Want to concentrate on the South Island? The "Ron" is for you – whether you have 2-3 weeks or 12 months, this includes our full South Island travel network.
We recommend at least 2-3 weeks to get the most out of your trip and to allow some time to hop-off and explore your favourite destinations for longer.
Ron - 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.
- Stay beachfront on the golden sands at the edge of Abel Tasman National Park.
- See the stunning fiord of Milford Sound and stay at historic Gunn’s Camp.
- Stay at the base of New Zealand's highest mountain, Mount Cook/Aoraki.
"I travelled with Stray in January to February 2016 and would highly recommend them. "Off the beaten track" is entirely appropriate with great activities I don't think other companies provide or many people even know about. The people I met were like minded in their views of what they wanted from travelling and were of a variety of nationalities which was great. Their help with booking activities and hostels made travelling incredibly easy and it was a fantastic 4 weeks. Would definitely book with them again to meet more people if I went back to New Zealand."
- 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!
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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 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.
You have a full free day in Picton to discover the charms of the Marlborough Sounds. Take the opportunity to go swimming with wild dolphins in the scenic Sounds, or we highly recommend catching a water taxi to walk or mountain bike a section of the unbelievably beautiful Queen Charlotte Track. There are shorter walks to enjoy around the Picton township, such as the Queen Charlotte Sound view walk. Alternatively, you can take advantage of the free fishing gear and complimentary bikes at your Picton accommodation.
Enjoy a leisurely morning getting to know charming Picton. You’ll meet your Stray group at the accommodation at midday. 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 you are in for a treat. It’s an early start as make our way to Milford Sound, one of NZ’s most famous destinations, sometimes referred to as the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’. You won’t want to nap on this leg of the journey as we drive past Lake Wakatipu and watch the landscape change from farmland to mountains, glacier carved valleys and fiords. There is time to do an afternoon boat cruise around Milford Sound to soak up this untouched world. Known for its rich marine ecology, it’s likely you’ll spot a few wild dolphins, seals and penguins. Next, we head for our unique Stray overnight stop, Gunn’s Camp, located in the solitude of Hollyford Valley. There’s no better place to enjoy an evening under the stars, spot glow-worms in the bush and listen out for kiwi bird calls in the night.
We start the morning with a short riverside stroll through beech forest on the Viewing Gantry walk. Fiordland is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site Te Wahipounamu (which incorporates four national parks including Mt Cook, Mt Aspiring, Westland and Fiordland) and you’ll understand why as you marvel at the spectacular surrounding landscape. This afternoon we travel further south via Te Anau to Invercargill and on to Bluff, where you can catch a ferry to Stewart Island. NZ’s third largest island, Stewart Island, has an abundance of activities for the outdoor enthusiast, such as fishing, kayaking, diving, bird watching and tramping tracks. Those not going to Stewart Island will spend the night in Invercargill.
The morning is yours to explore the island, meet the locals, go fishing or enjoy some of the walks. We catch an afternoon ferry back to the mainland. For those who chose not to venture onto Stewart Island your bus departs mid-morning to head out to Waipapa Point, Curio Bay and Porpoise Bay for some sea lion, penguin and dolphin spotting in the Catlins. On the chance we can’t find any wildlife, we can visit the 180 million-year-old fossilized forest and grab a milkshake. Afterwards we return to Bluff Hill to meet up with the island-goers before we express back to Queenstown.
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.
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.
Christchurch to Picton
|Christchurch International Airport (Depart)||08:00||08:00||08:00||08:00|
|Picton (Non-Travel Day)||Free||Free||Free||Free||Free||Free||Free|
Picton to Marahau (Abel Tasman)
|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 Gunn's Camp
|Te Anau (Arrive)||12:00pm||12:00pm|
|Gunn’s Camp (Arrive)||18:00||18:00|
Gunn's Camp to Invercargill/Stewart Island
|Gunn’s Camp (Depart)||08:30||08:30|
|Te Anau (Depart)||11:30||11:30|
|Bluff Wharf (for ferry) (Arrive)||16:00||16:00|
Invercargill/Stewart Island to Queenstown
|Bluff Wharf (for ferry) (Depart)||16:00||16:00|
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|
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.