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.
- Visit the beautiful Coromandel and see the famous Hot Water Beach, Hahei beach and the stunning Cathedral Cove.
- See glow-worms and go deep underground at Waitomo Caves.
- Experience (and smell) the geothermal activity in Rotorua and try extreme white water rafting or visit Hobbiton.
- Hike volcanic plateaus in Tongariro National Park (known as Mordor and Mt Doom to 'Lord of the Rings' fans)
- Explore the vibrant arts scene and cafe culture of NZ's capital city, Wellington.
- Hike on the majestic Franz Josef glacier.
- Spend a few days in Queenstown - the adventure and party capital of NZ!
- Walk to the 'Centre of New Zealand' in Nelson.
UNIQUE STRAY EXPERIENCES
Our mission is to get you off the beaten track amongst authentic local culture and our experienced crew has chosen some incredible and unique destinations to explore for the complete Stray experience!
- Stay at a wilderness lodge in the bush at Raglan – overlooking New Zealand’s black sand, premier surf beach.
- Spend two nights at award-winning conservation stop and working farm Blue Duck Station, Whakahoro for wild wilderness activities!
- Stay beachfront on the golden sands at the edge of Abel Tasman National Park.
- Discover history and culture not yet touched by the hand of commercialism at our exclusive stop at Lake Aniwhenua - it's also your chance to try a traditionally cooked hangi dinner.
- Immerse yourself in simply stunning Lord of the Rings scenery at Rangitata.
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.
Get inspired and start planning your trip!
Get your trip off to a hassle free start with 2 nights’ accommodation at Nomad's Auckland close to the departure location.
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 to the Coromandel Peninsula via the old colonial town of Thames*. The Coromandel Peninsula, which is renowned for its natural beauty and pristine swimming beaches, is the perfect place to kick back and relax for a couple days. We’ll get settled into our beachside accommodation in Hahei before heading over to Hot Water Beach (tidal dependent). This is an absolute ‘must do’ experience where you can dig your own natural spa bath in the sand and soak up the Coromandel surrounds. Tonight you have the option to join a group dinner for a classic Kiwi BBQ.
* If you came to NZ looking for adventure, we recommend hopping off in Thames to go canyoning in the Sleeping God Canyon, one of the most exciting and challenging activities on offer. It’s not for the faint hearted!
Today you have a full free day to embrace the laid back lifestyle that makes this area such a popular NZ holiday destination. Make the most of this special place by taking a scenic walk or kayak to the nearby Cathedral Cove, a paradise-like beach that you might recognize from one of the Narnia films. If you prefer water sports, the coast off Hahei is part of the protected Te-Whanganui-a-Hei Marine Reserve, which is a prime place to go scuba diving, snorkelling or take a glass bottom boat tour. Tonight, opt to learn how to cook your own 'kai' with a seafood cooking class offered at the accommodation.
We leave Hahei early to travel to the mighty Waikato region. First up is a little adventure into Bridal Veil Falls, where a short walk through beautiful native bush leads to an impressive cascading waterfall. Our destination today is at the world-renowned surf town of Raglan. There’s no better place to learn to surf; but if you don’t fancy a splash in the waves, the afternoon is free to watch the surfers from the beach or enjoy a bush walk. Chill out or go hard in this arty surf town.
Departing early, our first stop on route to Rotorua is at Waitomo, a small rural town where it’s main attraction is in fact underground. Don’t miss out on the opportunity for a seriously cool caving adventure that will have you wading, climbing, abseiling and tubing through Waitomo’s magnificent cave network. From here we continue on to Rotorua where you have the opportunity to make this a 10/10 day with a visit to the world famous Hobbiton Movie Set. Explore the hills, gardens and houses that were home to Frodo and Bilbo in Peter Jackson’s epic trilogies. Those not interested in Hobbiton, will continue on to Rotorua and will be joined by the Hobbiton goers early evening.
We depart at midday, leaving the morning free to get involved in one of the many adventure activities on offer in Rotorua. This afternoon our trip takes us further off the beaten track into the remote area of Lake Aniwhenua, voted as one of Stray’s top overnight stops. As we drive into the Kaingaroa Forest we will meet up with a respected Maori elder who will guide the group to a sacred archaeological site to view some of NZ’s oldest Maori rock carvings. As we approach the small township we will visit the local Marae (a Maori meeting house), where we will receive a traditional welcome and spend time learning about the Maori’s cultural beliefs, song and dance while sharing some ‘kai’ (afternoon tea). Tonight while staying in the tranquil oasis of Kohutapu Lodge, you will learn how to cook a traditional ‘Hangi’ (a feast cooked underground). Opt into one of the many activities on offer or simply enjoy a sunset drink at the Taniwha Bar overlooking the lake. You will be both touched and inspired as you learn about the beneficial community program to which Stray travellers are contributing.
Unique Stray Experience: The Lake Aniwhenua overnight experience is $95, which includes comfortable lodge accommodation, a guided tour to sacred Maori rock carvings, a Marae experience, afternoon tea, delicious ‘Hangi’ dinner and buffet breakfast, participation in an altruistic community program.
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 7,200 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.
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, where we will drop off the thrill seekers wanting to raft the top notch Grade 5 white water on the Rangitata River. Those not rafting will continue on to Christchurch for a mid-afternoon arrival, giving you time to explore parts of the South Island’s largest city. The rafters will rejoin the group at the accommodation in Christchurch this evening.
We stop briefly to do pick-ups and drop-offs at the Christchurch International Airport as we depart Christchurch early this morning. Once we’re out of the city, we head north across the Southern Alps through scenic Lewis Pass and drive past Nelson Lakes National Park on our way to our next destination Picton, a picturesque town nestled on the edge of the stunning Marlborough Sounds. Feel free to unwind this evening in the spa pool at the accommodation.
For those heading to the North Island, you have the morning in Picton free to explore. You have the opportunity to go swimming with wild dolphins in the scenic Sounds. If you’re looking to save some coin, we recommend checking out the Queen Charlotte Sound view walk or taking advantage of the free fishing gear and bikes provided by the accommodation. Meet back up with your group at midday to catch the afternoon Bluebridge Ferry across the Cook Strait (from Picton to Wellington). The evening in Wellington is free so why not explore this funky town’s nightlife at any of the bars and restaurants along Cuba Street.
We depart in the early morning. This is an express day via Taupo heading back to New Zealand’s largest city Auckland. You can hop off anywhere along the way. With an early evening arrival, there’s still time to wander the streets of Auckland, visit the waterfront, do some souvenir shopping and hang out in some of Auckland’s lively cafes and bars. We hope you had a blast on your Stray adventure!
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 Hahei
|Hahei (Non-travel Day)||Free Day||Free Day||Free Day||Free Day||Free Day||Free Day||Free Day|
Hahei to Raglan
Raglan (via Waitomo) to Rotorua
Rotorua to Lake Aniwhenua
|Lake Aniwhenua (Arrive)||15:30||15:30||15:30||15:30|
Lake Aniwhenua to Whakahoro
|Lake Aniwhenua (Depart)||08:30||08:30||08:30||08:30|
|Whakahoro (Non-Travel Day)||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|
National Park to Wellington
|National Park (Depart)||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)||11:45||11:45||11:45||11:45|
|Marahau - Abel Tasman National Park (Arrive)||18:00||18:00||18:00||18:00|
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|
Westport to Franz Josef
|Franz Josef (Arrive)||18:00||18:00||18:00||18:00|
|Franz Josef (Non travel)||Free||Free||Free||Free||Free||Free||Free|
Franz Josef to Wanaka
|Franz Josef (Depart)||08:30||08:30||08:30||08:30|
|Fox Glacier (Depart)||09:00||09:00||09:00||09:00|
Wanaka to Queenstown
|Cromwell (Depart)||12:00 PM||12:00 PM||12:00 PM||12:00 PM|
|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|
Mt Cook to Christchurch
|Mt Cook (Depart)||08:00||08:00||08:00||08:00|
Christchurch to Picton
|Christchurch International Airport (Depart)||08:00||08:00||08:00||08:00|
Picton to Wellington
|Bluebridge Ferry (to Wellington) (Depart)||14:00||14:00||14:00||14:00||14:00||14:00||14:00|
Wellington (via Taupo) to Auckland
How It Works
This is a "hop-on hop-off" pass. What does this mean?
The bus route is fixed, but you have the freedom to book your own travel dates so you can spend more time in the places you love.
How do you hop on and off the bus?
‘Hop off’ the bus anywhere along the route, even places in between the designated stops. Plan to hop off in advance or do it spur of the moment – it’s up to you!
To hop back on, simply book your next travel dates and pickup location through Stray Mate. The buses run on a regular timetable with multiple departures a week.
Passes are valid for up to 12 months from your first day of travel, meaning you can hop off and on as many times as you like for up to a year!
Short on time?
You are not required to hop off the bus – feel free to use your pass like a tour and complete the itinerary in its ‘minimum days’.
- Bus transport – Travel in comfort and stay connected on Stray’s WiFi enabled private buses.
- Driver-guide - Far more than just a driver, Stray Driver Guides are invaluable sources of local knowledge and assist with booking activities and accommodation on your behalf.
- Reserved Accommodation – Have a bed reserved for you at every Stray overnight stop. Book through your Driver Guide day by day and pay-as-you-go directly to the accommodation.
What's not included?
The cost of your accommodation and activities is not included in a hop-on hop-off pass. You have the flexibility to choose what suits your budget and pay-as-you-go. These can be booked via your driver-guide, often at an exclusive Stray special price!
If you would prefer a tour with accommodation and activities included, check out our Stray Journeys tours.