Best job in the world

Queenie Broughton, YHA manager at Kaikoura
Queenie Broughton, YHA manager at Kaikoura

Kuini Broughton is well known in Kaikoura for cycling everywhere.

Considering she's the manager of the Kaikoura youth hostel, and lives on-site towards the end of the Esplanade, that's a lot of cycling.

In fact, even though YHA rewards guests for minimising their carbon footprint, Kuini's motives for cycling everywhere are quite practical: she doesn't have a car, and she doesn't have a driver's licence.

Kuini has been looking after YHA Kaikoura Maui for 15 years.

It was a position she set her heart on after staying there en route home from her first managers' conference in 1995.

"It rained and snowed the weekend I was here - Queen's Birthday.

"I remember saying to the manager then, Clare Matthews, that if there was a hostel I would like to work at, it would be this one.

"When she knew she was going to be retiring she let me know."

The hostel was a small place then, with 22 beds - three six-bed dorms, plus triple and double rooms - but there were plans to extend it.

Kuini says it was jam-packed all the time, with people sleeping on the floor and camping on the lawns.

When the extension to the east was built she thought that demolition of the existing building might follow but it never did.

Part of it is that original building, itself an old villa, from 1962 when YHA set up in Kaikoura.

The organisation was founded in New Zealand by Cora Wilding who came to live in Kaikoura. Kuini began her career with YHA in Gisborne, her home town.

"I started as a part-time cleaner and hostel assistant. I did that for about 14 months then there was a manager's job going at Ohakune and I went there to fill in until they appointed someone and that someone turned out to be me."

The Ohakune hostel had 30 beds and the guests were mostly skiers and snowboarders from New Zealand. There were also trampers in summer but most of them tended to stay in mountain huts.

She left Ohakune in August 1998 and found Kaikoura to have a much more diverse range of guests.

"We have all ages of travellers and all backgrounds: they're not typically young people.

"They are families, school groups, both international and from New Zealand, and university students.

"When I came here they mostly came on buses: shuttles had just started then and a few were renting cars. There was a supermarket just down the road where Dolphin Encounter is now."

Fifteen years ago there were a lot of Germans and Europeans but now it's mainly Chinese.

"It depends on what's happening in the world, but there'll always be backpackers," she says. "I've had guests [in Kaikoura] from most parts of the world.

"There was an Estonian girl working here for a while. Very few from Africa and very few South Americans. Asians are now the biggest number - Chinese, Korean, Malaysians, Thai and Japanese.

"In Ohakune I used to take photos of the guests and put them all over the wall, but when I came here I was way too busy to do that.

"We get some repeat visitors. I've made friends with quite a few who come here regularly.

"One German man comes every year in late October for three weeks and just chills out."

In summer she gets a lot of guests who arrive by cycle, and they get a reduced rate for having a low carbon footprint.

Today the Kaikoura hostel has 38 beds, most of which are double and twin. The largest room has four beds these days.

Kuini says the old six-bed dorms had narrow wooden bunks which were not long enough for really tall people, and then people started travelling with more than just one pack - they have a small day pack, and often another one as well so they needed more room.

Guests still share bathrooms, but there are some en suites. The one here doubles as the assistant manager's room when the manager has days off.

"In all my time here we have had three nights with no guests.

"Our capacity averages 64 per cent over the year although in summer it's 92 to 100 per cent same as everybody in Kaikoura." she says.

The best thing about the job, she says, is the diversity of what she learns.

"You never stop learning. There's always new ways that YHA wants to operate, new ways of doing business, lots of new ideas from the guests about what works for them."

She thinks this will be her last place.

"I've looked at other jobs but nothing beats Kaikoura. Why would you live or work anywhere else, looking out from this office every day across the water?"

Recently Kuini has been on the Kaikoura District Council's tourism and development committee and the board of Kaikoura Information and Tourism Inc (KITI) which are about to merge. She plans to stand again for the new body.

Her other community involvement has been with the Seaward Kaikoura Lions Club's trash fashion show.

YHA sponsors the children's art section and she presents the prize to the winner, as well as certificates to all participants.

Kaikoura Star