Guest blog by Marie White.
It all started with my friend in England, who had been staying in hostels for many years and would regularly write to me about her trips and the wonderful hostels she had stayed at. Though intrigued, I had never stayed in one. So, when I decided to go and visit her in 2001, she decided to introduce me to hostelling. I really enjoyed the trip - and the hostels. However, it wasn't until 2004, at the age of 73, that I decided to try “hostelling” on my own.
My first hostel was in Downtown Victoria, BC. Never before having booked a hostel and not being sure what kind of accommodation I wanted, I booked a “dorm” room. (Since then, I have learned there are all kinds of accommodations and now choose a 4 or 6-bed room as it seems to be the most readily available and works for me. I don’t mind sharing!) Upon arrival, I discovered I had a top bunk. Oh dear, how was I going to able to climb up there! A young lady in the room was making up her bed and probably saw my look of panic. She said “I will take the top and you can have the bottom!” This was my first experience of the caring friendly people you meet in a hostel. What better service can you get than that and usually under $30.00 per night? (Note: I now ask for at time of booking - and receive - a bottom bunk. In fact, hostels usually put a sign on the bed “Reserved for Marie White”).
After a few days in Victoria, I headed off on my Vancouver Island adventure. I booked a seat on the train up the coast to Parksville. I was let off the train at the Parksville stop, which happened to be in the middle of nowhere (I hadn’t done my homework very well!) I was stranded. Well not really. Another lady had gotten off the train as well; she, however, was being met by someone. Swallowing my pride, I asked if I could get a ride into Parksville. They kindly took me into the city where I caught a bus for Point Alberni, my next hostel stop.
This second hostel was more like a B&B. I had a private room and was even able to have dinner there. The next day I took a “mail boat” ride up the coast stopping at villages along the way. Very interesting.
The following day I took a bus to Tofino, site of my third hostel. It was a new building and quite “posh” as the Brits say. My room (shared with three other females) looked out onto the water - it was a 5-star resort in my mind.
The next morning, while having my breakfast in the breakfast room, a young man who was packing his lunch asked me what I was going to do that day. I replied I was going to walk to the beach, which I hadn’t realized was quite a distance away (again, not so good on my homework). He said he was going to Long Beach to surf and offered to take me along. I said “fine” and off we went. I spent a lovely day at the beach reading while he surfed. When I later told my daughters what happened, they exclaimed “and you always told us not to go off with strange men!”
My fourth hostel experience was back in Victoria at the same one I had stayed at before (and where I had left my large suitcase which they kindly stored for me). The young man at the desk asked if I had had a good time away and seemed genuinely interested, wanting to know the details (something you wouldn’t get at most - if any - hotels)! He then told me about the hike planned for the next day with a guide and asked if I would like to go on it. I did and it was fun to spend a day with a bunch of 20 year olds. Many hostels plan trips for their guests, which is particularly great for someone travelling alone and without a car. Hostel adventures are always great; I recommend them to everyone.
Hosteling in New Zealand
I decided it was time to try hostelling in another country. I planned my first major trip alone to New Zealand from February 10 to March 16, 2008. (In planning this trip I learned what a great tool the internet is planning trips including booking accommodations and transportation).
After a few days in Sydney, Australia (paid for and planned by my children as a Christmas gift), I arrived in Auckland. When choosing a hostel, I wanted someplace near the train station as I was taking the train and ferry to Christchurch to begin my adventure. (You will see I usually call it an “adventure,” not a trip, because for me that is what my travelling is.) This next - my fifth - hostel was, believe it or not, called ”Nomads Fat Camel!” How could you pass up a hostel with a name like that!? There was a bar attached but that didn't really bother me. Again, the staff were polite and helpful, even taking my too-large suitcase (I learned to pack lighter after that trip) up the stairs to the 2nd floor where my room was.
My sixth hostel was in the centre of Christchurch on a lovely square with a majestic Anglican Cathedral across from it. I was very saddened to learn the church was destroyed in the 2011 earthquake. After a few days of sightseeing, I was off by bus (no train going that way) to visit a friend at the very bottom of the South Island. Dulcie and Pete showed me around Invercargill.
Next stop – and my seventh hostel – Queenstown for just an overnight stop. When registering, I learned I was on the 3rd floor. Being one of the few hostels without an elevator, the staff member said if I waited a bit, he would take up my suitcase. But another guest happened to be going up then so he took it. I said “I need you tomorrow at 6am when I am going to get the bus” and would you believe he was waiting at the top of the stairs the next morning to carry down my suitcase! I don't believe this would happen in a hotel.
Arriving in Greymouth my eighth hostel had something to do with the church but was now a hostel. To me, that is what makes hostelling so interesting – most have a history; most have been “something else” in another life. Each one is so different.
Taking the Tranzalpine Train the next day to Christchurch, I experienced the incredible Arthur's Pass covering 94,500 hectares of rugged wilderness rising to Mount Rolleston at 2,270 meters. The train’s “widow car” provided amazing views that I had never before - or since - experienced (I love trains and have been on a lot of them). I stayed at the same hostel that I had when I was in Christchurch before. This time I had more days there so did more sightseeing. The staff asked me where I was going next and booked all my hostels and transportation for the rest of my trip saving me time, helping me with decisions and at no cost.
I then flew to Wellington, site of my ninth hostel. On one of the bunks was a sign: “Bed Reserved for Marie White - bottom bunk.” I had remembered to ask when booking it!
My tenth hostel was in Napier, a city destroyed in 1931 by New Zealand’s deadliest earthquake but later rebuilt in Art Deco Style. Here I met a lady from England that I since remain friends with. When you stay at hostels, other guests usually ask “where have you been? where are you going?” and always have lots of suggestions of what to see and where to go.
I reached my eleventh hostel, in Rotorua, by bus. I was booked in a “mixed room.” Oh, dear! However, I ended up being given a private room instead at no extra cost. I met up with my friend Addie from England and we spent three days together doing the sights and as usual, found myself running into people I had met previously at other hostels. I took a tour to the top of North Island so now I can say I have been from the bottom to top of New Zealand.
But I wasn't finished yet... next stop (and my twelfth hostel) was in Coromandel, a lovely little town. While walking along the water, I met a couple just setting out their lunch. We got talking and learned that they lived in Hamilton (New Zealand) and I, of course, in Hamilton (but Ontario). They were quite interested in what I was doing and invited me to join them for lunch. I spent a lovely afternoon with people I'll never see again!
Back in Auckland for my thirteenth (and last) hostel before heading home, spent it at a in a different hostel than my first. Again, staff were helpful and polite.
So, how was hostelling in another country? Great experience. I never could have afforded it if I hadn't stayed in hostels. Hostelling is the only way to go, especially for someone travelling alone and on a budget.
Everyday Tourist Note: This is the first in a series of super senior hosteling blogs by Marie White. She is working on one based on trip with sister to Canada's East Coast with some notes from Iceland. And this spring she is doing the West Coast from Washington state to Alaska.