My name is Nick and I recently traveled for 7 weeks with the Stray Bus around New Zealand! I had such a great time on my trip and met so many new people along the way. Here are my opinions of the stray bus and what is has to offer you.
Auckland – Pick Up
I was staying at Base Backpackers Hostel in Auckland. The hostel is right in the centre of things, only 2 minutes from the sky tower and right on the main drag through Auckland city centre. I’d booked my bus pass online and had gone for the Bret Pass. Click here to view the range of passes available
I’d been told where the pick up point would be (right outside the hostel) and there was around 5 of us waiting for the bus to arrive so I was already meeting my fellow stray travellers before even getting on the bus! The bus arrived and we were enthusiastically met by our driver (Morrie) and took our seats! The bus seemed comfortable and spacious and everyone seemed keen to get going! After Morrie’s brief introduction we had some quick stops around Auckland before heading out on our way to our first stop for the night!
Hahei to Taupo
Our driver split us into teams on the bus and I ended up in “team salad”. The purpose of these teams was to invade the supermarket for supplies in preparation for the nights barbeque but it was also a great ice breaker to talk to the other people in the group. Personally, I’d of preffered to be with “team meat” or “team dessert” but you can’t have everything.
First night stop was Hahei where the first activity was to head down to a place called “hot water beach”. Named for the fact that when we dug a hole in the sand, geo-thermally heated water rose up from the sand to form a nicely sized hot pool, this proved slightly tricky to get the balance of hot and cold right but we perserved! The other afternoon activity was sea kayaking and as it was a glorious day so nearly all of us put our names down on the sheet. They basically ask you as a group what you like to do, give you options of activities and send round a sheet on the bus to get an idea of numbers. But there is always a free option for those who are running low on funds and you aren’t pushed into doing anything you don’t want to do.
The kayaking built up our appetites and we had a great barbeque that night, getting to know everyone in the group had been so quick it felt like you were travelling with your friends already even though at the start of the day I’d set out as a solo traveller.
Raglan, the next nights stop is a perfect place for surfing and many of us tried and failed that day to master the surfboard. It’s harder than it looks! You can also watch a great sunset here from the fantastic hostel where the bus stays at here and also tackle the flying fox (zip line)…….Tip – best done sober.
You can try a bit of caving at the Waitomo Caves before heading to Maketu and taking part in a traditional Maori evening including a traditional meal (called a Hangi). Learn the Haka and make sure you eat plenty as the next day could be a big one!
Taupo is a huge lake in the centre of the north island. Whilst you here you can have a go on the Lake Taupo Hole In One Game. A famous landmark where you can try to win a prize trying to hit a hole in one on a pontoon floating on the lake. If you have time of course, it was a hectic day for me with us white water rafting down the worlds highest commercially raftable waterfall in the world in the morning and the dreaded skydive in the afternoon! ( both were amazing by the way! ) .An adrenalin filled day so I was glad to get to bed early after all the excitement!
Taupo to Wellington
Stopping at National Park where you can stop to do the Tongariro Crossing if you wish was a welcomed relief. The hostel has great accomodation and also a hot tub! A nice change of pace for most of us after the excitment of the last few days! The All Blacks were playing South Africa that night and we all huddled round the hostel TV to cheer on the All Blacks.
Wellington is a great little city full of cosmopolitan coffee shops and relaxing walks along the water front. There isn’t an awful lot to do here for the tourist but it is worthwhile spending time here visiting the Te Papa Museum (free) and taking a trip up the cable car to the botanical gardens before getting the interislander ferry across the Cook straight to Picton.
Picton to Queenstown
Apart from the free apple crumble at the hostel in Picton, the big highlight of the leg is the Franz Joseph Glacier! There are several options available to see the glacier but it’s definately worth spending that little but extra to go on the full day hike and get further up the glacier where the views are far better than the half day pass. It’s certainly a unique experience climbing up the glacier and there are some spectacular views and photo opportunites.
Queenstown is a fun packed, party town with more activities than you could ever imagine possible. Even if your not paragliding, bungy jumping, jet boating, skydiving etc then there are plenty of cheaper and less adventurous options available such as a ride up the mountain on the gondola coupled with a go on the luge ride at the top. Racing your Stray buddies down the hilltop racetrack on gravity powered carts is great fun. Mini golf, boat cruises, tours, frisbee golf and scenic walks are just a few of the many things you can do here.
Stay a few extra nights here if you have time, Queenstown is a fun place teaming with young backpackers looking for fun and there are plenty activities here to keep you occupied. Stray also offer a southern loop here, added already with some passes which will take you to Milford Sound and also Stewart Island. These places are scenic and more remote places if you appreciate your natural surroundings and are looking to get away from the world then these places are definately for you!
Queenstown to Christchurch
The bus journeys between Queenstown and Christchurch are a little longer and there’s not an awful lot to see along the way, never the less, it is a good time to catch up on sleep if you’ve been partying hard in Queenstown for the last few days! Activities include whale watching in Kaikora and seeing a seal colony, remote beaches, waterfalls and other natural highlights New Zealand has to offer.
Overall I enjoyed every minute of the Stray experience and met so many people, some of them will be friends for life. People tend to hop on and off the bus whenever they feel like it because sorting out your accomodation and next bus are so easy. Most people will stay with the bus though and the same group of people will travel together for long periods. People also seemed to be generally in the age range of 20-30 but a good mix. A little more mature than the infamous Kiwi Experience, or “the f*** truck” as it was referred to by most people I met and I hear the Magic bus is for a slightly older crowd by comparison. Stray offers a youthful and fun environment for people who want a good time without getting completly wasted each night and being too hungover to go walk up a glacier or do a skydive.
The activities are well organised and you are not obligated to do any of them if you do not choose to. There are always options for people if you are low on money or don’t want to do an activity. Hostels are excellent although I did find the first 2 stops of the south island could do with updating and were a little basic but I guess that is the compromise when you are staying in such amazing natural surroundings.