Book well in advance in peak times: from Christmas to late January, at Easter, and during winter (June to September) in snowy resort towns like Queenstown and Wanaka.
B&Bs The whole gamut, from luxury, antique-stuffed country houses to simple tea-and-toast operations in private homes.
Holiday Parks A top choice for camping or touring in a campervan, with myriad options from unpowered tent sites to family en suite cabins.
Hostels From beery, party-prone joints to classy, family-friendly 'flashpackers'.
Hotels From small-town pubs to slick global chain operations – with commensurate price ranges.
Motels Decent midrange motels on the outskirts of most towns.
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’ (cereal, toast and tea or coffee), ‘hearty continental’ (add yoghurt, fruit, home-baked bread or muffins) or a stomach-filling cooked meal (eggs, bacon, sausages…). 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 cheekily charge hefty 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 alike converge upon NZ's hugely popular 'holiday parks', slumbering peacefully in powered and unpowered sites, cheap bunk rooms (dorms), cabins and self-contained units (often called motels or tourist flats). Well-equipped communal kitchens, dining areas, and games and TV rooms 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 camping is usually between $15 and $20 per adult, with children charged half-price; powered sites are a couple of dollars more. Cabin/unit accommodation normally ranges from $70 to $120 per double. Unless noted otherwise, Lonely Planet lists site, hut and cabin prices for two people.
DOC & Freedom Camping
A fantastic option for those in campervans are the 250-plus vehicle-accessible 'Conservation Campsites' run by the Department of Conservation (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 (even GPS coordinates) to find every campsite. Pick up copies from DOC offices before you hit the road, or download them from the website.
DOC also looks after hundreds of 'Backcountry Huts' and 'Backcountry Campsites', which can only be reached on foot. See the website for details. 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 view point and camp the night. But never assume it’s OK to camp somewhere: always ask a local or check with the local i-SITE, DOC office or commercial campground. If you are freedom camping, treat the area with respect. Note that 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.
Farmstays open the door to the agricultural side of NZ life, with visitors encouraged to get some dirt beneath their fingernails at orchards and at dairy, sheep and cattle farms. Costs can vary widely, with accommodation including breakfast generally ranging from $80 to $140. Some farms have separate cottages where you can prepare your own food; others offer low-cost, shared, backpacker-style accommodation.
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. In exchange for a hard day’s work, farmers 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 and gives you access to host listings and forums. Note that the immigration department considers wwoofers to be working, so you will need a Working Holiday Visa when entering NZ.
NZ is packed to the rafters with backpacker hostels, both independent-run and part of large chains, ranging from small, home-stay-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 between $25 and $35 per night.
Budget Backpacker Hostels (www.bbh.co.nz) NZ’s biggest hostel group, with over 220 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 $3 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 membership, you can join at major NZ YHA hostels or online for $25, valid for 12 months. Nonmembers pay 10% extra (around $3 per night).
Base Backpackers (www.stayatbase.com) Chain with 10 hostels around NZ: Bay of Islands, Auckland, Rotorua, Taupo, Wellington, Wanaka, Queenstown, Nelson, Dunedin and Christchurch. Expect clean dorms, women-only areas, and party opportunities aplenty. Offers a 10-night 'Base Jumping' accommodation card for $279, bookable online.
VIP Backpackers (http://vip.strongpoint.com.au) International organisation affiliated with around 20 NZ hostels (not including BBH or YHA), mainly in the cities and tourist hotspots. For around $61 you’ll receive a 12-month membership entitling you to a $1 discount off nightly accommodation. Join online or at VIP hostels.
Nomads Backpackers (www.nomadsworld.com) Aussie outfit with seven franchises in NZ, plus affiliations with Base Backpackers: Auckland, Bay of Islands, Rotorua, Taupo, Wellington, Abel Tasman National Park, Wanaka, Dunedin and Queenstown. Membership is free and offers a 5% discount off the cost of nightly accommodation. Join at participating hostels or online.
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. 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 $30/60 (with a shared bathroom down the hall); $50/80 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 you can often find discounts or special deals online, or by contacting the property directly (especially during the low season).
NZ’s towns have a glut of nondescript, low-rise motels and ‘motor lodges’, charging between $80 and $180 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) and have similar facilities, namely tea- and coffee-making equipment, fridges and TVs. 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 for rent in rural and coastal areas, often in isolated locations. Prices are typically $80 to $150 per night, which isn’t bad for a whole house or self-contained bungalow. For more upmarket holiday houses, expect to pay anything from $150 to $400 per double.