BUG New Zealand travel guidebook
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BUG New Zealand travel guidebook


BUG New Zealand travel guidebook

Destination guides > New Zealand & Pacific Islands > Travel essentials > Hostels


Hostels are a great cheap accommodation option, however they have much more to offer than a cheap bed. A good backpackers’ hostel is also a place to party, meet new friends from around the world and get information on other cool places.

Hostels provide dormitory accommodation, along with shared shower and kitchen facilities. Generally there are four to six people sharing a room and there is somewhere like a TV room or bar where you can meet other travellers. Often the people running the hostel are backpackers themselves, and are a mine of information about places to see, things to do and transport and accommodation options elsewhere in New Zealand.

New Zealand has some of the world’s best hostels and they often include facilities that you would seldom find in hostels in Europe or North America such as spas, free use of bikes and courtesy buses. The New Zealand backpacking industry is very competitive and this keeps the standard of accommodation relatively high.

The best hostels are usually either small intimate hostels in historic buildings that are full of character or newer purpose-built places with first-class facilities. Small hostels in popular destinations such as the Marlborough Sounds or the Catlins tend to be excellent as the competition between hostels in these places drives up the standard of accommodation and they attract a more discerning backpacker who is less likely to trash the place. However hostels in bigger cities and less visited regional centres aren’t as predictable.

A good hostel should provide a way for travellers to meet each other with common areas and a design that is conducive to meeting other people. This is one of the main features that distinguish hostels from hotels and motels, which are designed to offer their guests privacy. For this reason, many hostels with self-contained facilities (usually those that are former motels or apartment complexes) don’t have as much atmosphere as your average backpackers hostel.

Hostels that are located above pubs are among the worst. In many of these places the bar downstairs is the main business and a lot less attention is paid to the accommodation.
Hostels catering to working holidaymakers are usually not that great either, existing solely to provide accommodation to backpackers picking fruit and they do little for travellers that happen to be passing through town and only staying a night or two. However the management of workers’ hostels do have a lot of employment contacts and sometimes also provide transport to and from work. These hostels work for the employers as much as the backpackers and they have more rules than your standard hostel. Often there are restrictions on alcohol consumption in workers’ hostels as local farms rely on them to provide a reliable, hard-working and sober workforce.

Although the hostel reviews in the BUG New Zealand guidebook are more comprehensive than any other guidebook, the reviews on BUG’s website are even more detailed and allow you to write your own hostel reviews and read reviews submitted by other travellers. A lot of the hostels reviewed on our website also allow online booking.

Hostel Chains

There are three main groups of hostels in New Zealand. Each of which offers its own discount/membership card that gives discounts on accommodation and transport.

Budget Backpacker Hostels (BBH)

Budget Backpacker.Hostels (BBH) is by far the most dominant hostel network in New Zealand with over 350 hostels. BBH hostels tend to be smaller than those in the VIP or HI/YHA networks and in general they cater to more independently minded travellers. While VIP and HI/YHA promote travel packages and backpackers’ buses, the BBH network (but not necessarily individual BBH hostels) makes a point of reminding you to ‘take care not to be processed as Backpackage’ in their popular blue hostel guide.

The Backpacker Perception Percentage (BPP) ratings are one of the strengths of the BBH network. Twice each year backpackers fill out a survey of hostels that they have stayed in and the results of these surveys are published in the blue BBH guide with each hostel being rated on a scale of 10 to 100 (it is not a true percentage rating since it is impossible to achieve a score less than 10). As a hostel network, introducing such a scheme was a very bold and courageous move that I’m sure annoyed a few hostels, but over time it enabled the overall standard of BBH hostels to improve as hostels competed for higher ratings and low performing hostels dropped out of the network to avoid having their BPP ratings published.

The BBH Club Card costs $45 and includes a $20 phone card. The card provides accommodation discounts of at least $3 per hostel and also offers good transport discounts. It’s well worth buying the BBH Club Card if you plan on spending a month or longer in New Zealand, however the network is limited to New Zealand (with the exception of one hostel in Tonga) and it is not such great value if you’re only planning on spending a week or two in New Zealand.


VIP Backpackers Resorts is a group of independently run hostels that vary enormously as far as facilities are concerned. A lot of the larger independent hostels that cater to the backpacker bus crowd are part of the VIP network.
They originally started out as an Australian hostel group but it is now a very international operation with close to 1000 hostels worldwide including around 70 hostels in New Zealand. Because of its international acceptance the VIP card is one of the most useful hostel cards and a lot of backpackers buy one although the BBH card is a better deal if you’re just visiting New Zealand.

Most VIP hostels give a $1 discount per night and the card also has good transport discounts. A VIP card costs A$37 for one year and is available from VIP hostels.

Hostelling International (HI)/Youth Hostels Association (YHA)

The Youth Hostel Association (YHA) is the New Zealand branch of Hostelling International (HI) and its hostels have a fairly consistent standard. In New Zealand the YHA’s main market are independent travellers as opposed to school groups that fill a lot of European hostels and consequently youth hostels in New Zealand have a much better atmosphere than the institutional hostels that you find in Europe. The competition between hostels in New Zealand has also forced the YHA to clean up its act and you won’t find any YHA hostels in New Zealand with chores, a curfew or a lockout. Although HI/YHA hostels in New Zealand are better than Hostelling International hostels elsewhere, they still have a reputation as a dull and relatively boring place to stay and very few YHA hostels fit the description of ‘party hostel’.

Most travellers take along a YHA or Hostelling International card. This hostel card gives you good accommodation discounts with savings of $3 per night. The card is good at any of the thousands of hostels around the world, including over 140 in Australia and 62 in New Zealand, that are part of the Hostelling International organisation. The HI/YHA card also has good discounts on transport including discounts on car rental, bus and train travel. HI/YHA cards are available through many student travel agencies as well as at HI/YHA offices and hostels and costs NZ$40/US$28/£15.95 (England & Wales)/£8 (Scotland)/€20.

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