Because it’s the Chinese New Year and Queenstown is notoriously difficult to book accommodation in, Danny and I had to stay in a few places that weren’t on the original plan.
Haast is one of those towns that I wish that we could’ve skipped. It’s a small sneeze of a town doesn’t have cell reception for 165 kilometers and is home to billions of sandflies.
At other hostels, even though checkout time is 10am, people can stick around to figure out their next steps or even leave their bags there for the day while they go out. It’s never a problem and the hostel owners are always very accommodating.
At the Wilderness Backpackers, the hostel we stayed at in Haast, there are signs posted everywhere that say:
“Checkout time is 10am. You must leave the building by 10:15am or you will be charged a day fee”
Wow, what a prickly and unwelcoming message!
When I asked the cranky hostel owner to borrow his phone for a minute to check on a tentative booking, he said “that’ll be $2 for the call.”
With a chuckle and smile on my face, I said “you’re joking, right?”
Nope. He wasn’t joking at all.
Then he proceeded to lecture me by saying that someone has to pay for the phone call, and phone calls aren’t free and someone has to pay for them, and that someone should be me.
I totally understand that phone calls aren’t free. That’s fine. But because he was so rude, I refused to pay him to use his phone.
Instead, we paid $5 for a phone card from a hotel down the road. Yes, I realize that it’s more than $2 for the phone call back at my hostel, but it’s the principle of the situation.
We headed down south to Queenstown and found that everything was booked.
We spent two full nights frantically searching on HostelWorld.com, HostelBookers.com, Hotels.com, Travelocity, BBH, and CouchSurfing.com, for something, anything. I probably emailed out 75 inquiries to different hostels, checking to see if there were any last-minute cancellations.
We discussed our options if we couldn’t find accommodation in Queenstown. We could:
- Drive 3.5 hours out of the way to stay at a hostel on the east coast
- Pay $150/night for the only hotel that has vacancy in a neighboring town
- Sleep in our car
Luckily, we got a response on from CouchSurfing.com (CS) from a student who said he would be willing to host Danny and me for a few nights.
If you’re not familiar with the site, it’s basically like AirBnB, where normal people will offer up their couch/spare bed to travelers for free. It’s a great way to meet people and a free place to lay your head at night.
After a few messages with the guy from CS, he asked me, “you realize that I live in a tent, right?”
Umm, no, we didn’t notice that in his profile because we spammed dozens of people on CS and didn’t scrutinize the profiles.
Danny and I discussed staying in his tent and agreed that it was our only option. He probably wouldn’t try to murder, mug, or assault us, because there’s two of us and Danny was with me.
We met him underneath a bridge and followed him in our car off road and into the brush and dust in the outskirts of Queenstown.
It turned out to be pretty great. He was a really mellow guy, and although conversation was only a little awkward, it was a free place to sleep at night that wasn’t too far from town.
Here a picture of the tent and our camping location:
By the time we were done camping, this is what our car looked like:
It was a great first experience for couchsurfing and I’m so glad that I got to share that experience with Danny. We met an interesting guy, saved money on accommodation, and had some beautiful night views of the stars.