I love hostels. Really, I do. As I write this I’m sitting at a hostel in Tokomaru Bay called Stranded In Paradise. From my spot on the front porch I can see the entire bay and into the Pacific Ocean beyond.
The life of a solo traveler can be hard. You’re alone in a country you don’t really know, and most days you spend traveling. Hostels offer a welcome break from driving and a chance to interact with the hosts and with other guests.
New Zealand hostels are some of the nicest I’ve stayed in. There are two big “brands” here: YHA and BBH. YHA hostels tend to be large and are mostly located in major cities. They are clean, offer decent prices, and feel a bit like college dorm rooms full of concrete and cheap carpets.
My favorite hostels have been BBH hostels. BBH hostels are not formulaic. They might be in someone’s renovated garage or in a big house. One of my favorites was Endless Summer Lodge in Ahipara. It was an old mansion built from kauri trees located across the road from the Tasman Sea. The hosts rented surfboards and offered surfing lessons.
Although I don’t mind YHA hostels, my biggest problem with them is their size. The YHA International hostel in Auckland has three kitchen areas and a dining area that can seat close to 100 people. It was overwhelming to walk into a room filled with so many people who all seemed to know each other. It made it that much easier for me to disappear into my phone and not make friends.
I prefer smaller hostels because it’s much easier for me to meet people. They are also quirkier and tend to be in places one would not expect a hostel to be. At The Tree House I stayed in the main lodge (there were also cabins and campgrounds), which was surrounded by trees. The way it had been constructed made it feel very much like you were lost on some deserted island with the Swiss Family Robinson.
If you’ve never stayed in a hostel before, it goes something like this. You arrive mid-day, check in, drop off all your stuff (in a locked locker in some cases), and then go touring around wherever you are. In the evening you come back, make dinner, and hopefully meet some people. After that you can go to bed or go out with your new friends. At some point you’ll also have to use the bathroom, which may or may not be a traumatizing experience.
So far I’ve been booking my hostels the night before, but that’s because it’s offseason. From talking to my many hosts it’s best to book a hostel at least a week in advance, sometimes more, during peak times (December to February).
My favorite part about staying in hostels are the mealtimes. Since eating out is pretty expensive, most people cook at least two of their meals a day in the hostel kitchen. This means that at breakfast time you and 20 other people are cooking and eating together at communal tables. Same goes for dinner. This is the best time to meet people traveling in a similar fashion as yourself and talk about places you’ve visited or where to go next.
When I stayed at the Tree House I met a group of Kiwis from Auckland. I played Uno with them and some other guests at the hostel. Two days later when I was touring Auckland, I ran into this same group of girls at a chocolate shop. We sat for an hour and ate our decadent chocolate creations. After spending most of the day alone, it was wonderful to see a familiar face
This isn’t the first time this has happened in the three weeks I’ve been here. I’ve met people and traveled with them or met up with people I’d previously met. Sometimes I’ll stay at a hostel and run into someone I met three hostels ago. It’s pretty amazing. Plus, people staying in hostels are just as interested to meet you as you are to meet them. And you automatically have a lot in common since you’re both traveling in New Zealand.
Traveling from hostel to hostel can get a bit wearing after awhile, but the experience of meeting new people from all over the world is well worth it.