Tag Archives: australia

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.