A Far North backpackers' lodge which boasts a welcoming committee of kunekune pigs, a football-mad Italian host and the world's first football tournament each year has been voted the country's best small hostel.
Kahoe Farms Hostel, on State Highway 10 north of Kaeo, topped a backpacker poll for hostels with 20 or fewer beds with an impressive 98 per cent approval rating.
The ratings were compiled from feedback from 4366 travellers using the 290 hostels around New Zealand in the BBH network.
Owned by Lyndsey Johanson and husband Stefano Virgili, Kahoe Farms Hostel has been operating on Lyndsey's family farm for the past 20 years.
While the "super-chilled-out" pigs and home-made pizza help, Kahoe Farms stand out from the crowd, it's the history and family atmosphere that make it work.
Stefano said most guests came from Europe, with a few North Americans and Japanese.
"They don't come here for football, they don't come here to eat pizza, they come here because this is the real deal. Everything is very real and very simple.
"It's Lyndsey's family's heritage, built by her grandfather and great-grandfather. We rate well because we look after people and make them feel at home," he said.
The fact they did all the work themselves - sometimes with help from their children and with Lyndsey's brother Michael running the farm - meant there was a lot of care and involvement.
"We do it because we want to. If we wanted to make big money we wouldn't be here."
Many hostels had more exclusive facilities and more spectacular locations than the side of a state highway, but few had untouched bush and the Whangaroa Harbour just out the back.
With 800ha of pure grazing, it also had the "luckiest pigs in the world".
"They're very chilled-out animals," Stefano said.
BBH World Traveller Accommodation director Mark Dumble said Lyndsey and Stefano could be proud of their efforts because the BBH system required operators to perform at a consistently high level.
"Their farm provides international visitors with a chance to experience farm life first hand - and that's before they get to meet the kunekune."
Only one hostel, Hopewell in the Marlborough Sounds, fared better with a 99 per cent approval rating from its guests. Hopewell topped the 21-40 bed category and just nudged Kahoe out of top place overall, an honour the Far North hostel has won three times in previous years.
At midnight on January 1 guests at Kahoe Farms are divided into teams for a football tournament, the world's first of the year, on the hostel's floodlit pitch. The coming tournament will be Kahoe Farms' 21st.