Explore the North Island. See the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea collide in the far North. Immerse yourself in local Maori culture. Hop around some of the best beaches New Zealand has to offer, get off the beaten track, and conquer the Tongariro Crossing!
Flexible bus transport
Travel on our comfortable private buses and "hop-on, hop-off" anywhere along the route.
12 month travel pass
Your pass is valid for 12 months from the first day of travel.
Far more than just a driver, Stray Guides are invaluable sources of local knowledge and support.
These are the special off-the-beaten-track destinations on the route that make Stray stand out from the crowd. You can see them marked with a heart on the map because they're the places our travellers love.
A dorm bed will be reserved for you at every Stray overnight stop. Book and pay as you go via our Stray Mate app.
Not included: The cost of your accommodation, activities and meals is not included in a Freestyle Travel pass giving you extra flexibility to choose options that suit your budget and taste. In the Stray Mate app you'll find a directory of recommended Accommodation and Activity options that you can book via the app.
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 North 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 flexibility to start and finish anywhere?
Want a tour with accommodation and activities included? Check out our Stray Journeys: Batten Tour
This is a loop pass, which means you can start and finish anywhere but Auckland is the most popular start location for this pass.
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.
Nau mai, haere mai (welcome)! Your Stray adventure kicks off in New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland. We depart for the beautiful Bay of Islands, bound for the relaxed seaside town of Paihia often called the ‘gateway to the Bay.’ We stop en-route to visit the Parry Kauri Forest Park and hug some of the world’s mightiest trees, the native kauri, on our way to Paihia.
Gear up for a big day, departing early to make the trip to the top of the country. Don’t forget to pack lunch, water and snacks to keep you going. Travelling on a custom-built coach you'll drive up 90 Mile Beach to Te Paki Stream, where you'll learn the art of sand surfing on some of the biggest sand dunes in New Zealand. Our destination is Cape Reinga, where the Tasman and Pacific Oceans clash at the northernmost point of the country. The trip home includes a stopover at Mangonui for classic Kiwi fish 'n chips (pay on the day), before returning to Paihia in the evening.
NB. This day trip is operated by a local partner, so you cannot hop off the bus today. Please note: You can book/amend your preferred date in Stray Mate up until 11am the day before travel. After this time, any changes to your Cape Reinga Day Trip must be made directly with Fullers GreatSights at their Paihia waterfront office.
Enjoy a sleep in and spend the morning at your leisure. There’s time to do the fantastic half-day Hole in the Rock cruise around the Bay in the morning or take this opportunity to squeeze in another optional activity before we jump back on board the Stray bus mid-afternoon. Destined for the bright lights of Auckland, there are plenty of exciting things to see and do if you have a free day or two.
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 has plenty to offer the active traveller but is also a great place to kick back and relax. When the tides are right, we'll head over to Hot Water Beach, where you can dig your own natural spa pool! 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 Hahei such a popular NZ holiday destination. Make the most of this special place by taking a scenic walk or kayak trip to a hidden paradise at nearby Cathedral Cove or opt to relax on the white sands of Hahei Beach. The coast off Hahei is also part of the protected Te-Whanganui-a-Hei Marine Reserve, which makes it a prime place for a guided coastal boat tour.
We leave Hahei early, travelling through to Paeroa, home of New Zealand’s oldest and largest soft drink company L&P, where we’ll stop for a fun photo op at a local landmark. Carrying on, we’ll arrive in Rotorua, known for its lively geothermal activity, rich Maori history and adventure tourism. Get the adrenalin pumping this afternoon and sign up for a white water rafting adventure, head to the adventure park, or take a walk around town.
Often labelled the adventure capital of the North Island, you have a full free day in Rotorua to discover a wealth of adventure activities and geothermal wonders. Go ziplining through native bush, zorbing or take a truly unique guided jet boat adventure to bathe in a hot waterfall. Looking to relax instead? Visit the hots pools and bubbling mud baths at one of Rotorua's geothermal parks or take in a Maori cultural performance. Film buffs may want to sign up for a guided tour through the world-famous Hobbiton Movie Set. The choice is yours!
There’s time to squeeze in one last Rotorua activity this morning - many people choose to visit Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland. From here our journey ventures right off the beaten track into the remote area of Lake Aniwhenua for an immersive cultural experience like no other. Your Maori host family will share with you their story and traditions, as well as their vision for making a difference in their remote community. You'll see sacred Maori rock art, play traditional stick games for hand-eye coordination and watch the preparation of a ground cooked 'hangi', before tasting it for yourself!
Exclusive ‘Strademark’ experience costs $89NZD and includes:
- 1 night’s accommodation at the serene lakeside Kohutapu Lodge
- Full hangi buffet dinner & dessert and a continental breakfast
- Guided tour to sacred Maori rock carvings
- Introduction to the Murupara area, its people, history and challenges
- Participation in a local school program designed to inspire the next generation (participation available on school days only)
See More moment: Meet a respected Maori guide and view NZ’s oldest Maori rock carvings at a sacred archaeological site. Learn about Maori traditions, local history and enjoy a sumptuous feast of ‘Hangi’, cooked underground!
Do More moment: Leftover Hangi is packaged and delivered to community members in need. Sometimes it is donated to elderly people in the area or during the school term donations go to the children at the local school. Meet the children and participate in an inspirational program aimed at driving cross-cultural education in an otherwise isolated part of NZ.
Please note: Minimum numbers required: 9 people (Groups that don’t meet minimum numbers will overnight in Taupo.)
This ‘Strademark’ overnight experience is optional, but in our opinion, it’s an absolute must do! To skip this experience, you can book a public bus (at your expense) from Rotorua to Taupo, and meet the Stray group the following day.
After breakfast we’ll make a special visit to the local school to deliver packed lunches to kids that often go without (dependent on school timetable). Then it’s on to Taupo, where the brave hearted can opt to plunge from a plane to skydive over Australasia’s largest lake or bungy into a canyon! If you're not up for an adrenaline hit, walk the Huka Falls Walkway track, or spend time exploring this popular lakeside town. Our next destination is about as far off the beaten track as you can get in 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 for a guided horse trek or kayak on the river through bush clad valleys and lush green hills. It doesn’t matter which option you choose, just get outdoors and enjoy all that Blue Duck has to offer!
See More moment: See the three peaks of Mount Ruapehu, Mount Tongariro, and Mount Ngauruhoe from ‘The Top of the World’, the highest point of the station.
Do More moment: Assist with the farm’s pest control efforts by going on a guided hunt and bring back 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 tick off one of the most popular hikes in New Zealand, the epic Tongariro Alpine Crossing. Considered one of the world’s top one-day walks, this 19km hike takes you across a rocky plateau with dramatic volcanic peaks, 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 alternative shorter walks in the area. Tonight, unwind after a big day in a cosy historic lodge in Raetihi, with friendly farm animals, a pamper room and spa bath with mountain views.
This morning we travel to 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 - we recommend wandering down Oriental Parade or viewing the excellent exhibits on display at Te Papa National Museum.
We depart in the early morning. This is an express day 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. You can also see your confirmed departure times in the Stray Mate app.
Auckland to Paihia
|Whangarei - Info Centre (Depart)||11:00||11:00||11:00||11:00||11:00|
Paihia to Cape Reinga and back
Paihia to Auckland
|Whangarei - Info Centre (Depart)||15:00||15:00||15:00||15:00||15:00|
Auckland to Hahei
|Hahei (Non-Travel Day)||Free||Free||Free||Free||Free||Free||Free|
Hahei to Rotorua
|Rotorua (Non-Travel Day)||Free||Free||Free||Free||Free||Free||Free|
Rotorua to Lake Aniwhenua
|Lake Aniwhenua (Arrive)||15:30||15:30||15:30||15:30|
Lake Aniwhenua (via Taupo) to Blue Duck Station
|Lake Aniwhenua (Depart)||08:30||08:30||08:30||08:30|
|Blue Duck Station (Arrive)||17:00||17:00||17:00||17:00|
Blue Duck Station
|Whakahoro (Non-Travel Day)||Free||Free||Free||Free||Free||Free||Free|
Blue Duck Station (via Tongariro) to Raetihi
|Blue Duck Station (Depart)||06:30||06:30||06:30||06:30|
Raetihi to Wellington
Wellington (via National Park) to Auckland
|National Park (Depart)||11:30||11:30||11:30||11:30|
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, they are energetic, adventurous and mainly aged between 18-30. 75% of our travellers are travelling solo.
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