I like to think that the hallmark of a truly great hostel or backpackers is the feeling of being at home. Whether you’re fresh back from a night of drunken clubbing or stumbling in after a hard day’s hiking, the place where you hang your hat should – as the song says – make you feel like you’re coming home.
During my recent trip to picturesque Tea Gardens on the NSW coast, I had the pleasure of staying in the aptly named Lazy Paddles and couldn’t have felt much more at home.
Well, I could have walked around in my underpants, but I think Mel and Anne would have been hard pressed to keep their hands off of me.
Lazy Paddles places the emphasis squarely on the first word in its name. The place has a great laid back vibe that is more akin to a beach-house than a backpacker hostel.
A lot of that comes to the size: the hostel is equipped to sleep ten people divided between two bedrooms. You’re not going to be fighting with a dozen German backpackers for the sole free shower, nor will you need to contend with a long line to get to the fridge.
But the owner has a lot to do with it as well. Larry is a man who has been around the world and he’s figured that the place he likes most is where he started. You’ve got to admire that.
When we arrived he was on the front porch chatting with neighbors, but he was quick to stroll over and shake our hands before giving us the tour. Over the course of the weekend he was always open for a quick chat, and even brought us out a big bowl of gummi bears while we watched the rugby in the living room on our final night in the hostel.
Larry lives on site and that definitely adds to the experience. You’re not the guest of some faceless corporation – you’re staying with a local guy who clearly loves the area. It’s a big plus.
There’s something to be loved about lounging around on the couches watching the TV while leafing through some of Larry’s personal library. You feel almost like a local as you’ve got your feet up on the porch and you’re sipping an ice cold beer over fish and chips from the store located next door.
Hands down the best vibe I’ve found in a hostel.
Tea Gardens isn’t a bustling city, but Lazy Paddles manages to be right in the heart of things. You’re at the river as soon as you cross the road, so it isn’t hard to rush out when somebody excitedly cries out that they’ve spotted dolphins putting on a show.
Next door is a great fish and chip shop, and there’s a candy and ice cream store a few doors down. The Tea Gardens Pub and bottle shop are on the next block and it’s a short walk to bakeries, cafes, and other amenities both in Tea Gardens and in its sister town of Hawk’s Nest.
Lazy Paddles doesn’t have all of the bells and whistles you’d get in a bigger, more popular hostel. The bedrooms offer basic bunk beds and a few power points. The bathrooms are single stall ones like you’d find in most houses. The kitchen has a single fridge and a single oven.
But when the place only sleeps ten people, you don’t really need much more than that.
There’s no internet available, but there’s a decent library of books and board games in the living room. A big bonus is that Larry loans out bikes for free to all guests, and kayak hire and kayak tours are offered at a much reduced rate as well.
A nice touch is the poppers, soda, and chocolate in the fridge. It’s all available on the honor system and was much appreciated when I stumbled home drunk on the Saturday night in dire need of hydration of a non alcoholic nature.
This is an easy one. As far as I can tell, Larry is the only staff on hand. He’s owner, receptionist, tour guide, and all around helpful guy. Hard to fault that.
The drawback is that if he’s busy with other customers – such as tourists wanting a kayak tour – the place is unattended save for his girlfriend. It was this that stopped us from borrowing bikes while we were there.
I had a lot of fun at Lazy Paddles, but that mostly came down to the company. You’re not going to find wild raves or myriad activities to participate in, but if you’re checking into a ten bed hostel in sleepy Tea Gardens expecting that – you might be a crazy person.
As mentioned earlier, there are free bikes for those wanting to explore as well as kayaks for hire and guided kayak tours of the nearby river system.
The Tea Gardens Pub is your only option as far as nightlife goes and it’s a typical country pub: lots of characters, cheap prices, and a disheartening lack of local ‘talent’.
There’s a TV in the lounge room as well as plenty of books. Larry’s collection of amazing photos occupied my attention for a while – particularly the saucy, artful nudes near my room…
We also got good play out of the battered copy of Scrabble available. I totally dominated, just quietly.
Hostels don’t come much cheaper than Lazy Paddles. At $27 a night (or $25 a night for stays longer than two nights or $29 a night during peak season), you’re paying next to nothing for your stay. Couple that with the cheap local watering hole, the variety of cafes nearby, and the free bike hire or reduced price kayak hire and you’ve got yourself a pretty good budget weekend.
In case I haven’t made it clear, I loved Lazy Paddles. I know the rest of my group did as well.
Our situation was undoubtedly helped by being the only guests on site during our two night stay, but I can’t imagine having a few others there would have done anything to lessen our enjoyment.
Whether we were sprawled out on the couch, taking our sweet ass time in the showers, or just drinking on the front porch – I don’t think I ever felt anything less than 100% welcome. It’s a nice feeling.
Overall Rating: 9/10
You can read more about Lazy Paddles at the website. Don’t let the basic nature of the site fool you. It almost got me, and I’m glad it didn’t.