Having stayed in a total of 35 different accommodations in New Zealand, we’ve had some very memorable experiences, from the excellent to the awful.
The initial plan for our working holiday was to find short-term rentals and look for temporary work in each place. However, we quickly realized that it is quite uncommon for self-contained flats/apartments to be rented for less than 12 months, even though rent is always quoted weekly. There is also often bond to be paid, which was usually equivalent to two months’ rent and would be forfeited in the event of early leave. There are rooms available for short-term rent in shared housing situations, but there were often deterrents in each one – renters looking for full-time workers, longer-term stays, single occupants, etc. In order to move as we traveled through the country, we mostly stayed in Airbnbs with the occasional hostel or hotel, a blend of which gave us the most flexibility for travel.
Those familiar with sites like Airbnb will know that there are some hidden gems as well as some duds. On one hand, some hosts are genuinely interested in creating a home away from home for their guests, with attention to detail, cleanliness, and great hospitality. On the other hand, Airbnb is just an additional income source for some hosts; their photos can sometimes be deceiving, and most reviews lean toward 5 stars, which leave out glaring negative aspects even if the accommodation is nowhere near perfect. Below are some of our most interesting experiences.
The Cow Farm. Wanting a reprieve from packing up every couple of days, we stayed for an entire month on a 400-hectare dairy farm in the old shearer’s quarters. The house had been lovingly redone and decorated, and we had a full three-bedroom, one-bath home to ourselves. We spent many lazy days by the fire, and a few mornings we woke up to cows moo-ing just a few feet away from our windows. The hosts generously showed us the operations of the farm; we even each got to milk a cow (which is luckily a quick, automated process these days). While it was far from town, it was the perfect country retreat for a couple of weary travelers, and gave us a glimpse of real NZ country living.
The Tiny House. This vintage-inspired true tiny house gave us a glimpse into the tiny house movement. Each piece of furniture or decor was purposeful in some way. We’ve dedicated a whole post to the house here.
The Country Yurt Suite. For a very affordable price, this yurt home included access to an indoor/outdoor kitchen with dining space, outdoor fire pit, and garden house. The hosts even lent us their bicycles for a quick ride on the bike path just down the hill from the property. The only drawback was having to use an outhouse of sorts, located a couple of dozen feet from the yurt bedroom, making trips to the bathroom at night a bit difficult.
The Shipping Container. The shipping container home is very trendy at the moment, so when we saw this home on Airbnb, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to stay. The home was modern, the space well thought-out, and the couch folded out to a surprisingly large king-size bed (which did take up the entire width of the space).
The Christian Camp. In the vein of tiny homes, we stayed in a small cabin set on the site of a camp for Christian retreats. Both wifi and cell service were nonexistent, so we spent some time exploring the grounds and had fun riding on the hand-pumped, wooden jigger cart course.
The Grand Accommodation. This was one of the only affordable options in the town of Invercargill, so we took our chances. The building was a bit outdated but you could certainly see why it might have been a “grand” place back in the day. In fact, it hosted the Queen and Duke in the 1950s, and their royal chairs were recently pulled out of storage and are still available for viewing and a brief sitting.
The Organic Farm Yurt. We had very different experiences in the rustic yurt, which you can read about here.
The Auckland Basement. Our very first accommodation in NZ was a lower floor bedroom and ensuite in Auckland. We had booked this non-self-contained option in hopes that additional interaction with the hosts would give us a local’s advice when starting our working holiday. This turned out to be false hope. Our host was unable to even give us a proper definition of a “dairy” (i.e. a small convenience store), much less help us with opening a bank account or purchasing a car. While our room itself was fine (and warm, which we later discovered is actually uncommon in NZ), the main floor of the house had a strong malodor and a generally unclean appearance. We later discovered that the host allows the pet dog to roam the living room freely after playing in the rain, resulting in it rubbing itself on the couches in an attempt to dry off, which is probably the source of the odor.
The Grandma’s Basement. Speaking of odors, we stayed in a basement apartment near Wellington that smelled overwhelmingly musty, as you might expect from grandma’s basement that’s usually only used for storage. The space was incredibly crowded with torn, second-hand furniture. The hosts were also doing construction directly on the wall of the apartment connected to the bedroom, creating deafening noises early in the morning while being oblivious and unapologetic about the commotion.
The Lake Hawea Hostel. We had booked multiple nights at this hostel but after spending only a couple of minutes there, we decided to look for other options immediately. The bed was saggy, the bathroom (housed in a separate building) smelled horrible, and the kitchen had one set of stovetops for all 30 or so guests. It was the definition of a seedy backpackers accommodation if there ever was one. This taught us to never trust booking.com listings with a rating of 7 or below; we discovered that booking.com will only show you “what guests loved,” while hiding the negative parts of reviews from the main listing. Luckily, we were able to cash in some Hilton Honors points for a night at the Doubletree; we were never so thankful for a clean bed and a warm chocolate-chip cookie as we were then.
The Auckland Caravan. We wanted to try out caravan living since it is such a popular way for NZers to travel through the country. In Auckland, we rented a stationary caravan since it was an affordable way to rent a self-contained home. Unfortunately, we stayed during a heat wave with temperatures in the high 80’s all week. The caravan sat directly in the sun and its location in the driveway meant that no breeze came through any of the windows. NZers seem as unprepared to take on summer as they do winter, so no one owns even a fan, much less an air conditioner. Although the caravan was equipped with a small kitchen, there was no microwave and we had no desire to turn on the oven, so we resorted to takeaway or ham sandwiches for dinner.
While our main goal of visiting New Zealand was to see the country, all of our accommodation experiences certainly added a bit of color to the trip as well.