STANDARDS of accommodation, it seems, are far lower in Tasmania than elsewhere in Australia – hostels are usually hit and miss but prior research into those in Hobart suggested that they are well below par. I had stayed before at the Hobart Hostel, which was acceptable, but, keen to try somewhere else, we weren’t having much luck. In the end, Rachel being braver than I and making the decision, we took a risk on the New Sydney Hotel, which claimed to be a hostel but was entirely absent from hostel-booking websites. Its own website hadn’t been updated for years (it has since been given a spring clean, but is still spectacularly vague). Rachel gave them a call, discovering that they did indeed provide accommodation and at a ridiculously cheap rate (less than half price of anywhere else). Reviews of everywhere else seemed so dire that we cut our losses and decided that if it was going to bad, it might as well be cheap.
As it turns out, the New Sydney Hotel, an Irish bar in central Hobart, has a fantastic atmosphere, good beer and a tempting menu. The staff were friendly, helpful and not at all worried that we had arrived late. We had a drink in the bar before heading to bed, feeling content. Unfortunately, our room was very cold (it was winter in Tasmania), but they gave us dozens of blankets. The room was bare, the television had a broken aerial, but we had the floor to ourselves and we couldn’t complain, given the price. We spent the evening looking at leaflets for Tasmanian attractions, often distracted by pictures of cute animals.
The real problem with the New Sydney was its lack of a kitchen. For many this wouldn’t be a problem, as you could go out and buy breakfast, but finding a gluten-free breakfast in Hobart isn’t so easy. A barmaid let us use the pub’s cutlery and crockery, even fetching us some milk from the bar for our Rachel-friendly cereal, but we realised that we would have to find somewhere else. So, with heavy hearts, we bade farewell to the ‘best little pub in town’ – almost without paying, simply because they forgot to ask – and began ringing around.
Hostels in Hobart are few. Montgomery’s YHA, probably the most popular hostel in the state capital, tried to charge us $110 a night for a room above a karaoke bar. So the Pickled Frog became our only other option. It had promise: it has won many awards and claims to be the best hostel in Tasmania. But this, we can reveal, doesn’t bode well for the others.
It is easy to see how the Pickled Frog has become much loved. In the summer, the atmosphere could truly be the hostel’s strength. The entire lower floor is dedicated to lounge spaces, comfortable communal areas and a large kitchen, all resembling an old, adapted tavern. We would sit by the roaring fire, strumming the communal guitar or listening to the music pumped out by reception - good stuff, like the Cat Empire and Xavier Rudd. If there had been more people around I dare say we might have met some fascinating people.
But finding dirty bowls tucked in the furniture of our room – goodness knows how long they’d been there - certainly dampened the initial appeal. And it got worse. There were things growing in the toasters. A sign on the bathroom doors warned of a long-passed, one-morning-only water pipe switch-off, which had prompted a disproportionate overreaction: that is, nobody bothered to flush the toilets. Things were growing on the bathroom ceilings. We don't mean to be snobs: you expect hostels to be basic. But on the first morning we both felt that we had come out of the showers dirtier than we had entered, so on the second morning we didn't bother to shower at all. We were keen to escape and so after three nights in Hobart we left, smelling something awful, heading out of town in a hairdryer-on-wheels called Philippa.
Imagine our surprise and delight then, when, after a day’s driving along a road that deserves an entire book unto itself, mountains, ravines, gorges and rainforest between us and the Pickled Frog, we arrived at Ormiston House in Strahan. For less money per night than Montgomery’s YHA we checked in... to a mansion.
If you need to stay in Hobart, we really recommend you go for one of the more expensive options or, if you do want a hostel, I can’t recommend the Hobart Hostel enough over the others. With hindsight, it's more than acceptable, and the staff were top people. Overall, however, we recommend you head out of Hobart and visit Mike and Carolyn at Ormiston House. It. Is. Beautiful.