Happy Hippo, Durban, South Africa
In backpacking years I’m old. I don’t really feel it, but when I’m hanging around with a few people at a hostel, they’re all 18-23, and conversation turns to gap years and Snapchat filters it can be difficult to not feel as though I should really be shuffling out of the conversation on a zimmer frame.
For this very reason my desire to hit up big hostels has been on the wane for the last few years. Big inevitably means a big bar where big groups of university-aged travellers are sucking down big jaeger bombs. With this in mind I have to admit that it was with some trepidation that I walked through the doors of Happy Hippo hostel in Durban.
Michelle has been slaying the Durban hostel game for around 2 decades. The first Hippo was a simple home-turned-hostel, but as demand grew and her full hostel turned more and more travellers away, it soon became apparent that Michelle needed more space. The result was Happy Hippo, a vast hostel located right in the centre of town.
Walking into the Hippo you get a sense that this is a professional operation. It has a massive lobby that currently houses a tour desk, but may be converted into a day spa at a later date. But unlike a traditional big hostel, the workers are happy, smiley, and seem genuinely pleased that you’re there.
The main floor – one above reception – is cavernous. As far as I could tell there’s just enough room to hold the Olympic javelin final. It’s also painted awesomely. Epileptics beware – bright colours await. The centre is entirely communal, with a dining area, comfy couches, and even a couple of recliners in the mix. The kitchen is well-equipped and squeaky clean. Had enough of inside? Just wander out to the adjoining balcony or, if you’d rather, follow me upstairs.
The pièce de résistance of the Happy Hippo can be found at the top. The hostel bar (yep, the one with the jaeger bombs and such) is one of the coolest I’ve seen. A large rooftop area allows you to look over the city, and inside there’s live sport, a pool table and, more and more often, live music. Michelle explained that the main live music venue in Durban shut down recently and she’s now hoping to position the Hippo as the go-to place for music-loving Durbanites. All power to her.
The Happy Hippo is honestly one of the best ‘big’ hostels I’ve been to. The communal areas encourage the sort of interaction that can be so elusive in hostels these days, the action upstairs offers travellers something to do, and the rooms and facilities are above the quality that you hope from such an establishment
Michelle was actually running both her original hostel and Happy Hippo side-by-side up until recently, but closed the doors on the smaller guesthouse on the weekend that I was there. While a sad moment, it’s fair to say that the newer Hippo will be keeping backpackers like me happy for a few more years yet.