It is officially my last full month in Australia this year. I am back in Sydney, where it all began, and I can’t help but to make constant comparisons of myself from last November versus now. So much has changed and I am feeling really proud of myself.
I’m currently writing from a hostel apartment in Coogee Beach, a Sydney suburb on the coast. It’s beautiful. I arrived here on October 2nd with 2 nights booked, hoping to sort out a work for accommodation gig for the next month. Since I only had about 4 weeks to spend here, it’s hard to commit to finding legit work, so I thought it would be best to at least sort out free accommodation, and work on spending relatively minimally otherwise. On my second day, I approached one of the supervisors on staff about their need for workers and was told I could do a trial shift for their small bar/restaurant that night as they were actually in need of someone right away and I seemed nice (haha). While I was expecting more of a housekeeping/reception type job I agreed right away, but was mostly freaking out because what do I know about working behind a bar.
Everything went really well that night and I was offered the job to do 15 hours a week in exchange for free living, and moved into the staff apartment shortly after! Everyone has been so complementary to me, I think I am now known as the super friendly girl from New Jersey lol. The room has a full living space, kitchen, bathroom, laundry and is exactly what I need for just a few weeks. Everyone on the staff is so welcoming and chill too which has been the perfect atmosphere so far. Luckily the bar on site is really relaxed with minimal chaos, so I’ve really only been doing food orders/running/bussing in the cafe, pouring drinks, and other random tasks. I have no stress about it which feels really good. Returning to Sydney, I was back to the world of unknown and being on my own and it’s such a relief to feel like I’d made a good decision.
Anyways, I am coming off of 3.5 weeks of travel after the farm! The 4 days in Brisbane were mostly a wash, we spent most of the time relaxing, shopping and sorting ourselves out for the road trip. Myself, Roisin, Sarah and Jamie met up with Harriet and Sam at the rental shop on the morning of the 12th and we took off from there! It started out a bit hectic while we had to wait for the caravan to be serviced, ended up switching vehicles entirely, etc. and that actually set the tone for the rest of the trip as we did experience some decent issues with the van throughout the two weeks. All in all, we’re expecting about $1,000 back in refunds for the trouble though, so it’s hard to really complain.
Our first lesson in van life living for 6 people was how much it would cost to feed us all! Because we would be cooking for ourselves the entire time, we had to stock up on everything before getting on the road. Shoutout to Harriet for making a meal plan for us to keep us organized!! Over two weeks we spent over $1,000 on food which is insane haha.
The first few days of driving from Brisbane to Alice Springs were really full on. We decided to put in heavy driving days out of the gate since there wasn’t much to see on the way, and we felt that the sooner we arrived to Uluru the better! We did 3 full days, stopping at camp sites in Mitchell, Cloncurry, and Devil’s Marbles. It was mostly uneventful during the day; we took turns driving, took naps in the back bed, snacked on chips and hummus… Our night near Devil’s Marbles was a good one; it was one of the first cool sites we stopped to see that really felt like the Outback, basically just a bunch of round red rocks/boulders all piled together haha. Since that night was a Saturday, we had our own sausage sizzle in honor of the farm and enjoyed a few drinks from the small pub at the campsite.
Day 4 of driving was a good one and finally put us in Alice Springs! We passed some notable spots that day including the most central pub in Australia (Ti Tree), the UFO capital of Australia (weird and creepy), and Burrow Creek Hotel/pub which was covered with years of signatures and photos and artifacts and featured a kitty cat on the bar. We saw lots of tumble weed and sand tornadoes and had our first camel sighting! None of us knew that camels lived in central Australia so that was an exciting discovery. There was a lot of aboriginal art/influence in the small towns we passed through as we approached Alice Springs. We laughed at the termite mounds along the side of the road which were decorated with old tshirts and hats.
We were pretty worn out by the time we arrived in Alice Springs, so we didn’t explore the town at all other than driving through to our campground. We enjoyed a chilled out afternoon that day in preparation for the final driving stretch to Uluru the following day. By this time we had enjoyed a few nights of delicious dinners, had figured out a bit of a routine in our camper, had a lot of laughs and a few fights (looking at you Jamie), sang along to our favorite farm songs, and become really comfortable living and sleeping completely on top of each other. We were in a good place.
You could feel the excitement in the van during our drive from Alice to Uluru. As we knew we were getting closer we were all anxiously looking ahead for the first sighting of the big rock. Finally, we saw a massive red strucutre in the distance and started cheering! We cracked beers, took videos and pictures and pulled over to a viewing area to soak in the first glimpse of the rock. Sam had asked me are we sure this is it? To which I responded uhh yeah pretty sure this massive rock is obviously Uluru. Within 30 seconds at the viewing stop, a tour bus guide told us we were looking not at Uluru, but Mount Connor. What the!?!?!?!!? We laughed at ourselves for about 15 minutes with that one, good on ya Sam for calling out my BS hahaha. A bit later down the road, we finally did have our first sighting, to which we fully celebrated.
We drove straight into the National Park around 4:30, perfect timing to get set up for sunset in the car park viewing area. We pulled out our tables and chairs, had drinks and snacks and enjoyed one of the most incredible views I’ve seen. Harriet brought out paint supplies so we could be Bob Ross and paint our view. Roisin took the win in our art contest, of course since she is good at everything. This was one of my favorite moments of the trip. The sunet was stunning; we watched as the colors changed by the minute, the shadows shifted over the rock and tones of red and purple came through. We had our first major apprecition for how magnificent the nature of the place really is.
We camped that night at the one campground near the park and since we arrived after dark it was a quick night making dinner and getting to sleep; we had our alarms set for 4:30 AM to catch the sunrise. The next day was probably my favorite of the entire trip. We were back in the park around 6:20 at a different viewing area. We brought our chairs up to the view point and were early enough to get a front row spot. We tucked in with our blankets since it was pretty chilly and Jamie set up the GoPro for another time lapse. We realized it hadnt been charged overnight and prayed it wouldn’t die mid film. When the blinking red light went off about half way through, we were devastated. Sunrise came and went and as we picked up to leave we realized it hadn’t actually died, just stopped filming because the microphone had picked up on us saying “Stop”. Laughed for about 10 minutes over that one too, had tears running down my face. That sunrise was beautiful; a perfectly clear morning and we saw the evolution of colors and shadows in a different way from sunset. It’s crazy how the rock can look big and small at the same time from different angles. This time we had more (rude) tourists cramped in behind us, but we still enjoyed the moment.
We decided to cook breakfast in the carpark which was so fun. We put music on the outdoor speakers, cooked up some veggie brekky and had coffee and tea. It was a great start to the day and we were all buzzing over the view. On our drive to the visitor center we also had another crazy moment as we spotted 2 wild camels roaming right in front of the rock!!! There was literally not another car around us as we stopped in the road to watch them wander off. It was magical. Our next activity was bike rentals to go around the 10.5 km base trail! Over 3 hours, we biked around the base of Uluru; we saw the entrance for the climb (which we were all in agreement is a major disrespect), a few areas with ancient rock art, small watering holes and other sacred sites around the perimeter. It was really wild to see it the formation up close as it provided a different perspective to the true size of it. We had a blast on those bikes.
Back at the center, we took the time to walk through the aboriginal art exibits, read the historic information about the people and history of the location and felt like we had a much stronger understanding and appreciation of why this place is so sacred and spiritual. I enjoyed learning more about the history of this country I’ve grown to love and call home.
That afternoon we drove over to the other side of the national park to explore the area called Kata Tjuta. It was another stretch of rock formation and we did a few short hikes in the area to explore and enjoy the sights. We decided to head back to the campsite that afternoon so that we could have a relaxed evening after an incredible day. Worth mentioning how amazing the stars were here as well! I think we were all spoiled in Dalbeg with the incredible star gazing, but I took the time to enjoy it along this trip too. We got up again the next morning for a second sunrise and repeated our routine. It was more hazy that morning but still a beautiful experience.
At this point we headed back to Alice Springs, and took that afternoon to really regroup. Traveling in the camper was a lot on a daily basis between moving our bags around, setting up and breaking down the beds, cooking and cleaning the dishes, managing the amount of garbage accumulated and things we had floating around. We did a full cleanout/laundry that afternoon and all felt a lot better afterwards! We were excited that most of the long driving was finished, and now we would just be heading straight north towards Darwin with a few stops along the way.
The next day we drove a short distance from Alice Springs into the West MacDonnell Ranges. We made a few stops throughout the day at different gorges and swimming holes and really just enjoyed the nature with minimal other tourists around. Our most notable stop that day was Ellery Creek, a stunning oasis hidden in the mountains. We swam in the freezing cold water here out to the rocks in the middle of the gorge and really enjyed the views. We camped in the mountains that night and were happy that we weren’t in a tent because we saw a bunch of dingoes running around the campsite.
I took the sunrise driving shift the next morning and drove us back towards AS. It was a really pleasant drive that is vivid in my memory; I watched the sun come up behind the mountains and was really conscious of my experience that morning. That day was a long one, we drove about 12 hours north to Daly Waters, where we camped at the oldest pub in the Northern Territory which turned out to be a really cool spot! The pub had good food and a lot of people were around, watching rugby (?) and enjoying the night.
Up next was a day of swimming in hot springs. A short distance from Daly Waters we made stops at Mataranka Hot Springs and Bitter Springs. I really liked the first one, it was a man made natural pool in the middle of the woods! The water was so clear, clean and a refreshing temperature. We swam there for a while. Bitter Springs was more of a “lazy river” that we floated down a few times. It all felt really good in the midst of the crazy heat we had those days.. about 95 F and humid. That night we stopped in Katherine and took a morning dip in Katherine Hot Springs, just behind our campground, the next morning. Another man made natural pool, this one turned out to be our favorite and we had it to oursevles for a little while that morning.
The following day we experience our only real set back on the trip. We had plans to explore Kakadu NP, the largest in Australia, for a day or two. As we headed into the area we realized how remote the area is and that we would need a lot of fuel/fresh water to be able to camp. After getting that squared away we then realized that a lot of the roads and access to campsites/hikes were only 4WD capable. We made a gametime decision to take a 30km gravel road to one of the most popular spots in the park, risking no service, no people around, etc.. About 7km in and a lot of sweat and anxiety from us, we decided to turn around and head back because our van simply couldn’t handle the gravel road. We were really disappointed to miss out on this park but we all felt way better about not getting stuck or having some major catastrophe with the van aka a gas explosion (lol guys). Since the day was pretty much a wash anyways, we decided to continue north towards Litchfield NP, where we would gain an extra day to explore at a slower pace.
Litchfield is a relatively smaller park but with lots of gems! Over 2 days we swam/explored Florence Falls, Buley Rockhole and Wangi Falls. Florence Falls was my favorite, we all swam in a huge pool at the base of the massive waterfall and it felt really wild. Luckily the water was warmer so we could really enjoy it too. Buley Rockhole was a series of little rock pools that flowed downwards and we enjoyed lounging in those. Another highlight of the area were the massive cathedral termite mounds, I’m talking like 10+ feet high. Crazy things!
For our final night in the area we stayed in Mary River NP at a beautiful/luxurious campground. We swam in the pool and made a good veggie chili dinner that night. Our last big activity the next day was nearby; we rented a boat with a BBQ to explore a river with saltwater crocs! After stocking up with food and snacks, we spent 3 hours on the boat looking for the massive crocs. We saw just a few, though I’m sure there were many more that saw us. The few we did see were absolutely huge; these crocodiles actually look like dinosaurs. It was a really unique experience.
That night we finally made it to Darwin. Sadly, we dropped Harriet and Sam off at the airport for their flight back to Brisbane, and the 4 of us left spent the night in a campground outside the city. It was crazy to think that everything had just come to an end! After being on the farm and planning this trip, it all passed so quickly, but overall it was such a cool experience and I wouldn’t have wanted to change a thing. Thank you all for going along with a crazy idea that Jamie and I had while walking the zucchini field one afternoon 🙂
After returning the van, huge sigh of relief, we spent about 5 days in Darwin at a hostel on the main street. There really isn’t much to Darwin other than that main road with bars and restaurants. It was also SO hot out, but you couldn’t swim in the beautiful water because of certain death from jellies/crocs/sharks. We celebrated Sarah’s 27th birthday, relaxed by the pool, shopped and explored most of the area within a few days. I was feeling ready to go by the time the day of my flight came around, though sad to say goodbye to friends I had spent so much time and had done so much with.
I can’t believe how much of Australia I’ve seen in one year! Thinking about my second year, I know it will be a completely different experience, as I hope to travel the southern coast and Western Australia. I’ll also likely plan to find some steady work for a more long term committment, which will give me the chance to replenish the bank account and enjoy living more long term in a city. Melbourne is top of my list right now, but as I now know so well, things can change!
I am enjoying Coogee/Sydney so far and am thankful for the chance to have so much free time with relatively minimal cost. There’s a small group of Dalbeg veterans in Sydney too, which has been great. Lucky for me, my friend Sinead lives only 15 minutes walk down the road 🙂 My high school BFF Jen also lives in Sydney now at the start of her WHV with her fiance, so we got to see each other after a few years apart! That was such a treat as well and I am feeling far from “alone” here.
Dec and I have stayed in touch and gotten a lot closer since I left the farm, which I think was a pleasant surprise for both of us! Now the boy won’t stop calling me… ha ha jk 🙂 He finishes his farm work in about 2.5 weeks and is coming to Sydney afterwards so we are planning a fun little trip together to round out our final days in Australia. So many exciting things ahead and I couldn’t be happier about how it is all going. Happy days.