Survival at the Hostel (Australia)

When imagining a hostel, I would always picture dirty rooms with tired facilities and cockroaches galore. What I came to find was a variety of different forms of accommodation around the same cost.

In Oz, I found that most hostels offer very similar things:

  • A recreation area – usually consisting of a pool table, and many benches.
  • One or many kitchens – all containing your basic cooking needs, with a few going so far as to containing a microwave.
  • An outdoor pool – A nice addition to a hostel, but the majority of the time looked a little dirty and run down.

I began my hostel experience on the West Coast, in Perth. I stayed in the Billabong backpackers for 2 nights between tours I had scheduled. This means that I have no idea if it was a good base for heading into Perth as I always got picked up. However, I do know that there was a bus stop right outside which regularly dropped people into the city, and a petrol station on the corner where everyone bought their food.
Billabong is a very popular hostel, with signs up all the time stating that you must book in advance. During my time in this hostel, I was in a 4 bed, female only dorm, and met a mixture of girls who’d been staying there for a week, and others like me who were using it as a base before moving on. There was a pool out back and a bar which seemed pretty popular. The rooms were always stifling hot but there was a small but noisy air con unit that probably could have been left on but no-one ever dared ask.
Our dorm had an en suite which was good enough, although I was never sure when it had last been cleaned, and the tap had come away from the sink making it awkward to change temperature.
The best thing about Billabong, and something I never came across again, was their free breakfast. In the morning you would pick up your crockery and cutlery set and head into the kitchen where you had a choice of corn flakes, bran, or coco pops, and both brown and white bread with an array of jams and spreads. This may sound fairly basic, but is the most choice I ever found on offer and was FREE!
After maxing out on the coco pops I would give this place 4 out of 5.

My next hostel is the start of our East Coast trip, where we began in what appeared to be a depressed Cairns. My agency lady at Peter Pans had booked our whole trip with my age and tastes in mind, but sometimes there just might not have been much choice.
We reached Cairns on a grey day with a storm looming, and got a free shuttle pick up from the airport by our hostel; Njoy. The name speaks volumes, and we’d already read a few dire reviews. The staff all seemed to be Brits, and we’re fairly certain none of them had meant to be there but had found themselves stuck, and in need of a job.
In Njoy we were given an en suite double, and it was certainly made out to sound like a luxury, but when we opened the door to our room we were confronted by a huge cockroach struggling on it’s back in the shower. After a bit of a struggle on our side we lost the roach out of the door we’d just come in through, and hastily blocked that one inch gap with our bath mat.
The bonus to this room was a working fridge. We were based in Cairns for 3 nights so being able to keep cold food in our room was a bonus, and soon a necessity as we found the place infested with ants. They found every little crumb we dropped and created lines all over the place. We soon shoved anything slightly food orientated into the fridge to alleviate the situation.
The kitchen was basic, the pool untouched (from all the algae), and everyone around the place looked utterly miserable, so we kept to our rooms and only came out when necessary. I’d give Njoy 2 out of 5.

Fortunately our next stop was Magnetic Island. Unfortunately we only had one night booked there. The island had expensive accommodation, even for hostels, and we ended up in Koala Bungalow Bay – which I think is the best option of them all.
Bungalow bay is a short bus trip across the island from the ferry terminal, costing a few dollars. We were in a private A-frame bungalow, next to the shared facilities. It was very much a camping ground and we would be classed as glamping. Our bungalow consisted of a double bed, fan opposite an air con unit, and a warm fridge. Its location was within a koala ‘sanctuary’ although we never saw any koalas ourselves. They appeared to be kept in the areas where you pay to breakfast with them. We didn’t pay for breakfast, but we did grab some of the cheap food they had on offer at their bar.
The shared facilities were good enough, with a warm and powerful shower, but the occasional bird did like to pop in and say hello, which if you’re not a bird lover, wouldn’t be too nice a surprise.
We checked out in the morning but had all day before our ferry back, so used their secure lockers by paying for a padlock instead of their open storage room. In having this, we continued to use the hostel’s facilities, and relaxed for a while on the bean bags in their nicely decked area. Overall, this was a hostel I’d happily have spent a week in. The pool even had people in it! 5 out of 5.

Our next destination was Airlie Beach, which we arrived at in the evening when all the clubs and bars were pumping out their music. Not my kind of scene, and so not a great first impression. It was like a wannabe Ibiza, and the brits loved it. Most of the backpackers here were part of the bars and clubs meaning that there would be no hope of a good night’s sleep if you were based there. We’d been placed in a hostel which is co-owned by Nomads and Base. It was like a campsite, but with permanent buildings. Due to the hostel ground’s immense size, we didn’t have any problems with the noise of the town, and even had our own facilities. The toilet didn’t look great but didn’t smell either, and the shower was warm. They had a bar, swimming pool, numerous shared facilities and a good laundry hub. We also stopped by and used their facilities on a day we arrived back from a boat trip. Hostels are so handy for free showers sometimes! For our needs I’d rate it a 3 out of 5.

The Southern Cross at Agnes Water has a few issues it needs to deal with. They have a shuttle bus which picks up people from the greyhound bus. This gets in at 6:30am. When we went up to reception the lady said, ‘I can check you in, but reception doesn’t actually open until 8am’. Now why would you set your reception to open at 8am when you pick people up every day at 6:30am?! Next, she made us wait while everyone else got ‘checked in’, and once we had all been seen to she took us to our rooms, which we found were 10metres away from where we’d been sitting all that time. Most hostels have a map on reception to point you to your room. It saves her and us the hassle, if they just point it out when checking in. The place isn’t even that big. Then she told us that none of the doors have locks on them, right as she opened a door up on someone who was sleeping. Later, when we were catching up on some sleep, the same thing happened to us. A couple opened the door on us and said they’d been checked into our room. So there’s something going wrong with their room allocation too. On top of that we’d been told that we had a free breakfast included and to go to the kitchen when we were ready. What we found was the remains of the cheapest white bread you can find, and a couple spreads. Yes, we’re in a hostel, but I’ve been to Billabongs remember!
The hostel itself was nice. It was based in the middle of nowhere with a nice looking pool, the room had a big shower in it, and the shuttle to and from town was very handy, but the little things let it down. If they change their reception hours and give rooms locks, I’d give this a high score, but for now; 3 out of 5.

Next was a place called Pippies in Rainbow beach. In this small town there’s a street with the backpackers along it, and Pippies seems to be the most hippy hostel. The reception staff were laid back and said to not worry about a late check out. I feared that their reclined attitude may reflect upon the cleanliness of the place, but thankfully, it did not, and our room and shared bathroom were clean enough. There was an issue of a mound of black hair clogging up the shower drain, but I could place that blame on the occupant of the black-haired girl in the one other room we shared the bathroom with. Our room even had a balcony with a table and chairs, overlooking the pool. Our free breakfast here was once again bread, but at least we had a choice of white or brown. 3 out of 5.

Our longest stay was at Halse Lodge in Noosa. Halse Lodge is part of the YHA and also has a restaurant and bar which is popular with the locals, giving the whole place less of a backpacker vibe. We had shared facilities here which appeared to get cleaned every other day and could’ve done with being cleaned every day as there were a lot of people sharing the two showers and toilets the hostel had. We also struggled to find the right time to cook in the kitchen, but that’s probably the same for every hostel, we just hadn’t needed to before. It’s very convenient that there’s a restaurant on site with a 10% discount for guests, and we used this opportunity on more than one occasion. The room itself was nicely decorated and at no point did I fear that a cockroach or spider would join us. As they have a restaurant, there’s no free breakfast here, but we had no problems with the staff, room, or facilities so I’ll gladly give them a 5 out of 5.

Begrudgingly we headed into Brisbane. Being a big city, we didn’t have high hopes for a nice hostel. At Brisbane Base Embassy, what we found was a maze of corridors with rooms off of them that somehow were cool enough to not need air con. It was also quiet enough with double glazing. However, the bathrooms were filthy even after the cleaners came out of them. I felt like they were just pushing the wet toilet paper around the room a bit more rather than cleaning it up. I didn’t even dare shower there. I spent as little time in those rooms as possible. Being a city hostel you also assume there will be noise once the clubs close, and there was. I got woken up at 3am to lots of ‘woo’s and shouting, and even though this place has a 24 hour reception, no one appeared to move them on or advise them to be quiet on entry.  3 out of 5 – it would’ve been a two with the lack of air con as well, but thankfully the rooms were chilled.

Our final hostel was Nomads in Byron Bay. This large hostel was based down a back street from the main street of Byron. We’d already heard that our hostel was a ‘party hostel’ but I found it hard to believe that all the others weren’t the same. Like Airlie, Byron had a party atmosphere, and many Brits drinking throughout the day – this time trying to be surfers or hippies as they go.
This hostel has unisex toilets and showers as well as female only toilets and showers. Most of them are based in the same section but there was a female only room at the end of the corridor near to our room, which was useful. Our private room contained a bunk bed of a double bottom, and single on top. Unfortunately it was DJ night so they had music ‘til 10pm, then the party moved onto the street below, to a nightclub, and came back into the hallways around 1-2am. None of the hostels in Byron seemed to be bad for location, but I do feel like there would have been a quieter one than Nomads. 4 out of 5.

Overall, the accommodation chosen for me was fine. At the end of two weeks moving from one to the next, I’d had enough, and I didn’t want to see another hostel for a long time. The prices do vary depending on the amount of privacy you’d like, and being in the older age bracket than your average traveller, I chose to spend that little bit more whenever I could afford it.

For most travellers, if you don’t mind a bit of muck, partying with the rest of them, and sharing with a bug or two, then you’ll enjoy your time in hostels. I’m just sharing my opinion of the ones we visited to give you another perspective of where to stay.


A Pomme’s Perspective of: BRISBANE

When I first reached Australia, I landed in a very wet Brisbane. I understood that it was winter, but I’d been told that Australia was blue skies and sunshine most of the year ‘round. I very quickly learnt that this was not the case. As I unpacked my bikinis and shorts, I questioned whether I’d chosen the right time of year to visit this amazing country.

After that ominous day, there were no more clouds in the sky, and I could finally see the huge blue I’d been told about. I felt like it stretched on forever. In the suburbs of Capalaba, my cousin drove me to an estate that had been made especially for the homeowners and nature to exist as one. They were made to integrate with the forest around them, and didn’t have fences around their land. This meant that every evening wallabies and kangaroos would come out of the bushes and feed from the road side. We were able to drive around the area slowly and get up close to the true Aussie animals from the comfort of the car.

As for Brisbane city centre, I got a train into Roma St Parkland and took a walk around. I told myself to slow walk, something I never did in London. I changed my pace, for a more leisurely walk and stopped to take pictures when I felt the need. As I got into the rainforest area, a wild turkey jumped out at me from the bushes! Seeing a turkey just roaming wild was a new thing for me – I thought it must’ve gotten away from somewhere!

The parkland is great for a chilled afternoon with friends or family, or just for a good walk. It has many different paths you can choose from, and there are maps at the train station and info centre in the park. It was great walking from a lake with fountains, watching people playing Frisbee, to a beautifully tended garden in honour of Colin Campbell who was a gardening presenter on Aussie TV. It’s clearly somewhere you can go any time of the year for a relaxed day out.

Later I walked through the city centre and found Archives Fine Books. It was written in my Lonely Planet guide of the East Coast that this was the place to go if you’re a book lover. It has a big board outside boasting about how it contains over 1 million books, and when you walk in you’re surrounded. Floor to ceiling, wall to wall, bookshelves are filled with books from antiques to current chart-toppers. They’re organised into all sorts of different categories. I spent over an hour flicking through such categories as autobiographies, crime fiction, and local books. In the end I settled on a Western from the ‘70s.

This place has some incredible antique books dating from as early as the 16th century lining the top shelves, and people come in all the time to drop off any books they no longer want. Everything in the store is catalogued, so the staff will be able to find what you’re looking for if they have it in the store.

As the sun came down I walked across the river and along the side of the south bank to look back at a city skyline. As soon as the photos were taken, it had already gone dark! Aussie sunsets last about a second! I quickly walked through South Bank parklands and found my way to the train station for the long journey back to Capalaba.

Oz DinosOn another trip into Brisbane I was a typical tourist. I went to see the GOMA (Gallery Of Modern Art), and Queensland Museum. Both came across as quite small to me, but I am used to the Natural History Museum of London which I’ve frequented many a time. The good news is they’re both free, so I took my time walking around and saw many stuffed Australian animals, and dinosaur bones.

Oz Dinos 2Outside these museums are the South Bank Parklands which have a beautiful false beach and kid’s pool play area. Even on a Winter’s day people are lying out sun-baking, as the Aussies call it.

Before leaving Queensland, I also got to walk around Wellington Point and did a swamp walk around the mangroves. I was impressed by the massive trees with their thick exposed roots which are home to so much wildlife like skinks and crabs.

Stuffed Platypus

But for now, my time in Brisbane is over. I’ll be back with my boyfriend in December where we’ll be visiting Lone Pine Sanctuary, a place that’s been running for over 88 years!