“I’m struggling to find suitable accommodation in New Zealand – help!”

Visiting New Zealand, with our breathtaking landscapes, vibrant cities and rich Māori culture, is a dream for many travellers.

However, struggling to find affordable last-minute accommodation can really put a stop to your excitment.

But try not to worry, you’re not alone.

Whether you’ve hit a peak season surprise or you’ve made a spontaneous travel decision, the challenge of finding a suitable place to stay needn’t be a vacation-ruining situation.

In this article, we’ll dive into practical solutions and creative alternatives to help you find a place to stay, even at the eleventh hour.

Together, let’s try to turn your accommodation woes into wows!

A view of Cordis Hotel, Sky Tower, and the buildings in the city of Auckland.

Why do people sometimes have difficulty finding suitable accommodation in New Zealand?

People tend to fall into one of two groups when planning their travels in New Zealand – they either plan (and book) well in advance or they like to go with the flow.

If you find yourself struggling to find accommodation in Aotearoa New Zealand, chances are, you’re a book-as-you-go traveller.

Join us as we share these tried-and-tested tips, compiled with the help of our amazing Facebook travel community.

⚠️ We’ve seen lots of people struggle to find affordable accommodation in New Zealand, particularly around public holidays, school holidays and peak season. If you’d prefer to book as you go, you take on certain risks by doing so. Good luck with your search.

Travelling to NZ for the first time?

Read this before your trip

How to find accommodation in NZ when you’re struggling to do so

1. Check a wide range of booking sites

Booking sites are a great way to check a wide range of accommodation providers quickly.

We recommend you check these sites:

You’ll also want to check our accommodation deals page to see if we have any NZTT specials available to you.

We also suggest Googling to see if there are local accommodation management companies operating in the area of your choice.

For example, Hanmer Holiday Homes, Book Twizel, Stay Mackenzie and Discover Tekapo.

Keep checking as you get closer to the time, too – you never know when someone else might cancel a booking.

Some hotels have very flexible cancellation policies. So I keep checking as sometimes things open up last minute.

Rich Goldberg, NZTT member

2. Consider a style of accommodation you wouldn’t normally book

By considering a wider range of accommodation types, you might find new options open up to you.

If you normally stay in a hotel, we suggest considering a motel, hostel/backpackers), campground/holiday park or privately owned property.

Campgrounds often have cabins and motel units and hostels generally have private rooms that are suitable for couples and families.

One thing I would suggest is not to rule out holiday parks, aka campgrounds. We just arrived in Rotorua with no reservations two days ago and couldn’t find anything. We ended up in a holiday park in a “basic cabin”. It was cost effective but the sacrifice is communal (but very clean ) bathrooms and kitchens. I highly recommend as a low-cost, last-minute option depending on your location.

Janice Vogel, NZTT member

Though you could end up in an accommodation type that’s different to your normal preference, if it ticks most of your boxes, it could be a great last-minute alternative.

Our family of four stay in a lot of hostels which are great. We stay in family rooms or in the dorms. My 2 were 5yrs and 11yrs when we started. They loved it!

Brenda Nelson, NZTT member.
Mangawhai Heads Holiday Park Camping Grounds Northland

3. Look outside of your target area – check nearby suburbs and towns

If you’re struggling to find suitable, affordable accommodation, we recommend looking outside of your original area.

Google Maps is a great way to check for nearby towns and/or suburbs, or you can use the map on Booking.com.

My suggestion is to look on Google maps and extend the search parameters. E.g If Queenstown is booked…go wider out to Cromwell or even Clyde etc.

Lisa Pllt, NZTT member

⚠️ Be sure to check the drive time from where you’ll be staying to the activities/attractions that you plan to do. A few places in NZ look close on the map but aren’t easily accessible by road. For example, Franz Josef and Fox are a 6+ hour drive from Mt Cook, even though Booking.com suggests them both as alternative accommodations for people visiting the area.

4. Change your request a little

Sometimes malking a small change to your search request can have a positive impact.

If you’ve been searching for three nights, try dropping it back to one or two… you might be able to lock down one accommodation for the first few nights, and another following that.

Likewise, some accommodations will have a minimum booking time, so adding a night or two could open up availability for you.

Finally, if you’re travelling in a larger group (and you’re able to split up), try searching for more rooms for fewer people in each.

For example, rather than booking one room for four people, try booking two rooms for two people each.

Pro tip: Accommodations will sometimes have a minimum booking time that they’ll waive on the day. In these cases, you’ll want to contact them directly to see if they’ll have you for a shorter period.

While I would encourage people to always book in advance, we have accommodation and have 2 night minimum bookings on weekends. If I’m available to do a clean over the weekend and those dates haven’t been booked I will often change them to one night minimums at the last minute, so places still may come up at the last minute.

Georgie McGregor, NZTT member and accommodation provider

5. Check directly with the accommodation

Some accommodation providers withhold a few rooms, providing them only to guests who book directly.

If you haven’t had any luck on the big booking sites mentioned earlier, we recommend looking directly on the accommodation provider’s site.

We’ve had success securing a booking by phoning, emailing or using Facebook Messenger to contact accommodation operators.

This is particulalry true of campgrounds and holiday parks which often have cabins and motel units that are only available by booking directly.

That’s right, they’re often not even found on the big booking sites.

So, if you’re open to staying in a cabin, we suggest getting in touch via email or phone to see if they have space for you (or, as above, check their direct-booking website).

Holiday Parks often have cabins and aren’t listed on the common booking sites. I’m booking a few for an upcoming trip and the only way to book is by phone or email.

Kaylie Lewell, NZTT member

Did you know? Many towns have ‘duty motels’. These are properties that know who has space available. Contact the motel of your preference, and if they don’t have space available, ask if they know of a duty motel in the area.

A room with forest on its wall near the bed in Aden Motel.
Aden Motel is one of our favourites in Te Anau.

6. Talk to the team at your local i-SITE

If you’re already in town, it might be worth visiting the local i-SITE.

Owned by Tourism New Zealand, these local offices can help you book accommodation and activities (though we recommend you normally do with with our discounts), while also giving out free information.

7. Adjust your budget

Sometimes, try as you might, it just isn’t possible to find a suitable accommodation within your pricepoint.

If you find yourself in this situation, it might be time to increase your budget.

Be prepared to pay a premium. If it’s last minute and rooms are high demand, unfortunately prices will reflect that. Consider it a costly life lesson but be thankful you have a place to stay! I always make sure I have emergency funds for travel because things happen and I have been in the position of scrambling to find room.

Shel Ash, NZTT member
New Zealand cash money in a lady's hands.

8. Think outside the box

If you find yourself genuinely stuck, there are a couple of possibilities that you might not have considered.

These websites and Facebook groups are designed to connect people up with hosts in different areas.

9. Buy a tent

When all else fails, pitching a tent can be another affordable overnight option.

And fortunately, we have campgrounds with great facilities in stunning locations!

So, while it might not be as comfortable as you’d originally planned, organising a cheap camping setup could be the answer to your accommodation woes…

Just make sure you’re camping in approved spots.

Camping tents for backpacker built on the grass of Stewart Island Backpackers.

10. Do it differently in the future

Though this one won’t help you if you’re currently in an accommodation predicament, it’s worth considering for future visits to New Zealand.

If you prefer to travel without a set plan or advance bookings, we strongly encourage you to travel outside of peak season, school holidays and public holidays.

When travelling between late November and mid-March, during the ski season (around ski resorts, like Queenstown and Wānaka) and around public holidays, we suggest locking your bookings in.

NZ isn’t cheap at the best of times – as others have said – its best to book well in advance. Even for camping etc, in peak season, things book out well in advance. Some of the popular beach spots are rebooked by the same people a year in advance as we have sadly discovered as Kiwis in their own country trying to book popular places.

Wild G, NZTT member

And there you have it – a number of pactical, helpful suggestions to make finding accommodation during busy periods that little bit easier.

If you have extra ideas to share, we’d love you to post them in NZTT.

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