Be careful what you wish for

I don’t know how many times I thought in my last workplace that I needed to get a proper job. Something honest, like cleaning toilets. Well, that dream came true last Monday.
It’s a long story, but somehow Dave and I found ourselves caretakers of the Knobs Flat complex last Monday. Knobs Flat is 62k from Te Anau, on the way to Milford Sound. It includes the largest toilet block in the known universe. It’s where all the buses stop on their way to and from Milford Sound.
This block is powered by its own hydro scheme, or by diesel when the creek is running low.


There are 28 stalls in the women’s section alone.  In peak summer the queues for the women’s extends out of the main building for a very long way. I remember the figure being 100m but don’t call me on that.
Dave tells me that the urinal is of ‘industrial dimensions’. No photos, sorry, but imagine a very very large horse trough and you get the picture.

The block is checked at midday and then comprehensively cleaned at 5pm when the it closes. At midday you pick up the ‘confetti’ (seriously, there were toilet paper streamers extending 20m outside of the main block, the mind boggles thinking how they must have got there), and clean up the worst mess. There were cups of coffee strewn over the floor – and the nearest coffee retailer is 62 km away! And there were other organics. This is why you are armed with a screwdriver. When a particular stall is too gross to deal with, you lock the door. 

At 5pm the block is closed to the public. You collect a large amount of paper goods – this is why there is a plantation forestry industry in NZ – and an impressive array of cleaning products and are kept very honestly busy for the next 2 hours. 

In the meantime Dave and I were also managing the accomodation complex. This is run independently of the toilet block. There are 6 units and a campground and amenities block.

We had to manage check outs. The most memorable was the person from Paris who needed two things. Bread, but we didn’t have bread so we substituted Tim Tams. And as there is no wifi at Knobs Flat, he needed the result of the first round of the presidential election. He was enraged when he found it out!

We were warned that there were always emergencies, especially when you were caretaking for the first time. The hydro scheme could go bung, people could run out of petrol, the sewage pump could stop working… I had a guided tour of the sewage pump. That was disarmingly honest too.

The cabins were fully occupied. Three of them had to be prepared for new arrivals. Neither Dave nor I had done this before and while we had had a very fast briefing on the rudiments of room presentation the day before, having a photographic record of the placement of the spare toilet paper was absolutely no use when it came to making beds. Neither of us know how to do hospital corners. It is amazing what you can hide with a quilt. 


By 8pm, we finally finished the toilet block, and everyone was checked in, and the campground amenities block was cleaned, and the hydro scheme was still running. And Dave and I were TRASHED. I had no idea that running an accommodation business could be so absolutely exhausting. The owner must have thought that this was hilarious, two Wellington public service-types falling apart under the pressure of something he has managed, seemingly effortlessly, for over a decade.
And did cleaning dunnies rate as a ‘proper’ job? Tell you what, if you didn’t do it people would most certainly notice. And that qualifies, in my book.
All this aside, the accommodation at Knobs Flat is pretty special. The cabins are charming and in a bush setting you won’t find anywhere else. Check them out at

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