Discovering Perth

When Oli and I began talking about and planning our trip around Australia, we knew we would have to find some work along the way, to keep us going. WWOOFing, seasonal farm work, fruit picking and other temporary jobs were all on our list of work options. I never pictured myself getting stuck into a professional role along the way, but strangely enough, that’s how things have turned out.

On our way down the West Coast in October 2011, we discovered that we were way too late to pick up any fruit picking work … the backpackers had snapped it all up weeks earlier. So we started talking about finding some work in Perth.

Being a landscape gardener, Oli can find casual work almost anywhere, so he had a job lined in Perth before we even got there. Great, that took the pressure off.

But I had no idea how difficult it would be for me to find work. I applied for anything and everything, from temp work in admin through to retail jobs, hospitality work and even thought about going back to childcare. But after two months of relentless job hunting, I landed a great job –  a 12 month contract with The University of Western Australia.

I’m now half way through the contract, and really enjoying it. The team I work with are fantastic, the role is interesting, and it’s been a great opportunity to grow my skills and also learn about working in a tertiary institution.

And I’m so pleased we’ve had the chance to live in Perth for a while. It’s quite an unusual city, but I’ve come to love it. Here, it’s all about the lifestyle. The weather is (mostly) great, the beaches are sublime and the people are friendly and welcoming.

In many ways, this city is a little bit behind the times: for example, almost nothing is open on Sundays (not even Woolies!). Perth people can be quite conservative – people with dreadlocks, tattoos and piercings, unusual clothing, and even facial hair (e.g Oli’s beard) attract stares and comments from strangers; in Newtown, they wouldn’t get a second look!  Some locals can tend to be just a little bit suspicious of anyone from ‘over East’. And it’s impossible to find anywhere to watch the State of Origin rugby league live here – it’s AFL or nothing!

On the other hand, Perth can be quite cosmopolitan in its own way, and we’ve enjoyed discovering all that it has to offer. There is a thriving local music scene here, supported by some fantastic music venues like Mojos and Clancy’s Fish Pub in Fremantle, The Bakery in Northbridge, and the Indi Bar in Scarborough.  We caught some comedians doing their thing at Perth’s very first International Comedy Festival, and one weekend in summer Oli and I enjoyed a boozy bicycle ride out in the Swan Valley, visiting some gorgeous wineries and micro-breweries. On top of all this, there are plenty of quirky little bars and cafes, and some decent markets to be found too.

We’ve made a conscious decision not to get too settled here in Perth, as it’s too far away from Sydney and Canberra for us to want to stay here permanently. Plus, we’ve got a trip around Australia to complete!  

So instead of renting a place, we’ve continued our nomadic lifestyle by becoming house sitters. We’ve stayed in a number of different homes, minding peoples pets and houses while they are away overseas. We get to enjoy their pets company, spend time in some lovely homes and save on rent, and the owners don’t have to worry about the garden becoming overgrown or their pets fretting away in a cattery or boarding kennel. 

It’s kind of weird living in someone else’s home. You come to realise how different we all are, and how much people’s lifestyles vary.  Some people are so organised – everything has its place, is labelled, alphabetised and there is a routine or instructions for everything, while others are much more casual in how their home is set out and organised.  Some places seem really warm, comfortable and lived in, while some places we’ve stayed in feel like the owners probably don’t spend a great deal of time at home, preferring to be out and about most of the time.

It’s an interesting glimpse into how other people live, and often makes me wonder what our home will be like, when we eventually finish this trip and find somewhere to settle.

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The beauty of Australia’s West

If there is an award for Australia’s slackest blogger, I should be in the running for it. I suppose anyone who has visited poptop vagabonds in the past month or so has thought it’s become yet another abandoned blog. Not true! Just neglected.

I don’t want this to read like a long-winded post card, but I really need to reflect on where we’ve been, and want to share what we’ve seen along the way. So here’s what we’ve been up to lately.

A couple of months ago, we crossed the border from Northern Territory to Western Australia. Passed through the quarantine check point, had to surrender a bunch of fruit and veges (yeah, stupid, we really didn’t plan that one too well!), wound our watches back another two and a half hours, and got super excited about exploring Australia’s largest state.  

People had told me that the drive across the Kimberley region of WA was beautiful, but the landscapes we encountered on this section of the trip were not what I had expected.

“It’s like being on Mars, or the moon or something!”  I kept saying to Oli, as we drove past these massive red escarpments, on winding roads through valleys of red rock and dust. My description cannot really do justice, and I am kicking myself for not taking more photos along the way, but at the time I just wanted to sit back, crank the music and take it all in.

As you may know, I’m a bit of a dendrophile, so I was thrilled to see all the boab trees up there. Big fat round trunks and a network of bare branches that look like roots, with these weird round fruit hanging here and there.  They are truly majestic trees.

After months of red dirt, dust, crocs and extreme temperatures in outback QLD and the Northern Territory, we were hanging for some beach time, so headed straight for Broome. I’d wanted to check out Broome for years, and when we got there I fell in love with this town, its lovely laid back coastal vibe, and the gorgeous beaches.

We made friends with a really cool middle aged couple who were staying next to us in the caravan park, and ended up tagging along with them on a couple of fishing trips up around the Dampier Peninsula. What a stunning part of the country. No wonder the local folks are standing strong in protest against the new gas plant that is set to go in at James Price Point. Makes me sad and angry to think about how such special parts of this country can and have been exploited for their natural resources, with no thought or care for the long term consequences.

With much reluctance, we eventually tore ourselves away from Broome, and started heading south, and after a week or so of beach hopping, we headed inland a bit, to check out Karijini National Park, which a fellow traveller had told us about.  It was quite a big detour for us, but well worth it for the opportunity to see this beautiful national park, with its impressive gorge and delightful little water holes. Fern Pool at Karijini is definitely one of the most magical places I have ever been – a deep, cool water hole surrounded by trees and greenery, with a small waterfall at one end of the pool and surrounding rocks covered with maidenhair fern (one of my favourite plants). The place has a real spiritual presence, and I felt incredibly fortunate to be able to visit this quiet little spot, enjoy the water and soak up the peaceful atmosphere.

A couple of times on this trip we have really noticed how restricted we have been by not having a 4WD vehicle. While our pop-top van has been fantastic, comfy, and at times down-right luxurious in comparison to what you see other people travelling around in, it has meant we’ve had to stick to sealed roads most of the way, when often we have yearned to go bush-bashing and find some of those gorgeous, isolated and free camping spots that are out there. We are already talking about our next trip around, and what kind of 4WD camper set up we’d like to have! Anyway, Karijini was yet another one of those spots where it would have been awesome to explore off-road, but with Louey’s limitations in mind, we headed back to the coast, for a bit more beach time.

If you love being outdoors, then the Exmouth area is heaven. The fantastic Cape Range National Park puts you right on the beach and has heaps of beautiful (but very basic) camping spots. If you want to enjoy all the comforts, there are also some great caravan parks closer to town. But in a nutshell, Exmouth is all about the beaches and the wildlife.

We were lucky enough to turn up at the time of year when the huge sea turtles are mating just off the shore around the Jurabi Coastal Reserve area. We went for a walk along one beach in the evening and as the sun went down, we sat quietly and watched some female turtles dragging themselves up the beach, to excavate a nest in the sand and lay their eggs.

Right near Exmouth is the World Heritage listed Ningaloo Reef, one of Australia’s best spots for diving and snorkelling. There is so much to see under the water here – the diversity of marine life is phenomenal.  It’s like sticking your head into someone’s tropical fish tank, only a million times better.  I can’t explain how awesome it is to swim along under the water surrounded by huge schools of vibrantly coloured fish and bizarre-looking corals.

We have seen humpback whales basking and playing around in the water just off the coast at Kalbarri, and have waded in knee deep water while reef sharks darted around us in the shallow water at Skeleton Bay. We’ve marvelled at the power of the blowhole at Point Quobba, and have soaked in an artesian hot tub in the pouring rain at Francois Peron National Park.

There are so many fantastic spots to discover right the way along the west coast, if you’ve the time and inclination. This part of Australia seems like it was made for travellers like us.

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A taste of the Top End

We left Brisbane in late July, and have been keeping fairly busy since then, working, exploring and having fun on the road. I won’t try to write about everything we’ve seen and done since then; that would make for an incredibly long, boring and self indulgent post, and my brain would probably melt down from struggling to remember it all.

We’re now in the Top End, and it’s bloody HOT. After a week or so up the Queensland coast, and then five weeks working at Maronan, a cattle station in outback Queensland, I thought we were beginning to acclimatise. Not so. But more about that later.

Maronan was a pretty memorable part of the trip. Here we worked/WWOOFed, mostly doing gardening and other work in and around the house, as well as occasionally helping out with some of the cattle work on the station. It was a fascinating, and at times, really challenging place to be. After our first week there, the couple who own and run the station unexpectedly had to attend to urgent family business in Townsville, so we were left to mind the place while they were away for a week. Hours after they left, I received news that my grandmother had passed away. I really struggled with this, wanting to rush over to NZ to be with my family, but knowing that I couldn’t really leave the station. It was a really weird, difficult and totally unexpected situation, and took me some time to come to terms with.

The rest of our time there was thankfully, much more enjoyable. I became very fond of the chooks; we cuddled day old chicks, gave some of the hens a haircut, and collected a bazillion eggs.

One afternoon we rode a four-wheeler motorbike and helped take a big mob of cattle back out, after they’d all been vaccinated that morning. Another day, we watched Colin do a ‘killer’ – that is, shoot one of the heifers for meat, and then skin and gut it. A few days later, Oli and I helped to cut it up.

In our time off, we went fossicking for garnets, or went out stargazing with our little telescope. Oli taught me to ride a small dirtbike, starting with laps up and down the big red dirt airstrip, and eventually graduating to rides further afield on the massive property.

But after five weeks in one spot, we had itchy feet again and couldn’t wait to hit the road and see some new things. Darwin was the next destination on our to-do list.

If you’re ever driving from Brisbane to Townsville, or from Townsville to Darwin, expect long stretches of road with bugger-all in the way of scenery. That nothingness is stunning in its own way, but when you’ve lived most of your life in a city or reasonable-sized town, I think that sense of isolation and distance can be kind of scary. On the coast, it’s cane sugar as far as you can see. In outback QLD/NT, it’s acres upon acres of grass, spinifex and the odd willy-willy thrown in for a bit of excitement.

So arriving in Mataranka after the long drive from Cloncurry was like finding an oasis in the desert, and Bitter Springs thermal pools were just what I needed. Crystal clear water, at the perfect temperature.

We made friends with a couple who lived just around the corner from us in Newtown, so we spent a couple of nights hanging out with them before we made our own way up to Darwin. Oli and I decided we had to check out Litchfield National Park on the way up, and were rewarded with beautiful waterfalls, bushwalks and more crystal clear swimming spots.

Obviously, the further north we’ve come, the hotter it’s become. We’re now in Kakadu National Park, and have spent the last few days trying to stay out of the sun. The park is huge, and the landscapes here so diverse, from wetlands to tidal flats and estuaries, stone escarpments to monsoon forests. The place is teeming with wildlife. We’ve seen so many crocs, as well as gorgeous birds galore,frill-necked lizards, a snake, a long-neck turtle, wallabies, and possibly half of the 200 species of flies that can be found in Kakadu.

And it’s a spiritual kind of place. We’ve seen ancient rock art at Ubirr and Anbangbang and learnt about Mimi spirits and local Dreaming stories about how the landscape came to be. Last night at a bush camping spot we sat outside listening to some music and watching the stars, then slept with the back door of the van open all night, so we could feel the cool evening breeze. I woke a couple of times to the sound of animals scurrying around nearby and could see the moon shining down. Just magic.

This part of the trip will stay with me forever. It’s been unforgettable.

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north for winter

Oh happy days! We’re finally moving on from Brisbane on Sunday, so once again we’re going through the process of packing, planning, organising and budgeting.

And in amongst all the planning, I’ve been feeling overwhelmed at the sheer size of this country, and daunted about how much distance we have to cover in just two weeks. It’s exciting, but it’s kind of scary as well. I’m trying to not think about the ‘what if’s, and instead just look forward to the adventure.

You see, we’re heading off outback to take up a WWOOFing opportunity on a cattle station. So the next two weeks will find us travelling up the east coast, from Brisbane to Townsville, and then way out west, to Maronan Station near Cloncurry.

That’s about 2156 kilometres, in 15 days. Eeek!

We’re super excited about seeing the Top End and outback Australia, and can’t wait to see some emus, crocs, camels and red dirt, along with everything else that makes the northern parts of this country special.

But most of all, we’re looking forward to being back on the road again. After all, there’s too much fun to be had.

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City life

Oli and I have had to kind of put the trip on hold for a couple of months while we focus on making and saving some more money. This travelling around the country lark has proven to be a bit more expensive than we expected!

So we’ve been sucked back into the nine-to-five working and city lifestyle, and it hasn’t been an easy transition. Oli’s found a great job doing the same sort of work he was doing in Sydney, but I’ve had to take the first thing that came along, which was a temping contract in a customer service type role – not the kind of work I’ve ever done before, and to be honest, not the kind of thing I’d ever want to do long term, but it’s ok for now.

But the whole process of having to get back into the routine of wearing corporate-type work clothes, commute into the city every day, and sit at a desk in front of a computer for eight hours a day has been really challenging. The whole office environment feels so alien and impersonal and sterile to me now, in comparison with the kind of work we’ve been doing while WWOOFing.

The past three weeks have been an interesting journey of learning how to do this new job, fit in, be productive and also, get used to a whole new realm of office politics. I’d forgotten how toxic and bitchy workplaces can be sometimes.

Settling back into this kind of ‘normal’ life again has meant I’ve found myself missing some of the things I enjoyed in Sydney, like the music and cafes and the weird and wonderful sights of Newtown. And having my favourite yoga classes, my cat, and my garden to enjoy on the weekends.

Having said all that though, we have been doing our best to make the most of it and enjoy Brisbane while we’re here. We’ve been up Mount Coot-tha to enjoy a spectacular view of the river, the city and beyond. We had fun last weekend at the Gold Coast theme parks, screaming our lungs out on the roller coasters and crazy water slides. We’ve found a great local farmers market at the Mount Gravatt Showgrounds, where we can buy really cheap fruit and veg and enjoy the bustle and atmosphere every Sunday. And this weekend we went down to the Yatala Drive-In Movies – it was so cosy, watching movies on the big screen while snuggled up in our bed in the back of the campervan!

We’ve got about four more weeks to go until we can get back on the road and have some more adventures in the van. In the meantime I’ll be counting down the days, just daydreaming about what’s around the corner.

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Cheap thrills in Bris-Vegas

 After Bluesfest wrapped up, we decided to head a couple of hours north to Brisbane, to look for some work. It’s been a strange week since we got here – doing the trawl through job websites everyday, hassling recruitment agents, and moving from caravan park to sharehouse.

Despite being on a super tight budget which doesn’t allow us to indulge in any of the real tourist activities Brisbane has to offer, we’ve had fun exploring the city and doing some bizarre things in the process.

We’ve been getting out and about on our bikes almost every day, finding awesome cycle paths all over the city and its suburbs, and maybe even getting a wee bit fit in the process! The Queensland Museum was an interesting excursion for us one day, where we saw the smallest boat to ever sail around the world (it looked more like a glorified bathtub actually) and the fabulous photographic exhibition on explorer Herbert Basedow.

And we’ve visited some pretty wicked parks and gardens, including the stunning Roma St Parkland, which is full of exotic looking tropical plants, as well as being a great place to people-watch!

Here’s some other things we’re into at the moment: 
• Eating canned soup
• Befriending random cats that hang around trying to bludge food from us
• The smallness of Brisbane: “Is THAT the city?” – Oli.
• Sunshine and being able to wear shorts and singlets at this time of year (sucked in to the Canberrans reading this, all rugged up in a gazillion layers of winter clothing)
• Watching random suburban club rugby matches on the weekend

Things we’re over:
• Jandals (sorry, thongs) sticking to the floor of the caravan park showers
• Pubs that don’t have pool tables
• Our GPS giving us random directions and getting us lost
• The tedious hunt for some work

Actually, Oli has already found a job doing some landscape gardening work, but I’m still looking, and keeping my fingers crossed something comes my way soon.

Have you got a suggestion for something free and fun we can do here in Brissy?  Leave a comment and let us know!

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Snakes, spirits and wicked music in Northern NSW

 Just over two months into our trip, and we’re still no further north than Byron Bay – boy we really are taking this trip at a cruisy pace!

We are still hanging around in Northern NSW for Bluesfest, of course, but when we arrived in Mullumbimby a few weeks ago, and realised that our funds were getting low, we decided to do another stint of WWOOFing to try and save a bit of money.

We ended up going to a rainforest retreat, where we helped out with all sorts of work like cleaning and preparing the accommodation for guests, helping with catering for one small group, and lots of gardening and brushcutting (whipper snipping) for Oli. It was a real pleasure to stay and work at Sine Cera; the hosts were lovely and really welcoming, and the other WWOOFers were great company.

The retreat is on a gorgeous piece of property, nestled between dry eucalypt forest on one side, and on the other side of the river, dense and lush rainforest (part of the Border Ranges National Park). The accommodation for WWOOFers here was great – plenty of room, comfy beds, heaps of DVD’s to watch in the evening, and yummy food. The hosts had mentioned to us that some people had sensed or seen spirits around the place, and sure enough, a couple of nights later Oli had his first ghost encounter. And no, he was not on drugs!

It was so special to be able to have a coffee on the veranda in the morning before our shift, and watch the wallabies and their joeys hopping around the place, or just enjoy the spectacular view of the ranges. It was also kind of cool to see a couple of snakes there too, especially Monty, a beautiful python who sometimes lives on the hosts veranda, soaking up the sun and catching the odd mouse or rat.

Anyway, after eight or nine days at the retreat it was time to come back to Byron Bay for our shifts as volunteers at Bluesfest. We applied for this way back in early January, and with each lineup announcement we have been looking forward to the festival more and more.

Doing pre-festival shifts was definitely the way to go – we got to see the whole festival come together, see some of the stages go up, help put up countless market stalls, set up the dining hall, work on decorating the artists dressing rooms, and meet some other really cool vollies. We even jumped up on one of the big stages and had a wander around, checking out the view and imagining we were entertaining the masses. It was weird to know that in a few short days, some of our favourite musicians would be on these stages doing their thing, and the tent filled to the brim with punters.

Now that we’ve clocked up our 30 hours work, we have been given our tickets to the festival and are free to enjoy the whole thing. If the opening night’s performances last night were anything to go by, this is going to be one really memorable festival.

Already, we’ve seen some amazing talent, including Ruthie Foster, Ray Beadle, Michael Franti and Spearhead, and Los Lobos. And to top it off, a super long set by Ben Harper and the Relentless Seven, packed with all his old good stuff – including Gold To Me, Burn One Down, Walk Away, Morning Yearning, Glory and Consequence, and heaps more.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg – there’s so much more good music to come over the next five days. I feel so lucky to be here, enjoying all of this!

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