By JOY CRIST
Once familiar only to the young European backpacking crowd, hostels have been popping up across the country as affordable and community-oriented destinations for travelers to get some sleep, meet new people, and have a home base for exploring some of the nation’s most picturesque areas.
And now Hatteras Island has joined the ranks of hostel destinations, with the opening of the new Hatteras Hostel in the heart of Buxton.
Located at the site of the former Buxton Beach Motel on Old Lighthouse Road, this laid-back site is a mixture of a classic beach cottage and a colorful gathering spot for surfers, yoga fans, kiteboarders, and anyone who’s breezing through the island in search of a new adventure.
For those who are unfamiliar with the concept of a hostel, it’s a little like a motel or a vacation rental, but the big difference is that guests can have a private room or share a bedroom with other people, while having access to multi-use common areas – such as kitchens, lounges, bathrooms or porches.
Essentially, this means that you might not have as much privacy, but you do have an opportunity to meet some cool people who love the island for the same reasons you do.
“The way I explain it is that you can go to Conner’s and get a really good type of coffee, and go back to your room, brew it, and enjoy it,” says Brandon Follett, who runs the new Hatteras Hostel with his partner Kristin Golder. “It will be a great cup of coffee, sure, but it’s not the same experience as going to Dancing Turtle in Hatteras and having a cup [with friends and neighbors.]”
Brandon has a long history with hostel management, and until his move to Hatteras Island, he ran the Bridge Street Inn Hostel in Cambria, Calif. Kristin has deep roots in North Carolina and teaches yoga at several locales along the island including Spa Koru, Hatteras Yoga, and the Fessenden Center.
The two landed on Hatteras Island in the fall of 2015, and while working for a couple in Frisco in exchange for a place to stay, they scoped out the former Buxton Beach Motel property and realized it would be the perfect spot to set up shop and open a new hostel.
“Buxton, unlike other places, had everything we wanted within walking distance,” explains Brandon. “The first room [we opened] is called ‘Buxton Walk’ because it’s so close to everything. You’re .2 miles from the Fessenden Center, .8 miles from Conner’s, and there’s restaurants, shopping, and a great beach.
“We cater to people who want an ‘urban adventure center,” he adds. “Fishing, surfing, wildlife, outlying attractions – it’s all right here.”
The Buxton Walk has been technically available for a month, and Kristin and Brandon have been busy setting up the rest of the facilities, which officially opened for visitors on May 17, along with a website and Facebook launch.
There are two buildings on the property, and while the street-side building will not be renovated and open until 2017, Kristin and Brandon have transformed the second, smaller building into a colorful vintage paradise.
Original wood floors are present throughout the structure, and bright pops of color transform thrift store finds into eye-catching accents. Inset bookshelves are stocked with a mismatched but enticing collection of reads, and vibrant artworks are found alongside period lamps and repurposed end tables.
An old radio that will remind people of staying at their grandparents’ house – another find that was brought back to life after a little tinkering – is stationed in the main lounge area and is continuously set to the Hatteras community radio station, 101.5 FM.
And when a Beach Boys song or “Holiday Road” starts playing, it truly sets the tone of a relaxed little getaway.
“We looked for [pieces] that were colorful, and cheery, and looked different,” says Kristin.
“Your environment subliminally affects your actions, and we were going for ‘very happy,” adds Brandon. “Some hostels have a punk rock feel… but that’s not what we wanted here. We wanted clean, bright, and happy.”
And you can’t help but smile at some of the pieces – like a bright red living area table that still smells like fresh paint, or a lime green set of lockers found in the co-ed dorm room, which was acquired for free from the back of a truck in Manteo via an impromptu encounter with a friendly local.
It was one of many encounters that Brandon and Kristin had along the way – which included meeting new friends who happily leant a hand throughout the process — that helped the couple go from long-term visitors to official owners of the cheerful hostel.
“I call this place ‘Magic Island,’” says Kristin, “because everything just falls into place.”
Currently, the hostel has room for nine people. There’s a dorm room, which will have two sets of bunk beds, two private bedrooms, which have their own private baths and porches, and a community living area, bathroom, kitchen, and shaded porch.
All rooms and available spaces can be rented on a nightly basis, and the big attraction for potential guests isn’t just the community feel – it’s also the price tag.
“If someone [from out of the area] hears there’s a good swell, they can come down, go surfing, and then fix a meal in the kitchen, get a shower, and stay the night,” says Brandon. “Or if you’re passing through town and just need a place to rest, you can drop your bags and go to sleep, and take a walk to the beach the next day.
“And that experience will cost you $35.”
The private rooms – The Buxton Walk and The Buxton Deluxe — are more expensive, but obviously offer more privacy. And the Hatteras Hostel also has three parking spaces for small RVs and other vehicles that can legally park in a parking spot. Guests who stay at the parking spaces – also known as the “Westyground” — will also have access to all the common areas, including the kitchen and bathroom.
And while plans are in the works to add little extras – like an edible garden — to the current accommodations, as well as expand the site to include both buildings within the former motel, to date, the reception has been warm among both hostel guests and the local neighbors who have pitched in and helped.
“Buxton really wants this hostel to happen,” says Brandon, “and we’ve had so much help from so many people.”
“I’ve never lived someplace with such a sense of community,” adds Kristin.
And the hostel has already generated some buzz with visitors who wouldn’t otherwise land on Hatteras Island, including guests from Argentina, California, and other far-away places where having a hostel in the neighborhood is the norm.
So surfers who just need a bed on a budget, or curious travelers who want to meet fellow explorers, feel free to come on down. Your laid-back beach getaway is waiting.