The "Short Max" is all of Stray's Max Pass except for the Far South. Perfect if you want to do both islands but have slightly less time!
The pass route is a loop, which means you can start and finish anywhere you would like. We recommend at least 3 weeks to get the most out of your trip and to allow some time to hop-off and explore your favourite destinations for longer.
- Stay at a wilderness lodge in the bush at Raglan – overlooking New Zealand’s premier surf beach.
- See glow-worms and do some amazing caving at Waitomo Caves.
- Overnight stay on a Marae (Maori meeting house) in Mourea (accommodation, hangi dinner, breakfast and unique cultural experience all for only $80).
- Discover history and culture not yet touched by the hand of commercialism at our exclusive stop at Lake Aniwhenua.
- Stop in at Rotorua to experience (smell) the geothermal activity and do extreme white water rafting.
- Tongariro National Park (home to the 'Lord of the Rings' volcanoes and NZ’s best one day walk the ‘Tongariro Alpine Crossing’).
- Stay at award-winning conservation stop Whakahoro for wild, wilderness activities!
- Wellington – NZ’s capital city, home to our national museum Te Papa.
- Unique overnight and a free day in Abel Tasman National Park (walks, sailing and kayaking options in this stunning area).
- Experience the remote and rugged West Coast.
- Majestic Franz Josef glacier with a free day to hike and explore it.
- Spend a few days in Queenstown - the adventure and party capital of NZ!
- Stay at base of NZ's highest mountain Aoraki/Mt Cook.
- High country sheep station in Lord of the Rings scenery at Rangitata.
- Visit Kaikoura, for the awe-inspiring whale watching and wildlife spotting.
I did the Short Max Pass in May and had a fantastic time. The trip gives the opportunity to experience all the main sights and more of beautiful NZ as well meeting new people within a group environment. I really enjoyed the alternative activities such as the Maori night and Blue Duck Lodge.
Most travellers start this pass in Auckland. See the Timetable tab for all other departure days and times.
Auckland Southbound: Tuesdays, Wednesday (Summer-only), Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays (Spring-only).
The itinerary below is for the current season.
Given the spontaneous nature of our trips and lack of control over New Zealand's weather(!), what we do each day might occasionally vary.
NB. The cost of accommodation is not included in your travel pass but under each day we have described our recommended accommodation, along with some free and paid activity suggestions.
We depart Auckland and head south, travelling towards the mighty Waikato. We’ll take a walk to the majestic Bridal Veil Falls on the way to our destination, the world-renowned surf beach Raglan. There’s no better place to learn to surf; but if you don’t fancy hitting the waves, the afternoon is free to relax with a walk on the beach or a bush walk. Chill out or go hard in this funky surf and arts town.
Departing Raglan we head for Mourea in the Bay of Plenty, home to our special cultural overnight stay. We stop in the rural town of Waitomo to explore the spectacular glow-worm caves, before continuing on to Mourea for a truly unique insight into the ways of the Maori. Nestled on the waterfront of Lake Rotoiti, spend the night on a Marae (traditional Maori meeting house) enjoying the company of the local Ngati Pikiao tribe. Take a guided walk along the powerful Kaituna River and learn about the traditional food sources of the area. Enjoy a tasty group dinner followed by a Kapa Haka performance (song and dance) where the boys are taught the Haka (war dance) and the girls learn the art of the Poi.
* Mourea cultural night is an all-inclusive price of $80 including afternoon tea, dinner, interactive Kapa Haka performance, storytelling, bed and breakfast. If there are less than 9 people we will stay in Rotorua with an alternative cultural option.
We wave goodbye to the whanau at the Marae and head for Rotorua for a morning free to discover its distinctive smell, culture and adventure. Around midday we do hostel pickups in Rotorua, moving on to Rainbow Mountain to meet our local Maori guide before we head deep into the Kaingaroa Forest to the foothills of the Te Urewera Park. Prepare to experience stories, history and culture not yet touched by commercialism. Spend the night in the tranquil oasis of Kohutapu Lodge and get involved in some of the many activities on offer or simply enjoy a sunset drink at the Taniwha Bar overlooking the lake. You’ll be inspired as you learn how Stray’s visits here are contributing to the wellbeing of the local community.
* Lake Aniwhenua night is $75 including accommodation; guided tour and bush walk to see Maori rock art, dinner and breakfast. If there are less than 7 people we will stay in Taupo as an alternative.
After breakfast we’ll depart to drop lunch off at a nearby school as part of an inspiring community project that brightens the lives of local school children. Then it’s on to Taupo to visit mighty Huka Falls and experience skydiving for the brave! Our destination today is regularly ranked by passengers as one of Stray’s #1 overnight stops and you’ll soon see why. Located in Whakahoro, one of the most remote parts of the North Island, Blue Duck Station is a sprawling 5,200 acre high country farm that is both a working station and an environmental conservation leader. Once you arrive, settle in to learn a little about daily life at Blue Duck, then relax and chill out around an evening fire.
Today is yours to fully explore this incredible location. Jump on a 4WD and travel up farm roads, over hilly peaks and through New Zealand native bush to learn about the station’s interesting settlement history and their current conservation efforts. Don your cowboy hat and explore the farm by horseback or kayak on the river through bush clad valleys and lush green hills. Visit the ‘Bridge to Nowhere’ and the Kaiwhakauka waterfall or assist with the farm’s pest control efforts and bring back tonight’s dinner.
We’ll be up at the crack of dawn for an early departure to make our way to the UNESCO Dual World Heritage Site, Tongariro National Park. Today you get the chance to do what is rated as one of the world’s Top 10 one day walks and a definite NZ ‘must do’: the epic Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Trek through dramatic natural scenery, past volcanic peaks, vast craters and stunning turquoise lakes on one of the most spectacular walks in New Zealand. The Crossing is open to walk year round (alpine gear and guide are required in winter), but subject to the weather forecast.
After breakfast we head around the mountains via the rural towns of Ohakune, Taihape and Bulls towards the bottom of the North Island. Today is mostly an express day to get to Wellington, our capital city and home to New Zealand’s parliament and the iconic Beehive government building. Also known as the ‘coolest little capital in the world’ thanks to Lonely Planet, Wellington is a great place to check out the lively arts, craft beer and café culture scenes or do some shopping. The afternoon is yours to explore the sights, and we recommend wandering down Oriental Parade or visiting Te Papa National Museum.
We catch the 8.00am Bluebridge Ferry (check in 7.00am/$51-$75) across the Cook Strait to the South Island where we meet the Stray bus. On arrival we cruise through the world famous Marlborough vineyard area and, depending on the group, may stop for a bit of wine tasting before heading to the coastal town of Nelson. We make a supermarket stop in Motueka to stock up on supplies for the next couple days and then make our way to our amazing and remote overnight stop Marahau, right on the edge of the spectacular Abel Tasman National Park.
With a full day at your leisure, don’t miss out on the opportunity to explore this stunning, coastal national park on foot, by sea or from the air. Abel Tasman is famous for being one of the sunniest spots in New Zealand and, as home to one of NZ’s Great Walks, is a popular place to hop off for hiking enthusiasts. Even those short on time can still kayak, sail or take a water taxi to get a taste of the natural golden sand beaches and brilliant blue waters.
This morning you get the chance to get involved and give something back by participating in our Tree Planting Project. Become an eco-warrior, get soil under your finger nails and plant a tree with the Otuwhero Wetland Trust. This is a fantastic opportunity to create life-long memories of your time in New Zealand, and you can come back and visit your tree in years to come!
Today we head south towards the ‘wild’ West Coast passing through Buller Gorge and down a stretch of road that was recently rated one of the top ten drives in the world by Lonely Planet. We stop at Cape Foulwind to visit the seal colony and then head for the historic coal mining town, Westport. The sunset from our accommodation tonight is a ‘must see’ if the weather is clear.
An early start takes us further down the rugged West Coast to the spectacular limestone Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and blowholes. We’ll stop to take a short walk before we head for the historic gold mining town, Greymouth. We do pick-ups in Greymouth and make a stop in Hokitika, before heading to the quaint little town of Franz Josef, home to the mighty Franz Josef Glacier.
Enjoy a free day to get out and experience the Franz Josef Glacier, a true highlight of the West Coast. The best way to navigate the maze of ice and explore the incredible landscape on the Franz Josef Glacier is with a guided tour, which always ranks as a favourite activity amongst Stray travellers. Other options include visiting the glacial terminal face for some spectacular photos or one of the many excellent bush hikes in the region.
It’s time to leave the West Coast behind - we stop in the morning for hostel pick-ups at Fox Glacier before heading to the amazing mirror-like Lake Matheson. We’ll travel inland through the mountainous Haast Pass and Makarora towards Wanaka. This is one of the most scenic drives you’ll ever do and we’ll stop for plenty of photo ops as we drive from rainforests to mountains, through beech forest and past great lakes. We’ll pass by the beautiful Lake Hawea and arrive in Wanaka late-afternoon in time to enjoy this picturesque lakeside town.
We depart around mid-morning, giving you time to check out amazing views of the lake either by skydiving or taking a walk up Mt Iron. Then, we cruise along to Queenstown, known in New Zealand as the ‘Adventure Capital of the World’ and the spiritual home of bungy jumping! We stop on our way into town at Kawarau Bridge, the first commercial bungy jumping site, for your chance to take the big plunge. Queenstown offers an optional big (make that huge!) night out with lots of excellent restaurants, pubs and live music to check out.
You need at least one free day in Queenstown to make the most of the range of activities on offer, but it’s also a great place to hop off and spend extra time no matter what you choose to do. Options include: bungy or swing, zipline tours, canyoning, jet boating, skiing, skydiving and local bush walks, or just enjoy the stunning scenery and do nothing. Speak to your driver or hostel travel desk for Dunedin connection options.
Today we head over the Lindis Pass through the beautiful Mackenzie Country and past pictureque Lake Pukaki on the way to our amazing stop at the base of New Zealand’s highest mountain, Aoraki/Mt Cook. We arrive in the early afternoon with time to do a 4WD & Argo Tour, check out the Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre or do one of the many great short walks in the park. If you want to hop off the bus for a few days there are some incredible longer walks you can do (we’d recommend leaving climbing Mt Cook to the experienced mountaineers though).
Leaving Mt Cook we make our way through a landscape made famous in the Lord of the Rings films. We make a stop at turquoise Lake Tekapo before heading on to Geraldine for an afternoon arrival at our overnight stop in Rangitata Peel Forest, with time for thrill seekers to raft the top notch white water on the Rangitata River. Tonight spend the night in one of Canterbury’s original sheep stations, a great place to get outdoors, go horse trekking or wander through the native bush of Peel Forest.
*Winter only: We stop longer at Lake Tekapo for ice-skating, snow tubing or a swim in the hot springs.
It’s an early departure for an express haul across the Canterbury plains to Christchurch, which is a great place to hop off if you have time. We stop briefly to do pick-ups and drop-offs at the Christchurch International Airport, then head up the coast for a beautiful drive to Kaikoura. Enjoy an afternoon free for activities. Get out on the water and experience one of Kaikoura’s famous dolphin and whale spotting tours, see seals sitting right beside the road at Goose Bay or wander around the peninsula and check out the breathtaking views from the lookout.
Book this pass and get access to Stray-exclusive activity deals! Here's just a few of the things you can do... all activities can be booked through your driver-guide on a pay-as-you-go basis. Easy!
Abel Tasman National Park
The days and times shown below are for the current season. Please refer to our Bus Timetables page for future seasons.
Timetables are subject to change but our team will email you if this happens whilst you are travelling. Your online booking account will also show confirmed departure times.
Auckland to Raglan
Raglan (via Waitomo) to Mourea
Mourea (via Rotorua) to Lake Aniwhenua
|Lake Aniwhenua (Arrive)||15:30||15:30||15:30||15:30||15:30||15:30|
Lake Aniwhenua to Whakahoro
|Lake Aniwhenua (Depart)||08:30||08:30||08:30||08:30||08:30||08:30|
Non-Travel Day: Whakahoro
|Whakahoro (N/A)||Free Day||Free Day||Free Day||Free Day||Free Day||Free Day||Free Day|
Whakahoro to National Park
|National Park (Arrive)||08:00||08:00||08:00||08:00||08:00||08:00|
National Park to Wellington
|National Park (Depart)||08:30||08:30||08:30||08:30||08:30||08:30|
Wellington to Marahau (Abel Tasman)
|Wellington - Ferry Terminal (Depart)||08:00||08:00||08:00||08:00||08:00||08:00||08:00|
|Picton - Ferry Terminal (Depart)||12:00||12:00||12:00||12:00||12:00||12:00|
|Marahau - Abel Tasman National Park (Arrive)||18:00||18:00||18:00||18:00||18:00||18:00|
Non-Travel Day: Marahau (Abel Tasman)
|Marahau (Abel Tasman) (Non travel)||Free||Free||Free||Free||Free||Free||Free|
Marahau (Abel Tasman) to Westport
|Marahau - Abel Tasman National Park (Depart)||08:30||08:30||08:30||08:30||08:00||08:30|
Westport to Franz Josef
|Franz Josef (Arrive)||18:00||18:00||18:00||18:00||18:00||18:00|
Non-Travel Day: Franz Josef
|Franz Josef (Non travel)||Free||Free||Free||Free||Free||Free||Free|
Franz Josef to Wanaka
|Franz Josef (Depart)||09:00||09:00||09:00||09:00||09:00||09:00|
|Fox Glacier (Depart)||09:30||09:30||09:30||09:30||09:30||09:30|
Wanaka to Queenstown
|Cromwell (Depart)||12:00 PM||12:00 PM||12:00 PM||12:00 PM||12:00 PM||12:00 PM|
Non-Travel Day: Queenstown
|Queenstown (Non travel)||Free||Free||Free||Free||Free||Free||Free|
Queenstown to Aoraki/Mt Cook
|Mt Cook (Arrive)||13:30||13:30||13:30||13:30||13:30||13:30|
Mt Cook to Rangitata
|Mt Cook (Depart)||08:00||08:00||08:00||08:00||08:00||08:00|
|Lake Tekapo (Depart)||09:45||09:45||09:45||09:45||09:45||09:45|
Rangitata to Kaikoura
|Christchurch (International Airport) (Arrive)||09:30||09:30||09:30||09:30||09:30||09:30|
|Christchurch (International Airport) (Depart)||09:45||09:45||09:45||09:45||09:45||09:45|