Where to Hop Off in New Zealand

hop off in mount cook

With your Freestyle Pass booked, you must be wondering where to hop off in New Zealand. We want you to make the most out of the flexibility of hop on hop off travel, and obviously squeeze every last bit of fun and adventure out of your trip. So we gathered our New Zealand experts and created a list of our favourite destinations to hop off across the country, and what to do when you’re there!

Where to hop off in the North Island

Auckland

Most passes start or finish in the big city, so although it’s not one of our absolute favourite destinations (except for our Digi-Diva who is like, obsessed with Auckland), it’s worth mentioning all the things you can do. If you find yourself here with a day or two to spare, there are a tonne of walks all over the city thanks to more than 50 volcanoes adorning the landscape. In the city, Mount Eden provides panoramic views and a cool crater at the top. If you’re wanting to escape the concrete jungle, a day trip to Rangitoto Island is high on the list, as a way to get out on the water and see the city skyline from afar.

Being our biggest city, Auckland is also a great place to shop, eat and drink. Head down to the Viaduct for a scenic drink, or up to Karangahape Road (K Road) for a cheap Asian meal and our best nightlife scene.

See our blog for the best things to do in Auckland.

where to hop off auckland

Paihia

Ahh, the sunny Bay of Islands, set in the ‘winterless north’. That alone is enough reason to hop off and chill out in this quaint seaside town. If Paihia is part of your Freestyle Pass, you may also be treated to one of New Zealand’s most epic day trips; heading up to the tip of the top of the country, Cape Reinga. It’s a full on day of adventure which will take up a whole day of your time. That’s why we recommend hopping off, to truly embrace the island vibes this place emits.

You can head out on a cruise with Fullers to see dolphins, seals and cool rock formations, or for something more active, why not take a walk? We recommend the beautiful coastal walkway from Paihia to Russell (5-6 hrs). Russell is a beautiful little town with a turbulent and interesting history. Grab a drink waterfront before taking the ferry back to Paihia – the perfect day if you ask us!

Check out how to spend three days in the Bay of Islands.

dolphins in paihia

Rotorua

The adventure capital of the North Island, Rotorua has a lot to offer the adventurous traveller. We stop here for two nights on the Stray bus, but many people choose to stay longer so they can tick off their big ‘must do’ list! From ziplining to zorbing, white water rafting and a trip to Hobbiton, there’s a huge variety of activities to keep you entertained. Not to mention Rotorua is the geo-thermal hot spot of New Zealand! Expect to see steam pouring out of the ground in city streets, a distinct smell of rotten eggs, and bubbling mud pools that you can wander around for free. For a truly spectacular experience, check out one of the geo-thermal parks in the area; you’ll see some incredible sights like the champagne pool, massive volcano craters, and even mud pools that you can bathe in!

Read our guide to the ultimate North Island road trip!

where to hop off rotorua

Taupo

Taupo is special because it’s one of the only destinations we don’t Stray overnight that we reckon is cool enough to hop off for. Lake Taupo itself is incredible – the largest lake in New Zealand, history tells us the crater was formed by a gigantic volcano eruption a couple thousand years ago. It was so big that the smoke and ash from the eruption were reported in ancient Rome and China. Apart from its intense history, we love Taupo as a tranquil spot where you can kick back and relax lakeside for a few days, and swim in the fresh water during warmer months. Head out on a walk around the lake (not the whole way around, that would take weeks), and don’t miss the Spa Thermal Park, a free hot spring to soak your weary traveller’s body!

Check out why we think you should hop off in Taupo.

hop off in taupo

Wellington

Dubbed by Lonely Planet as the “coolest little capital in the world” (yes we are proud of that one), Wellington is our gorgeous little hub of arts, culture, politics and a famous cat. The creative scene is at its best here, and coffee isn’t just a drink, it’s a cult.  The windy city is also known as the home of Peter Jackson, director of Lord of the Rings and many other fantastic movies. Film buffs should  check out a Wellington Movie Tour, and for everyone else, we highly recommend a visit to Te Papa, our national museum. Entry is free, and they’ve just released a brand new exhibit on our natural environment that includes a moa egg! If you don’t know what a moa is, you’ll have to go and see for yourself.

Oh and the famous cat? Mittens is a Wellington resident that is famous for wandering around the city like he owns it. From sleeping in shop displays, to waltzing right into the local police station, he’s gained a huge following of admirers – there’s even a Facebook group dedicated to tracking his whereabouts. If you see a fabulous ginger cat who is friendly and oh so relaxed, you’ve been blessed by his royal highness himself!

wellington

Where to hop off in the South Island

Abel Tasman (Marahau)

Abel Tasman National Park is one of the most beautiful holiday destinations in the country. With the most sunshine hours per year and golden sand beaches fringed with native forest, this place is truly paradise. Hopping off here means you get to spend more time feeling like you’re on an island getaway, but with the added bonus of some great activities to keep you occupied. You can jump out of a plane here and see both islands while you freefall, or head out on a sailing trip to live like a royal for the day. Our must do activity is to take a water taxi to Anchorage Bay. Relax on the beautiful beach, before heading back on foot via the stunning walking track. You’ll weave in and out of the bush, passing plenty of bays and if you’re lucky, spot some fantastic wildlife too.

Read about why skydiving in Abel Tasman is so epic.

hop off in abel tasman

Wanaka

Queenstown’s chilled out little brother and one of New Zealand’s best kept secrets, Wanaka has a lot to offer the adventurous tourist. Set on a picturesque lake and surrounded by mountains, it is just as beautiful as the world-famous Queenstown, without the crowds. From mountain biking, to water sports and hikes, this is an active town! In the winter, it is a great place to base yourself for skiing. The two most famous activities here are Instagram famous; take a picture of “that wanaka tree” and climb Roy’s Peak for a breathtaking lookout over the landscape. For both activities, we recommend beating the crowds by going super early, or super late. It’s not uncommon for people to hike Roy’s Peak in darkness to watch the sunrise at the top.

Check out our guide for more things to do in Wanaka.

hop off in wanaka

Stewart Island

Possibly the most underrated destination on our whole route, Stewart Island is a little gem at the bottom of the country. Our third biggest island, it remains mostly untouched, and gives a great insight into what New Zealand would have looked like before humans. There are a bunch of short walking tracks from the main centre, Oban, and you can expect to see a great variety of native bird life if you stay quiet and look up. Our must do activity is a day trip to the nearby Ulva Island. Having completely eradicated pests, the island is booming with bird life, and you can find species that you’d struggle to see anywhere else in New Zealand. The biggest drawcard for Stewart Island? Our famous fluffy kiwi bird, of course! Because there are so few hours of darkness here in the summer, the kiwi here can’t get all their foraging done under the cover of night. This means that they sometimes come out during the day. For your best chance to see kiwi, check the sightings book at the Stewart Island Backpackers.

See how to spend 24 hours on Stewart Island.

stewart island

Aoraki/Mount Cook

New Zealand’s biggest mountain, your jaw will drop from the moment you first lay eyes on this beauty. With Stray, we stay at the base of Mount Cook, so you can expect panoramic views from the comfort of the hostel. The Stray group often chooses to head out on one of the best walks in the area, the Hooker Valley Track. If you love a good walk and are partial to stunning scenery, we recommend hopping off here to try out some of the other fantastic walks. Not to mention, Aoraki Mount Cook is part of the International Dark Sky Reserve, which means the stargazing is absolutely epic. Taking some time to chill out and soak in this UNESCO world heritage area is high on our list of must do’s.

Check out our favourite walks in Mount Cook.

hop off in mount cook

Hopefully that’s given you some ideas about where to hop off on your New Zealand adventure! There are so many other amazing places, and if you had the time, we’d tell you to hop off in almost all of them! After all, life in the slow lane is the best way to embrace everything a country has to offer.

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