Before my trip to New Zealand, I had only stayed in hostels for a few nights in Scotland, as part of a fantastic Wild n Scotland tour of the highlands. My feelings were mostly mixed….one hostel the group stayed in had about 15 dorm beds in one room and one of our tour mates snored quite loudly making the night difficult for me to sleep through. Another hostel we stayed in was an old converted castle, with beautiful grounds, tons of room for everyone, and several resident ghosts. But I’ve never been a big fan of communal bathrooms and I greatly enjoy the luxury of having my own space, so often I have avoided hostels. But for this trip I decided to suck it up and travel by hostel (called backpackers in NZ) the whole way. And I must say, I was really happy with all my accommodations.
I traveled almost completely through theBudget Backpacker Hostels network, which prides itself on unique, quality hostels. Purchasing the BBH card gets you $3 off each night, a $20 phone card, and a booklet with all the hostels described, rated, and contact listed…all of which was invaluable on the road. I always got the cheapest option available- either a dorm or share room- and still was very pleased with the quality of each room. And I discovered that I can live quite well with communal bathrooms and forsaking my personal space for a while, especially for the chance to meet new people and every night enjoy a different atmosphere that no cookie-cutter hotel room could offer.
So here are my reviews of my favourite or most memorable) hostels I stayed at. I hope this not only helps expand my telling of my NZ journey, but also assists other travelers deciding on places to stay when in the country. I will also add reviews to each hostel on the BBH website, which is such a great resource when deciding on accommodation options within New Zealand.
Juno Hall- I was wary of this hostel as it was right across from the Legendary Blackwater Rafting Company base and Naked Bus even had a stop right in front of it. I imagined a large commercial hostel, cycling tons of backpackers through. But as this was the most convenient hostel in Waitomo and had good reviews on BBH, I decided to go for it. I was very pleasantly surprised as the Intercity bus dropped me off in front of a long driveway surrounded by hills and trees. Juno Hall turned out to be an awesome backpackers, small and cozy, with many places to lounge in the building and even outside with couches on it porch and picnic tables on the grounds. It also had some tent sites, so there was a friendly campground feel with lots of people enjoying the sun and greenery outside. My favourite part of Juno Hall was of course, all the resident animals that were hanging out on the hostel grounds. There was a very sweet doe-eyed cow, two friendly pigs, a goat, several sheep, and a deer. I didn’t realize at first that the deer was domesticated and I thought it had just wandered into the cow pen. When I went up to the fence to take a picture of it, it quickly got up and ran towards me, demanding pets and an ear scratch. Overall, I loved staying at Juno Hall and imagine that you could spend a lot of time there, hiking around beautiful King Country, playing tennis at their complementary courts, swimming the lovely pool, and of course, exploring the amazing Waitomo Caves.
Stables Lodge Backpackers- This hostel used to be horse stables, hence the name. The layout hasn’t changed at all, giving it a unique feel with an equestrian theme. The rooms are the stables themselves, so they did tend to be very small and creaky. I lucked out and got the cutest room, that was all painted with a very high ceiling. Peeking in the other rooms, they seemed much smaller and lacked any character, so if you end up here, definitely request the purple room. The beds themselves could have used thicker mattresses, as when you sat in one, your butt would sink down and touch the wooden planks underneath. Also, as I always seem to get the top bunk, the beds were extremely tall and I once (very gracefully) fell off the ladder trying to get down. But Stables Lodge had a few individual bathrooms, washing and drying machines, and a comfortable lounge, where each night we would gather to watch a movie.
Tramper’s Rest –Loved this homestay-style hostel. Alen, Piri, and their 4-year-old son Jaime, ran this hostel and the care and love they put into clearly showed. With only a few beds in the house, it was extremely comfortable to relax in and easy to talk to the other travelers there. When I arrived to Nelson by bus, Alan picked me up in his car, and then gave me an extensive tour, route recommendations, and an in-depth weather report. He also showed me where the free cake was! Is free cake greater than free internet? It may be too close to call, but Tramper’s Nest had both, so there was truly nothing left to want. The bathroom was an individual one and…as a rare luxury, just like a normal house bathroom, with a counter, dresser, wallpaper, little potted plants, and even a potty training seat for Jaime. I really felt like I was staying as a guest in their house and wish I could have stayed here for more than one night.
Albatross Backpackers Inn- Kaikoura is a lovely beach town and Albatross Inn upholds that laid-back, hippy, beach vibe well. I was checked in by a guy who had the quintessential boho attitude and would later wander around the hostel strumming a ukulele and singing. The place itself is roomy and brightly painted, with tons of local art hung up everywhere and so much character, it oozes out of the walls (but not in the bad wall-oozing way that some hostels have). Instead of a tv, it has an art corner where you can use provided materials to paint a canvas. It also has a plethora of musical instruments that are always being well-loved. The spontaneous drum circles may be a little bothersome if you suffer from headaches, but for the two days I stayed here, it was a delight always hearing some kind of live music being strummed out from one corner or another. Albatross also had the most comfortable beds and the softest sheets out of all the hostels I stayed in.
Elm Lodge- To start with, if you’re going to explore Dunedin, you better stretch your legs and practice your squats and lunges. Getting around the city and to and from this hostel, sitting on the top of a great many hills, was probably the best exercise I had the whole trip. Every time I got back to the hostel, I would be red-faced and out of breath. But the location itself was a good one, within easy access (except when you’re coming back uphill) of the city centre below. The common rooms were nice enough and it was very easy to meet people here and in fact, a large group of us formed for hitting the town and hanging out over the couple nights I stayed here. However, my room (a share) was probably the dingiest I’ve stayed in out of all the hostels. Peeling wallpaper, curtains hanging askew off the rod, and a musty, damp smell (though that may have been the other, somewhat creepy, guy in the room) kept me and my travel partner in the common rooms most of the time, which was fine by us. The beds were clean and comfortable enough though, and I think the hostel was in the middle of refurbishing as we couldn’t use the shower in our building because it had been painted (which worked out okay because other bathrooms were close by and it knocked the price down to $18). And one of the private bathrooms was really nice with wood paneling and fancy tile floors. Unfortunately, the water in the shower itself was temperamental and never got hot for me and then just turned off in the middle of my friend’s shower.
But these little things aside, I really enjoyed my time at Elm Lodge, though that was in large part due to the great company there. It does also have a spa, which we crammed eight people into, as well as two resident cats and a little stray kitten that was everyone’s best friend and one of the highlights of my stay (nothing makes a good hostel like being able to snuggle with a purring kitten). The two nights I stayed here were a couple of my favourite from the trip.
Penguin Paradise Holiday Lodge- Driving through the Catlins, I tried calling the highest-rated hostel in Curio Bay, which only had 15 beds and of course, was fully booked. Once I tried calling the second-rated, Penguin-Paradise, there was no answer to the phone and then reception went out and I couldn’t reach any other hostels. Since I no longer could use my phones, I figured we would just go into the tiny tiny town (no amenties, just fyi) that bordered the Bay and just find three beds (my travel partner and I were giving a ride to a girl we met at Elm Lodge) when we got there. We stopped outside this hostel, but I was sure it would be booked because there were only a few beds in the whole backpackers. But when I got inside, I discovered that in place of reception, there was a white board with the room numbers on it, where you were supposed to write your name next to the bed you wanted, then call the number of the owner, leave a detailed message about what you booked, and then just take the bed and someone would come by later in the evening to collect payment. Pretty strange and an awkward set-up when the girl finally came late at night to get money from us. But it actually worked in our favour as no one could book a bed unless they had actually arrived at the hostel, so there three beds free for us.
The hostel itself was small and a bit cold, but it had a real homey feel about it, as fully booked, it only held around 10 people. It also had a fire place, which was fantastic as later in the cold night after going penguin-watching in the nearby bay, we cozily sat around it and read. The fire place did however, have a creepy face in the hearth that was undoubtedly pure evil:
Milford Sound Lodge- They are a number of ways to tackle the visit to Milford Sound. You can take a coach tour that drives you five hours from Queenstown, lets you take a cruise, then drives you five hours back in the same day. Or you can drive a couple hours to Te Anau, the nearest town, stay there and just drive back and forth the couple hours to the Sound. Or, and what I really think is the best idea, you can drive from Queenstown to Milford, and stay the night in Milford to really enjoy the scenery longer and not worry about driving so much in one day. That’s what we did when we stayed at the Milford Sound Lodge.
The hostel itself is pretty standard and includes a camping area and one room huts that seemed really nice if you wanted to step it up a night. I stayed in a dorm and was very comfortable, though it seemed that a lot more families and kids were at this hostel than any other (but I survived the children, so it’s alright). Definitely set in the best location with mountains, a stream, jungle, and fiords all around. There are also wild kea (world’s only alpine parrot) that inhabit the area, so chances of seeing one are great and spending time photographing them here was one of my trip highlights. Just be aware that there really are no amenities in Milford Sound, so pack food and top up your car’s petrol before you go. This is part of the hostel's grounds: