Couchsurfing at Smash Palace

HANNAH HERCHENBACH
Last updated 05:00 09/07/2014
CouchSURFING
DEAN KOZANIC/ Fairfax NZ
COUCHSURFING CRAZE: Bingo the dog is a regular attendee of the Smash Palace Couchsurfing night, accompanied by owner and couchsurfer ‘‘funnyfarmchch’’.

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The Couchsurfing.org website is proving so popular in Christchurch that local bar Smash Palace hosts weekly drinks for couchsurfers every Wednesday night.

Couchsurfing.org is a global social networking site that connects travellers with locals offering a spare bed or couch free of charge, and boasts over seven million members worldwide.

There are more than 2300 registered Couchsurfing.org hosts in Christchurch and, last week, 61 travellers in the city logged onto the site.

Smash Palace owner Johnny Moore said the weekly drinks sessions attracted more than 50 couchsurfers in summer. In the depths of winter, numbers could shrink down to a dozen, but "most of the time there's more than 20".

Organiser Zac Hynd picked up the task of managing the local couchsurfers event after it was set up by Craig Smith, creator of the award-wining Wonky Donkey song, at Moore's former Poplar Lane bar Goodbye Blue Monday.

Demand for hosts in Christchurch was high, Hynd said. "I get inundated. I turn [my availability] on "maybe" and I get 20 requests within a week."

French Canadian Miguel Roy travelled around New Zealand for eight months before settling in Christchurch to work and save during his final four months here.

At a meet-up last month he said he hoped to open the doors of his flat to more couchsurfers while he was living in the city.

American surfer Jennifer Sekula had never used the site before travelling through Christchurch, but felt that staying at hostels limited her experience.

"You don't really learn about the culture where you are," she said. "I think it's just more fun when you go to a foreign country to learn about the people directly from the people."

Despite travelling alone, she did not feel staying with strangers through the site compromised her safety.

However, she did take precautions by asking to stay only with females who had lots of positive references.

In the five years that surfers have been gathering at his bars, Moore said there has been "not a lick of trouble".

"They bring a heap of colour into my pub and it's an international, colourful, bright crowd."

"Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism spokesman Michael Flatman said budget accommodation in the city was running at 52 per cent of its pre-quake capacity."

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