Around the World in 580 Days – Part 2: Australia

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Ciao folks,

I’m sad to say that the tree finally had to go. Matthew stripped her and threw her out yesterday, although she was still perfectly green and lush. Instead we now have a xmas palm tree – it’s not the same but quite nice anyway.


On Saturday we celebrated Scotland’s national poet, Robert Burns. Usually you have a Burn’s supper, including haggis, neeps and tatties, whiskey, as well as reading poems and dancing the ceilidh. We had decided to have a quiet weekend, so we just spent Saturday night at Matthew’s parents, and had haggis (veggie haggis for me) yesterday instead. I quite like it (I’ve been told it tastes quite a lot like the real thing – at least a lot of the ingredients are the same), but you definitely need a sauce with it, or it’ll get stuck in your throat!

Vegetarian haggis
This is how appetising it looks. The smaller brown pile is stuffing. I had the haggis with roast potatoes, parsnips and my carrots. Plus a whiskey sauce of course.

As it was Australia day yesterday I thought it would be quite appropriate to (at last) continue with part two of my 580 days of travel. As I spent a whole year in Australia in 2008-2009 I think this stunning country deserves a post of its own. Read Part 1 here.

I didn’t really have any expectations when I first arrived – I guess I was just expecting the usual sand, sun and surf, but it didn’t take long before the nice people, the laid-backness and the weather won me over. Such a shame that Australia is so far away from Europe, because otherwise I might seriously consider moving there!

Note that the credit for pretty much all photos go to my travel buddies. Btw, if you want to see the photos in normal size, just click on the gallery.

Our first stop in Oz was Melbourne, where we ended up staying for almost five months. We met some nice Melbourne guys when travelling in Thailand, and they kindly said we could stay with them when we come to town. I don’t think they actually thought we would knock on their door early on a Sunday morning, and stay for three weeks…But it really made our lives so much easier, so if you read this guys: we owe you big time!!

We managed to trick ourselves into renting a house of our own in Fitzroy North – you can probably understand that people don’t want to rent to a bunch of backpackers. (We might not have mentioned that we were four people and that we were backpackers.) After six months of hostels and couch surfing we were thrilled to have a place of our own (that we decorated with tasteful camping chairs, blow-up mattresses – that deflated after an hour of lying on them – and borrowed sofas). We only got one complaint from our neighbours – it might have been because we had a live band play in our living room until 6 am.

Three of us managed to find work in a seafood restaurant in the Docklands and the fourth just across the street in a steak restaurant. The aim of staying in Melbourne for so long was to save up money for travelling, but I think that we also just enjoyed staying put for a while, and not having to live out of our backpacks. I really liked the city – it’s probably the most European city in Australia, with great restaurants and coffee (!), a vibrant music and arts scene, beaches and cool people.

Our next stop was Cairns up north in Queensland. We visited Daintree rain forest, saw heaps of crocs, met up with our Finnish friends, went diving in Great Barrier Reef, drank cheap beer in tacky backpacker bars – until we two weeks later realised that we were running out of money. So we decided we needed to get back to work again – but this time it would involve fruit and veg instead of fish and steak.

So we ended up in the little town of Ayr, hoping we could get some fruit-picking work. The choice of hostels was scarce to say the least, so we checked in to the crappiest hostel you could imagine. The “staff”, consisted of a man called ‘Nugget’ (trust me, you don’t want to know the story behind his name), a middle-aged woman who was found passed out drunk in random places in the hostel every second day and her ‘lover’ who forgot to take his medicine and went mental every so often as a result. There was no cleaner, but sometimes the owners paid a backpacker to tidy up a little. We were shocked, but somehow got used to the filth and the drama, and became part of the big backpacker family.

We found work pretty much straight away, and ended up in eggplant, capsicum and courgette hell. The whole hostel was woken up at 5 am by Nugget yelling ‘get your lazy asses out of bed’, followed by an intense session of covering every inch of the body in sunscreen and driving one of the crappy cars provided by the hostel (that shouldn’t have been driven by anyone, and were stopped by the police on a regular basis). Around 7 am we would arrive on our farms, and apart from an one hour lunch break, pick fruit until 5 pm. Then drive back to the hostel, shower off the dirt, cook dinner and go to bed at 9 pm. This was the routine six days of the week, with the exception of Sunday.

This meant that the hostel and the town went crazy on Saturday night – it was party time at the Queens hotel (one of the few bars in town)! Sundays were spent eating our Subways and chilling in the park with the hostel peeps. I actually quite enjoyed the hard work and the routines – it was nice to do some down-to-earth, physical work. Two months went by in a whiff, and before we knew it, it was time to move on.

It was finally time to see more of Australia! We rented a lovely backpacker-van that slept 4-5 people. In three weeks we experienced a whole lot: we went whale watching, camped on the biggest sand island in the world, Fraser island, spent a day in hippie town Nimbin (but didn’t smoke weed), went on a sailing trip to Whitsunday island with one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, saw the three sisters (mountains) in the Blue mountains, spent a day on incredible Stradbroke island, visited a Finnish friend in Gold Coast, spent a couple of days in Brisbane, visited the most eastern point in Oz in Byron Bay and ate way too many pot noodles!

Driving is definitely the best way to see Australia. Around three weeks later we ended up in Manly beach, Sydney. We immediately liked the chilled vibe, and decided to find work there instead of downtown Sydney. We checked into Manly backpackers, and once again found a big, happy backpacker family. Again we all found work as waitresses in restaurants. This time we divided ourselves into two teams: two of us worked in Blue Water Cafe and two in Rouge Mediterranean restaurant (both next to each other on the beach promenade though). Waitressing pretty much right on the beach, while checking out lifeguards and surfers was not too horrible a job.

After a month in the hostel (and way too many late nights playing beer pong followed by early mornings) we decided we needed some peace and quiet. Again we were helped by a fellow traveller in Asia whose mum happened to have a house in Crows Nest in Sydney with four empty rooms – what are the odds ?! For the first time in more than a year we could sleep alone in our own rooms! (I still remember how strange it felt.)

We had more work than in Melbourne, so after three months in Sydney we had managed to save up enough money to start planning the next step of the journey. But that will be another post – to be continued…

Pfew! These travel posts are hard work – going through millions of photos and trying to remember what we did and where we went takes ages. However, this post only scratches the surface of my year in Oz. I’ll always remember Australia as a happy place full of sunshine, smiling people and crazy times. Good times.

x Nina x