With all Australia has to offer, it's hard to imagine making plans to stay in the small riverside town of Echuca for very long. But for backpackers looking for farm work, it's not a bad place to stay for a few weeksas many cash-strapped travellers end up doing.
Set in an old renovated technical school, Echuca Backpackers still has touches of its old institutional roots. Repainted concrete-block walls, high ceilings, and a TV lounge with a big chalkboard on one wall will make you wonder which former classroom you're sleeping in. But the building itself is sunny and quite clean, with various nooks around to socialize or escape to alone, depending on your mood.
It's primarily a working hostel, though there is always the odd tourist visiting on weekends. Since many travellers end up staying awhile, there's a social atmosphere which often leads to nights out at local pubs The Shamrock or The American, a few blocks away. The hostel itself is located on Echuca's main street, within walking distance of the bus and train stations (though if you give the hostel owner some notice about your arrival, she'll pick you up herself). Two grocery stores (Coles and Safeway) are within walking distance and open until midnight. It's a short walk from a cinema, bottle shops, banks, clothing stores, and the town library. The historical port area, where souvenir shops abound and old paddleboats still tour the Murray River, is also nearby.
The hostel is in a two-storey building, each floor with multiple dorm rooms and bathrooms. Note that you'll pay the same price for a bed in a four-bed dorm with attached bathroom, as you will in a 12-bed dorm (though the mattresses are pretty comfy). Dorms are given a thorough cleaning every week. All rooms are furnished with bunk beds, and most have free lockers inside the room. The bathrooms are cleaned daily and most are private and self-contained rooms, complete with shower stall, toilet, and sink. The kitchen is quite large, with many shelves for food and multiple fridges and freezers. There are two stovetops, an oven, toaster, and microwave, and plenty of free tea and coffee to guzzle. Dishes are available with a $10 deposit (just watch your cutlery doesn't go missing!). There is plenty of space for eating and relaxinga big table inside, another huge one outside under umbrellas on the patio. The TVs only get a few channels, but there are cheap movie rentals down the street and lots of couch space between the two TV lounges. A third and quieter lounge consists of a sitting area around a wood stove in the centre of the hostel. There is one computer off in a corner with internet access, but it's pricey at $1 for 12 minutes, so you're better off heading off to the town library to do some free web-surfing. And if you're an environmentalist, be warned there isn't much in the way of recycling facilities.
Formerly part of the Nomads hostel network, it's now independently owned and run by a woman named Debbie, who is quite involved with her guests. She's very sweet and acts as a bit of a mum to the backpackershooking travellers up with work, listening to their problems, and scolding those drinking alcohol outside of the hostel's permitted areas (yes, there's a little fenced-off area in the parking lot behind the hostel that's the drinking areaotherwise, there's no drinking allowed inside). Be prepared to put up with the rules (or sneak your goon into a coffee mug)it can seem a little silly sometimes, but it is a nice touch for the people getting up at 6 a.m. for work.
And speaking of workdepending on the season, there are all kinds of opportunities to make money if you're prepared to work long hours in tough jobs. January to April is high season for picking pears, tomatoes, apples, and even grapes. There also are packing shed and construction jobs and more, and Debbie is quite connected and great at setting travellers up with work at most times of the year. It can be a bit difficult to save great deal of money therethe price of the hostel ($138 pp weekly) is a little steep for its country location, and the cost of car hire ($7.50 per day per person, plus fuel) feels like it's adding insult to injury, especially when you learn how often the old junkers break down. But if you're carless and needing to get to your rural job, at least there is an option. But if you're looking to save a bit and work for a few weeks (or fulfill that pesky three-months of rural work requirement for a second year's Australian working visa) while staying in a nice environment, Echuca Backpackers is not a bad place to stop for a while.
Review by Dayle Parker