The hostel at the bottom of the world
We collected our bags, strapped them on our backs, extended the handles or balanced them side to side – there was a small library worth of books inside – and schlepped the few hundred metres to our hostel. Paved paths all the way for those of us with wheeled bags and/or skeletons.
On the way, we passed the South Sea Hotel, where Anne, Annette, and Gillian were having a quiet drink after a successful fishing expedition. Fellow attendees of the BookCrossing Unconvention that weekend. I’d flown down from Wellington with Anne, and met Annette and Gillian at Invercargill airport, where the latter two were having a quiet drink before catching the plane across Foveaux Strait.
After our bumpy ferry crossing, I was kind of sorry I hadn’t joined them on the flight!
We passed the school, the library, the community hall, and there it was: Stewart Island Backpackers.
An awkward check-in
There were a few ahead of us. In a place where the visitors can only arrive on the plane or the ferry, there’s going to be a rush. It’s always a little difficult when one of your party isn’t alive. Lesley propped Albert on her bag, and we waited for those ahead of us to register.
Twenty rooms in two wings, ranging from four-bed bunkrooms to luxurious private rooms. Like I had. It came with a double bed, two small stools, a power point and a light switch. Oh yeah, two hooks on the wall for clothes. That was it.
Bathrooms shared, all pretty much exposed to the elements via an open (and thankfully, roofed) breezeway. But hey, this is barebones backpacking and the way it works is cheap and cheerful.
This place was clean and tidy and organised. When you’ve got dozens of scruffy folk tramping in from the bush, drinking and cooking and enjoying themselves, things can go to pot very quickly. Not this place.
The common area was set up for long stays. Lots of chairs, tables, comfy lounges, television and a good selection of videos.
Bookshelf – which we promptly stocked to capacity – jigsaws by the dozen, boardgames. I could see guests being stuck here for days on end until the weather between Oban and the mainland moderated, and might as well be comfy.
There were plenty of thoughtful touches. Clothing swap box, noticeboard with maps and information, a table with a kiwi-spotting logbook – they are often found on the nearby oval around twilight – binoculars for bird spotting, guidebooks, all sorts of useful stuff.
The free wifi was excellent. Nothing brings a network to its knees faster than a herd of BookCrossers, but we had no problems. It was clear and fast all through the premises.
The walls are a bit thin, and the doors open onto the open air, so I wonder how warm it is when winter sets in, but it was fine while we were there. I certainly slept very well.
The common room is supremely well organised and kept clean by the staff. Which of course encourages the guests to keep it that way. It is a friendly, comfortable space, large enough for several groups to co-exist.
The amenities such as maps, binos, noticeboard, free tea and coffee, go well beyond what one might expect. It is clear that the hosts aim for satisfied guests.
And we were.