Explore the South Island. Swim with dolphins, hike some of New Zealand's best tracks, bungy jump in Queenstown, the birthplace of bungy, and be mesmerised by some of the bluest lakes you've ever seen.
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 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 flexibility to start and finish anywhere?
The Big South Freestyle Pass is a 'sweet as' choice for you!
Want a tour with accommodation and activities included? Check out our Stray Journeys: Mackinnon Tour
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.
We depart early this morning for a beautiful drive up the coast to Kaikoura. Arriving in Kaikoura around midday, you will have the afternoon free for activities to discover the incredible marine world just off shore. Get out on the water and experience one of Kaikoura’s famous dolphin and whale spotting tours, see seals sitting right beside the road at Goose Bay or wander around the peninsula and check out the breathtaking views from the lookout.
Leaving Kaikoura in the morning we wind our way up the rugged coastal roads towards the top of the South Island and the tiny port town of Picton. There are plenty of short walks to enjoy around the township and waterfront, such as the Queen Charlotte Sound view walk. You can take advantage of free fishing gear and bicycles offered by the accommodation, and don't miss out on a chance to unwind in the spa pool this evening.
Enjoy a leisurely morning further exploring 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. Depending on the group’s interest, we may stop for a wine tasting to sample the region’s specialty Sauvignon Blanc before heading to the coastal town of Nelsonn. We will stock up on supplies for the next couple days in Motueka 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.
Buckle up for an awesome day driving down the incredibly scenic ‘wild’ West Coast, an area known for its untamed beaches and spectacular rainforest. Today takes us through Buller Gorge and down a stretch of road that was labelled one of the top drives in the world by Lonely Planet. We’ll stop at the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks and blowholes to walk around these unique geological wonders. Our next stop is the historic gold mining town of Greymouth to collect passengers connecting from Christchurch. From here we’ll make one last stop via 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.
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.
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 called 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, where 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.
See More moment: Stay in a historic camp in the Hollyford Valley, created for the hardy men who built the roads here. Enjoy an evening under the stars, spot glowworms in the bush and listen 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: Mt Cook, Mt Aspiring, Westland and Fiordland) and you’ll understand why as you marvel at the other worldly 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, bird watching and tramping tracks. Those not going to Stewart Island will spend the night in Invercargill.
See More moment: When the solar winds are right, between March – September, you might be lucky enough to see the Aurora Australis, better known as the Southern Lights!
For those who stayed overnight on Stewart Island, this morning is free for you to explore, meet the locals, go fishing or enjoy some of the walks before catching an afternoon ferry back to the mainland. Those in Invercargill will have the option to visit Demolition World (a world entirely constructed from demolished buildings and recycled items), race your bus mates around a go-karting track or walk up to the Bluff Hill lookout before reuniting with the island-goers for an express journey back to Queenstown.
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.
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.
Christchurch to Kaikoura
Kaikoura to Picton
Picton to Marahau (Abel Tasman)
|Picton - Ferry Terminal (Depart)||12:00||12:00||12:00||12:00|
|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 Franz Josef
|Marahau (Abel Tasman) (Depart)||07:00||07:00||07:00||07:00|
|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 (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|
Queenstown (via Milford Sound) to Gunn's Camp
|Te Anau (Arrive)||12:00||12:00||12:00|
|Gunn’s Camp (Arrive)||18:00||18:00||18:00|
Gunn's Camp to Invercargill/Stewart Island
|Gunn’s Camp (Depart)||08:30||08:30||08:30|
|Te Anau (Depart)||11:30||11:30||11:30|
|Bluff Wharf (for ferry) (Arrive)||16:00||16:00||16:00|
Invercargill/Stewart Island to Queenstown
|Bluff Wharf (Depart)||16:30||16:30||16:30|
Queenstown to Aoraki/Mt Cook
|Mt Cook (Arrive)||14:30||14:30||14:30||14:30|
Mt Cook (via Tekapo) to Peel Forest
|Mt Cook (Depart)||09:30||09:30||09:30||09:30|
|Peel Forrest (Arrive)||16:30||16:30||16:30||16:30|
Peel Forest to Christchurch
|Peel Forrest (Depart)||12:00||12:00||12:00||12:00|
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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