A long, long time ago, when the idea of making my way around the world was barely in the developmental stage, I was faced with the first major decision in my planning. I knew that I wanted to spend a large amount of my time in New Zealand as it was the country that inspired me to go on my journey in the first place and the land I was most keen to explore. With this in mind I knew that I would need to have a method of travelling around the country as I had absolutely no intention of remaining in one place for the entire time. A number of different options were spinning around in my head. My first thought was to hire a camper van. The freedom to drive wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted and the peace of mind that I would never have to search for a place to sleep were very appealing. Unfortunately, that freedom does not come cheap and further investigation revealed that it would simply not fit into my budget. I was toying with the pros and cons of hiring a car or making use of the public transportation system when a friend, let’s call him Rob, suggested I look at a company called Stray.
Now, this friend has been the source of some crazy ideas in the past (like cycling 80 km to a music festival wearing tights and a cape, but that’s another story entirely) so it was with some trepidation that I decided to investigate his suggestion. As it turns out, Robert’s idea proved inspirational and Stray became a defining feature of my time in New Zealand.
Imagine for a second that you are in a foreign country looking for a way to travel to as many different places as possible. However, you have got plenty of time and don’t like the idea of planning all of your stops out in advance, booking accommodation and deciding what you are going to do each and every day. You are travelling to release your sense of adventure and spontaneity. You want to arrive in a new location, smell the sea breeze, hear the bleating of the local children (or sheep) and decide to stay there for a few days. Obviously, you aren’t looking to stretch the limits of your adventurous spirit too far, so you’d like to know that you will have a place to stay when you arrive. On top of all of this, you must be able to leave and head to the next stop along the road whenever the whim takes you. Sounds good doesn’t it? Well, that is Stray.
The concept is simple, Stray’s bright orange buses travel along a set route around the North and South Islands. You purchase a pass that gives you access to certain parts of the route, the entire north or south island or, as I chose, the entire country. Passes are valid for 12 months from when you first step on board the bus and you can hop-on and off whenever you feel the urge, simply calling up one of their helpful agents (I gave up attempting to use the online booking system very early) when you want to get back on to the next bus. The only catch is, the buses travel in a certain direction so you can’t to back to the place from whence you came. That being said, certain passes include unlimited travel meaning that you can travel the route over and over again until your pass expires. A very big draw card for Stray is the fact that they go to some incredible locations, “off the beaten track”, as they themselves like to say. There were times when we were travelling down “roads” I thought impossible for a bus to traverse in order to give you as immersive an experience of New Zealand’s natural beauty as possible. There are nights where you find yourself truly in the middle of nowhere and it is glorious.
It is the people who make the experience though. From the drivers (who do the incredible job of multitasking driving, tour guiding, accommodation booking and activity planning all while negotiating some frightening roads when you are in a 40 seater bus) to the fellow explorers that join you on the bus. Never have I been amongst a more cosmopolitan group of people, with ages ranging from 18 to 60 and countries far too extensive to list. The people on the Stray bus all seem to have the same objective: to explore the beautiful country we were travelling in and to meet incredible people in the process.
I cannot imagine what my experience of New Zealand would have been like had I not travelled with Stray. Those bright orange buses allowed me to explore Aotearoa at my own pace, with like-minded people. I recommend it to anybody looking to spend time travelling around the country. The best thing to do is to check out their website and explore everything that they have to offer. There are often amazing specials on certain passes and if you are already in Auckland it’s worth popping in to their office as they may even have on-the-spot specials.
I now have to start planning my next journey…I believe there is a Stray Asia too!