Backpackers in Australia are spoilt for choice. For instance Sydney has almost 100 hostels, Melbourne has over 50 hostels, Cairns has over 30 hostels, and even Mildura (population 30,000) has 15 hostels. Sure some backpackers visit Mildura to find work, but honestly there’s nothing to see in the town. Compare this with big cities like Chicago that only has eight hostels and San Francisco, which only has 12 (14 if you include hostels in Berkeley and Marin Headlands). The hostel market in Australia is saturated and I can only think of a handful of places that could do with another hostel; Port Arthur and Strahan in Tasmania plus Phillip Island in Victoria are the only places that come to mind.
Phillip Island is a great spot to see wildlife like koalas, kangaroos, seals and penguins and it is one of the most visited spots in Australia. While it is a popular destination, it is only 1½ hours from Melbourne so most people visit for a day trip and up till a couple of days ago there were only a couple of hostels in Cowes, the island’s main town.
The problem is that Cowes is a family-oriented town with a sheltered beach. Not really the sort of place that appeals to most backpackers. Although Cowes is the main town on the island, the Cape Woolamai-Newhaven-San Remo area at the eastern end of the island has more appeal to many budget travellers. There are bars and restaurants in San Remo and an excellent surf beach at Cape Woolamai.
I live just a 10-minute drive from the island and have long wondered when someone would realise the potential of opening a hostel at this end of the island. Well a new hostel opened in Newhaven a couple of days ago and I visited it to video and review it for hostelcritic.com yesterday. I must say, I’m impressed with what I have seen.
As you can expect from brand new purpose-built hostel, everything is spanking new and the hostel is tastefully decorated with polished concrete and contemporary decor. It is comprised of two levels of accommodation comprising double rooms (with en suite bathrooms) plus four- and six-bed dorms and a couple of bigger 12-bed dormitories. Each level has a small TV lounge, a larger lounge with a fireplace plus a spacious kitchen and balcony. There is also a laundry and a rooftop sundeck.
It is really a nice place and I think it deserves a spot among Australia’s top hostels. It is certainly on a par with the YHA Eco Hostels in Apollo Bay and Halls Gap with a similar design to some of the nicer Base and Nomads flashpackers’ hostels.
The only thing missing is people. I visited the day after it opened so that explains a lot, but it is a shame to see such great facilities empty and I can imagine that the hostel will have a good atmosphere when full.
If you’re visiting Melbourne and planning a trip down to Phillip Island to see the koalas and penguins, make it more than a day trip. You’ve now got a choice of several hostels – The Island Accommodation in Newhaven and a, not-so-great, hostel in Cowes.
Here’s the video I shot yesterday: