The Southern Circle (previously the Short Q Pass) travels an anti-clockwise loop in the centre of the South Island. You can see it all in 10 days or take 2+ weeks and spend longer in your favourite places.
Flexible bus transport
Travel on our comfortable private buses and hop-on hop-off anywhere along the route.
Far more than just a driver, Stray Driver Guides are invaluable sources of local knowledge and support.
Have a bed reserved for you at every Stray overnight stop. Book and pay via our Stray Mate app.
12 month travel pass
Your pass is valid for 12 months from the first day of travel.
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 the Stray Mate app, often at an exclusive Stray price!
Christchurch to Greymouth Sector
This section of your trip is unguided.
You'll travel cross-country, from Christchurch to Greymouth crossing the beautiful Southern Alps to meet up with your Driver Guide and group outside the Greymouth Train Station at 1.15pm. From here you’ll continue on the Stray bus to the town of Franz Josef, home of the mighty Franz Josef Glacier.
The Christchurch to Greymouth Atomic Shuttle is included with your pass but you have the option to upgrade to the highly regarded TranzAlpine Scenic Train (+$99).
Is this trip right for you?
✓ Do you want to explore with a group of like-minded travellers?
✓ Do you want to take the pressure off, kick back relax and let someone else do the driving?
✓ Do you want to get off the beaten track in the central South Island and visit some of those harder to reach, remote destinations?
✓ Do you want exclusive Stray discounts on accommodation and activities?
✓ Do you want the option to travel on the famous TranzAlpine scenic train?
The Southern Circle Freestyle Pass is a 'sweet as' choice for you!
Want a tour with accommodation and activities included? Check out our Stray Journeys tours.
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 at the base of New Zealand's highest mountain, Mount Cook/Aoraki.
- Enter Middle Earth territory! Be surrounded by the breathtaking mountains and dense native bush of Peel Forest. In summer you can choose to go white water rafting on the Rangitata river.
Get inspired and start planning your trip!
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Please Note: 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. Given the spontaneous nature of our trips and lack of control over New Zealand's weather(!), what we do each day might occasionally vary.
Today we head over the Lindis Pass through the beautiful Mackenzie region 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 it’s a clear night, make sure you head outside to experience one of the best stargazing spots in the country. There are some incredible longer walks to do if you want to hop off the bus for a few days (we’d recommend you leave 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’ll stop to admire the turquoise waters of Lake Tekapo and the Church of the Good Shepherd, a famous photo stop. Relax in the Tekapo hot pools, go snow tubing or ice skating (winter only) or hike up to the Mt John Observatory where you’ll witness stunning views of the lake from above. After lunch, we will continue to our overnight stop in Peel Forest. Tonight, we’ll stay in a cosy lodge at one of Canterbury’s original sheep stations.
This morning, you can sign up for top-notch grade 5 white water rafting on the Rangitata River at the foot of the Southern Alps or choose to explore the stunning Peel Forest scenery on horseback. Tonight, we’ll stay in Christchurch, a city where old meets new, as the rebuild continues following the devastating 2011 earthquake. You will find New Zealand’s most modern architecture nestled next to some of the country’s oldest buildings. Spend your afternoon wandering the city streets and laneways to discover creative street art intended to bring cheer and colour to a city once buried in rubble.
Your Southern Alps transfer will be on the Atomic Shuttle Bus, unless you've opted to upgrade to the highly regarded TranzAlpine Scenic Train. You'll start the day by travelling through the stunning Arthur's Pass to the historic gold mining town of Greymouth on the West Coast. Your new Driver Guide and group will meet you outside the Greymouth train station. From here we’ll make a stop in Hokitika (the best place to buy ‘Pounamu’, a native greenstone) before continuing on to the quaint township of Franz Josef, home of the famous Franz Josef Glacier and our base for the next two nights.
NB. Please contact the Stray office at least 48 hours before your Christchurch departure to confirm your transfer details and departure times.
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 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 local hot pools afterwards. Other options include kayaking, visiting the glacial terminal face for 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 another superbly scenic drive 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 heaps of 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 (in winter), skydiving, local bush walks, or just spend a day relaxing and enjoying the stunning scenery.
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. You can also see your confirmed departure times in the Stray Mate app.
Note: Transport from Christchurch to Greymouth operates 7 days a week; however the Stray bus connections to Franz Josef are limited to 3-5 days per week. If you want a same day connection plan your trip accordingly.
Queenstown to Aoraki/Mt Cook
|Mt Cook (Arrive)||14:30||14:30||14:30||14:30|
Mt Cook (via Tekapo) to Peel Forrest
|Mt Cook (Depart)||09:30||09:30||09:30||09:30|
|Peel Forrest (Arrive)||16:30||16:30||16:30||16:30|
Peel Forrest to Christchurch
|Peel Forrest (Depart)||12:00||12:00||12:00||12:00|
Christchurch (via Greymouth) to Franz Josef
|Franz Josef (Arrive)||18:00||18:00||18:00|
|Franz Josef (Non Travel Day)||Free||Free||Free||Free||Free||Free||Free|
Franz Josef (via Fox Glacier) 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
|Queenstown (Non-Travel Day)||Free||Free||Free||Free||Free||Free||Free|
Need to Know
Some key details...
- Transport - Travel by private, air-conditioned bus (14-48 seats).
- Guides - Your Guide is also your driver - expect entertaining commentary, to learn some interesting facts about New Zealand and to hear a crazy story or two.
- Validity - This Freestyle Pass is valid for 12 months from your first day of travel.
- Hopping on/off - Hop on and off as much as you like along the travel route.
- Minimum Days - You don't need to hop off if you're short on time - you can travel your pass in the "Minimum Days". There are non-travel days throughout the route so you will not be travelling everyday.
- Departures - Buses run to a seasonal timetable at least 3x a week. View Pickup Points and Departure Times
- Booking Buses - Use the Stray Mate app to manage your trip - you'll receive log in details in your Booking Confirmation email. If you're on a short timeframe, we recommend booking all your buses in advance.
- Accommodation - Book Stray preferred accommodation as you go via the Stray Mate app - there will be a dorm bed allocated to you at each overnight stop providing you book via the app 24 hours before. Backpacker hostel rates are between $27-$37 per night for a dorm bed.
- Activities - Book activities as you go via the Stray Mate app.
- Stray Travellers - Our travellers are from all over the world, are energetic, adventurous and mainly aged between 20-35. 75% of our travellers are travelling solo.
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