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!

Road Trip to Sydney via Byron Bay

Having decided to spend the festive season in Sydney and Melbourne, our next journey was to drive all the way down to Sydney from Cairns. We set off on the ~2500km drive on a Monday morning, and arrived in Sydney by the Friday evening. We could have done this faster, but chose to spend two nights in one of our favourite east coast destinations; Byron Bay.

We had a few other brief stops along the way; the beautiful Josephine Waterfalls, which had we not been driving all day would have been the perfect location for a swim. A ‘luxury’ night in Mackay back in a cabin at MyCow – a bit of privacy for the same price as a large dorm gains a lot of bonus points in a backpackers book! A quick shopping trip at Riot to stock up on some arts & crafts (travelling essentials for us), and of course, burgers for lunch at the wonderful Moo Moo Cafe in Mooball.

After a brief visit to Nimbin to look around, we headed to Byron Bay and returned to The Arts Factory, this time staying in the Wagon. This was essentially a tent style structure, covered in tarpaulin, but fitted out with bunk beds, a light and a couple of plug sockets. It wasn’t bad, but I much preferred the Lakeside Cottage we stayed in on our last visit. As it rained, the tarpaulin unfortunately didn’t hold up so well to the elements. Reliving our Byron Bay experience from a few months earlier, we headed out for another Wednesday night at Woody’s. We had to wait what felt like a lifetime to get in, and were pushed and shoved around upon arrival as it was so busy, but as soon as we got into the night we all had a fabulous time, and ended the night with a stroll to the beach for a wee chat.

The driving days from Cairns to Sydney were all long ones, travelling for around 10-12 hours every day. However by splitting the driving between three people, and making various pit stops to stock up on snacks, it really wasn’t that bad at all. If necessary to just to get from A-B, the drive could be done in three days. The only thing to bear in mind is the time of day you are arriving in Sydney. We unfortunately didn’t think it through and arrived during rush hour. This, combined with us being stingy and not wanting to go through toll roads resulted in us spending around two hours just to travel the last ~20km.

A day out in Port Douglas

After our adventures in Danitree, we started our journey back down south to spend a night in Port Douglas. This was a lovely little town, and could have happily stayed there longer had we had the time! We spent our evening watching the lovely sunset at Anzac Park before heading along to Iron Bar for night of toad racing. This was quite the spectacle, getting members of the crowd to bet on the fastest toad to reach the edge of the table, before having to grab them and place in a bucket. An entertaining evening, and worth heading along for some laughs.

Next day was a Sunday, so we headed along to the weekly Port Douglas market. Selling your usual mix of crafts and tasty foods, it was a nice way to spend the morning. We then strolled along to the river to hunt for some crocodiles, and before we knew it ended up hiring our own little boat for a sail down the river! It was $45 an hour I believe and after a quick briefing you were left to your own devices. Unfortunately we didn’t clearly see any crocodiles as it was the wrong time of year, but I’d definitely give it another go and it was a fun trip out regardless. Supposedly in winter the crocs are more easily visible due to coming out to bask in the heat of the sun.

To finish off our day, we headed along to Hemingway’s microbrewery bar for a couple of drinks. It is set right on the marina, and offers a selection of their craft beers. While I didn’t try any as the designated driver, Emma and Adam enjoyed the selection and with an extensive outdoor seating area it’s a nice place to spend the afternoon with friends.

Our drive back down to Cairns turned into a small disaster when our brakes started screeching uncontrollably, but thankfully Adam was there to save the day and managed to change our completely worn away break-pads for us with a little help from youtube and a kind stranger.

That was the end of our short and sweet trip to Port Douglas. It’s not a huge town, but one I think is worth in stopping on your travels.

The road trip begins again

Almost two months ago now, on the 29th of November, Adam landed in Australia after his long haul flight from Heathrow. His arrival marked the beginning of our next adventures around Australia, and we made big plans for the next few weeks to see as much as possible before getting back to working life.

Day one, we started by heading for a delicious breakfast in the Lilypad cafe in Cairns, which I’d highly recommend – it may seem a little pricey at first but the portions are huge and cooked to perfection, so you can’t complain at all! The rest of our afternoon was dedicated to chilling out and seeing the latest JK Rowling film – good, but not as good as Harry Potter.

Venturing further afield the next day, we headed up to Kuranda to show Adam the cute village Emma and I had seen previously, and played a hilariously bad round of mini golf. Following that, we drove along to Atherton where we had lunch at The Slotted Spoon (delicious), headed to the Curtain Fig Tree to see Australia’s largest fig tree in person (impressive) and took a drive along the Waterfall Circuit, which passes through the famous Milla Milla Falls and Zillie Falls, where you can get some stunning photographs and even swim in Milla Milla if you like.

Back to Cairns, and the next day was for sorting Adam’s Australia life out – getting sim cards, medicare etc sorted, as we had to do when we arrived back in August. Of course, we also had to fit in a night out, so we headed out to Woolshed for the evening, which from what we can remember was a great night out.

Next up, we headed up north, further than we’d been before to head to Daintree Rainforest. Daintree Rainforest is the largest tropical rainforest region in Australia and contains Cape Tribulation, the beach headland where the great barrier reef meets the rainforest. You can do self guided tours around the Daintree area quite easily, costing you only the price of fuel and the small river-crossing fee.

Once there, we headed to the Discovery Centre, which has boardwalks at varying heights, allowing you to see the various levels of the rainforest. You get a guidebook explaining the wildlife and vegetation around, and while interesting, you don’t get to see a huge amount of wildlife in reality. We did however come across some motion activated dinosaurs which scared the life out of us! It was a nice day out, but if on a tight budget you could give it a miss. The rest of that day we headed to Jindalba boardwalk for more strolling through the rainforest, visited  Hutchison’s creek swimming hole (you can’t swim in the sea up here due to crocodiles), and headed to Cow bay beach, which was stunning with clear sand and sea for miles and only a handful of other people on the beach.

Our accommodation in Daintree was called Crocodylus, a ‘safari hut style’ cabin set in 21 acres of rainforest surroundings. This was actually really nice, and we even got a free upgrade as the hut we’d paid for had been double booked.

The next day we set off on the Dubuji and Kulki boardwalks, before attempting to head to the Bat house, insect museum and snake house, all listed on the map we’d been given at the river crossing. All three turned out to be closed, which was really disappointing as it was meant to be the bulk of our day’s activities – so check these before you head if going! Instead we headed to Emmagen swimming hole, which was really beautiful, set back a short walk into the rainforest and chilled there for an hour of so, before heading to Masons Cafe, where they serve delicious exotic meats.

That marked the end of our time in the Daintree rainforest. It was a really beautiful place but lacking a huge amount of things to do, so I think two days was plenty of time to see around. Next post will be about our short stay in Port Douglas.

A backpackers Christmas

Around four weeks ago now, Adam set off on his flight from Heathrow to Cairns, and joined Emma and I to backpack around Australia. Prior to him arriving, we decided to head to big cities for Christmas and New Year, and made a plan to drive our car the long journey from Cairns to Sydney, then on to Melbourne for the festive period. I’ll write more on the journey and stops along the way at a later date.

Sydney and Melbourne, as major cities in Australia had plenty of festive things to go see and do. In Sydney, we watched the stunning light projections onto St Mary’s Cathedral, saw Christmas trees in various locations and listened to Christmas carollers. In Melbourne, we saw more carol signers, a village made of gingerbread, a giant lit-up bauble and real life penguins on Christmas Eve. However, no matter how hard we tried none of us could really get into the festive mood!

The problem was that the festive period in Australia is nothing like it at home. It’s far too hot for one, with Christmas Day in Melbourne reaching an insane 38 degrees. Surrounded by friends (and strangers in your 12-bed dorm) rather than family, is also quite bizarre for this time of year. You can’t wear Christmas jumpers as it’s far too hot, and can’t catch up with old friends at home which is what I’d always do at that time of year. In saying that though, we did get the chance to meet up with two of my ex-flatmates who are both currently in Melbourne, and two friends we’d met on the Fraser Island trip here which was great.

In true Aussie style, on Christmas Day we decided to go for a barbie on the beach, and bought a dinner we could barbecue as our Christmas meal. Unfortunately for us, despite seeing BBQ stations at almost every beach we’d been to in Australia, we seemed to choose the only beach without any! Thankfully, some of our roommates saved the day that evening with a makeshift BBQ made from a foil tray filled with coal and a pizza tray placed on top. We found it much harder to keep alight than expected, and in the end all we managed was some chicken skewers with a side of brussel sprouts and carrots that we’d pre-boiled before coming out. Not your usual Christmas dinner!

St Kilda beach was heaving, with thousands of people there celebrating and partying. We played in the sea, chilled with drinks and our BBQ and then came back to the hostel to play articulate (one of my presents!). Board games are a tradition for many people, so i’m glad we had something to play as that did make me feel a little more Christmasy!

Overall, we had a great day, but it’s definitely up there as the most bizarre Christmas of my life!