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.

Valentines weekend in Melbourne – part 3 of 3

Living and working in a rural town since January left us all missing the city life, so for Valentine’s Day and the weekend preceding it, Adam and I went for a weekend of activities back in Melbourne. The train from Shepparton to Melbourne is only 2 1/2 hours, and costs $24.50. A reasonable price for the distance and much more convenient than driving a car through the city streets and finding a place to park thats not extortionate. The only downside is the trains aren’t very frequent, only running two per day on a Sunday for example.

We arrived just before 10am on a Sunday morning, after our early morning train. We were lucky enough that our plans coincided with St Kilda Festival, a yearly event that sees the streets of St Kilda closed off to transport and turned into a huge free event with live music, activities, fairground rides, bars, food and market stalls. The event was only just getting started when we arrived and we couldn’t check into our hostel until 2pm so we took the opportunity to browse the market stalls and wander through the main event to see what was going on, grabbing as many free samples of food and drink as we could find along the way. None of the shops in the area were allowed to sell alcohol as it was a licensed event so we also took this time to take a trip back into the city centre, grab drink to have back at the hostel and a tasty lunch from Grill’d, before checking in, enjoying our wine and heading back out for some entertainment. The rest of the evening was spent meeting up with friends we’d met earlier in our travels and enjoying the music at the main stage mostly. We didn’t know any of the artists performing, though many of the locals clearly did (Horses by Daryl Braithwaite was a big hit) but had a great time regardless and really enjoyed the final DJ set at the close of the festival. It was an amazing day out for a free event and hope to be able to go back next year!

The next day was more of a chilled one, with the main plan of the day being an Underoath gig in the city, one of Adam’s favourite bands. We were staying in a private room at ‘The Ritz for backpackers’ in St Kilda, a great hostel, in a great location for a great price! Our double room was $35 each per night, which is the same price I’ve paid in the past for some dorm rooms. The also had various free activities on each evening, and provided batter and a hotplate for make your own pancakes every morning.

So with an easy day ahead of us, we had a morning of relaxing before heading to The Windsor Alehouse for a backpacker deal lunch, after seeing a poster in our hostel advertising meals. The pub was dead when we arrived (though was a Monday to be fair) and was in a strange location, right off a main road so it didn’t feel quite right going in. But it was lovely inside, nicely decorated with a big selection of beers on tap which made Adam very happy. We had to hunt down the backpacker deals as well, as they weren’t on the main menu. It was well worth the effort though, as the food was delicious and only around $5 a main dish.

Heading into the city, I then had a trip to Sephora and dragged Adam around while I looked at all the pretty things (and spent more than I possibly should have on them!). In the same shopping centre (Melbourne Central) was a Kit Kat Chocolatory, selling a wide variety of weird and wonderful flavours as well as allowing you to customise and make your own. Being one of my favourite types of chocolate, I had to give this a go and I opted for salted caramel, rice crispies and caramel fudge. It was pretty tasty and cool experience in the shop. After a small drama over losing my MyKi card and having to replace it at the train station, we headed back to the hostel and got ourselves ready for the Underoath gig at 170 Russell. It’s not my type of music at all, but I still enjoyed the atmosphere and Adam had a great time, saying it was hands down the best gig he’d ever been to.

After another nights rest, the next day was Valentine’s Day, the main reason for our weekend away. I had nothing to do with the days plans so it was all a surprise for me. We started the day with breakfast at Fitzrovia, one of the highest rated places for breakfast in St Kilda. The food was delicious and had a nice atmosphere inside, so it feel it rightly gained its good reputation. Next, we headed to the Sea Life Aquarium for a look around. Adam did good here, as I love looking at sea creatures and we had a great time here. They had a really cool interactive exhibit where you can draw a picture, scan it in and it appears on the wall swimming around.

After grabbing a quick lunch of sushi rolls, my next surprise was being treated to a rose and a ride on the Melbourne Star. Very similar to the London Eye, it’s a slow moving wheel that offers you views right across the city. It was amazing and luckily we had a beautifully clear day so we could see for miles right across the city. Unlike the London Eye though, we had no queue at all, and walked straight through and into our own private pod for the ride. This made it even better as we could move around and view the city in all directions without anyone else around, while hearing about what we were looking at over the speakers.

After all that excitement, it was time to head back to the hostel and get ourselves dressed up nice for a meal out, or so I thought. Turns out Adam had another surprise up his sleeve, and when we got back into town we had a stop to make before our dinner. He took us to Eureka Skydeck, the tallest viewpoint in the Southern Hemisphere. I’d already thought the Melbourne Star was amazing, but this was a whole other level! We went 297 meters up in the air, and had 365 views through floor to ceiling windows all around. With a small bar we enjoyed a few glasses of wine while taking in the scenery, and also opted for ‘the edge’ experience. This is where you head into a frosted glass cube which extends out of the building. Once its moved out and separated from the building, the glass clears and you can see straight down to the street below. It was really cool, and we were invited to sit down on the glass and look straight down which made it feel very real to being outside and floating over the earth!

To end of day it was finally time for our meal out. After some confusion in finding the venue, we arrived at Lûmé a hatted restaurant in South Melbourne. Adam had absolutely gone all out for the occasion and organised for us to have the 14 course meal with the wine flight pairing. I can’t fault anything about the experience, the staff we so professional and provided an unbelievable service to us in bringing out each dish and wine. Each dish was of course small, but surprising in its flavours and textures and we weren’t left hungry in the slightest by the end. Having been to a Michelin Star restaurant at home before, I thought that was the best dining could get, but this was miles above that in quality and service! I can’t say enough good things about the restaurant and our experience here, and would recommend it to anyone that wants to splash out and treat themselves!

The whole day was very well organised and I thoroughly enjoyed everything we did. It’s going to be hard to Adam to top it all next year!

Sadly the next day it was time to go home and get back to working life, but we managed to fit in a quick catchup lunch with my friend Iona from back home before getting the train back to reality.

Read part 1 and part 2 here.

Jacobite vlog

Todays post is a throwback to August, back before I headed off on my Australia adventure.

This is a wee video clip I put together of Adam and I’s day out on the Jacobite steam train. The Fort William to Mallaig train runs over the ‘Harry Potter’ viaduct, and offers great scenic views along the way. We were blessed with a classic day of Scottish summer with rain and cloud, but it was a great experience all the same.

Unfortunately I’m still learning about GoPro and having issues with video quality, but practice will make perfect! Music is ‘Zoella background music by Katefo‘.


Melbourne Food, Drink & Nightlife – part 2 of 3

As a big city, Melbourne has an abundance of options to choose from when it comes to eating out. We made the most of our time there and visited as many bars, restaurants and clubs as we could afford on our backpackers budget.

The Fitz, was our first eating out experience, a cafe with an outdoor seating area situated in the (suburb / district) of Fitzroy. Being on a main road, it was fairly noisy outside, but the cafe itself was pleasant enough and we all enjoyed the meals we ordered. Nothing to write home about, but nothing to complain about either.

Milk the Cow is a fromagerie restaurant in St Kilda, with another premises located in Carlton. It’s a cheese lovers heaven, offering cheese boards, melted cheeses such as camembert or fondue and various drink pairings to compliment. The staff were highly knowledgable about the produce they were selling and all of us accepted recommendations from our waitress. Food and drinks was served quickly and well presented. I can’t say enough good things about this place, if you love cheese it’s an absolute must to visit!

Matcha Mylkbar was another establishment we visited in St Kilda. Unfortunately, on the other end of the scale our experience in here was pretty appalling. I was really upset by this, as I’d taken Emma and Adam here as a surprise, due to the fun looking menu and Emma’s interest in vegan foods. The service from staff we experienced really put a dampener on the day and ruined the cafe for us, despite the food being fairly nice. Read more about my rant on Tripadvisor.

Chin Chin is a thai restaurant located in the CBD of Melbourne. We met up with some friends from our time travelling the east coast and went here for dinner on one of their suggestions. On arrival, there was a fairly queue going out the door. We had no idea how long it would take, but as we were still waiting on some of the group to arrive we joined the queue anyway. After waiting around 20 minutes to get to the front, we were informed by the hostess that for a group of 5 it would be an hour and a half wait. They took down our phone number, and told us they’d call when a table became available. It was Tuesday 20th of December, so perhaps it was so busy due to it being so close to Christmas, or perhaps this is normal for that restaurant – I couldn’t say.

My personal preference at that point would have just been to try somewhere else, but everyone else seemed happy to wait so we went for a few drinks instead and returned almost two hours later for our meal. Once seated, the service was incredibly fast and we were served our food in no time at all. All the meals were highly rated in terms of taste, I personally just feel it wasn’t worth the two hour wait.

For some casual afternoon drinks, we tried a couple of places around the city. Firstly, Rooftop Bar, a bar located right in the CBD. Again, right before Christmas on a warm summers day, this place was absolutely packed. However, we were fairly lucky in that we nabbed ourselves a table reasonably quickly, and enjoyed a few drinks in the sun on a nice rooftop decking. A great place to go for a catchup with friends on a sunny day.

Mountain Goat Brewery was another we visited, and it was the best of the lot. Both a bar and a brewery, this cool warehouse venue in Richmond is a really unique place to go for a couple of pints. They run regular tours around the brewery itself and tell you all about the brewing process. Even if you miss the tour, you can see all the equipment from the bar area. The bar itself offers a large range of their own craft beers, and a tasting paddle for those who can’t decide. Definitely somewhere I’d recommend visiting.

Section 8, also located in the CBD is a great little venue. Covered in graffiti and with a really cool vibe, this is a great place to go from afternoon right through to late night. We visited twice, for a chilled afternoon pint and for an evening of partying and dancing and both times were great. Highly recommend this bar and we all plan to go back again!

Finally, its time to touch more on nightlife. Many of these listed below could be visited as bars for casual drinks as well I’m sure, but our only experiences of them are of late nights out.

Fathers office is a bar located in the CBD, just a short walk from Section 8. It was fully of cheesy tunes and a big change of scenery from the cool vibes bar of Section 8. However, it had an outdoor drinking area and drinks were cheap, so a good place to head out if on a budget.

Evelyn Hotel in Fitzroy is a bottle shop / bar combo. We were amazed by this when we heard of it and insisted Iona take us! If you head into the bottle shop half, you can choose your drink from the store and they pass it through to the bar for you to drink in there. A wonderful concept and a very easily place to drink far too much!

Another two we visited in Fitzroy was Black Pearl Bar and Glamorama. Black Pearl Bar was just a nice enough bar, nothing to write home about really. As for Glamorama,I can’t comment much on as I don’t remember a whole lot of it, but I think it’s a decent nightclub!

Finally, we visited Revolver, possibly Melbourne’s most infamous nightclub. It’s open from 5pm Saturday until 9am on Monday, as well as most nights through the week until the early hours of the morning. It’s where people go to party hard, and you’ll hear stories from people around Melbourne about how much of an ‘experience’ it is and how you have to go visit at least once! Most people head in after visiting another club beforehand, but we were skint and wanted free entry so turned up pretty early as far as Revolver goes at around 11pm. Many of the sections were closed at that time, but we watched it gradually fill up until the whole place was packed and great music was playing in various rooms.

Read part 1 and part 3 here.

Melbourne activities – Part 1 of 3

In total, we ended up spending around 3 weeks in Melbourne, so managed to visit quite a lot of places in that time. For that reason, I’m going to split our time in Melbourne into a couple of posts, starting with activities. Food, drink and nightlife will follow in a second post and Adam and I’s time there for Valentines a third.

After our busy week in Sydney, we spent around 11 hours driving to our next big city stop, Melbourne. First destination was Iona’s house for a few nights, located right outside the CBD. At this point in time I hadn’t seen Iona since her Australian leaving do in January that year so it was amazing to be able to catch up again! Having stayed in Melbourne for the best part of 2016 herself, it was Iona’s job to be our tour guide for the next few days. Getting a ‘locals’ tour is always the best way to see the city, getting to see and experience things outside of just what’s on the best of TripAdvisor lists.

To start off our time in Melbourne, Iona took us out in one of her favourite suburbs, Fitzroy. We ate breakfast at The Fitz, a pleasant little cafe, before heading out to Fitzroy Markets. The markets are on the third Saturday of every month and have lots of vintage clothes, shoes and accessories on offer. Following that, we headed for the CBD and checked out a couple of the famous graffiti lanes of Melbourne. This was really cool, and something worth checking out whenever you go past as the artwork is ever changing. Finally, we visited a local graffiti show in the West end of the city, with artist live painting and an activity session on to discuss typography. This was a quiet little event, but pretty cool to go see all the same. Iona also took us on a night out in the city, but i’ll discuss that further in the next post.

Left to our own adventures while Iona went to Sydney for Christmas, we came up with a long list of things to do over the next few weeks. To start with the worst, we went on the City Tram, a free tram that rounds around the city explaining the sights. It was an unbearably hot summers day and the tram was heaving, so this just turned out to be a very unpleasant experience for us.

It wouldn’t be a city break for us without seeing at least one of the local museums. We opted to visit Melbourne Museum which contained a whole range of exhibitions from nature to the human body and war history, one I’d highly recommend. We also visited the Australian Centre for Moving Image [ACMI], a museum dedicated to the history of film, tv and gaming. This was really cool, with lots of interactive and unusual exhibits to see. You could even just spend a few hours here chilling out playing video games if you liked! Old Melbourne Gaol was another we visited, and probably my favourite of the lot. This is the old gaol, courthouse and watch house cells, the latter of which having only closed down in 1994. Fascinating memorabilia and stories of historical prisoners lined the walls of all three buildings, making for a very interesting day out.

We were staying in a hostel in St Kilda, called simply ‘St Kilda Hostel’. I wouldn’t recommend it at all; it was dirty, hot, overcrowded and overpriced. The only real benefit (and why we ended up staying there) was that it was easy to get to the CBD and had good parking. St Kilda is a suburb around 20-30 minutes from the centre of town by tram. It’s very easy to commute, and a nice enough location in itself being right at the beach-front. Luna park was only a 5 minute walk down the round, and Adam and I spent Christmas Eve there, buying an unlimited rides pass for the day. It’s not the cheapest for a backpacker’s budget at $45 a ticket, and the rides are more amusement park, rather than theme park. But it was a fun day out and totally worth it in my opinion! St Kilda beach pier is home to a colony of little penguins, that come up to shore when the sun goes down. Every night crowds of people head down there to see the penguins, and this is a great wee activity to do if you’re around the area.

Down that end of Melbourne you can also find Brighton beach. This is where we spent part of our Christmas day – more info on Christmas can be found in my previous post – and also where the famous beach boxes are. We headed down one afternoon to take a look, only to find the place infested with flies. This was really unfortunate as they are all uniquely painted so are pretty cool to look at, but from the moment we got there we all just wanted to leave.

Back in the City, I have just a few more evening activities to tell you about. During the summer months, the city puts on an outdoor moonlight cinema in the Botanic Gardens, with the film starting when the sun goes down. This was pretty cool, as a unique experience to go see the latest cinema releases. We went to see Girl on the Train. Sadly, we were quite unprepared when we arrived as we went after a day out and about, but we found out upon arrival you could have brought alcohol and a full blown picnic! Would be a really nice idea for a date night. Also during summer, Queen Victoria Markets puts on huge a night market full of food from all around the globe. The options were overwhelming to be honest, definitely somewhere you need to go hungry to make the most of it!

European Bier Cafe puts on a comedy show every Thursday night, so we headed along to that one evening for a night of entertainment. We hadn’t heard of any of the acts, but that didn’t matter and it made for a very entertaining night. Red Triangle in Fitzroy is a pool hall, so we headed up there for a couple of games of pool one evening as well. A little disappointing it’s not a licensed venue, but gives you something a bit different to spend an evening doing!

To finish this post, I’ll touch on New Year’s Eve. We chose to make it a quieter one, and spent it in the hostel with our new friends before heading down to the beach at midnight to catch sight of the city fireworks. It turned out to be a great evening, and after only a few hours of forced sleep we were up again bright and early to head to Let Them Eat Cake music festival. This is held at Werribee Mansion every year and is an electronic dance music festival. We knew none of the acts before arriving, but that didn’t matter at all and we all ended up having a fantastic day despite the late night antics of the night before! I would thoroughly recommend this festival to anyone. 

That brought us to the end of our time in Melbourne, and at that point it was time to rest, recover and go on the hunt for farm work to get our second year visa work out the way. More on that to come, but next post will be all about the food, drink and nightlife we experienced in our time there.

Read part 2 and part 3 here.

A week in Sydney

After our long drive from Cairns, in early December we finally made it down to Sydney to see what the city had to offer. After living on Fitzroy Island for the previous six weeks, we were very excited to experience the busy city life again.

We opted to stay at Surfside Bondi Beach, as it was the cheapest option we could find with parking available. We were disappointed to find out that the parking the hostel had advertised was in fact on-street parking around a 15 minute walk away, however we were lucky to find a spot we could leave our car for the week, and travelled around the city by bus instead.

The accommodation itself, for the price per night (up to $42 on peak nights), was absolutely not worth the money. There was no air-con, and during a summer heatwave in a 12-bed dorm this is a recipe for disaster. The room was unbearable to get ready in or even just sit or sleep, and the whole hostel shared just four toilets and six showers total. On one occasion, we tried to sit in the communal area late at night, only to find that the hostel owner had charged some backpackers a nights stay to sleep on the sofas! I’m fairly certain this is illegal practice, as is considered overcrowding. I was disgusted by this, and left very disappointed at the quality of this accommodation for the price. The Lazy Duck in Cairns was better quality for only $15 a night!

As I mentioned, we travelled to all attractions around Sydney by bus. Bondi beach is located around 30 minutes outside the city. You can pickup an Opal Card in newsagents for free, provided you top it up at the time. You can then top it up in various locations around the city, wherever you see the Opal sign. This made travelling around really easy, as it was a simple tap on, tap off process, and not too expensive. The bus service operated all night, so we even used this to get to and from nights out! They also offer a handy phone app you can download which tracks your journeys, shows your balance and allows you to top up.

It wouldn’t be a trip to Sydney without seeing the famous Opera House. At the heart of Sydney harbour, there are a few different locations you can visit for a variety of excellent views. At the far end of the Botanic Gardens, there is a point called MacQuarries Chair. This gives you a clear view right over the harbour, and is a fantastic spot to grab a few pictures. You can also, of course go right up to the Opera House itself and enjoy a drink in the Opera Bar (I had a glass of the house rosé – I wouldn’t recommend. Splash out a little!). Finally, you can hop on the boat at Circular Quay bound for Darling Harbour, which takes you around the harbour, under the bridge and past Luna Park, for only $2.10. This was a nice option, albeit a little windy, as it allowed you to sit back and relax on the boat while you checked out the views!

As for other tourist attractions, we took a nice stroll through Hyde Park, and saw the stunning Christmas projections onto St Mary’s Cathedral, as discussed in my previous blog. We visited the Museum of Human Disease, a very small but fascinating exhibit at the University of NSW. We also went to the Museum of Contemporary Art for a browse. I was sadly disappointed by the Art museum, having really enjoyed what was on offer in the Brisbane one. However, the collections change regularly, so I wouldn’t rule out visiting again.

Staying in Bondi Beach, we also of course made time to head down to the beach to sunbathe, and take a stroll along the Bondi to Coogee coastal walk. This was a pleasant walk, and an activity I’d definitely recommend for a sunny afternoon. You could stop at one of the various beaches along the way, or nip into a pub for a cheeky pint as we did!

One big attraction we (sort of) missed out on was the Blue Mountains. We chose to drive there one day, not realising quite how bad the weather would be up at that height. It was so foggy and rainy, it turned out to be a completely wasted trip. We did however get to see a pretty cool Shipwreck called SS Aryfield on the way, so at least that’s something.

Finally, there is of course dining out and nightlife to discuss. Sydney nightlife aint got nothing on Melbourne, and we weren’t very impressed with our experiences here. The lockout laws are extremely strict, and after queuing for what felt like a lifetime to get into a club that was at capacity (operating 1 in, 1 out), we gave up on that and opted to try a different club, which we weren’t allowed into as it was too late, despite it only being midnight. We were shocked by this, and left disappointed and headed home. Our other night out, at Scubar, we attended to see some more toad racing after enjoying it so much in Port Douglas, only to arrive at 9:30pm and it was almost finished! But who even goes into a nightclub that early?! In saying that though, we did have a great night here despite it being small and packed so I can’t really complain.

In terms of eating out, we had a far better time. Stitch bar was an amazing “hidden” bar, located in Central Sydney. The entranceway is an unnamed doorway, with sewing machines covering the walls. Upon entering, the place has an amazing underground jazz bar type atmosphere. We ordered steak, mac n cheese balls and a delicious cocktail each. All of which came with amazing table service. We also headed to another “hidden” bar called Ramblin Rascal, though the bouncer standing outside the entranceway was a pretty big giveaway. Here we just got a couple of drinks; it was very rowdy inside for a Wednesday evening, so seems a popular choice for after work drinks. Finally, we also visited Bondi Toni’s Burgers in Bondi Beach. All I can say is that it was incredibly delicious and you should definitely go.

That’s all for Sydney from our one week flying visit. I’m looking forward to getting the chance to return, to explore more at a slower pace and really get a feel for the city. While we managed to do a lot, we were on the go every day and I definitely feel you need a lot more time to see it all!