Best Hostels In Northland New ZealandBackpacking & Trekking, Budget Travel, Dispatches from the Road, Hostels, New Zealand — By Lost Girls on November 15, 2011 at 12:00 pm
by Mattie Schuler
Almost anyone who has traveled to New Zealand, as well as guide book advice, will say to head south as soon as you can, whether that means to the South Island or just south of Auckland. However, if you want a full-fledged Kiwi trip by hitting all of the various regions, Northland must be explored. Head north out of Auckland following the Twin Coast Discovery Highway to get to Whangarei, the ever-popular Bay of Islands and 90 Mile Beach and Cape Reinga.
Whangarei Top 10 Holiday Park
On the main highway, you’ll pass through small coastal towns and plenty of nice beaches to surf or just lay out. About two hours after leaving the city, you’ll come upon the larger city of Whangarei, (pronounced FAHN-guh-ray). There are a few backpacker hostels in town, as well as some holiday parks. These holiday parks have accommodation ranging from cabins to shared rooms to power stations, if you are traveling via RV or the handy home-on-wheels backpacker vans. Whangarei Top 10 Holiday Park, a franchise throughout New Zealand, is only a short distance north of the downtown area (which isn’t that exciting anyway) and has all the amenities for a few nights’ stay. The cabins, which have a clean and uncluttered look, can sleep six people and have a TV in the room. The cabins also have a toaster and an electric kettle, as well as a small porch to relax on when the sun starts shining. All accommodation is separate, not even a minute’s walk, from the large kitchen, laundry room, internet room and bathrooms. Bonus: bathrooms have a hair dryer. Wireless internet is also available if you purchase an access card from the front desk ($5 for an hour). The holiday park also has a nice grilling area and will provide dishes and cutlery if needed. Rates for Whangarei Top 10 Holiday Park start at (per night) $59.00 for cabins, $90 for ensuite units, and $105 for two bedroom self-contained units.
Whangarei Top 10 Holiday Park is only a short hike to two of the city’s best outdoor attractions, Whangarei Falls and A.H. Reed Memorial Kauri Park. Both the falls and the Kauri trees can be trekked to from a track that starts at the holiday park. Or, head a few kilometers out of town to check out Abbey Caves and get a glimpse of a sparkling cave ceiling full of glowworms. Leave as many valuables out of your car as you can when seeing the caves, don’t forget your headlamp and though your feet will get soaked once in the caves, it’s totally worth it.
The Tree House
Before you leave Whangarei, make sure you have a full tank of gas. You should be fine if heading right to the Bay of Islands, about an hour long drive, but if you are heading inland, fill up. As Phil, one of the owners of The Tree House hostel, advised for backpackers adventuring around the island, if your tank is half full, fill up. Phil and Pauline moved to New Zealand from Australia about 30 years ago. They ended up in the very small town of Kohukohu in the Hokianga Harbor, spent a half an hour on a plot of land and decided to buy it. Thus, the beginnings of one of the few truly unique hostels you can find. The Tree House, built by Phil, is situated about two kilometers from the vehicle ferry crossing (the only way to head directly south from Kohukohu). When the couple first built their house on the land, stragglers who caught the last ferry to Kohukohu would come knocking on their door, wondering where to say. Naturally, Phil and Pauline took many folks into their home and realized what needed to be done.
“We built a place that we would have liked to find while traveling,” says Phil of The Tree House, which is a hostel comprised of a few small, cozy cabins connected by walkways and surrounded by so much New Zealand flora, you don’t really feel the need to do anything but relax and explore while you are there. The 17 acre land has 10,000 mostly native trees, including a macadamia tree, a banana tree, 80 different fruit trees and enough timber that can support the building of Phil and Pauline’s kid’s homes. You’ll be greeted by ducks, sheep, pigeons and the sounds of the Tui bird as you pull up the driveway. Make sure to check out the wildly painted caravan next to the parking lot and the gorgeous lily flowers speckled throughout the land. There is also a short nature walk around the property, which leads to a surprise spectacular view of the Hokianga Harbor and the town across the water, Rawene. Carry a stick to knock down the cobwebs built across the path, unless you don’t mind catching them with your face first.
There are camp sites and share rooms available, but to really get the almost romantic-getaway feel, check out the cabins. Practical amenities, like hooks and reading lamps, are found in each room, but the atmosphere is what makes The Tree House a place you won’t want to leave. One cabin has a porch overlooking an aptly named Flaming Tree; another is nestled in right up to the edge of a pond; at the other you can hear the babbling of a small creek from the door. The beds are comfortable, the rooms have heaters and the showers are hot. The kitchen is fully stocked with cooking goods and the lounge area has board games, magazines (stacks of ancient National Geographics) and plenty of books (go back in time with the almost the full set of The Babysitters Club). There might be nothing more to do at the hostel than play Scrabble, listen to the Tui bird sing in the trees or chat with the owners about their past adventures, but what more could you ask from a stay in a tree house? If you end up here, be prepared for a stress free, recuperating stay at a place that you won’t want to leave. Rates for the Tree House are $68 for a single, $40 for a twin and a double, shares start at $31 and campsites are $18.
Heading south from Kohukohu, the vehicle ferry travels over Hokianga Harbor, and from there it is only a 20 minute drive to Omapere and Opononi. These two small towns are also on the harbor, but are located right where the ocean rushes in and where sand dunes meet the bay. In Omapere, check out Globe Trekkers Lodge for another relaxing stay — just get yourself situated in one of the hammocks with a cup of tea. Or cook up some grub in the large kitchen to eat on the vine-covered porch (when the grapes grow, just reach up and snatch a handful). You’ll feel safe heading to the bathroom with all of the buildings located close together. Rates for GlobeTrekkers Lodge are $51 for a single room, around $32 for double and twin rooms, and $29.50 for share and dorm rooms.
The lodge is run by a mother and son, both whom you will see working around the rooms, cleaning and chatting. Ask Sue about anything to do in town and she will lend out a thorough book of local trails or will recommend the bone carving by local bone carver James. These bone carving lessons are run out of James’ home where carvers can take as long as they want to perfect their piece—literally he has had people there from 9 a.m. till well past dinner, and he doesn’t mind at all. Make sure to call ahead to see when he is available. Or book a tour with Footprints Waipoua Twilight Encounter tour to travel to the two largest Kauri trees in New Zealand. The trees are in the Waipoua forest and can be seen on your own, but the nighttime Footprints tour lets travelers experience how the Maori people appreciate the forest, and the guide will share Maori sayings, songs and plenty of knowledge about the forest and the Kauri trees. The tour comes with a bit of a hefty price tag compared to trekking to the trees alone, but you will come away with your head packed full of knowledge and Maori lore.
Photo credit: timparkinson/flickr
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