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A slightly bizarre hostel in Auckland

NEW ZEALAND | Tuesday, 20 January 2009 | Views [874]

The 16th of January never happened as we crossed the international date line to New Zealand, the first “developed” country on the trip. The flight was pleasant (LAN are great) and Auckland airport was certainly super-modern after Latin America. Infrared toilet flushes! Such a far cry from the ubiquitous little toilet paper bucket that I almost missed the little fellas. We waited groggily for our bags unsure what time it should be but knowing that it was very early when it should be late. One bag never made it – only a little one with nothing important – we did the formalities and made for the exit. An ATM just where you would expect it and a bus waiting. We had indeed returned to civilisation – but it almost felt too easy. Where were the complications?

The hostel we had booked was a top floor place just off Queen Street, Auckland's main thouroughfare and dawn had broken as we looked for the street, one or two Friday night casualties flaked out in doorways. We found it easily enough, near the sky tower, the main icon of the city but there was no bell to ring and no-one answered our knocks. Seemingly randomly the door opened and a bloke disappeared back into a doorway. We entered and took the lift up to the top floor. Another locked door but a sleepy looking Scandinavian girl answered and promptly went back to her mattress around the corner – the manager wouldn't turn up till 8am. Only 2 hours or so to wait. Never having stayed in a hostel which basically wasn't open at night was a bit weird but we plonked ourselves on the floor and read. As one bloke came out of his room to visit the bathroom I could see occupied mattresses one by one on the floor. What was this place?

When the South African manager of the hostel turned up we were starting to get really tired but unsurprisingly the room wasn't ready yet so breakfast was in order. A fry-up ... first time since Cusco I think. Then the organisation of things began – we needed to sort out lots of stuff as the plan was to get jobs and work – first up a NZ phone sim which I bought but much to my chagrin my cheap as chips Argentinean replacement phone didn't work. Doh! We criss crossed Queen Street getting guide books and opening bank accounts and visited Kathmandu, my mecca of travel gear for a look around and to pick up an adaptor. All this before taking a long bus ride across the harbour bridge to the uninteresting North Shore suburbs to get a replacement camera for a good price. Olympus probably have never had a person who is prepared to buy the same camera five times. It's waterproof, iceproof, shockproof and crushproof but as I have learnt it's just not Eoghanproof. A bed and a sleep was definitely in order when we got back but it was still too early as we wanted to beat the jetlag. The hostel had a BBQ (not even a patch on an asado) that evening and it was a pleasant surprise to chat Spanish to some Argentenians who were staying.

The hostel was very strange it has to be said – it was quite dirty and unkempt (I guess that's why it was cheaper than the others) for a start and when we got into our double “room” we were bemused to find that the walls were not only paper thin but went up to about 6 inches short of the roof, so every movement in the 5 or 6 ajoining rooms was public domain. As I was having a shower our next door neighbour came out of her room and shouted at Claire for making noise (unpacking). It was 2pm! There were quite a few people who lived there on a permanent basis, including one very nice but difficult-to-comprehend Korean chap who had been there for 4 years (!!), preparing for his entry into an English course. I didn't really get this but he was disappointed as he had failed the English test to get into the course. Maybe I misunderstood but it seems a novel way to run an English school, turning down people who's English isn't up to scratch. Perhaps they're lazy.

Claire finally succumbed to sleep and I carried on with the crowd for a bit longer.

I woke very early and sleepily went to the kitchen to get some water. Around the table were 2 familiar faces, but it took me a few minutes to work out why. It was Olivier and Sylvia who had stayed at the Che Lagarto in Rio with us! Not a total surprise as we always knew we'd arrive in NZ at about the same time and I had emailed them previously with the hostel details. Nonetheless I was a bit surprised to be hugging hello in my boxer shorts and t-shirt. We caught up for a few hours, sipping mate and recounting the places we had been since we had seen them in November. It seemed, and I guess it was half a world away.

We visited one of the many excellent food courts in the city centre for lunch. Great for us to be able to eat malaysian, thai and indian at the same table and agreed there and then that we would rent a car and travel around the North Island together for a few days. We made some enquiries at the hostel and arranged a station wagon in 2 days time, giving us a little time to see the Auckland sights. The guys took a nap and we went to a movie, for a nice change. The Yes Man, starring Jim Carrie. Funny in parts but not a patch on the book by Danny Wallace which in some respects had lead to the trip in the first place. One of the girls who lived/worked in the hostel had some tents she didn't want any more so we were happy to take them off her hands – very kind of her and certainly redeeming the hostel somewhat.

The following day the intention was to get a ferry out, trek on Rangitoto a volcanic island inhabited by goats but we missed the ferry. The ticket vendor suggested another place good for trekking and so we settled for Devenport, 10 minutes across the bay instead. It was a sleepy upmarket suburb with a little 15 minute walk up to the 190m high Mt Victoria. Nice views, a good exchange bookshop where I managed to pick up The Lord of the Rings for cheap – it seemed rude not to reread it while here given the fact that the Trilogy was filmed here. We headed back to the city with the intention of going to a free concert but we were late once again – it finished at 3pm. Late for everything – still on South American time. Chatted to a few people at the hostel that evening including a bohemian American girl called Bee who was in the process of rejecting her family richesse by running away to work on a farm. Fair play to her. Our angry, vampire-like and I suspect long term neighbour had another go at us (I was in the room this time) and I told her where to go in no uncertain terms. When I asked other punters about her they agreed that she was a thundering bitch and also, unbidden, added that they suspected she was a prostitute.

The manager, her husband and their daughter lived on-site too. The daughter deserves a book of her own but suffice to say that I didn't think she had the appropriate environment required for developmental mental stimulation. One of her favourite games was to run around after hostellers with a plastic bag on her head. Sylvia told a story about the girl, she must have been about 9 or 10, being outside her room one afternoon sitting on a mattress. Sylvia noticed a wet patch on her pants so she asked what had happened, to which the response was “I've peed my pants!” and then ran around cackling to herself. Mmm.

Auckland seemed a very strange place after Latin America – no-one was ever around – the streets were quiet and so were the bars and what confused me most was that this was the biggest city in NZ! There was a remarkable similarity to most new cities in the US – filled with malls and people “having a nice day”. If Auckland seemed like it needed CPR or a lobotomy or something what would the rest of this country be like?

Tags: hostel


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