Day 73: Homestay for Grownups

If you want to get a feel for New Zealand, another option for accommodation is from a site called “Look After Me”. We stumbled upon this accidentally when heading to Rotorua for the weekend.  They call themselves “homestay for grown-ups”.

It is similar to AirBnB in some respects but it is Kiwi-owned and primarily homestay so you will usually be staying in someone’s home. It is NZ’s largest and fastest growing homestay – started by Julia Charity who we had the fortune to meet when we stayed at the Balmy Bellbird in Rotorua. One thing to note was that unlike AirBnB it was a cash business for us so we had to remember to get cash on the way.

We booked the Balmy Bellbird online through their site because we were traveling to Rotorua to meet my partner’s nephew and planned to spend the weekend. For $90 per night, we could get a private room with ensuite for two people. Not bad for Rotorua and it seemed like a fun house. A couple of days before we left, we discovered that our nephew and his mate didn’t have accommodation yet. A call to Gwen (the host) and all sorted. She didn’t have two rooms free but she had one more room and a comfy caravan in the garden that was all set up for a visitor.

It was winter and very very cold at night – the outside temperature hit 1 degree Celsius on the drive over. As we were getting closer, we got a text message from Gwen to coordinate our arrival time. When we arrived, Gwen met us at the door with a friendly hug and showed us to our room. We put our bags down and headed upstairs to the warm fire and to say hi to the nephew and friend who had already arrived.

A few minutes later and Julia arrived with her husband. They were there to celebrate Gwen’s birthday and brought a bottle of wine which they kindly shared with us over the kitchen table while we learned how Look After Me had gotten started, how Gwen had met her fabulous partner Mario during an altercation over a lemon tree that Mario (an arborist) cut down. We also learned that Mario was a Dutchman by birth who moved to NZ about 20 years ago as part of a program to encourage more European farmers to move here. When we tired, we headed down to our room and were pleased to find that Gwen had turned on the electric blankets when we said we were close to arriving and the bed was deliciously warm!

Air Stream Cafe, in a park next to the Balmy Bellbird

Their house is not in Rotorua itself, it’s about 30 minutes out. But it is close to the Blue and Green Lakes, The Buried Village, and other attractions and not at all a hard ride into Rotorua. We stayed for two nights – hiking and exploring during the day and enjoying conversations by the wood stove at night.

A few weeks later, my sister came to visit. A quick call to Gwen to see if she had accommodation and we were all set for two more nights in Rotorua. It was like seeing old friends again and a lovely visit. We haven’t used Look After Me again yet but definitely plan to!


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