With a fantastic network of budget accommodation, you're spoilt for choice for places to stay in New Zealand. From city centre hostels to remote beach houses, here are ten of the best bargains
New Zealand is a great place to travel on a budget with its huge range of good-value backpacker hostels. And they're not just for students on gap years. You can get private en suite rooms as well as dorms and they often have hotel-quality facilities, as well as added extras like free bikes or kayaks to borrow, hot tubs or saunas to relax in, and access to a wealth of useful local information. Here are some of my favourites throughout the country.
Little Earth Lodge
Outside Whangerei, two and a half hours north of Auckland, is the Little Earth Lodge (85 Abbey Caves Road, Parahaki). This newly-built eco hostel is set in a beautiful valley surrounded by peaceful countryside and has its own glow worm caves. There are only a maximum of 12 guests at a time and the bedrooms have Balinese-style décor. Double rooms have new queen size beds and dorms sleep a maximum of three people.
What to do there: Dive the Poor Knights, visit the three Abbey Caves and see the glow worms, hit the beach or see the waterfall at Whangerei.
Rooms NZ$28 dorm to NZ$70 en suite double.
Taupo's Rainbow Lodge (99 Titiraupenga Street, Taupo) is a good place to get to know fellow travellers in its sociable common areas with DVD room, pool table and big kitchen. There's also a sauna and large deck with an outdoor grill where you can cook the day's catch. Beds have warm duvets, electric blankets and central heating for the winter. They also offer free bike hire so you can explore the area.
What to do there: Fishing for rainbow trout, sailing and windsurfing on Lake Taupo, skydiving or bungy jumping, visit Huka Falls.
Rooms NZ$23 dorm to NZ$64 en suite double.
Extreme Backpackers (26 Ngawaka Place, Turangi) in Turangi is popular with walkers doing the Tongariro Alpine Crossing. You can compare notes with fellow walkers over dinner in the well-equipped kitchen and dining room. And to recover, there's a courtyard garden with barbecues, picnic tables and hammocks, and a lounge with plenty of sofas, a log fire and board games you can borrow. Its small dorms are comfortable and cosy.
What to do there: Walk the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, arguably New Zealand's best one-day walk through a spectacular volcanic landscape, climb on the hostel's own climbing wall.
Rooms NZ$24 dorm to NZ$70 en suite double.
Maraehako Bay Retreat
On the road around the East Cape is the remote Maraehako Bay Retreat (State Highway 35, Opotiki). Rooms are simple but the location is stunning. Set right on the beachfront, you can laze in a hammock or walk or kayak along the coast. It's a sociable place where guests often eat together and sit around the fire chatting in the evenings. Local Maori owner Pihi is really friendly, sharing his catch of crayfish and tarakihi fish with guests while we were there, and will take people out fishing with him in the mornings.
What to do there: Borrow a kayak and paddle along the coast, go walking or horse riding, learn about Maori culture and see local carvers at work.
Rooms NZ$25 dorm to NZ$70 double.
Wellington YHA (292 Wakefield St, Wellington) has a great central location in the heart of the city, with plenty of bars, restaurants and things to do nearby. It's a big hostel with 300 beds but is ultra modern, clean, bright and friendly. The spacious kitchen and lounge areas mean it never feels cramped and they organise events like meal nights. There's also a handily located supermarket just across the street.
What to do there: Learn about New Zealand's history at the excellent Te Papa museum, take the cable car for views over the city, eat and drink on lively Cuba Street.
Rooms NZ$28 dorm to NZ$50 double.
Hopewell Lodge and Backpackers
Hopewell Lodge and Backpackers (7204 Kenepuru Road, Double Bay, Kenepuru Sound) is located in the unspoilt Marlborough Sounds, surrounded by forest and right on the beach. It's an adventure to get there - either by water taxi, float plane or a long windy unsealed road from Picton (where the ferry from the North Island arrives). There are restaurant-quality kitchens if you want to self cater (but stock up before arriving) or the owners do great food like homemade pizzas and local seafood. There's bikes, boats and fishing equipment to borrow, as well as a hot tub overlooking the sounds and a comfy lounge with a log fire.
What to do there: Walk the Marlborough Track, kayak or sail in the Sounds, fish or collect mussels in the bay, relax on the beach.
Rooms NZ$30 dorm to NZ$120 en suite double.
Christchurch's Jailhouse (228 Lincoln Road, Addington, Christchurch) was home to inmates until as recently as 1999, but now welcomes more willing guests. With rooms in converted cells set around the stairwell, they still have the original heavy prison doors and bars on the windows. But there's now a cinema room and pool table as well as lots of areas for relaxing. You can get a glimpse of how things were for the original residents as a couple of the rooms have been left in their original condition. It's an atmospheric place to stay – as well as very secure! The location is on the outskirts of Christchurch but it's walkable into the city centre.
What to do there: Punting on the River Avon, visit the cathedral, taste local Canterbury region wines.
Rooms NZ$26 dorm to NZ$70 double.
Just outside Christchurch is Akaroa, home to Halfmoon Cottage (5849 Christchurch-Akaroa Road, Akaroa). Near the beach at Barry's Bay, this pretty country house is set in tranquil gardens full of lavender and roses. It has just 12 beds and a clean, well-equipped kitchen, lounge and dining room. There's also a veranda running around the building with sofas that are a great place to relax with a book or a glass of wine. The owners supply hot water bottles and electric blankets for winter, as well as lots of information about good local walks and cycle rides.
What to do there: Visit nearby Barry's Bay Cheese Co, eat and drink in French-inspired Akaroa Town, take a boat trip or swim with dolphins in the bay.
Rooms NZ$25 dorm to NZ$60 double.
Olive Grove Lodge
Olive Grove Lodge (2328 Herbert-Hampden Road, Waianakarua) near Oamaru on the east coast is a working organic farm with backpacker rooms and a camping and caravan site. Their large gardens run down to the river and you can laze in a hammock or unwind in the spa and sauna. There are big social communal areas with a log fire and kitchen with free coffee and herbal teas, as well as barbecues and picnic tables outside. The family owners organise tours and sell fresh produce straight from the farm.
What to do there: Penguin spotting in Oamaru, visit the Moeraki Boulders rock formations and lighthouse.
Rooms NZ$25 dorm to NZ$70 en suite double.
Catlins Beach House
In the Catlins at the far south of the island is Catlins Beach House (499 Waikawa-Curio Bay Road, Otara). This is more like having your own private house than a hostel with only three rooms and the owners living nearby, and is right on the beachfront. You can watch dolphins in the bay from the veranda, and the lounge and en suite double room have huge picture windows overlooking the beach. There's a good kitchen for self catering (there aren't many places to eat nearby but one to try is the excellent Niagara Falls Café - 256 Niagara-Waikawa Road, Tokanui; 03 246 8577) as well as a lounge with a wood-burning stove.
What to do there: See the petrified forest at Curio Bay, explore the caves at Cathedral Cove at low tide, spot dolphins, seals and sea lions along the coast.
Rooms NZ$25 dorm to NZ$95 en suite double.
Many of these and lots of other independent hostels in New Zealand are part of the BBH (Budget Backpacker Hostels) network. If you join for NZ$45 (which includes a NZ$20 phone card) you usually get two or three dollars off your room per night - definitely worth it if you plan to stay at a lot of hostels. For more information visit: www.bbh.co.nz