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A Gap Travel Experience: Australia

By Rachel Jones

Posted: 23rd July 2014 14:49

From a desk in drizzly England, Rachel Jones flicked through her friends photo’s showcasing her 9 months away travelling the globe.  Becoming overwhelmed with insane jealousy, Rachel immediately swanned off to Australia to make her own envy evoking pictures and memories.  One year later she has returned to the UK to share her experience with iStudy.

The Preparation

My preparation consisted of asking that same friend which Aussie city to head off to first and I paid an STA consulted to sort out all the boring stuff (VISA, tax number, bank account, sim card and flights) while I happily picked out bikinis. In reality, you can organise all that “stuff” yourself and there are a wide variety of websites offering advice on VISA’s and flights. You can pop into any Optus or Telstra store to pick up a simcard and the same goes for your bank of choice (RAB, Commonwealth etc.) once you have arrived. If you have any problems most hostels have a help/jobs desk which can offer advice and support with a friendly smile! 

Preparing to go away for a year or longer in another country with just your backpack can be daunting and scary, but incredibly exciting. You can go it alone and see what happens, which so many people do (including me) and we would highly recommend it. Alternatively you could pay to join a pre-organised group of likeminded people and get yourself started with some group activities. A few girls I met on the east coast had all been members of the same “Oz Intro” group and carried on travelling together. STA offer starter packs which will help you with the more formal side of things but after that you’re on your own. But that’s just the thing, you’re not!  Every hostel is brimming with a variety of nationalities all in the same boat, turn up with a box of goon (local wine) and an open mind and you’ll be greeted like an old friend. Which is what you will you will turn into if you bump into the same people as you travel around. Which is very likely! 

Getting Your Second Year VISA

Backpackers are obsessed with finding work. In particular, farm work that will qualify the traveller for their second year VISA and will hopefully get them a bit more dollar in their pocket. You will be hard pressed to visit a backpacker hostel and the conversation not eventually turn to the topic of the dreaded regional farm work.  Backpackers have a habit of pushing it scarily close to their VISA deadlines, perhaps forgetting that 88 days of their 365 day holiday needs to be dedicated to earning their stay.

I began researching farms and talking to the other hostel dwellers hoping they may have some golden nugget of knowledge or even “a connection” I could steal. With the help of a fellow backpacker who was also looking for work we contacted over 50 farms asking if they needed workers, but to no avail. The competition was too high!  We all seemed to have the same idea; everyone was looking for their second year VISAs at the bottom of a bucket of freshly picked zucchinis. Which as it happens is what we eventually found. Well, not before we were conned out of $70 of our hard-earned drinking money first. If you have to pay anything before you start a job, this could be for accommodation or membership into a jobsite, it is probably going to be a scam. We never heard from the company promising us guaranteed farm work again. Lesson learnt, and hopefully passed on! 

WWOOF Your Way Around Australia

We decided we had 2 options, the $3 per bucket zucchini picking (courgettes to us pommes!) in Bundaberg or to become a WWOOFER.  Willing Worker’s On Organic Farms. Basically you don’t get paid for your farm work but you do get all food and accommodation for free, and in most cases you get to live with an authentic “Aussie family” and all your work counts towards your second year VISA. Backpackers WWOOF their way around the country, volunteering a week here and there at different farms, making new friends and sightseeing along the way. There are some pretty cool places advertised in the WWOOFing book; from cattle ranches to crocodile farms to health spas! But, as we’d just been put out of pocket $70 we opted for the one down the road which would cost us a $21 bus ticket to get there. Albeit it was a seven hour bus journey, but hey, we’re backpackers.

Ruth and I decided to become WWOOFERS (to be honest I just liked the name) and some of our other mates bought plane tickets to Bundy to start pulling those zucchinis as they decided working for free was rather silly. To cut an 88 day story short, I wwoofed my way through the three months, having a rather lovely time (I only worked 5-6 hours a day!)

The Dreaded Farm Work

Meanwhile, the other girls who flew to Bundaberg had a slightly different experience. The $3 buckets were much larger than they anticipated, you had to pay to get a bus to and from the zucchini field ($6) and they had to live in a working hostel so accommodation needed to paid straight away. They were out of pocket before they’d even started. One girl got to the field, took one look at that work they were expected to do and hitchhiked back to the hostel. Never to return. The rest put on a brave face and gave it a shot but none managed more than a day’s work. It is hard work! Undeterred the gang also tried their hand at banana picking up in Cairns, Queensland but unfortunately to much the same results. I asked my friend Nicola to review her farm work experience, the ever poetic Nicola answered: “Probably the most horrific ordeal of my life.”

Well, it wasn’t just the girls who ran into problems. On a few occasions we had tearful goodbye drinks for a few of the ‘lads’ who were off to toil the vines in Mildura for 88 days, only to have “welcome back drinks” a week later but with much dirtier, battered and bruised ‘lads’ who limped off to bed utterly defeated. However, there are just as many people who completed their paid farm work and had a much better time of it. I knew people who built roads, drove tractors, even a friend who picked olives, got paid for their time and enjoyed every minute of it.  It is out there if you can find it! 

Work While You Travel

While I wasn’t WWOOFing or travelling I was working in a busy hostel, found in the heart of St. Kilda, Melbourne organising fun activities for the backpackers and working on the bar once a week. 

To serve alcohol in Australia you need to obtain a Responsible Service of Alcohol (RSA) certificate, unfortunately you will need one for each state you work in and it will set you back around $60 but totally worth it as bar work is quite easy attainable and I found it loads of fun. Melbourne boasts the ‘Great Ocean Road’, Ramsey Street, Captain Cook’s Cottage, St. Kilda beach, Crown Casino and much more. I also spent a bit of time in Brisbane and spent most of my time relaxing at the lagoon, shopping and having BBQ’s. 

Getting Around

After my farming, I decided to travel the East Coast of Australia in a hired camper van with Nicola, a friend I met in Melbourne. We rented a van rather than buy a vehicle or get a bus pass, but there were so many rental companies to choose from such as Jucy, Wicked and HippieCamper, but in the end we went with a Spaceship rental called the DynaSoar. 

A hop on/hop off bus pass option (Greyhound is just one reputable company) is actually very popular but we liked the bohemian idea of living in a van and we thought perhaps it may be cheaper in the long run. It’s not. It’s about the same once you factor in gas and the rental price and sometime you had to pay to park the camper overnight.  On the plus side though we got to see and do more that was not along the typical bus route. We saw crocodiles in the wild on the Daintree River Cruise, we fed the dolphins at Tin Can Bay ($10), we watched a croc show at Hartley’s Crocodile Park, saw platypus in the wild at Eungella, and had the option to “nip off” to anything interesting we saw along the way (we had the most brilliant day at a theme park!). 

If you decide to join the elite “Camper Van Gang” on your East Coast travels do not be tempted to pull up anywhere you want to spend the night, in some areas you may be slapped with a whopping $5000 fine!  

Memories & Highlights

We started our trip north of Cairns up in the humid Daintree rainforest and meandered our way down to Sydney.  Highlights of our epic road trip included splashing around in Millaa Millaa falls where Peter Andre sang about a mysterious girl. Jumping 14,000ft out of a plane to skydive down onto Mission beach where we also watched an amazing thunder storm over the sea. Drank buckets at a full-moon party on Magnetic Island. We spent three days on a boat sailing the Great Barrier Reef, diving with turtles, finding Nemo and visiting the beautiful Whitsundays. Met the local hippies in Nimbin and bumped into the “Inbetweeneer” lads filming for their second film in Byron Bay. Personally, my favourite part of the trip was the 4x4 ‘follow on’ camping tour of Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world! (1840km²)

We met such a variety of different people in every stop, some taking the same north-to-south route so we often saw familiar, friendly faces along the way. Each person enhanced our trip and it wouldn’t have been the same without them. I am so glad I did my 88 days farming as I have recently been told “West Coast is the Best Coast” so I have another 12 months to carry on my Oz adventure. I feel another road trip coming on and I think the DynaSoar should definitely come out of extinction!

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