My collective knowledge of B&Bs (see how fast I’ve picked up the lingo?) has admittedly been gained solely from television shows and the odd tourist brochure. In my mind, people who stay at B&Bs should expect lots of doilies, hearts, crocheted items of all types, wooden ducks and possibly mandatory post-dinner Scrabble and/or Yahtzee games around the fireplace.
As I was researching accommodation options, I had a choice between rather expensive hotels or, on the other end of the spectrum, youth hostels. Seeing as I am well past the age where any variation of the word “youth” applies, I checked out the B&B option, which turned out to be a happy place somewhere in the middle. With prices not much more than single hostel rooms, B&Bs are often much quieter, more refined and include (as the name suggests), breakfast.
After doing extensive research (ie. staying at four different B&Bs this trip), here is what I’ve discovered is needed to run your own successful bed and breakfast.
1) Must be a people person: Meeting new people every day, doling out travel advice and looking after their needs are all part of the job. Nicki, at Bayview Home Stay in Kaikoura, had to remind me twice about Daylight Savings Time taking effect while I was there, saving me from a potential scheduling nightmare. Gladys, at Golden Coast B&B in Greymouth, shared her homemade fudge with coconut and Wheat Bix. And Gerald and Pauline of Home Lea B&B in Christchurch cheerily welcomed me at 11:30pm after my late night flight and equally cheerily saw me off at 6:45 the next morning, with a boxed breakfast ready to go. And every place sported some type of guest book, map with pins or similar. Most of the B&B owners I met this trip were retired folk, looking to make some additional income while meeting new people.
2) You need to have a nice garden: The snobbish B&B crowd like their things posh. So a nicely maintained garden is a prerequisite. Joya Gardens in Nelson had a beautifully landscaped garden complete with waterfalls, a fish pond and a gazebo.
3) Attention to detail required: These are businesses in their own right and as such, depend on word of mouth advertising, probably more so than repeat customers. So get ready to dimple that butter, put out the organic soap, grease those egg molds and light those fireplaces! Having a few feather pillows probably wouldn’t hurt either.
4) Breakfast-making skills a plus: You need to be able to make breakfast. This might seem obvious, but don’t think you can get by with serving a piece of toast and store bought jam! My stays featured home-mixed muesli, fresh apple and boysenberry juice, hot cups of lemon and honey with freshly grated ginger, sourdough bread, croissants, more types of jams and cheeses than you could shake a stick at, and of course, the traditional fry up. Bayview even had fresh eggs from their own chickens.
5) Be hospitable: Often, B&B hosts offered to come pick me up / drop me off at train or bus stations. And when I mentioned I was looking for Merino clothing, Pauline from Home Lea unexpectedly offered to spend part of her morning to take me shopping and on the way back, we toured through some of the sadder, post-earthquake sights of the CBD.
Sadly, while I enjoyed my B&B experience immensely, I don’t think I’ll be opening my own B&B anytime soon. I do not really like people all that much. I detest playing the tour guide. The only greenery in my home are some sad stems of dried pussy willow in a forgotten vase. I don’t dimple or curl my butter. In fact, it’s still in the paper it came in and I just scrape off what I need. And I usually eat breakfast out. I don’t like making my own bed (isn’t that what housekeepers are for?) much less other people’s beds.
However, in every single place, I enjoyed a good night’s sleep and felt like I was staying at a favorite aunt’s house. Of course, I did a bit more tiptoeing and cleaning (rinsing out the shower or wiping down the sink) than I would’ve done at a hotel.
Travel tips: (1) I love Tripadvisor and would never even consider booking a hotel without checking it first. This site features reviews written by real travelers (take reviews with a pinch of salt as some posters are completely whiny and don’t seem satisfied with any property at all), and gives you a good overall picture of what a property is like. Often, you’ll find very recent reviews which trump what hotels have on their (possibly outdated and always biased) website. Accommodation is separated into hotels, specialty lodgings (ie. B&Bs) and other. There is even a feature where you can enter an address and see which accommodations are closest. This was important for me because without a car, I wanted to be close enough to walk into town for shopping and meals and to the bus station (although some of my hosts were able to do free pick ups and drop offs). That, combined with Google Maps, ensured that I was able to get everywhere I needed to go. (2) All of the B&Bs I stayed at were way beyond my expectations. Nicki and Margaret at Bayview Home-Stay in Kaikoura were perennially cheerful. Guest rooms are in another part of the house which afforded privacy with a TV area and fireplace. Rooms were spotlessly clean and beds were comfy. Breakfast was a yummy fry up with eggs collected from the chickens in the backyard coop in the gorgeous backyard garden, a beautiful place to curl up with your favorite book. Nicki answers emails quickly and was able to come get me / drop me off at the bus station in town. Otherwise, it was a pleasant 20-25 minute walk (easy downhill walk but a bit of a workout coming back up the hill) after a long day out. All the tourist areas are located on the main stretch, hugging the coast, including the Swimming with Dolphins activity – an unforgettable experience. Kaikoura itself is a quaint town with one main road, eateries that range from traditional fish and chips wrapped in newspaper to gourmet cuisine. Whatever you choose to do, Bayview was a convenient place to stay, even without a car.