Road trip through the Red Centre

Setting off from Adelaide with the aim to drive to Darwin, Adam and I began our road trip through the ‘red centre’ of Australia. We had no time limit for how long the trip should take us, we just took each day as it came, deciding there and then whether to carry on or spend an extra night in places we stopped. I didn’t feel rushed at all, but you could certainly be more relaxed and spend longer doing the trip. I’ll give more detail on some of the stops in future posts, but below is our itinerary to give you an idea of the places to stop and time taken to do the trip.

In terms of where we camped, all spots were found through Wikicamps and we always made our decisions based on reviews, facilities and cost! We spent around $1000 each on all food, petrol and accommodation.

Adelaide > Port Parham

Spending the morning in Adelaide and visiting Mt Lofty before we left, meant we didn’t travel very far on the first day. Port Parham was just a nice little remote spot we found through Wikicamps, with a gorgeous sunset over the beach to end our first night.

Port Parham > Port Augusta > Pimba

Day two and we headed to Port Augusta for the day, stopping at the outback centre museum, water tower lookout and the arid lands botanic gardens. That night we headed past Port Augusta in search of a free spot to stay, and spent a very windy night in our tent in the Pimba roadhouse car park.

Pimba > Coober Pedy

Coober Pedy was one of the highlights of the red centre for me, and we spent two nights / three days here. Driving via Woomera to check out the missiles first, we then headed on to Coober Pedy and spent a few days checking out the underground museums, houses and stayed in a beautiful AirBnb. More to come on this in a future post, but this is definitely a town thats worth spending a few days in if you can.

Coober Pedy > Uluru

Probably the most famous of the red centre drive, we next headed on for a trip to Uluru (Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjuta (The Olgas). We spent a night in a campsite on the way here to break up the drive, and after that spent two days exploring these beautiful sites, enjoying cycling, walking trails and viewing the spectacular Uluru by sunrise and sunset. We felt two days was enough for us, but you could quite easily spend more time here if you wish.

Uluru > Kings Canyon

The lesser known Kings Canyon is a few hours drive from Uluru, heading back towards Stuart Highway. We did the rim walk and I honestly thought this was absolutely amazing. Could not recommend it enough! Honestly, I thought it was more impressive than Uluru, but maybe that was down to it being an unexpected highlight for me, whereas there is so much hype around visiting Uluru.

Kings Canyon > Alice Springs

Getting back onto Stuart Highway the next day, we headed to Alice Springs for two nights. We went to a few museums and points of interest and stayed in a really cool converted bus in Alice’s Secret hostel, but overall I didn’t think much of the city itself. Nothing about it made me want to hang around for any longer.

Alice Springs > Devils Marbles > Banka Banka

Leaving Alice Springs things start to become few and far between, we spent two days driving and camping with stops at Barrow Creek pub, Wycliffe well pub and Devils Marbles. Even though there wasn’t much to see, I enjoyed these two days. A big part of a road trip is of course spending time on the road and it was nice spending some time chilling out each night after setting up camp early. Banka Banka was an insanely busy campsite, so get there early if you plan to stop here!

Banka Banka > Daly Waters

Daly Waters pub is a famous stop on the red centre route, so we made sure to find the time to spend a day here, after camping only a short drive away the night before. It was a fun experience and definitely worth the stop to check out all the cool memorabilia on the walls and grab one of their famous ‘barra n beef’ meals over the evening entertainment.

Daly Waters > Mataranka

Mataranka was an absolutely stunning place to stop, and we in fact spent an extra night here we loved it so much! Driving through you wouldn’t expect the town to have much, but there are two beautiful thermal pools – Mataranka Springs and Bitter Springs that you can easily spend a day at each. It was very relaxing and a great way to spend a few days.

Mataranka > Katherine > Edith Falls

Katherine was the next big city on our route, but we chose not to spend the night here. Passing through and taking the opportunity to stop at a rarely sighted chain supermarket on this road trip, we headed to Katherine Gorge for the day and went on a beautiful walk up the gorge to Baruwei lookout. Finishing that, we headed to Edith Falls to make the most of another opportunity to swim in more of beautiful natural swimming holes that the Top End has to offer.

Edith Falls > Darwin

Obviously at this end, many people would also visit Lichfield and Kakadu, but as we intended to be in Darwin for a few months, we chose to save those trips for a later date. Seventeen days after setting off from Adelaide, we arrived in Darwin excited to check out what it had to offer.

Four days in Adelaide

To finish off our Great Ocean Road trip we hit up the City of Adelaide. After spending five nights camping, we chose to opt for a little luxury before another few weeks camping en route to Darwin.  After struggling to find nice accommodation at a reasonable price that wasn’t already booked up on my regular sites, Adam found us a beautiful Airbnb right at the edge of the city. The host had a keypad lock on her front door, which was brilliant as we could let ourselves in when we were ready despite her not being home. She’d put together lots of information booklets about the city and the house itself, and the whole place was modern and nicely decorated. We loved it after spending the past few nights in a tent!

After lunch at Prancing Pony Brewery as I mentioned on my GOR post, we arrived in Adelaide mid afternoon. We enjoyed an afternoon chilling out and settling in, before heading into town for a few drinks as it was a Friday night. I’d done some research on nice bars in the city, and we opted to try two; Maybe Mae and Clever Little Tailor. Maybe Mae was jam packed, and while it seemed like a great place to drink, it was just way too full with no where left to sit or stand that felt comfortable. After one quick drink we moved on, and headed for Clever Little Tailor instead. We luckily managed to nab two seats as soon as we walked in, and enjoyed great drinks with great service from the staff too. After a couple of drinks despite really liking the bar, it was time to move somewhere a little cheaper to drink! We ended up at Rocket Bar and sat out on their rooftop bar before heading downstairs for a dance. It was alright, but nothing special as far as nightclubs go.

The next day we finally got to meet our host who was lovely and we spent some time chatting with, before heading out to a local market at The Market Shed. We had a wander around but nothing called out at us so we didn’t end up purchasing anything and instead headed to the city centre to look around the shops there, before having a late lunch at Bread and Bone, situated above Maybe Mae. The service was very slow considering how quiet it was, I think our order had been forgotten about and didn’t appear until we asked, however it was delicious when it did arrive so that kind of made up for it.

To travel around the city there are two bus loops, one running clockwise and one anticlockwise which you can hop on and off completely free. Luckily our accommodation was very near one of the free stops, so we didn’t pay for transport around the city which was great. That evening we just headed back and enjoyed an evening in with a takeaway making the most of being indoors while we could!

Botanic Gardens

For our last full day we felt it was time to hit more of the tourist spots before we left. We had a look at the State Library, which was beautiful inside and full of really old books which was pretty cool. Next we headed to the National Wine Centre of Adelaide. Every morning at 11:30am they do a free guided tour of the centre, and we arrived in time to take the tour which was very informative and definitely worthwhile, however if you miss it you can do a self guided tour at any time. Once we were done and had taken some time to play with the interactive exhibits, we headed to their wine bar. It’s the largest wine tasting experience in Australia with a range of 120 wines to try, with all the bottles in a kind of vending machine style. You can pour yourself a taster, 1/2 glass or whole glass from the dispenser. I had tasters of around nine different wines in the end, and finished with a glass of my favourite. Adam being the bigger drinker had 1/2 glasses of most of the wines he tried! Feeling a little tipsy, we took a stroll through the Botanic Gardens, which was beautiful with the falling Autumn leaves, before heading back to our Airbnb for the night.

The next morning it was time to check out and get on the road. Before leaving the city, we headed to the Central Market to check it out and grab some lunch. It would be a great place to buy food from local suppliers with loads of meat, cheese, fruit and bakery stalls, but impractical for us about to get on the road again without a fridge so we just enjoyed lunch before heading off. Our final activity was to visit the Mt Lofty lookout, a viewpoint where you can see all around the city. I believe there are walking trails around you could do too, but we chose to just take in the great view before getting on our way.

Overall we felt Adelaide was a pretty average city. We did some nice things and had a good time, but I guess the problem was that arriving straight from Melbourne we were comparing it to a much bigger a city we love with so much more to do. Worth stopping for of course, but I don’t feel desperate to go back.

Great Ocean Road; Melbourne > Adelaide in ~5 days

It’s the ultimate Aussie road trip; the Great Ocean Road. With breathtaking views and lots of free places to visit and camp, it’s an unmissable trip for anyone backpacking around Australia. We took the road all the way to Adelaide, but you can finish in Allansford, the official last town of the Great Ocean Road (GOR) if you then wish to turn back. However, there is still plenty to see beyond this point if you, like we did, chose to continue on.

To make things easier, I’ve broken down our route into our daily itinerary. We found all our campsites through Wikicamps, a great resource and well worth the purchase!

Day one; Melbourne > Lorne

Okay, so we didn’t get very far on our first day. We had a slow start before we left Melbourne, having to pack up the car, get petrol and get ourselves out of the city traffic. We left around 1pm, and it was probably around 3pm before we hit Torquay.

First night camping

Torquay is the first official town of the GOR, with the beautiful Bells Beach and lots of other scenic viewpoints around. I’ve lost count of how many times we stopped to take in the views, which resulted in us not getting to Memorial Arch, just 30 minutes drive from Torquay, until the sun was setting. Still, it looked impressive in the evening light, and seeing the Memorial Arch and reading about the history of the road and the area really felt like the beginning of our road trip to me.

A short drive from here, we continued on to our free camp spot for the night, Allenvale Mill bush campground which is right outside the town of Lorne. Impressively for a free campsite it had a toilet and running water facilities, the only negative was having to camp away from your car, which meant hauling all our stuff backwards and forwards to get set up and take down then next day. A minor inconvenience really though, and it was a very quiet and peaceful spot to stop full of interesting wildlife.

Day two; Lorne > Port Campbell

Kanagroos outside our tent

Greeted by kangaroos outside our tent in the morning, we packed up camp and got ourselves ready to head off on day two. A short 15 minute drive from our campsite was the beautiful Erskine Falls. I’m a sucker for a good waterfall, and with a huge cascading drop and walking tracks to view it from both the top and the bottom, I really enjoyed our short stop off here.

Next up, we headed into Lorne for some brunch. The previous night camping had been our first night camping in Australia and neither of us were ready to brave the gas stove quite yet! After a search on trip advisor we opted for Bottle of Milk, a nice local cafe right on the waterfront and got a burger each. Both were delicious, and with us set up for the day, we then continued with our trip. Backtracking a little we headed back to see Memorial Arch in daylight this time for some quick picture opportunities, then the rest of the day was spent taking in the beautiful scenic views along the drive to Twelve Apostles. In our running theme of arriving everywhere late, the sun was setting again as we arrived at Twelve Apostles. At first I was a little disappointed to have arrived so late in the day, but it turned out a wonderful time of day to take in the view, and it looked spectacular in the evening light. Being winter I’d expect this not to be peak season for the GOR, yet it was still very busy here so be prepared to fight through the many tourists to get that perfect picture!

That night we camped at Port Campbell, this time a paid campsite but with an honesty box system. Wikicamps reviews said the ranger would occasionally come around, but we saw only the few other campers there that night. It was a nice campsite, with very good showers, toilets and cooking facilities. Despite actually having cooking facilities available here, we decided tonight was the night to crack open the gas stove and successfully cooked our first meal on the road (pasta if I remember correctly).

Day three; Port Campbell > Portland

The Grotto

Starting off in a similar fashion to the day before, we backtracked a little to go see Twelve Apostles in daylight. In this case I actually thought it looked better by evening light, but I imagine that was mostly due to it being an overcast day so that was a little unfortunate. Still, it’s obviously one of the highlights of the GOR so was well worth going back to see. While there we also took a walk down Gibson’s steps to take in the views from sea level.

Continuing our drive along the GOR, we stopped to look at lots of the amazing cliff side formations including Loch Ard Gorge, London Bridge and The Grotto. The Grotto was probably my favourite of them all, but all are really impressive. We also made a quick stop for some fish and chips (you have to at the seaside), at a place named Frying Nemo in Port Campbell and sat and enjoyed them at the beach. This day actually took us to the end of the official GOR, but as mentioned before our road trip was far from over here.

To finish off our day we drove to Warrnambool to go whale watching at Logan Beach, a spot thats famous for whale sightings. The best time of year to see them is from June to September and we managed to spot a couple in the distance which was pretty cool.

That night we set up camp in Henty campsite, another free camp spot with a toilet block. It wasn’t until after we arrived we realised it was for self contained vehicles only (Wikicamps did say this, but I hadn’t read the listing properly), but it was already dark and we didn’t want to drive on, so we set up our tent anyway and had no problems. 

Day four; Portland > Mt Gambier

Cape Bridgewater walk

Packing up our campsite early, we first drove to Cape Nelson lighthouse to take a look around. It was pretty nice up here, with just enough to see for a short stop. Moving on we headed to Cape Bridgewater. Two seal colonies live along this shore, but the viewpoint isn’t accessible by car, so you have the option of two walking paths that take you there. On reading the reviews, one is shorter (5km round trip) but more difficult, and one is a longer (12km round trip), more leisurely walk. We chose the longer walk of the two, and absolutely loved it. We set off at 11:30am and with a stop for lunch to sit and watch the seals, we were back at our car by 4pm. This is up there with one of my favourite walks I’ve done, as the views were just absolutely incredible and we hardly passed anyone meaning we could enjoy it all peacefully at our own pace.

Walk finished, we were both exhausted and ready to camp. We had around an hour of driving to do before arriving in Mt Gambier, where we camped at the showgrounds. It took us a little while to find the camp spot, but we managed eventually and with a really friendly ranger we got set up in a nice camp spot for the night.

Day five; Mt Gambier > Naracoorte

Umpherston sink hole

Mt Gambier I hadn’t heard much about before this trip, but it turned out to be a fantastic little stop. There’s a couple of sink holes around the city, and the Umpherston sink hole was fascinating, both in its history and appearance. We were also lucky enough to get up close with the most adorable little possum while there. We also took a trip to Blue Lake, which seasonally changes colour from a steel grey to brilliant blue, though sadly was grey on our visit. Next stop was to check out the Lady Nelson Visitor Centre, which offers a free walkthrough experience explaining the history of the area. To finish off our time in the town, we headed to Engelbrecht Cave, and took the guided tour down into the cave to hear about its formation and history. It sadly was used as a dump until 1979, when it was excavated to reveal this amazing underground cave system that runs right under the town. It’s a very popular spot with divers, with people coming from all over the world to explore these cave tunnels, though I couldn’t imagine anything more terrifying myself!

I think we could have easily spent a second day in Mt Gambier as it did have so much to offer, but we’d already made the decision (and booking) to stay in Adelaide the following night, so we continued on to Naracoorte where we explored the wet cave before camping at Naracoorte showgrounds.

Day six; Naracoorte > Adelaide

While I’ve titled the blog post five days, we did actually take six. However, all we did on the last day was head straight to Adelaide with a stop off at the Prancing Pony Brewery just outside the city on the way to check out their beers and tasty lunch menu. When planning the road trip I did find plenty to see between Mt Gambier and Adelaide, including wineries, Victor Harbour and Kangaroo Island, but we felt none of them called out to us as must see, so we skipped them this time around and headed straight for the city.

The Great Ocean Road is certainly an incredible drive, and even in the winter everything was spectacular. This will definitely stay with me as one of my most memorable times in Australia and I hope to get the chance to come back and do it all again in the future.

A day out on Phillip Island

A short drive from Melbourne CBD is the tourist hotspot Phillip Island. It’s a small island at just 26km long and 9km wide and is connected to the mainland by a short bridge crossing. Before packing up the car and beginning our Great Ocean Road and Red Centre outback adventure we decided to make the day trip here with Iona, a friend from back home.

After setting off a little later than we’d hoped, we luckily managed to get to San Remo pier just in time for the daily midday pelican feeding with a short presentation on the birds. Following that, we headed over the bridge to Phillip Island and began our sightseeing. We started with Cape Woolamai to view the beautiful beach and coastal scenery. Unfortunately being winter it was pretty cold and windy, otherwise this would be a lovely spot to relax for a few hours.

Next stop was the Phillip Island racing circuit. Being a big fan of Moto GP, Adam was really keen to visit the track, and hopes to return later this year to watch the race in October. They ask a fee of $17.50 to view the track, so Iona and I waited while Adam went in as we weren’t as interested. Unfortunately he said you could hardly see any of the track as most of the viewing area was closed off, and he felt it was a waste of money.

Starting to feel a bit peckish, we headed for lunch next. Searching reviews online, we opted to eat at Cheeky Goose Cafe in Cowes. The cafe was nicely decorated and has a well deserved rating of 4.5/5 on trip advisor for it’s excellent food and service. All dishes were delicious and served promptly and I’d recommend to anyone planning on visiting the area.

Image of kangaroo in the wild
Catching sight of a wild Kangaroo

Refuelled and ready to go again, it was time to hit up more of the scenic spots. We went for a short stroll along the boardwalk at ‘The Nobbies’, where you could see spectacular views of the waves crashing against the rocks and if you’re lucky spot some wildlife in the ocean too. We didn’t go into the centre itself, but this also offers an Antarctic Journey experience as well as a cafe and gift shop. Catching sight of some wild kangaroos, we then drove onto the famous Penguin Parade for our last stop of the day.

With an astounding 32,000 penguins, Phillip Island is home to one of the largest penguin colonies in the world, however don’t expect to see quite that many when you visit! Every night when the sun goes down, hundreds of penguins come up onto the foreshore and make their way back to their little burrows for the night. An equally large amount of tourists descend upon the place each evening to see this happen. At $25.70 per adult for basic entry with closer encounter experiences starting from $50, it’s not a cheap activity. While a wonderful sight to watch, we were disappointed with such a high price-tag being put on viewing animals in nature, when at St Kilda beach you can see the exact same thing on a smaller scale for free. It was very cute to watch, and probably what Phillip Island is best known for; so I guess in that respect it’s an unmissable activity, however I do feel it’s very overpriced for what it is. If you arrive early enough you’ll also have time to look around the information boards to read some fun facts about the penguins; such as the fact that the penguins keep the same burrow for their whole lives, however if the male and female separate, the male keeps the burrow and the female moves out! 

Penguins done, it was time to head back to Melbourne. All in all we had a fun day out, one which I think would be even more enjoyable had we visited in summer and had some great weather to go along with the great scenery and wildlife we saw.

Melbourne living (for two weeks)

First stop in hitting the road from Shepparton was to head back down south to my favourite city of Melbourne for a few weeks. Adam still had two weeks left of work at this point, so I used the chance to be a lady of leisure and enjoy chilling out for two weeks in the city. While I did mostly relax and get ourselves ready for our road trip through the red centre, I did get up to a few exciting things while there. 

First was the QV night market, and we attended the opening night of the winter markets. It was jam packed full of food, drink and craft stalls to browse. We grabbed ourselves a mulled cider and took a stroll right around to decide what to eat before queuing up to get what we wanted. Unfortunately a few things were sold out by this point, and with queues of over 30 minutes at some stalls we soon regretted our plan of browsing the whole thing first! I’d recommend if visiting to go either really early to get in first or really late to grab some last minute bargains, as supposedly they drop the prices towards the end to finish off stock for the night.

Being typical tourists, we took another stroll down the famous graffitied Hosier Lane, as well as visiting the beautiful State Library of Victoria and heading to the casino to check out the flame show. We also had the opportunity to visit a cool art installation that was running at the time called Neon Night Garden, with neon statues lighting up the square of QV shopping centre.

As for meals out, the highlight was The Afghan Gallery. With its intimate atmosphere and delicious food it’s one worth visiting, though sadly we had slightly slower service than we would have liked. Catching up with friends and family from across the globe, we also sampled Don Don with its great value meals, The Highlander pub where we claimed our free cocktail for subscribing to their newsletter as well as sampling various local UberEats on our nights in.

It wouldn’t be a trip to Melbourne without hitting up the nightlife. Heading out to Swan hotel, Richmond hotel, Evelyn hotel, Provincial hotel and The Peel, we made our way around quite a few over the course of two nights. All were great, with The Peel being a highlight – great atmosphere and easy-going crowd made this a big hit.

Finally, for our last night with our flatmates, we went for an evening walk around Dandenong Forest. We couldn’t see much as the sun was quickly setting, but it looks like a beautiful location and is high on my list to visit when we return. We ended the night with incredible takeaway from Moroccan Soup Bar. Don’t let the name fool you, soup isn’t on the menu! They allow you to bring your own tupperware to load up with various dishes, and the highlight of our menu was the delicious chick pea bake. Highly recommend this place to anyone.

We had a great time and we’re both dead set on coming back here and working relatively long term after the rest of our travels are complete. The only reason we’re not there now is the freezing cold weather – it’s like being back at home!

Farm life in Mooroopna and Shepparton

Something that inevitably comes with doing farm work is living in a rural part of Australia. For us, that meant living in Mooroopna, a small town in Victoria nicknamed ‘Fruit salad city’. Most of our days here were spent working or recovering on our few days off, but we tried our best to fit in visiting some of the local attractions to get out of our trailer park lifestyle when we could.

In terms of local events, we heard about the Mooroopna Farmer’s Market and the Shepparton Summer Market and decided to go along to both. The farmers market was tiny, and didn’t really offer anything unique in my opinion, so wasn’t really worth the trip. It felt a bit more like a car boot sale rather than a market. As for the Summer Market, that turned out to just be regular shops doing their summer sales, with sales racks placed outside instead of in the store. There was a couple of food trucks and some random inflatables, but that was about it. Both were strange, and definitely not what I’d hope and expect for in a local market.

For something a bit different, you can go on a hunt for the Moooving Art sculptures. Across the Greater Shepparton area there is currently a total of over 90 cow sculptures, each painted in a different style. They are pretty unique and cool, and I actually quite enjoyed taking my time to go visit a few of these.

Heading out in Shepparton isn’t really a big event, but we definitely had a great few nights out here. We had both Australia day and St Patricks Day take place while here, so had big crowds out for that. With little choice available, we always ended up in the same bar and same club every single time! Flanagan’s Irish Bar for a few chilled drinks, before heading over the road to Bullion Bar when everyone was up for a long night of dancing. Both I’d describe as okay, probably better than expected considering the location. The top floor of Bullion I thought was great, as a rooftop bar with a dance floor included. During peak fruit picking season the club was rammed full of backpackers, but definitely died down a lot towards the end of our time there.

Venturing further afield, we made two larger day trips. First was to Kyabram Fauna Park. This was a lovely little wildlife park, which allows many of the animals to be free roaming. We saw some adorable koalas and kangaroos, and this was definitely worth the visit. Our other day trip was to a couple of the local wineries; Tahbilk and Mitchelton. Tahbilk was a beautiful little winery. You could take a self-guided tour down into the wine cellars, as well as read about the history in the entranceway and enjoy some free wine-tasting samples. There is also a beautiful cafe overlooking the river, where we stopped for lunch. After visiting here and enjoying the authentic, family run feel of the place, we headed over to Mitchelton. We didn’t like this as much, it felt more commercial and not quite as nice an experience. However, they did have a tower view-point, offering 365 degree views of the scenic surrounds, so that was worth a look.

Really, when it comes down to it the best thing that helped us get through the pain and boredom of farm work is making friends. Many nights were spent just hanging out on the campsite or at the work accommodation, having dinner, a few drinks and complaining about the struggles of work! We were also lucky enough to move into a self contained unit for our last six weeks in the factory, where we got to know our work friends better and had some great evenings around the bonfire.

If I’ve learnt one thing from my farm work, its that rural country life is definitely not for me. The best thing about doing our farm work in the Shepparton region for me was its proximity to Melbourne! Now that farm work is over and my second year visa has been approved, its time to move onwards and upwards and explore what the rest of Australia has to offer.

88 days a farmer

After finding ourselves farm work, the next step was to actually do it. Our job hunt led us to a little town 2.5 hours north of Melbourne called Mooroopna, next to the more commonly known city of Shepparton. Rising bright and early for our first day, we headed off to a nearby farm just as the sun was rising and were set the task of stripping the trees of apricots. This meant picking every piece of fruit we could see unless it was rotten. We had to fill massive bins and very quickly found the work painful and depressing. The work was very physically demanding, with the bags of fruit getting extremely heavy and working in the heat quickly exhausting us.

Day one complete

As is typical of this type of work, we were paid on piece rate, meaning you are paid by how much you can pick. The law requires the average worker to be able to pick at a rate that allows them to earn at least minimum wage, but you’ll find more often than not that most people really struggle to earn anywhere near a liveable wage. Between the three of us, we only managed to fill two bins in around 6 hours. At $35 a bin, this meant just $23 each for a days work, and under $4 an hour each. With the legal minimum wage at $22.13 per hour, this left us feeling extremely deflated and already discussing our options of where to move to next.

However, we stuck it out and each day got slightly better, doing 3 bins the next day, and 3 in a shorter timeframe the day after that. We’d been hired by a contractor, who sent us out to whatever local farm needed workers, and lucky for us by day 5 we were needed on a different farm, and were sent to an apple farm to ‘thin’ the trees on an hourly rate. Thinning trees means pulling off small apples where they’re overcrowded and dropping them on the ground, to allow the apples left to grow to full size. This work lasted three weeks in total and while at $16 per hour it wasn’t meeting legal minimum wage, it still left us in a far better financial position than before.

These first four weeks left us feeling concerned over our pay and payslips, particularly after reading about being required to earn at least legal minimum wage to be able to count the work for your second year visa. While we still don’t know how accurate this information is, if true it’s very unfair to penalise employees when it’s the employers who are exploiting the system. Regardless of how much you earn, if you complete the 88 days it should surely count, right?

Still, with these concerns lingering in the back of our minds, when I received a phone-call from a packing shed we’d applied to 5 weeks prior, I jumped at the chance to take on a legally paid hourly rate job indoors. Adam didn’t like the idea of being stuck indoors doing repetitive tasks all day, but Emma and I were more than happy to move away from picking in the heat for pennies. So, by the second week in February, Emma and I had moved onto packing apples in a factory, and that’s where we’ve been ever since. It was pretty overwhelming at first as the machinery moves at such a rapid rate, and I’ve had my fair few days where I wanted to walk out. However, all in all it’s a fairly decent job as far as farm work goes. We’re now coming to the end of April, and it’s going to be another month before we’re finished our 88 days of work. As for Adam, by sticking with one employer he’s finished his 3 months already and is now free to go ahead and work in Melbourne as a web designer again.

Thinking back on my time here, it’s been fairly average and not something I’ll remember overly fondly. Theres very little to do in Shepparton area and its left me really missing big city life. We’ve made some great friends along the way, had fun weekends away in Melbourne, saw the local tourist attractions and had a few decent Shepparton nights out – so it’s definitely not all bad. But at this stage I’m done with living in the middle of no where and so ready to get on the road again. 

Rabbits Eat Lettuce 2017

Before even arriving in Australia, attending a music festival was already high on my list of things to do out here. I love the atmosphere and freedom of music festivals, so a few months back Emma and I went on a search and compiled a list of the best festivals we could find that Australia has to offer. Rabbits Eat Lettuce came out as a winner and we went ahead and bought tickets in November, giving us 5 whole months to get excited, as well as cheap tickets to boot on early bird rates.

Whilst we didn’t know this at the time of booking, the festival dates ended up falling in the middle of our farm work stint. This meant that from the day we first moved to Mooroopna to begin farming, until the day of setting off on the long drive to Gold Coast (via Dreamworld, obviously), it was pretty much all we had to be excited about. We spent hours planning our outfits, practicing our makeup and getting ahold of as much glitter as possible. The festival had an ocean theme on the Saturday, so Emma also dedicated her spare time to making herself a very cool ocean themed dress, made to look like the waves of the sea.

The festival takes place over Easter weekend, located near Kippenduff, a few hours inland from Byron Bay. Surrounded by fields and mountains, the festival is held is deep in the Australian bush, far away from any form of civilisation or phone reception. Starting on Friday morning and finishing Monday night, the entertainment runs for 24 hours, playing a range of dance music genres across various stages. For anyone travelling from afar, the nearby Rappville pub puts up campers the night before, allowing you to get to the festival bright and early for it beginning on Friday morning.

Fresh faced ready for day one

We arrived shortly before gates at 9am to find an already very busy queue of cars. After around two and a half hours of slow moving traffic, we finally got into the festival through the limited security check (our car was too rammed for them to bother searching) and found ourselves a nice camping spot. Unlike Scottish festivals I’ve attended in the past, you can camp with your car and aren’t required to leave it in a separate car park, making packing for the festival a much easier task. Adam had the good sense to make us grab a spot up on the hill under the shade of the tree, which was an absolute lifesaver when trying to recover from our hangovers in the Australian heat. We organised our belongings in the car and set up our little Kmart tent, and with that the festival weekend had begun.

As I mentioned before, entertainment ran for 24 hours over 4 days. Shipwrecked and Waabooz were the two main stages, and where we spent most of our weekend. In addition to that, they had some more chilled out music and activities in the smaller stages, lots of chill out zones, a campfire blazing every night and many tasty food stalls to choose from. The atmosphere was brilliant and the site looked spectacular, with colourful art projections and installations throughout. Not knowing any artists at the festival, made this quite a different experience to most music festivals I’ve been to. There was no rush or pressure to move from stage to stage, we just went with where the mood took us and enjoyed each day at our own pace. A big difference I noticed to previous festivals I’ve attended was the lack of distinction between campsite and arena. We had a small stage just two minutes from our tent, and you could walk freely between the main stages and camping without having to pass through gates.

We didn’t attempt sleep until the early hours of every morning, and unfortunately with the heat the tent was unbearable by around 8am. So every day we’d crawl out our tent, lay in the sun and slowly get ready for the evening ahead of us. Even though the festival offered things to go see all day, we were more interested in chilling during the day and partying in the evening, so we didn’t see what the daytime entertainment on offer was like. However from what I gather from the lineup and pictures, it looked awesome.

A big positive for this festival for me was it’s extremely remote location. It was very refreshing being away from phone reception, forcing people to enjoy both the performances and each others company and not caring about snap-chatting your day to the outside world.

This year, the organisers had also introduced a cashless system, using RFID tags on wristbands. It was a little disappointing they hadn’t pre-warned us about the $3.80 first time top-up fee, but it was an amazing system, not having to worry about carrying around a purse for the duration of the event.

I have only a few minor gripes with the festival. Firstly, the showering facilities and staff knowledge on the issue was a shambles. Twice I went to the showers and put my $2 coin in (and at $2 a minute it wasn’t cheap!) only to find the showers were out of order. The staff hadn’t put up any signs to warn us of this, so many people were doing the exact same as me. It then took multiple trips to information and being sent backwards and forwards before being given a refund, and no information on when the showers would next work. In typical festival style, there was also often a lack of toilet roll available, but that’s not really anything new. Minor issues really in the grand scheme of things.

Rabbits Eat Lettuce overall was an amazing festival was something to offer everyone, from hardcore partying to relaxing and doing yoga, there’s plenty to keep you entertained across the weekend. We all enjoyed it so much we’re hoping to go again next year! 

Finding farm work in Australia

There comes a time for every backpacker on a working holiday visa in Australia to decide if they want to give up 3-5 months of their first year to secure a second year of living, working and travelling the country. For many people, that is the dream, to stay here as long as possible and be able to see as much as the country has to offer. Unfortunately, by current legislation those on a 417 visa like ourselves, you have to complete 88 days, or 3 calendar months of ‘specified work’ before you will be granted this visa.

The requirements to get your second year visa granted are listed on the immigration website. You must complete the work in listed regional postcodes, and your job role and duties must fall under one of the categories listed. However, one thing that often causes confusion for many, is whether you need to work for 88 days or 3 consecutive months. It can be 3 consecutive months with one employer if your work equates to full time hours that is standard for the industry and you have payslips to reflect this, however what the website fails to detail is what is considered ‘full time hours’ for each industry listed.

There is also an issue when it comes to pay, as farm work is often paid on a ‘piece rate’ meaning you are paid by how much you pick. So you could easily be working more than ‘standard’ full time hours in a week, yet your payslips don’t reflect this as you can’t pick fast enough to earn a decent wage. So in that case, do you work for 3 consecutive months or 88 days?

This leaves most backpackers feeling confused and unsure if they work they are doing even counts. The ideal role would be one earning the casual employee minimum wage (currently set at $22.13) as per the Horticulture pay award, and working for 3 calendar months. Unfortunately that’s much easier said than done, so the safest option I believe is to work for 88 days, maybe even a few more and provide as much evidence as possible you have completed the required work. I will be submitting my contract, piece-rate agreement, payslips, accommodation receipts and bank records to provide as much evidence as possible for my visa to be approved.

The most important thing I’d say here is to start doing your farm work as early as possible in your first year. You don’t know how long it could end up taking you to complete. For us, it will total around 4 1/2 months, so leaving it to three months before your visa is up is a pretty risky move.

As for our story, Emma and I first started looking for farm work up North Queensland way, after our first stint of travelling up the East coast was complete. We tried calling round as many working hostels as we could get numbers for, but were given the same message every time of ‘call back in a few weeks’. As we didn’t have time to hang around without earning anything, we opted to get hospitality jobs and try again later in the year after Adam had arrived in the country. Our second attempt was immediately after New Year, and we managed to find success this time. This time being based in Victoria, we tried contacting as many working hostels as we could find, as well as any other job adverts we came across, applying to everything and anything we could find.

To apply for jobs, we had put together CVs and tried to gear them towards our hard working attitude as much as possible, as none of us had any outdoor manual labour experience at all. But we found that didn’t really matter, so long as you’re willing to work hard they rarely care about any past experience.

After around three full days of searching, I eventually got directed to backpacker jobs board, and found an advert for apple picking in Mooroopna, a small town just outside Shepparton. After applying by email, I quickly decided to try phone instead figuring they would be inundated with emails and was thankfully greeted with the great news that we could arrive the next day and work would be found for us as soon as possible. We were told it could be up to a weeks wait, however we were happy to do this as it would still cost us less than a further week of living in the city. We arrived on the 4th of January, and after settling in for just a few hours we were told we starting work the next day on the 5th.

As for our actual farm work experience, that will follow in the next post, but overall it’s not been the worst thing in the world and I’d recommend this as a fairly good place for people to come and complete their 88 days in Victoria.

Our accommodation is a caravan park, so we have a mix of backpackers staying in tents, camper-vans and cabins built into the site. We thankfully got into one of the cabins as we’d arrived early in the picking season, and that’s where we’ve been living ever since. It has it’s dramas, with a fair few crazy neighbour stories I’ll never forget. But we’ve been very grateful to have our own space, with our own cooking facilities while undertaking farm work so we can come home and relax in privacy. Don’t get me wrong, its great for socialising too, and we have a pool area people often congregate at after their days work. Its great having the option instead of having to be in a 12-16 bed dorm, as seems the norm at working hostels.

Going back to working hostels, the longer I’ve been here the more horror stories I heard about them. Often promising work, taking extortionate rent (up to $200 / week for a large shared dorm), and then having people wait around for weeks on end and only offer them 1 or 2 days work here and there. Some of our friends stayed in a working hostel for 7 weeks and only managed to complete 5 days that could count towards their visa. Others I’ve heard go and don’t manage to get any, then lose their bond when they want to up and leave. So if possible, it seems best to avoid these if you can.

My best tips would be to start looking as early as possible, and don’t give up if you can’t find anything after just a few hours of searching. It does take a long time and your first job might not be right for you, but by allowing extra time to complete your days you can leave it and try again at the next job. If you can find out when the season starts in the area you want to work in, the best bet is to move there early enough to be one of the first lined up for work.

Next up I’ll talk specifically about what work we’ve done in our time here and the highs and lows that come with that.