Book beds well in advance in peak tourist seasons: November through March (particularly summer holidays from Christmas to late January), at Easter, and during winter (June to September) in snowy resort towns like Queenstown and Wanaka.
- Motels & Pubs Most towns have low-rise, midrange motels. Even small towns usually have a pub with rooms.
- Holiday Parks Ideal if you're camping or touring in a campervan. Choose from unpowered tent sites, simple cabins and en-suite units.
- Hostels Backpacker hostels include beery, party-prone joints and family-friendly 'flashpackers'.
- Hotels Choices range from small-town pubs to slick global-chain operations – with commensurate prices.
Bed and breakfast (B&B) accommodation in NZ pops up in the middle of cities, in rural hamlets and on stretches of isolated coastline, with rooms on offer in everything from suburban bungalows to stately manors.
Breakfast may be ‘continental’ (a standard offering of cereal, toast and tea or coffee, or a heartier version with yoghurt, fruit, home-baked bread or muffins), or a stomach-loading cooked meal (eggs, bacon, sausages – though, with notice, vegetarians are increasingly being well catered for). Some B&B hosts may also cook dinner for guests and advertise dinner, bed and breakfast (DB&B) packages.
B&B tariffs are typically in the $120 to $200 bracket (per double), though some places cost upwards of $300 per double. Some hosts charge cheeky prices for what is, in essence, a bedroom in their home. Off-street parking is often a bonus in the big cities.
Camping & Holiday Parks
Campers and campervan drivers converge on NZ's hugely popular 'holiday parks', slumbering in powered and unpowered sites, cheap bunk rooms (dorm rooms), cabins (shared bathroom facilities) and self-contained units (often called motels or tourist flats). Well-equipped communal kitchens, dining areas, games and TV rooms, and playgrounds often feature. In cities, holiday parks are usually a fair way from the action, but in smaller towns they can be impressively central or near lakes, beaches, rivers and forests.
The nightly cost of holiday-park tent sites is usually $15 to $20 per adult, with children charged half price; powered campervan sites can be anything from a couple of dollars more to around the $40 mark. Cabin/unit accommodation normally ranges from $70 to $120 per double. Unless noted otherwise, Lonely Planet lists campsite, campervan site, hut and cabin prices for two people.
DOC & Freedom Camping
A fantastic option for those in campervans is the 250-plus vehicle-accessible 'Conservation Campsites' run by the Department of Conservation (DOC; www.doc.govt.nz), with fees ranging from free (basic toilets and fresh water) to $21 per adult (flush toilets and showers). DOC publishes free brochures with detailed descriptions and instructions to find every campsite (even GPS coordinates). Pick up copies from DOC offices before you hit the road, or visit the website.
DOC also looks after hundreds of 'Backcountry Huts' and 'Backcountry Campsites', which can only be reached on foot. 'Great Walk' huts and campsites are also managed by DOC.
New Zealand is so photogenic, it's tempting to just pull off the road at a gorgeous viewpoint and camp the night. But never assume it’s OK to camp somewhere: always ask a local or check with the local i-SITE visitor centre, DOC office or commercial campground. If you are 'freedom camping', treat the area with respect. If your chosen campsite doesn't have toilet facilities and neither does your campervan, it's illegal for you to sleep there (your campervan must also have an on-board grey-water storage system). Legislation allows for $200 instant fines for camping in prohibited areas or improper disposal of waste (in cases where dumping waste could damage the environment, fees are up to $10,000). See www.camping.org.nz for more freedom-camping tips and consider downloading the free Campermate App (www.campermate.co.nz), which flags drinking-water sources, public toilets, freedom-camping spots and locals happy to rent their driveway to campervans.
Farmstays open the door to the agricultural side of NZ life, with visitors encouraged to get some dirt beneath their fingernails at orchards, and dairy, sheep and cattle farms. Costs can vary widely, with bed and breakfast generally costing $80 to $140. Some farms have separate cottages where you can fix your own food; others offer low-cost, shared, backpacker-style accommodation.
Farm Helpers in NZ (www.fhinz.co.nz) produces a booklet ($25) that lists around 350 NZ farms providing lodging in exchange for four to six hours’ work per day.
If you don’t mind getting your hands dirty, an economical way of travelling around NZ involves doing some voluntary work as a member of the international Willing Workers On Organic Farms scheme. Down on the farm, in exchange for a short, hard day’s work, owners provide food, accommodation and some hands-on organic farming experience. Contact farm owners a week or two beforehand to arrange your stay, as you would for a hotel or hostel – don’t turn up unannounced!
A one-year online membership costs $40 for an individual or a couple. A farm-listing book, which is mailed to you, costs an extra $10 to $30, depending on where in the world your mailbox is. You should have a Working Holiday Visa when you visit NZ, as the immigration department considers WWOOFers to be working.
New Zealand is packed to the rafters with backpacker hostels, both independent and part of large chains, ranging from small, homestay-style affairs with a handful of beds to refurbished hotels and towering modern structures in the big cities. Hostel bed prices listed by Lonely Planet are nonmember rates, usually $25 to $35 per night.
Budget Backpacker Hostels (www.bbh.co.nz) A network of more than 160 hostels. Membership costs $45 for 12 months and entitles you to stay at member hostels at rates listed in the annual (free) BBH Backpacker Accommodation booklet. Nonmembers pay an extra $4 per night. Pick up a membership card from any member hostel or order one online ($50).
YHA New Zealand (www.yha.co.nz) Around 40 hostels in prime NZ locations. The YHA is part of the Hostelling International network (www.hihostels.com), so if you’re already an HI member in your own country, membership entitles you to use NZ hostels. If you don’t already have a home membership, you can join at major NZ YHA hostels or online for $25, valid for 12 months (it's free for under 18s). Nonmembers pay an extra $3 or more per night. Membership has other perks, such as discounts on some car-hire providers, travel insurers, DOC hut passes and more.
Base Backpackers (www.stayatbase.com) Chain with nine-plus hostels around NZ: Bay of Islands, Auckland, Rotorua, Taupo, Wellington, Wanaka, Queenstown, Dunedin and Christchurch. Expect clean dorms, women-only areas and party opportunities aplenty. Offers a flexible 10-night 'Base Jumping' accommodation package for $289, bookable online.
VIP Backpackers (www.vipbackpackers.com) International organisation affiliated with around 20 NZ hostels (not BBH or YHA), mainly in the cities and tourist hot spots. For around $61 (including postage), you’ll receive a 12-month membership entitling you to a $1 discount off nightly accommodation and discounts with affiliated activity and tour providers. Join online or at VIP hostels.
Haka Lodge (www.hakalodge.com) A local chain on the way up, with snazzy hostels in Auckland, Queenstown, Christchurch, Taupo and Paihia. Rates are comparable to other hostels around NZ, and quality is high. Tours are also available.
Pubs, Hotels & Motels
The least expensive form of NZ hotel accommodation is the humble pub. Some are full of character (and characters); others are grotty, ramshackle places that are best avoided (especially by women travelling solo). Check whether there’s a band playing the night you're staying – you could be in for a sleepless night. In the cheapest pubs, singles/doubles might cost as little as $45/70 (with a shared bathroom down the hall); $70/90 is more common.
At the top end of the hotel scale are five-star international chains, resort complexes and architecturally splendorous boutique hotels, all of which charge a hefty premium for their mod cons, snappy service and/or historic opulence. We quote ‘rack rates’ (official advertised rates) for such places, but discounts and special deals often apply.
New Zealand’s towns have a glut of nondescript low-rise motels and ‘motor lodges’, charging $90 to $200 for double rooms. These tend to be squat structures skulking by highways on the edges of towns. Most are modernish (though decor is often mired in the early 2000s or earlier) and have basic facilities, namely tea- and coffee-making equipment, fridge and TV. Prices vary with standard.
The basic Kiwi holiday home is called a ‘bach’ (short for ‘bachelor’, as they were historically used by single men as hunting and fishing hideouts); in Otago and Southland they’re known as ‘cribs’. These are simple self-contained cottages that can be rented in rural and coastal areas, often in isolated locations, and sometimes include surf, fishing or other outdoor gear hire in the cost. Prices are typically $90 to $180 per night, which isn’t bad for a whole house or self-contained bungalow. For more upmarket holiday houses, expect to pay anything from $180 to $400 per double.