In the past 2.5 months in New Zealand we have slept in 60 different places. We generally spend one night in a place, but once a week have a 2-night stand. Accommodation is our biggest expense, and where to sleep is one of the key questions in our day. When hiking in the mountains it is straightforward (there are usually only 1 or 2 huts within reach), but when traveling by car, we have multiple options, both as to location and type of accommodation. The types of places we stay are described below. As you will see, no one place is ideal and it is a fine art selecting each night’s accommodation. We usually discuss sleeping arrangements in late afternoon and the conversation can be tricky, depending on how strongly one of us wants a shower, how urgently one’s clothes need laundering, or the state of our batteries (Daniel gets tetchy as his camera batteries get low, while I do the same when the tablet battery is down… ), not to mention the state of the budget!
These are government owned and located in national parks or reserves. Staying in these means a shared sleeping and communal area, and apart from the occasional solar panels, no lighting or hot water. Although no showers, there are outside toilets, which are located away from the hut. So needing to pee means booting up and grabbing your rain jacket for the 100 yard dash to the toilet. (A real pain if your bladder won’t see you through the night!) The toilets are of the chemical long drop variety, with a strong odour that lingers long after the visit. While not pleasant, they are bearable if you hold your breath, never look down the pit, keep your pockets zipped so you can’t drop anything and wave your arms continuously to keep the flies away.
They are a great place to meet fellow trampers (the huts not the toilets :-)) and although one can be unlucky and have snorers or school groups as companions, they are our favourite place to stay. They are usually situated in amazing locations, above the bushline surrounded by high mountains, or with sweeping views down a valley. Most of them are also free for us, being covered by the hut pass we bought when we arrived. Getting into a hut means a hike, usually a minimum of 3 or 4 hours from the road. There is an element of surprise with the huts though, apart from the question of who else will be there. We discovered this one evening recently having decided at the last minute to walk into a hut. After driving up a winding mountain road we came across the below sign, and had to make alternative plans …
PRIVATELY OWNED CAMPSITES
When not in the mountains, we typically camp when we have hired a car. This is because after paying for car hire we need to minimise accommodation expenses (camping is cheaper than backpackers hostels) and also because campsites are usually located outside towns, and so more easily reached when we have a car.
Every town in New Zealand has one or more privately owned camps. They are either of the big brand ‘holiday park’ variety or independently run campsites. The former tend to be luxurious (swimming pools etc) and too expensive for us. Consequently we have more commonly found ourselves in the independent camps. Many of the other campers there are permanent, or semi-permanent residents, and resemble institutional inmates. They sit listlessly on the threshold of their caravans, or in the common room, looking but not seeing the world go by. These campsites are neglected, run down and with token operated showers (hate those! hate those!). The first thing you notice when you arrive are the rules – large black and white signs everywhere instructing in formal, or rude tones what will and will not be tolerated. The kitchens are empty – no pots or pans, no dish cloths, or detergent, and locks on all the cupboards. (As well as locking away their food, the ‘residents’ lock away their tea towels and detergent after every meal). The last place had cameras in the kitchens and stern warnings about stealing food. We felt like we had accidentally found ourselves on Shutter island, and almost packed up and left (while we still could …)
Other than those depressing places, we stay in government run campsites. These are very basic – no electricity, no showers, no kitchens, and sometimes no water! They have smelly chemical toilets akin to those of the mountain huts, but with higher traffic … The fee is low to free, depending on the services provided. Despite the privations, they are social, pleasant places populated by like-minded people who love being in nature. Typically they are located in scenic places, along the beach, in a forest, by a river etc. but the last place we stayed was about 5 meters from the main North-South train line, and 10 meters from State Highway 1. We awoke several times with a start in the middle of the night hearing a freight train speeding towards us, feeling the ground shaking under us and the noise growing louder and louder. Lying there in the darkness of our tent, seeing nothing, waiting for the approaching train our hearts thumped as we hoped it wouldn’t run us over, until finally, with relief, we heard the carriages speeding by …
While we generally enjoy these campsites, after a few nights, we are dying for a shower (ANY shower, hot or cold). One morning recently we were somewhat ashamed to find ourselves trying to wash in the public toilets of a nearby town (the PUBLIC TOILETS! how low can we go?). It was the morning after the almost sleepless night with the speeding trains and highway traffic, and we were less stoic than usual about our grubby budget restricted condition. That was rock bottom we decided, and it was high time we checked into a backpackers, whatever the price.
In addition to providing a hot shower, and laundry facilities, backpackers provide a power supply to charge the batteries for our various devices. And more generally, they give an inside place to sit and relax. Maybe have a cup of tea, or read a book, catch up on the blog, or sort through the photographs. And the joy of a chopping board, an electric stove and a decent sized pot for cooking! However, it is not always easy to relax in a backpackers, as sometimes they are full, and one needs to queue to use the cooker, or take a shower. Plus, a backpackers generally means sharing our bedroom (as a double/twin room is beyond our budget). When we first arrived in the country, used as we were to our own place in HK, we initially took a private room in a backpackers, or shared a triple with Ann. We started with ensuite bathroms, but quickly accepted shared bathrooms. Gradually we moved to small shared rooms (4 beds), and recently have shared 6 and 8 bed dormitories with strangers. Mostly it is ok, but when we are tired after several days on the road or in the mountains, stepping over other people’s stuff flung all around the room, or hearing them snore at night is too much and we really long for our own room. (As an aside, it amazes me how people behave in a shared space – the kitchen is usually left in a filthy condition, with oil splatters, food crumbs and dirty dishes everywhere. The bedrooms are a mess, with belongings dumped all over the floor, dirty clothes on top of clean ones, and open food in amongst it all. It makes us wonder in what condition they live when they are at home? Or maybe they all live with their parents still?) So, after a day of that we are ready to head off again and camp. Sometimes though we stumble on a quiet backpackers, full of civilised people, with enough common space for all guests to relax, or cook in. We found a gem in the small town we are in at the moment, and are staying 2 nights. We are camping in their garden – a new discovery for us, which allows us to have our own space to sleep in (yet cheap) and have full use of their lovely communal facilities. We have scrubbed ourselves thoroughly, double washed our clothes and charged all our batteries. Plus yesterday Daniel baked some berry muffins, and today he cooked a dhal makhani. After our low point the other morning trying to clean ourselves in the public toilets, life is good again and i’m sure that come tomorrow morning we will be ready to go again, full of enthusiasm for the road ahead!