A Guide to Travelling the North Island of New Zealand with Stray

Disclosure; this is quite possibly the longest blog post in the history of blog posts. So settle in, grab yourself a glass bottle of wine, some chip n dip and get ready to add New Zealand's North Island to your travel plans & book yourself a Stray Pass

A roadtrip around New Zealand is probably hot on everyone's bucket lists; whether you hire a car, camper or travel round by coach. 
Because I am behind with the times and haven't caught onto this whole driving trend, I rely on tours or buses or group trips to get about. No fear though; Stray New Zealand are here to save the day. 

Stray are a hop-on-hop-off bus company within New Zealand, or "freestyle" travel as the kids are calling it now. There are SO MANY passes you can choose from; if you want to see just the North, just the South, a bit of both, OR THE WHOLE SHABANG! Stray's got you covered.




I won't go into the ins and outs of using Stray in this blog, that is coming soon my friends. 
This one is to go over E V E R Y T H I N G from the North Island that Stray offers; the route, where to hop off, the accommodation, activties etc. 

You can start your Stray pass ANYWHERE on circuit; most commonly though people are starting out in Auckland. I have been living in Auckland for a year, and it's so funny how much hate it gets. Is it the nicest city in the world? Absolutely not - but it's not that bad, just venture further off Queen Street and you'll be fine. 
If you are starting in Auckland, give yourself 2 days either before or after your trip to explore, get a feel for the city ..... then get the f*ck out! At the end of the day, it's just another city, New Zealand has so much more to offer. 


N O R T H L A N D 
Depending on the type of Stray Pass you have, you may have the loop up to explore the very North included. I have a Maximus Pass & it was. You can choose to purchase this as an add-on if you like. 
The Stray bus departs early morning from Auckland and heads across the Harbour Bridge and travels North, with the beach town of Paihia as its end goal for the afternoon. It's a bit of drive, so spend the time getting to know your new Stray Mates, enjoy the view, or get a nap in if you were hitting the beers hard at Habana Joes the night before. 
There is one hop-off option between Auckland & Paihia; Whangarei. I haven't yet been there myself, but there is apparently a nice waterfall and a clock museum. Go wild!
After a quick coffee, and a stop to hug a tree, you make it to Paihia in the afternoon. 



Paihia: I would recommend 2-3 nights 
There is loads to do in this beautiful little town. When I visited with Stray, I just spent the 2 nights and followed their itinerary - but I soon came back and spent another 3 nights here. 
Paihia has a couple of supermarkets if you want to cook your own meals, otherwise you don't need to walk far to find something to eat or drink. Head down Williams Road, or just along the beach front and you'll find plenty to choose from. 
Accommodation: Stray's choice of accommodation is Base; Pipi Patch. Really good central location, close the the beach, decent hostel and comes with a cat so it's getting the best review from me. You are in 8-bed dorms with your own bathroom. The hostel offers a BBQ on Saturday nights which is good; good food & a free drink for $10. 
ActivitiesFrom skydiving, hiking, sailing, kayaking, chasing waterfalls, to having a beer in New Zealand's oldest pub - there is so much to keep you busy. 
  • Stray can organise you tickets for the Hole in the Rock Cruise; a 3 hour cruise round the Bay of Islands to visit, you guessed it, a hole in a rock. It looked cool on Instagram, so I was sucked in and paid to do the cruise. We saw dolphins and a couple of sleepy seals but to be honest it was really underwhelming. We didn't even get to go through the hole. For the amount of money the cruise costs, you only get 3 hours. If you have a full day in Paihia and want to really explore the Bay of Islands by water, I would 100% recommend a day sailing on "She's a Lady" instead. No, Stray do not offer discount, but this is by far a much better and more exciting way to explore. It is genuinely one of the best paid activities I have ever done. 
  • Kayaking is another great way to get out on the water; kayak to an island and sunbathe or kayak downstream to the incredible Haruru Falls.
  • Hikes; there loads of nice walks in the area - one of the most popular trails to do walk to Haruru Falls if you don't fancy kayaking. If you get a ferry across to Russell there a pretty nice walk up to Flagstaff Hill - panoramic views over the Bay of Islands which are to die for. 
  • Russell; Get a ferry across to Russell to explore this old capital of New Zealand. Home to a really old church, some quaint shops and the Duke of Marlborough; NZ's oldest pub. 
  • Cape Reinga Day Trip; If you have a certain Stray Pass, you might find you have this day trip included. This is a full day leaving from Paihia and heading to the very northern tip of New Zealand. Spend the day with Great Fullers Sights as they drive you around the Northland, stopping for short bush walks to see the Kauri trees, visit the famous lighthouse, try your hand at sand-boarding and cruise up ninety mile beach. It is pretty rushed, covering alot of ground in the day, with not much time at each location. I had a pleasant time, highlights for me were the sand-boarding and a visit to the famous fish & chip shop in Mangonui. If its included in your pass, boom, go. I personally wouldn't pay to do the day trip if it wasn't included and use the money towards a more worthwhile activity.

Hole in the Rock







After the delights of the Bay of Islands, you return for a evening (or more if you like) back in Auckland. Stray's choice accommodation is Nomads; I have stayed here previously and it's average. Do not stay at Fat Camel's for the love of god. I think the best hostel I have stayed at in Auckland is the two YHA right at the top of Queen Street. 
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If you don't have the Bay of Islands loop on your pass, no fear - the rest of the North Island is pretty amazing. 

Hahei; I would recommend 2 nights
Leaving Auckland, Stray heads towards the utterly beautiful Coromandel Peninsular. You have the choice to hop off at Thames - don't. The only good thing at Thames is the Pak n Save. You have the chance to do a supermarket shop at Thames so you have enough food for the next few days at Hahei. 
Our driver Lego organised a massive BBQ for our first night if we all threw in $10 and helped prep - a great way for everyone to come together on the first big night and get to know each other over some beers and a burger. 
Accommodation: Stray's choice of accommodation is at Hahei Holiday Resort, which is right on the beach and is pretty cool. Stray has their own area on site so you're separate from all the other families or campers. There are several huge cabins with around 10 beds in each. Outside is a grass area with volleyball, bbq pits, as well as our own kitchen and eating area and the most important criteria ... A CAT. It is one of the more expensive stops, but location-wise and facilities; 100% worth it. Plus there's a cat, did I mention that? 
Activities; There's a few paid activties in Hahei, but no one cares about those because there's plenty of free awesome things you can be doing!
  • Hot Water Beach; after you check-in, your Stray driver takes you up the road, to, you guessed it, a beach, with hot water under the sand. It's famous for people digging their own hot pools and relaxing in the sand and warm waters in total tranquility. Yeah, wrong. Its an over-crowded mayhem of spades and sand being thrown around trying to find the hot water. I was not expecting it to be so busy! It's not all negative though, it was pretty fun trying to secure ourselves a small patch, which we named Straytopia. We built our borders, introduced some laws, got to know our founding citizens and passed around a beer to toast our new land. 
  • Cathedral Cove; probably the most popular thing to do is a walk to Cathedral Cove. Now its up to you if you do this for sunrise, or at a normal time of day. Either way, the way there is so scenic (pretty hilly and sweaty in places) and beautiful and only takes about 1hour tops Either on the way to, or on the walk back, take the detour down to Stingray Bay & Gemstone Bay.
  • Beach sunrise; you might not fancy the hike to Cathedral Cove for sunrise, don't blame ya. But you have a beach right on your doorstep which is super nice to watch the sunrise. Head down in your pjs, watch the sun come up, and then head back to bed like I did. 
  • Beach stargazing; hopefully you have a nice clear night like we did. Take a beer, your new mates and some cool tunes down to the beach. Lay back and gaze up at the stars





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Rotorua; I would recommend 3 nights
An early departure from Hahei sees you leave the ocean behind and head inland to Rotorua. Now I won't lie, it was a bit of a slow day. Our driver Lego had to return to Auckland so we got a new driver; Thor. It was his first ever day and what an absolute bitch of a day- FULL bus, people booked onto it who couldn't get on, and trying to book 40 odd people's accommodation & activties for the next 2-3 days. We got to Rotorua a lot later than planned so missed out on afternoon activties. 
Rotorua is amazing, I love it there. I have been before so didn't see the need to hop-off here so stayed just the two nights. 
Accommodation; Stray's choice of accommodation is the YHA. Great hostel, good location and you guessed it ... had a cat! I am finding that I only rate a hostel as good now if it has a cat. YHA is a few minute walk from Lava Bar which is a lively backpacker bar next to Base. 
Activties; Rotorua is pretty much the activity-capital of the North Island. You're going to need 2-3 days at least to get a good feel for the area. 
  • Whitewater rafting; BEST.THING.EVER - if you want to raft in New Zealand, Rotorua is one of the best places to do it. Why? Because you get to raft down the highest commercially rafted waterfall that's why. Tip; if you want to take your GoPro along for the ride, you can only have it on a chest harness. 
  • Geothermal parks; wondering why Rotorua smells of egg? Sulphur from all the amazing geothermal activity in the area, which naturally they have put walls around and now charge you to visit. I would recommend a trip to Wai-o-Tapu instead of Te Puia. If you want to see some steaming ponds for free, just walk through the park opposite YHA; Kuirau Park
  • Luging; Either get a bus or walk to to the Skyline and catch a gondola up the mountain for panoramic views of Rotorua. Up here you can hike, bike, bungy or my personal favourite - LUGE. 
  • The Redwoods, Whakarwarewa Forest; about a 10 minute bus ride ($3.50 each way) from the iSite takes you to The Redwoods. There are several walking trails here which you can enjoy over an hour, or the entire day.
  • Hobbiton; Stray have now changed their route so if you want to visit Hobbiton, you have to visit on a half-day trip from Rotorua. It's quite expensive but if you're a LOTR / Hobbit fan, you will LOVE it and not be disappointed.
View from SkyLine 

Te Puia 


Polynesian Spa

Luging

Wai-o-Tapu

Hobbiton
Kuirau Park
White Water Rafting

If you want to read a more detailed post solely about Rotorua & ALL the other amazing activities you can do  - CLICK HERE

If you have the Beach Hopper included in your pass, this is where it would start - I don't have it so can't talk about it soz. 
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Lake AniwhenuaOn the final day in Rotorua, you have the whole morning to explore before getting picked up around lunch time to head to Lake Aniwhenua. On route, you pick up a Maori guide who takes you on a quick bush walk to see New Zealand's oldest Maori rock carvings. You're then taken to your "Strademark" overnight experience where you can learn all about the culture. 
Accommodation; Spend the night at the beautiful lakefront Kohutapu Lodge. For $89 you have 1 nights accommodation, treated to the best meal you will ever have, dessert and breakfast. & do you know why I loved this lodge ... the CAT. 
Activities; Once you're checked into your rooms there's an abundance to get involved in from games, lessons, exploring the lodge grounds or simply enjoying some drinks at the Taniwha Bar. 
  • Stick Games; play till the last man's standing in this fun group game. 
  • Haka Lesson; For $10 you can learn the famous Haka. Spend 45 minutes mastering the words and moves before performing in front of the rest of your Stray mates. 
  • Hangi; this is a traditional Maori meal cooked underground. Watch as your hosts prepare and start the cooking process. A few hours later, you get to dig into this amazing meal. Be warned, the fried bread and stuffing is the most amazing thing you ever eat.




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Taupo; hop-off & I would recommend 2 nights
Stray only briefly stops in Taupo for a few hours before continuing South. I had been to Taupo before so didn't need to stop-off, but if you have the time, it's worth spending a couple of days here. 
Activties; If you're staying on the bus, you've got a few activties you can squeeze in the time from skydiving, bungy, swing or a lake walk. 
  • Huka Falls; Stray makes a stop off here on the way into Taupo so you can hop off and take a walk down to visit these famous Falls. 
  • Skydive; you have time to do a skydive here if you want - a few of us signed us but it was too cloudy - I will happily admit I was relieved! 
  • Bungy & Swing; Skydiving had been cancelled so I booked onto the bungy & swing combo over the river. The swing was really fun, but the bungy wasn't that exciting - save your bungy jumping for Queenstown. Also, the bungy centre had a cat so worth a visit just for that. 
  • Lake Taupo Sign - did you even go to Taupo if you didn't take a picture of the sign?
Lake Taupo

Huka Falls


Maori Rock Art

If you're thinking of hoping off and want more activties to do; take a read of my post on Taupo which has more things you can do over a few days. CLICK HERE 

On the road and heading for another incredible Strademark destination; Blue Duck Station. 
On route, you stop at a supermarket to stock up on supplies; I am pretty sure this was the last supermarket stop until you reach Wellington so make sure you have enough food (& wine) to last you until then. 
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Blue Duck Station; minimum 2 nights 
Blue Duck was one of my favourite stops in the North Island. Hidden away in Whakahoro, it is one of the most isolated places in the North Island - be prepared to go off the grid for a few days and enjoy your surroundings rather than what's happening on Instagram. 
Blue Duck is a working farm & making leaps in trying to help with conservation - the team will tell you all about the steps they are taking in pest control and how you can help. 
Accommodation; you stay on site at the farm in your own section just for Stray with fully equipped kitchen, lounge area, outdoor seating, fire and lodges. Tip; at the end of the lodges, up the path is THE HONEYMOON SUIT - grab your best 7 pals and claim this secluded lodge for yourself. 
You can choose to cook for yourself, or Blue Duck put on a big dinner each evening which you can pay to enjoy. The Goat Curry was AMAZING & 100% recommend getting involved in that. 
Activities; There is a lot to throw yourself into at Blue Duck - I celebrated my birthday here so decided to jump into a few activities to make it a jam-packed day. 
- Kaiwhakauka Falls - a really nice walk from the farm to this waterfall. Give yourself a couple of hours to make the trip there and back. 
- 4WD - be driven around the masses of farm land and bush and be taught all about the history of Blue Duck, their conservation efforts & most importantly; how to take sh*t in the bush. We had a great trip driving round, catch sheep, drinking from fresh pools & learning how to live off the land and eat plants. 
- Clay Shooting - this is done right at the lodge where you stay so everyone can witness how amazing (or not-so amazing in my case) you are. In 10 rounds, I got 1 - & I'm pretty sure he gave me extra goes because he felt sorry for me because it was my birthday. 
- Horse riding was another really popular activity, or you can go on a goat hunt. If you don't want to spend money, take a walk around the farm and visit all the animals. 







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Raetihi; 1 night 
We say goodbye to the charm of Blue Duck, and leave the rolling hills behind and head for the volcanoes. This is a VERY early start so be warned. 
The Tongariro Crossing is the main attraction of the day - it is a paid activity and can be pretty pricey if travelling in Winter. Stray will drive you directly to Adrift's base where they will check you in, kit you out and drive you to the start of the absolutely amazing 19.5km hike. 
If you choose NOT to do the hike, you spend the day enjoying free walks around National Park & later head to the accommodation for the evening. 
I have completed the Tongariro Crossing twice; the first time in April 2018 by myself, & the second time with Stray in October 2018, it was still "winter conditions" so we had to pay the steeper price. Honestly, it is an amazing experience which you will NOT regret doing, unless you like break your leg, but yeah, try not to do that. 
I have a full detailed post about the Tongariro Crossing HERE

Once you have completed the hike, Adrift will drive you to your accommodation for the night; Snowy Waters Lodge in Raetihi. One thing I will say is 100% sign up to the dinner if you do the hike - the last thing you want to do when you arrive back to the hostel in the evening is start cooking. Crack open a victory beer or bottle of wine & enjoy a bbq burger while you rest your weary legs. 








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Wellington; minimum 2 nights
Today you head for the bottom of the North Island; Wellington - the capital of New Zealand. Before arriving though you have a chance to stretch your legs, have some coffee & lunch stops along the way. Look out in Bulls; known as the town full of dad jokes - alot of the stores and buildings have got involved and include "BULL" in their name somehow. The Police Station = Consta-bull, the Medical Centre = Cure-a-Bull. After lunch, have a go at the very famous Gum Boot Throwing & see how far / if you can manage to keep it inside the grass. It was lucky the Stray Bus didn't lose a window with our group! 
There is time for one last stop before arriving into Wellington, and it will likely be the best damn stop you ever have - CHILDRENS PLAYGROUND! Letting a bus of 40 adults loose is always a great idea; hogging all the rides and equipment from the kids. We play just as hard though - check out my awesome bruise! 
Depending on your plans; you will either be ending your trip in Wellington, heading back to Auckland, or heading across the Cook Strait to the South Island. Regardless, I would suggest a couple of days in Wellington to explore this really cool arsty city. 
Accommodation; Stray usually offers Base or Nomads - I personally prefer Nomads and has quite a good location, as well as free dinner in the bar next door each evening. If you plan to catch the ferry to the South Island, and want to be closer to to the terminal, I also stayed at Hotel Waterloo which is just across the road from the BlueBridge Ferry Terminal. 
Activities; there is plenty of do in Wellington to fill a few days. From exploring the museums, finding yourself the best coffee, taking a ride on the famous Cable Car or shopping and grabbing a bite to eat on Cuba Street. 

  • Head to The Terrace and get yourself a one-way (or return) ticket on the famous Wellington Cable Car. I would suggest going one-way & spending an hour or two making your way through Wellington Botanical Gardens and back into the city. 
  • Oriental Parade is home to the closest beach and a lovely place to relax on the sand, read a good book, or take a swim in the summer. 
  • The Beehive is home to New Zealand's government. They are stunning buildings to walk past; or if you book in advance, you can take advantage of the free one-hour guided tours of the buildings. 
  • WETA Studios - heard of Lord of the Rings? Peter Jackson grew up just outside of Wellington, and created the WETA Studios to home all the amazing props, sculptures, and some sets from the Lord of the Rings & Hobbit films. 
  • Te Papa Museum is an incredible museum; and it's FREE! I was really impressed by the number of exhibitions, showing off New Zealand's history, culture, wildlife, formation. You can find temporary exhibitions which have a charge; currently the Terracotta Warriors can be found there until 22nd April 2019





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Stray TIPS; 
- Book your buses as far in advance as you can, especially in summer as buses can fill up
- Put your luggage on last so it will be one of the first to come off
- Sit close to the front of the bus so you can be one of the first off to join the check-in line. Waiting for 40+ people to check-in during summer is not ideal 
- Carry a food bag to store your groceries in 
- Carry your swimsuit / a towel in your daypack as you never know when the opportunity might arise for a spontaneous swim stop. 
- Don't feel pressured to book onto every activity; if you aren't desperate to do it, chances are there will be plenty of fun free things to do - ask your driver of free things to do in the area, I noticed these aren't listed in the Stray App. 
- Stock-up on food during supermarket stops 
- Carry a power-bank charger, some buses have USB ports, some don't - it can be a fight to charge phones all the time at hostels so handy to have one with you
- SUNCREAM, even in winter! The New Zealand sun is a bitch when she wants to be.
- Wait to book your pass until a promotion is on, they are pretty frequent and can save you $$$$




Ready to book your Stray Pass now? 
Check out their site here;

A FULL guide to the South Island with Stray coming soon, as well as a complete guide to choosing your Stray Pass, booking buses, accommodation, activties etc

Thanks for reading & happy travels 

♡ G

Join me on Instagram @gemwills 

& follow me as I continue my New Zealand Adventure! 


Coming next: Hiking Roys Peak; Wanaka 


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