A guided tour of New Zealand’s North and South Island with Stray Travel is certainly an unforgettable experience. You’ll see all the best highlights of New Zealand while getting off the beaten tourist path.
Although I was hesitant to sign up for a guided tour of New Zealand due to the cost, I’m sure glad I did. Considering my time constraints of one month, a group tour of New Zealand was probably the best way to see both islands.
I decided to write this review of Stray because of the positive, memorable experience I had on my 20 day guided tour of New Zealand. I walked away from this tour with loads of memories, many new friendships, and a newfound love for New Zealand.
In this Stray Travel review, I’ll give you an overview of Stray the company, our New Zealand itinerary, a breakdown of the cost, and finally some highlights from the trip.
Guided Tour of New Zealand with Stray Travel
Prior to traveling around New Zealand, I spent two months backpacking Australia, for the most part alone. In Australia, I did go on a guided tour of the outback and had a seriously fantastic experience. With that wonderful experience in mind, I was tempted to go on another guided tour, but this time in New Zealand.
I did some research and found a tour company called Stray Travel. Their reviews looked good and itineraries were perfect for my schedule.
The only problem was that it was quite expensive. A 20 day guided tour of New Zealand would cost me approximately $3,000 US dollars—that’s about $150/day—and not all meals are included. On the other hand, everything was included in my Australia outback tour, and it only cost me $125/day.
In the end, I bit the bullet and signed up for this Stray trip because I wanted to make the most of my time in New Zealand.
Stray Travel has nearly a dozen small group tours of New Zealand. I chose the 20 day Sheppard tour of both the North Island and South Island of New Zealand. While the Sheppard tour departs from Auckland, it concludes in Christchurch 20 days later.
Finishing the tour in Christchurch was not exactly ideal for me because I had to fly back to the US out of Auckland. As a result, an additional flight from Christchurch to Auckland was necessary.
Stray Travel Price Breakdown
While the advertised price for the 20 day Sheppard tour is NZ$4,295, I estimate that you could save over NZ$1,000 by doing this trip on your own. In other words, you’re paying a large premium for the guided tour experience.
When I run the numbers, I estimate that the raw cost of the 20 day Stray Journeys tour is around NZ$3,000 (about $2,000 US dollars in 2020). Here is my estimated cost breakdown of the tour. Let me reiterate that this is just an estimate and, of course, doesn’t consider costs such as paying your tour guide.
|20 nights shared accommodation||$600|
|1 hour sand boarding||$15|
|Doubtful Sound Overnight cruise with dinner and breakfast||$493|
|3 hour Bay of Islands wildlife cruise||$112|
|Tamaki Maori Village dinner experience||$130|
|4WD eco-wilderness farm tour||$100|
|Bluebridge Ferry across the Cook Strait to the South Island||$54|
|Abel Tasman National Park one way water taxi ride||$37|
|Jet boat ride in Mt Aspiring National Park||$130|
|Scenic bike ride around Lake Wanaka||$40|
|3,500+ km shared van transportation||$1,000|
Again, I want to point out that the experience you get on a group tour with a guide is much different than renting a car or camper van and doing it on your own.
If you’re a solo traveler in New Zealand and your budget allows for it, I would highly consider joining a guided tour like I did with Stray. Although it’s expensive in my opinion, a group tour has numerous benefits including:
- Automatic group of friends to experience travel together
- Expert guide who is familiar with your destinations
- An itinerary that is taken care of for you
- Local food recommendations
- Stress-free transportation
My New Zealand Highlights
New Zealand is a fantastic country that I could see myself living in. It’s English-speaking, modern, and so beautiful.
Below, I want to share with you just a few of the highlights from my 3+ weeks in New Zealand.
1.) Wellington Was My Favorite Big City
Out of Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch, my favorite large city in New Zealand was Wellington. You see, Auckland, the largest city in New Zealand, was too big for me and Christchurch as too sprawling. I prefer cities that I can wrap my head around and Wellington fit the bill. Wellington reminded me of Baltimore (where I spent the previous decade) in many ways.
After a long 6+ hour van ride from Blue Duck Station, everyone was mentally and physically exhausted from the whole day in the van. But I remember a feeling of rejuvenation come over me as our bus drove into Wellington. It was as if I had a second wind. I was getting really good vibes from just looking out the van window into the city.
Although we only spent the night in Wellington, I did my best to see as much of it as possible. After unpacking at the hostel, I went on a run along the waterfront.
Wellington is special because the waterfront sits on the edge of the harbor and offers wonderful views. In addition, the harbor water is clean enough to swim in as was apparent by a group of high school boys jumping and diving off of a pedestrian bridge.
After dinner, a few of us from the tour group got drinks at a few Wellington bars including St John’s Bar and Restaurant and El Horno.
2. Tongariro Crossing
The Tongariro alpine crossing is a 19.4 kilometer hike over an active volcano. At the highest summit, you reach an elevation of 1,868 meters.
You’ll see colorful thermal pools, a near-perfect cone-shaped volcano, and sprawling views in every direction you look.
While terrain starts out rocky and barren, the hike finishes in a lush tropical forest. Consequently, it is amazing to see and feel the change in climate from the beginning of the hike to the end.
Although it’s challenging, the sense of accomplishment you get after completing the journey across this part of Tongariro National Park is quite rewarding.
3. Black Water Rafting the Waitomo Glowworm Caves in New Zealand
One of the few optional activities that I participated in on my Stray Travel tour was black water rafting. I won’t get into too much detail here because I already wrote about black water rafting and Glowworms here.
What I will tell you is that black water rafting was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. In essence, black water rafting involves a combination of floating in the dark, climbing over rocks, and jumping off underground waterfalls.
This optional activity wasn’t included in the Stray Travel price and costs an extra NZ$270.
4. Hot Water Beach
I really enjoyed spending time at Hot Water Beach. Never in my life have I came across thermal hot springs along the coastline like that.
Most people, myself included, wrongfully assume that the ocean water is hot. Rather, it’s the natural hot spring water below the sand that’s hot.
By digging down into the sand at Hot Water Beach, you will discover water as hot as 147°F in temperature. As a result, you’ll find dozens of custom-dug holes serving the purpose of personal hot tubs along the beach. Everyday, the tides wash way these holes, and consequently, the next set of tourists must dig their own holes.
5. Doubtful Sound Overnight Cruise
Stray Travel prides itself on getting off the beaten track. The overnight cruise in Doubtful Sound surely lives up to this promise.
After the Stray bus drops you off in Manapouri, you take a cruise across the lake, then a bus through the rainforest, and finally arrive at the Fiordland Navigator.
During the boat ride, you see some of New Zealand’s unspoiled majesty as you cruise out to the Tasman Sea. I have to say this this was some of my favorite New Zealand scenery. Other than some seals, we didn’t see much wildlife here.
If you have the opportunity, definitely go for a swim. Although the water is freezing cold, it’s super clean and quite refreshing.
Overall Thoughts of Stray Journeys Tour with Stray Travel New Zealand
I’m really happy I went on a guided tour of New Zealand with Stray Travel, and that’s why I’m writing this review. I know for a fact that I would have had a totally different experience if I backpacked New Zealand on my own.
The thing that I appreciated the most about the Stray Journeys tour was the fact that it was guided. Not only did our tour guide Husky provide us with a ton of interesting New Zealand facts, but the tour group itself was a great bunch.
I always say that the people you meet along the way is half the fun of traveling, and it was no different on the guided tour. I developed friendships that will definitely last far into the future. In addition, it was quite nice and relaxing to essentially be chauffeured from place to place without stress or worry.
A major drawback to a guided tour of New Zealand is the fact that you don’t always have enough time at each stop. The tour has a rigid itinerary that does not allow any time for an extra day here or even an extra hour there. This can be frustrating if you really like a certain destination and want to spend additional time there.
On the flipside, you efficiently cover a ton of ground. I truly feel that I got a great overview of both the north and south islands of New Zealand in just 20 days.
Overall, I recommend a Stray Journeys tour of New Zealand, especially for those of you who are pressed for time. In my opinion, a guided tour is probably the best way to see New Zealand in a short time.
Looking for additional New Zealand travel inspiration? Check out some of my other New Zealand blog posts here.