Tag Archives: australia

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!

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.

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.

Week 15: Tasmania

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 Falls and 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.

Week 1: Welcome to Travel

I’ve arrived! I mean, as I write this, I’ve been here for over four weeks, but I’m a busy lady, so I’m just getting around to writing about it.

I touched down at Tullamarine Airport in Melbourne at 9:30 AM on Friday, November 15, local time. For those paying attention, I left the United States on Wednesday the 13th, so I lost my Thursday in between the sixteen hour flight and the nineteen hour time difference (I’m a day and a half ahead of you reading this at home). I connected at LAX after a two hour flight down the coast, and then was on my way across the Pacific. I know sixteen hours in the air may sound miserable to some of you (specifically my parents), but it really wasn’t that bad. A couple of movies, a few hours of sleep, some more TV. Too easy.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I booked a week-long tour with Welcome to Travel, a company geared towards preparing those new to Australia for their upcoming travels or working holidays. This tour officially began the Monday morning after I arrived, and included my airport pickup and accommodation for my first three nights, so my arrival process was very smooth. I’d already made brunch plans with my friend CT, pictured above, who was on her last day of vacation with her friends, so I dropped my bags at the YHA Metro hostel and walked the three blocks to the Auction Rooms for a delicious meal. The rest of the day was spent wandering around the North Melbourne suburb by myself, trying to stay awake for as long as I could.

Saturday, November 16, was my first full day in Oz. I met up with others from the tour who had also arrived early, and off we went around the city. We wandered down through the CBD (central business district), and down to the Yarra River. We ended up in the National Gallery of Victoria, one of several free museums in the city. Yes, I was just as surprised as you that I wound up in a museum on day 1. We hadn’t been introduced to the trams yet, so we walked all the way back, and ended the night on the rooftop deck with others from the tour.

Now with more from the group, Sunday was again spent exploring the city. We headed towards Carlton Gardens in search of some greenery, but that wasn’t sufficient, so we started towards the Royal Botanic Gardens. Along the way, we stopped at Federation Square, walking through a Polish festival. We crossed the river to the top of the gardens, and with already enough walking, stopped to sit and relax in the sun on a grassy hillside. This was actually one of the highlights of the week, each of us chatting about why we’re here and really getting to know each other. We continued on to the botanic gardens, taking a lap around the lake in the middle, all of us agreeing that we should come back for a picnic or gondola ride. That has yet to happen. Well into the afternoon, and with everyone tired and hungry, we made our way back towards Fed Square to a nighttime noodle market. Delicious food all around, and our first sunburns! We finished the night, again on the rooftop, excited for the tour to officially start.

The whole gang

First thing Monday morning, 22 of us gathered in the lounge on the roof, for our introductions and welcome from our tour leader Clauds, and co-founder Darryl. They talked us through the itinerary for the week, what to expect during and after the tour, and then helped us set up our SIM cards, allowing us to have an Australian phone number (now seems like a good time to mention that if you need to contact me from the US, it’s best to do it via Facebook, What’sApp, or email). At noon, we began our walking tour of the city. Incidentally, I did more walking in my first three days here than in the entire week following. Our first stop was for lunch at Center Place and Degraves Street, little alleyways packed with cafes and restaurants. We walked towards the Old Treasury Building, back through the CBD, and then Chinatown. Along the way, Clauds shared the history of the city, things to note, such as the Free Tram Zone, and shared that Melbourne had the longest ongoing Chinatown outside of Asia. I was ready to fight her on that, but she explained that because of San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake that *technically* Melbourne’s was older. The afternoon ended with a trip to the bank to set up our Australian accounts for when we would eventually be working. After a pit stop back at the hostel, we all went for dinner at Hop Haus on the river. Some of us ventured over to Arbory Afloat, a picture perfect bar on the river, and then called it an evening.

Tuesday’s focus was food and drink. We started at the Queen Victoria Markets, three blocks from our hostel, which is like a huge farmers market mixed with tourist trinkets. One could spend hours here, and I’ve made a few trips back in the weeks that followed. From there we all headed back to the botanic gardens for an Aboriginal Heritage Walk, where we learned about the significance of the indigenous culture and history, and how it relates to modern-day Australia. I would definitely recommend this for anyone spending time in Melbourne. We then trammed back to the CBD for gelato and chocolate tasting in Royal and Block Arcades, modeled after London’s indoor shopping areas. We stopped off at the renowned street art alleys, the only areas of the city where street art is permitted and encouraged. To top off a very filling day, dinner was dumplings in Chinatown.

Wednesday we hit the road for an overnight trip to Phillip Island. Mount Martha was our first stop, with the most perfect beaches I’ve ever seen. We got to spend a couple of hours there, then packing back in the bus for lunch of fish and chips with a view. From there we went wine tasting, and enjoyed it so much that we all got wine coolers to go. We crossed the bridge to the island, dropped our bags at the YHA, and then headed to dinner. Before eating, we stopped at Cape Woolamai, best know for where the Hemsworth brothers grew up surfing. Yes, those Hemsworths. After dinner, we were off to the main event, the Penguin Parade! Formerly beachside mansions, the western tip of the island has been turned into a sanctuary for penguins. At dusk, you’re able to watch their migration from the sea back to their underground homes. The most interesting part is watching and listening to their call and response migration as they waddle up and over hills to make sure they get back to their own homes. Cute end to a long day.

Thursday we were up bright and early for surfing! I’ve tried it once in Hawaii when I was 10, and once when I was previously in Australia, and I’m just as bad at it now as I was then! But seriously, I’d love to spend a concentrated amount of time, likely on the east coast, actually practicing the sport, but now’s not the time. We went back to the hostel to shower and change, and then went next door to the Ripcurl surf shop for a brief history of surfing, from Hawaii to Australia, and around the world. From there, we headed back inland to the Maru Wildlife Sanctuary, where we got to feed kangaroos and emus. Lots of animals for me! Getting back on the bus, the temperature said 40° C (104° F), but by the time we were back in the city, it had rained and dropped to 20° C, meaning we got to experience Melbourne’s “four seasons in one day”. We arrived back in North Melbourne in the late afternoon, ordered takeout, and called it a night.

Friday fun started with an all-morning meeting with Sander and Clauds reviewing visa and work details, as well as different travel options. This was a lot of information, but was meant to prepare us for our one-on-one meetings the following day. For lunch, we packed our swimsuits and headed down to St. Kilda, the closest beach to the CBD. I was expecting this to be the same as our experience two days earlier, but it was more of a sub-par beach with touristy chains and shopping. This was a bad introduction, as it was a bit cold, and I’ve enjoyed it more since then, but still, I was expecting more from an Australian beach. After wandering around the area, we headed for a BBQ in the park. This was for all previous Welcome to Travelers as well, so we got to meet some new people. I kicked a soccer ball around til it was too dark, and then we stopped for a beer tower on the way back. Culture and fun in one trip!

Saturday was our time to chat individually with a WTT leader about our future plans for Australia. I got to sleep in, pop to the market, and then talk with the other co-founder, Adam, about what I wanted to do. I had a rough itinerary in my head, and it was more solidified with him. At the moment, I’d like to stay in Melbourne to work for at least the next three months. From there, I want to head to the west coast, likely via guided road trip, to Perth and then up north. Everything is up in the air and I’m being uncharacteristically flexible, but at least I have a general idea to work with. The main event of the day was the night’s bar crawl. We were treated to a free drink at four different bars around the city, starting with a pub and ending with a nightclub. Fun end to a fun week!

Sunday was the final day of the tour, but the only event was an afternoon BBQ. We got to hang out and relax, just what we needed after an exhausting week. Clauds gave us a fond farewell, and then we were left to our own devices. Some of us went for dinner in Little Italy, and most were staying at the YHA for that evening, so it wasn’t really goodbye, but it still felt odd to not have a plan for the next day.

The past week on the tour has surpassed my expectations, and then some. The WTT team set us up for success, and I’m pleasantly surprised at how well I got on with everyone. At the end of my first ten days, I feel that I’ve genuinely made some friends, something I was nervous about prior to arrival. I feel prepared to tackle the next year, and while I know that every week won’t be as amazing as this one was, it has been a pretty incredible start to my time in Australia.