Author Archives: Emily Potter

About Emily Potter

Born and raised in Berkeley, California, I graduated from university in 2016, and after working full time for three years, decided to quit my job and begin a working holiday in Australia. I arrived in Melbourne in November 2019, and am still here two years later.

East Coast: January 2022

Only a year late, and a year off of writing, here’s the tale of my adventures up and down the east coast of Australia in five weeks at the beginning of 2022.  

The east coast of Australia is often seen as the go-to destination for backpackers.  If you’re only in the country for a few weeks, everyone says that the east coast is a must-do, packed with the most tourism and postcard highlights.  For exactly that reason, I had delayed any travel along the coast, and had relatively low expectations, assuming that it wouldn’t be as amazing as everyone said.  I had more of a desire to explore the hidden treasures of Australia, to go where most backpackers wouldn’t, which is why I was even more pleasantly surprised by these five weeks.  With a combination of perfect timing and unforgettable experiences, my east coast trip has been my favourite so far, and while I do recommend seeing as much as Australia as you can, the east coast is definitely a highlight. 

Timing-wise, I couldn’t have been more lucky.  As is the case most years, floods devastated much of the east coast of Australia, and 2022 was especially bad. Not only would many of the roads I drove on been impassible a few weeks later, but many of the towns still haven’t fully recovered before this year’s floods.  Australia is no stranger to damaging natural disasters, but the past few years have been especially rough, and especially for the southeast and east coast.  So as I said, I was incredibly lucky that I was able to go on this trip, and that the timing worked out so perfectly.  

I had returned from South Australia before Christmas 2021 so that I could spend the holidays with my boyfriend. I also planned to return to the same winery I worked at the previous year, to work their vintage season, beginning at the end of February.  So this provided a perfect window for more travel.  I set out on Saturday, 15 January. I was only planning a few days in advance, and usually only booking accommodations a day or two before arrival.  This was a huge departure from the old me, who wanted to map out every single day before the trip started.  But I like the new me. The main event on this trip, the only booking that needed to be planned around, was a boat tour in the Whitsundays.  Just south of the Great Barrier Reef, this would be my northernmost destination.  So while I had some flexibility on whether I could stay one or two nights here and there, I knew I needed to be in Airlie Beach by the morning of 31 January, and then be back in Victoria in time to start work. 

My first week on the road wasn’t my favorite,  and made me nervous about how the next four would go, but if anything it just meant that the trip could only get better from there.  I departed northeast Victoria and started north, crossing into New South Wales, through Wagga Wagga, then along the highway, before dropping down towards Canberra.  I had an early dinner at The Sir George in Jugiong, and enjoyed a beautifully scenic drive down through Yass (Australian town names always amuse me), past Brindabella National Park, across state lines into the ACT (Australian Capital Territory) and arrived at Cotter Campground just after dark.  I knew my trip would fall during school holidays, and this was a Saturday night, so I expected things to be busy, but I had no idea Canberra was this popular.  Despite booking a camping spot that morning, I had to squeeze into the last parking spot and spent a very hot night sleeping in the car.  On my previous trips, my car had been set up to be half sleeping, half storage space.  But those trips had been during the spring, and now in the middle of summer, even in one of the coldest corners of the country, my car set up wasn’t going to last me five more weeks. 

After a restless night I was up early and drove the twenty minutes into Canberra, Australia’s capital.  Of the many destinations I’ve been recommended, this has never been one of them, and was assured that one weekend would be plenty to see all that I needed to.  I don’t think that’s giving it quite enough credit, because there’s beautiful greenery,  and a vibrant city life.  That being said, I think one weekend is really all you need.  It was a bit overcast, but I drove to a couple of lookouts, Mount Ainslie with the best view.  Canberra is most known for the government and the museums, so I headed to the Australian War Memorial. One of the many free museums, I spent three hours and probably could have spent three more, learning about the history of Australia and it’s involvement in various wars.  There was an overwhelming amount of information to take in but it was nice to get in a bit of history and culture.

I continued to drive around the city, to the central hub along the river.  I was immediately struck by the similarities this capital has to Washington D.C.  The parliament building is oddly modern and distopian, but every other public building looked straight out of the 1970s, with near exact replicas of Watergate and the Kennedy Center.  Presumably not a coincidence, but I think D.C has much more to offer.

Thinking I was in for another crowded night at the campsite, I headed back early, and squeezed in next to a family.  Serendipitously, the family was from Bright, in the area I had been working the past six months, so we bonded over northeast Victoria.  They had been travelling with their family for the last few months, and had all kinds of recommendations for the east coast, so that gave me some encouragement for the next leg of my trip. 

I drove back into Canberra in the morning to a camping store to stock up on gear, including a tent, tarp, and fan.  My next stop was the Blue Mountains, just west of Sydney, for two nights.  This stop taught me the importance of booking ahead, and that I’m happy to pay a few dollars to secure a spot for the night.  After stopping for groceries in the town of Katoomba, I tried one free campsite, but the road was closed due to heavy rains.  So I added more driving time in search of another free campsite, probably spending more on fuel than on a campsite fee.  I settled on Old Ford Reserve, set down in a rainforest environment, so another night in a hot, muggy car. 

My first stop in the morning was Wentworth Falls, where I climbed up and down to various lookouts, with waterfalls on one side and an expansive valley on the other. It was rainy, but beautiful. I wanted to do the Three Sisters walk, which is the most well-known in the region, but it was too foggy to enjoy it.  So instead I did some reading and napping, and decided to scope out different campsites for the night. I didn’t really like any that I found, for a variety of reasons that seemed silly and too picky in hindsight. I settled on a park, that you weren’t supposed to stay overnight in, but I was too tired to care.  This further solidified my need to book in somewhere for my future nights, but I also realized I needed to relax my standards on an acceptable campground.

From the Blue Mountains, I travelled north on country highways, to Tamworth for the night. The oversized golden guitar and the American delicacy Taco Bell were the main attractions. After scoping a few potential overnight spots, none to my liking, I drove a further forty minutes to a campsite.  On this trips, and others, I relied heavily on phone apps to find accommodation, namely WikiCamps and Google Maps, and once I had more of a sense of what I was comfortable with, they were invaluable. 

With the first week of getting comfortable on the road under my belt, I was on my way to the coast! I cut southeast, passing Apsley Falls, where I stopped for a walk around a basin and a look at rushing falls.  Back in the car, I was looking for campsites within a short drive of the coast, and settled on Timbertown outside of Wauchope.  A railroad museum and tourist attraction, I opted for the camping spot next door.  This was the first time trialing my new tent, and of course with forecasted rain and no previous camping experience, I was destined for success.  Despite being next to the main road, I enjoyed a surprisingly nice and dry sleep.  The rain continued on the next day, but I was still able to explore Port Macquarie, taking a walk along the shore front, and visiting the Tacking Point Lighthouse and adjacent beach. By then it was fully storming, but that didn’t stop me from a quick dip.  Another night at the campsite, I briefly explored the town of Wauchope the following morning, and then was on to my next stop, Coffs Harbour.  

An hour and a half up the coast, I had heard of Coffs Harbour prior to my trip, but hadn’t heard much good. I knew I was a hotspot for backpackers, with lots of opportunities to complete farm work near by, but hadn’t heard enough about its beautiful beaches and large commercial center.  I drove straight to the coast,  exploring Sapphire, Moonee, and Emerald Beaches.  This was mostly to scout out potential overnight spots,  but it gave me the opportunity to walk across the Moonee Nature Reserve, with a dozen kangaroos grazing on the hillside. I decided I didn’t want to sleep in an illegal parking spot, so I drove thirty minutes inland to Glenreagh Recreation Reserve. This was another reasonably priced campsite, attached to the local football oval a horse grounds, I was able to pitch my tent and enjoy a beautiful rainbow. 

As my camping setup was coming together, and with the inclement weather, I wanted to get an awning or covering that would allow me to set up my chair and table to relax under, without a blazing sun or torrent rain to affect me. So I hopped on Facebook marketplace and found one an hour away, which perfectly coincided with a farmers market I wanted to visit.  So the next morning, I drove north to Iluka, picked up the awning, then drove back down across the river to the Yamba river market.  I don’t know how I’d heard of this market, but I was glad I’d had another reason to come this way.  I didn’t think there was anything too special about it, but I bought a pair of earrings, and then had a wander around town. 

My car has roof racks, but the awning needed different fittings to work, so I had a few trips back and forth to downtown Coffs and the auto parts store to get what I needed.  I spent the afternoon at the beach again, and then headed back to the campsite.  I was all prepared to assemble the awning myself, but within five minutes, I had three dads descend on me, and I sipped my beer while they put it together.  I only had to step in and correct them once, but otherwise just supervised.  

I thought two nights in Coffs was perfect, although I could’ve gone for a third. Monday morning, one week on the road, and I felt like I was hitting my stride.  I left early and drove north to Grafton, and then onwards to Nimbin.  Known as the weed capital of Australia, Nimbin is set in the middle of a tropical forrest, off the beaten path.  I wanted to see it for the novelty factor, and because I knew other people who had visited and enjoyed it.  Perhaps because I grew up in the middle of Berkeley and Telegraph Avenue, but this seemed like a dumpy, rundown town with a bunch of dirty hippies.  Novel for some, I didn’t find much of interest.  I popped into some shops, bought a sticker and postcard, but was quickly on my way. 

Disappointment number two of the day was Byron Bay.  This might be a hot take, because I know many travel just to see this chilled, surfing beach town.  What I knew used to have old Australian charm, now seemed to be overrun with tourists, influencers, and struck me as vastly different from its reputation.  I had booked in at Glen Villa Resort and caravan park, which turned out to be expensive, but less so than other accommodations, and relatively empty.  I set up my awning and campsite, although I hadn’t quite mastered handling the awning on my own, so I was quickly tired and cranky.  After a snack and a beer, I put a load of washing on and logged into the Wi-Fi.  At this point I was planning as I went, so I knew every few days I would need to set aside time to make bookings and study the map.  I also took this time to reinforce my love of swimming pools.  Odd, considering I’m traveling between some of the best beaches in the world, but for me it doesn’t get any better than a pool.  Each night in Byron, I had a nice relaxing dip in the pool at the caravan park, and it became a criteria for my future bookings.

I sorted my laundry in the morning and did some more research and bookings. I was off to town by 10am, buying a necklace along the way, that I still wear most days.  I wandered past the shops, and then continued on towards the Cape Byron Lighthouse.  This turned out to be a much longer and steeper walk than expected, but I do love a good lighthouse, and this one sits on the most easterly point of mainland Australia, which is pretty neat.  Got some photos, then made the trek back down, and got a late lunch at The Top Shop.  I checked out Tallow Beach, but the waves were a bit intimidating, so I headed back to the main beach, did some swimming and reading, bought some beers and ice in town, and walked back to the camp ground. Another dip in the pool, leftover sausage sandwich and cheese and crackers for dinner, and another mediocre sleep in my tent, listening to the rain fall. 

Wednesday, 26 of January, Australia Day, also known as Invasion Day by the Aboriginal community.  I had already planned this as a rest day, so I had no plans other than to sit at the campsite all day. I was in a bit of a mood, probably due to not getting a lot of sleep the last two weeks, so it was good I had no plans.  Some research, some reading, and preparing for the next leg of my journey.  All that relaxing led to a perfect sleep, and I was up and out by 9:30, happy to leave Byron.  I drove north, briefly stopping in Mullumbimby.  This was serendipitous, because I had recently started watching the show Ozark, where at one point they talk about running away to this very small town in Australia.  So I drove through, deciding they probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it, and continued on to Pottsville, which I decided I could retire to. Another thirty minutes north to Tweed Heads, the border into Queensland.  I got out to walk along the border, check out out some surfers, and then continue on through the Gold Cost and Surfers Paradise.

On my previous trip to Australia in 2014, our school group had stayed in this area for a few days, so I wanted to see what I could remember of the area.  I stopped at Surf World, a surf museum next to Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, and then on to Brisbane.  I stopped for some calamari, and then parked in the CBD to walk along the water front.  The Brisbane River flows from the sea, and winds through the city, with a public pool and museums in the main area.  I wasn’t much impressed with Brisbane on my first visit, and the same held true now, although perhaps I wasn’t giving it enough credit.  

Something I had forgotten was that upon crossing the border into Queensland, the time turns back an hour, because they don’t do daylight savings. So now it was approaching darkness at 6pm in the middle of summer. I continued north another hour and a half to my campsite near the Sunshine Coast, set in a macadamia orchard. It was a bit damp, and I discovered cane toads, which are big and ugly and a pest, not like cute little frogs, which I’m also not too fond of.  I picked this spot for its convenience to Noosa Heads and the Australia Zoo, my destinations for Friday. 

The time difference worked in my favor, because I was up nice and early.  My first stop was Noosa, and this turned out to be much more how I pictured Byron. The beach was seemingly perfect, and along the lines of my lucky timing, it wasn’t too busy.  I walked along the coast, which yielded beautiful views, and then walked back to have a swim in the most perfectly clear water I’d been in yet. Everything about that morning was perfect: the weather, the water, the beach, the sun, and the frozen ice cream I had for lunch. 

The afternoon was spent at the Australia Zoo, Steve Irwin’s legacy. While a big part is the croc feeding and show at midday, there are so many more animals from every corner of the world, I ended up spending more than three hours there.  I’m not always a zoo girl, or an animal person for that matter, but this zoo was well worth the admission.  I was absolutely exhausted from the long and wonderful day, so I was back at the campsite for an early night. 

From Noosa, my next major destination was the Whitsundays and Airlie Beach, but to get there required two days of driving. I never put pressure on myself to drive when I was too tired, and to remind myself that I could take as many breaks as I needed to. I listened to a variety of music, podcasts, and called my boyfriend plenty. But I did need to make sure I was on the boat in two days, so I needed to power through the driving.  I was up bright and early, departed the campsite, and continued north. I detoured through Maryborough and Hervey Bay, Barrum Heads and Bundeberg, stopping in Agnes Waters. I had thought this was supposed to be another cute surf town, but was a bit disappointed. I spent too much time trying to find a beach, that ended up being windy and rough, but I did end up having excellent fish and chips. I decided to stay overnight at a roadside stop, mostly for the convenience sake of driving, but it meant a hot and restless night in the car. 

Up early for another full day of driving, I stopped early in Rockhampton for some coffee and a look around, took a picture at the Tropic of Capricorn monument, the line which I was standing on, and walked through the local botanic gardens. Powering on, I made it to Lake Prosperine, making for an eight hour day, which was better than I anticipated. This was a beautiful lake with full amenities about an hour inland. I did a full camp set up, kicked back with a beer and enjoyed the sunset, excited for what the next few days would bring. 

After a very windy night with little sleep, I packed up and headed to Airlie Beach early. I checked out the town, which was very touristy and a bit tacky, figured out where I could leave my car for three days, and bought a day pass to a resort with a pool for $20. This felt very luxurious, and confirmed my love of pools. And then it was time for the boat! 

I could do an entire post about my three days at sea, and perhaps if I could keep up with my writing I would have, so I’ll try to be concise. This was the main event of my five weeks, and far and beyond surpassed my expectations. I booked with True Blue sailing, for the two night three day excursion, on a ship with about 15 other guests, and a crew of four boys who fit the part. I was worried about my fellow passengers being too young or too party focused for my liking, but it was absolutely perfect. We also managed to avoid a storm, making for perfect weather and clear skies the entire time. If I did it again, I couldn’t recreate as perfect circumstances, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to sail the Whitsundays. 

As part of the package, we made multiple stops to swim with fish, jump off the boat, and snorkel through coral. We had early and nearly exclusive access to Whitehaven beach, the biggest beach in the Whitsundays, enjoyed all of our meals on the boat, and could drink as much as we could carry onboard. I did my first ever flip into the water, swam next to a sea turtle, saw jellyfish and the biggest fish I’ve ever seen outside of an aquarium. I met two fun-loving girls from Brazil, living in Sydney; a young couple from Adelaide, full of adventure but also with quite the political interest; a 19-year old who had already traveled more than I ever will, and a Northern Ireland doctor in Melbourne who I had the most fun with.  The trip was all I could’ve hoped for and more, and I was sun burnt and exhausted by the end. 

I was convinced to stay another night in town rather than back at my next campsite, so I enjoyed a night out with the group, before continuing on solo. I had planned two nights of recovery, knowing I would be tired, need to do laundry, and plan the second half of my journey back down the coast. I traveled an hour north to Bowen, where I booked in at Wangaratta Caravan Park, the furthest north I would go. And it had a pool! Probably recovering from a touch of sunstroke and weeks of exhaustion, I wasn’t very well the next day, so was happy I’d planned accordingly. Alternating between napping, doing laundry, and reading, it ended up being a nice day. That night I decided to treat myself to a movie, walking in the rain to the local cinema.

After another night in the rain, and a last dip in the pool, it was time to return south. I drove as much as I could, only stopping at McDonald’s to use their free wifi and toilets. Due to my complete lack of budgeting, I was running a little low on funds, so at one point I had nearly no money, no service, and no gas in the car. That was fun. But I carried on. I stopped at Mackay, and then to my campsite for the nigh outside of Rockhampton, which was a big lot behind an abandoned hotel. It had a friendly but strange groundskeeper, and only one other car camping. With the canopy off of my tent, I slept with fresh air, and awoke to the sunrise. Absolutely lovely. I wanted to stop at Noosa again because of how much I’d enjoyed it the first time, so made the six hour drive south in the morning, but knew I wouldn’t have a lot of time to stay. I got dinner, and had a quick visit to the beach, but it wasn’t as nice as the first day. I’d contemplated spending more money on a hostel or campsite that was further away, but decided to park on a quiet street and hope no one bothered me. I had cut covers for all of my car windows, so I could do stealth camping without the fear of being seen, but still always felt a little nervous about sleeping somewhere I wasn’t meant to. That fear continued, when I discovered highway rest stops limited you to four hours. Whether that was enforced or not, it led to me spending the following night in a big service station car park after my eight hour drive. I made my final bookings for the trip, in Newcastle and Sydney, and continued south. 

On Tuesday, 8 February, I arrived at my Airbnb in Newcastle, two hours north of Sydney. I had heard wonderful things about Newcastle from one of the girls on my boat trip, and this was meant to be another rest and relaxation catch-up. After some grocery shopping and a hot shower, I got settled in for the next 24 hours. Lots of screen time, naps, and a whole lot of nothing, which was a nice departure from the last few days. I was able to find time to explore some of Newy, the cute shops and perfect beaches, and would definitely want to visit again.

Thursday I packed up and departed the Airbnb and Newcastle for Sydney. The last time I had visited was in 2015, and while some memories stuck out very clearly, there was still more I wanted to explore. I booked into a hostel for three nights, which was more of a converted apartment building in the inner suburbs. A little bit sparse, but it would do. I had a quick turn around, popped a nice dress on, then caught a train to the CBD. Perhaps the most perfect train station view, as you emerge you’re greeted by the opera house and bridge. I walked along the shore, under the Sydney Harbour bridge, and then around to the opera house, to see the Marriage of Figgaro. This was an ode to my dad, an avid opera lover, and I figured if I had to watch an opera, the Sydney opera house was a good place to start. However, I take after my mother when I say it was very, very long, the seats were wildly uncomfortable, and I couldn’t stop fidgeting the entire time. So perhaps operas aren’t for me, but it was still a nice experience.  All of the scenery and views from the Harbour area are just as spectacular as pictures capture, so I knew I’d be in for more exploring.

The next day I had planned on an inner suburbs driving tour. First stop was Bondi Beach, home to the tv show Bondi Rescue, and many a silly tourist who doesn’t know how to swim. I don’t know if it’s an unpopular opinion, but I think there are much nicer beaches in the Sydney area than Bondi. I was more interested in doing the Bondi to Coogee coastal walk, which I had never done, and that was as beautiful as I had hoped. The most important stop was to swim at the Bondi Icebegs Club, with a swimming pool attached to the ocean. One of my biggest regrets from seven years ago was not swimming in this pool when I had the chance, so I bought a day pass and jumped in. Turns out a salty pool with some waves doesn’t make for the most relaxing conditions, but I still had fun. I cleaned up at the pool and walked up the road for pancakes and a little shop. I drove through Bronte and Coogee, then up to Rose Bay and Watsonville. It all had the potential to be beautiful, but the rain and cloudy skies ruined the vibes.

My next stop was Marrickville, named one of the best suburbs in the world, to Hawkes Brewery. Bob Hawke, notable Labour Party leader and favourite of my boyfriend, I wanted to get some beer to share. They were in the process of developing their venue, but I managed to grab a couple cases of beer, a t-shirt, and stubby holder (that’s a coozy to you Americans reading along).  I went to a sushi boat restaurant for dinner, and then back to the hostel for the night.  Saturday was more of a walking tour of the Harbour. I had a slow start to the morning, and then trained back to the CBD.  I did a loop through the city, past the state library, art museum, along the coast at Mrs. Macquarie’s chair, and through the botanic gardens. I got Messina gelato for a little treat, and decided I had seen enough of Sydney for now. I had a little rest at my hostel, then went to Newtown suburb for a Mediterranean dinner. 

My overall impression of Sydney is that it’s lovely to visit, and has nice attractions and beaches, but I’d much rather live in Melbourne, which is more compact, convenient, and seems to have a better atmosphere. On my way out of town, I drove to Cronulla, got myself some fresh fruit and my nails done, and then drove south along the coast.  Some cute seaside towns, I travelled through Clifton and Wollongong, down to Kiama, where I stopped to look at the lighthouse and famous blowhole, where the sea has worn down a pocket of rocks, and now comes shooting up at people. At this late stage in my trip, I still wanted to see as much as I could, but it also felt like I was in a rush, ready to be done on the road. My night’s experience solidified that feeling, when I had to sleep in my car because there was no one to check me in at the caravan park I had booked into at Jervis Bay. I was able to flag down the gardener in the morning to let me through the gate, and after I set up my tent, I spent a lovely day on the beach. It ended up being an alright stay and if anything made me decide that I might like to manage a beachside caravan park in my retirement. 

Continuing south in the morning, through Batemans Bay, stopping for a walk at Mystery Bay, and a swim in Bermagui. Merimbula was my destination for the next two nights, and after a grocery stop and then setting up my tent at the final caravan park of the trip, I walked down to Short Point Beach. The waves were intimidating and it was more of a walk than I’d imaged, so by the time I walked back up the hill, I was ready for dinner and bed. In the morning, I set out early for Middle Beach. I miscalculated the sunrise, or rather didn’t realise that the beach was facing east, so was faced with a brutal sun.  After a quick dip, I walked across the point to Bar Beach.  This was a small beach, and packed with people, but for good reason. Perfectly clear water, almost no waves, and protected from the sun, I stuck around for a few hours.  Walking back to the campsite, I was looking forward to taking a swim in the pool, having a hot shower, and doing nothing for the rest of the evening. I know that Merimbula, and the entire southern NSW coast has a lot of offer, but I was completely burnt out by end of this trip. 

Despite being very ready to be back home in Beechworth, I had one more night, where I would be meeting up with my friend who I had met at the apple shed. I departed Merimbula and made a quick stop in Eden, just before the Victoria border. I drove northwest to Cooma, where I waited for my friend to arrive, and then I followed her another hour to the kangaroo sanctuary she had volunteered at. We had stayed in touch over the last year, but she was travelling north to work, so this would the last time we would see each other for a while. The sanctuary was just a massive property, which had fenced in areas as well as open paddocks, but was secluded enough to allow for kangaroo rehabilitation from bushfire affected areas. In the morning, we got a tour of the property from the owner of the land in an old military cargo truck, which was a bumpy, wild ride. Some of the property had been affected by fires, and it was sad to see the damage, but encouraging to see the regrowth.  That was a bit of fun, but I was ready to be done.  I had another five hour drive ahead of me, through Kosciusko National Park. 

34 days, nearly 8,000 kilometres, and my east coast adventure was finished. Despite only getting maybe five nights of good quality sleep, spending more money on gas and more time overthinking than I could have imagined, this trip surpassed all of my wildest dreams. I saw every town I wanted to, plus I few I didn’t know I needed; I gained an appreciation for QLD and NSW that I didn’t previously have, and learned to appreciate their unique beauty. My Whitsundays boating experience was one of my favourite memories I will treasure from Australia.  Between November 2021 and February 2022 I did more travelling than I had done in the previous two years, and I’ve now visited every state except for Western Australia and the Northern Territory.  It is still my plan to see every corner of this beautiful country, but I know that realistically I won’t get to these last two for a while.  I’m so grateful for what I’ve been able to see and do during my time here, and I can’t wait for what’s to come. Hopefully stay tuned for a recap of the rest of 2022, and then probably 2023.

December Holidays

December: the start of summer, and another month of vacation for me. After touring all of Victoria, I had big plans to see New South Wales. But because of flood warnings from heavy rain on every road I planned to be on, and realizing I only had three weeks before I wanted to be back in Beechworth, I decided on the opposite direction instead, South Australia. A new state to tick off the list!

Day 1 – 2 December 2021 – Pink Lakes – To break the drive up between Northeast Victoria and the southern side of Adelaide, I stopped at the Pink Lakes at Lakes Crosbie and Becking in the Murray-Sunset National Park. The pink in the lakes is caused by a chemical reaction with the algae, the salt deposits that are left behind after evaporation, and after heavy rain. I saw the layer of muddy salt on the lake, and was able to walk right down into it, but not so much pink. It was still absolutely beautiful, seeing the sunset and sunrise, and I had the whole campsite to myself.

Day 2 – Narrung Jetty – I made a quick pit stop at a mechanic in the morning to sort out some car problems I was having, and then crossed the border at Pinnaroo, driving straight to Narung Jetty, three hours south of Adelaide. South Australia had just opened its borders to Victoria, and I needed a negative covid test to enter within 72 hours, so I had small window to cross the border. My car still was having problems but I decided to wait until Adelaide to sort it out. My accommodation for the night was a free campsite on Lake Alexandrina, a nice open field with toilets, with a handful of campervans of retirees. I used a mix of the WikiCamps app and Google Maps to find campsites along the way, and this was one of the best free ones I stayed at. Very quiet and relaxing, it was a good start to the trip.

Day 3 – Port Elliott – After crossing the one minute ferry ride across the lake in the morning (if that, it was a very short ride), I drove two hours north to Port Elliott, a lovely little beachside town. I booked into the caravan park, as there weren’t any camping options, and spent a few hours at the beach, both that evening and the following morning. I don’t know why I had been hesitant to stay at caravan parks, maybe because they tend to be more expensive but also because I thought it might be strange to be on my own, but I thought this one was perfect. Clean, spacious, plenty of amenities, it changed my opinion and being right on the beach seemed like a perfect pick. I enjoyed the area and my day there so much, I decided I’d have to stop again on my way back. I had a rough timeline, but not a set itinerary, so I had some flexibility on where I wanted to spend my time.

Days 4-7 – Adelaide – An hour or so north I arrived at the state capital. All of the hostels I had stayed at over the previous month had been relatively empty, but the YHA Adelaide was quite the opposite. It was full of long term guests, which didn’t create much of a social environment, but that was fine because I ended up being out and seeing the city most days. It’s a relatively compact downtown area for a large city, and I walked everywhere, explored some museums, the state library, did some shopping and good eating. With continuing car problems, I dropped my car off and then got to walk an hour through the inner suburbs back into the city. My first impressions of Adelaide are that it’s a smaller version of Melbourne, geographically and demographically. The large sports stadium near the river, main mall strip, and the main CBD set in a grid pattern, modeled after Melbourne, which was modeled after New York City. On the license plates (or rego plates here in Aus) of each state are slogans, the same way California is the golden state and Florida is the sunshine state. Victoria has several slogans, including ’the education state’, ’stay alert, stay alive’, ’the garden state’, ’on the move’, and my favorite ’the place to be’. All a bit of a stretch, but none so much as South Australia’s ’the festival state’. After a quick google search, it seems that the state is host to plenty of festivals, including food, wine, dance, and anything else, although I would argue that so is every other state. Just something I noticed walking around that seemed silly. More fittingly, I saw many of the beautiful purple jacarandas that line the city, so perhaps it should be the purple state.

I treated myself to a haircut while I was in a big city, drove to Carrick Hill estate to walk in the gardens, and explored the Adelaide Central Markets. They had a wonderful selection of international cuisines, fresh produce, and a great used bookstore, where I picked up a Calvin and Hobbes compilation and the renowned Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. I enjoyed a dinner in Chinatown, and fully circulated the city. I’m glad I got to see and explore Adelaide, but I think Melbourne has more to offer.

Days 8-10 – Mount Remarkable – I headed north from Adelaide driving along the coast looking at the beaches, and then further north into flatter, drier lands, passing inlet ports.  After a grocery stop in Port Pirie and four hours of driving, I arrived at Mambray Creek Campground in Mount Remarkable National Park. I’ve found that most national parks have clean, well-kept facilities, despite often charging a higher price than other campsites, so I was happy with what I got. I scouted out my plans for the next day and relaxed at my campsite.

I got an early start and drove an hour to Alligator Gorge, a beautiful rock formation, with a hike down into the narrows of the gorge, and them back up to several view points. It wasn’t as long as I expected, so I had plenty of time to drive another half hour north to Port Augusta to have a look around, and then drive back to my campsite. I then walked through the campsite and did a loop to the local cemetery and remains of the old homestead in the park. Just before sunset, I did my third walk of the day, to the peak above my campsite, with magnificent views of the whole national park, and beautiful flora and fauna along the way. Lots of activity for the day deserved a well earned beer and dinner. This was the furthest north and west I would heading, so now it was time to head back.

Day 11 – Barossa Valley – One of the best know wine regions in all of Australia, I drove south and inland to the Barossa Valley. I stopped along the way at Port Germein, the longest wooden jetty in Australia and perhaps the Southern Hemisphere; this is the kind of excitement I was up to. Once in wine country I had a wander around the town of Tanunda, and then drove to Truro, where I ended up having dinner and chatting with the locals at the very quaint pub, and then staying the night in their back yard. In the morning I headed to two wine tastings at Seppletfield and Grant Burge wineries, known for their fortified wines, but for the most part were a random selections amongst the dozens of wineries in the area. I didn’t plan to stay long, so after adding a few bottles of wine to the car I was on my way.

Day 12 – Port Elliott – Because I enjoyed my stay so much the first time, I stayed for another night at the same caravan park in Port Elliott. Most of my time was spent at the beach or relaxing at my campsite, plus exploring more of the town. The bakery there is apparently well-known through the state, plus there was an American hot dog stand. So beautiful scenery and good food, I once again enjoyed my stay there, and would recommend the whole peninsula area to any visitors.

Days 13-14 – Narrung Jetty – Because of all of the driving I’d been doing the last week, I wanted a chance to relax, so I headed back to Narung, and spent a full day relaxing.  If only I knew how much driving I’d be doing in the next couple of months, this would pale in comparison. So I just spent the full day doing nothing besides reading, journaling, napping, and relaxing.

Days 15-17 – Mount Gambier – Continuing further south, nearly at the Victoria border, I stayed at the Pine Country Caravan Park in Mount Gambier. Highlights included the blue lake, which true to its name, has the richest, bluest water I’ve ever seen. I climbed what had once been a volcano and walked around the craters edge. In town is a cenote, or underground garden in a sinkhole, which was a gorgeous scene of palm trees and hydrangeas. I went swimming in a smaller blue lake, which is less vibrant but still beautiful, and is kept at 17 degrees (Celsius of course) all year, which felt lovely compared to how hot it had been. It was so enjoyable that I came back for a second dip. I really enjoyed the Mount Gambier area and my accommodation, and would revisit that area again.

Day 18 – Geelong – I cut what would have been a very long drive in half by stopping in Geelong for the last night of my trip. I stayed at Bunjil’s Lookout, a free campsite where I had previously stayed. I did some shopping and eating in Torquay and Geelong, another area that I really enjoy right on the ocean and bay. You get wonderful beaches, and big enough towns, but also just far enough away from Melbourne.

Day 19 – Beechworth – And after two and a half weeks, I was back to Northeast Victoria. For some reason, despite being a relatively short trip, it felt very long. I think perhaps because it wasn’t high on my priority list, but I felt like I needed to take advantage of having the time to travel. So it almost felt like a chore rather than thirsting for adventure. South Australia is an absolutely beautiful state, and often disregarded in favor of the eastern states. I’m glad I got to see some of the state’s highlights, and hope to visit again, hopefully driving through on my way to Western Australia.

I wanted to make it back to Beechworth so that I could spend Christmas and New Year’s with my boyfriend, before embarking on another travel adventure. I was so happy and grateful to be included in his family’s celebrations, but made me miss home even more, as this was my third December away. He’s been a great partner these past few months, and I’m looking forward to what’s to come.

November Holidays

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone! At home, I would say Happy Holidays, but since here a holiday is a vacation, it doesn’t work quite as well. Although, I have been on vacation since the end of October, so I suppose Happy Holidays is fitting.

After working for two and half years, it was finally time for me to enjoy the holiday part of my working holiday. I quit my job at the apple shed in the middle of October, gave myself a week off to collect my thoughts, and then started around Victoria. My goal was to revisit some of my favorite spots, and discover new ones, ticking off everything on my to-do list. Of course with each new trip, I find new things and places I’d like to go, pinning the location to my map, and saving it for the next time I’m in the area.

My first week I set off for Wilson’s Prom, where I had visited last January. I went with a friend I’d met at the apple shed, and we spent three nights camping out of our cars. Our first day was our big hike, big being a relative term. Neither of us had been terribly active over the past few months, so we landed on a moderately difficult hike. The Darby River hike took us for a climb up to Tongue Point, and then down to Fairy Cove, where we had lunch on the beach, and then back up and over the hill to the carpark. The second day I went for an early morning walk around Tidal River that runs through the campground. We had booked ourselves in for a boat ride around some of the islands adjacent to the Prom, so in the late morning we gathered with mostly middle aged couples, and went for a nearly three hour trip. We saw seals and sea lions, the southern-most tip of mainland Australia, and Skull Rock, an impressive skull-shaped rock. This boat ride was an added bonus that not many people are likely to experience if they visit the Prom, and I think it’s well worth it. It was nearly perfect weather which made for a beautiful day out on the water, and later in the afternoon we walked to Norman Beach for a tan and swim. In the evening, just before dusk, we drove to the wildlife walk, a short loop out by an old air strip, where you get to see lots of kangaroos, emus, and wombats, all in their natural habitat.

This trip was much more relaxing, allowing me to really enjoy camping, whereas my first visit I had tried to squeeze in as much as possible. Something I hadn’t experienced in my previous trip was the abundance of wildlife, and their comfort around their human guests. The magpie, rosella, and other birds in particular were adamant they would be able to get any and all food in sight, swooping and following you as you cook and eat. The wombats scoot around looking for any dropped food, although they tend to be less intrusive. It makes for a wonderful, albeit slightly annoying, dining experience.

From the Prom I drove up to Lake Eildon, near Bonnie Doon, for the night. I had been recommended to visit the lake, but an impending thunderstorm dampened the mood. It also seemed better suited to boating and fishing, and I left my boat at the boat store. I had considered spending an additional night, but with the impending weather, made my way back up to Mount Buffalo, next to Bright. I stopped at a couple of the waterfalls at the base of the mountain, and then stayed at the Lake Catani campsite, which ended up being lovely. It was still a bit stormy up there, so I just went for a walk around the lake and over to the gorge lookout area, and then had one of the best sleeps I’ve had in the car. In the morning I was up early, and climbed to Le Souf Plateu, and opposite it the Cathedral, both equally impressive rock formations on either side of the road. I’d been up Mount Buffalo before, but it was nice to have a little more time to enjoy it.

That was a Saturday morning when I left Mount Buffalo, and was the first weekend Melbourne was out of lockdown, and also Melbourne Cup holiday weekend, so I was keen to get in and out of Bright as quickly as possible. I stopped for some groceries and picked up lunch, and then headed to Beechworth for the weekend. This first week had been somewhat of a test run for the camping experience, so I was able to sort some of my stuff out, do laundry, and then start the second leg of my trip. I stayed through the long weekend, placed and lost my first sporting bet, and then was on my way.

While I had become pretty familiar with the eastern half of Victoria, I hadn’t seen much of the western half, so that’s where I was headed next. I drove west through Shepparton to Bendigo, where I stayed for the night. I don’t think Shepparton is worth staying in any longer than it takes to drive through, but Bendigo had the gold rush style preserved, making for a beautiful backdrop to the moderately large regional city. I stayed at a free campsite near the town, and then went for a drive south in the morning, to Organ Pipes, a naturally formed rock formation that looks like the pipes of an organ, and Hanging Rock, a rock that hangs over some other rocks. Made myself a PB&J for lunch, sat watching some kangaroos, then drove back to Bendigo. I wandered around town, had some wine and snacks, then drove back to my campsite for the night.

In the morning, I had an early start and a quick pass through Ballarat, and then drove along the silo art trail to Mildura. Different artists have painted beautiful artwork on the outside of abandoned grain silos about twenty minutes from each other, which makes the otherwise boring drive much more exciting. The north west of Victoria is unlike the rest of the state, much more dry and flat, like outback New South Wales. The temperature climbed nearly ten degrees to the mid 30s (low 90s for those playing at home). I arrived in the early evening, and hadn’t planned my campsite for the , so after driving to three different ones, I ended up just across the state border in NSW with no toilet, but I was too tired to care. After a too hot, sleepless night, I got a coffee in town, went to the farmer’s and then was on my way, back the way I’d come, to Halls Gap in the Grampians.

I had visited the Grampians National Park and mountain ranges my second week in Australia, almost exactly two years ago, but was glad to have another visit and be able to spend more time there. For five nights, I stayed at the YHA in Halls Gap, and it was even better than I remembered it. The owners and hosts were lovely, and it’s a new, clean building that was relatively empty when I was there, which I enjoyed. My first full day I was very ambitious, climbing into the north end of the park, to climb Hollow Mountain, Mt. Zero, and to see Beehive Falls. Hollow Mountain was by far the most impressive of my trip there, and probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. In addition to being almost entirely straight up, and therefore straight down on the decent, there three parts where the path stopped and there was simply an ‘up’ arrow painted onto the side of a boulder. Now, I learned very early in life, from attending many second grade birthday parties, that no form of rock climbing was for me. And when I watch the Princess Diaries movie, a quote that always stuck with me was “I’m a synchronized swimming, yoga doing, horseback riding, rock climbing type of girl,” because I’ve never related to anything less. So needless to say I was not excited at this prospect. And mind you this only required me to hoist myself up a few steps per climb, but I nearly gave up after the first rock because of how scared I was. But I’m glad I stuck with it, as the view from the top was very rewarding, as was the satisfaction of overcoming a fear. But I still don’t see a big rock climbing career in my future.

After all of the climbing, I stopped at two different sites of Aboriginal cave paintings, which were incredibly interesting and beautiful to see.  I went to Beehive Falls on my way back into town, and then walked through the Halls Gap botanic gardens to Venus Baths, where I soaked my feet before a well earned dinner and sleep. 

Day two in the Grampians, I had a slow morning, but then visited Mackenzie Falls, a walk I had done  my previous visit.  You climb down a steep staircase to the foot of a massive waterfall, and then I continued my walk along the water and through the bush to Zumsteins and then back again. I stopped at another waterfall which was far less impressive, and then ended the day watching the sunset at the Reeds and Balconies lookout.  I met a lovely older couple from Melbourne who were eager to chat with me, and we stopped stories of favorite hikes and travels. 

The next day, Tuesday, I did one of the more popular hikes, the Pinnacle, and was happy I had an early start, as I rushed to beat a school trip to the trail. This was another trail I had previously hiked, but the view from the top gives a magnificent view over Halls Gap and of much of the surrounds. I was learning to pace myself so I rent back to the hostel to do some laundry and have lunch, and then in the afternoon, climbed Chatawqua Peak just behind the YHA.  I met a couple at the top who had just moved to Halls Gap from South Africa via the Cayman Islands. 

The hostel only had a couple of people staying, and the owners generously invited me to join them for a barbecue dinner.  It was nice to sit and chat and enjoy delicious food and wine, a treat I usually don’t have while I’m on the road.  I knew Wednesday was predicted to be rainy, so I had already planned to have a chill day.  I wanted to catch up on some reading, writing, and movie watching.  I called home, and relaxed all morning. For lunch I drove to the town of Stawell, to a Peruvian restaurant I had passed, and was as delicious as I predicted it would be.  Per the recommendation of the hostel, I booked in for a wine and cellar tour at Seppelt Winery, thirty minutes from Halls Gap.  They’re known for being one of the oldest wineries in the region, and for their five kilometers of underground cellar and tunnels that were originally used to cellar their bottles, and are now private function areas.  Then I enjoyed a tasting of most of their menu, and left with three bottles, a Riesling, Pinot Noir, and Shiraz.

That night back at the hostel, I met a fellow American, who had moved to Australia within the last eight months for work, and had been living mostly in Melbourne. A very nice Midwestern boy, he made it sound like it would be relatively easy for him to make a permanent move to Australia, which I found frustrating.  Not that I’m declaring my intention to stay forever, just that it sounded like a much easier process than if I do choose to stay longer than this year. And he confirmed that I have zero interest in skinny white boys in tech.

After five nights, I left the Grampians and drove south towards the coast. I made one final climb to Mt William, which was a bit boring after the week I had, just being a steep paved road.  But still a good bit of exercise on a brisk Thursday morning.  I continued on to Port Fairy, the farthest stop from Melbourne on the Great Ocean Road.  I had a little walk around town, walked out to Griffiths Island and around to the lighthouse, and then to the pub for a pot of beer.  I had planned to camp about thirty minutes back the way I’d came, but I didn’t much like the look of it, so I drove back, and eventually found a park to stay at.  I wasn’t sure if camping was really allowed, although I suppose I’m not really camping, just sleeping out of my car.  And it was threatening to rain, with the wind already howling. I think my life would be a little easier if I didn’t worry so much about finding the perfect spot to spend the night, but I ended up not having a very restful night.  

In the morning, I drove to Warnambool, the next and biggest town along, and had a delicious breakfast.  I hadn’t really planned anything for the day, but did what I do best and did some shopping.  I stopped at a small art gallery, and then just happened to see a movie theatre, and remembered that the new James Bond film was out that day.  So I treated myself to an 11am viewing, and loved it.  In high school, my best friend and I saw an average of one movie a week in the theatre, but I hadn’t really been back much since, so this was a real treat.  Then I went for a wander around an antiques warehouse, which was overwhelming and really more like 100 garage sales all in one place.  I drove back to Port Fairy because there was a bookstore that I wanted to visit, which probably wasn’t worth the drive but was still nice. I went for a little walk at a nature reserve, and then back to Warnambool where I picked up Thai takeaway, and headed to a different campsite. I got there just before dark, and again, didn’t really like the look of it, although in hindsight it was perfectly fine.  I drove another thirty minutes to a campsite by a lake, and ended up having the best sleep in my car so far.  

Saturday I made my way east along the coast, stopping at a small waterfall, and then to Port Campbell, where I had the worst pancake I’ve ever had.  I made stops along the way, at all of the many rock formations along the coast. The Grotto, London Bridge, Loch and Gorge, up until the Twelve Apostles.  My second week in Australia, I made a similar trip with a group of ten friends I had made, so it was nice to go down memory lane, and be amazed at how that had been almost exactly two years ago.  Despite being relatively good weather, I was getting cranky and tired of being in the car, so I drove straight through to Apollo Bay, where I had booked in at the YHA for four nights.  I had a little walk around town, and got pizza and beer for dinner.  Apollo Bay had been my favorite town along the Great Ocean Road, and while it still had the beautiful backdrop of the mountains against the ocean, it seemed more touristy and posh, less like a quaint beach town.  The hostel also wasn’t as nice as I remembered, and while at one point I had considered staying long term to work and live here, I decided there were better beaches in Australia where I could spend my time. 

I spent most of the next two days inside, as the weather was absolutely abysmal.  It was nice to just relax and not think about how the next few hours would be spent. I walked around town a little more, and got fresh fish and chips, as well as the locally famous scallop pie.  Now when I think pie I still picture a large pumpkin, pecan, or apple pie. But here in Oz, meat pies are sold at nearly every bakery, servo, and cafe, and come in a whole variety of meaty flavors: steak and pepper, minced curry, bacon egg and cheese.  While these repulsed me my first year and a half here, I’ve come around to the idea, and while they may not be my first choice for a meal, they have their moments. 

On my final day in Apollo Bay, the sun finally came out, so I decided to retrace my steps to Port Campbell and enjoy more of the sights along the way.  The highlight was a delicious lunch in Port Campbell that redeemed the pancake incident, and then I detoured through a patch of California Redwoods. It was nice to have a taste of home, albeit these being much smaller than what I’m used to.  But still very nice. I also enjoyed Split Point Lighthouse at Airey’s Inlet, where the Australian famous kids tv show Round the Twist was filmed.  I met two girls from Melbourne back at the hostel, who were in the middle of walking the trail between Apollo Bay and the Twelve Apostles.  We each decided that we couldn’t do what the other was, me never dreaming to go on a multi day hike out of my backpack, and them not wanting to solo travel by car.  But it was still nice to have some good chats and make new friends. 

Wednesday I drove further east to Torquay, the surfing capital of Victoria.  The global companies Ripcurl and Billabong were founded here, local Bells Beach is home to one of Australia’s biggest surf competitions.  I drove to a couple of beaches, watched some surfers, and decided I probably don’t have a big surfing career ahead of me.  I got Mexican food (a rarity and almost impossible to find good Mexican food here), and drove to Bunjil’s Lookout, where I would be camping for the night.  It seems a bit out of the way, but has a beautiful view and nice facilities.  After a good night’s sleep, I drove back to Torquay, did some shopping (one of my favorite hobbies and the reason I am seemingly unable to save money), and then drove on to Geelong, the biggest regional city before Melbourne. For those interested, its pronounced “juh-long”, and I only clarify because they first many times I saw it I thought it was “GHEE long”, which would’ve been embarrassing to say out loud.  

I went for a late lunch and a drink at Little Creatures brewery, which had become a favorite beer of mine. I found another antiques warehouse, this one slightly more impressive than the last.  I went for a stroll down along East Beach, which has a great swimming area and esplanade, although far too windy to be enjoyed that day.  I took a lovely stroll through the botanic gardens, and decided that I would very much like to come back to Geelong, perhaps when it’s not so hot and windy.  I drove back to my same campsite to enjoy an early dinner and another sound sleep. 

Friday morning I drove through Melbourne, down and around to the Mornington Penninsula.  There’s a ferry I could’ve taken just across Port Phillip Bay, but that would’ve ended up being more expensive, and I’d been on it before.  The Penninsula is home to beach huts, vibrantly painted little boxes on the beach, for their private owners to better enjoy themselves, and protect them from the sun when enjoying the beach day.  I’ve seen very few owners actually use and enjoy them, so more often anybody can sit and relax in front of them.  The area is also home to some of the wealthiest holiday homes for residence of Melbourne, so to go from relatively modest country houses to massive, vacation mansions is quite the change of pace.  I drove all the way down to the very tip, to Port Napean and Cheviot Hill.  With existing bunkers and tunnels to be explored, this was a point of defense during World War II, but is perhaps better known as the spot where one of Australia’s former prime ministers, Harold Holt, vanished and presumably drowned.  And at the time, no one thought much of it, with probably exemplifies the Australian relaxed and unbothered way of life.  

It was a beautiful day for a stroll and some exploring, so I spent a few hours down there, and then drove up to Mount Martha, to a car park by the beach that I figured would be a good place to park for the night.  I got to watch a magnificent sunset, and another girl in a caravan and I mutually assured ourselves that we’d be ok for the night. Turns out there was some big swimming competition in the morning, and that was one of the most popular spots for kayaking, swimming, and early morning beach time, so I was woken up nice and early. That worked out fine because I had already planned to go for an early morning dip.  While at first shockingly cold, I adjusted and swam back and forth between the buoys, before deciding that was quite enough of that.  I had another delicious breakfast in town, and then drove to Came Schanck lighthouse (my memoir could probably be called “Lighthouses, Botanic Gardens, and Waterfalls, oh my!”  This was by far the less impressive one I’d seen, bit still made for a nice drive.  

My next stop was Melbourne, the big smoke!  I’d arranged to stay with my friend Hayleigh Saturday night, so arrived in time for us to do some shopping, grab drinks, and enjoy a dinner of catching up.  I’ve managed to see her a handful of times since I left Melbourne, and it’s nice to have had a steady friend for most of my time here. I’d booked in for the next two nights in North Melbourne, where I had first lived upon my arrival.  I spent Sunday afternoon walking through Carlton to Fitzroy, and then spent two hours waiting for my food delivery. The joys of the big city!   In the morning, I set off for the CBD, and after quickly realizing that my old converse weren’t going to get me very far, turned most of midday into a shopping expedition for new shoes.  By the time I was done, I had just enough time to grab a late lunch at ChinChin, and then head to the National Gallery of Victoria, the best free museum in Melbourne. They didn’t have any special exhibits on, but it was still nice to take in a bit of culture.  I stopped in Chinatown on my way back and grabbed some bakery goodies for dinner.  

Tuesday I was off to Bruswick, where I lived for most of my few months in Melbourne. I had breakfast at Neruda’s, a deliciously authentic Chilean cafe, and then strolled up and down Sydney Road.  Unfortunately, my favorite used bookstore wasn’t open, but it was still nice to see the old neighborhood.  I grabbed lunch at A Minor Place on Albion St, a few blocks from where I used to live, and the drove back through Melbourne, to an American grocery store south of the city. I stocked up on LaCroix sparkling water, and all of my favorite orange snacks: CheezeIts, Flaming Hot Cheetos, and Goldfish, and then continued on to Mt. Cannibal Flora and Fauna Reserve.  I had been told this was a beautiful walk just off of the highway, which is was, but perhaps not worth the journey out of my way.  I drove north towards Kinglake, and paid $15 to stay at the Gums Campground, which I gladly would’ve paid more for. I had just enough time to heat my pasta, eat, and clean up before the rain came.  

Wednesday, 24 November, and it was only halfway through the day that I realized Thanksgiving was this week.   Perhaps I have been away for too long.  I meandered through Harrietville, a cute little town I’d driven through before, and then through the Yarra Valley to Jamieson.  I had planned to drive up Mount Buller and spend another night camping and exploring, but rain and storms were imminent, and I was exhausted.  I had been invited to return early to where I’d be staying for the next week, so I headed back north to Beechworth.   It’s a little presumptuous of me to say it felt great to be home, because it’s not really my home, but it is where I spent most of the last eight months.  I needed this time to decompress, relax, veg out, do all of my laundry and clean out my car, and start my next adventure.  This was the first real traveling I had done on my own sine being in Australia, and felt that I had now thoroughly explored all of Victoria.  I felt very satisfied knowing I had seen all I wanted to in the state where I’d lived the last two years, but also knowing there were many more places I’d be happy to see or revisit.  Victoria will always be my home in Australia, but I was excited to explore a new state!

2021: From Wine to Apples in Year 2

In February of this year, I quit my job at the honey factory in Bairnsdale on the east coast of Victoria, and moved to Myrtleford in the northeast, after landing a job at a winery. For the next three months, I would work as a cellar hand for the vintage season. This was the best decision I could have made, and led to me making the best personal and professional memories so far in Australia.

I had planned to take a week off between jobs, enough time to pack all of my stuff up, visit Melbourne for a few days, and get situated in my new spot. Victoria had other plans though, and went into a snap five day lockdown, which wasn’t uncommon at the time, meaning I stayed in my hostel for most of the week. It ended up being okay because I got to relax and enjoy my last days in Bairnsdale, exploring new walking paths and shops. But when I could, I was very ready to leave. I loaded all of my stuff in my car and headed for Melbourne. I dropped a few bags of stuff at the op shop, did a little bit of shopping, drove to my friend’s parent’s apartment I was staying at, got takeaway, and watched a movie with dinner. I was excited and nervous for my new adventure, and happy for a comfortable bed for the night. After breakfast in the morning, I made a few stops, but for the most part headed up the highway and arrived in Myrtleford. I had a similar feeling when I had arrived in Bright a few months earlier, of being so in awe or the natural beauty, forests of pine trees, climbing mountains, and rolling hills. But this time it felt different, and I remember breathing a sigh of relief, as if I knew even before it started that I was about to begin an amazing chapter.

Other than having consumed a few bottles of wine over the last few years (ok perhaps more than a few), I didn’t know much about the wine industry or how wine was made. As a child, my parents had gone on several road trips with a group of friends, visiting wineries all across California, Oregon, and Washington. So I had the nostalgic memories of growing up around oak barrels in cellars, combined with their knowledge of varieties of wine and which best pairs with a certain food.  I also had this romanticized dream to work at a winery, where I would be frolicking through vineyards, and sampling wine in the sun all day long.  Fortunately, I had been adequately prepared for this job.  Rather than frolicking, I would mostly be dragging hoses from tank to tank, transferring juice, and then cleaning the empty tank, and that was essentially what I ended up doing.  But whether it was the deep desire to learn a new skill and become slightly more familiar with the winemaking process, or the wonderful group of people I was working with, I absolutely loved the job.  I don’t know if I can go so far as to say this was my favorite job ever, but certainly in Australia, without a doubt.  

I worked with a group of about ten, mostly older, Australian men who had worked at the winery most of their lives, in two twelve hour shifts, to crush, press, transfer, make additions, ferment, and eventually make a finished product of a bottling wine.  I worked the night shift, usually from 10am-10pm, which turned into 12pm-12am after one too many fourteen hour days.  Our team consisted of two full timers, and three casuals, including one guy who had come back to work at vintage for most of the last ten years, and one other girl who was nearly as inexperienced as I was. But during the day, when the shifts overlapped, we worked with everyone, and I really value the friendships and working relationships I made with everyone. 

For those interested, grapes get delivered in large bins from various vineyards.  They get crushed in a big machine to remove all stems and twigs and non-grape items, and then get pressed to extract as much juice from the grapes as possible. Red wine gets pressed with the skins on, white wine without.  Red wines grapes get pumped through a six inch hose to a tank, where they sit with the skins.  Grapes without the skins have the juice extracted, and transferred via a three inch hose to a different tank.  Tanks ranged in size, from a couple hundred liters to 147,000 liters.  Different types of acids, carbon, and bentonite are among the most common additives that go in the early stages, and then more organic additions often go in later, such as skim milk or egg whites.  I didn’t do any of those so I don’t know when or why they get added. I’m also not entirely sure what each type of additive does to the wine, but I know that there are countless samples taken and lab tests run, making sure all chemical levels are within range of drinkable wine.

Juice will get transferred many times before it becomes wine, and what’s left in the tank are lees or floating lees, residue from the additives or juice.  It gets filtered further to remove all impurities and imperfections.  At some point it’s fermented, adding yeast in a very specific way to actually turn it from juice to wine.  Unless it’s a Prosecco or other sparkling wine, the ferment is broken with sulfur, at which point it will undergo more lab tests, and possibly more additions, until the winemaker likes the taste and flavors. The finished product gets loaded on a tanker and sent to the bottling factory, where it’s then dispersed to whatever supermarket it’s going to. 

This is a very rough outline of how wine gets made, based only on my weak experience of one vintage lasting three months, written down seven months after I did the work. So probably not entirely accurate, but that’s the gist. It wasn’t glamorous and usually wasn’t exciting, and most days was hard and exhausting work, both physically and mentally challenging, made even more so in extreme heat or rain. But like I said, this was the most rewarding and wonderful experience, even more so than I could’ve hoped for, and I loved it so much so that I’ll be working another vintage this coming season.  

The people I had been living with in Myrtleford since February had been involved in the winery for decades, and were generous to allow me to stay with them even after my work for the winery ended. They are the most lovely couple, and I think our arrangement worked perfectly. I had the whole basement to myself, my own entrance, enough privacy but also enough desire to spend time with them.  I don’t think I would have had such an amazing time in Myrtleford and northeast Victoria if not for them. 

I worked at the winery from the end of February to the start of May 2021, when vintage was pretty much over, although in hindsight I probably could have stayed longer.  But knowing I wanted to stay in the area, and knowing I would soon need another job, I reached out to my friend who had lived in Bright last year. She had worked at an apple packing shed, and while she hadn’t made it sound like a dream career, I knew it would be an easy option for work. So I called up the apples, gave my two weeks notice at the winery, and was set for my new job. After a brief one week interlude between jobs when I had the flu, I was on my way each day, 40 minutes each way, to pack apples in a giant warehouse.  That’s apples the fruit, not the phone.

Now you may not have ever thought about how your fruit and vegetables gets from the field to your table, but all I can say is, please wash your produce. Not to say that we were unclean, but just the amount of hands that touch your fruits and veggies before they’re in your home means you should at the very least give them a rinse. The apples get picked from whatever orchard, mostly on site but also shipped in. They get sorted into bins by size, first getting their leaves removed by hand on a quick moving conveyor belt. This is also when the preliminary moldy ones get removed. They they then sit until they’re needed, which could be days or months. We packed per variety and per size. Granny Smith are the green ones; Pink Lady, Red Delicious, Gala, and Fuji among the most common red ones. They get a soapy wash, and then wax to make them nice and shiny. And then they fall at the packers hands. One person is feeding trays onto one end of several conveyor belts, with little apple shaped divets according to current size. The apples get dropped at the other end of the belt and we start packing as quickly as possible. Stems all go in the same direction, red side up. Some apples have to be near perfect, with no blemishes or marks. Some can have a mark here and there. Any openly rotting ones go to the compost bin, and those with dry rot or too many spots go to juicing and turned into apple juice and cider.

And then another person drops two or four trays full of apples into a box, and puts a lid on, and then the box goes on another conveyor belt to the quality control team, who double check we didn’t pack any rotters or leave any spots empty. And then the packed boxes get packed on a pallet, and the pallet gets saran wrapped, and then goes off to whatever supermarket.  I have no idea if the grocers on the other end appreciate our nicely packed apples or if they just dump them on the shelves.  As I say, just wash your fruit and veg.  

So I worked at the apple shed from May until the middle of October, when enough of Australia was opening up, and I decided I had worked hard enough and was ready for a holiday.  One of the reasons I stayed so long at the apples was because of the agricultural requirement for my visa. To get a third year in Australia, I needed to complete six months of regional country agriculture work.  But even after that requirement was fulfilled, I continued to stay, because it was a steady and secure job in an unstable market. 

The other reason I stayed where I was for so long was personal reasons, specifically a relationship.  When I wasn’t working, I spent almost every weekend in Beechworth with a wonderful man.  Even before we started dating, but also while together, I made a point to see all of the surrounding towns. Wangaratta and Wodonga at the NSW border are the biggest towns in the area, but Bright, Myrtleford, and Beechworth were where I most often frequented, each with their own cute little shops, cafes, walking trails, and secret spots. Milawa has an amazing bakery and cheese shop.  I travelled to the King Valley to see Powers Lookout and Paradise Falls.  I’ve been up and down Mount Buffalo, in the snow and spring, seeing nearly all there is to see. I think I had a healthy balance between exploring and relaxing, and between the sights to see, and the unusually good food and wine selection, I absolutely love the north east region of Victoria. 

And now, as if in the blink of an eye, my second year in Australia has come and gone.  It started a little rough, but well and truly redeemed itself, and made me even more sure that I wanted to stay for another year.  I think I’ve learned a lot about myself, become more self assured in some areas, but also see where I have room to grow. I’m sure that your late 20s are often a time to “find yourself”, but I think combined with the uncomfortable nature of traveling, and the adaptability I’ve learned, this last year in Australia has meant a lot to me.  And I can’t wait to see what’s next!

January Getaways

new growth on 2020 burns

I’m still backtracking, catching me and you up on the past year. I know I’m a little late, but since I haven’t done much traveling on this working holiday, I figured I’d write about what I can. At the start of the year, I was out of lockdown, ready for new adventures, and with plenty to explore in my own backyard. I took advantage of public holidays and long weekends, and made the most of January, doing more traveling than I had done in the previous six months. On three separate weekends, I traveled throughout the eastern part of Victoria, to Mallacoota, Melbourne, and Wilson’s Promontory.

8-9 January: Mallacoota

Nearly at the New South Wales border, the small, coastal holiday town of Mallacoota is known for its fishing and boating, neither of which I have any interest in. It was on my radar as being a cute little place to visit, which it is, but I would say you don’t need more than a weekend there to see all it has to offer. I drove from Bairnsdale along the coast, stopping for breakfast in Orbost, then on through Croajingolong National Park. Don’t worry, I didn’t know how to pronounce that the first time I saw it either. I wanted to visit a lighthouse, but after driving over an hour on unsealed roads, discovered that it was closed from fire damage the previous year. Bushfires often plague the eastern side of Australia during the summers, as they do along the west coast of the US, but those at the end of 2020 were worse than recent years. Driving along, there was plenty of evidence of areas devastated by fire damage, through the open bush, all the way until Mallacoota. The drive took about five hours in total, so I arrived at my campsite by early afternoon. This was my first adventure in camping on my own, and hardly camping at that. I had folded over a foam mattress topper, which fit nicely in the back of my car, making a barely comfortable bed. For one night it would do, and since then I’ve added an additional foam mattress, lights, curtains, and window covers. It’s still a funny sight for me to pull up in just my car, when I’m surrounded by multi room tents and caravans, but I make it work.

I walked around the one block of town, and then for about two hours on the trail along the foreshore and all throughout the massive caravan park. I walked until I was tired of walking, bought some beers, and settled in to read my book. By the time I was ready for dinner, a kebab food truck was my best and only option. And since it was the only option, it somehow took an hour and a half until I had my food. After a restless sleep with the streetlight flooding into my eyes, I was up early for breakfast and the beach. This was the middle of summer after all, so even by 10am the sun was beating down on me. I got in a couple hours of tanning, and watching surfers, and then was on my way back down the coast. I stopped at one of my favorite places in Victoria, Cape Conran, which has beautiful beaches and scenic walks. After another couple of hours there, I was on my way back to Bairnsdale. I survived my first weekend camping on my own, and was ready for more adventure.

22-24 January: Melbourne

The first city I called home in Australia, but this was my first time back in nine months. Of the core group of friends I had there, only one remained, so I took the weekend to visit her and explore my old Brunswick neighborhood. And return my lacrosse stick. Because I had been holding on to it since I left the city and it had been collecting dust nicely in the corner of my room. It’s greatest use was when playing fetch with a dog. I would love the chance to return to the Brunswick Lacrosse Club, who I played with for a few weeks, but I don’t know if that’s in the cards.

We had an all day eating and drinking plan, that started with bottomless mimosas and espresso martinis with brunch, and then moved on to bar hopping down towards St. Kilda. I’m not quite sure how we made it through the day, but it was an insane amount of fun, and some lifelong memories were made that day. I left her place Sunday, and headed first to an American supermarket south of the city. I stocked up on LaCroix, Goldfish, and Cheeze-It’s, all at an outrageous price, and then drove east toward the Yarra Valley. I’d had a few different places marked on my map as things to do and see, so I ticked some of them off the list. I visited the Alfred Nicholas Memorial Garden, which was just a nice walk through some pretty trees, and then to a spot with California Redwoods. I didn’t expect it to be as busy with tourists as it was, and it was just a square block of relatively small trees, with a river to swim in behind it. Compared to the real California redwoods, it wasn’t all that spectacular, but was still fun to see. I stayed Sunday night near Walhalla, and old gold mining town, and then drove south to Tarra-Bulga National Park and stopped for a hike, and then headed back up the coast to Bairnsdale.

I stayed again in Melbourne for one night when I moved from Bairnsdale to Myrtleford, and visited the same friend again during a weekend in July, which included a comedy show and delicious dinner. As much as I appreciate the time I had living in Melbourne and love it as a city, living in regional Victoria has made me realize how much I like the country lifestyle, and how I probably won’t live long-term in a big city again. I guess never say never, because I do like many of the comforts and easiness of living that comes in a city, but I don’t think it’s for me.

30-31 January: Wilson’s Promontory

One of the more famous National Parks in Victoria, Wilson’s Prom lived up to the hype. I only stayed for one night, but managed to squeeze a lot in. On the drive to and from Bairnsdale, I explored more of Victoria’s southeast coast, completing my tour of eastern Victoria. On the Saturday afternoon when I arrived, I did one of the main walks, from the Tidal River Campground to Squeaky Beach, Picnic Bay, and Whisky Bay. On the way back to the campsite, I did the Lilly Pilly circuit and climbed Mt Bishop, making for about six hours of hiking. This was before I had any of my camping gear, so for two lunches and one dinner I enjoyed PB&J sandwiches, fruit, and chips. I saw my first wombat, and despite the campground being crowded, got a peaceful sleep. In the morning, I took a walk to Norman Beach, and then climbed Mt Oberon, which isn’t a very exciting walk up, but leads to some of the most spectacular views of the Prom. This was my favorite camping adventure so far, and I knew I’d be back.

With the lockdown lifted, at the time, I had more time for socializing. I moved back into the local hostel I had first lived in when I arrived in Bairnsdale, and had between three and eight housemates, with more time to explore the local area and go to the pub. I met another American girl, who welcomed me into her circle, and was just starting to enjoy my life in Bairnsdale. But I was ready to move on, and I knew I needed a change of scenery, which is how I ended up back in North East Victoria, and ended up having one of the best years of my life.

Bright, Victoria

I first visited Bright back in November 2020, when I needed a weekend away, and had a friend living there at the time. It’s the most picturesque town I’ve seen, set in the mountains three hours northwest of Bairnsdale, and three hours northeast of Melbourne. Little did I know I’d be back living here in just a few short months, but more on that later.

After a quick coffee, I set out on the Great Alpine Road, headed for Omeo, the half way point between Bairnsdale and Bright, and the last fuel stop before heading over Mt. Hotham. Along the way, the road follows the Tambo River, winding through lush greenery of spring. A small but quaint town, Omeo had seen its heydays in the late nineteenth century due to the gold rush, like so many other towns in the High Country of North East Victoria. There’s not much to do, with a pub, a couple cafes, and a nice park, so after a quick lap of town, I was on my way up the mountain. The next stop was Dinner Plain, a snow village during the winter, with walking tracks and viewpoints for the other seasons. I did a 3km walk named ‘Room With a View’, which took me through snow gum trees and out to a lookout that gave a small view of the surrounding mountains. I know of eucalyptus trees from growing up in Northern California, but I had no idea how many there are in Australia. However here, they’re more commonly called gum trees, and it wasn’t until I’m writing this that I felt the need to look up why. After a quick google, these trees have capsule-shaped fruit, often called gumnuts, hence gum tree, but it seems that it also refers to trees with smooth bark. There’s your botanical lesson for the day.

From the Dinner Plain village, I continued up the mountain fifteen minutes to Mt Hotham. This is the main ski resort in Victoria, where many Melbournians spend their winter holidays. Of course in November, at the end of spring, there’s no snow, so I was able to walk up the hill, along where one of the ski lifts run, and take in the 360° view. There was a chill in the mountain air, but for the most part it was an absolutely gorgeous, sunny day. This was the peak of the mountain, so I drove for another hour, navigating the tight and steep turns down the other side. Once I reached the bottom, it was another 40 minutes or so to Bright.

Maybe it was just the fresh mountain air talking, but as I drove into Bright, I thought it was the most beautiful, picturesque town I’d ever visited. In hind sight, it resembles any quaint town you would find in most states, but I still find the novelty in the charms of Australia. Everything was so lush and green, from the pine trees in the surrounding forests, to the maple and oak trees lining the streets. The friend I was meeting up with wouldn’t be free for a couple of hours, which allowed me to walk and explore the town, stopping for a quick bite and drink. When we met for dinner later, we vented about our lives and caught each other up on everything that had happened in the eight months since we’d seen each other.

I knew my friend had work most of the next day, so in the morning I went off on my own little adventure. On the way into town the day before, I had passed the small town of Harrietville. There’s not much to do there, but there was a swimming spot, and I’m a sucker for swimming, wherever and whenever. I got a coffee, and then went for a little walk around the Tronoh Dredge, the former site of the largest dredge in the Southern Hemisphere. Used for gold mining until the mid 1900s, it now stood as a local swimming hole. I walked around the edge of the water, and spotted a rope swing and ledge to jump from. This is the sort of thing that always appeals to me, but that I usually chicken out of doing. But between the early morning freshness, and my new sense of exploration and freedom, I trotted over, stripped down to my skivvies, and jumped right in. Not to get all woo-woo, but I’d say it was pretty symbolic, indicating I was ready to jump into the unknown future, and ready for a fresh start.

After drying off in the sun, I swung back to pick my friend up from her work, and we headed up to Mt. Buffalo, a national park about 30 minutes away. It has all kinds of hikes and trails, waterfalls, a lake, and plenty of lookouts, but we headed straight to the top. The Horn takes an additional 30 minutes or so to drive to once you’re in the park, winding along sharp curves on the paved road and then onto the dirt road. Once you reach the car park, there is a short assent up rocky steps, and once you reach the top, you have 360° views of the whole valley. It’s mostly driving and minimal walking to get to the top, but the view is well worth it. In my time here I’ve done a couple of the walks, but there are still many more I want to explore.

My final stop of the day was a wine tasting, at Gapsted Wines, 30 minutes west of Bright. It had been recommended to me, and the entire region here, including the King Valley, is known for its wine in Australia. With over half a dozen generous tastings, a lovely cheese platter, and idilic views of the vineyard, it was the perfect end to the weekend. I’ve long dreamed of working at a winery, possibly romanticizing it a bit too much in my mind, so I inquired if they were hiring. I was told not at the moment, but that they would be towards the end of summer, for their vintage season. The next day on their facebook page they listed a job posting for cellar hands, and three months later I started working for them. That job is the reason I moved to North East Victoria, and is ultimately the reason I’ve stayed so long, for professional and personal reasons. I also hope that I’ll be back to work another vintage.

In the morning, I took my time leaving town, just in case I never made it back here, although here I am writing this in September 2021 after living in the area for over six months. The other neat thing about this weekend was that it was the annual hot rod show in Bright, where locals and out-of-towners show off their impeccably maintained and beautifully painted old cars. It was perfect weather all weekend, and that combined with the vibrant vehicles made leaving that much harder.

On the way back to Bairnsdale, I took the only other route, through Falls Creek, and then back to Omeo. This journey was far less steep, but with just as many twists and turns, on even more narrow roads. With even more beautiful scenery, I made stops at lookout points, waterfalls, and historical spots. The Rocky Valley Dam surprises you out of nowhere, and then you get to drive nearly all the way around it. I found campgrounds that I wish I had more time to spend at, and sometimes I would just pull over and stop to gaze in absolute wonderment at the scenic expanse that lay before me. What brought me back to reality was seeing fire damage that had occured the previous year, as well as six years ago. Wildfires rip through Victoria and many parts of Australia each summer, but seeing how devastated the area was a very sombering sight. But at the same time it’s encouraging to see the regrowth that has happened over the past few years, and how resiliant the land is.

It felt like a much longer drive, but I appreciated the scenery, and relatively unoccupied roads as I traveled back to Bairnsdale. The next time I came to Bright, I drove through Melbourne, and now that it’s winter, Falls Creek and Hotham have been returned to their ski resort state. Theres so much that I’ve come to love about North East Victoria, and the scenery is just a part of it. This weekend away reawakened my sense of adventure, and need to explore, and led to me going away nearly every weekend in January. Here’s to many more adventures.

I’m back, baby!

Remember when I moved to a new county, and started a blog so that all of my friends and family (okay, mostly my parents’ friends) could see what adventures I was getting up to? Yeah, me too. After a ten month hiatus, I figured it was time to get back on the writing horse. It’s not that I gave up on writing, or didn’t like it anymore, it’s more that life happens, and I was too busy making memories to stop and reflect on them. But I want to be able to look back at this in 50 years, when I’m old and senile, and remember the good old days in Australia. So, let me catch you up.

It’s September 2021, spring has sprung, and I’m living in North East Victoria, in a little town called Myrtleford. It’s small and rural, set on the beautiful alpine backdrop of Mt Buffalo, and I’m thinking about retiring here. While a lot has changed in the last year, Australia’s management of the pandemic has not, so we go back and forth between mini lockdowns here in Victoria. There have been times when state borders were open, and I could have gone to a different state, but chose to stay. My whole master plan to work and travel during my time here has been thrown off course, but I have high hopes that the travel part of that is in my near future. Let me rephrase, I will be traveling somewhere other than my current location before the end of 2021, because I need a vacation from my vacation.

I moved here in February to start a job at a winery. I’ll write a whole separate post about that, but it was by far my favorite working experience in Australia, and lived up to my every expectation. I knew it was short term work, but I also knew I wanted to stay in this area longer, so I got a new job packing apples. The fruit, not the phone. I’m hoping to continue that for another month or so, and then travel up the east coast. Or west coast. Or the west side of Victoria. Wherever I can go, because I’ve got the itch to travel. That being said, I want to spend more time here, and I hope I’ll be able to live here again, or at the very least visit again.

My other reason for moving here was that I was very unhappy in Bairnsdale, where I’d been since April 2020. I was unhappy with a lot of things, the people, my job, but ultimately I was unhappy with myself. I was upset with who I had become while living there, sacrificing my own time and experiences to do what I thought was right in staying, feeling very stuck in my life. I went through heartbreak and faced what I hope were the lowest times during my stay in Australia. Which isn’t to say that it was all bad; I’m grateful for the experiences I had, the people I met, and the life lessons I learned. Ultimately, I needed to make a change in my life, so the winery opportunity couldn’t have come at a better time.

So now, I’ve lived in Myrtleford for six months, and I’ve made some of my best Australian memories here. Specific moments, but also as a continuous time, this has been overall the highlight of my trip so far (I know trips don’t usually last for multiple years, but I like to leave the illusion that this is temporary). I’m trying to catch you up on what I’ve been up to for the better part of year, and then will try to stay caught up. I’ve found that writing gives me a nice creative outlet, and I hope reading about my Australian adventures can be a fun little escape for some of you. Until next time, xoxo.

What’s Next?

*me, at the honey factory*

September is the start is spring down here in Oz, so it’s been beautifully green and lush. So, what’s next? Well, I’m still working at the honey factory. After months of riding my bicycle, which I can’t reiterate enough how much I hated, I finally caved and bought a car. It’s a silver, diesel, 2013 Ford Territory SUV. It was….an investment, but since I’ve been relatively good about my spending, and since I know I’m going to be here for a while longer I thought, why not? My only regret was not holding out for a 4-wheel drive vehicle, but oh well. I’ve only gotten my car stuck twice in the three months I’ve had it.

I moved about twenty minutes outside of Bairnsdale, so having the car became a necessity anyway. I missed the freedom of being able to go where I want, when I want. Of course at the moment I can’t do either of those things. Victoria is still in lockdown, which means I can’t leave the state, and while I have more freedom out here in the regional part as compared to Melbourne, it’s still restricting. I’ve been compiling a list of little adventures, ranging from a couple of hours to a couple of days, so I’ve been able to slowly check some destinations off.

I completed my 88 days of required farm work at the end of July, and applied for my second year work and holiday visa at the start of August. It was approved at the start of September (hooray!), so I’m officially allowed to stay in Australia until November 2021. While the honey factory is not my ideal choice of employment, it’s a job, and I don’t want to give it up until it gets too unbearable. Because there’s nowhere for me to go, I’m fine to keep building my savings up for future travels. Once restrictions ease, then I’ll decide what my next moves are. But that could be in a month, three months, or six months. No one knows.

Last year I had planned to return home to the States in July of this year for a visit, but now I’m hoping I’ll be able to go home in July 2021. I still have plenty of traveling and exploring to do, both in Australia and out, but I also miss my parents, and my friends, and Mexican food, so I will likely go home for a couple of months as soon as I can leave Australia and be allowed to return. But again, I don’t know when that’ll be. It’s daunting when I think about how trapped I am, but I’m trying to enjoy it and soak everything up while I’m here. I’ve had some lowest of the low, and highest of the high moments during the past year, but in my experience, that makes for the most memorable and enjoyable times.

And that’s just it, as November approaches, I’ve been here nearly a year. I turned 27 in October, which so far doesn’t feel much different then 26. I’ve met dozens of new people, and made lifelong friendships. I’ve found employment and housing, and relocated to multiple cities, all without knowing anyone before I got here. I’ve learned life lessons, grown to know more about myself, and given a part of my heart to a new country.

And, after a year, I still can’t do an Australian accent, but there’s plenty of words and phrases I’ve picked up on. I use some more than others, but here’s a few I’ve made a note of.

  • Crack the shits – to get mad
  • Fair dinkum – honestly, that’s the truth
  • Bloody oath – damn straight, you bet
  • Good on ya – good job
  • Wicked – cool
  • Sweet as – really good
  • Full on – intense
  • Absolute stitch up – something/someone funny
  • Flat out – really busy, full steam
  • Far out – I can’t believe it
  • Texter – sharpie
  • Heaps – loads, a lot
  • Chook – chicken
  • Choc a bloc – full, abbreviated to chockers
  • Get stuffed – f*ck off
  • Ta – thanks
  • Dear – expensive
  • Biccy – biscuit, as in chocolate biscuit had with tea, not like a bread biscuit
  • Tea – tea time but also dinner time. No one else seems to find this confusing
  • Cuppa – tea time, in the morning or arvo
  • Smoko – break time, in the morning or arvo
  • Arvo – afternoon
  • Brolly – umbrella
  • Thongs – flip flops
  • Budgy smuggler- men’s speedo
  • Dunny budgie – fly
  • Budgie – bird
  • Dunny – toilet
  • Bin chicken – white ibis birds, which you may think are beautiful and unusual creatures to see wandering about in public, but lose their charm when you see them swarming dumpsters
  • Mozzies – mosquitoes
  • Maccas – McDonald’s
  • No dramas – no worries, no problem
  • Reckon – for sure
  • Barrack for – support, root for (sports team). Don’t ask who someone roots, that’s a different question entirely
  • Servo – gas station
  • Bottle-O – liquor store
  • C*nt – term of endearment, unless it isn’t, possibly the most-used word in Australia

A lot of words are abbreviated, either by adding an ‘o’ or ‘y’ sound to the end. ‘As’ can follow any word to imply that is even more so. Your trash is rubbish and it goes in the bin. You don’t ask how someone’s doing, you ask how they’re going. Unless you want to say that something’s a little off, then you can also say “they’re a bit ‘hey how ya goin’”. The ‘r’ sound is usually turned into more of an ‘ah’ sound (textah instead of texter for marker), or disappears altogether (Melbourne pronounced ‘melbun’ and Cairns pronounced ‘cans’). Some words seem like an American hippie would be saying them, such as wicked and far out, but somehow they sound better here. I find it especially hard to understand the accents of older men. I don’t like to correct people when they mispronounce a word, but I put my foot down about ‘tortilla’ and ‘paella’. I’ve had multiple arguments with both Aussies and people from the UK, adamantly informing them that there is no hard ‘L’ sound in either of those words. Language is fascinating, because we’re all speaking English, but I’ve been in plenty of conversations where I have no idea what’s going on. I mostly nod along in agreement, rather than ask for a recap of the last five minutes.

Maybe in my next year here I’ll get the accent down. Probably not. Honestly, I don’t really notice it anymore from the people I’m around the most. Strangers certainly notice my accent, and either think I’m a reflection of the entire, current United States political climate, and should be gawked at accordingly, or ask me to repeat what I’ve said when I order food from a restaurant. Every single time. And I know Australia isn’t the most crazy cultural environment I could have thrown myself into, being not all that different from home, but it’s still interesting to see what the other side of the world looks like. With one year under my belt, I’m looking forward to year two.

Winter is Here

Sheep and Friends

I know that summer may not being going as you’d imagined, for better or for worse, but I didn’t think I’d be freezing to pieces in Australia. My internal calendar is officially upside down, as I’ve spent the last seven July’s in the hot sun of the Sierra Nevada mountains, and in addition to having Lair withdrawals, find myself having to buy warmer clothes. Don’t get me wrong, I fully understood that I would be experiencing winter in July, and that despite the rumors, it does get cold in ‘Straya. I just didn’t think it would be this cold. We’re talking a crisp bike ride in 1° C (34° F), which feels like -4°, at 5:30 in the morning. Alright, to be fair, that was only for a week, and before I bought gloves. But still, we’ve been sitting in the low 50s-60s here in Victoria, and I expect that to continue for the next couple of months.

But enough about the weather. Despite the cold, I’m still having a grand old time down here. I’m still working at the honey factory, which isn’t sunshine and daisies all the time, but it’s a job. At the moment, Australia’s borders are closed, including most of the interstate borders, meaning that even if I left to visit home, I wouldn’t be able to return. And I do want to go home, for a little bit, but I’m having too good of a time for that to be an option to the moment. As with the rest of the world, travel plans are up in the air, but that doesn’t stop me from thinking about it during my long days spent capping honey bottles.

Let’s talk about Australia first, because realistically that’s what I’ll be able to do first. My goal is to visit each of the eight states and territories before my time here is up (not quite sure when that will be yet). I’ve seen Tasmania, which I loved, and I’ve lived in the south and eastern parts of Victoria. I love living here, and am looking forward to continued exploration in the months to come. Victoria, and Melbourne in particular, has taken a turn for the worse with COVID, so even as some states start to open their borders, Victorians aren’t welcome. Five hours away is the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), and I’ve heard that Canberra would take a long weekend to see all of. It’s surrounded on all sides by New South Wales (NSW), whose highlights include Sydney, Byron Bay, and the Blue Mountains. There’s the entire east coast of beaches, plus the mountains and national parks. Depending on how quickly my visa is approved, and when borders open, I may take a couple of months to explore these two states.

I’m still most eager to visit Western Australia (WA). Often because of its distance, I think it’s overlooked by backpackers, but from what I’ve heard, the beaches and parks are even more beautiful on the west coast. My plan at some point is to drive from Melbourne to Adelaide in South Australia (SA), do a tour to Uluru and the Red Centre in the Northern Territory (NT) and then return to Adelaide to make my way west through the Nullarbor to Perth. From there I would continue north towards Broome, Darwin in the NT, around to Cairns in Queensland (QLD), and then back down the east coast to Melbourne.

Thats the plan, but who knows when it’s going to happen, and if it’s going to be one continuous trip, or if it’ll be broken up into different parts. Will I go it alone, or with a friend? Will I plan it myself or go with a tour company? I’m lucky that at the moment I have a job and a boyfriend (we really are living in unprecedented times…), so if I have to stay in Bairnsdale for the next few months, it won’t be the worst thing in the world. I still have the yearning to get out and explore, and I think we’re all struggling with the notion that there’s nowhere to go. I have faith that one day I’ll get to see all that Australia has to offer, we’ll just have to wait and see when that one day is.

There’s still plenty of other places that I want to explore besides the land down under. Geographically, New Zealand will probably be my next stop. I want to see both islands, and experience the beauty of the outdoors, as well as some of their extreme adventures (did someone say ‘world’s highest bungee jump?!’). I have the option to do a working holiday in NZ, but that’s not part of my agenda at the moment.

Moving east around the globe, South America is where I want to go next. That was part of my original scheme, visiting Australia and then South America before returning home. Ideally, I’d like to visit every country in the continent, if for no other reason than to say I had, but my top destinations are Peru, Argentina, and Chile. The salt flats of Bolivia to the beaches of Brazil, and everything in between. I want to actually practice and improve my Spanish (or Portuguese) by immersing myself in the culture. I think it will depend on how strapped for cash I am, but I would imagine spending about three months on the continent.

From there, I might work my way up through Panama and Central America, and then to Mexico and the Caribbean. I love the idea of exploring islands, whether around the Americas or between Australia and Asia, but realistically I won’t get to see all that many of them. Rounding out North America, I’ve never been to Canada, and the idea of road tripping from Vancouver to Nova Scotia sounds romantic. It also sounds like the sort of thing I could do later in life, so not sure when I’ll get around to that.

Over to Europe, Spain and Portugal are my top priorities, again to practice my Spanish, and explore my Portuguese’s heritage. From there I would head east, to Greece, Italy, Denmark. The Baltic countries have interested me since my dad bet me I couldn’t pick out Latvia on a map. He was mistaken. A couple of pit stops in Africa and Asia, plus a cruise to Antarctica, and there you have it. I know that makes it sound like I want to visit every country in the world, which I do think would be a neat accomplishment, but I think I just enjoy dreaming about future adventures. I know it’s not all going to happen, but it’s fun to day dream.

I thought about the idea of ‘30 under 30’, visiting thirty countries before I’m thirty. I’m seven countries in, with three years to go, so aside from being slightly unrealistic, I’d rather take time to appreciate destinations. Since I don’t know when I’ll be leaving Australia, I’d rather just focus on what I can see here. But it’s still nice to have something to think about to make the days go quicker. I probably won’t be able to visit home until mid 2021, the idea of which makes me feel more homesick. But while I’m here, I want to make the most of my time.

I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m optimistic. I recently did a photos purge, and uploaded some to Facebook, as well as my photos page on here.

Six Months

I can’t believe it’s only been six months, but in the same beat can’t believe it’s been six whole months. Here’s a little timeline to recap. I left my job at the Lair on November 1, 2019 and left the Bay Area on November 3. I drove to my parents in Oregon and stayed for 10 days, departing for Melbourne on November 13. I arrived on November 15, and here we are on May 15, 2020, six months later.

It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with Melbourne. I got to see the city from every angle, drive the Great Ocean Road with amazing friends, and live like a local for five months. I worked at one of the largest events in the country, and found a mini family with Brunswick Lacrosse. That’s right, ya girl is back on that lax train. If you’d asked me in 2018 if I’d like to do anything related to lacrosse again, my answer would have been a resounding no, but absence makes the heart grow fonder, so when I decided I needed a new hobby, I went for an old one. The impetus was that I wanted something to do with my free time, and a way to meet new people, so I found the closest club, and joined at the beginning of February. The club has existed for over twenty years, but the Lady Mavs are only in their second season, so most are new to the sport, which almost makes it more fun. After only a couple of weeks in this country, I realized that one year here just wouldn’t be enough, so I’m hoping to be back for the 2021 season.

I had planned to work for the events company until the end of April, but what with all events being cancelled, I finished work on March 27, and was faced with deciding what to do next. In order to stay for a second year on a working holiday visa, one is required to complete three months, specifically 88 days, of regional specified work. Colloquially known as farm work, this needs to be work directly related to plant or animal cultivation. The lease on my house was through April 21, and while it was appealing to remain in my comfortable bedroom, doing nothing with my days, I decided to kick into gear and find farm work. Under normal circumstances, it can be relatively easy to find, depending on your location, season, and desperate need to work.  But as Corona was just picking up steam, I knew I needed to act quickly. 

Welcome to Travel once again coming in handy, they have weekly emails and a database about what’s on and any work opportunities. The previous week they had a blurb about a workers accommodation in Bairnsdale, about 3 hours east of Melbourne.  This wasn’t a job offer, but it was a hostel in a town with several options that counted as farm work. I shot them an email, booked my train ticket Wednesday, and was on my way Saturday, April 4. I was leaving Brunswick sooner than I had planned, but I also know that I’ll return to Melbourne, one way or the other.  I was sad to leave my housemates, and my friends, and my home for the last five months, but happy to have a new opportunity. 

After buying the largest suitcase Kmart had to offer, I had all of my stuff packed, including borrowed lacrosse stick, and caught the regional train from Flinders Station. Not surprisingly, it was almost completely empty.  The ride took us from the inner to the outer suburbs of Melbourne, and and then through the countryside. Bairnsdale is a small town by anyone’s measure, but is the hub of activity for the area, and has to be driven through to get anywhere around it. The Sonora, CA of East Victoria, if you will. It’s nice and peaceful, rural and quiet. There’s more fresh air and sunshine, at a slower pace. It could be middle America, or middle of Australia, there’s really not much difference. The house is set up as a hostel, with bunk beds in three rooms, with a kitchen, living room, laundry room, and backyard with an amazing view. The house can hold up to twelve, but we’re at six at the moment: two girls, two guys, and one couple. English, Dutch, French, Chilean, and American. Only one of the boys had been in the house for a few months, and the rest of us arrived the same weekend. We were all in the same boat of needing to find work, and only relocating here for that one reason.

I normally take a cavalier approach to job hunting, with the idea that if it’s meant to be, it’ll happen (obnoxiously this has worked very well in the past). This time though, it was literally a race against the clock to see who would make the first move. I had done my research on Sunday of what businesses were around, and which would count towards the 88 days. Monday morning, I went for a walk along the river, with plans to call around in the afternoon. But I had a nagging feeling, so mid-walk I made my first call (because calling is always better than emailing, even if you hate talking on the phone) to the local honey factory. They said they weren’t hiring at the moment, but that I could email over my resume. With the first contact out of the way, I sent a few emails that afternoon, and then spent most of Tuesday following up with the rest. Almost all had the same answer: no, we’re not hiring. This was due to COVID, but also because we’re heading into winter, and there’s not as much available as there might be during the summer.

But despite all of that, I got a response two days later from the honey company, asking me to come for a trial the following Tuesday. I needed work boots, long pants, and a hi-vis shirt. Hello Kmart. I would be working in the production line, from 6am to 6pm. Yes, I sure know how to pick my jobs based on their very convenient hours. It’s a family-run, relatively small production, with all Australians, no other backpackers. The first week was hard. I was tired, every muscle in my back hurt, but I kind of liked it. I like the routine, I like the people, and considering how lucky I am to have a job, I can’t complain. I wake up at 5, am out the door before 5:30, and ride my bike 25 minutes through town. I really don’t think I can emphasize enough my dislike for bicycles. I don’t like to ride them, I don’t like to drive around other people riding them, there’s not one redeeming quality, except when it allows me to avoid walking over an hour to work.

The work is on a production line bottling honey, so you’re either placing bottles on the line, capping, labeling, sealing, or packing them. None of those jobs are terribly strenuous, and certainly don’t have any prerequisites, but when you do them at a quick pace for 12 hours, you certainly feel it. But it’s not the physicality that gets you, it’s the mental game. The task at hand isn’t challenging, and once you’re in the zone, you’re alone with your thoughts. There’s no music, no conversation. Just you and your brain. And boy oh boy is there a lot rattling around in there. Specifically any song that I know any lyrics to, mostly including musicals I watched 1000 times as a kid, early 2000s bops, Christmas tunes, and a smattering of songs from the past decade. And when I’m not singing to myself, I’m planning where I want to travel in the next year, and next ten. How many lists can I make in my head, and then forget about completely by break time? A lot. This is where being an only child helps me out, because I’m used to entertaining myself for hours on end. But I also think I’m starting to lose my marbles. I’ve got a month down, two to go. Depending on what the travel situation is, it’s likely I’ll stay longer. It’s been a humbling experience, because the farm work that backpackers deign to do is the livelihood of many Australians. We do this work because we have to, they do it because it’s their only option.

After six months, I’ve had some time to reflect on my experience so far. Here’s the highlights.

Favorite thing about Australia? The people, the feeling I’ve had while I’ve been here.
Favorite saying? First in, best dressed. Like early bird gets the worm, but better.
What am I most glad I packed? Wet weather clothes including raincoat and Chacos. I don’t need them often, but when I do, it’s a real lifesaver.
What do I wish I packed? My portable speaker.
What could I have left at home? My nicer, going out clothes.
What do I wear the most? The same thing I wear at home, jean shorts and leggings. Favorite book? In a Sunburned Country, Bill Bryson. I got this book before I first came to Australia in 2014, and just finished it last week, but that’s more of an indication of me than the book. It’s packed with all kinds of information and highlights different aspects of the entire country. 
Favorite movie? The Sapphires. Based on the true story of an aboriginal singing group during the 1960s, staring the not-so-Australian Chris O’Dowd. I’ve loved this movie for a long time, especially because of the soundtrack.
Favorite podcastThe Adam and Symon Show. I know Symon from lacrosse, and if you want to listen to two Australians have some good chats about nothing terribly important, this is for you. But start from the beginning, so you can get the full whack-a-mole experience.
Favorite music – I like lots of music, but none specifically because they’re Australian. The first three I could think of are Vance Joy, Tones and I, and AC/DC.

What have I learned during my six months here? I’m better at going with the flow, having fun, and saying yes more often. I make decisions more quickly, and have learned to go after what I want. You can’t plan your life, but it helps to have a rough idea. I still don’t know what I want to do with my life, but I’m the happiest I’ve been in a long time, so I don’t want that feeling to end any time soon. That’s the main reason that amidst the Coronavirus pandemic, I decided to stay here, rather than return home. Australia was a little behind the world curve, so while friends in the Bay Area were just starting to shelter in place, we were only just starting to be affected down here. Practically speaking, I have a job and healthcare coverage here, that I wouldn’t have at home. And while the thought of returning to the US to sit on my parents’ couch wasn’t unappealing, I saw no redeeming benefits of doing so. Over the past few months, I’ve taken the ‘one day at a time’ approach, and while not intentionally doing do, have had a generally positive attitude towards the state of affairs.

I’m heading into the Australian winter, which is shockingly more cold than I anticipated. I don’t know what the next few months are going to look like, but I’m happy where I am for now.