Ode to Agra

Trip Start Mar 11, 2011
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Saturday, May 14, 2011

We ended up in Oamaru totally per chance. The road has a mind of its own and we're happy to follow. The plan was to drive northwards and see how far we got and Oamaru was how far we got when darkness fell.

It's a town that I didn't even know existed until recently. We hadn't heard about it in the press, ever. Neither do we know anyone from here. No one has even mentioned it neither in passing nor recommended it as a must-see. So we had no idea what to expect...

Our impression? A town about 200 years past its hey-day, hanging onto dear life, trying desperately to survive today yet stuck in an era. Our "camp mum" confirmed this. Agra wondered how we found out about Swaggers Backpackers since we're not BBH members and they're not listed in the Lonely Planet. The reason...?

One fine day there was a knock on the door and there appeared a "dodgy-looking Kiwi bloke with barefeet and tattoos". He asked lots of questions while casing the joint and spun a story about planning to meet a friend there. Something about him "didn't sit right" with Agra. It didn't help that he was Kiwi. She tends not to trust the ones who frequent hostels in NZ, especially since a recent robbery spree of backpackers' ipods and laptops along the east coast. So... she asked him to leave. He was not a happy camper! He put up such a fuss until eventually he threw down his business card in frustration. It read: "Lonely Planet writer: New Zealand". Oops!

The Lonely Planet can make or break a hostel. Hostel marketing leaflets and signage quote their words like the gospel. But only if favourable! And many travellers devote themselves to following the Lonely Planet pilgrimage. But Agra's doing just fine without them. She was just being herself and obeying her instinct. She doesn't try to be your best friend or someone you expect her to be yet. Yet once you've demonstrated your value (catching a fish, stringing a guitar, making a fire... *just kidding*) she'll let you in and treat you like one of her brood...

I guess we made the grade (getting beyond the front door :-). On the first night we hopped into her car and she drove us down to the pier to show us the penguin hotspots and try to spot some suited critters. She turned on our electric blankets an hour before bedtime and offered us hot water bottles. She offered us homemade cakes and said we should help ourselves to the ice-cream in the freezer. She offered us free clothing from a growing box of lost items/hand-me-downs. On our last night there, she made Sunday dinner for all 5 guests in honour of her son who was home from university for the weekend!

I can still picture Camp-mum Agra blowing goodbye kisses as we reversed out of her driveway. We bid you a fond farewell and wish you all the best!
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Shaun S on

Awww you should post this to Lonely Planet! Or become LP writers and get paid for reviewing new places!

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