On my trip to New Zealand, I decided to go back to my backpacking roots and try out a bus tour of the North Island. Aimed at budget travellers, the bus pass I chose offered hop-on hop-off bus tours with the option to buy both hostel accommodation and extra tours along the way.

I picked a bus company called Stray as amongst all the bus companies in NZ, they offer visits to some really special off the beaten track places that you might never find on your own. If like me, you’re looking for a great Kiwi adventure at an affordable price and want to travel with like- minded people, a Stray bus trip could be for you!

How does it work?

First you choose the bus route you’d like to follow. You can take as long as you like to hop-on and hop-off the buses that travel your route, as the passes are valid for a year. That means you can take can travel at your own pace, depending on how long you have to explore. Stray operate bus routes all over the North and South Island and you can buy passes that cover one island or both.

How does it work with accommodation?

Each day, the guides on the tour bus will suggest some local accommodation which you can book directly from the bus. The accommodation options suggested on my route were about £15 - £20 per night (based on 4 people sharing). You can of course choose your own accommodation in each stop if you prefer.

What freebies are included with a Stray bus pass?

Every day when the Stray bus stops there are some activities included for free, like guided walks. You can also pay for optional extras like sky-diving, white water rafting, surfing, horse riding and jet boating if you choose. It’s up to you how much or how little you spend.

Should bad weather occur, they make great alternatives to their advertised programme. We were scheduled to trek the magnificent Tongariro crossing in the North Island which is frequently closed due to bad weather. Stray arranged an alternative walk around the bottom of a volcano where we didn’t pass any other travellers for almost 8 hours! The trek was amazing and the guides really knowledgeable.

My ‘Tom Pass’ around the North Island

I decided to go with the north island tour called the ‘Tom Pass’. This is the hop on hop off bus pass:

The bus follows an itinerary with some activities already included and some that are payable locally. You can just hop on and hop off anywhere that interests you. The Tom Pass itinerary visits these places;

  • Overnight stop in the Coromandel Peninsula in Hahei (Summer)
  • Stay at a wilderness lodge in the bush at Raglan – overlooking New Zealand’s premier surf beach
  • See glow-worms and do some amazing caving at Waitomo Caves
  • Overnight stay at a Maori meeting house (Dinner, bed and breakfast are $NZD 80)
  • Stop at Rotorua’s geothermal springs or maybe try some extreme white water rafting
  • Stay next to NZ’s largest lake - Lake Taupo (great for skydiving)
  • Tongariro National Park (the volcanoes, Mordor and Mt Doom , NZ’s best one day walk the ‘Tongariro Alpine Crossing’)
  • Stay at award-winning conservation stop Whakahoro for wild, wilderness activities!

Auckland to Raglan

You leave Auckland early (7.30am) and head south, travelling towards the mighty Waikato. The bus stops for you to have a walk to up to Bridal Veil Falls on the way to the world-renowned surf beach Raglan.

  • Accommodation: Eco-lodge surrounded by native bush near the beach
  • Optional activity: Learn to surf $79
  • Included activities: a walk to a waterfall, bush-walk around Mt Karioi, time to relax on the beach, see a magnificent west-coast sunset and look for glow-worms in the bush

Raglan (via Waitomo) to Mourea

From Raglan, the bus heads to Mourea in the Bay of Plenty, via Waitomo to explore the spectacular glow-worm caves. In the evening, you can see a cultural show by the indigenous Maoris (locally payable).

We hung out with the locals, learned about Maori traditions and had a go at the Kapa Haka (Maori song and dance).

  • Accommodation: Unique Stray stay in the Wharenui (Maori meeting house)
  • Optional activities: Caving in Haggas Honking Holes, Lost World, Tumu Tumu TOObing, or a glow-worm tour
  • Included activities: Walk around Ruakuri Reserve, Waitomo Valley Caves walk.

Mourea (via Rotorua) to Lake Aniwhenua

You leave first thing and head to Rotorua where you spend some time discovering the distinctive (eggy!) smell of this geothermal area. After lunch, you move on to Rainbow Mountain where you meet up with a local Maori guide who takes you deep into the Kaingaroa Forest and to the foothills of the Te Urewera National Park. In this area you'll hear local stories and history - it was one of the first areas of NZ to be discovered and is untouched by commercialism.

  • Accommodation: Lakefront lodge ($NZD 75 inc dinner, bed and breakfast)
  • Optional activities: traditional fishing, eeling, weaving lessons, cooking classes and kayaking (1 activity costs $10, 2 activities $15 and 3 activities $20)
  • Included activities: Guided Tour with a local Maori, Karakia (maori blessing), relax by the lake, walks.

Lake Aniwhenua (via Taupo) to Whakahoro

After breakfast you get to visit a local school to drop lunch off to some needy school kids, before heading to Taupo to visit Huka Falls and experience skydiving for the brave! The next destination is one of the most remote parts of the North Island; located in Whakahoro, Blue Duck Station is a 5,200 acre high country farm that is a working station. Once you arrive, settle in, relax and chill out around an evening fire.

  • Accommodation: Country station lodge
  • Optional activites: Skydiving, bungy, river jet (Lake Taupo)
  • Included activities: Huka Falls, Spa Road walk.

Whakahoro

At this point in the itinerary you get a free day to explore; you can jump in a 4WD and explore the hills, or learn more about New Zealand's native bush, the cattle station's history and conservation work that is going on in this area. If you fancy some riding, you can don your cowboy hat and explore by horseback or head out on a kayak. Visit the ‘bridge to nowhere’ and Kaiwhakauka waterfall or learn about the farm before bringing back tonight’s dinner!

  • Accommodation: Country station lodge
  • Activities: an eco-warrior 4WD tour, a one day horse trek, clay shooting, kayaking and jet boating

Walking around the property at Whakahoro is so peaceful - just taking in the lush scenery. You'll get to enjoy the host (Dan’s) hospitality and hear plenty of tales about the local wildlife and history, so it's a really authentic place to stay and learn from the locals!

Whakahoro to Tongariro National Park

The next stop is an early start as the bus heads for the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Tongariro National Park. The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is rated one of the world’s best one day walks and you get the chance to trek it today (weather permitting). In our case, the weather was bad, so we did an alternative trrek, but if you get the chance to visit Tongariro - snap it up!

The trek takes you through dramatic scenery, past volcanic peaks and enormous craters and past stunning turquoise lakes and during winter (June - October) you'll be trekking through snow. If you ski, you can also head to NZ’s largest ski area, Mt Ruapehu.

  • Accommodation: Alpine lodge
  • Optional activities: Tongariro Alpine Crossing (NZD$125 transport, guiding and concession fee to do this hike in winter). Or you can ski a real volcano!
  • Included activities: Taranaki Falls walk, visit the Volcanic Centre, Tawhai Falls (Gollum's pool).

Return to Auckland

Leaving at 11.30am, the bus takes the route back to Auckland and you can hop off anywhere along the way.

Interested in exploring New Zealand by bus?

If you like the sound of exploring New Zealand on a Stray bus pass, there are plenty of different routes and I can help you choose the most suitable option. If you’d prefer to travel under your own steam, I can also arrange budget campervans in New Zealand and advise you vehicles call us on [tn:main_num] for more info or request a trip quote!

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