New Zealand hostels…not just dorms and bunks

When Matt and I visited New Zealand’s South Island last year not only did we sleep in a campervan, (if you fancy taking a look at my blog on this here’s the link: 10 day road trip itinerary South Island New Zealand) when it got really, really cold we stayed in a few hostels too.  Having never set foot in a hostel before I was unsure what to expect and didn’t know if I liked the idea of sleeping in a bunk bed surrounded by strangers.  Not that there is anything wrong with this style of travelling, it’s just not something I had experienced before and I wasn’t sure if it was my ‘thing’.  How wrong I was…


Nomads Queenstown
Having driven four hours from Lake Tekapo to Queenstown with plenty of scenic stops along the way the sun was beginning to set and the temperature was beginning to chill down when we arrived.  Struggling to find a campsite we chose to stay in a hostel for the night.  Strolling into Nomads in the centre of town we had a chat to the reception staff who showed us a few rooms.  I was blown away!  We went for a private en suite double, with a balcony overlooking Lake Wakatipu and the mountains.  The room wasn’t the cheapest we could’ve picked in the hostel at around £70, but breakfast and dinner were also included so we thought it was actually a pretty good deal.  I had mistakenly believed that hostels were just shared dorm style rooms, of course there are plenty of rooms like this but I had not realised private rooms existed in backpackers.  Heading for dinner early, (served on a first come first serve basis so we didn’t want to miss out) we took our place in the queue ready for that night’s option of sausage and mash.  I have to say this is where I felt my age; everyone around was a good ten years younger than us!  I felt even older when someone handing out flyers for a bar mentioned that the flyer came with a free drink served at 10pm….that’s pretty much my bedtime these days!  Tucking into our free dinner by the fireplace a group of guys appeared and performed a very impressive Hakka.  I’m not sure the reason behind it but I really enjoyed watching, it was a great reminder of New Zealand’s traditions.  After eating we caught on quickly to the fact that you washed up your own dishes!  The hostel was really clean and very quiet at night.  Nomads also had a tour desk, this was really useful as we booked a days snowboarding at Cardrona for the following day.  Free WiFi, breakfast and dinner, Nomads had completely changed my mind on hostels!

YHA Franz Josef
The next hostel stay on the trip was a YHA in the glacier town of Franz Josef.  Set just back off the main road it was the perfect base within walking distance of the town’s shops and bars and for our planned helicopter tour of Franz Josef Glacier.  The hostel had a resident cat who was very sociable, a lovely communal lounge area with fire, ample cooking space in the kitchen and free soup available in the evening.  It was really quiet during our stay; we had a double room with a large en suite.  This YHA also had a free sauna too.  We found that hostels were great for washing our clothes as they all had laundry rooms.  We often went straight to the washing machines before heading out to explore, such a good opportunity when you are living in a van!


YHA Queenstown Lakefront
We stayed at the YHA Queenstown Lakefront backpackers after our day of snowboarding at Cardrona so we didn’t spend all that much time in the hostel itself.  We did some washing(!), walked into town for dinner and the following morning had breakfast in town before getting back on the road.  It was a really nice ten-minute walk along Lake Wakatipu into Queenstown with a stunning backdrop of The Remarkables mountain range.  In this hostel we chose a private double with shared toilets and showers, which was absolutely fine.

The walk along Lake Wakatipu from YHA Lakefront in Queenstown

 YHA Hokitika Birdsong Backpackers
Birdsong backpackers was by far my favourite hostel out of the four we stayed at.  It was much smaller than the rest and owned by Neil and Kerry, a lovely English couple.  Kerry, an artist had done artwork in all the rooms; I bought a little print of hers to remind me of our stay there.  With accommodation for only twenty people this hostel had a cosy, homely feel to it.  We had a spacious ground floor room with shared bathroom facilities.  A nice sun terrace with a barbecue, shared kitchen and lounge area with sofas in front of a log burner made this small hostel feel like a home from home.  The lounge found on the first floor had fantastic views of the beach, which was just over the road.  On our night there, we met a lovely British girl who’s Father had come over from the UK to train with her for a huge bike ride she had planned in America and a group of Malaysian’s who were very interested in our cooking!  Lamb, roasted vegetables and cous cous was our evenings meal; they were intrigued by the cous cous, having never seen it before.  So we shared it with them, which they loved!  The one thing hostels have taught me is how easy it is to meet like-minded people from all over the world, even if there is a language barrier you can still get by.  Birdsong also had an outdoor ‘Bushman’s’ bath, although it was a little chilly at the time to use it!  A small Glow Worm dell just along the road and the ocean a few steps away, completed the loveliness of this quirky hostel.
Queenstown Top 10 Holiday Park
Although this is not strictly speaking a hostel, I loved our little cabin at Queenstown Holiday Park so much I just had to mention it.  A ten minute drive from Queenstown it can be found right by Shooter River.  With a double bed and bunk beds inside, it’s a great place to stay if you are on a budget.  The cosy cabin was perfect for the night; we had takeaway fish and chips from Aggy’s Shack in Queenstown and got an early night ready for the long drive to Milford Sound the following morning.
Our cabin at Shooter Holiday Park


It is worth mentioning that YHA have a membership scheme offering discounts on rooms, travel, and activities in New Zealand and we found free WiFi in all the hostels we stayed in.  It is also worth having a look at rooms before you commit to them, we managed to get a bit of a discount this way too.  Prior to this trip I had never considered staying in hostels before, I hadn’t realised that most have private rooms either.  I met lots of like-minded people during our stays and will definitely consider staying in hostels in the future if and when we do another trip like this one.  It’s a great way to save money with cheaper room prices than hotels and if you are on a long trip you can save money by cooking your own meals in the very well equipped kitchens too.  From cosy to all singing and dancing, backpackers come in all shapes and sizes to suit different travellers needs and budgets.  I am a hostel virgin no more!
What do you think about hostels? Any favourites around the world? I’d love to hear your thoughts…