Sunday, December 23, 2007

Some Friendly Hostel Reviews (North Island)

As we traveled through NZ this year, we wrote down some thoughts on each backpackers we stayed at so that we could rate them later as part of the BBH (Better Budget Hostels) rating system, partly because we are such civically-minded travelers but mostly because we had copious free time. With our SiteMeter hit counter, we’ve seen that the majority of visitors to our site are searching for specific hostels, particularly Shambhala in Golden Bay and Waikawa Holiday Lodge in the Catlins. Hopefully they’ve found our blog illuminating. Thus, in the spirit of driving more traffic to our site (since we had so few comments, the ever-rising hit counter has served as an affirmation of our hilarious reportage) and to help fellow travelers, we present our thoughts on many a budget NZ accommodation. Bear in mind that these are just the thoughts of one incredibly insightful person, so your mileage may vary. On the bright side these reviews are fully refundable. If you happen to own or love a hostel we didn’t like, apologies, but since our blog is dedicated to the Truth, what can we do?

It’s pretty impressive to look back at all the many backpackers we have stayed at in New Zealand. We’ve been really grateful for the BBH guide, which has been a pretty accurate measure for the different accommodations throughout the country. For anyone spending more than a few weeks in New Zealand, it is certainly worth the $40NZ fee to become a member (plus, you get a great phone card, too). The rating system seems to pretty right on, although we have stayed some places that seemed overrated and a few that seem underrated. But, by and large, they get it right.

Although we’ve visited most of the hostels on the West Coast, Golden Bay, and Banks Peninsula, we typically don’t have much experience with the backpackers in the big cities, as these are the places we were most likely to find Couch Surfing hosts. General tips would be to avoid the backpackers that cater to the large tour groups (Kiwi Experience! We’re looking at you…). Also, if you have your own transportation, the backpackers that are out of the city centers (or indeed far from everything) tend to be the nicest with the most charm and character.

The following reviews are grouped in geographic order, sort of, and are ranked on a scale of 1 (awful!) to 10 (amazing!). These were our general impressions:

NORTHLAND, AUCKLAND, & COROMANDEL

Endless Summer Lodge, Ahipara, Northland

Endless Summer Lodge is in a great location right on the beach. The hostel was spotless and even had a dishwasher (certainly a luxury for many a backpacker)! The building was beautiful with great views from the porch and also a really nice outside dining/deck area with an herb garden. High recommendation. 9.5

Mousetrap Backpackers, Paihia

Moderately sized backpackers, lives up to its name with its winding halls and tucked-away dorms. Clean and not for partiers, but is directly across the street from bars that are quite popular with backpackers, so you may hear (loud) music from there at night. If you don’t want to hear the music, try Captain Bob’s probably. Good recommendation. 7

Verandahs Backpackers Lodge, Auckland

Overall, we really liked this place. Campbell, the host, is a gregarious and friendly guy, with good recommendations and generally helpful suggestions. He put us in contact with Ken, an auto inspections guy who sold us our car, which got us safely around the country for the last 11 months. The backpackers is a 15-minute walk to downtown sights, clean and relatively small so that it’s pretty quiet at night, good for avoiding the party scene. High recommendation for an in-city Auckland hostel, especially if you’re on the look-out for a car. 9


Lantana Lodge, Auckland

Lantana is tucked away off the main thoroughfare in the Parnell neighborhood. Clean and orderly, run by an Indian fellow, Raj, who runs a tight ship there. Free internet, with wireless, which is fantastic and quite unusual at an NZ hostel! Not much happening in Parnell, and the vibe is a bit library-like here, but good for a quiet stay and if you want to make copious use of the free internet. Good recommendation. 7

Gateway Backpackers, Thames, Coromandel

A really nice two-house backpackers on the outskirts of the town of Thames. Run by a relatively young couple, very clean and bright, free laundry (!), didn’t have internet when we visited, but right through the backyard was an internet cafĂ©. Very nice stay, high recommendation if you happen to be in Thames. 8

EAST CAPE

Maraehako Bay Retreat, Whangarua Bay

We were led to believe this would be a great place to stay by a friend, and by a BBH rating. Sorry, but our experience wasn’t of an 87% place. Location is absolutely great on an isolated bay on the eastern Bay of Plenty, and the building is a great rustic treehouse-looking structure. On the parts alone it would be about a 9. Unfortunately we picked a bad room, a double on the ground floor with a deck above it. Peaceful it was not, with people running back and forth, lots of people coming and going, and just not what we were hoping for from a backpackers for $60/night. Facilities were average, not impressive by any means, location great, but our experience wasn’t the best. Definitely get the top room by the kitchen. 6

TAURANGA, ROTORUA, & TAUPO

Just the Ducks Nuts, Tauranga

Located just across the bridge from Tauranga and Mt. Maunganui, good location for trips to either, but outside the cities. Best for people wanting to be outside ‘the scene’, seemed to be filled largely with long-term stayers working in the area, so has a vibe from that. Generally pretty nice, the upstairs was nicer than the basement lower level, which is more like a cave. 7

Funky Green Voyager, Rotorua

Located just south of the main shopping district in Rotorua, FGV is a nice, well-kept property with a huge kitchen, clean rooms, plenty of room to read, eat, and hang out. The owners and staff are really friendly, eager to recommend things to do or to just say hi. This contributes to a good, chill vibe in FGV. Apparently Rotorua has some crime issues but nothing was apparent while we visited. 8.5

Extreme Backpackers, Turangi

In the Turangi town center, which makes up nearly all of Turangi as far as we can tell, Extreme also has a climbing wall as part of the operation. Friendly and helpful staff, especially for doing the Tongariro Crossing. Rooms were clean and well-appointed, nice large kitchen, TV room, dining room, and courtyard. 8.5

TARANAKI

Seaspray House, New Plymouth

Owing to the energy industry NP seems to be doing alright for itself as the only town worth seeing in Taranaki. Seaspray’s located a few blocks from the city centre and its free museums and galleries, just a couple blocks from the beach. Nice, character house on a quiet street, the parking lot leaves something to be desired in the back but is better than nothing. House is a bit of a warren with various halls and closed doors, but is spacious enough, especially in the living room/dining room area. Kitchen is pretty good, big enough and has what you need. Bathrooms were new and modern, and our room was nice, only three beds in an oddly shaped room, not a bunch just jammed in. Comfortable for a night or two in sleepy NP. 8

Tamara Backpackers, Wanganui

Located in a charming older two-story building just a bit out of the city centre on the muddy Wanganui river, Tamara’s certainly an adequate hostel. Very quiet when we visited in the off-season, doesn’t seem like Wanganui probably ever gets too busy, though. Our double was a really pretty nice little room, clean, decent bed, quiet as we were the only ones on the second floor. Kitchen was also adequate and well-apportioned for a hostel its size, there was a TV room, and a nice lounge/dining room area. Not brilliant but worked, and a decent price. 7

HAWKE’S BAY, WAIRARAPA

Aqua Lodge, Napier

Located in a working-class (read, somewhat gritty) neighborhood about 10 minutes from downtown Napier, Aqua Lodge is possibly named for the swimming pool in its backyard? Sprawling across 3 buildings, Aqua Lodge has a bit of old-person feel combined with being a bit run-down. As it’s in Napier, it’s favored by fruit-picking backpackers in summer, with its 3 houses largely full and its backyard full of campers. Beds were fine, but much of the place showed signs of wear and tear, with infrequent maintenance. Other lodgings in Napier looked similarly worn, so that might just be the case everywhere, but Aqua certainly isn’t a great hostel. 5

Lochlea Lodge, Waipukurau

Terrific backpackers accommodation on a farm near Waipukurau, which is a bit off the beaten track in the Wairarapa region, but if you’re near there, it’s well-worth staying. The Lee family is warm and accommodating, the rooms were spotless, and there was a large kitchen/eating/TV area, especially for the size of the backpackers, which was pretty small and cozy. Great location on their farm, with plenty of area to roam and tramp around. Also has swimming pool, nice place to stay. 9.5

Leeway Motel, Featherston (Non-BBH)

Pretty standard budget motel on the main drag in Featherston with separate backpackers building. No real atmosphere to speak of, a few twin rooms, TV room, kitchen, and bathroom in a trailer-type building. Relatively cheap and clean accommodations, nothing special, but really nothing similar in Featherston. 4.5

1 comment:

Kevin said...

This is very helpful. Thanks to your advice, I'm booking at Verandahs. Many thanks from Upstate New York!

Kevin