Just one week left to the end of our first year of travel in Australia. First, yes, because there’s going to be a second year as well. It’s been a year full of emotions, in which we made new meetings, discovered incredible places, saw rare animal species, made our dreams come true, and covered lots and lots of kilometers. Over 15,000 km’s on the road with our van through 5 states of huge and fascinating Australia.
But let’s start from the beginning.
LANDING IN AUSTRALIA
Last June 2018, after trips of one week to Western Thailand and one month to Indonesia from Java to Bali, we were boarding our plane from Bali Denpasar airport direction Cairns, our first stop in Australia. One way flight, bought on a low-cost company website with our bank account savings, amount necessary to satisfy one of our visa’s criteria and go safely through the much feared Australian border security checks.
On our shoulders, two 40-liter backpacks containing all our belongings. In our hands, a piece of paper saying Working Holiday Visa that guarantees us the entry and stay in Australia for one year. In our heads and our hearts, a mix of more or less pleasant feelings: excitement for the upcoming adventure, irritability and paranoia for the airport checks (What if you need to have Australian cash? My shoes are muddy, do I tick this question? What if the Earth is flat and Australia doesn’t exist???), pressure of having to find a job, a car and a home, the reach of the southernmost country we’ve ever been to, so far from our Italy. But always with the interior belief of being doing the right thing, together, that makes us feel happy and free.
ARRIVING IN TROPICAL AUSTRALIA
Our impact with Cairns, Northern Queensland, has been very positive: we immediately felt at home, welcomed into the peak winter tourist season of Southern Hemisphere, which goes from June to September.
Not everyone may know that Northern Australia is subject to a typical tropical climate. The scenery reminds us of our beloved Southeast Asia, with blooming rainforests, sudden cyclones and dreadful crocodiles.
Through the course of history, Australia has been welcoming migrants from all over the world, giving them the chance to rebuild their lives, fleeing from wars and misery; the millions of people who contributed to the foundation and development of the country, live all together now in an extremely multicultural society. We weren’t fleeing from anything, we were rather looking for something, and since the beginning we’ve been pervaded by a strong sense of freedom. After one day only we’d already got our active bank account, a phone number and an Australian address (at an AirBnB of a lovely family in Cairns), and the TFN required to get a job. A fast functional bureaucracy that has never ceased to amaze us through the whole year.
WORKING IN AUSTRALIA
Many times from home you hear stories about how last century emigrates would find jobs the moment they stepped in a new country such as in the USA, and this is still true today in Australia. “Staff wanted” signs are everywhere in bars, restaurants and shops (especially in Sydney and Melbourne); often being brilliant and with a can-do attitude counts more than experience itself, and judging from the variety of workers nationalities, passports are not a discriminant, as long as you know basic English and have right to work. A promise land? Maybe. There are surely many possibilities, will to hear new ideas and to award who deserves it.
However, we chose a different path from hospitality, which many opt for in the first place. After a month of acclimatization and casual jobs in Cairns, we started looking for a “regional” job in a farmland or plantation. Who’s familiar with this kind of visa knows we’re talking about the so called “farm job”, which gives the chance to extend one’s visa for a further year, provided you work for minimum 88 days on a farm. Finding this type of job is less easy and requires patience, depending on the season and the region you are in. We’ll talk about it in a dedicated post.
OUR VAN: PENNY!
The turning point for us is represented by the purchase of Penny, our much loved van that will lead us anywhere in Australia. In a country as vast as Australia where hundreds of km’s separate 500-inhabitant-villages and major cities can be counted on one hand’s fingers, having a own car is fundamental. Our van Penny reflects the true essence of our trip to Australia: she will be our car, our bed, our home anywhere, our freedom.
CAMPING LIFE AND FARM JOB
Thanks to Penny our chances multiply: we can now venture into the most isolated areas where you couldn’t go on foot, nor by train or bus. This way, by showing up face to face to farm owners, we were able to find a good job in a short time. So our lime picking experience started and went on for 5 months, from August to December. We worked and lived in a small town named Dimbulah, some 150 km’s away from the coastal city of Cairns.
During these months we lived in a caravan park immersed in nature, with shared bathrooms and kitchens. Our van has been our home on wheels, carrying us to work each morning, and where to rest and sleep in for the rest of the time. On our days off we literally brought our home with us in order to explore Tropical North Queensland and its gorgeous waterfalls, rainforests, and deserted beaches encircled by the legendary Great Barrier Reef. For several months the temperature rarely went below 30°C, rising often over 40°C. Working under the blazing sun of the tropics hasn’t always been easy, however it is an experience we will always remember with a smile, a challenge with ourselves we managed to win.
We got used to see dozens of kangaroos everyday, sadly more often dead by the edge of the road rather than jumping in the grass (by night they tend to look for food close to the streets, and they get flashed and paralyzed by road-trains high beam lights). At sunset, our caravan park surroundings got filled with wallabies, a bit smaller than kangaroos, by possums, owls, and sometimes snakes too, whilst in the early morning the unique song of the kookaburra had become our natural alarm clock.
Among the characteristic Australian animals, how could we forget the first time we pet a koala, and when we spotted incredible specimen as the cassowary, the emu, the wombat and the platypus.
If there’s a place that allows you to get in deep contact with nature, to travel for hundreds of kilometers under a warm sun, to witness a continuous alternation of the most variegated landscapes, and to sleep under a sky full of stars, that place is Australia.
At first it wasn’t simple to get used to live and live together in such a tiny space, but with some organization and decoration we transformed it in a living space we adore. Our Ford Econovan Maxi is 5-meter-long: behind the front seats, two convertible sofas become a bed at night time. We have a counter where to cook and place our gas portable cooker that can be used outdoors too, and many drawers to stow away tools and supplies, other than a wardrobe and more storing space under the sofas for clothes and bigger stuff.
The true gem of our good old Penny is the pop-up roof that lets us stand when inside! This detail really makes the difference between a normal car+tent or a classic van with no extensions: our van’s structure gives us way to actually walk easily up and down without having to crouch or lay down all the time. Moreover, as every good camper, we are well equipped with chairs, a table, a solar panel and a second battery to power the fridge and our devices.
OUR ON-THE-ROAD TRIP
The 5 months in which we got spoiled with the caravan park’s running electricity and its large kitchen where just the beginning, the challenge began when we started our real trip on the road. For the next 4 months, from January to April 2019, we drove along the Australian East coast from Cairns to Melbourne, with numerous inland detours and stops, for totally over 10,000 km’s in this period only.
We averaged 150-200 km’s daily, some days staying put in certain areas, some other covering over 600 km’s in one go. Travelling from state to state, our love for this country grew (together with the odometer!): Queensland, with its 2,000 km’s from Cairns to Brisbane, gifted us among the many views, the chance to see the majestic Barrier Reef; New South Wales, and its capital city Sydney left us memories of lovely sunsets over its golden beaches, home of surfers; small Australian Capital Territory, Canberra, made us curious to learn its story of “planned city”; we then had a taste of outback, the borderless desert aka the Red Centre of the country, when we drove from Sydney to Adelaide, South Australia, talling 1,400 km’s in just 3 days. And finally Victoria, which has been our home during our last couple of months spent in Melbourne.
LEARNING A DEEP SENSE OF…
…Freedom! Our travel on the road meant having a different place to sleep each night, having to cook in rest areas, whether fitted or not, learning to use efficiently solar power and the car’s battery to keep the fridge, our phones and laptops running, having to miss a shower for a day or two and staying mostly without hot water, hardly ever available in Queensland’s camping sites. And on, witnessing the scenery and climate changing considerably, leaving with 40°C with no AirCon in the far North of Australia and ending holing up inside the van when camping during cold autumnal nights in Victoria.
But, if on one side we sometimes have been uncomfortable, narrowed, craving for a hotel room and bigger spaces, on the other side there hasn’t been a moment in which we haven’t felt completely free to live our journey the way we wanted to, and consequently our life. Curiosity and inspiration led our days, making them always different, unique and memorable.
Seeing from the windows of our van the passing by rainforests of Queensland, the pristine sandy beaches, the big cities’ skyline, the endless stretches of bare land, and ending up at the base of Sydney’s and Melbourne’s skyscrapers: a hard to explain with words spectacle.
Sometimes you can hear about “the movie of life”: surely this year in Australia has written on of the best scenes of our movie. A yet to be completed scene we are looking forward to pick up again soon.
See ya later Australia!
Have you ever done a road trip? What did it mean to you?