”Grand Old Lady“A home for travellers
“Christchurch needs a good hostel and we are going to provide it. Especially if it’s just so easy that one can have coffee breaks by 2pm …
What a lifestyle – we thought…”
Both Europeans, we had fallen in love with Christchurch after travelling the world for four and a half years. Having stayed at literally hundreds of hostels, we knew what independent travellers wanted when on the road. Surely this would be the perfect qualification for creating one of New Zealand’s best travellers’ hostels? Well yes … but a lot more money would have helped enormously!
The first villa was purchased in 1998 as a very rundown hostel known as Clayton House. Guests gave it just a 42% rating! It was no wonder why! The former occupiers had not done any work on the property for over 30 years! We optimistically thought it would only take three to four months to knock our new purchase into shape. Wrong! It took that long to strip five layers of wallpaper off the hallway and redecorate it!
Having travelled ‘economy’ for years we wanted our hostel to be the kind of place we would have enjoyed during our travels. With the help of our much loved dog Murphy, friends and even some guests, we gutted the ‘Grand Old Lady’, replacing the plumbing, electrics, wall linings and installing insulation and central heating when it was unheard of in New Zealand and had to be especially imported.
Despite the extensive renovations, we were determined to keep her character at any cost. We stripped inches of paint off the original woodwork, polished the wooden floor boards and went treasure hunting at the city’s building recycling yards. Sometimes treasures were found at home … when renovating the kitchen we discovered a beautiful chimney underneath a thick layer of plaster and carefully restored it to its original glory.
Three years later the renovations were finished but now The Old Countryhouse was so popular we were turning guests away. In time we bought very rundown neighbouring villas which we also gutted and restored. No difficulty was spared – we even moved one villa to make room for the now much loved courtyard garden.
It was an enormous amount of work but looking at the hostel today all the effort was worth it. We still love to listen to peoples travel adventures, to their laughter and we never get tired listening to their comments about the nice atmosphere, the wonderful garden and our good beds.
It’s great to hear that people are enjoying their stay with us but equally we will never stop looking for improvement. Sometimes people come up with new suggestions on how to improve the hostel and we always take those on board. Year after year previous guests return to see what else we have done to improve the hostel since their last stay.
All guests are welcome here and those guests who stay with us again on their second, third, fourth or annual visit to New Zealand are filling us with a deep sense of pride because we realize they are choosing our hostel as their second home. Many guests have become friends and we visit them in their home country now when we have time to take holidays ourselves.
Thanks to all those who helped make the hostel what it is today and thank you for taking the time to read our story.
NB: Our dream has come true and yes, we now do get to drink that cup of coffee at 2 o’clock in the afternoon (at least some days…)
A surprise meeting
Little was known about the history of any of The Old Countryhouse villas until one day in February 2007 when an elderly couple Mr and Mrs Cade turned up on our doorstep. It was the couple’s 50th wedding anniversary and for old times sake they were looking for the house where Shirley had lived before she had been married in 1957.
As we walked around the hostel admiring the improvements, Shirley told us her old family home had been built in 1896, just 50 years after Christchurch city was created. She and her husband were delighted to see we had retained the character of the colonial villa and turned it into such a lovely temporary home for travellers.
A few months later we received a letter from the couple including two photos. They showed a gorgeous young Shirley with her proud father on her wedding day. The other photo shows the house exactly like it looked when we bought it in 2001.