraries are a good indicator of what you can include according to timescale, we can help guide you on this when we have our initial conversation about your requirements for the trip.  

We can arrange flights to New Zealand and stopovers for both independent and group travellers, with a variety of options available. Don’t forget to factor time for these (and the international dateline) into your plan.

So, should I take a small group trip or travel independently? 

We are often asked whether it’s better to visit New Zealand as part of a small group trip or whether a tailor-made itinerary is the way to go. But the truth is, it really depends on your preferences and what you’re looking for from a holiday to New Zealand.

Tailor-made trips are a fantastic option if you’re visiting New Zealand with very specific requirements when setting up the itinerary, which we can help with.  

If you’d like to break up your journey to visit friends or family in-country, if you’re planning on attending a special event, or if you have particular hobbies that you want to pursue at length, you may find that a self-drive holiday with Silver Fern is the best option for you. 

With the group trips, you’re gaining a driver-guide, but not every aspect will be tailored precisely to you.  

However, we have designed our small group tours to be as flexible as possible, incorporating the iconic sights as well as the hidden gems, the must-do experiences as well as the unexpected delights. 

We’re often asked if our New Zealand tours are suitable for seniors – for the young as well as the young at heart.  Our answer is absolutely yes!  

Although we have tailor made itineraries for a range of people – from multi-generational family groups to solo travellers, honeymooners to Golden Wedding celebrators; sports fans, birdwatchers, hikers and more – it is true that we do have a “type” on our small group trips.  

The majority of our small group passengers are over-50, British and young at heart, with a mix of solos, friends and couples. That’s not to say we don’t get younger visitors taking up a small group trip, and most of our departures will have a couple of non-Brits on board, too.  Whether you’re a seasoned coach traveller or a first timer, you’ll certainly be made to feel welcome!

Still can’t decide? 

Why not opt for both! Select one of the Silver Fern Holidays small group tours, and then add some independent travel onto the beginning or end of your trip – whether this be a few days or a few weeks, the choice is yours! A particularly popular option is doing one Island by group trip, and the other by yourself, giving you the best of both worlds.


As a small team of New Zealand specialists we have all lived, worked, and widely travelled in New Zealand and return regularly – so please don’t be shy to ask if there’s something you would like us to arrange or know more about! Just get in touch!