Realizing misinformation by the I-site desk, I ditched my bus ticket and booked a different tour bus which allowed me to combine two tours and still reach my intended destination. Sometimes the benefits outweigh the lost value of the original booking, and this was the case as I was able to see Hobbit Town and Waitomo Glowworm Caves. Visiting the Shire from Lord of the Rings and a constellation of stars along cave walls was amazing, however, most interesting was the bus driver who presented provocative stories about New Zealand history and it’s unique culture instead of standard tourist facts. He spoke of a pre-Maori humanoid species and New Zealand’s anti-corruption policies, which revealed how I associated New Zealand culture with Australia, but they are as different as Canada and the United States. Afterwards, I was able to swap buses and start my journey to south island with Rotorua where I relaxed with a free open thermal foot bath at Kuirau Park.
In a small country with a small tourist system, there is usually no competition even when there appears to be multiple tour operators. They realize it’s more profitable to collude and operate as one big company, sharing resources. Usually it means higher (“fixed”) prices, but sometimes it can be logistically useful because you can “connect” to other routes and tours. Plan carefully, and ask nicely.