The Down Under Report is a monthly recap of my time and money spent in Australia on the Work and Holiday Visa in 2015. Be sure to check out the other monthly recaps as well!
Month 5 in Australia
Wowza. What a month! In just under 5 weeks I hit 4 Australian states and covered about 9000km. Not exactly the slow style of travel I’ve come to love, but inspired by a handful of opportunities that happened to fall into place. It’s been a continuous exercise of loosening my grip on life and allowing myself to feel the flow, let go of plans, and be open to most anything that comes my way.
I pride myself on being independent, to the point where I’m not entirely comfortable asking for things. I’ve always wanted to be able to do everything on my own: live, travel, work, support myself. It’s been very humbling for me to accept the fact that not only can I not do everything myself, but that it’s better to view my life more as a collaborative effort than an individual one. That means letting more people in, surrendering when it feels right, and not being too proud to ask for help.
I’ve been working on it more than ever this past month. One thing I really struggle with, though, is feeling like I owe a person something if they help me out. I think that gifting someone with a bottle of wine, treating them to dinner one night, or doing a bit of house cleaning is a nice gesture to show thanks for letting you crash at their place for a bit, but I can’t help but feel like it’s not always a fair exchange. I’m trying to shift from this transactional mindset to more of a karmic one – i.e. you put a lot of good into the world in whatever ways you can, and take when you need to from the same karmic bank.
All that to say: I kind of feel like a mooch when I crash on someone’s couch, even though I’m about the tidiest, most considerate couch surfer you could ever ask for. I spent most of this past month moving around from couch to bed to tent to van and always felt at least a tinge of guilt imposing on other people, even when it probably wasn’t a big deal. Like I said, I’m working on it!
And as for what I got up to in Month 5? I feel like this time can easily be divided into 3 parts:
I sometimes jokingly refer to myself as a hot mess, but my god there was no joke about it in Melbourne. I was plagued by the perfect storm of having to pay for everything myself again, getting close to running out of savings, and not having a plan, which saw me oscillating between *yay I’m in Melbourne and I want to see and do all the things!* and *shit I need money and PS what am I doing with my life?*. I spent a good amount of time holed up indoors, being absolutely freezing and borderline manic trying to sort out my life while chain dating my way through Melbourne’s Tinder lineup. Once I got hold of a bike and met a cool guy during my last week in town, life got a whole lot better.
In the middle of my Melbourne stint, Anna and I hired a car and did the Great Ocean Road drive (spoiler alert: it is every bit worth the hype), as well as a day trip out to the Mornington Peninsula for wine tasting and hot springs. It left me desperately wanting more time to explore Victoria!
As for Melbourne itself – well, I wanted to love it, and I think I would have if I’d had time for anything other than a fling. I still don’t have a plan, but at the moment I feel a very strong pull toward finishing out the year in Melbourne. As always, TBD!
I’d been putting off booking my flight to Perth because a). I didn’t really want to leave Melbs, and b). The thought of flying with 70kg of luggage and lugging it to/from airports was anxiety-inducing. Then I had the brilliant idea of checking out Gumtree (the Aussie version of Craigslist) to see if anyone was advertising rides across the country. I soon found myself traversing southern Australia in a hippie van with a German guy, who would often ask me to hold the wheel as he rolled joints on his lap (midway through the trip, he was able to handle both tasks simultaneously himself). We traveled with a German couple in another car and made our way down the Great Ocean Road, hiked in the Grampians, drove through Adelaide and across the Nullarbor Plain, went down to Esperance on the gorgeous southwest coast, and finally up to Perth in 9 days. It could easily have been at least a two week trip, had I not had a flight to catch out of Perth.
I felt guilty about the Germans not being able to take their time as much as they wanted to, but none of us could have known ahead of time how many days we needed for this drive! We pulled a few very long driving days and soon fell into a routine of waking up for sunrise, driving during daylight hours, and setting up camp by sunset. Without fail, whenever we shared our intentions of crossing the Nullarbor, someone would urge us NOT to drive on the highway at night. Kangaroos in the Outback are on par with deer in New England: they’re just all over the roads at night, and it’s very easy to hit them. This lesson was set in stone for us early on when the other car hit a small kangaroo somewhere around Port Augusta.
In all, it was a fantastic trip that I didn’t want to end. Sure, I could have done without the excessive chain smoking, particularly in the car, but it was balanced out by their nightly guitar playing at the campsite which I couldn’t get enough of! I didn’t even mind the 10 hour driving days – that’s quality reading, writing, and spacing out time right there.
A couple months ago, I got invited on a trip put on by Tourism & Events Queensland (TEQ), to hike the Thorsborne Trail on Hinchinbrook Island. I wasn’t sure where I’d be at that time, so I told them Perth and had my flights booked out from there (hence why I had to get my butt out west by early May). Despite the hectic travel, I am SO GLAD to have had this experience! I spent 4 days trekking with a group of journalists, basically loving life and the hot weather, and just killing the trek in general.
Favorite Moments From Month 5:
Holy wow, SO MANY GOOD THINGS happened this month! This may or may not be correlated with the fact that I moved around quite a bit and went on copious adventures. And if it is, then, well, let the record show that life gets really awesome when you get outside and immerse yourself in the world (hello, underlying thesis for this blog!).
Aimlessly wandering around Fitzroy
Armed with my camera and a vague notion that Fitzroy was hipster central, I set off to frolic around this Melbourne nabe on Day 1. I hit the jackpot when the tram stop at which I randomly chose to alight led right to an offbeat street art mecca. There was always a colorful wall within eyesight no matter where I wandered, and I let the street art guide my way across the neighborhood. I felt a lot like a cat chasing a laser pointer, pouncing on wall after wall of graffiti. Definitely found my happy place this afternoon!
Day 2 of the Great Ocean Roadtrip
There’s loads to see and do throughout the entire Great Ocean Road, but the area around Port Campbell is the creme de la creme of it. Anna and I hit it on the second day of our trip and were thankfully gifted with fine weather and a lack of tourists. Even though it was a constant process of *drive to viewpoint – get out of car – check out the view – get back into car – repeat*, we never felt jaded because the South Australian coastline is TO DIE FOR gorgeous. And many had the option of short walks, either around the viewpoint or down to the beach, so we spent plenty of time on our feet to balance out the time spent sitting on our bums in the car. Towards the end of the day, we got creative and started doing walking lunges on the way back from Thunder Cave (there may be a video of me lungeing floating around somewhere… ;).
I don’t have a specific moment to reference, but this whole day was fantastic. From finally seeing the legendary 12 Apostles to admiring various arches and natural bridges in the late afternoon golden hour glow, hot damn did the Great Ocean Road impress.
An impromptu ice cream date on the playground
I had spent the afternoon enduring a particularly painful date in St. Kilda when, upon my escape, I saw a message from another guy who wanted to meet that evening. I’m not one to stack two dates in one day, but I needed something to erase the previous 5 hours of my life so I agreed to meet him for dinner. What soon transpired was a beautiful night of spontaneity: Thai food, followed by a long walk where we procured cups from a 7 Eleven and drank the remaining half bottle of wine I had on me, stopping at Woolworths to satisfy a mutual craving for peanut butter ice cream, and sharing a pint of it on the empty neighborhood playground. He sweetly offered to warm me up when I started shivering, and the rest of the night is a wonderful blur – though one I’m not going to forget anytime soon!
Cycling to Brighton Beach
I recruited the aforementioned fella – who has requested to be referred to as Ghost Legs (see photo above) – to cycle with me down to Brighton Beach a few days later. We took the train down to the city, where I hopped on my sweet ride from The Humble Vintage and pedaled down the coast. We stopped briefly at St. Kilda because one of us had a nagging craving for coffee (gee, wonder who?) and enjoyed our hot beverages on the beach, then cycled on to Brighton. It felt so good to have the sun on my skin again after a couple weeks of gloomy Melbourne weather!
When we reached Brighton, I was dead set on finding the Brighton Bathing Boxes: 82 brightly colored, uniformly sized structures just on the beach that were once used for bathing in private. And wow, what a sight with these rainbow boxes juxtaposed against the Melbourne skyline! Granted, the beach was swarming with Asians with their selfie sticks, but it was easy to laugh it off as we sat on the steps outside one of the boxes and ate our picnic lunch, watching the sun go down. Such a lovely day!
Sunset on Mount Zero
A few days into the Melbourne-Perth roadtrip with the Germans, I found myself crossing through the Grampians at a lackadaisical pace. We were nearly halfway through our 9 days and hadn’t even made it to Adelaide yet – I couldn’t help but grow impatient and mildly worried about making it in time. Towards the end of the day, as we were about to exit the park, Alex turned down a dusty side road and parked the van in a parking lot by a couple of trail heads. Great, we won’t even make it to the South Australia border tonight, I thought to myself, not really feeling the need to go for another hike in the Grampians.
But in the name of being a Yes Girl and surrendering to the world unfolding around me, I tagged along on our sunset hike up Mount Zero. As has happened so many times when I pushed myself to do something I didn’t particularly care to do, IT WAS SO WORTH IT! How could I have even considered saying no to a view like this?
Arriving at our rec area campsite in South Australia
After summiting Mount Zero, we headed for the border in search of a free campsite for the night. I found us one on WikiCamps a bit further than the one Alex had picked out, and in the name of saving driving time for the next few long days, we carried on in the cold rain toward South Australia. The turnoff for the campsite led us down a very long road – the kind where you’re wondering, is this going to be worth it?
We were absolutely ELATED to find a recreation area waiting for us at the end of the road. We were able to pull up both cars, pitch a tent, and have plenty of room to throw a ball around underneath a massive overhang. What’s more, there were outlets for us to charge our nearly-dead phones and camera batteries, and bright lights to flick on so we could actually see more than a few feet in front of us. We couldn’t have asked for anything better while it was pissing down rain!
Seeing a double rainbow over a salt lake
It was one of those days on the Melbourne-Perth roadtrip that would entail a whole lot of driving and very little stopping to smell the metaphorical roses. We’d budgeted exactly one hour in Adelaide to refuel and get the blood flowing, and I’d spent the entirety of that time running around the city looking to procure a decent bag of coffee beans (would you believe it took me 4 tries to find a coffee shop selling the good stuff?!). After that, Alex and I set off to meet the other car somewhere outside Adelaide, and together we’d drive up toward Port Augusta.
Well, he chose the town (village? neighborhood?) of St. Kilda as a meeting spot, as an homage to Melbourne’s St. Kilda. It looked to be a joke of a place in quite an unscenic area, which we were stuck in for nearly an hour since the German couple had hit traffic heading out of the city to meet us. We pulled over onto a patch of grass to wait for them, when lo and behold a massive rainbow appeared in front of us.
Sunset and sunrise at Lucky Bay
I already chronicled the magical night and morning I spent at Lucky Bay in Cape Le Grand National Park, just outside of Esperance on the southwest coast (you can read about it here). I still have the images of the fiery sunrise over the dunes and the magnificent rainbow over the headlands engrained in my memory, but even without them I was highly impressed with the beautiful white sand beach here. Lucky Bay is objectively one of Australia’s best beaches, I only wish I could have stayed longer!
Day 1 on Hinchinbrook Island
Toward the end of the month, I catapulted myself back to the east coast for some island trekking action – because when the Queensland tourism board invites you to explore a Jurassic Park-like island not too terribly far from the Great Barrier Reef and cover all expenses, you say hell to the yes.
The night before these epic multi-day treks, I’m usually filled with a slight sense of dread – like, am I willingly slinging 17kg of gear on my back and walking into the great unknown only to sleep on the ground and survive off dehydrated food? In what rational world does this sound like a brilliant idea? This, coupled with the thought of hiking in a group of 15 people, had me feeling pretty apprehensive just before we set off.
And then we just got into it and I immediately felt at ease. Carrying my sizable Lowe Alpine pack felt all too natural as I bounded across beaches, over rocks, and through the woods – though I was very happy to drop it as we summited Nina Peak, which provided some ridiculous 360-degree views of the channel, mountains, and island coast. I ended the day with a well deserved ocean swim, some dehydrated spaghetti bolognese, and star gazing on the beach.
But the absolute highlight of day 1? Harvesting a coconut on the beach at Nina Bay. I was absolutely giddy as one of the rangers took a machete to my prize and then handed me a coconut ready to drink out of. It brought me back to the days at Waimanu Valley!
Crappy Moments From Month 5:
Losing my first big web design gig
By far the worst thing that happened this month was having the rug swept out from under me as I unexpectedly lost a really big and important project rebuilding a website. I had started working on it, then got word that the client had gone back to her old web designer (who had previously been unavailable). Aside from the obvious suckage that comes from losing paid work, I have a fundamental issue with people going back on their word and not doing the right thing. Lesson learned: never do business without a signed contract (our situation was unusual and began as a HelpX work exchange, that’s the only reason why we didn’t have a formal agreement in place).
Being freezing cold in Melbourne
While I loved being in Melbourne and didn’t want to leave in the end, I went through some pretty dark days during my time there (both literally and figuratively). I was crashing at a friend’s place, for which I am eternally grateful, but man – I slept in an ice box there! My temporary room there was the old milk bar, which is inherently meant to be cold anyway – but the room had no natural light during the day, and there were a couple nights where I was so cold that even wearing all my layers plus gloves and a hat left me shivering on the couch. I soon realized that the cold and the darkness had a negative impact on my mood, so I tried to get outside whenever possible. But there were days without sun, and nights where I actually had to rock my down jacket when it was below 50F (10C). I know, I know – that doesn’t sound too terrible. But I’d just mailed home half of my cold weather layers and was ill-prepared for this weather! I’m just a complete wuss when it comes to the cold.
Month 5 Numbers:
Dates: 13-18, 23-30 April 2015
# of Days: 14
Total $ Spent: US$300
Dates: 19-22 April 2015
# of Days: 4
Total $ Spent: US$347.50
Dates: 1-9 May 2015
# of Days: 9
Total $ Spent: US$433
Dates: 10-16 May 2015
# of Days: 7
Total $ Spent: US$159
Total for Month 5
Dates: 13 April – 16 May 2015
# of Days: 34
Total $ Spent: US$1240.12
Total $ Made: US$325.50
Average $ Spent: US$36.47/day
Major Expenses: Camera battery charger – US$42, Cab to Perth Airport – US$55, Petrol – US$279 for Nullarbor Roadtrip (my half for 9 days), Car Hire – US$104 for Victoria Roadtrip (my half for 4 days)
Average Miles Walked: 5.15 miles/day
# Beds Slept In: 7
# Couches Slept On: 2
# Nights Camping: 12
Year-To-Date Numbers (Months 1-5):
Dates: 12 December 2014 – 16 May 2015
# of Days: 158
Total $ Spent: US$6328.57
Total $ Made: US$497.50
Average $ Spent: US$40/day
# Beds Slept In: 19
# Couches Slept On: 3
# Nights Camping: 33
# Dates: 14
For the first time in my year on the working holiday visa in Australia, I have NO PLANS. Literally nothing from this point forward is booked or planned. I’m in desperate need of some down time and some money, so I’m feeling like I may stay put somewhere in Western Australia for a couple months and work through the winter. Still debating on whether I should go through a recruiter and work a short contract job in Perth (something marketing or tech-related, i.e. boring but well-paying), or head somewhere rural to do some manual labor in the Outback (i.e. something uniquely Australian with lesser pay). I may just cast a wide net and see what I catch first!
And of course, Anna and I are putting the finishing touches on the website for our digital marketing business. We plan to pick up a few projects on the side of whatever jobs we end up working next month, then hopefully get enough momentum going so that we can sustain our travels for the rest of the year here.