I recently travelled with Stray on their Hop On Hop Off bus through the North Island of New Zealand, from the very north in Paihia to the Southernmost city, Wellington.
Travelling with Stray made planning my trip super easy. Not least because they had their pre-planned stops and some great activities to choose along the way, but also because travelling by bus gave me an instant group of friends, some of which I ended up travelling with on the South Island too!
So if you’re thinking of taking a bus trip through New Zealand with Stray but you’re not sure what to expect, then allow me to fill you in on everything you need to know.
Get ready to ‘HOHO’ (Ho)
Nope, I haven’t gone mad and started pretending I’m Santa Claus. ‘HOHO’ stands for ‘Hop On, Hop Off’, which means you can jump off the bus any time you want, and then jump back on again and carry on your adventure.
All you have to do is give the reservations team a call or an email and tell them where and when you want to do your hopping, and they’ll do their magic and get you booked on.
This doesn’t just apply to overnight stops, but to anywhere the bus stops during the day too. For example, I hopped off in Rotorua and in Lake Taupo which were both just lunch stops. I’m so glad I did as they were both awesome.
Hopping on and off isn’t just great for extending your trip, but for meeting loads of new people along the way. Some buses you’ll find you gel with more than others, and having the option to stay with one group of people or to hop off and wait for the next bunch to arrive was brilliant.
I openly admit that I hopped off one particular bus pretty much because there was one girl I couldn’t stand! Luckily the next group were great! 🙂
How often to they run?
During the summer (Jan and Feb), there is a bus running almost every day, so you’re bound to be able to find dates which work with your plans. Just make sure that if you’re travelling in this busy time, you book your spot on the bus at least a week in advance if you can. Buses can get fully booked and then you might have to wait a few days to catch the next one.
HOHO tickets include your bus travel to all of the locations listed on whichever one you choose. I went for the JASE Pass, which gave me access to everywhere on the North Island, including the Paihia extension to the north and the ‘East Bro‘ section, a 3 night loop around the East Cape.
Your bus driver is more than just your driver, they’re your tour guide too, giving you little snippets of info as you pass certain places, or helping you to organise your activities. They make loads of stops along the way too which breaks up the day and lets you see some cool places, like Kauri trees en route to Paihia, or Waitomo glow worm caves en route to Mourea.
Stray also offer ‘all inclusive Stray Journey tours‘, which include transportation, accommodation and some activities, but I didn’t do that one, so you’ll have to check out their website for details of that – sorry!
What’s not included?
The price of your hostel is NOT included in your ticket, but for each night’s stop (with the exception of Auckland), Stray will guarantee you a bed for at least one night. This means you won’t be out on your ear looking for somewhere to stay, even if the city is completely fully booked, as Stray have an allocation for everyone on board.
Hostels are usually around $30 per person per night, or if you don’t fancy staying in the ones recommended by Stray, you’re free to book your own accommodation. Personally I’d recommend taking the accommodation they offer, as it’s a whole lot easier and you get to socialise with everyone on the bus. If you’re doing the ‘East Bro’ section, I definitely wouldn’t recommend booking your own accommodation, as there often isn’t any viable alternative anyway!
Stray don’t usually include activities either (there are some exceptions so check your bus pass). However, you can sign up for activities as you go along by simply writing your name down on the clip board on the way round. They have special rates with a lot of providers too – bonus!
Top tip: If you’re hopping off somewhere and looking to do an activity on the day you rejoin the bus, then call ahead to reservations to make sure you put your name down one day in advance. For example, if you’re hopping off in Raglan but you want to do the Waitomo glow worm caving on the day you get back on the bus, call the team the day before you hop back on and they’ll add your name to the list. This will avoid disappointment in the event of some activities selling out.
The Stray reservations guys are your new best friends
This is no joke. I must have changed my plan 5 or 6 times during my stay, deciding to stay longer in some places and cut short some others, so I was calling the team a LOT.
They’re super friendly and helpful, and are so accommodating, even if you basically have no idea what you want to do. They’ll give you recommendations on how long they think you should stop in places, and have you fixed up and ready to go in no time!
One More Time?
Bus passes are valid for 12 months from the first day of travel, so you can hop off for as long as you like, maybe visit friends and family, work for a bit, and then get back on when it suits you.
But the really cool thing is that you can use the pass as many times as you like within the 12 month period, meaning you can go around and around as many times as you like!
Top tip: If you’re planning on using your pass again then be warned that you have a lower priority for travel than others who are travelling for the first time. This is unlikely to be a problem unless you’re travelling for the second or third time during peak season (January and February), when buses can get pretty full.
Got any more questions about travelling with Stray? Let me know below!
Disclaimer: Thanks to Stray for hosting me on the JASE pass. All opinions and love for the North Island are entirely genuine.