The famously Art-Deco city of Napier in the Hawkes Bay region of the North Island is among one of the quirkiest and most colourful towns I have had the pleasure of visiting on my trip. I stumbled upon Toad Hall Backpackers when looking for a different hostel , but I am so glad I came across the former instead; as soon as I walked into the foyer feeling a little bedraggled from my journey I could see it was a place where fun was being had. With bright orange walls and comfy sofas to seat plenty of guests the hostel also had a pool table, a piano, and a much-loved Twister mat parcel taped to the floor. Along with the good vibes of the high ceiling rooms I was greeted by a friendly receptionist who showed me around. A dorm room was very cheap and consisted of only two beds so I had the space to myself throughout my stay. The whole hostel has a sense of space and light with high sash windows letting in plenty of air; a far cry from many of the stuffy, claustrophobic hostels I had previously stayed in like sardines in a tin.
I was making my usual, cheap backpackers dinner of rice and vegetables when the utensils began to shudder on the counter top and load vibrations pervaded through the walls. I glanced around in confusion for a short time before sticking my head out of the window and remembering that just next door is an independent music venue for touring bands of different genres. That night was DEADFEST, the punk-rock festival of Napier and before long punks from all over the country descended on the hostel ; the kitchen was full of pink Mohawks, tartan trousers, safety pinned clothes and studded boots. Band members milled around finding their rooms after unloading their equipment and instruments at The Cabana next door.
The place came alive with musicians and groupies chatting with backpackers like myself and sharing ciders and whiskey mixers around. I thought how refreshing it is to be in a place where people actually face to face socialize rather than stay glued to their SMART phones or tablets connected to the nearest WIFI in their own virtual world.
I am what one might call an ‘Old-Style’ backpacker in that I travel without means of contact. If I want to let my folks back home know how I’m doing, I’ll send a postcard or find a computer at a local library to email once in a while. All at once I fest the hostel was alive with like-minded people and took the opportunity to put myself out there and make myself known. “Sixty-five guests staying tonight and you wouldn’t know it” said Ruthie, the proud owner of the hostel as she took her shot at pool “It’s like a Tardis in here, it’s great.” I couldn’t agree more. Four ciders and two games of pool later I made my way over to The Cabana, it was only $5 to get in- money well spent I’d say!
There were two stages inside pumping out punk-rock to fans, everyone in the venue was dressed in at least some black, with eccentric hair and customized vests.
After throwing myself around and being elbowed in the face and ribs to a sufficiency I was invited backstage to some band memebers; when I say backstage I mean behind the black curtain where the white breeze-block walls were adorned with marker-pen signatures and band names where I saw that Salmonella Dub had played before; a well respected kiwi band. The whole venue had a sense of good times past, with it’s walls clad with posters of previous bands and themed nights I could tell many interesting characters had been through its doors.
Sometime later in the early hours of the morning I staggered back to the hostel- a difficult ten metre walk when one is heavily intoxicated, and unsurprisingly lost a game of pool to whoever was still up before eventually retreating to bed.
I am still convinced there is no better city than Napier in which to nurse a hangover. I began by aimlessly wandering the streets lined with pastel coloured 1930’s buildings and found myself in the midst of the local farmers market which happens every Saturday. The smell of warm pretzels and fresh coffee floated through the air and after finding some tea I reclined on a grassy patch of one of the many town squares with bright flowers and a water fountain at it’s centre. Locals are friendly and it’s easy to strike up a conversation with a stranger ; I have since met up with one of the band members in Wellington and he showed me the sights.
The coastal city of Napier is undoubtedly one of my favourite urban destinations and if you enjoy quality socializing and travelling ‘Old- style’ I believe it’s the place for you too.