Hostels aren’t always just a place to sleep. There are some that are almost tourist attractions in themselves, in that they have the potential to add so much to your experience of a particular area. I found New Zealand to have such a high standard of accommodation. While there are plenty of made-for-convenience chain hostels around (especially in the cities) I also discovered a huge array of independently run, well-cared for hostels. These usually had their own unique character.
I generally stuck to choosing hostels from the BBH group. I found the visitor rating and descriptions featured in the free book (available at I-Sites and some hostels) and website a very reliable marker to find what I was looking for.
Through BBH I stayed in some truly fantastic locations in comfortable accommodation for as little as $20 a night. I wanted to round up what I found to be the coolest New Zealand, to show that staying in shared accommodation isn’t always such a downgrade that non-travellers (and first timers!) sometimes think it would be.
Hopewell Lodge, Kenepuru Sound, Marlborough Sounds, NZ
Almost like a budget travellers resort, Hopewell Lodge lies on the edge of a beautiful Sound, and surrounded by forest and far away from any large settlement. The Lodge is actually made up of numerous cottages, offering dorm, twin and double accommodation, some with en-suites. The communal facilities are amazing, with the best hostel kitchen I’ve ever encountered. If you don’t feel like cooking there are regular mussel nights held by the owners, and they can also make you a gourmet pizza on demand.
Kayaks, fishing boats and mountain bikes are all available for hire with a one-off payment for usage for the whole of your visit. Free activities include bush walks and glow-worm viewing. If you’re feeling lazy there’s hammocks and a hot tub right on the edge of the Sound.
I really loved this place; it felt like a secluded resort with so much to do for such little cost. Myself and a friend took a kayak out across the Sound and reached a beautifully remote sandy beach with one-of-a-kind views. The atmosphere here is something else; everyone I met seemed so relaxed, calm and welcoming…including the owners. Hopewell Lodge is not an easy place to get to – it’s accessed by boat or floatplane across the Sound or via a very windy two and a half hour drive…of less than 100km!!
The isolated location keeps Hopewell as a special place for travellers who make that extra effort to really get off the beaten path. I stayed here much longer than I had originally planned, and I don’t think it’s an unusual situation to say the least! Only one difficulty about staying longer at this unforgettable place; you need to bring enough food and supplies for the entirety of your (extended) stay….it’s a long way back!
Catlins Beach House, Curio Bay, Southland, NZ
The location and simplicity of this place makes it so memorable for me – it’s like being able to own your own beach-house for a few days. I remember choosing this hostel based on the little map within the listing in the BBH guide; I could see that it was very close to the beach, which sounded especially great to me since I knew Hector’s dolphins were known to be in this area.
When I arrived, I realised it was even better than I thought; the hostel was almost literally ON the beach itself. It took under a minute to walk from the back deck to reach Curio Bay’s waves. Furthermore, the hostel was just like a little holiday home; two double bedrooms, one 5 bedroom, bathroom facilities and a kitchen/living space. The check-in system for the limited beds relied on a blackboard outside the front door; payment was at 7pm when the owner stopped in.
How I loved Curio Bay; I swarm with dolphins and watched yellow-eyed penguins walk across ancient petrified (fossilised) forest, and generally had myself a lovely beach break on the South Island’s southern coast. Waking up to see the stunning view from the living room window at this cute low-key hostel made my visit to Curio Bay unforgettable.
NOTE: When I visited this hostel it was part of the BBH group and under a different name. A different owner now might manage it and so it may be run slightly differently.
Te Nikau Retreat, Punakaiki, Westland, NZ
Ever fancied staying in your own rainforest-surrounded cabin by the coast? This hostel is in an area of New Zealand that people often skip past quickly; either due to the erratic West Coast weather or the lack of ‘big’ attractions to keep people occupied. This hostel alone kept me in this area for a good few days, in fact, I would have loved to stay much longer. The Te Nikau Retreat is a complex of lodges and cabins within the West Coast rainforest, with easy access to a nearby beach. Some of the cabins are self-contained and are privately rented out (i.e. you rent the whole cabin for your group), while others have dorm rooms and doubles with shared facilities.
The Retreat is a wonderfully quirky place; the kitchen I had access to was in a conservatory while the showers were accessed from outside. I stayed in their ‘Stargazer’ accommodation – best described as like a wooden tent with a glass ceiling. There was no electricity or much of anything really; basically a warm, dry and very comfortable camping experience in the rainforest. This hostel can sleep a good number of people yet even when I visited in peak season (January) it still felt quiet and secluded. A great place to stop for a unique experience on New Zealand’s ‘wild’ West Coast.
Strong recommendation for Mel’s Place, Hick’s Bay, East Cape, NZ
Mel’s Place is a back to basics ‘green’ hostel with a small five-bed dorm. The toilet is outside (but has an amazing view!) and the shower runs on a gas tank. From the rocky headland location there are some lovely spots on the property to enjoy the views and tranquillity of the area. There’s a laid back atmosphere, which perfectly matches the general East Cape vibe. It’s not far from here to go to the East Cape Lighthouse to be one of the first people in the world (well, within the first few million anyway) to see the sunrise. Visit Mel’s Place for a nice place to chill in this relaxed area for a few days.