Special New Zealand feature
Ben Groundwater explains that roughing it in New Zealand isn't really roughing it at all.
There's a certain brand of traveller that seeks out the filthy and the unclean. That treats bed bug bites as itchy little badges of honour; that treats hygiene like a quirky custom from another culture.
That brand of traveller wouldn't be impressed with New Zealand. Because as beautiful as the country's great outdoors is, its residents have done some pretty great things with the indoors, as well.
New Zealand's hostels are ridiculously pleasant. There's just no need to splash out on a hotel when you can get everything you need – a clean room, private or dorm, good location, friendly staff – from the humble old hostel. The sort of gems you might find in one or two locations in other countries are everywhere across the ditch.
Most hostels offer a range of accommodation, too – from the standard dorm bed through to private rooms with ensuites. It means you can enjoy whichever comfort level you desire, while still getting the chance to mix with other travellers in the communal areas.
The hot favourite of NZ hostels, streaking out ahead of the pack, and exemplary of all that's good about Kiwi establishments, is the Wellington City YHA. That's right, YHA – although it's almost unfair to refer to it as a hostel. It's centrally located, clean, bright, has rooms ranging from private singles to six-bed dorms, free internet, a kitchen ... and you can snag a bed from around $20 a night. Book early, bro.
In fact, there are a few chains throughout the country that can be generally relied upon to provide above-average comfort. The Base chain has eight hostels across the two islands (plus nine in Australia), that are designed for the more “upwardly mobile” backpacker. Tired of dreadlocked Englishmen strumming Jack Johnson covers in the TV room? This is where you want to be.
That's not to say you can't get a drink on-site though, or meet like-minded travellers. And prices are still pretty reasonable – again, starting from around $NZ20 ($A15.40) a night for a dorm bed.
Alternatively, the Nomads chain is just as popular, particularly the new Queenstown branch. Not usually a city that lends itself to budget accommodation, it's a relief to be able to find somewhere in a reasonable price bracket, at the usual Kiwi standard. Dorm beds start at $NZ25 a night – which still gets you hanging space for clothes, storage areas, and a personal reading light – or step up to $NZ130 a night for a private room with ensuite.
There are BBH-affiliated hostels scattered around the country as well, but for the best of them, head to Nelson on the South Island. It's not often you find a hostel with a swimming pool, spa and sauna that offers free internet and breakfasts – it's even less often such a place has beds for less than $NZ20 a night. Make the most of it.
Away from the chains, New Zealand also boasts more than its share of quirky little one-offs.
Some hostels might make you feel like you're being forced to stay in a prison, but up in Napier, you can actually do just that. Rather than merely take a tour of the city's old jail, you kip in a cell overnight if it tickles your fancy. Unfortunately for those who like the odd tipple, the only bar you'll find there will be one across the window.
Elsewhere, the enterprising folks of Gore, down in the far south, have turned the city's old fire station into a hostel. Dorm beds in the little brick building go for $NZ25; double rooms for $NZ60. And with a bursting-at-the-seams capacity of 12 people, you know the atmosphere's going to be cosy and friendly.
It almost seems a shame to go outside.
Five great NZ hostels
Wellington City YHA, Wellington (www.yha.co.nz)
The Fire Station, Gore (www.thefirestation.co.nz)
Paradiso, Nelson (www.bbh.co.nz)
Nomads, Queenstown (nomadshostels.com)
Base Backpackers, Christchurch (www.stayatbase.com)
This series of articles has been sponsored by Tourism New Zealand.