When the Herald's Travel section invited readers to submit their most nightmarish accommodation tales, the entries flooded in. From swingers in the bar to insect swarms, Herald Travel readers have survived it all...
In June this year we booked a great place in the Gold Coast. Wow! The photos looked great, rich greenery, nice pool, rooms looked superb, nice balconies.
It took us an hour to travel from the Brisbane airport to the coast but we were feeling really excited about our holiday. We arrived at 9pm. We struggled from the basement up to ground level as there were no lifts, [unlocked] the door and there she stood in all her glory: an old apartment with one window in the main living room offering views of an overgrown garden; a dirty carpet; broken couch; rust in the fridge; the jug contaminated with goodness knows what.
I said to my husband - by this time not a happy man - "I will deal with this tomorrow." Tomorrow came and we pulled the drapes back in the bedroom to enjoy a beautiful view of a gravel car park.
Still, I kept my chin up and made my way to the bathroom, to be greeted with peeling paint and grime. After a shower, I reached for my hair dryer to be welcomed by a cockroach. That was the icing on the cake.
"Pack up," I said to my husband. "Let's get out of here."
- Belinda Burborough
Whilst living in London, a friend and I decided to spend a Bank Holiday weekend in Torquay. We found a promising looking B&B on the internet and attempted to make a booking. They were full but the kind proprietor recommended another B&B around the corner.
On arriving in Torquay after a horrible journey on an overcrowded train, we reached our destination. We were ushered up a steep flight of stairs to our room which, true to our booking, did have twin beds. It also had four bunks. We were left wondering if we were going to wake up in the morning with a few extra companions.
The bathroom was just big enough for me and I squashed myself with difficulty into the shower cubicle. However, my diminutive companion was not tall enough to see herself in the mirror, which I managed by standing on tip-toe. There was no soap or toilet paper at all.
A large streetlight shone brightly through the inadequate curtains all night.
In the morning we had a look around for the dining room. This did not exist. Instead, on the stair landing was a bench with several packets of cornflakes, a few bowls and spoons (no chairs or table). A small fridge under the bench contained milk and, of all things, a large trifle. We opted to walk to the village for breakfast.
As everything else was booked out, we had to stay for the next two nights. During that time we didn't see the proprietor at all, but when we went to leave she popped her head out of her door asking if everything was OK. Coward that I am, I didn't say what I really thought, but I did write it in their visitors' book...
- Margaret Evans
Whilst living in the UK a few years ago, I decided to treat my girlfriend to a surprise weekend away and booked us into a small seaside B&B in the resort of Weston-Super-Mare.
We arrived late on the Friday night after getting hopelessly lost. The owner, a balding, overweight, middle-aged man, made no attempt to hide his displeasure at being woken up by our late arrival.
We made our way up to our room and it was something akin to the rooms in the English comedy Rising Damp. When my girlfriend turned down the bed, the sheets were stained and upon finding a pubic hair, she opted to sleep on the floor.
Next morning we ate breakfast at a local cafe, even though we had paid for bed and breakfast, due to concerns over hygiene. We decided to look for alternative accommodation, but found everywhere booked solid.
We decided against taking a planned swim after a local pointed out a giant sewage pipe that emptied into the sea.
That evening we decided to have a drink in the downstairs bar before heading into town for dinner. As soon as we walked into the bar it was apparent that we were overdressed, by which I mean the other couples were all in various states of undress. We had inadvertently booked accommodation that catered for "swingers".
Needless to say, that was the end of our weekend away...
- Tim Docker
As a penniless young Kiwi gal in London, I planned a visit to Italy. Flying was out of the question, so I booked the long-distance bus from Victoria Station to Athens and arranged to get off in Milan.
After a non-stop drive with one crazy sleep-deprived driver, I was set down somewhere in Milan at midnight. I found myself in a grid of narrow streets, poorly lit and closed in by tall rows of terraced buildings.
Some had "pensione" signs outside, but all were in darkness and the streets were creepy. Nervously, I climbed the steps of the nearest one, and pushed the bell. After several minutes, the door was opened by a paunchy man in grimy singlet and stubble. I asked for "una camera"; the extent of my Italian. He looked at me and showed me and my backpack to a dark waiting room. From there, I could hear shouting above my head.
I watched a glamorous young maid in leather hot pants descending the stairs with used bedding. The singletted one came back and ushered me up to a battered but tidy room. I fell into the clean sheets but couldn't sleep...
In the morning, I looked inside the wardrobe. Whips and other regalia, along with a bag of condoms, made me realise I had spent the night in a prostitute's bed. I paid and left.
My scary night had been in a brothel with a kind heart.
- Sidney Smith
We were staying in some dive in Auckland. There were hookers out on the street and a nightclub underneath the place. This was supposed to be a romantic break away for my husband and I.
The earth moved that night, alright, but it wasn't because of us. It was the doof, doof, doof bass sound from the nightclub.
The glasses in the kitchen were dirty, so I purchased paper cups. Then I decided to purchase bottled water.
To top it all off, the bathroom had ants. When we asked to move rooms there were none left, so we stayed in ant heaven. The receptionist said something about ants being quite normal.
- Polly Nichols
When I was 20 years old a friend and I were in Corfu. Our hotel room was robbed. The police were sleazy and of little help. Thomas Cook (our travel insurer) refused to pay out as we naively hadn't written down our traveller's cheque numbers.
We snuck on to a ferry back to Athens. The New Zealand Embassy said "bad luck and sod off". The tourism bureau told us we could only afford one hotel, near the wharf down an awful alley.
Beside the entrance was a big skip filled with rubbish and rotting fish parts from the next-door fish shop. The stink was beyond belief. Up four flights of stairs we were led to our room which was like a prison cell. The window was jammed open and all we could smell was the skip. We just sat on the beds and cried.
We soon realised that the other rooms were full of Greek fishermen, sailors and prostitutes. We didn't sleep a wink and spent the next night in a park.
- Kim Reilly
I had some bonding time at the Indy 300 on the Gold Coast recently with my 18-year-old son. One night, nature called and I got up to attend.
Unfortunately I only awoke properly when I realised that I was out in the corridor and that the door had slammed shut behind. I pounded on the door, but waking a teenager is often tough at the best of times let alone at 4am. I was clad in undies and concluded the best option would be to head to reception and get another key.
After all, I was unlikely to stumble upon any other guests, I thought. Wrong - the doors of the lift slid open to reveal a young Japanese couple checking out early.
The Japanese may have a reputation for inscrutability but their faces displayed shock and surprise tinged with just a little bit of horror at the nearly naked apparition sharing the lift with them.
It's fair to say that the staff at reception were also a little startled but showed exemplary professional conduct and provided both a towel and key. They reassured me that this was not an uncommon situation but as I rounded the corner back to the lift the howls of laughter I could hear gave a lie to their reassurances.
- Phil Watkins
We have returned from a nightmare in Morocco. The hotel looked luxurious, but never trust a photo.
We were met by grumpy people at reception who pointed in the direction of our room, which took us about 10 minutes to find while carrying our luggage.
The exotic Moroccan meal at the hotel restaurant turned out to be lamb bones with coleslaw.
The next morning we were woken around 6am by about five housemaids having what sounded like a fight outside our bedroom window. We were fearing for our safety when suddenly they all roared with laughter.
Not being able to get back to sleep we had a shower and dried ourselves with towels that could double as sandpaper or a dog bed. We then ventured to the gym to find that we were to be charged $20 each for a session. Same with the tennis, which we were really looking forward to. When we went to check out we were billed $173 more than we should have been without the receipts or an invoice to prove what we were being billed for.
It was the Ryad Mogodor Essaouira if you need to know. Please don't go there.
- Chanley Goodburn
For five years the apple of my collection of rotten travel experience stories has been "Firecracker Food Poisoning Hell".
I was alone in icy northern Germany, the ATM had eaten my cash card, I had no money, I had nowhere to stay, the local kids were throwing fire crackers at me, I bought a sausage with my last quid and spent three days throwing up. A real cracker of a story.
But now I have a brand new tale of terror: "Three million mossies and the Israeli Army".
If you believe the marketing then jungle trips are cosy affairs. You will sit round a campfire swatting the odd insect and chatting to a bunch of global travellers. You will hunt anacondas like Indy and won't forget the wildlife adventure. Where do I sign up?
I spent three days alone with 13 Hebrew-speaking, chain-smoking Israeli army graduates in a jungle camp nightmare. There was a toilet and shower in a camp 10 minutes' walk away, there were mossie nets with holes and Spanish speaking Bolivian guides who also spoke Hebrew.
We did hunt anacondas - three hours traipsing in thigh-deep muddy water in a cloud of ferocious insects, but no anacondas. Then after a canoe ride up river a sunset bar appeared. I turned to the west in a lighter mood.
- Meredith Cook
In Istanbul, we were booked into a small hotel near Hagia Sophia recommended by the Lonely Planet guide. It was neat and clean and reasonably priced and we enjoyed the tasty breakfasts on the roof balcony in the fresh morning air, surrounded by marvellous mosques and churches.
But the nights were something else. A telephone on the wall in our room rang every time the front desk was phoned. The manager's large dog barked loudly when it rang so eventually we took our phone off the hook. But that didn't stop the dog barking whenever anyone rang.
Our room faced a steep alleyway with stairs from top to bottom. During the night, it seemed to be the habit of locals to roll oil-drums full of stones down the stairs at irregular intervals. The dog barked at this and when people arrived during the night.
We awoke to American tourists complaining loudly to the desk clerk about the lack of hot water in their bathrooms. This also set the dog off. Being on the ground floor we had plenty of hot water but only before 9am. The bathrooms on the floors above us did not get hot water as our son and daughter-in-law discovered. They used our room to shower but had to be early before it ran out. Late-rising Americans missed out altogether.
Once we bought earplugs and figured out the shower system it was a good place to stay. We might even recommend it.
- Antonia Jones
A few years ago my husband, daughter and I had a holiday in Syria. Driving from Damascus to Aleppo, we stopped in Hamas where accommodation was difficult to find and our daughter's command of Arabic was inadequate. But eventually, with much sign language, we were guided to a small hotel that in the dark that looked acceptable. We booked in and were given a small suite.
The rooms were not clean, so we scrubbed the bathroom and decided to sleep on top of the bedding, unsure of who or how many had slept there before us.
All was well until 2am when the phone rang. We answered but there was no reply. After several calls, we left the receiver off the hook. Then there was knocking on the door. It was the desk clerk, upset the phone was off the hook. We didn't notice when checking in that a mosque was directly across the street with loud-speakers facing our windows. At first light, we were abruptly awakened by the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer.
As our daughter and I waited in the car, we could see my husband arguing with the desk clerk. When I asked, "What was all that about?" He replied, "We were charged for the telephone calls!"
- Audrey Leybourne
We spent the last night of a wonderful trip to Cape York in the Daintree region at a resort with chalets amid the rainforest.
The heavy canopy of trees made it dark in the cabins and the lighting within wasn't overly bright. We hurriedly dumped our gear and went to the restaurant to enjoy the final dinner with our fellow guests.
When we returned we discovered visitors had left their calling cards in various places and made a meal of the soap.
About midnight, in a semi-conscious state, I thought my husband was caressing my shoulders. But wait, that couldn't be him, he was on my other side.
Then the penny dropped. I sat bolt upright and, turning on the light, screamed, "There's a bloody rat in the bed!" An enormous rat scrambled up the bed head and disappeared along the railing that ran around the wall!
The management sneered at my story, claiming it was some other harmless animal.
- Glenis Muir
In the south of France, my boyfriend and I were looking for a place to camp. It was getting near dusk and we were tired, so imagine our delight to find a deserted camping ground. We settled in and were soon asleep.
In the early hours of the morning, I awoke in a cold sweat, full of fear and horror from the frightful nightmare I had just experienced. It was full of demons and menacing creatures flying around the park threatening and screeching and trying to get into the caravan.
I could sense Mark was also awake so I turned to him and told him of the terrifying nightmare. To my horror, he'd had the exact same nightmare. We instantly decide to leave. I often wonder what had happened to that park, and why the atmosphere was so ominous.
- PM Brophy
We were really looking forward to spending our honeymoon on Gaya Island, in Malaysia. The brochures showed beautiful overwater bungalows, on a small tropical island, with abundant wildlife and mangrove boardwalks.
We arrived to discover that the only access was via the mangrove boardwalk, most of which had been washed away in a storm.
Looking into the sea, it became obvious that the coral was dead and there were no fish to be seen.
Not only was our bungalow over the water, it was just about in it, on a 30-degree angle. Sitting on the sloping bed, we found the sheets were dirty, as were the towels in the ant-infested bathroom.
- Ann Wills
My partner and I were travelling from Nepal into India when we arrived at a small border town named Raxoul in Northern Patan.
We were desperate for Indian currency to pay for food, accommodation and train tickets to Calcutta. Unfortunately, the only ATM in town was broken and the two banks that were open wouldn't change either US dollars or traveller's cheques. Luckily, we found a rickshaw driver who was able to hook us up with a black-market currency dealer so we could change our last US$50 into rupees.
We allowed our new friend to check us into the Hotel Havalli.
Our room was like a Thai prison cell, the toilet was little more than an open sewer with no running water, there was a huge hole in the wall which seemed to provide a convenient entry for rodents and mosquitoes and the mattress looked as though it had been home to a corpse or two.
We would have loved to check out, but due to our financial situation we were faced with an evening sleeping on the streets, so we opted for an uncomfortable night with the rats and mosquitoes. We dined on Coke and chips and both woke with bites on our faces that didn't leave for days.
- Simon Walker
I had a three-day workshop in a five-star hotel in Sri Lanka, famous for its luxurious rooms situated amongst the green vines and trees, built in the rocks of a hill, and the balcony and bathroom opened on to the jungle.
I was in the bathroom when suddenly I heard a breathing sound, or was it a soft "hisssss"? I looked around and when my eyes reached the bathtub I was thunderstruck. A hump-nosed viper was trying to slither up the tub and was slipping down.
I slowly walked out and called reception. Immediately a few waiters came in and after about 20 minutes, it slithered into a bag.
I was offered another room but I did not want to move. In this one I had been lucky enough to see my room-mate. What if the new room had some other room-mates, invisible till I felt them on my body?
And the winner is...
Audrey Leybourne of Northcote has won a night of luxury at The Westin Auckland Lighter Quay Hotel for sending in the best story of an accommodation nightmare.
Audrey's winning entry, judged by Herald features editor Michele Crawshaw, told of a family holiday in Syria at a hotel where the phone on the wall rang mysteriously all night and in the morning they were charged for the calls.
Her prize will include overnight accommodation for two in a deluxe room, two cocktails in the Office Bar, dinner in Q restaurant (to the value of $150), breakfast and valet parking.