Travel New Zealand's 'Essential' destinations. The Essentials is all of Stray's Far And Wide Pass except for the Far South and Far North sectors. Perfect if you want to do both islands but have slightly less time!
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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 explore BOTH islands and visit some of those harder to reach, remote destinations?
✓ Do you want exclusive Stray discounts on accommodation and activities?
✓ Do you want to the flexibility to start and finish anywhere on the route?
The Essentials Freestyle Pass is a 'sweet as' choice for you!
Want a tour with accommodation and activities included? Check out our Stray Journeys: Dingle 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.
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 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 catch an early Bluebridge Ferry across the Cook Strait and through the magnificent Marlborough Sounds to the South Island where you meet the Stray group in Picton. 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 Nelson. 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.
NB. The Bluebridge Ferry price is not included in your Stray pass. Please book in your Stray Mate app.
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 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.
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. For those that choose to hop off in the port town of Picton, check out the Queen Charlotte Sound view walk and take advantage of the free fishing gear and bicycles at the Picton accommodation. Those heading to Wellington will catch the afternoon Bluebridge Ferryacross the Cook Strait. The evening in Wellington is free so why not explore this funky town’s nightlife at any of the bars and restaurants along Cuba Street.
NB. The Bluebridge Ferry price is not included in your Stray pass. Please book in your Stray Mate app.
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 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 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)||12:00||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 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)||10:00||10:00||10:00||10:00|
|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|
Christchurch to Kaikoura
Kaikoura (via Picton) to Wellington
|Bluebridge Ferry (to Wellington) (Depart)||14:00||14:00||14:00||14:00|
Wellington (via National Park) to Auckland
|National Park (Depart)||11:00||11:00||11:00||11:00|
Need to Know
Some key details...
- Transport - Travel by private, air-conditioned bus (24-48 seats). Travel on the ferry between the North and South islands is not included.
- 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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