There are few greater pleasures in life than checking out of a Base Hostel, so it was with giddiness and glee that we departed the fiery depths of hell of Base Queenstown for our Milford Sound trip on a sunny morning.
Milford Sound is one of the most impressive sights in New Zealand, or so we had been told by a multitude of drivers and travellers alike. Apparently it is the 8th Wonder of the World, a remote, untouched, stunning creation of nature sculpted and refined over thousands of years.
It’s also flipping miles away.
Three hours of coach travel took us to a town, itself a short hour away from a tunnel which once you had made it through was only an hour from a ferry that we could catch to cruise (for another hour) into Milford Sound itself. Luckily the journey is mind blowing itself, impossibly big glacial alpine scenery on a road which probably shouldn’t exist, if only for how difficult it must have been to build on sheer mountain edges and through inhospitable land.
A combination of a big coach, those sheer drops and the fondness for Queenstown based alcohol consumption amongst Kiwi Experience drivers meant making it to the ferry alive was a pleasant enough surprise in itself. Add in the company of Maria and Elizabeth, who we had met all the way back in Paihia and were equal parts funny and mad, and it was a pretty good day already.
Milford Sound, as it turned out, was on another level to what had come before on the drive. It was a beautiful day for it – glorious sunshine and clear skies, an unusual stroke of luck for us given it rains at Milford Sound 300 days of the 365 every year. The scale of the place was insane – mountains rose out of the water and towered above us at heights which seemed so impossible that I was half expecting them to collapse over us at any moment. Now, I know what you’re all really wanting – a load of pictures taken on an ageing iPhone camera! Well heck its your lucky day folks…
So, with too much travelling already done for one day, Katie and I now had to go back on the Kiwi bus, before getting off halfway through the journey to change on to a bus to Invercargill, the southernmost city in New Zealand and our destination for the night. We pulled up in a car park which, if it hasn’t been used as the set for a creepy backpacker horror movie already, should be. Twenty uneasy minutes later, the ‘Bottom Bus’ (please hold your jokes) creaked in. Now, if you remember a recent (ish) blog about the bus which picked us up from the ferry in New Zealand, this vehicle wasn’t too dissimilar, looking as if it was on its last wheels. However, our driver appeared to have a basic grasp of driving and gear changes and a friendly personality, so we couldn’t complain.
After a quick nap, we arrived in a very quiet Invercargill around 9.30pm. Given we had been travelling since 8am, virtually everyone on the bus did exactly the same thing after our arrival:
- Get our things off the bus
- Check into the hostel
- Drop our bags in the room
- Walk immediately down the road to Dominos
- Order a pizza
- Eat the pizza
Sleep came and went far too quickly for my liking and we left the backpackers first thing in the morning, so only saw a very limited picture of Invercargill. However, I can confirm that the 100m stretch between Dominos Invercargill and Tuatara Backpackers was broadly fine.
We had a full day ahead and our first stop was Bluff, which is the southernmost port in New Zealand and has a nice little sign to say so. It was much like the one up at Cape Reinga, so we jumped off the bus, took a photo, jumped back on and left. Tourism!
We pressed on to our next stop, Waipapa Point, where if we were lucky we might be able to see New Zealand Sealions in the water. Having seen a splash, we headed down to the beach from the bus, traipsing past piles of seaweed on our right. We were just scanning the water, when one of the piles of seaweed got up and started moving.
As it turned out, those seaweed piles were two male sea lions and we were slightly too close for comfort to an animal weighing 500 kilograms. Beating a hasty retreat, we then stood and watched four male sea lions basically mess about on the beach just fifty yards away (sorry for the lack of description, David Attenborough I am not). It was brilliant though.
We hadn’t been sure what to expect on the Bottom Bus, and while it was much quieter than the Kiwi this was a pretty good start. Back in the bus we were soon at our next stop, McLean Falls. A short walk took us in to a stunning waterfall in a genuine jungle. It looked exactly like a scene from The Jungle Book, and if you don’t believe me…
The fact that this was only 10 minutes away from a beach was even more stunning. We had a climb up onto the waterfall, did our photos, appreciated, had a chat with James the lovely driver, and headed back. The rest of the day continued with various stops of interesting things, including views, unsuccessful penguin spotting and an inventors mad workshop. A day that had exceeded expectations finished in Dunedin, arriving at our backpackers ready to relax. Unfortunately, what happened next still genuinely makes me angry 3 months later as I write. So, to avoid me going into a spiral of decline and/or starting to twitch and jibber, I will instead copy and paste the review I wrote here.
Hey guys! Just a bit of feedback for you.
Score: -1000 Stars!
In short: Stunningly, almost impressively bad staff member who is condescending, rude, unhelpful, aggravating and generally makes me never want to set foot in this place ever again. Rest of hostel fine.
Long story: There was a bit of confusion regarding our payment which culminated in us paying an extra $12. I won’t go into the details as you guys know them and if I have to relive my experience I’ll most likely end up in rehab mumbling about Base jumping passes and custard or something mad. Anyway, this was not a problem and as it turned out entirely our fault! (I know, I was surprised too, let’s read on to find out why.)
The reason why is that your lovely selves contacted us a generous 7 hours before our cancellation period with a solitary email to ask us about our booking but provided no further information. Despite the fact that we had rang to check we could use our payment method weeks (nay, months) before, you kindly took until 27 hours before our arrival to let us know there was any issue. As we were in Milford Sound, with no mobile reception, we had no way of seeing this message. That one’s on us, going out and seeing your beautiful country instead of being sat refreshing our emails just in case something you had told us to be true was in fact a lie.
However, ultimately you did the bare minimum to mean you were technically in the right, even though we had rung to check the price and you had verbally confirmed it would be fine. Such is life, I guess – Brexit and The Donald just go to show shit things happen all the time (that are also characterised by lies on the part of one party and could easily have been avoided with better communication).
Anyway, this wouldn’t have been a problem (it’s $12 for heavens sake!, I hear you cry) had the receptionist serving us not been such a condescending, rude, unhelpful, irritating and generally fairly awful human being.
She had a unique customer service approach of treating every customer as if they were a piece of shit on her shoe, managing to be unhelpful and rude in a fake cheery tone. I think she was American – in which case it’s not entirely her fault, as she was raised in a country and by a population who elected an orange baboon as their leader. What else do you expect from such a people.
Sorry, I’ve got side tracked. She might not be American, in which case there’s no excuse.
She also made another customers life a living hell just before us because they were trying to check more than one person in. It appears that if you aren’t exactly in line with the rules she can’t help you whatsoever and will treat you like you are stupid. Or maybe that was just the four of us I saw her serve and she’s usually pleasant, who knows.
We’ve got no problem with your hostel and in fact would have given it 4 stars, but your receptionist left such a sour taste in our mouths that I can’t give you any other than MINUS 1000 STARS! (Or, due to the set limits of review websites, 1 star.)
To get 5 stars, don’t close your only kitchen between 10am and 1pm, you lunatics. To the rest of the world that falls over a period known as ‘lunchtime’, in which the kitchen is a pretty crucial element.
If the receptionist can be retrained with a new personality, fired, or it can be arranged for her to have her head surgically removed from up her own backside, I’d be happy to amend this review to 5 stars.
As this is New Zealand, I’m under no illusions that this feedback will ever be taken on board. As the gentleman who checked me out seemed to have the same ‘backpackers are scum who inconvenience me daily’ attitude, I’m beginning to think condescension and sneering at customers (yes we are customers) is part of the training. In any case, it’s nice at least to get it off my chest without a loud, jumped-up American interrupting me with some meaningless words about policy that she can’t get her mind away from.
I hope this helps improve your hostel. Many thanks for your time in reading, please never contact me again, unless it is to apologise and/or let me know the surgery has been successful.
Your hostel is most certainly not “Sweet As”, and in my list of good hostels, is 100% not “On Top”. Hope that stings as much as I meant it to.
Lets see how they like that. Much like when I see an idiot, mostly Piers Morgan, on twitter, I couldn’t help myself from saying something. On that note, we went to bed in Dunedin, steam filling the room as it continued to blow from my ears. Twitch. Spiral. Jibbering.
Alex Odlin is fine. Honestly. Sort of. Fine.
NEXT TIME: Charlie finally gets to the Chocolate Factory