With five children of their own, a houseguest and up to 30 visitors every night you could say the Nowaks like people.

The owners of the Whanganui backpacker have lots of young people around and get to know different cultures.

Matt and Verena have also taken in an orphan deer, a goat and a dog found by the side of the road, and 10 ducklings.

Their Campbell St property can accommodate many. There's a 10 bedroom house, plus 30 beds in the hostel and space for tents in the garden at the back. The backpacker is usually full in December and January, and the house tends to fill up too.


"If you have more space it's like a fridge. No matter how big it is, it gets full," Matt Nowak said.

With all those people passing through, the Nowaks get to hear some great stories.

Their oldest Te Araroa trail walkers were two 75-year-old women from Auckland. They walked the North Island in a year, then returned to walk the South Island. A United States woman on the trail was walking 60km most days. Another man ran the whole thing in three and a half months.

A Belgian couple on their honeymoon received a tandem bicycle as a wedding present. They were biking the length of the trail on the tandem, then planned to fly to Cambodia with it and ride it back to Belgium.

An Auckland family with six children stayed in the hostel while looking to buy a Whanganui property. A group of 60 rowers were partly accommodated in a tent, and catered for as well - breakfast, a packed lunch each, and dinner in the evening.

It could all be a lot of work - but the Nowaks have help from guests with work visas who work a few hours a day to pay for their shelter.

Mrs Nowak opens the kitchen every morning at 6am, and her husband closes it at 11pm every night. In between, someone has to be available in reception.

"Reception is a sort of lounge as well, for us. If you consider it as work it would be very tough," he said.

But the two have a very relaxed style.

"In the end it's about making everybody happy, and being happy."

Most of their visitors are aged 20 to 40, stay an average two days and can choose between dormitory and private rooms. They can be from anywhere in the world - but mostly Europe and North America. Most Te Araroa walkers are from the US, and have just spent seven straight days paddling the Whanganui River. There have been at least 20 this summer so far.

In summer the visitors want to kayak the river, or explore the town, beaches and Saturday market. Winter is quieter, with sports and project teams, and people visiting family or doing temporary jobs. Most book online.

The property used to be a hostel for Wanganui City College students and teachers. Before that it was part of a Karitane Hospital, and it still includes the hospital's kitchen.

The Nowaks moved to New Zealand from Germany six years ago. Mr Nowak first commuted to an IT job in Wellington while Mrs Nowak, a librarian, and the children - then aged 16 to 6 - stayed in Whanganui because it was quieter.

They bought the Campbell St property a year later, and renovated it in stages. This summer is their third since opening.