Nearly two years late but here is what is was like travelling New Zealand with Stray.
Founded by Neil Geddes, the same guy who created Kiwi Experience, Stray is a Hop-On-Hop-Off style of travelling with a tour bus. This means you can be as flexible as you’d like, by hopping off the bus anywhere along the way, or staying on the same bus from start to finish. The average age of travellers is probably between 20 – 30’s, but anyone from 18 – 70 can jump on the big orange bus.
Stray’s theme of travelling is more about getting off the beaten track and really experiencing what New Zealand has to offer, from hidden Stray-only stops, to Cultural Stays, to getting out of your comfort zone and doing things you didn’t know you could.
With an array of tour options from Stray Journeys, which are set tour packages with set dates, to Stray Passes which are the flexible hop-on-hop-off packages. Passes range from 2 days to 6 weeks, but you can do them as fast or as slowly as you’d like. And Journeys range from 2 nights to 22 nights. With so many options there is something for everyone.
We chose to go for a Pass option so that we could be more flexible and have the option of spending more time in places we liked and less time in places that didn’t interest us as much. We chose the Max Pass and got a free Jack Pass with it.
We chose the Max pass because it stopped everywhere we wanted to go plus took us to some places we never thought of, and it was within our price budget. We struggled at first when trying to decided between Kiwi Experience and Stray, because we’ve always been more into seeing parts of Countries that aren’t frequented by tourists. Don’t get us wrong though, we do tend to do all the touristy things as well, but when we’re done with that, we like to get off the beaten track and see more. In the end, this is why we chose Stray, it was a good balance between common tourist attractions and places a lot of people don’t visit.
Nothing comes with the price of the pass other than your transport and information supplied by your tour guide/bus driver. Any activities you do, such as surfing in Raglan, Hobbiton in Rotorua, Kayaking at Blue Duck Station, etc; are organized and booked by your driver/guide but you must pay for it on arrival. Or, you can do what we did; we paid for all the activities we wanted to do before we actually started our trip, that way we just had vouchers for each activity and didn’t have to worry about paying for anything along the way.
The same thing goes for accommodation. Your driver will organize accommodation for you and the rest of the bus along the way and then you pay on arrival. You don’t have to stay only in the hostels organized by Stray, you can organize your own accommodation and the bus can drop you off there but you will need to make your way to the Stray organized hostel for pick-up. We booked through the driver because it was easier and that way we got to stay with our group from the bus, but there were a few others who would organize their own places to stay, it’s not uncommon.
Meals are usually looked after by yourself, although depending on your driver nightly meals for the bus may be planned. We got lucky quite a lot, most of our drivers organised nightly meals for our whole bus. The drivers would just asked for 5-10 dollars per person, he’d go do the shopping and then we’d help cook or help clean up. It was a great way to socialize and get to know everyone we were travelling with.
NOTE: Stray uses mostly Base hostels whenever they’re able (like in Wellington, Queenstown, Wanaka, Auckland, etc) and we would never recommend them, not in New Zealand, not in Australia, not anywhere. But if you want to stay with your group it’s kind of your only option.
These are a few things we recommend NOT skipping and are totally worth the price!
Definitely consider hopping off in Rotorua and Queenstown for a few extra days. There is so much to do in both places. Stray doesn’t even stop overnight in Rotorua yet there is so much to do, like zorbing, Hobbiton, white water rafting, luging (Rotorua tracks are better than Queenstown’s), and much more. Queenstown is an overnight or 2 day stop but again, there is so much to do, such as winery tours, bungy jumping, sky diving, jet boating, luging, hiking, skiing/snowboarding (or mountain biking in the summer), etc. Two days just isn’t enough.
The best thing about stray is that it’s got a great mix of partying, adventure, cultural experiences, and getting off the beaten track. Pretty much every pass includes two Maori Cultural stays and two stops unique to Stray. Although looking at their routes now, it looks like there is only one cultural stay, at Lake Aniwhenua, but when we travelled with Stray there were two. The other was in Mourea, where we slept in a traditional Marae, learned traditional dances like the Haka (for the guys) and the Poi (for the girls), and learned a lot about Maori Culture.
There are also plenty opportunities to have a night out with your bus (some of which were even organised by our driver), especially in places like Wellington, Queenstown, and Franz Josef. Although one of our biggest nights was at Blue Duck Station because it was a two day stop over, which mean no 6am wake up!
Travelling with Stray was a great way to meet all kinds of people, see parts of New Zealand that we wouldn’t have thought of going to, and getting out of our comfort zones more than once. In the end we’re super happy we chose to travel with Stray, we got the freedom of choosing our own scheduale that comes with independent travel, yet at the same time we got the great feeling of being part of group travel that comes with bus tours. We loved it and we’d definitely do it again!