Quirky bedtime tales in New Zealand

Trains and boats and planes, and Hobbit motels are just some of the quirky overnighters for travellers looking for out-of-the-ordinary accommodation in New Zealand.

Trains and boats and planes, and Hobbit motels are just some of the quirky overnighters for travellers looking for out-of-the-ordinary accommodation in New Zealand.

While the country already has a reputation for luxury lodges, quality hotels and value-for-money backpackers’ hostels, there’s an expanding portfolio of accommodation that offers unique experiences and memorable locations.

Quirky digs throughout New Zealand range from well-appointed - and said to be world-first - Hobbit holes on a Waikato farm to a backpackers’ hostel in a heritage fire station in a rural South Island town.

Woodlyn Park, Waitomo
Set in lush farmland near Waitomo Caves - an ancient subterranean world famed for glow worms and black-water rafting in the North Island’s Waikato region - Woodlyn Park’s motel complex rates among New Zealand’s most unusual destinations.

While all units are well-furbished and self-contained, that’s as predictable as it gets at Woodlyn Park where each unit is a story in itself.

The Hobbit Motels, where guests bed down Rings style, are set into a lush green hillside and have authentic rounded windows and doors, bespoke furniture and decor - and you don’t have to be a small person to reside in this Middle-earth accommodation.

Alongside the Hobbit hole units, Woodlyn Park also has accommodation in a boat, an aeroplane, and a train carriage.

WWII Bristol Freighter
One of the last Allied planes out of Vietnam, a 1950s Bristol Freighter has been cleverly transformed into two motel units - the Cockpit and the Tail - offering an exciting option for families and aircraft enthusiasts.

An historic 1942 patrol boat is another original accommodation. The ship was one of 12 built in Auckland for anti-submarine patrol in the Pacific during WWII, and from which only two survived. ‘The Motunui’ has been renamed ‘The Waitanic’ and houses three units - The Captain’s, The Britannic and The Titanic.

Meanwhile, the ‘Waitomo Express’ is a 1950s railcar decked out with two sleeping areas accommodating four people.

As well as unique accommodation in the middle of a working farm, Woodlyn Park host Billy Black stages a Kiwi culture show that Lonely Planet described as "one helluv’a show". The humorous family show brings the Kiwi pioneering heritage to life with sheep shearing, bush animals, a dancing pig and a ‘Kiwi bear’.

Black, who’s a local legend, has trained his pet kune kune pig to play rugby and ride pillion on his Harley trike.

Solscape Eco Retreat, Raglan
Staying under canvas tipi-style is a seaside accommodation option at Solscape Eco Retreat - a quirky eco-destination that overlooks the famed Manu Bay surf break on the North Island’s Waikato coast.

During the summer months, the tipis are arranged in a secluded bush setting that can only be accessed on foot so guests have to be prepared to carry their baggage into the campsite.

Solscape’s year-round accommodation also includes stylishly appointed luxury eco-villas, and old railway carriages that have been recycled as budget family accommodation. The latest addition is a two-level mud brick round house.

Wild West Town, Ruapehu
For those who want ‘to get away from it’, Mellonsfolly Guest Ranch, Waterfall Mountain and Old West Town offers a whimsical backcountry diversion.

Set in 1000 acres of remote backcountry, in the central North Island Ruapehu region, the ranch offers authentic western-themed holidays and also caters for events and conferences.

The main street of the Old West Town features Lucky Strike Saloon, Miss Nancy Ann’s Hotel, and Texas Rose’ Bath House. There is also a livery stable, general store, telegraph office and US Marshall’s office.

Guests sleep in Victorian-style rooms or economy bunkrooms, and on-site activities include horseshoe pitching, hiking, fishing, gun-slinging and trail rides.

The Flying Fox, Whanganui River
The Flying Fox offers another unique Kiwi get away - two hand-built guest cottages set above the Whanganui River with access limited to river taxi, aerial cableway, or flying fox.

The cottages reflect strict environmental principles and are surrounded by organic gardens, fruit trees, native forests, bird-life and the fern-clad hills of Whanganui National Park.

The Flying Fox also runs canoe trips on the Whanganui River - steeped in local history and an important trade and travel route for early Māori tribes.

The Lighthouse & The Keep, Wellington
In Wellington it’s possible to stay in a genuine old lighthouse perched on the south coast at Island Bay, not far from the airport and city.

The Lighthouse has panoramic views of the islands and fishing boats in the bay, beach, rocks, the open sea and as far as the South Island - visible on a clear day.

Suitable for a couple, The Lighthouse has a kitchen and bathroom on the first floor, a bedroom/sitting room on the middle floor, and a lookout/bedroom on the top level.

The owners also have The Keep in Houghton Bay, about 1km from The Lighthouse - another unique bed and breakfast property suitable for a romantic getaway. The old stone structure is on three levels with good coastal views, and has a hatch that opens onto the roof for added intrigue.

Warwick House, Nelson
Nelson’s Warwick House - built in 1854, and known to locals as ‘The Castle’ - is a luxury bed and breakfast property in the northern South Island.

The imposing residence, with its three towers, impressive ballroom and grand staircase, is one of New Zealand’s finest examples of early Victorian opulence and grandeur.

Warwick House was a popular venue for lavish entertainment by early New Zealand politicians and leading merchants, and later became a gentleman’s boarding house.

At one stage the property was leased to politician Sir David Monro, whose son Charles brought the first game of rugby to New Zealand.

The Mudcastle, Neudorf
Although not an historic building, The Mudcastle - at Neudorf, just out of Nelson - tells an intriguing story.

When owners Kevin and Glenys Johnston first bought land in 1990, they’d only known each other six weeks and had no idea what kind of house to build.

The inspiration came as they cleared the gorse-covered site, and discovered a mountain of clay that would "cost a fortune" to remove. Instead, they used the resource to fulfil a dream - spending the next five years building a two-storey mud castle of 20,000 handmade bricks.

Since then, they’ve made a further 10,000 bricks and added two turrets.

Tipi Stay, Nelson
Mongolian yurts or tipis offer an alternative summertime accommodation for backpackers in the Nelson region.

Tipi Stay - on the inland highway between Nelson and Abel Tasman National Park - is a small accommodation in a rural setting where travellers can also pitch their own tents.

Views of Mt Arthur in the Kahurangi Range greet guests from the bath and a hot, open air shower is set under tropical plants.

Wagon Stays, Canterbury
Rated amongst the world’s top 10 most unique accommodation places by Google, Canterbury’s Wagon Stays luxury accommodation has just moved camp.

The early settlers wagon, described as an experience where luxury meets history, has been bought by former flight attendant Jasmine Lochore who has moved it to a secluded site in the Selwyn district of Canterbury.

She says guests will have little to bother them apart from some tame livestock and birdsong.

The wagon is a unique option for guests wanting something other than a bog-standard hotel room. An outdoor bath and cookhouse area, which are also in-keeping with the western theme, are added luxuries.

The wagon has been singled out by Britain’s Independent Traveller as one of the ''top 5 best beds on wheels''.

Fire Station Backpackers, Gore
Further south in the Southland region, the old Gore Fire Station is now home to The Fire Station Backpackers.

When the station was originally opened in 1924, the local mayor described the "fine premises" as having been built to induce men to sleep at the station and therefore should be as comfortable as possible.

Original conveniences included hot and cold water, electrical lights and a fireplace in the social hall, and in 1935 a second level was added to accommodate extra fire fighters.

In 1980 the fire station was deemed too small to cope with the Gore District’s growing population and was decommissioned.

Extensive renovations were carried out to modernise facilities but many of the original features remain including the fire engine bays at the front of the building.

Hidden Valley Lodge, Lake Poerua
A small church that once served the Roman Catholic community of Poerua, on the South Island’s West Coast, was deconsecrated and moved 2km to become a lakeside retreat.

The church, built in 1923 in the old isolated gold mining town of Waiuta, is now Hidden Valley Lodge and sits at the foot of the Southern Alps.

The building, which still features stained glass windows and high cathedral ceilings, sleeps seven, and has been refurbished with native New Zealand timbers.

The lodge is particularly popular with anglers keen to fish for abundant brown trout in Lake Poerua and surrounding rivers. There are also numerous bush walks and prolific native birds in the area.

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