Friday, January 11, 2008

Fin

So needless to say at this point (not that it's gonna stop me), our travels through NZ and elsewhere have come to a close. It’s hard to believe that the year’s over already; like all things like this, it seems to have gone by so quickly. Since we’ve returned home at the same time of the year that we left for NZ, it’s often felt surreal these past few weeks – did we really go to NZ for a whole year? But then I remember specific moments of our trip, like sitting on the beach enjoying the early Auckland summer, or bottling beer at Brew Moon with Kieran, and I remember, yeah, we were there!

It is a bit of a bummer to return to an east coast winter after the warm early summer in NZ and the tropical heat of Tahiti, but we’re slowly getting used to it. Central PA welcomed us back with a couple of ice storms in our first week back, which I wouldn’t say was a terrific way to get us excited for our post-peripatetic phase, but as they say in Papeete’s roughest neighborhoods, "c’est la vie mofo."

Looking back on all the experiences we had and the awesome (a terrible and overused word, I know, but whatever) people we met in our year of traveling, we can only say that it was absolutely worth the cost and effort, and if we had to do it all over again, we definitely would. On a second run we'd obviously be a bit hipper to the scene, but then again, the discovery and new experiences were what made the trip as great as it was. We'll miss NZ, our year of unscheduled randomness, writing the blog, and sharing our trip with the internet, but are looking forward to our next adventure: reintroducing ourselves to gainful employment.

Before leaving America, I had some anxiety about various facets of our trip – would I be miserable without the familiar cultural touchstones of the US for a year? Could we make the trip without going broke? Would we be able to stand each other’s company nearly all day, everyday for a year? Would our lack of pre-defined plans leave us stranded or unable to figure out what to do next? Fortunately for us, we found we could live without much US pop culture or sports (NZ rugby filled in quite nicely), we were able to be frugal while still eating reasonably, Becky only went slightly nuts at times due to the intense amount of quality time together, and finally, through luck or skill (probably mostly luck) we were usually able to smoothly transition between places and activities. We attribute most of our luck to our travel karma, which is not being repaid at the moment, but which we fully intend to do, perhaps when we get an apartment.

The other day, I was thinking about our trip, the things we did, and how it’s been difficult for me to sum up our experiences to people who’ve asked “So what did you do?” without chastising them for not reading the blog, or offering some answer that didn’t seem to fulfill the question. And when I thought about it and tried to answer, sometimes I'd feel defensive because I wasn't able to make everything sound like the most amazing thig ever - even with all the things that we did do on the trip, you could argue that a good deal of time wasn’t really productive, and so why bother? But then as I was reading through the section of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance where Pirsig is expounding on his definition of gumption, a passage seemed particularly applicable to our experience:

You see it often in people who return from long, quiet fishing trips. Often they're a little defensive about having put so much time to "no account" because there's no intellectual justification for what they've been doing. But the returned fisherman usually has a peculiar abundance of gumption, usually for the very same things he was sick to death of a few weeks before. He hasn't been wasting time. It's only our limited cultural viewpoint that makes it seem so.

I don’t pretend to know exactly what he’s talking about all the time in the book, which I think is a typical reaction, but the above paragraph resonated with me, as it didn’t feel like we were wasting our time at all, even if we weren't doing huge things all the time. Even without being able to adequately explain it, it was the trip we wanted to take. And in the post-game analysis, it was really satisfying to me, which I think is what’s most important.


If anyone reading this is thinking about such a trip, allow us to encourage you as much as possible. Cost really needn’t be a backbreaking factor – we spent less than $10k together, and could’ve spent much less, or worked a lot more, or done an abbreviated version of our trip, and still got to have an amazing time. We met heaps of people who hitchhiked through the country safely, took buses, slept at campsites, or wwoofed even more than we did, and by all accounts were having a blast. If you’re willing to be flexible and/or do damage to your long-term health by eating Ramen everyday, it can be pretty damn cheap. So we recommend that you get out and travel already (especially if you decide to go to NZ because of our blog, because it would be tremendously gratifying to our egos). Having exhausted our list of things to say, this is likely to be our last post here. If so, good night and God bless!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Additional Friendly Hostel Reviews (South Island)

MARLBOROUGH, NELSON

Bayview Backpackers, Picton

Set in Waikawa, just up the road from Picton, Bayview is a reasonable backpackers, but not as nice as their rating had led us to believe. Our double room was pretty good, I had no complaints there. But there should probably be a better bathroom set-up; in the high season I imagine it seems quite full with only two toilet/shower combination bathrooms to go around. It isn’t a huge place, but there’s probably not enough facilities. Also, Becky thought it was a bit of a mess when we got there, though who doesn’t like homemade bread everyday? Thus, 6.5.

Leeways Backpackers, Blenheim

We’ve got mixed thoughts on Leeways. One on hand, our double room was ridiculously well-appointed for $40 total, with a mini fridge, TV, and DVD player, and was quite nice in general. One the other, the hostel is located on a somewhat industrial, busy road, and the set-up is a bit odd as you have to walk through the shower room to the backyard. Parts were nice but other parts not so much. They did have a ping-pong table, which is a definite plus. Update: we find ourselves here in the winter to do some pruning work, this is definitely a long-termers place, with plenty of people here to prune over the winter, almost all Germans. Bumping up the grade from 5.5 to 6.5ish, but beware it will likely be packed!

Watson’s Way, Renwick

A really nice purpose-built backpackers in Renwick, it was nearly empty when we were there in winter, but could see that it would be really nice in summer as well. Kitchen was spacious, clean, and well-appointed, a large lounge with many chairs and TV, and the grounds were well-kept, looked like there would lots of good places to chill outside in warm weather. They choose not to allow long-termers, which almost certainly keeps their rating up, but their volumes low. Guess they would rather not have that sort of crowd and vibe. Room was a little small for having 6 beds, if there were other people I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much, so consequently it’s a 7.5.

The Bug, Nelson

A warm and inviting hostel located in a house on the outskirts of Nelson city, there’s a lot to like about the Bug. Clean, well-maintained, and attractive in the house, a nice outside BBQ/picnic area, free (if glacial) internet, nice kitchen, and good rooms, from what we experienced. Downsides are the lack of much dining space and a really bad layout for parking. Very nice, but we rate it a little lower than most other backpackers seem to: 8

GOLDEN BAY

The Barn, Maharau

Backpackers/campsite located just a few hundred meters from the entrance of Abel Tasman National Park, which is quite nice. Double rooms were really quite nice, dorms didn’t look as fun since they were right next to kitchen and people were walking through there. Kitchen was fairly nice, nothing spectacular, but location at the park is main draw here, and is good for that. 7.5

The Nook, Pahora

Situated on the road from Takaka to the northern end of the Abel Tasman, The Nook features a hodge-podge of accommodations ranging from a bach-type backpackers to a strawbale cottage to a actual housetruck that sleeps 4. We stayed in the backpackers and had the place to ourselves. Kitchen was good, though the sink is small and tough to clean things in, the dining area was pretty good, living room was cozy (especially with the fire, which got nice and toasty), though it might be a little small with a full house. Bathrooms were also nice and clean, and rooms were good with only doubles and twins in the main house – no cramped dorms here. The real prize here is the setting out in the middle of Golden Bay paddocks, with a property that oozes charm and cozyness. 8

Shambhala, Takaka/Collingwood

A remote Golden Bay backpackers with a bit of a Buddhist twist. Nice place with cool vibe, uses solar power and rainwater for power and water, so that presents its usual challenges. Nice and clean, with great location set off the road several Ks, meters from a rocky beach and its entrance is almost directly across from the famous Mussel Inn. Enjoyed Shambhala a lot. 9.5

The Innlet, Collingwood

As you’d expect in Golden Bay, Innlet’s a wee bit rustic, though charming and cruisey. Set on the road just a bit north of Collingwood at the edge of Kahurangi NP and very close to the beach, it’s got a great location and features a substantial bushwalk in the back of the property. Nice big kitchen, clean and attractive rooms, cozy fireplace in the generous living room, and attractive grounds, complete with streamside hot tubs fashioned from bathtubs. John, the host, is also happy to chat and recommend things in the area, which we liked. 8

KAIKOURA

Adelphi Lodge, Kaikoura

On the whole it was an uninspiring stay at Adelphi Lodge for us. It’s a pretty large hostel, with a bit of a rooming house/Barton Fink in the South Pacific kind of feel. Large kitchen, and really big lounge/TV room, which I thought was pretty good. Also enjoyed the hot tub. Location is good, in the middle of Kaikoura’s downtown, with off-street parking, but the train rolls by several times, very loudly during the night, which is not great. Overall, eh. 6.5

Dusky Lodge, Kaikoura

Located on the highway coming into Kaikoura from the north, it shares a building with a Thai restaurant, which is a bit unusual. Our dorm was nice and clean enough, if a bit spare, though not overcrowded. Kitchen really wasn’t that nice, which was a bit of a surprise since the rest of the common areas looks pretty attractive. Nice wood fires throughout the building kept it warm and cozy in winter, and we took advantage of the hot tub and free breakfast (during winter only). Probably is a 7, but could see giving it an 8 possibly.

Sunrise Lodge, Kaikoura

This is definitely the best place we’ve stayed in in Kaikoura, which isn’t saying heaps as we weren’t impressed by the other places, but it’s still pretty nice. The sleeping quarters are set in a purpose-built building behind the office, which lies on the main road through town, and like every other hostel, seems to be located just yards from the train tracks. Still, not ridiculously loud, so that was alright. Kitchen and bathrooms were good and well-maintained, and the beds and linens were more than satisfactory. The hosts are a hands-on German or Dutch couple, and they help to make the place even more cozy. 8

CANTERBURY

Hanmer Backpackers, Hanmer Springs

A nice, cozy backpackers in scenic, if sleepy, Hanmer Springs. Run by a friendly newcomer to the backpackers business, it’s a solid, if unspectacular hostel. Nothing really exceptional, but good vibe that we enjoyed. 8

Le Gite, Hanmer Springs

A small, cruisey, well-kept backpackers a few minutes of Hanmer Springs proper, it’s a small collection of buildings in a residential neighborhood. Really pretty small and homey with a nice kitchen and cozy common area, the wood fire was quite good on a cold night in Hanmer. Would definitely stay there again, our share room had good beds and it was only a 5-10 minute walk downtown and to the hot pools. 8.5

Marine Backpackers, Sumner

A pretty sizable hostel located a block from the beach in the Christchurch suburb of Sumner. It’s also a bottle store and bar and can get rather loud and busy, especially on weekend nights. During the day and evening we really enjoyed this hostel, as there are two kitchens and a nice lounge area on the first floor, along with a sizable patio/beer garden for BBQing. However, this is not a great place to get a good night’s rest, as the bedding is pretty low-grade (flat pillows, thin mattresses, squeaky beds), noise from the bar is highly audible throughout the second floor, and some of the rooms face the bar’s bright sign, making for tough sleeping. As a result, it’s only a 6.5, and I probably wouldn’t stay here again but for the sweet location.

Canterbury House, Christchurch

A sprawling, medium-sized backpackers on Bealey Ave just north of the city center, downtown is only a 15-minute walk away, which is nice. The atmosphere in the hostel was rather odd, like being at a retirement home or your grandfolks’ house, probably as a result from being owned by an older gentleman, had to be in his 60s. Two Asian women, one who seemed to be his wife, run the place during the day, and it’s a pretty sedate place, except for the Muzak and Christian music that was on most of the time. Beds were nice and everything was clean and well-kept, which was a plus. We were the only ones staying there at the time (early winter) but almost definitely wouldn’t stay there again, weird feel. 6.5

Dorset House, Christchurch

Dorset’s a bright, modern, and spacious hostel located in the northwest area of the city centre, directly across from the park, so it really has a winner of a location. Kitchen was clean and well-sized, bathrooms were good and numerous, lounge was large, with TV and videos, internet, pool table, and plenty of couches, and bedrooms were also just fine. Probably the best hostel we’ve stayed at in Chch so far, which is good, but they don’t put the heat on, which is not great. 7

The Old Countryhouse, Christchurch

The OC’s (don’t call it that) a cute little multi-building hostel located east of the city in Chch, probably Richmond or Shirley somewhere. It’s got a set of attractive buildings with a well-manicured lawn set behind an unprepossessing set of gates in a working class neighborhood. The buildings are nice, kitchen and bathroom facilities definitely adequate, but the beds in the bedrooms are substandard: the mattresses in our dorm were hard as rock and the “linens” consisted of a thin blanket, which was quite lame. The bedding was so lame it makes this place a 7.

Bon Accord Backpackers, Akaroa

Bon Accord is one of Akaroa’s set of downtown hostels, and is composed of several small one-floor buildings in an attractive property next to the stream running through town. In our building the kitchen and bathroom were quite small, which wasn’t a problem in the off-season when we visited, but would be an issue if it were full. Nice little lounge area and the slippers on the bed were an unusual, nice touch, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and guess that they’re clean. 7.5

Chez La Mer Backpackers, Akaroa

Located in downtown Akaroa, Chez La Mer gets a high rating in the 80s from BBH, but not sure exactly why. It does have a great location and is a cute house, but way too small for the volume of travelers. Even in the off-season we found the living room packed, which needs only 5-6 people to do so, and there was nowhere to store food in the house. Bathrooms and bedrooms were fine, nothing special but good. They mean well, but just too small to rate higher than a 6.5

Onuku Farm Hostel, Akaroa

Onuku is located about halfway up a mountainside 6km south of Akaroa, so it’s pretty much in the sticks. Great location when the weather is good, you can get awesome views of the waterway. Offers dolphin swims and kayaks for reasonable prices, other backpackers say they’re great trips. Pretty cruisey vibe at Onuku, somewhat hippie, but the lodge isn’t set up great for lots of people to hang out at the same time. Dorms were OK, cleanliness was good overall, showers all seem to be outside, so if it’s really cold they might not be much fun. Good spot overall, weather wasn’t great during our visit, which was a bummer, but in great weather this place would rock. 8.5

Mountain House, Arthur’s Pass

The tiny town of Arthur’s Pass, really a glorified refueling place between Chch and Greymouth, supports just two backpackers, and of the two Mountain House had the higher ranking, and so we stopped there. Not a bad little modern purpose-built joint, with a number of dorms and other rooms, slightly impersonal but BIG kitchen and dining area, what looked to be heaps of toilets/showers, and a cozy lounge on set above it all on a second floor. Probably your best bet if you need to stay in the Pass, the Mountain House is more than competent and efficient, if a little sterile. Sterile beats the funk in a place with 20+ beds, though. 8

Buscot Station, Omarama

A hostel located in a house on a farm out in the sticks of Omarama, got a very high BBH rating, 93%. It’s pretty nice, but given the number of people staying here, there just aren’t enough in the way of facilities to accommodate people well. With an average-sized kitchen, dining room, and living room, having 20 people stay here at the same time seems a bit excessive. Still, it’s in a nice location with pretty scenery, but it needs bigger and better facilities to handle this much traffic. More like a 7.5, I think.

Tailor-Made Tekapo, Lake Tekapo

Tailor-Made is a bit of a sprawling place, taking up three houses and an another guest lodge in a residential neighborhood above Lake Tekapo. Fairly ordinary accommodations, clean and bright lounge and dining areas, if a bit utilitarian. Nicely maintained yards with hammocks and such. Becky really enjoyed the reading lights, a nice thoughtful little touch which is worth so much. 7

Empire Hotel Backpackers, Oamaru

This is really an underrated place, we thought, especially given the size of the joint. Located in what looks to be an old boarding house (or something similar) in downtown Oamaru, the rooms were nice, warm, and clean, bathrooms were numerous and clean, the kitchens large, and the internet free. It also had a TV room, what more can you ask of a big hostel? We liked it so much we stopped there twice. On our first visit we saw (or rather, heard) blue penguins in a nearby garage, sadly by our second visit they were gone, as one had been runover, bummer. 8.5

SOUTHLAND

Happy Inn Backpackers, Milton

Perhaps the only reason to stay in Milton is the Happy Inn, run by an eccentric, gregarious, juggle-happy, bike-crazy, bread-baking, Buddhist Swiss, Tony, who will not allow his guests to wash their dishes nor seemingly go without a moment of conversation. A very friendly and outgoing chap, Tony regaled us with heaps of stories of biking across Asia, setting up circus tents in Australia, his Buddhist beliefs, and tales of backpackers gone before. He also taught juggling and washed our dishes after we had cooked dinner, a backpacking first for us! It can get a bit much what with him talking so much, but it’s generally fun and entertaining, and overshadows anything else at the hostel, which he converted from an old gym years ago. The lounge is warm and cozy with heaps of books and music, bathrooms are OK, bedrooms were clean and suitable, but your opinion of Happy Inn will largely rest on how much you enjoyed Tony. Might be best when there’s a few other people to distract his attraction, wish we could’ve gotten him to fire up the sauna… Still - 8

Falls Backpackers, Purakaunui

Situated way out in the middle of nowhere in the Catlins, this is a homey hostel located in a separate house on a farm. Actually it’s down the road from the Purakaunui Falls, so not hard to get to, though that doesn’t mean it’s near anything else. The bedrooms were really nice, and the doubles were huge, the size of master bedrooms, and the place could easily be a B&B. The bathrooms are also really quite nice and well-apportioned. Unfortunately the kitchen fails the place, as it’s really too small to accommodate more than a few people at a time, and the lounge falls prey to this as well. Luckily we had the place to ourselves when we were there in the off-season, and so really enjoyed our stay and the ability to stretch out fully there. Free eggs! 8

Waikawa Holiday Lodge, Waikawa

Waikawa is basically sticks-ville, Catlins, so if you’re looking for small-town isolation, this is a good place to do it. The Holiday Lodge is located right across the street from the notable Anglican church, and it’s really best if you think of it as a rustic bach, rather than a hostel, as it’s just a small house with 3 bedrooms and another double in a small adjoining building. Everything in the house is in good enough condition, though it is quite small and in need of an update. On cold nights the fire is quite cozy though, and it can be a good base to explore the Catlins area for a day or two. 6.5

Dolphin Lodge Backpackers, Curio Bay

Curio Bay is an isolated beach in the Catlins, and there’s definitely some amazing natural beauty there, with Hector’s Dolphins, yellow-eyed penguins, and the petrified forest on the ocean. Be sure to buy food in Invercargill, Dunedin, or your starting point before going there, as there’s about one camp store, a takeaways, and a restaurant in the general area. The backpackers is a nice, cozy beach affair, with good views of Porpoise Bay, a spacious kitchen and lounge area, and a number of dorm rooms. Because of the surf and the lessons offered by the hostel manager, it’s popular with both experienced surfers and wanna-bes. Cool, cruisey atmosphere and it’s a good place to chill for a few days away from the hustle and bustle of Invercargill or the like… 7

Southern Comfort Backpackers, Invercargill

A hostel consisting of two houses across the street from each other in a nice residential neighborhood near Queen’s Park in Invercargill. Nice location and the exterior/gardens of the houses were very attractive, in particular. Interiors were also in good condition and facilities appeared to be well-cared for, nice hostel to stay at, with fireplaces in lounges as well. 8

Kackling Kea Lodge, Invercargill

A pretty nice little backpackers on the outskirts of Invercargill, Kackling Kea is literally the larger part of its owner’s home. Good bathrooms from what I could see, and for its size it looked to have a large enough dining/lounge-type area. Free bread in the morning was nice, though not particularly flavorful. Dorms were nice, clean, and the heater generated enough heat in the night. Probably would choose Southern Comfort again if we had to spend another night in Invercargill, but still give Kea an 8.

Stewart Island Backpackers (non-BBH), Stewart Island

Not sure what’s going on with this place, but we certainly didn’t love it. Double was only a couple bucks more than dorms, which probably means dorms are overpriced. We got the double, not a brilliant room or building by any means though. The facility seems purpose-built to reverberate and carry sound, we heard every cough, yell, and especially slammed door in the building. Kitchen is OK but a little ghetto, lounge is spacious but depressing. Bathrooms are outside, a bit below average especially in winter. A high school group was loudly banging around when we visited, which depresses our rating, so it’s not recommended. 4

Barnyard Backpackers, Te Anau

Almost feel bad giving this a pretty mediocre rating, but staying there in winter is not really a treat. Beautiful scenery at its location on a deer farm outside of Te Anau, and the main office/kitchen/dining area/owner’s living quarters is really a great building with character. However kitchen is industrial and charmless, it’s a good hike to your room from the main room, and heating is insufficient in the rooms in the winter. Just enough negatives to make us not choose Barnyard again in the future, could be nice in summer though. 7

Milford Lodge, Milford Sound

The only budget accommodations in Milford, the Lodge is a large utilitarian hostel, with outdoor access to the facilities and rooms. Kitchen is large and useful, and bathrooms are pretty good with great hot water for the showers. The lounge is also good and spacious, plenty of room to spare there. However the power goes off at 11 or so, which includes the heaters in the rooms. In the middle of winter this is really unfortunate, as it can get below freezing quite easily in the Fiordland, making for a miserable night trying to sleep. Thus the Lodge only gets a 6.5.

QUEENSTOWN, WANAKA

Holly’s Backpackers, Wanaka

A small-medium-sized backpackers located in a large house in a quiet, older residential neighborhood in Wanaka, a few blocks away from the lake and the main shops. Good location and it’s a nice, bright, well-kept hostel with very friendly management, who we got to know well since we stayed for a long time, over a week. We stayed in an 8-bed dorm in the basement, which was not bad despite the number of people in it. Everything seemed to be clean, nicely maintained, and cheery, vibe was good when we were there. Apparently they get large numbers of Japanese skiers in the winter, so keep that in mind for booking then, if you can get a bed. 8

Matterhorn (non-BBH), Wanaka

A medium-sized hostel right off the heart of town in Wanaka, Matterhorn is OK but certainly not great. Our dorm room was adequate, but sleep was ruined by snoring Aussies and sounds reverberated throughout the building. Kitchen was OK, but there wasn’t much room for eating and lounging for the amount of people in a building of its size. Bathrooms were OK, our bad sleep helps to give this place a 5.

Poplar Lodge, Arrowtown

A small, homey little backpackers situated about a block from ‘downtown’ Arrowtown, Poplar is a nice, relatively quiet hostel spread out over two buildings on a sleepy residential street. Bathrooms were nice, kitchen well-appointed, and rooms seemed clean, not too cramped, and well-kept. Recommended for getting away from the Q-Town hustle-bustle. 8

Deco Backpackers, Queenstown

A sprawling, warren-like hostel located in the hills above Queenstown, near the Gondola, Deco Backpackers was a pretty good value in Queenstown. Though it calls itself ‘Deco’ they are but few Art Deco flourishes on any of the buildings, with utilitarian backpacker facilities more the standard. Facilities are good, with decent bathrooms, sizable kitchen with lots of heating elements, heaps of refrigerators, and a pretty nice lounge/dining area. Given the number of guests, dining area could be a bit bigger, but seems to be no room for that. Our room was a twin, which was nice enough for the money. Would stay again, especially because of the free wifi, which is quite a good feature. 7/8

WEST COAST (aka the Promised Land of hostels)

Beaconstone, Charleston

We really enjoyed Beaconstone, located in Charleston just a bit south of Westport and set in the bush about 5 minutes off the highway. The hosts, Grae and Nancy were really gracious and conversational, the place was immaculate and quite small, and they obviously put a lot of care into building and maintaining it. Also, Beaconstone was eco-friendly as it was off the grid, had composting toilets, and used solar power. A really relaxing and cool place to stay. 10

The Old Slaughterhouse, Hector

Billed as “the best hostel in the world” from a hostel survey, I don’t know if was the best hostel ever, but it was really quite nice. It’s got a tremendous view of the Tasman Sea owing to its location halfway up a mountain from the highway along the ocean. The Slaughterhouse requires a 10-minute hoof pretty much uphill, so you need to scrutinize what you take up with you, but the views and hospitality are well worth, we thought. David and Ina, the couple that own and live in the hostel, were really friendly and fun to talk to, the building is inviting and beautiful, and as I already mentioned the views are million-dollar. Becky really enjoyed the dogs as well. Huge recommendation. 9.5. A second visit six months later only confirmed our earlier opinion. Perhaps some people won’t appreciate the unheated rooms or the walk to the bathroom, but we don’t mind. Has to be a 10.

Rongo Lodge, Karamea

Another really good west coast backpackers. Rongo is a bit different from the first two as it’s set in Karamea so it doesn’t boast great views or a gorgeous building like the previous two, but the atmosphere is really what makes Rongo special. Described by Beaconstone’s owner, Grae (who no one would confuse with a square) as really hippy, we figured Rongo would be eccentric and fun, and it really was. The owners are quite chill, and have built Rongo to have a really friendly, peaceful vibe, and it comes across well when you stay there. Half the people we met there said they “planned to spend one night, and ended up spending four” as they enjoyed the atmosphere so much, not to mention the 4th night was free. Rongo has its own little radio station, always broadcasting, driftwood fires in the parking lot every night, parties most nights, and its not uncommon for travelers to do dinners together and with the staff. Not the greatest facilities ever, but free (with donation) wifi was great, the atmosphere is terrific, and you’ll feel at home pretty quickly at Rongo. 8.5

Te Nikau, Punakaiki

Yet another nice backpackers, Te Nikau is a bit bigger than the others we’ve stayed at, but still nice in its own way. Located right off the highway in Punakaiki, its set in the bush, and consists of a main lodge and smaller lodges. We stayed at one of the smaller lodges, which was a self-contained sleeping quarters, kitchen, and bathroom. The kitchen was basically a greenhouse, which was different, but nice, as it was sunny but kept warmth in, which was good since it got so chilly and damp in the bush at night. Surprisingly good night’s sleep in the dorm, given how many people were in our room, but it was all good. Te Nikau appeared to have a small army of woofers, which was probably necessary given how big their area of land was and the multiple buildings to clean. Really pretty nice place overall. 8.5. Updated: stayed in another of the buildings with Marie and Alex, a bit different, not in the forest but the kitchen was bigger and better, reiterate our previous ranking.

The Old Church, Ross

I guess this place is an old church, but it doesn’t really appear to be so, especially from the inside. From the outside, it looks like an old house, but that doesn’t really matter. Located right off the highway next to a river in Ross, which is really not close to anything of big interest, which probably hurts it a bit. It does have a nice outdoor area, free laundry, nice-sized kitchen, good lounge, and huge collection of albums to play, which is a nice feature. Overall a good place, it seems to fit an 80% place just right. 8

Glow Worm Cottages, Franz Josef

A larger hostel, probably with 50-60 beds, owned by the same group that owns Adelphi Lodge in Kaikoura, along with some other hostels. Like Adelphi, The Far Side is prevalent, and there again is free soup and a hot tub. Seems to be arranged like a normal motel with rooms circling a motor courtyard. Pretty cheap at $19 with BBH card for a dorm bed, it’s really a bit big for what we like, but it’s what’s available around here. A bit better than Adelphi, but just OK. 5.5

Ivory Tower Backpackers, Fox Glacier

A large hostel in Fox Glacier, the only one in town so it’s not like there’s a lot of choice. When we were there in winter, we found it pretty cramped in the kitchen and dining area, which were full of lots of other stuck travelers. The lounge had a bad odor, the heaters in the room were really bright but didn’t stay on for very long, and the bathrooms weren’t kept up very well. Showers were also iffy at best. Barely average backpackers. 6

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Some Friendly Hostel Reviews (North Island)

As we traveled through NZ this year, we wrote down some thoughts on each backpackers we stayed at so that we could rate them later as part of the BBH (Better Budget Hostels) rating system, partly because we are such civically-minded travelers but mostly because we had copious free time. With our SiteMeter hit counter, we’ve seen that the majority of visitors to our site are searching for specific hostels, particularly Shambhala in Golden Bay and Waikawa Holiday Lodge in the Catlins. Hopefully they’ve found our blog illuminating. Thus, in the spirit of driving more traffic to our site (since we had so few comments, the ever-rising hit counter has served as an affirmation of our hilarious reportage) and to help fellow travelers, we present our thoughts on many a budget NZ accommodation. Bear in mind that these are just the thoughts of one incredibly insightful person, so your mileage may vary. On the bright side these reviews are fully refundable. If you happen to own or love a hostel we didn’t like, apologies, but since our blog is dedicated to the Truth, what can we do?

It’s pretty impressive to look back at all the many backpackers we have stayed at in New Zealand. We’ve been really grateful for the BBH guide, which has been a pretty accurate measure for the different accommodations throughout the country. For anyone spending more than a few weeks in New Zealand, it is certainly worth the $40NZ fee to become a member (plus, you get a great phone card, too). The rating system seems to pretty right on, although we have stayed some places that seemed overrated and a few that seem underrated. But, by and large, they get it right.

Although we’ve visited most of the hostels on the West Coast, Golden Bay, and Banks Peninsula, we typically don’t have much experience with the backpackers in the big cities, as these are the places we were most likely to find Couch Surfing hosts. General tips would be to avoid the backpackers that cater to the large tour groups (Kiwi Experience! We’re looking at you…). Also, if you have your own transportation, the backpackers that are out of the city centers (or indeed far from everything) tend to be the nicest with the most charm and character.

The following reviews are grouped in geographic order, sort of, and are ranked on a scale of 1 (awful!) to 10 (amazing!). These were our general impressions:

NORTHLAND, AUCKLAND, & COROMANDEL

Endless Summer Lodge, Ahipara, Northland

Endless Summer Lodge is in a great location right on the beach. The hostel was spotless and even had a dishwasher (certainly a luxury for many a backpacker)! The building was beautiful with great views from the porch and also a really nice outside dining/deck area with an herb garden. High recommendation. 9.5

Mousetrap Backpackers, Paihia

Moderately sized backpackers, lives up to its name with its winding halls and tucked-away dorms. Clean and not for partiers, but is directly across the street from bars that are quite popular with backpackers, so you may hear (loud) music from there at night. If you don’t want to hear the music, try Captain Bob’s probably. Good recommendation. 7

Verandahs Backpackers Lodge, Auckland

Overall, we really liked this place. Campbell, the host, is a gregarious and friendly guy, with good recommendations and generally helpful suggestions. He put us in contact with Ken, an auto inspections guy who sold us our car, which got us safely around the country for the last 11 months. The backpackers is a 15-minute walk to downtown sights, clean and relatively small so that it’s pretty quiet at night, good for avoiding the party scene. High recommendation for an in-city Auckland hostel, especially if you’re on the look-out for a car. 9


Lantana Lodge, Auckland

Lantana is tucked away off the main thoroughfare in the Parnell neighborhood. Clean and orderly, run by an Indian fellow, Raj, who runs a tight ship there. Free internet, with wireless, which is fantastic and quite unusual at an NZ hostel! Not much happening in Parnell, and the vibe is a bit library-like here, but good for a quiet stay and if you want to make copious use of the free internet. Good recommendation. 7

Gateway Backpackers, Thames, Coromandel

A really nice two-house backpackers on the outskirts of the town of Thames. Run by a relatively young couple, very clean and bright, free laundry (!), didn’t have internet when we visited, but right through the backyard was an internet cafĂ©. Very nice stay, high recommendation if you happen to be in Thames. 8

EAST CAPE

Maraehako Bay Retreat, Whangarua Bay

We were led to believe this would be a great place to stay by a friend, and by a BBH rating. Sorry, but our experience wasn’t of an 87% place. Location is absolutely great on an isolated bay on the eastern Bay of Plenty, and the building is a great rustic treehouse-looking structure. On the parts alone it would be about a 9. Unfortunately we picked a bad room, a double on the ground floor with a deck above it. Peaceful it was not, with people running back and forth, lots of people coming and going, and just not what we were hoping for from a backpackers for $60/night. Facilities were average, not impressive by any means, location great, but our experience wasn’t the best. Definitely get the top room by the kitchen. 6

TAURANGA, ROTORUA, & TAUPO

Just the Ducks Nuts, Tauranga

Located just across the bridge from Tauranga and Mt. Maunganui, good location for trips to either, but outside the cities. Best for people wanting to be outside ‘the scene’, seemed to be filled largely with long-term stayers working in the area, so has a vibe from that. Generally pretty nice, the upstairs was nicer than the basement lower level, which is more like a cave. 7

Funky Green Voyager, Rotorua

Located just south of the main shopping district in Rotorua, FGV is a nice, well-kept property with a huge kitchen, clean rooms, plenty of room to read, eat, and hang out. The owners and staff are really friendly, eager to recommend things to do or to just say hi. This contributes to a good, chill vibe in FGV. Apparently Rotorua has some crime issues but nothing was apparent while we visited. 8.5

Extreme Backpackers, Turangi

In the Turangi town center, which makes up nearly all of Turangi as far as we can tell, Extreme also has a climbing wall as part of the operation. Friendly and helpful staff, especially for doing the Tongariro Crossing. Rooms were clean and well-appointed, nice large kitchen, TV room, dining room, and courtyard. 8.5

TARANAKI

Seaspray House, New Plymouth

Owing to the energy industry NP seems to be doing alright for itself as the only town worth seeing in Taranaki. Seaspray’s located a few blocks from the city centre and its free museums and galleries, just a couple blocks from the beach. Nice, character house on a quiet street, the parking lot leaves something to be desired in the back but is better than nothing. House is a bit of a warren with various halls and closed doors, but is spacious enough, especially in the living room/dining room area. Kitchen is pretty good, big enough and has what you need. Bathrooms were new and modern, and our room was nice, only three beds in an oddly shaped room, not a bunch just jammed in. Comfortable for a night or two in sleepy NP. 8

Tamara Backpackers, Wanganui

Located in a charming older two-story building just a bit out of the city centre on the muddy Wanganui river, Tamara’s certainly an adequate hostel. Very quiet when we visited in the off-season, doesn’t seem like Wanganui probably ever gets too busy, though. Our double was a really pretty nice little room, clean, decent bed, quiet as we were the only ones on the second floor. Kitchen was also adequate and well-apportioned for a hostel its size, there was a TV room, and a nice lounge/dining room area. Not brilliant but worked, and a decent price. 7

HAWKE’S BAY, WAIRARAPA

Aqua Lodge, Napier

Located in a working-class (read, somewhat gritty) neighborhood about 10 minutes from downtown Napier, Aqua Lodge is possibly named for the swimming pool in its backyard? Sprawling across 3 buildings, Aqua Lodge has a bit of old-person feel combined with being a bit run-down. As it’s in Napier, it’s favored by fruit-picking backpackers in summer, with its 3 houses largely full and its backyard full of campers. Beds were fine, but much of the place showed signs of wear and tear, with infrequent maintenance. Other lodgings in Napier looked similarly worn, so that might just be the case everywhere, but Aqua certainly isn’t a great hostel. 5

Lochlea Lodge, Waipukurau

Terrific backpackers accommodation on a farm near Waipukurau, which is a bit off the beaten track in the Wairarapa region, but if you’re near there, it’s well-worth staying. The Lee family is warm and accommodating, the rooms were spotless, and there was a large kitchen/eating/TV area, especially for the size of the backpackers, which was pretty small and cozy. Great location on their farm, with plenty of area to roam and tramp around. Also has swimming pool, nice place to stay. 9.5

Leeway Motel, Featherston (Non-BBH)

Pretty standard budget motel on the main drag in Featherston with separate backpackers building. No real atmosphere to speak of, a few twin rooms, TV room, kitchen, and bathroom in a trailer-type building. Relatively cheap and clean accommodations, nothing special, but really nothing similar in Featherston. 4.5

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

We Took The BART In San Francisco (Dec. 7 – 12)

With one more stop left in our year of travels, we arrived in San Francisco on a Friday morning after an uneventful flight from Papeete (uneventful but for the disconcerting noises the plane made when it hit turbulence… as if little bits were falling off). From there, we caught an airport shuttle to our next CouchSurfing host, Emmanuel. Surprisingly, it had been somewhat difficult to find a CS host in San Francisco, given the large number of CSers in the area, and San Francisco’s laid-back reputation. We thought it would be easy to find a host for our five days, but it proved much trickier, and we sent out nearly a dozen emails before we got a positive reply. Easy to find hosts in Tahiti, hard in SF, who knew? Given the number of people cruising through the Bay, perhaps it makes sense that they’re harder to find there than one of the world’s most remote island groups. Interesting.

We ultimately managed to arrange some couch time with Emmanuel, a native of France who had grown up in Allentown, Pennsylvania (of all places…). As is typical of CouchSurfing hosts, Emmanuel is very friendly, talkative and generous nearly to a fault. During our stay, he hosted an additional five surfers who had been stuck without other hosts. This meant that the floor was usually lined with other surfers (Andrew and I had fortunately “booked” so we were able to sleep on the futon). Emmanuel lives in the really nice neighborhood of Cow Hollow in San Francisco, and we felt really lucky to be able to stay with him. Despite having gotten only an hour or two of sleep overnight on the plane, we went out with some other British CSers to a local bar, a hipsterish dive that had surprisingly cheap microbrews, and hung out with even more CSers who were in town. All told, seven CSers were in attendance that night – a veritable convention!

Posing with Emmanuel, who we called Manny. He's a nice guy.


Before coming to SF, Becky expected to like the city, but I don’t think she ever expected to love San Francisco. We were extremely lucky to come here during a spell of fine weather (five days of sun with no fog in sight!) and spent as much time outside as possible. On our first full day, we walked through the bustling Fisherman’s Wharf to catch a ferry to take us to Alcatraz. All the ferry tours were sold out for the day, so we were lucky to have booked our tickets early in the morning. For once we were happy to play tourists, as the ferry ride provided a great view of the San Francisco skyline from the water. The Alcatraz tour itself was also very good, with a headset providing a self guided tour of the cell block. It almost gives you the shivers to step into one of the solitary confinement cells and know that inmates were formerly kept here for weeks at a time, sitting in the darkness with nothing but a button to occupy themselves.


Alcatraz...Solid as a rock!



The fashion police finally caught up with Becky for her blue sweater


After we returned from the Alcatraz we had the obligatory clam chowder bread bowl and Anchor Steam beer (brewed in SF, natch) before heading to Coit Tower before the sunset. We took in the San Francisco skyline as the sun slowly set. Next we strolled down the stairs of Telegraph Hill looking for the wild parrots of movie fame. Sadly, there were no parrots to be seen, but we enjoyed the stroll through this interesting neighborhood nonetheless. I reckon that if Mt. Gretna was relocated to a San Francisco suburb, it would be Telegraph Hill. We continued on to City Lights bookstore, famed for its role during the Beat generation with Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg putting in regular appearances, definitely Becky’s milieu. We spent the rest of the evening strolling through Chinatown and Union Square enjoying the atmosphere, the people, and the Christmas lights. We hadn’t really had a sense of Christmas’s imminent arrival until we arrived in San Francisco and started to see the decorations out in full force.

The next day we continued our walking tour of SF, visiting the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. Famous as the epicenter of peace, love, and hippieness in the 60s and beyond, as it’s reached middle-age the Haight has cleaned itself up somewhat. As with all areas in San Francisco, the Haight hasn’t been able to resist gentrification, and was much less seedy than Becky had hoped. However, Haight St. is still lined with shops catering to the hippie set, and we spent a few good hours at Magnolia, a local brewpub. We really enjoyed the beer sampler (as we usually do) and the food was really good, too. With its laid-back atmosphere, we could really see spending time at Magnolia if it was our local. Later that day we went in search of a good burrito, a staple for any trip to San Francisco. We had done some research on burritoeater.com, which took us to the Mission District. The taqueria had really authentic vibe (as opposed to the tourist traps at Fisherman’s Wharf) and had the good food to back it up. We ended up getting tacos instead of burritos, but they – along with a strawberry soda - were delicious. Carne asada = muy bueno.


Harrrrrrrd to believe this is actually a pirate store, but 'tis

The next morning we had decided to take advantage of the weather by renting bikes to ride across the San Francisco Bridge. Neither of us has ridden for awhile and although we’re both in good shape, I’ll admit to some concerns about our fitness level. It turned out to be fine, as we really enjoyed the cruisey trip to Sausalito, which allows you to take in the Presidio, Crissy Fields, the bridge, and then the downhill trip into Sausalito. From there, you can continue on the bikes to Tiburon, but we decided not to risk the good time we’d had so far, and took the ferry back from there. We continued our biking trip up and down the Embarcadero so that Andrew could check out AT&T Park, home of Barry Bonds and his Giant Head. We had certainly worked up an appetite by that point so we had to hit up In-N-Out Burger, a must-stop in CA. In-N-Out Burger was Becky’s first cheeseburger after renouncing her more veggie-friendly lifestyle before leaving for NZ, so this provided a fitting coda to our trip, we thought.


Look, nerds!


Later in the evening we continued on our beer and food tour of SF, visiting two brewpubs. The first, 21st Amendment, is well known for its Watermelon Wheat Beer, which was unfortunately unavailable on our visit, bummer. The second brewpub, the Thirsty Bear, featured Spanish tapas and a wide-range of brews. There were a few hits and misses – we enjoyed the vanilla cream and the stout, but didn’t love the others.


Our somewhat weak attempt to offset our humongous number carbon miles for the year


The next day we got up early to get an awesome breakfast burrito downtown at El Castillito, then rode the BART subway (by the way the public transportation in SF is awesome, the buses are often not scary at all!), and went out to Berkeley (aka The People’s Republic Of) so Becky could visit the Mecca of liberalism. Conclusion: not a bad place to go to school; at the very least they have a nicer winter than we were used to at Penn State. After Berkeley we crashed at Emmanuel’s for a few hours, as our week of walking around Tahiti and SF had finally caught up with us. It was finally time to go home, as we had a red-eye flight out of Oakland to catch just after midnight. There’s a reason they’re such cheap flights – most sane people balk at making a connection when their body is telling them that it’s 4 in the morning.


"The only thing better than one beer is one sampler tray of nine beers" - B. Franklin


Overall though, our trip to San Francisco was a highlight. We enjoyed great beer, good food (Becky’s new fave is the breakfast burrito!), and good company with CouchSurfers. The San Francisco Bay area is beautiful, and it’s easy to see why so many people choose to make it their home. It’s always great when a place actually exceeds the high expectations that you have for it. Since so many of the books and music Becky loves are from the area, the bar was set pretty high. Well done, San Francisco!

Monday, December 10, 2007

CouchSurf's up in Tahiti

And so just like that, we left our home for the last year, putting the Land of the Long White Cloud in our rearview mirror, so to speak. It was bittersweet to leave, as we’ve had so many great times, seen so much amazing scenery, and in particular, have met so many tremendous people this year. But at the same time, we hadn’t been doing too much in Auckland besides going to the beach for the past few weeks, so it did feel like time to get back on the road. It’s also tough to feel too bad when you’ve got your ticket punched for French Polynesia, so there you are.

The warm waters at Mahina

Before leaving NZ, we did some cursory research on French Polynesia, which we can sum up for you pretty quickly: it’s composed of heaps of small, remote islands in a big ocean, it’s gorgeous, it’s useful to know French there, and it’s expensive as. To be honest, if not for Couchsurfing, we probably would have been much more hesitant to go there, as the guidebooks are sure to let you know that anything worth doing is tres cher in Polynesia, owing to the fact that everything must come a long, long way to get there.

Stay out of the bamboo!

Thus, when we looked up CSing hosts in French Polynesia, we were pleasantly surprised to see quite a few hosts for such a small and far-flung place. As is our usual practice, we sent a bunch of emails, got a few replies, made plans to meet some CSers, and mostly left it at that. I’ve gone back and counted the times we’ve said this, and this is now the thousandth time, but wow did we get lucky with the people we CSed with in FP. Perhaps it is simply French hospitality or a laid-back and generous attitude due to living in a tropical paradise, but we were blown away by the warmth of all our new CSing friends. Our karmic travel debt continues to mount.

Andrew takes in the stunning coastline

After an uneventful 5-hour hop from NZ, we landed in Tahiti on Saturday afternoon, gaining back the day we’d lost earlier in the year. We’re more than OK with getting it back in Tahiti. We landed at Faa’a airport, where we were to meet our first host, Estelle, who was good enough to pick us up there. Unfortunately, when we went through customs, we didn’t have Estelle and her husband Dan’s address, so we only filled in their town, “Mahina” as the destination for our first night in FP, which was unsatisfactory for the customs agent. He wouldn’t let us leave the airport without meeting Estelle, who true to her word was there waiting for us, and was able to quickly assuage his concerns that we’d be sleeping on the beach, or pulling some other sorts of shenanigans.

Driving through FP’s capital of Papeete to their home in Mahina is a good way of rapidly disabusing one of the fantasy that Tahiti is just a sleepy, lush, tropical paradise untouched by the outside world. Malheursement, mais non! Even though Lonely Planet prepared us for the fact that it is substantially developed and populated place, we were still somewhat astonished at the dirty and congested nature of the town. We were most surprised to learn from Estelle that it can take an hour to drive less than 10 miles from Mahina to Papeete in morning rush hour traffic; congestion in paradise, eesh. Not to say that the whole of the island is all bad or anything, but Papeete isn’t anyone’s idea of paradise and is generally best swiftly passed through.

We spent two nights with Estelle, Dan and their two children Lou (aged 5) and Yanis (aged 2). When we arrived, the family took us to the local beach which was teeming with locals surfing, kayaking, and swimming in the warm afternoon ocean waves. After a year in NZ’s picturesque but chilly beaches, swimming in the tropics is pretty great. We can see why so many Kiwis take beach vacations in Fiji. That evening Dan made us a great chicken dinner and we slept very well. We later figured out that they’d given us their room, which was even more generous when you realize that their other bed wasn’t equipped with mosquito netting.

Becky was grateful to sleep underneath mosquito netting

The next morning Estelle took us and the kids to the local market in Papeete, which was packed with stalls of local fruits, fish, baked goods, and handcrafts. We spent an hour wandering through the stalls and sampling some of the products. Apparently, the market starts very early in the morning and even though we arrived by what we thought was a very reasonable 8:00 AM, many of the stalls had already closed.

The bustling morning market in downtown Papeete

Later in the day, Estelle and Dan were kind enough to let us borrow their car to do a tour around the island. It’s been a bit of an adjustment being back on the right-hand side of the road, but we’ll figure it out before too long. Tahiti gets increasingly quieter and more rural as you venture away from the traffic and noise of Papeete, and seems to be chockful of black-sand beaches filled with surfers catching some of the Tahiti’s famed waves. We went for a quick hike to visit some waterfalls, to the delight of the mosquitoes, who found Becky to be on the menu.

A cascading waterfall in Tahiti

In the evening, we went into Papeete with the whole family to have dinner at the Roulottes, or trucks, in Vaiete Square. In Tahiti, it’s common to see these trucks parked along the roadside, serving takeaway food, mainly fish or Chinese dishes, to the locals. At the square these trucks are concentrated in one area along the waterfront and feature tables with wait service. We enjoyed a delicious dinner of grilled mahi mahi and really enjoyed the ambience of the setting. Unfortunately, a tropical rainstorm brought our meal to an abrupt end, reminding us that we were visiting FP in the beginning of its rainy season, sending us diving under some nearby awnings.

The Roulottes, before the rain

Our stay with the Dellanoys was a great time, and we really enjoyed our conversations with the family in spite of a slight language barrier (it’s always good to have a French-English dictionary close at hand!), and they spoiled us with their hospitality. Between the roast chicken dinner, dinner at the Roulottes, a lunch featuring local delicacies including cru, which is prepared with citrus juice and coconut milk, and allowing us to borrw their car, they went so above and beyond the call of CSing duty! They are just a lovely family and made our first few days in Tahiti a memorable experience.

Andrew and Becky with the Dellanoys

The next morning we mastered the local bus system when Estelle dropped us off at a bus stop on her way to work. We had a lot of luggage with us, so we had decided to unload some of it at the airport instead of carrying it around the islands over the next few days. The rainy season was really making its presence felt, so we felt lucky to be waiting under one of the few covered bus stops. We successfully made it into Papeete but had to change buses to get out to the airport. Unfortunately, as soon as we got out of the first bus, the rain really started to come down. We were soaked by the time we got on our second “bus,” which was a relic of the old “Le Truck” system on Tahiti. These trucks are a throwback to an earlier day in public transportation in Tahiti and are certainly rustic, with a low ceiling and bench rows lining the back of a large flatbed truck. Using our mastery of the French language, “L’airport, s’il vou plait”, we managed to get there and finally unload our bags.

Our next stop was to meet our next CS hosts. When we decided to go to FP our research showed that the best plan is to leave Tahiti for one of the smaller, nicer islands. We had decided to visit Moorea, Tahiti’s sister island, and were extremely lucky to find another CS host on the island. We met Sebastien and Zouzou in Papeete at the pearl shop where Sebastien works. They were another great couple – friendly, enthusiastic, and extremely helpful. Zouzou helped us by our ferry tickets and then we were on our way to Moorea.

Moorea has a much smaller population than Tahiti and is certainly more scenic. There are beautiful white sand beaches, stunning lagoons, and a gorgeous mountain interior. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see much of this during our few days there as everything was quite often covered in clouds and soaked in rain. Still, we had a great time in Moorea, again largely due to our CS hosts. Zouzouz acted as our personal tour guide, driving us around the entire island (which took a little over an hour) and stopping at all the points of interest. When the weather cleared, she took us to the local beaches and other scenic areas. As in Fiji, we enjoyed some snorkeling among the coral and tropical fish just meters from the water’s edge, and soaking in the warm tropical water.

The interior mountains on Moorea

In the evenings, we were treated to Sebastien’s delicious cooking. He likes to prepare the local delicacies, including various raw fish dishes. We’re normally not sushi fanatics, but his cooking, combined with the freshness of the tuna, could convert many people, we suspect. Sebastien and Zouzou both spoke English very well, and they were terrific to talk to, having had their share of travel adventures. We would have loved to spend more time with them on Moorea, and will perhaps have to come back again sometime when it’s not the rainy season, and after they’ve built their modern Polynesian home. We can dream, can’t we?

We enjoy a delicious dinner with Sebastien and Zouzouz

After a few mostly rainy days away from Tahiti, we ferried back and met our third and last FP CS host, Thibault, at the docks. Thibault, who is from Versailles, works as a controller for a subsidiary of a French firm in FP, and his girlfriend, Ellie, makes modern lamps from driftwood found on Tahitian beaches. Cool lamps, but only in FP, as the cost of shipping just about anywhere eclipses the price of the lamps themselves. They live in Punaauia, down the west coast of Tahiti, near one of the few white-sand beaches on the island.

The white sand beach at Punaauia

We spent a day and a half with them, and they were just tremendous hosts as well. We shared Hinanos (local Tahitian lager, don’t worry, I bought plenty of merchandise as souvenirs) with them and their friends on their cozy porch, and Ellie prepared a delicious shrimp curry on the night we stayed there. The next day, our last in FP, was thankfully dry, and we enjoyed the white sand beaches for our last time before our imminent return to the northern hemisphere winter. With a flight at 8:30 pm, Ellie gave us a ride to the airport, where we met up with Thibault and enjoyed a few more Hinanos at the airport cafeteria with them.

These over water bungalows cost beaucoup bucks in French Polynesia

We were sad to get to only spend a few days with our last CS hosts, but we keep finding ourselves saying that these days. Despite having almost no plan for how we were going to spend 5 days in Tahiti, we had a most excellent time, meeting some great CSers and enjoying many of the best parts of FP without having to spend a fortune at a hotel in Bora Bora. We really lucked out in Tahiti and have CSing to thank for it – Couchsurfing, you’ve done it again, cheers to all our new friends in French Polynesia!

Having one last Hinano at the airport with Thibault and Eli