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.
Short Max - Highlights
Scroll through the gallery below to see the kinds of the things you'll get up to!
Our mission is to get you off the beaten track amongst authentic local culture and our experienced crew has chosen some incredible destinations so you can see more and do more! 'Strademark' Places are the places you're less likely to find in the guide book but the ones you'll be talking about long after the adventure has ended.
- Only Stray stay at Hahei beach, an idyllic spot in the Coromandel, within walking distance to Cathedral Cove.
- Stay at an eco-lodge, built in native bush in Raglan – overlooking New Zealand’s black sand, premier surf beach.
- Spend two nights at Blue Duck Station, an award-winning conservation farm and get hands-on with some wilderness activities!
- Discover history and culture not yet touched by the hand of commercialism at Lake Aniwhenua - it's also your chance to try a traditionally cooked hangi dinner.
- Stay beachfront on the golden sands at the edge of Abel Tasman National Park.
- Stay at the base of New Zealand's highest mountain, Mount Cook/Aoraki.
"Had the best time exploring NZ with Stray! Great drivers who make the best out of your trip. They make sure you arrive safely at the next stop, give you a lot of info and just hang out in the afternoon. Stray is also a great way to meet cool people and spend time with them."
- Bus transport – Travel on our comfortable 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 and pay-as-you-go directly to the accommodation.
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, often at an exclusive Stray price!
If you would prefer a tour with accommodation and activities included, check out our Stray Journeys tours.
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.
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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. Renowned for its natural beauty and pristine swimming beaches, the Coromandel Peninsula has plenty to offer the active traveller, but is also a great place to kick back and relax in a pretty coastal setting. On arrival into Hahei, a small beachside village, we’ll get settled into our accommodation 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.
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 take a guided coastal boat tour or fully immerse yourself with a snorkelling excursion.
We leave Hahei early to travel through the rural Waikato region, known for its many dairy farms and the mighty Waikato River. We’ll start with a little adventure to Bridal Veil Falls, where a short walk through beautiful native bush leads to the impressive 55m cascading waterfall. Our destination today is the world-renowned surf town of Raglan. There’s no better place to learn to surf than Raglan’s legendary left-hand surf break. If you don’t fancy a splash in the waves, the afternoon is free to watch the surfers from the beach, enjoy a bush walk or watch the sunset from the aptly named Inspiration Point. Chill out or go hard in this arty surf town – it’s up to you!
Departing early, our first stop of the day is Waitomo, a small rural town where its 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 can make this a real 10 out of 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 be joined by the Hobbiton goers in the early evening.
We depart at midday, leaving the morning free to get involved in one of the many amazing 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 guide who will lead the group to a sacred archaeological site to view NZ’s oldest Maori rock carvings. Tonight, you will have the opportunity to learn more about Maori traditions, including the entertaining stick games traditionally used to teach hand-eye coordination, as well as how to prepare a ‘Hangi’, a sumptuous feast cooked underground. Sign up for one of the cultural activities on offer or simply enjoy a sunset drink at the Taniwha Bar overlooking the lake. For those visiting during school term, you will be both touched and inspired as you learn about a local community program in which Stray passengers are actively participating.
This ‘Strademark’ experience is $89pp and includes:
- 1 night’s accommodation at the comfortable Kohutapu Lodge
- 1 x Hangi dinner, 1x dessert and 1x continental breakfast
- Guided tour to sacred Maori rock carvings
- Introduction to the Murupara area, its people, history and challenges
- Learn traditional Maori stick games
- Participation in a local community program (school term only)
This ‘Strademark’ overnight experience is optional, but in our opinion, it's an absolute must do!
After breakfast we’ll make a special visit to the local school to deliver packed lunches for kids that often go without and participate in a beneficial program aimed at driving cross-cultural education in an otherwise isolated part of NZ (dependent on school timetable). Then it’s on to Taupo to visit the mighty Huka Falls. The brave hearted can opt to plunge from a plane on an adrenaline fuelled skydive over NZ’s largest lake! Our destination this evening is often rated 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. On arrival, we will 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 truly incredible location. Jump on a 4WD and travel up farm roads, over hilly peaks and through 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 Kaiwhakauka waterfall or assist with the farm’s pest control efforts and bring back tonight’s dinner. It doesn’t matter which option you choose, just get outdoors and enjoy all that Blue Duck has to offer!
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 tick off one of the most popular activities in New Zealand by hiking the epic Tongariro Alpine Crossing, considered one of the top one-day walks in the world. This 19km walk will take you across a rocky plateau with Mars-like vistas, dramatic volcanic peaks (including the real ‘Mt Doom’), craters and turquoise lakes that you’ll remember for a lifetime. The Crossing is open to walk year round (alpine gear and guide are required in winter), but subject to the weather conditions. Ensure you pack a day pack with plenty of supplies and clothing for all conditions. If the weather prevents you from doing the Crossing, there are a couple shorter walks in the area, as well as bike tracks that are well worth doing.
This morning we travel towards the bottom of the North Island via the rural towns of Ohakune, Taihape and Bulls. 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 viewing the excellent exhibits on display at Te Papa National Museum.
We catch an early Bluebridge Ferry across the Cook Strait to the South Island where you meet the Stray bus in Picton. Once on the bus, we’ll cruise through the world famous Marlborough vineyard area and, depending on the group, we may stop for a wine tasting to sample the region’s specialty Sauvignon Blanc 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 overnight destination 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 use this free day to hike, kayak, sail or take a water taxi to get a taste of the park’s natural golden sand beaches and brilliant blue waters.
Today we head south towards the ‘wild’ West Coast, an area known for its beautiful untamed beaches and stunning sunsets. We pass through Buller Gorge and down a stretch of road that was once labelled one of the top ten drives in the world by Lonely Planet. We stop for a walk along the craggy cliffs at Cape Foulwind to view the seal colony at Tauranga Bay and then head for the historic coal mining town of Westport. This is the best place on the South Island to hit the waves with a surf lesson, and 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 geographic wonder of Punakaiki’s Pancake Rocks and blowholes. We’ll stop to take a short walk around these unique limestone rock formations before we head for the historic gold mining town, Greymouth. We do pick-ups in Greymouth and make a stop in Hokitika, one of the best places to pick up a piece of NZ greenstone. Then, we’re on our way to our next overnight stop in 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, an iconic 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 consistently ranks as a favourite activity amongst Stray travellers. The most popular trip features a short heli-hop onto the glacier with a guided educational tour on the ice and includes entry to the hot pools afterwards. Other options include visiting the glacial terminal face for some spectacular photos or doing 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 pick-ups at Fox Glacier before heading to the amazing mirror-like Lake Matheson to stretch our legs with a short walk. Then, 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 along the way 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.
Kick start your day with a brisk walk up Mt Iron, an early morning skydive or learn to fly a stunt plane over Wanaka. At mid-morning we’ll pack up and make our way 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 in the world, for your chance to take the big leap of faith. Queenstown offers an optional big (make that huge!) night out with plenty 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 wide range of activities on offer. With a buzzy night life, beautiful mountain scenery and an exciting outdoor lifestyle, it’s easy to understand why Stray passengers often hop off here to spend extra time exploring. Options include: bungy or swing, zipline tours, canyoning, jet boating, skiing, skydiving, local bush walks, or just enjoy the stunning scenery and do nothing.
Today we head over the Lindis Pass through the beautiful Mackenzie Country and past picturesque 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 to view the iconic Church of the Good Shepherd. Next, we head on to Geraldine, where we will drop off any 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.
NB. Once State Highway 1 re-opens, Stray will return to staying overnight in Rangitata Peel Forest and Kaikoura, instead of Christchurch and Picton. Until that time, passengers can still visit Kaikoura as a return trip from Christchurch using Intercity - just speak to your Driver Guide about options.
We stop briefly to do pick-ups and drop-offs at bus parking area of 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 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.
NB. Once State Highway 1 re-opens, Stray will return to staying overnight in Rangitata Peel Forest and Kaikoura, instead of Christchurch and Picton.
For those heading to the North Island, you have the morning in Picton free to explore. We recommend checking out the Queen Charlotte Sound view walk or taking advantage of the free fishing gear and bikes provided by the accommodation. At midday, make your way to catch the afternoon Bluebridge Ferry across the Cook Strait (Picton to Wellington). The evening in Wellington is free so why not explore the nightlife at any of the lively bars and restaurants along Cuba Street.
We depart in the early morning. This is an express day via National Park heading back to the ‘City of Sails’, Auckland. For those who may have missed out on hiking the Tongariro Crossing, you have the option to hop off in National Park and try again. With an early evening arrival, there’s still time to wander the streets of Auckland, visit the Viaduct, do some souvenir shopping or hang out with new friends and share stories about your recent adventures. If you are hanging around Auckland for another day or two, don’t miss your chance to jump off the Harbour Bridge or Sky Tower, skydive, or take a wildlife cruise around the Hauraki Gulf. We hope you had a blast on your Stray adventure!
The days and times shown below are for the current season. For future seasons, please refer to our Bus Timetables page.
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||Free||Free||Free||Free||Free||Free|
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 Blue Duck Station
|Lake Aniwhenua (Depart)||08:30||08:30||08:30||08:30|
Blue Duck Station
|Whakahoro (Non-Travel Day)||Free||Free||Free||Free||Free||Free||Free|
Blue Duck Station 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)||12:00pm||12:00pm||12:00pm||12:00pm|
|Marahau - Abel Tasman National Park (Arrive)||18:00||18:00||18:00||18:00|
Marahau (Abel Tasman)
|Marahau (Abel Tasman) (Non Travel Day)||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 Day)||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 Day)||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
|Picton Ferry Terminal (Check In)||13:00||13:00||13:00||13:00|
|Bluebridge Ferry (to Wellington) (Depart)||14:00||14:00||14:00||14:00||14:00||14:00||14:00|
Wellington (via National Park) to Auckland
|National Park (Depart)||11:30||11:30||11:30||11:30|
How It Works
Stray's operates a private transport network using comfortable air conditioned 24 - 48 seater buses. The buses are driven by qualified, knowledgeable Driver Guides who will lead you on a true adventure around our carefully thought out route, offering the mix of iconic 'hot spots' and super special 'off the beaten track' destinations we refer to as STRADEMARK places.
Best of all you have total freedom to hop on and off the bus at destinations along the way 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. Either 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 date and pickup location through Stray Mate, your online Trip Manager (you'll receive log in info after you've booked).
The buses run on a regular timetable with multiple departures a week so you can plan ahead too.
Your pass is valid for up to 12 months from your first day of travel, meaning you can hop on and off as often as you like for up to a year!
Short on time?
What about accommodation?
At all of Stray's overnight stops along the route, you'll have a dorm bed reserved at our preferred accommodation. Simply confirm with your Driver Guide each day and pay on arrival. Its that easy.If you choose to hop-off and stay a few nights, it is your responsibility to book those extra nights in. If you'd like a private room, ask your Driver, but note, these are subject to availability on the day.
What activities can I do?There are over 150+ activities on offer! Whether you are a hiker, a biker, a Lord of the Rings fan or an adrenaline junkie you can start getting inspired by checking out our comprehensive Destination Guides.
Who travels with Stray?
Our travellers are an energetic outgoing crowd who share a common objective: to have a great time! Most are aged between 18 - 30 although we have no maximum age because we believe age doesn't matter - it's more about having a thirst for adventure! We get a wide range of nationalities from all over the world with the majority from UK, Europe and America. 75% of our travellers are travelling solo and some travel as part of a couple or group of friends.