Farm work in Bundaberg

After spending the festive period in Melbourne and Sydney, I was running low on money once again. That and as highlighted in my previous post, I still needed to finish my regional work.

Tim had decided to come with me (he’d already finished his farm work) so we started researching places to go. We looked into Adelaide, Tasmania and various places in Queensland. We loved Queensland and had done our previous farm work in Bowen (north) but didn’t really want to return to the same place if we could help it. We have friends who have done but we had fond memories of our time there so I was concerned the second time around wouldn’t live up to our expectations. That’s when Bundaberg caught our attention. It was still in Queensland but would be somewhere new and best of all, there were farm jobs all year round. We had found that much out through our research, particularly on Harvest Trail.

There were a number of working hostels in Bundaberg but we had our hearts set on East Bundy from day one. The reviews were great, it had double rooms and there was a small pool in the back garden. Initially we had to put our names on a waiting list. That to me was a positive sign – it was obviously very popular.

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It was only a few days before we got a phone call with a job offer. The hostel doesn’t usually have people staying there unless they have a job for them and we were in! There was just one problem: we would have to travel there the following day. This is a prime example of being prepared to change your plans as I referred to in my previous post. We immediately booked flights, which cost us a lot more than we could really afford but we would have guaranteed jobs on our arrival.

The plane that took us there was the tiniest I’ve ever seen…it had propellers! I was quite nervous about getting on it but it belonged to a reliable airline – and we were fed despite the fact the flight was only an hour. It explained why the flight was so pricey.

Once we arrived in Bundaberg, we were told we now wouldn’t be starting work until the Monday (two days later). In some ways we were relieved as it meant we had time to settle in to our new surroundings but we’d spent a lot of money to get there as quickly as possible so it was disappointing at the same time.

I had various jobs during my time at East Bundy. Each of them was so different and taught me so much. Here’s a quick summary of my experiences at each.

Capricorn Fresh – basil

This is the job we were brought to Bundaberg for. I was picking basil in greenhouses for the first few hours of my day and packing in the shed for the rest. We started work at 5am which meant leaving the hostel at 4:10am.

My colleagues were friendly but the managers weren’t. On my sixth day of the job, I was forced to pay for cutters to pick the basil (I had been borrowing them but was told I needed my own as I “would be working there for several months”). I wasn’t given any more hours after that day. They took the money for the clippers out of my pay even though I sent them back with a colleague. They also took money out of my pay each week (I was only there for 2). It was a security measure to insure you would stay for 4 months as you get it back as a lump sum at the end…if you last that long. Needless to say I never saw that money again!

I was devastated that I’d essentially been sacked. I have never lost a job in my life and to be laid off from one where I needed no qualifications was quite humiliating. I hated the job but I still got up at 3:30am every minute morning and gave it my all. I wasn’t upset about not having to go back to this farm but the way I’d been treated. I had been miserable there. Still, onwards and upwards!

Bundy Sugar

This was just two weeks of work, weeding a ginger field. The farmers were lovely. We worked 6:30am until 2:30pm each day which was long enough in the heat of the sun. It was painful because we spent most of the day bending over to pull at the weeds so we all had sore backs but I made some great friends while working at this farm. All the girls I was working with were also living at East Bundy Backpackers. The best part of farm work is the people you meet (and of course, making some money).

Akers –  sweet potatoes

I’d heard horror stories about how awful the supervisor was at this farm. In all honesty, she did speak to some people quite badly and she yelled at us all collectively to talk less and work faster but I never had a run in with her. We worked from 6am each day and never knew when we were going to finish. It would depend on the number of orders that day.

By the end of my time at Akers, I was getting jobs like weighing the good sweet potatoes and preparing them for collection by the delivery drivers. People chosen for these jobs were generally well liked by the supervisor so I felt very lucky. I was enjoying my time there which I’d never expected. The only issue had been the sporadic hours. The farm had share houses full of backpackers that they would use on a daily basis. They only used working hostels when they needed extra help. That meant I was only getting three or four days of work a week. In my final weeks there, I was being sent out to weed the fields as they didn’t have enough work for me in the packing shed. It meant I got to be out in the sun which was great but we had to wear big hats and long-sleeved shirts to protect ourselves from the rays. No tanning at this farm! After a few weeks the manager at my hostel, Christine, moved me to a new farm where I would have guaranteed hours.

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Eden Farms – cucumbers

The catch was that I had to commit three months to the farm to get the job. I thought long and hard about this because I had already spent four months trying to get my farm work done but I needed the money so I went for it. This was one of the best farms I have worked on. It was only three days a week (Monday, Wednesday and Fridays) because the season was winding down but the people I worked with were lovely. We had breaks every two hours, which was good for me because I was working on the wrapping machine. It moves past your eyes at speed all day long so the short breaks were much appreciated! We were allowed to take cucumbers home with us whenever we wanted, which was great as a backpacker. Friends who worked on other farms would bring tomatoes, sweet potatoes, bananas and melons back to the hostel with them so we were quite a healthy lot at East Bundy!

Leslights- sweet potatoes

After speaking to Christine (the hostel manager) about my concerns with only working three days a week, she found me some hours at another farm for my days off. I’d been really nervous about starting at Leslights because I had heard the owners can be quite abrupt with backpackers. But they were really good to me – they changed their operating days to Tuesday’s and Thursdays so that I (and other Eden employees) could continue to work there on our days off. This meant we had five days of work a week, which was perfect!
We were picking sweet potatoes out in the field which meant we were usually covered in mud by the end of our working day. Then we’d pack what we had picked in the shed. It was early starts (6am) but we were usually finished by 3pm at the latest. By the end of my time at Leslights, I had a great relationship with the owners and they even had beers with us all on my last day at the farm.

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Last day on the farm

Last day on the farm

Hiscock –  sugar cane

This was the loveliest farm of all. I only worked a couple of weekends for the couple who owned it. Myself and a friend from the hostel were sat on the back of a tractor planting sugar cane. We just had to feed the cane into a cutter which would then put the pieces into the ground and cover them over with soil.

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It was fast paced but we really enjoyed it. The family was so welcoming. At smoko (break time) we were offered a cup of tea or coffee and biscuits and cakes! None of us wanted to leave. We were only needed for two weekends but have kept in touch with the farmers.

Reflecting on farm work

Going into my regional work I had expected to hate it and don’t get me wrong, there were days when I really disliked what I was doing but I don’t regret it for a second.

Enjoying planting sugar cane

Enjoying planting sugar cane

It’s taught me that I can do anything I put my mind to, to try (almost) anything once, and shown me how to balance my work and private life better. What I mean by that is before I came travelling I lived to work but in Australia I have worked to live. I’ll always give any job I have my all but life really starts once your working day has finished. On days off, we would head to the beach or watering holes, I tried paddle boarding, we mingled with the locals at the pub, fed turtles at the park. We really made the most of the town we were living in and I hope that’s something I’ll take with me wherever I am in the world.

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Learning to paddle board

Learning to paddle board

Finding regional work

I had aleady done 36 days of farm work in Bowen. But I needed 88 – or 3 months at one farm to get my second year working holiday. I’d never had to look for my own regional work because my friends had already been in Bowen at a working hostel which happened to have space for me.

This time around, it was down to me to find a farm town, the work, the hostels, how to get there. I had no idea where to start. If you’re looking for somewhere to do your regional work, here are some tips:

1. Timing is everything Get your regional work done as early as possible. I know a few people who have left it to the last few months of their time in Australia and have struggled for one reason or another to get their days in. Farming is unpredictable. The weather/time of year can affect the crop, which can mean fewer hours or even days of work for you. It can also work in your favour and mean more hours and extra days.

2. Location Find out where there is work at this time of year. I found Harvest Trail really helpful for this. I went to Bundaberg in Queensland for my second stint of farm work because there are crops all year round. Keep an eye out for my next post about my time there! There are other places with farm work all year round too so take a look.

3. Find a job The easiest way to do this is to find working hostels in the area. They will find the jobs while you wait. Obviously you’ll be paying rent during that time but if you’re stuck for cash, you’ll find some will let you work for accommodation doing cleaning or maintenance work. Once you know the area you want to work in, you can search for working hostels online. My biggest tip would be to phone hostels directly. They’re very busy and emails can get lost or forgotten. It also helps that if they’ve spoken to you on the phone, they will get a feel for what sort of person you are and how reliable you are.

Alternatively, sites like Gumtree can be handy for finding work but do be careful. Anyone can post ads on there and there have been cases of backpackers arriving in a new town to no job. Always speak to the prospective employer on the phone and ask plenty of questions about the work, the pay, where you’ll be staying. Try to find out the name of the farm if possible and search for information about it online. Having said that, I have also found work on Gumtree before and it was fine.

A couple of other helpful sites to look at are Work Stay and Farm Work.

4. Say yes The main thing my farm work in Bowen taught me was to say yes to new experiences even when out of my comfort zone. I helped take apart a water park, cleaned cars, picked, packed and planted crops. Say yes to any work opportunity because you don’t know what will come out of it. I was dreading farm work but It wasn’t so bad. I never expected to enjoy rummaging around in the mud picking potatoes, sitting on a tractor planting zuccinis and sugar cane, or working in a shed packing cucumbers, tomatoes, sweet potatoes. But I loved it! You never know what it’s actually like until you give it a go and if you really don’t like it, a good working hostel will do their best to find you an alternative farm job.

5. Be flexible Be prepared to drop your plans to get to a farm town as soon as required. There are plenty of other backpackers looking for work and if you don’t take the job, they will.

6. Have fun This might seem like a ridiculous thing to say about regional work but you’ll only have this experience once in your lifetime. Embrace the challenges and overcome them. You will be surprised what you could learn. Not to mention the fact you will meet people who may become lifelong friends. You’re living and working with these people…as well as partying and nursing hangovers together. Just enjoy the lifestyle while you have it. City life is always going to be out there but you’ll never get these months of your life back. Work hard and play harder!

Road trip to the Blue Mountains

Before even arriving in Sydney, we had booked car hire and accommodation for a 4 day/3 night road trip to the Blue Mountains and Australia’s capital, Canberra.

Many travellers I had spoken to since arriving in Australia had told me not to bother with Canberra but I wanted to see what it was like for myself to make my own opinion. After all, it is where the government is based and even if I just got to see the Houses of Parliament, I’d be happy.

Day 1
It was only a 3 hour drive from Sydney to Canberra, which in Australian terms wasn’t far at all. Steph and I had had a late night though. We’d had a few drinks so ended up sleeping the entire way. I was a bit disappointed in myself because the whole point of hiring a car was to take in the scenery on route. Not that I missed much on this stretch. Our first stop was the parliament building. It was so modern! I’d seen a few government properties on my travels and this was by far the newest. There was a large fountain out the front and it was quite spectacular to look at.

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We spent a couple of hours browsing inside until it closed. I found it fascinating. Australian politics was very similar to British. There are two houses: the Representatives and the Senate. In the House of Representatives everything is green, just like the House of Commons at home (where government is formed). In Australia, the government is made up of 150 members. Similarly to the UK, the party or parties with the most support of the majority of the House form government.

House of Representatives

House of Representatives

The Senate’s house is red similar to the House of Lords.

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The Senate

The Parliament of Australia website explains the Senate’s roll better than I could:

The Senate is a partner with the House in the legislative process, but is also a check on the government of the day. It consists of 76 senators – 12 from each state and 2 from each territory. The Senate conducts much of its work through an established committee system, including the budget estimates accountability process.

After visiting the houses of parliament, we found a supermarket and bought some food for the five of us to have a picnic dinner. We didn’t know Canberra well enough to find a nice park and as we were only here for the day, decided we would drive up to the Telstra tower to take a look around. There were picnic tables beside it and some great views of the city.

View from the Telstra tower

View from the Telstra tower

You had to pay to go up the Telstra tower but there was an exhibition which was free to look at so we did that first and then made our way outside for some food. It was so peaceful sitting up there, away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

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We felt we had made the most of our time in Canberra so headed for the hostel we had booked. It was called Dickson backpackers and was in the heart of Chinatown. It didn’t really matter where it was because we only had one night there and would be setting off for the Blue Mountains early in the morning but I would recommend it to anyone heading to Canberra. It was clean, the showers were hot and powerful and the kitchen was the biggest and best equipped I’d seen – all big bonuses for backpackers. The owner of the hostel had even baked muffins that day and they were laid out in the common room for people to help themselves. So we had a cup of tea and a muffin each while planning our road trip for the following day.

Day 2

We were up early to drive to the Blue Mountains. After a few hours in the car, we stopped at the Jenolen caves. There were plenty of different tours to choose from depending on what you wanted to see. The five of us finally managed to agree on the Orient caves because there were crystals in there too. Backpacker tip: you can get YHA discount on the ticket price so be sure to take your membership card with you.

Just after buying our tickets

Just after buying our tickets

I was incredibly nervous about this because being caves, there were going to be small spaces (that claustrophobia kept coming back to haunt me) but I was assured we would be able to stand up at all times. I’d been worried about the prospect of crawling through tunnels on my hands and knees.

It was an amazing experience and the caves were beautiful. You could see all the stalegmite and stalegtites and many of them were covered in sparkling crystals. The photos don’t really do them justice.

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Inside the Orient caves

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Inside the Orient caves

Inside the Orient caves

There was only one moment that I panicked a little: when we were walking up a narrow staircase with cave walls either side and the people in front of me stopped still for a while but I think I managed to hide it pretty well.

After our tour we drove to Katoomba to find our hostel for the next 2 nights. We were staying at Katoomba Mountain Lodge. It was the strangest place I’d stayed yet. It looked like an old residential home and the rooms were odd. There was a double bed, a bunk bed and a very uncomfortable single bed (which I had to sleep, or try to sleep, in). It was one of those where the mattress folds in half as soon as you sit on it.

Day 3

Our plan for the third day had been to walk the Giant Stairway but park of it was closed because there had been a landslide! On the plus side, it saved us some money because we were going to get the scenic railway back up after walking to the Three Sisters. Instead, we had to do the walk there and back. There was a short walk to a waterfall near us so we did that first. It was very pretty. I hadn’t seen any waterfalls since leaving New Zealand so  was appreciating their beauty once again. I’ll explain that further – unfortunately sometimes when you see so many beautiful places, you become quite complacent.

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It was only a short walk to this waterfall but there were so many steps on the way back up, we were all out of breath by the time we reached the top. At this point, I was a little relieved that part of the Giant Stairway was closed. I was too unfit!

Exhausted already!

Exhausted already!

Next we made our way to the Three Sisters. This part of the walk wasn’t too difficult at all and the views once we got there were incredible!

The Three Sisters

The Three Sisters

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Views along the walk

Views along the walk

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After seeing the Three Sisters and taking in the amazing views, we decided to do another walk – to Gordon Falls. When we got there though, there wasn’t much of a waterfall because the weather had been so warm and dry. Some locals who were also there redirected us to Wentworth Falls, claiming it was much better so we set off in the car again.

It was a long walk and most of the way was down stairs so we knew the walk back up was going to be tough. Steph, Jim and Rachel turned around and headed back to the top when we were only half way. But Erika and I wanted to make it all the way to the bottom.

Wentworth Falls rainbow

Wentworth Falls rainbow

There was a rainbow over the waterfall! I had seen this once before at a waterfall in Yosemite National Park (USA) but this made the long walk worthwhile. 1544433_10152118180295490_1522624934_n

On the walk back up to the top, I was beginning  to regret my decision. There were so many hundreds of steps and they were steep too. I had to keep thinking of the beautiful waterfall I had seen and the toned thighs I was going to have IF I ever made it to the top. I did of course get there eventually albeit extremely out of breath! We were all more than ready to go back to the hostel to relax after our busy day.

Day 4

After an amazing few days, it was time to drive back to Sydney. We had to be up early as the car had to be returned to the rental place by 10am. We were a little late returning it because we got a bit lost and ended up driving over the Harbour Bridge. It’s all part of the experience though – and we got to see the bridge up close!

Sydney Harbour Bridge

Sydney Harbour Bridge

 

How to see Sydney on a backpacker budget

Sydney’s an expensive city. I know many backpackers who have lived and worked there during their working holiday visas and left with no savings at all. But there are plenty of things you can do without breaking the bank. Here’s just a few:

1. Darling Harbour – one of my favourite places in Sydney. Sit by the spiral fountain or watch some of the fantastic street entertainers. There are dance troops, magicians, stunt men and best of all they’re all totally free to watch though they do encourage donations.

Darling Harbour

Darling Harbour

2. Opera House – you can’t go to Sydney without a visit to this iconic building. Some say it’s a little disappointing once you see it up close but it was still pretty awesome in my opinion and looks great in those Facebook photos!

Me by the Opera House

Me by the Opera House

3. Harbour bridge – yes it’s a bridge but again, it’s an iconic landmark and is quite impressive. If you can make it for New Year’s Eve as I did (see previous post) the fireworks are set off right by it and it looks incredible. If you’re feeling a little flash, you can also pay to climb the Sydney harbour bridge. It’s quite pricey so I haven’t yet done it yet but I hope to on my return.

Group pic by the Harbour bridge

Group pic by the Harbour bridge

4. Get the ferry to Manly – for just $6 each way, you can sail over to Manly with fantastic views of the Opera House and the Harbour bridge across the water. It departs from Circular Quay and on arrival it’s just a short walk to Manly beach, where you can spend the day relaxing or browsing the nearby shops.

View from the ferry

View from the ferry

Manly beach

Manly beach

5. Bondi to Coogee walk – around a 6km coastal walk. There are stunning views as you pass beaches, parks and cliffs with plenty of places to stop for a rest. I am probably one of the most unfit women on this planet and didn’t struggle so anyone could do this walk. The views really are spectacular!

Bondi to Coogee walk

Bondi to Coogee walk

Bondi to Coogee walk

Bondi to Coogee walk

Bondi to Coogee walk

Bondi to Coogee walk

6. China town – you don’t have to spend money to enjoy a walk through this part of the city. There’s plenty of culture in the shops and restaurants here. The food was great and not too badly priced with a few places offering all you can eat buffets.

Chinatown

Chinatown

7. Westfield tower – if you’d like 360 degree views of the city from a great height then this is a must! It’s free to get in but you have to spend a minimum of $20 per person in the bar or restaurant. Tim and I loved getting dressed up to go up the tower. We ordered one cocktail each (they cost around $18) and soaked up the views. The tower rotates so you can sit at a table and relax while the views come to you!

View from the top

View from the top

8. Parks – there are plenty of parks in Sydney with beautiful flowers, fountains and coffee shacks. We spent many an hour relaxing in Hyde park in particular where there are often buskers playing music.

Hyde Park

Hyde Park

9. Paddy’s market – from fruit and veg, cds and dvds, clothes and shoes, this place has everything. Its well known in Sydney as a good place to go for a bargain.

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10. St Mary’s Cathedral – whether you’re religious or not, this cathedral is stunning! You can go inside too to check out the architecture. It’s one of Sydney’s most treasured historic buildings and it’s not hard to see why.

St Mary's

St Mary’s

There are so many things to do in Sydney but these are the ones that I most enjoyed. For a full list, visit the city’s visitor website here.

Accommodation:

When staying in Sydney, it’s important to decide which part you want to stay in. Take a look at hotels too as if there’s a group of you, a family room could work out just as cheap as a hostel!

We stayed in Australian Backpackers in Woolloomooloo for the first few days of our time there. We booked a four bed dorm for Steph, Erika, Tim and I. It was a tiny room with just enough space for the door to open. But the manager was really nice and helpful. He actually gave us a free soda each when we checked out! It was a short walk to Kings Cross, Hyde Park, the museum and some of the popular bars in the city too.

For the rest of our stay, we moved to G’Day backpackers, which was nicer but still not the most flash hostel. The people there were lovely though and that’s part of the reason we travel after all. It was in a similar location but the rooms are much bigger and the kitchen was better equipped.

For the more popular hostels, you’ll be paying more per night and may have to book much earlier. We were in Sydney for New Year’s Eve so it was a very busy time.

Just on a side note, most hostels will have free WiFi but if yours doesn’t, try the public library at Kings Cross. We found it was much faster than the hostel WiFi and it’s air conditioned.

Bars/Pubs:

1. Westfield tower – as mentioned earlier, it’s free to get in but you do have to spend $20 minimum. The drinks and meals are quite pricey but the views are incredible.

2. Opera Bar – drinks aren’t too badly priced. A glass of wine is between $9 and $13. Its a small price to pay to sit next to the water with views of the Opera house and Harbour bridge while having a drink.

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Drinks at Opera House

Drinks at Opera Bar

3. Scruffy Murphy’s – one of the many Irish bars in Sydney. There’s a strong Irish population here. If you want a pint (instead of a scooner), this is the place for you. It’s cheaper than most places with jugs of beer for around $10. There’s plenty of live music in the evenings and a great atmosphere. They also have free pizza nights where you buy a drink and get your dinner for free. What a bonus!

There are plenty more that I didn’t get to visit during my stay. For a list, click here.

Transport:

Main methods of transport in Sydney are trains, underground, trams and buses. It can be quite pricey but I would sincerely advise paying the full fare. They have inspectors on all modes of transport and they don’t take any attempt to cut the price lightly. For example, when we were in Sydney, we tried to travel with a concession card, which we assumed would be for students. It turns out it was for pensioners… the inspectors weren’t too happy with 6 of us making the same ‘mistake’. We’re very lucky we were let off without a hefty fine!

New Year in Sydney

If you want to spend New Year’s Eve in Sydney, get planning now. It gets booked up pretty quickly and some hostels will only take bookings for a week or longer. This is where I saw in the year 2014 and it was my favourite yet. Having said that, we stayed one of the less desirable hostels in Kings Cross. We had booked our trip two months in advance and still all the best known places were already fully booked. In fact we had nowhere to stay for new year’s eve.

A group of us (friends I had made in Bowen while doing farm work) travelled to Sydney together from Melbourne. We got a Firefly bus, which I’d never heard of but it was much cheaper than the Greyhound or Premier. It did mean sleeping (or trying to sleep) on the bus as the journey was overnight. We arrived in Sydney an hour earlier than planned. It was 5.30 in the morning and we had nowhere to go. We spent a good few hours camping out at the bus and train station. We slept on the floor leaning on our backpacks as pillows. Not my finest moment but it’s all part of the backpacking experience.

Camping out at the station

Camping out at the station

Once it got to a more reasonable hour of the day, we made our way to the hotel Rachel and Jim were staying at in the hope we could leave our bags there. Erika, Steph and I had booked a room at the same place for the following night (1st January) so it meant we wouldn’t have to carry all our bags around for the next 24 hours. Once we’d all freshened up, we made our way into the city. We had no idea what we were doing that night to celebrate but we all agreed that we wanted to see the fireworks.

Waiting for our train

Waiting for our train

We’d done some research on the bus on our way to Sydney and found a park where we were allowed to take our own alcohol – vital as a backpacker. It was at Elizabeth Bay, which overlooked the Sydney Harbour bridge albeit from a distance. A lot of the public parks in the city centre were charging entry and were already full to the brim with queues of people waiting for someone to leave so they could get in. We found a spot at our free park and set up camp with blankets and wine. it was only 5pm but we were starting as we meant to go on!

Making our way into the city

Making our way into the city

Celebrating in the park

Celebrating in the park

Fireworks from Elizabeth Bay

Fireworks from Elizabeth Bay

The hours flew by and before we knew it, it was 9pm. We were still waiting for the rest of our Bowen family to get to the park – there was only 10 of us there. We started calling around and most of them, including Tim (my partner) were stuck outside the gates in a queue to get inside. They had been told it was one in, one out. With as many of our friends out there as there were of us, we decided to pack up and go somewhere else so we could all be together.

We made it to the Bicentennial gardens just in time. We weren’t allowed to take in our own drinks so by the time we had our bags searched and found a place to stand, the second fireworks display was just starting. They were amazing. Seeing the Sydney Harbour bridge behind the fireworks was incredible and I was getting to see in the new year with my boyfriend and close friends. It was perfect.

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It turned out Tim’s brother lived in Sydney and had somewhere we could sleep but some of the others slept in the park! I would never advise not booking accommodation especially for NYE. My friends were safe because they were in a group or I would never have left them there. It’s not somewhere I would’ve wanted to sleep!

New Year’s Day

As if we hadn’t had enough to drink the previous evening, we met some of the others at Scruffy Murphy’s , an Irish bar, for more alcohol on New Year’s Day. There was an Irish band playing and jug after jug of beer was consumed. It was a great way to get through the headache from the night before. We spent most of the afternoon there catching up with various people who popped in.

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Then it was time to make our way to the Ibis budget hotel, where we were staying that night (and had left our bags). Erika, Steph and I had booked a family room. Tim came with us and so did Jess – Erika and Stephs friend who had left before I arrived in Bowen. All five of us ended up sleeping in that room that night. There was a double bed with a single bunk above it. It was a tight squeeze but all you backpackers out there will appreciate that sometimes you have to do these things to save a few extra dollars! In my next post, there will be lots of ideas for things to do in the city without breaking the bank.

Christmas in Melbourne: 13 things to do in the city

Arriving in a city after spending two months in a farming town was just crazy. I felt drowned by all the huge buildings and there were so many people and cars! I’d got a Greyhound bus from Bowen to Townsville, a shuttle bus to the airport, flown from there to Melbourne, got the Skybus from the airport to Southern Cross station and a final train to Mitcham (where my grandparents live). I finally arrived at 8pm and as I walked onto the platform, my mum and my nan arrived to meet me. I was close to tears. I hadn’t seen mum for seven months and it was a few years since nan had last come to England. I can’t explain how good those hugs felt! If there’s one thing travelling teaches you, it’s the importance of family and friends and making the most of the time you have with them.

Melbourne was magical. I had arrived just in time for the build up to Christmas so there were decorations, Santas and trees everywhere.

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Nan & I in the city

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Christmas in Melbourne

Christmas in Melbourne

It felt so strange. It was warm and sunny instead of cold and wet as I was used to at this time of year. It didn’t feel like Christmas at all. Saying that, it made a lovely change to spend it with my family in Australia who I didn’t usually get to see.

Christmas Day

We began by exchanging presents between mum, nan, grandad and myself. I’d been truly spoilt with jewellery, nail varnishes, perfume and chocolate – lots of the things I’d missed while travelling. I’d left many of my ‘girly’ items at home in England but had really been missing them. Everyone seemed pleased with the gifts I had bought them too thankfully. I put a lot of thought into presents and am one of those people who worry about how they will be received.

Afterwards, we headed to my aunt and uncle’s house. My aunt Beccy had baked lots of treats for the occasion and made a fantastic roast dinner for us all. There were 12 of us in total, which took our minds off of missing home but mum and I both agreed it was too strange without dad and my brother David there.

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Mum with her brother, sister and parents

Mum with her brother, sister and parents

I made a promise that I would come home for Christmas next year. In the meantime, we made the most of spending this one with the rest of our family in the sun. There’s a pool in my aunt and uncle’s garden so once our food babies had died down (I always eat far too much at Christmas) we went for a dip. We were out there until 6pm – it’s this part of spending Christmas in the sun that I could definitely get used to.

Mum & me in the pool

Mum & me in the pool

I had a fantastic four weeks in Melbourne and think I managed to get the perfect balance between family time (the main reason I had gone there) and exploring the city. There’s still so much more of it I would love to see so I plan to return in the future – and show Tim some of my favourite parts.

Here are some of my personal recommendations for what to do in Melbourne. Some are only possible at Christmas time but most are year-round:

  1. Visit the Myer Christmas window display – it’s famous in Melbourne and the queues can get quite long but it makes you feel festive even when out of your normal environment.

    The Gingerbread man: Myer window display 2013

    The Gingerbread man: Myer window display 2013

  2. Get the Circle tram – it’s free and takes you around many of the sights. It only takes 45 minutes to do the entire route so it’s great if it’s your first time in the city.

    Circle line tram

    Circle line tram

  3. Carribean Gardens market – great place to pick up some last minute bargains for Christmas (or any other time of year)
  4. Box Hill – lots of Asian supermarkets and stores. There’s a great bargain store where everything is around $2 but I can’t remember what it’s called
  5. Botanic Gardens – you can walk there from Flinders Street station, past the flower clock and the fountain. There’s a lake with black swans and turtles. They even have Fern Gully just like the film (showing my age now!)

    Botanic gardens

    Botanic gardens

  6. Shrine of Remembrance – they have regular short services to demonstrate how on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month (11am on 11th Nobember) the sun shines through a window in the roof and crawls across a slab on the ground, which reads “Greater love hath no man”. There are also great views of the city from the balcony
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    Me at the Shrine of Remembrance

    Shrine of Remembrance

    Shrine of Remembrance

  7. Southbank – some great bars and restaurants overlooking the river
  8. Eureka Skydeck – get the lift up 88 floors to some amazing views of Melbourne from the top. You can pick out the Botanic gardens, the Shrine of Remembrance, the MCG stadium. Well worth a look!

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    The viewing platform at the skydeck

  9. Schwerkolt Cottage – one of the oldest homes in Melbourne. The Schwerkolt family had nine children. The mother died and the father remarried, having a further three children. They all lived in this tiny cottage!

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    The one bedroom at Schwerkolt house

  10. St Kilda – the markets on a Sunday and Wednesday are right next to the beach on the esplanade. It’s a beautiful setting! Stalls range from jewellery and paintings to carvings and soaps.

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    St Kilda markets

  11. Museum of the Moving Image – tells the story of film and television through the ages. You learn about the impact of sound on film, which had previously been silent. The emergence of TV in 1956 and how it was only originally only available in Melbourne and Sydney.
  12. Federation Square – more great bars and restaurants
  13. Brighton beach – one of the many stunning beaches in and around Melbourne but this was the only one I spent a full day at. I met up with some friends I’d made in Bowen doing farm work. Some of the guys went back on Christmas day with a small tree and Santa hats!
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Brighton Beach

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Bowen girls on the beach

Obviously there are plenty of other things to do in Melbourne. These were just a few ideas based on some of the ways I spent my time in the city. You can visit the tourism website here for more.

Regional work: life as a farm girl in Bowen

Thinking about doing your regional work but not sure if it’s for you? So was I but it was an experience I’ll never forget…or regret!

As a self confessed girly girl, the thought of doing farm work filled me with dread. But after spending my first few days in Australia feeling unwell and missing home, I needed some familiarity. Lucky for me, I had two friends from home who were already in Australia doing their regional work. They were in Bowen in Queensland. After skyping them and being assured there would be space at their working hostel for me, I headed straight to the travel centre in Cairns to book a Greyhound bus. This was it, I was off to work on a farm!

First impressions 

It took 9 hours to get from Cairns to Bowen. The hostel had been expecting me at 5.30pm but the bus was running late so I called the office to let them know. The response I got was “Oh for **** sake! You should’ve got the premier bus!” Apparently I was expected to know these things having arrived in Australia just a few days before. That had been my first impression of Barnacles Backpackers.

When I eventually arrived at the hostel, I was made to surrender my bags and all my belongings for the night (in case they contained bed bugs). I would have to wash and tumble dry everything in the morning. I was given a lecture about the severity of the issue by the owner John – a man who was in his fifties and appeared to be half cut already by 7pm. This would become a regular occurrence during my stay. John was never seen without a can of Carlton Mid in his hand. His partner Christine, who I’d had the ‘pleasure’ of speaking to on the phone earlier in their evening, spent the duration of said lecture frowning and looking me up and down. It hadn’t been the most welcoming hostel in the world but Erika and Steph were here and that was all that mattered.

Despite my experience with the hostel owners, the other backpackers were lovely. I was welcomed with open arms by what seemed to already be a very close family. Everyone made the effort to ask my name, where I was from and about my travels. Erika and Steph were still at work when I first arrived but Steph’s reaction when she got back was priceless. She ran at me screaming my name with excitement. I was close to tears – it had been nearly a year since I’d seen them!

Bowen Fishing Classic

My arrival in Bowen couldn’t have been timed better. It was the weekend of the Fishing Classic – the biggest event in town. What a great way to get to know everyone better. I’d been invited out with a few people on my first night there and given it was a Friday, I’d been tempted, but my clothes had been confiscated – all but those on my back (which I’d been travelling in) and my pyjamas which I’d been allowed to take out of my bag before being ushered out of the office. I politely turned down the offer and spent the evening catching up with Erika and Steph. I was in a separate dorm room to them for the first few nights because the hostel was quite full but one of the girls was leaving in a few days so I’d be moving then.

Back to the Fishing Classic – some people had bought t shirts with “I heart Bowen” especially for the occasion and being Erika and Steph’s friend, I’d been bought one too. It was great fun and made it much easier to find each other once we got to the event, especially given I didn’t really know anyone else yet. It was almost like a festival (granted, I’ve never been to one) but it was in a field with beer and food tents, fairground rides and local music. We had to show I.D to get in and were given wrist bands once we’d paid our entry so the bar staff could serve us faster. It was so much better than I’d expected! I made friends for life that weekend – and of course during the rest of my time in Bowen.

Bowen Fishing Classic

Bowen Fishing Classic

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Bowen Fishing Classic

Bowen Fishing Classic

Making friends for life

It’s difficult to explain the strength of the bonds you form with people and the speed at which you make them. I suppose it was almost like being at university again. You are living and working with people who very quickly become your ‘family’. I shared a dorm room with nine other girls (when I eventually moved in with Erika and Steph). I’ve always enjoyed having my own space and I thought I’d hate sharing with so many people, especially girls because we all know how difficult we can be at times. But I loved every second of it. Sure there were times when you’d get woken by drunken antics in the night or early in the morning on your days off by others who had work. But those girls became my sisters and I’ve kept in touch with most of them, even almost a year after I left Bowen. We had some amazing times together – nights out, birthdays, clothes swapping (very important when you’re travelling!), pamper sessions, movie nights. I wouldn’t change it for the world but it wasn’t all fun and games. There were tough times too – and that was the best part of having the girls around. We could help each other through.

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The dorm room next door to ours was where the boys lived – they had all become good friends during those two months too. There was one I became particularly close to though. I spent a lot of time with him initially because the girls were all on different farms to me and we were the only two home around the same time. But the more time we spent together, the closer we became. He was my best friend. And a year later, Tim and I are still together. We’ve done farm work together, travelled the east coast, moved to an island and are now planning to move home to England together. If someone had told me sixteen months ago that I would come travelling and end up in a relationship, I would’ve laughed. That wasn’t my plan – and it wasn’t his either – but everything happens for a reason right?

Tim & I when we first met

Tim & I when we first met

Farm work

I had no idea what to expect when I came to do farm work but I was fully expecting to hate every second of it. I had around a week’s wait for a job to come up. In working hostels like Barnacles, the staff find the jobs for you and you’re told where you’ll be going and when. It’s a waiting game. Before I started on a farm, I had a few odd days of work cash in hand. The most memorable was the day I helped to dismantle a children’s water park. I hadn’t been told much about the job. Christine (one of the hostel owners) dropped me off and I saw a completely different side to her. She was laughing and joking…and smiling. This was the same woman who, just a few days before, had yelled at me in front of a garden full of backpackers for making noise after 10pm (I hadn’t been), told me she didn’t like the people I was mixing with (Erika and Steph) and threatened not to find me a job. If I’m honest, she absolutely terrified me. She was like Miss Trunchbull from “Matilda” yelling and pointing in people’s faces. Only she was worse because she would swear at you and call you names. To see her actually being nice to people (not me I might add) was really quite unsettling.

But that wasn’t why this job was so memorable. It was the fact I had to crawl around the ground, climbing into tiny spaces – and use a wrench! Now, I am ever so slightly claustrophobic so this was a massive deal for me. Not to mention I had never used a wrench in my life. I quite literally had to overcome my fear to get through this day. I was working with an Aussie guy called Tony who was in his late fifties/early sixties. There’s no way he could’ve climbed underneath the water slide so it was down to me. We were taking it apart and that meant unscrewing all the nuts and bolts inside. I felt an unbelievable amount of pressure. I hadn’t told anyone I was claustrophobic so I needed to put on a brave face. I had to crawl in flat on my stomach – there wasn’t even enough room inside to be on my hands and knees. Just thinking about it now makes me feel uneasy but I got through it and got paid $80 in cash for four hours work. Not bad!

My first farm job was memorable for different reasons. I hardly slept the night before I started because I’d been so nervous. I was working on a family run tomato farm for a couple called Greg and Kym Napier. The tomatoes came down different chutes depending on what size and colour they were. Our job (I was working with Clare, who I shared a dorm room with) was to grade the tomatoes by taking out the seconds, pack them, and weigh the boxes.

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Napier Farm

Napier packing shed

I was just starting to get the hang of it and stopped to take a drink when Greg spoke to me for the first time all day. “Don’t stand there doing nothing. If I catch you again, you’ll be sacked!” I didn’t even have the chance to respond. I’d never been sacked before and was mortified at the prospect. It really upset me but you soon get used to being spoken to like you’re worthless doing farm work. Don’t let that put you off though!

That was the last time Greg said anything like that. I think he must’ve been having a bad day because we were really treated quite well for the rest of our time there. Clare and I were invited to stay for beers almost every Friday after work, we were taken crabbing at the creek and invited to barbecues with their family and friends, where we could ride the quad bikes and all our drinks were paid for. It was an incredible experience. We worked hard but definitely played hard too.

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I was only at Napier farm for five weeks because it was closing down for Christmas. By now it was early November and I was waiting for a place at Eatoughs – the tomato farm Erika and Steph worked at. It was only a few days before a job came up and in the meantime, I was sent to an egg plant farm (or aubergines as we call them in England). It was awful. We weren’t allowed to speak and were constantly yelled at by the supervisor to pack faster. Clare had been sent there too and we both hated it but we needed the money. The supervisor was particularly horrible to Clare, telling her to pack quicker or she’d send her home immediately. I didn’t want to go back but I did for a second day, and then a third. The third and final day I worked at that farm was my birthday, 5th November. We’d been promised that we would finish by 11am but eventually left at lunchtime. I was so annoyed because I had plans to go for lunch with some of my Bowen ‘family’. I was glad to finally be off that farm for good though. The next day, I was starting at Eatoughs. Almost everyone left at the hostel (lots of people had now gone) was working there so I was looking forward to it.

The Eatoughs crew

The Eatoughs crew on our last packing day

I spent my final few weeks in Bowen at this farm, grading and packing tomatoes. Again we were yelled at by the supervisor Rae Rae – something I was now becoming used to. I’d gone from being a fairly well respected local journalist at home to being just another pair of hands…and if those hands didn’t move fast enough, I’d be sacked and replaced in an instant. My last week at Eatoughs was spent doing a deep clean of the packing shed. This one was four times the size of my first tomato farm – it was after all the largest supplier of tomatoes in the Southern hemisphere, or so I was told.

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We had to clean all the machines, including the cups the fruit would sit in, the floors and even the ceilings and walls of the cool rooms. It was hard work but this was the part I enjoyed most. There was only six of us left at the end so we were allowed to listen to music and chat which made all the difference!

Goodbyes

By the time I left Bowen, on 2nd December, I had only managed to get 36 of my 88 farm days. The hours at my first farm Napier had been pretty sporadic and I’d only been at Eatoughs for a few weeks.

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That meant I would need to do more regional work but for now I had other plans. I was off to Melbourne to see my mum, who had flown over from England for Christmas, and my grandparents, who live there. I was so excited about spending some time with my family but I was sad to leave Bowen and my second ‘family’ behind.

It’s just as well I wasn’t leaving alone because it was much harder than I’d expected. Clare and I were getting the same Greyhound bus. It left so early in the morning that it was still dark but Tim walked us to the bus stop. He was off to the Philippines in a few days to spend Christmas with his sister and her family so we wouldn’t see each other for a month now. Erika and Steph arrived just in time to wave us off. We had tried not to wake them when leaving our room as they still had to work but they came running down the street waving their arms in the air. That goodbye wasn’t quite so tough as they were coming to Melbourne in a week anyway.

Goodbye Bowen

Goodbye Bowen

I’ve said it many times before on this blog but the goodbyes are the hardest part of travelling – the people you meet, the places you fall in love with, the good times you’ve had. I’d made amazing friends and overcome some challenging times, but overall I had loved my first taste of the farming experience.