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.
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.
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.
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.
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. Favoritepodcast – The 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. Favoritemusic – 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.
Hello! I’m still in Australia and am still happy I’m here. In light of current events, I don’t think we could have planned this trip any better. Taylor and I decided we each needed a holiday from our holiday, so we booked a week in Tasmania, from Friday, 21 February to Sunday, 1 March. We booked a seven day tour with Jump Tours because I didn’t want to plan the week out, and between two of us the costs would have likely been much higher. But if you’re thinking of visiting Tasmania in the (very distant) future, I would recommend renting a car and doing it at your own pace. A refresher about Taylor: we met our first day in Australia before the WTT tour, and three weeks later solidified our friendship. She’s been my one consistent friend my entire time here, so to celebrate her 23rd birthday, we jetted off to Tassie!
Day 1 – Friday, 21 February – Hobart
Taylor came to my house, we went for brunch, and then headed to the Melbourne Airport. We arrived in plenty of time, and in one of the easiest airports I’ve ever been to, waited over an hour to board. Being the budget travelers that we are, we opted for only carry-on luggage, and per the airline requirements, we could each have one bag and one personal item, totaling no more than 7 kg. That’s about 15 pounds, which is practically as much as my purse weighs on a daily basis, and was certainly far less than either of my bags weighed. Fortunately, we waited long enough for the attendant weighing the bags to wander off to find something equally important to do, and dodged the bullet of paying additional fees. And then we were on our way! The flight is less than an hour and a half, so we touched down in Hobart in the early afternoon.
I hadn’t given any thought to how we’d get from the airport to the hostel, but rightly assumed that Uber would be available. However, I spotted a bus with ‘JUMP’ printed on the side, and again assuming that there was only one Jump Tour company on the island, sweet talked a free ride to the hostel. The YHA Hobart lived up to the positive reputation of any other YHA, providing all of the essentials in above average quality. We chatted with the others in the room, and them went off to find dinner at the Hobart Twilight Market in Franklin Square. This was clearly the place to be on a Friday night, and once we got paella from one of the booths, we settled on the grass to enjoy the live music and scenery until it got too cold.
Day 2 – Saturday, 22 February – Bruny Island
Saturday morning we packed up all of our bags, grabbed a quick breakfast from what can only be described as a Panera knock-off, and then waited 30 minutes longer than expected for a mini van to whip up to the curb, and bark ‘Bruny?’ from inside. After our appropriate reaction of general confusion, it did click that the itinerary had mentioned Bruny Island for one of the days, but this entire day is why I would recommend that you make your own tour of Tassie. We piled into the car, and drove on to two other hostels to pick up the five remaining people who would be joining us for the day. Only four of us from today would continue on for the entire seven days together. We eventually learned that our driver was named Alex, and he was essentially leading a one-day tour of Bruny Island, to the south of Hobart.
We drove for over an hour towards Oyster Cove, stopping at a different Panera to buy lunch and snacks for the afternoon. We waited about twenty minutes for the ferry to arrive, then drove on and sailed for another twenty or so minutes. From there we drove over an hour to Adventure Bay, to do the Fluted Cape hike. We got to walk along the beach and then wound our way up along the edge of the mountain. About half way up, Alex asked the group if we would prefer to head back down, or complete the loop to the top, which wouldn’t take much time and would be relatively easy. It seemed silly to stop now, so we all agreed to continue. Turns out none of us were dressed or prepared for the substantially harder remainder of the hike, which did yield nice views, but still wasn’t what we had in mind when we heard ‘easy’.
From there we drove back the way we came, to Neck Lookout, to again enjoy an amazing view and eat our lunch. After thirty minutes, we were back in the car to Bruny Island Cheese, to enjoy a platter of delicious cheeses, fresh bread, and surprisingly likable pickled zucchini. If you go to Bruny, they are evidently known for their oysters, but we didn’t get to indulge. Our time at the cheese tasting was cut short beause we needed to catch the last ferry. Not the last ferry of the day, mind you, but the last one Alex could catch because he had to be back in town to prepare for his DJ set that evening. Yes, really.
After a short drive, another ferry ride, and then a longer drive, we arrived back in Hobart at Tassie Backpackers, inside of the Brunswick Hotel. Alex parked and exited, as if to suggest that we should all do the same. However, none of us knew if we were staying here, what the plan was for the following day, let alone the remainder of the week. After polite questioning that yielded no answers, we asked if he might get his boss on the line and get some answers. They chatted, and I asked Alex if he could confirm that we were staying the night here. That was a bit much for him to handle, so instead he did what any professional would do and thrust the cell phone into my hand. Mid laugh of disbelief, I asked the person on the other end the same question, as well as what time we could expect to depart in the morning, and what the next six days looked like. Satisfied with those answers, I hung up, threw the phone at Alex, and briefed the rest of the group on what the plan was. I’m still waiting on my paycheck.
Yes, we would be staying here for the next two nights, we would need only a day bag for the morning, which would be another one-day tour, followed by the five day tour of the island. All of us who had been on the tour today would also be on the tour tomorrow, except one who had planned to depart and one who ended up not showing. It seems that this rotation of two one-day tours and one five-day tour was in constant rotation, so it turned out that we got the best end of the deal, starting a bit rough but finishing on a high note. Four of us went for an overpriced but authentically local dinner, and ended the evening at the Hope and Anchor Tavern, the oldest pub in Tasmania.
Day 3 – Sunday, 23 February – Richmond and Port Arthur
After the underwhelming first day of the tour, there was only room for improvement on the second. We were picked up promptly on time (already doing better than yesterday), by Mark and his Port Arthur van. This was again to be a one-day tour of the greater Hobart area, but in contrast, Mark ran regular tours and was an endless resource of useful information. Five of us from the day before were joined by five others, a mix of ages and nationalities.
As we drove, Mark had a series of video clips and history to share with us, only some of which I made a note of. We stopped at Ridson Cove, also known as piyura kitana, which was the site where Lt John Bowen established the first British settlement in 1803. He brought with him 48 Brits and Irish, half of whom were prisoners, as was the norm for Europeans to dump their convicts in Australia. For a variety of reasons, it didn’t go well. In 1995, the land was given back to the Aboriginal elders, and driving past it now, you’d never guess that anyone chose to land there.
Our first stop to walk around was Richmond, the oldest town, with the oldest bridge, oldest church, and oldest toilets in Tasmania. This became a running joke. What was once one of the busiest towns in Tas, it is now a charming colonial town that one might retire in. We continued on through Sorell and Dunalley, to Eaglehawk Neck, and then to Taranna for chocolate tasting at Federation Chocolate. It was scrumptious. Up next was the main event of the day, Port Arthur Historic Site. We spent about four hours touring the grounds of what was formerly a convict settlement, and one of Australia’s most significant heritage sites. This was a massive facility, beautifully constructed by prisoners in the early-to-mid 1800s, for whom the quote at the entrance accurately describes as “ordinary men who committed ordinary crimes, with extraordinary punishment”.
On the way back to Hobart, we stopped at the Tasman Arch and Devil’s Kitchen viewpoints, taking in more of the natural beauty of Tassie. Some more tidbits of history I picked up throughout the day: Abel Tasman was the first European to land on the island, which he declared Van Diemen’s Land after the governor of the Dutch East Indies in 1642. It was established as a penal colony, and where 40% of all convicts were sent. Moving into modern times, and trying to make a better name for itself, the name was changed to Tasmania in 1856, and the final penal settlement, at Port Arthur, was closed in 1877. This was a day packed with history and sights, and was one of my favorites during the week.
These two one-day tours had the same premise, as far as lots of driving to see a small part of Tas. While the first day was more about the views, the second was more about the destinations, and while the first was more active, I much preferred the company and the activities of the second. If you are staying a few days in Hobart, I would recommend Bruny Island, Richmond, and Port Arthur.
Day 4 – Monday, 24 February– Mt Field and Lake St Clair
Up bright and early, this was the first of our five-day tour of the island. Chris rolled up with the Jump bus, and twenty of us were off on our adventure. Again, we were an eclectic mix, young Europeans with older Australian couples, but it was a fun group. I’ve lucked out with the tours I’ve done, and I had good fun with almost everybody on this trip. Within a few hours in the bus, we’d formed a little squad, two girls and two boys, JB and JW. We drove northwest to Mt Field National Park, for a little stroll to Russell Falls. I had a smoked salmon toastie for lunch, and on we went to Lake St Clair, the deepest lake in Australia at 167 meters. We hiked out to it, and it was nice, but arguably not any nicer than the shallowest lake in Australia. We continued west, stopping in Queenstown, an old mining town that looked frozen in time, to gather food and beverage supplies, and then on to Tullah for the night. We stayed in a house on the side of the highway, right across the street from what appeared to be the only bar for miles, and we had it to ourselves.
Day 5 – Tuesday, 25 February – Montezuma Fallsand Henty Dunes
We got to sleep in a little, drove fifteen minutes to Rosebery to grab some breakfast, and then further west to Montezuma Falls. This was a three hour round trip hike, with the waterfalls as the main attraction. The path was lined with wooden railroad ties, as this used to be the area leased to the Montezuma Silver Mining Company. As you walk, you can see the sharp edges where dynamite was used to create the path for the rail. We drove southwest, through more lonely towns, and stopped for lunch in Strahan on the bay. We stayed for an hour, and then drove north to Henty Dunes. This national reserve stretches 15 km along the west coast, and after scrambling up a steep, calf-burning dune, we reached the top of the white sand cliff. So much sand with such a view was irresistible. I made sand angels while others practiced their gymnastics. We shared lots of laughs on this trip, many of which were here. I’m still finding sand in my leggings six weeks later. We stopped for more food and beverage in Zeehan, and then were back in Tullah for the night. The pub was closed, so instead we stayed in and played Never Have I Ever, which is a great way to learn too much about people you’ve only known for two days.
Day 6 – Wednesday, 26 February – Cradle Mountain and Taylor’s Birthday!
Over the past two days, I’d been gathering birthday supplies. Balloons, chocolate, cake, party poppers, the works. Our start time was earlier than usual, so I was up at 5:30 to decorate the bus. I had big aspirations for what I could get done in 30 minutes, and while I couldn’t manage a balloon arch throughout the bus, I was still able to decorate Taylor’s seat and lay out her presents. Not to toot my own horn, but I think I did pretty well.
We drove about an hour east to Cradle Mountain National Park. What was an otherwise perfect week of weather, this morning it was absolutely chucking it down with the most piercing, icy rain I’ve ever experienced. Our original plan had been to explore for a few hours and soak up nature. Instead, five of us decided to venture off of the bus, run to the closest view point, and run back to the warm bus. Freezing and soaking wet, we spent the next hour at the visitor center with adjoining art gallery. Really the only highlight of Cradle Mountain on this day was that while we were suffering in the rain, we ran across another group, five college kids from the US. Had we not happened to be in that same miserable spot, we wouldn’t have met, and unbeknownst to us at the time, we would continue to bump into them across the state for the next four days.
We continued an hour east to Sheffield for lunch. Another small, adorable town, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, it is known for its murals. The next stop was more food at 41 South Tasmania, sampling their salmon and ginseng, followed by honey tasting at The Beehive in Exeter. Before reaching Launceston, where we would stay for the evening, we had to say some goodbyes to those who were finishing the tour here. As I mentioned, Jump had their tours in constant rotations, so depending if you were doing a three, five, or seven day tour, you had different starting and finishing locations at different points in the week. I was especially sad to see LR and JD leave.
Our first stop in Launceston was the gorgeous Cataract Gorge right in the middle of town, full of trails, parks, swings, a chair lift, lake, and a swimming pool. Arriving at Launceston Backpackers, my favorite accommodation of the trip, by the mid-afternoon allowed us plenty of time to freshen up and prepare for a proper celebration of Taylor’s birthday. We rallied everyone we could, including Chris the tour guide, and headed to the best bar around, The Irish. For small-town Tassie, this proved to be a surprisingly good time, and who did we see but our new American friends from earlier that day. We closed that down and headed to the only place in town open after 11 PM, closed that down, and headed to the only late-night pizza place. At this point we were down to our core four, chatting away on the walk back to the hostel, rounding out a pretty great day.
Day 7 – Thursday, 27 February –Bay of Fires
Up bright and early, we were as chipper as could be…or not. It was hangover central on that bus, but fortunately we had lots of driving and minimal activity for the day. JW had unfortunately departed, but we gained L, so we were back to a group of four. We drove to Legerwood, home of the Carved Memorial Trees, a memorial to the fallen soldiers of World War I, specifically the seven from that town, carved meticulously by chainsaw into existing trees.
The next destination was Pyengana Dairy Company, to load up on cheese and every other dairy product. We continued east, all the way to the coast, to Bay of Fires. This is beautiful white sand with a backdrop of red rock formations to climb over for a complete view of the bay. Had it been a little bit warmer I would have jumped right in, but soaking up the sun on the rocks, and running my toes through the sand was good enough for me. Two hours south and we arrived in Bicheno. We went out to dinner in town, where I had the saltiest pizza imaginable, and again bumped into our new American friends at the same restaurant. This island is small, but it seemed to be getting smaller by the day.
Day 8 – Friday, 28 February – Wineglass Bay
Our final day of the trip was a good one. I wouldn’t say my favorite over all, but certainly my favorite destination. We got to sleep in and explore Bicheno, which didn’t take long, and then we drove an hour south to Wineglass Bay in Freycinet National Park. Swimsuit on even before the hike started, I wasn’t leaving Tas without jumping in the water. The hike to the main viewpoint is relatively easy, maybe a 30-45 minute walk, slightly uphill, and from there you can take in crystal clear views of the bay. But to get the most out of your trip, you then climb down the mountain on steep stairs for another 30 minutes to the beach. Because it’s a bit strenuous to reach, there was hardly anyone there, especially considering it was the nicest, clearest beach I’ve ever been on. You know who was there though, our new American friends. Within seconds I dove right in, not caring for a minute how cold it was. It was even better in the water than on the sand, with no kelp, no fish, just clear water for days. See my Instagram for proof of Potter in the water.
I wish we could have spent the entire day there, but we were on a schedule, so we climbed back up the mountain, which took considerably more time than on the way down, and then drove another hour south to Kate’s Berry Farm in Swansea for some fresh ice cream. I could have skipped this stop for another hour at the beach, but c‘est la vie. I can always come back. We ended the day, and the tour, with a two hour ride back to Hobart. It felt funny to be dropped back in a city, after spending a week in small towns with the same group of people. This trip felt similar to my first week in Oz, with so much activity packed in, and fast friendships formed with people you may never see again, that I’ll consider it one of my favorite memories from my time in Australia.
Our little clique finished the night at an amazing bar in the middle of Hobart, In the Hanging Garden, and got to say our final farewell to our American friends, who again, we never made any plans to meet, but of all the bars in town, marked our fifth and final coincidental rendezvous of the trip.
Day 9 – Saturday, 29 February – Hobart
Leap Day really feels like you’ve got a bonus day, so we made the most of it. Saturday’s in Hobart mean the Salamanca Market, a local farmers market that stretches for blocks down near the water. We got breakfast, and I bought some little mementos to remember the week by. The number one most recommended sight to see in Hobart was the MONA museum, so we booked tickets for the entire afternoon. You can access it via a short ferry ride up the River Derwent, which is an experience in and of itself. The museum was created by eccentric David Walsh, who describes the museum as a “subversive adult Disneyland”. So yeah, it was an experience. We lucked out, because the museum had originally been closed for a private event, but the event was cancelled, and we still got to enjoy the live music, drinks, and view once we’d finished inside. Back in town for dinner with JB, we had our final meal at the pub around the corner, and ice cream for dessert.
Day 10 – Sunday, 1 March – Back to Melbourne
We had booked an early flight, but had one final activity to do before departing. Taylor and I headed down to the marina, to set off some festive party poppers to commemorate her birthday and the trip. We called an Uber for the 30 minute drive to the airport, and were back in Melbourne in each of our houses before 11 AM.
I have nothing but wonderful things to say about Tasmania, and I absolutely want to return. From an American perspective, I would say it’s like a mix of Hawaiian beaches on a Pacific Northwest backdrop. Each Australian state has different slogans on their license plates. In TAS, I saw Explore the Possibilities and Your Natural State, which I don’t think could have more perfectly described what I saw. I suspect that it is often the forgotten island south of Melbourne, for many people I met who had lived in Victoria had never been. If you find yourself planning a trip to Australia, I insist that you spend at least a week in Tasmania.
If you want to watch how our shenanigans unfolded over the ten days, check out this video Taylor made.
Actually, it’s 6 to 3, with a four o’clock wake up. By this point you might be wondering how one with my spending habits survives two months without any income. Answer: she doesn’t! I really embraced the vacation part of my holiday for the first month I was here, eating almost all of my meals out, buying Christmas decorations galore, not flinching over the $20 cocktails. You know, just the usual, responsible spending habits of a girl on a budget.
I had very casually begun looking into potential job options, starting during my third week here. I updated my resume, put it into Australian format (2 pages!), and googled job search websites. I called recruiters WTT had recommended, and applied to a few jobs here and there online. I spent a day pounding the pavement and handed out my resume to exactly one restaurant. I knew my bank account was only heading in one direction, but I was having too much fun not working. Christmas was approaching, and I knew realistically that I wasn’t going to start looking in earnest until the new year rolled around.
By the time January arrived, things were getting a little desperate. And since it’s me, I wasn’t at the dire stage yet, but was uncomfortable with the shape of my savings account. I had heard through a friend of a friend that the Australian Open was hiring, which I knew from the beginning would be an interesting opportunity, but I hadn’t thought much of it. So I passed my resume along, and next thing I know I’ve got a interview on a Saturday at Melbourne Arena, and by the end of the day, I had the job! On a three-week contract, I would be doing admin work for one of the company’s contracted for the AO20.
For those who don’t know, like me before I started, the Australian Open is equivalent to the US Open, and is the first and most highly attended of the four Grand Slam events, also including the French Open and Wimbledon. Oh, we’re talking about tennis, in case none of that was ringing any bells. The Aus Open is held at Melbourne Park, which includes three arenas and a collection of outdoor courts. The entire venue is transformed into a complete experience, with a kids entertainment area, main stage, countless food and bevy options, in addition to all of the tennis courts and spectator bleachers that are added in. Tennis Australia and the National Tennis Centre operate out of here year-round, so this is really the place to be if you care about tennis, which I don’t.
Since there was a chance I’d be starting work on the Monday after my interview, I raced out to Kmart (which is more like Target than the actual Target is here). As part of the events team, I needed head-to-toe all black, business casual attire, and being on a budget, I stuck to the basics to make five outfits for the week, only splurging on a new pair of Blundstone boots. Turns out, I would go on to work for 23 days straight, so could have bought a few more clothes, and the boots gave me the worst blisters I’ve ever had in my life, but I regret nothing.
The following week was spent on edge because I didn’t know when exactly I’d be starting, so every night I was prepared for it to be the next day. Turns out it was the following Monday, and then we were off and running. I had one week of training before the AO officially started, which wasn’t nearly enough time, but good thing I have the ‘figure it out’ mentality. I learned I would be working in a team of six temporary admins, two of us each in the morning, afternoon, and overnight shifts. We were all in our 20s, all with similar working holiday stories, and had all heard about the job in similar ways. However, because I started one or two days before everyone else, I was saddled with (and gleefully accepted) the most amount of responsibility, information, and workload. ‘Of course she did,’ thought everyone reading this.
It was confirmed in that first week that I would have my shift of choice, 06:00-15:00, so I eased my way from starting at 8 AM for two days, 7 AM for another two, and then 6 AM for the next two and a half weeks. I gave myself a strict 9 PM bedtime, knowing that I had to wake up at 4 AM (which eventually turned into 4:30). I caught the 5 AM train to the city, bought my two dollar 7-Eleven iced coffee, then walked 20 minutes to the venue. This was peak summer, so I got to watch the sun rise over Melbourne Arena, and the early morning rowers on the Yarra River. The work that I did consisted mostly of checking timesheets and payroll, monitoring radios and keys for the venue, and fielding questions from other staff. Ironically, very similar to what I did for the Lair.
During those three weeks I just kept my head down and stuck to my routine. The early mornings didn’t phase me, as long as I didn’t go to bed too late, and when I finished each day, I headed straight home, had dinner, and went to bed. It was exhausting but exhilarating, and even when I didn’t like it, I still loved it. The work itself was pretty mundane, but even being thrown into it with little preparation, I still enjoy the pressure of the events world. I was working with a mix of people, from older Aussies to younger working holiday makers, and slowly got to know everyone I worked with. I don’t care much about tennis, which probably made my job easier. I got to see a few minutes of matches here and there, but for the most part I was at the computer all day, and was ready to get out of there when my shift was over. Which is such a novel concept that you work to live, and when you’re done, you’re done. I realize a lot of that depends on your job and where you are on the ladder, but I’ve certainly noticed a different mentality in the workforce here compared to home.
When those three weeks were up, at the start of February, AO20 was over just as quickly as it had started. The entire venue was broken down, which was shockingly barren, as it is during most of the year. I was lucky enough to have my role extended, first for two weeks, then for another two, and then until April 19. However, with the current state of the world, and what with every event in Melbs being cancelled or postponed, my last day will be on Friday, March 27. This didn’t come as a surprise to me, and I’m still very happy with my working experience in Melbourne. At some point in the next month, I’ll be leaving the city to start my next adventure of finding regional work to complete the 88 required days to be able to apply for a second year here. At least that’s the plan; we’ll see if I’m able to execute that. Stay tuned for more!
I had an Australian chuckle at me over the phrase ‘the holidays’, because evidently they just say ‘Christmas and New Year’s’. Not the staggering cultural difference that some people enjoy when visiting other countries, but still interesting. And as I finish writing this, the holidays are long gone, but better late than never.
The first day of summer, December 1, came and went, and I knew I wasn’t going to last forever in hostels, so I told myself I would find a room of my own in a house or apartment before Christmas. I knew I could handle spending the holidays in a hostel, I just didn’t want to. I surprised myself by lasting three and a half weeks before I needed an Airbnb, although as I write this, three weeks is nothing. After we left the Airbnb on Thursday, December 12, I booked one week at the YHA Metro, and told myself that by the end of that week, I would find more permanent housing. I haven’t yet experienced any hostel horror stories that you hear about, but the constant unpacking and repacking, using the communal bathrooms and kitchen, and never really having a moment alone is not a lifestyle I can sustain.
I was open to living in pretty much any area of the city and inner suburbs, but focused my search in South Yarra, Richmond, and Brunswick. There was no particular reason for this, other than that’s where the most amount of reasonably priced options seemed to be. All I wanted was my own room, preferably in a house with one to three other people, for anywhere between three and six months. The best resources for house hunting were various Facebook groups, and a website called FlatmateFinder. During the search, it was lucky that I was unemployed, because I spent most of my days on Facebook, refreshing my feed every two minutes for new listings. There isn’t a dearth of housing, but to find something for the time frame, price, and location was tricky. And to be with roommates who were at the very least tolerable, if not better than that, didn’t seem like two much to ask.
In the two weeks befor Christmas, I had about seven viewings, in all of the areas. The worst option was probably the room in the single dad’s filthy apartment, followed closely by the unfurnished room who cancelled on me while I was in the lobby. On a Saturday morning, I went to Brunswick, where I hadn’t been before, to see a house near the train line, about 45 minutes on the tram outside of the city. From the photos online, this was a charming little cottage with a well lit room, and it mostly lived up to that. I won’t say it was the most perfect, exactly-what-I-envisioned house, but it was just what I needed. I took a couple of days to make up my mind, but by that Thursday I had moved in. The room came fully furnished, and I only bought a couple of little things, like a small shelf, rubbish bin (trash can is sooooo American), and mattress topper. I was fully moved in and settled by the end of the weekend. I live with two other ladies in their 30s, and so far everything has worked out pretty darn well.
Approaching Christmas, we still had four of our core group in Melbourne, so we knew we had to celebrate together. With projected temperatures of at least 30°C (like 85°F), we knew we wanted to do a traditional Aussie Christmas on the beach, but we decided to make it a whole event. Christmas Eve, the three of us packed a bag and went to TF’s apartment, joined by her roommate HD. We ordered Chinese takeaway, cracked the goon, and played Jenga and Speak Up (I realize that half of those words don’t mean anything to most of you). We rounded out the evening with some Christmas movies and I fell asleep on the couch.
In the morning we all got to wake up together, with pancakes and my first Christmas crackers, which was baffling to the table of Europeans I was with. Turns out there’s not crackers inside, but instead useless little prizes (just what I love). By mid day we were ready for the beach, Santa hats and all. We headed to St Kilda with more goon and tinnies, and spent the entire day basking in the sun. Half of the group went home around sun set, and the other half of us stayed for a few more hours. We met up with some of the boys from our Welcome to Travel tour, kicked the soccer ball around, and stayed until we were too cold to stand it. We rounded out the day with some of St. Kilda’s finest Maccas, and I spent another night on the couch.
The week between Christmas and New Year’s was relatively unproductive, but again knew we all wanted to do something for NYE. We were down to three, but added HD to even out the group. I bought myself a new jumpsuit just for the occasion, got all dolled up, and went back to Prahran. We bought tickets to The Cross, a Scottish bar in St. Kilda. With 2/4 being from Scotland, and with me not being that fussed about what we did, I was happy to be there. I was expecting an old-timey, pub-looking joint, which it was not. It was fun vibes, good music, and great people. It wasn’t the best NYE I’ve ever had, but also not the worst, and again, just happy to be with my new friends.
New Year’s Day itself was very uneventful, just the way I like it. Overall review of my first holidays away from home: no matter where you are, it’s all about the people who you’re with. Can’t say enough about how happy I am to have made the friends I have here, but missing our Christmas party in Berkeley did make me miss home. Before I left Oregon, my mom put out the advent calendar in November, so I could get a little treat on the days I was home. My parents and I have never really done anything big for the holidays, but still, waking up Christmas morning and opening our presents together made me miss them the most.
The year has been off to an amazing start, and I can’t wait to see what else is in store for me and my Australian adventure.
I’m sure you’re all on the edge of your seats waiting to hear what I’m up to… turns out I’m just as prone to procrastination here as I am at home, even with something I actually want to do. I’ve been stockpiling posts, so even though my writing is a little behind my actual timeline, I’m aiming to catch up.
After my first month, I couldn’t believe I’d been here for that long; time really does fly when you’re having fun! After we returned from our road trip, half of that group stayed in Melbourne, while the others went on their way towards the east coast and elsewhere. After spending every waking (and sleeping) moment with the same people for two weeks, suddenly disbanding was a very startling feeling. Similar to that of leaving the Lair after a summer, obviously on a much smaller scale.
Who remained were five girls: ZB, AS, JS, TF, and me. They’ve each requested their own heartfelt paragraph about how much our frienship means to me, so I’m ignoring them. But seriously, I’m a firm believer that your experience is a result of the people you’re with, and I’ve had nothing but an amazing time with these ladies.
I truly had nothing planned following the first two weeks of travel, so what ensued was a busy, but not terribly productive, few weeks. With bottomless free time, my plan was to explore the city and fill each day with something to do, no matter how insignificant. I’d seen plenty of North Melbourne staying at the YHA, but continued to go to the area in search of the perfect avocado toast.
I moved to Space Hotel with TF, closer to the CBD for one week, starting on Saturday, Nov 30. Two weeks before I left Oregon I joined Orangetheory Fitness, a cult-y, one hour workout class membership gym. I knew they had international locations, so I joined the local studio here at the start of December. With the timing of the classes, the most convenient time for me was the 7:10am class. So with nothing I actually had to do, I chose to get up at 6:30am almost every morning for the next few weeks. It’s really a whole new me over here. Since I was already up, it was easier for me to get out and explore.
Near the CBD, I spent the most amount of time at the Queen Victoria Market, the State Library of Victoria (no, not reading, they just had the most reliable WiFi), and walking the streets between different shops and restaurants. In the north, I walked through Little Italy, Carlton, and Fitzroy, the Berkeley equivalent. To the east and south, Prahran, Richmond, South Yarra, and St. Kilda. All of these areas are within an hour of the CBD via tram or train, and speaking of, the public transportation here is so beyond superior to that of the Bay Area. I’ve been inconvenienced fewer than a handful of times here, and the same cannot be said for BART.
I made plenty of visits to St Kilda for beach time and exploring. I went on day trips to Brighton Beach, Mornington Peninsula, and Williamstown. Lots of walking, lots of sitting in parks, lots of enjoying my time to explore the city. My time during these two weeks was also similar to that of the first two weeks of January and the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, but I’ll cover that later. My goal was to never be bored. I was here for an adventure, so I wanted to see all that I could. Besides, I like filling my day with errands and the mundane, and actually living here.
After a week in the CBD, we decided to try out a different area of the city, so we booked a week at Lord’s Lodge in Prahran. Had this been sophomore year of college, and if I were in the mood to chhhhilllllll outtttt, this might have been a great option. But since I’d been leading an *active lifestyle* and didn’t want to be sedentary for a week, this was not going to work. Also it was slightly filthy. So we promptly cancelled after the first night, and got an AirBnb with ZB for the next five nights, which was exactly what we needed.
By the end of that week, TF found an apartment and abandoned me, meaning my tenure as mum was over. I went back to the YHA Metro for the third week of December, and as my last week in a hostel, I wound up with the best set of roommates I’d had yet. But knowing that I wanted to stay in Melbourne for at least a few months, I began looking at apartments and houses I could join on a short-term basis. Moving and the holidays kept me busy, and still, with nothing really on my schedule, I managed to fill almost every minute.
One of the more exciting days during this time was my first visitor from home! HH came to visit me, coincidentally, as her cruise with BF was docking in Melbs for the day. They generously treated me to a day of touring all around the bay, stopping at the Moonlit Animal Sanctuary, taking the ferry from Sorrento to Geelong, and taking a full lap of the city. I have a few other visitors lined up over the upcoming months, but this first visit couldn’t have had better timing.
After my first month in Australia, I have nothing but wonderful things to say about Melbourne. It still just feels like an extended vacation, and at this point, I’d only been in Australia a week longer than my first time here five years ago. My comfort here can be attributed to a variety of factors. It is alarmingly similar to San Francisco, and yet smaller, cleaner, easier to navigate. I’ve kept friends I made in my first week here, and I’ve met new people along the way.
What has become most apparent to me is that no matter how far you go, you can’t escape your life. You always need to think about where you’re living, what you’re eating, and how you’re paying for it. I tend to overthink and over plan my life, which I enjoy to some extent, but I’ve made an effort to go with the flow more than I might otherwise. I’ve always been happier to spend time by myself than with others, but traveling on my own has made me realize just how alone I can be, and how much I miss the simple comfort of my friends. Watching Alias with T&T, nachos at Raleigh’s, and hanging with ‘the boys’. For the first time in a while, possibly my whole life, I was finally happy with the friends I had and the life I was living, and yet I decided to leave it all 8000 miles behind me. When I find myself missing home, it’s the little things that I miss the most. Oh, and mom & dad…
But these comforts of home are exactly what made me want to leave in the first place. I was too comfortable, and I was afraid I’d be stuck in the same spot forever, so I decided to leave, before everyone else did. Again, I realize what a lucky position I’m in to be able to have this year in Australia, and what a strange concept it may seem to some to abandon all responsibilities, but I couldn’t be happier with the choice I’ve made.
It’s a funny thing, to feel so at home and familiar, and yet so isolated here. I think that’s the confluence of a big city attitude with that of a remote continent, one which I can’t wait to see more of.
Up next: moving to the suburbs, Christmas on the beach, and the Australian Open.
With Welcome to Travel ending Sunday night, I just couldn’t bear to part with the friends I’d made the previous week, so 11 of the 22 of us decided to embark on a five-day road trip along the Great Ocean Road, a 243 km stretch of road that runs along the south eastern coast of Oz between Melbourne and Adelaide. With recommendations from WTT and the internet, we were able to map out an itinerary. We loaded up two minivans and spent four nights in four different towns, with some pretty amazing sights along the way.
We all had to relocate from the YHA Metro to the Base Hostel in St Kilda for Monday night. We’d had an exhausting week, and were about to embark on another adventure, so perhaps under different circumstances, we would have been more excited for Monday night’s Boozy Bingo. That didn’t stop us from enjoying a few pitchers of gin and tonics, but still.
Day 1: Tuesday, November 26
After a slight delay in picking up the cars, and a brief bickering about who would be in what car with which bags, we were on the road by half ten. Oddly, but not surprisingly, the two Americans were driving each car, and other than a few mistaken directions, including me driving on the wrong side of the road briefly, it was smooth sailing.
Our first destination was Halls Gap, at the edge of the Grampians National Park, which took about four hours to reach. We dropped our bags at the YHA there, freshened up, and hopped back in the car for our first hike. We meandered our way up the mountain to Mackenzie Falls, a lookout point with waterfalls and a trail. After climbing down to the foot of the falls along the steep staircase, we were then able to enjoy the next couple of hours winding our way along the falls, and further into the park. While I’m not usually the first one to jump at the opportunity to hike, this was absolutely one of my favorite parts of the week.
Back at the cars, the day wasn’t over yet. We made a pit stop at the Wartook Reservoir, on our way to the Balconies and Reeds Lookouts for sunset. The Balconies looks west into the park, looking down on the canopy of trees going on for miles. We took a few (thousand) photos, and then crossed the parking lot to the Reeds, looking east across the same canopy. Despite the wind whipping at us for a bit, we enjoyed the amazing sunset, all of us remarking how happy and lucky we were to be there.
Back at the hostel, closer to 10 PM, we made enough chili to feed a small village, snarfed it down, and promptly went to bed. This hostel was my favorite of the trip, remotely set in beautiful scenery; if ever you find yourself in the middle of Victoria, I recommend staying here.
Observations Day 1: My role as ‘group mum’ has been solidified. Are we surprised? No. While I do often like to be in charge and in control (duh), it’s always nice when someone else takes over. I’m very happy with the group that we have, and am so glad I get to spend another week with them.
Day 2: Wednesday, November 27
Up bright and early for our second hike of the trip, we were off to the Pinnacles. Having driven the entire first day, I got to sit back and relax. This hike was about the same duration as the first, but was more scrambling up and over rocks to reach the top. The view was equally rewarding, although with the timing of the sunset, I still preferred the previous day’s hike. We were able to pop back to the hostel to finish our chili for lunch, and then were on our way towards the coast.
We had a 2.5-3 hour drive down to Thunder Point in Wanrambool. Cue our photo shoot of crashing waves, officially on the Great Ocean Road. It was at this point that RH realized her sunglasses were missing, and thought it possible that they had fallen out along the side of the road during a quick pit stop. So we sent the boys car to the next destination, and us girls headed 30 minutes back the way we came. Using driving distance, a time stamp from a photo, and markers including a hill and trees, we miraculously found the glasses. We should get our own detective series, that’s how impressive it was.
Less than an hour behind the boys, but already well into the afternoon, we met them at the next stop, and proceeded to hop along the coast, driving a few minutes to see each of the following attractions. First was Bay of Islands: rocks, waves, sun glistening. All very lovely. Next up: The Grotto. Beautiful archway formed by crashing waves. Followed by London Bridge (serenaded by Fergie along the way): previously intact ‘bridge’ that had been eroded by wind and water. Fascinating to see what nature can do, but still, it was now just a rock off shore. Finally, The Arch, which is exactly what it sounds like, but far less impressive than the Grotto.
With our patience well exhausted at this point, we were ready to check in to our hostel for the evening in Port Campbell. We had a warm welcome in the form of a preemptive lecture about our large group and behavior, and being too tired to argue, silently rolled our eyes and went upstairs. We had pizza and beer for dinner, and again, promptly to bed.
Observations Day 2: I wouldn’t recommend Port Campbell quite as much as I would the Grampians, and it’s possible that two weeks is too long to spend with some people. It’s also possible that we tried to pack too much in to five days.
Day 3: Thursday, November 28
For those of us who didn’t come prepared with food, we went to one of the only restaurants in town for breakfast, and with nothing else to do in Port Campbell, hit the road. Our first stop was the main attraction of the Great Ocean Road, The 12 Apostles. Which is now more like 7 because the others have been eroded. With rainy weather and some large rock formations, we were back in the cars quickly. On to more adventuring, we drove to Wyelangta to see some waterfalls and do more hiking. When we arrived, it was still a bit wet, and turned out the hike was closed due to the weather. So we were able to check out the falls, which felt very tropical and removed from the beach setting we’d just been in.
After a quick panic of almost running out of gas in the middle of nowhere, we decided to head straight to our next stop, Apollo Bay. We checked in to the YHA there, and then went for a late lunch/early dinner, and then most went back to the hostel. I wanted to make the most of my time, so I wandered around the shops, and then back and forth along the beach. This was another surprise highlight of the week, and I would love to go back to Apollo Bay. A quick stop for a glass of wine, and then back to the hostel for a movie. We had a fun night, and I couldn’t believe we only had one full day to go.
Observations Day 3: I love a good beach town, and would love to come back for a longer visit. It’s just as much fun doing nothing, as long as you’re with friends.
Day 4: Friday, November 29
We spent the morning wandering around the shops some more, and then piled back in the cars and continued along the coast. We stopped at Teddy’s Lookout, a viewpoint over the ocean, which was a nice view but nothing special. A quick drive to Lorne for lunch and shopping, and then on to Aireys Inlet, a picture-perfect lighthouse. Next stop: Chocolaterie, in between Anglesea and Torquay. This was a highly recommended and a worthwhile chocolate factory. We arrived at Bells Beach Backpackers hostel in Torquey around mid afternoon, and were greeted by a similar, yet much friendlier, lecture for the group.
Torquay is known for its surfing, especially since the brands Quicksilver and Rip Curl were started here. We wanted to hit the surf shops, but they were closed when we arrived. To mark the final night of our trip, we had a nice dinner out at Olé Torquay, and then began our pub crawl, ending at ‘The Pub’, the only place in the entire town open after 10pm. I got to share and teach some card games (thank you T & T), and all around had a lovely last night after spending two weeks together.
Observations Day 4: I don’t think I’ll have authentic Mexican food until I’m back in California, and I don’t think I’ll ever be very good at surfing, but would love to live in a surf town. Because I’m a good daughter, I remembered to call home for Thanksgiving on Oregon time.
Day 5: Saturday, November 30
Our final morning of the road trip we got to sleep in, do some more wandering around the town and beach, and then head back to Melbourne through Geelong. The two cars met back at the YHA Metro, and we all went our separate ways. Many were staying at the YHA, for a night or longer. Some had flights to catch, places to be. Two had booked an Airbnb, and I opted to change hostels with TF. While two weeks is a lot of time to spend your undivided attention with the same 11 people, I don’t think I could have asked for a better group to travel with, and am so unbelievably happy to have those memories.
If you’re interested in more photos from the trip, I’ve added them here.