The falafels may be going but the yoghurt lives on forever
Twenty-five years is a long time to spend in a youth hostel. When Karen Griffin moved to Opoutere to manage the YHA she
found there was more than a little self-reliance ‘Coromandel-style’ required. For instance, to get to her antenatal
checkups she had to hitchhike to Thames. That was in 1978 and the wages were just $25 per week. This week marks Karen’s
retirement after 25 years of hostel management – most of it at Opoutere – north of Whangamata on the Coromandel
Over the years Karen has become deeply involved in the local community and has developed a reputation as a remarkable
hostess, a renowned gourmet and a talented artist.
Karen’s artistic creativity graces the reception area of the Opoutere YHA which is decorated with her numerous entries
in the recycled section of the WearableArt Awards. When the onsite DOC ranger got married at the YHA in April this year
she was wearing a wedding dress hand-sewn by Karen.
The local market regularly features Karen’s legendary falafel burgers. With a loyal following, their fame has spread far
beyond Opoutere and with her retirement Karen says the burgers may make a return to the gourmet scene. Just as popular
is the homemade yoghurt Karen sells from reception. It has been made at the YHA from the same recipe for 27 years and
anyone who asks is given the recipe – even the professional yoghurt maker who stayed at Opoutere recently.
Karen’s dedication to the environment is evidenced by the presence of a DOC ranger who lives onsite from September to
February. The DOC officer runs an educational programme for guests to learn about the nearby dotterel colony.
Since arriving in Opoutere, Karen has witnessed the evolution of the tourism industry in the Coromandel and feels that
it can only be good for the region.
“There would have been only three backpackers hostels 15 years ago and now there must be about 30. The backpackers may
not spend much on accommodation but they do spend up large on adventure tourism, food and drink – all of which is good
for the local economy.”
According to Karen there have been changes in the hostelling scene over the years.
“Guest expectations have changed. They no longer want to sleep in the big dormitories with three tiers of bunks. Family
rooms and double rooms are much more in demand nowadays.”
Karen’s reputation for superior hospitality has seen an increase in domestic overnights, with Kiwis making up 60 percent
of guest nights.
“Opoutere is a very special place. Many of our guests say it is their favourite YHA destination, not just in New
Zealand, but in the world. I love to see people coming back time and again and I’ve made some fantastic friends here. It
is really the people that make this a great job.”
Karen doesn’t think she’s going to have too much trouble filling her days when she leaves Opoutere.
“I’m going to take a couple of months off and then I’ll have a look around at my options. I’d like to do something
creative, may be a design course. I’m not going far though, just to Whangamata.”
About YHA YHA was launched in New Zealand in 1932, developing over seven decades into a unique network of more than 60
hostels nationwide with around 28,000 New Zealand members. YHA has been built by the efforts of volunteers who raised
funds, personally constructed and managed many of the facilities. In 2001/02 the network recorded 500,000 guest
overnights, around 85 percent from international travellers.
YHA New Zealand is a full member of the International Youth Hostels Federation, which uses the HI brand for its global
network. Comprising over 4,500 hostels in 60 countries, this international focus allows members to enjoy the benefits
and culture of a truly global organisation, whether travelling locally or overseas.