Australia Working Holiday Visa: The Best Year of my Life (so far)

Australia Working Holiday Visa: The Best Year of my Life (so far)

Time is funny creature. It feels like an eternity ago that I stepped off that plane into the warm golden glow of a Gold Coast’s spring morning. Yet this coming Saturday, April 6th, 2019, will mark an entire year since I took my first steps in Australia on my working holiday visa.

It’s been a whirlwind ever since. 6 states and territories, 3 jobs and thousands of miles later and there’s still a huge chunk of this continent Island that I haven’t had the chance to explore yet.

Thinking back at all the places that I have visited on my working holiday visa, people I have met and challenges I have battled my way through. I feel I have learnt more about myself and the world we live in this past year than I would have done in 10 years had I stayed back home. In fact, I’m sure that I’ve done more this year than some people ever do in their lifetime and for that I am very grateful.

So, I thought I would share with you some of my favourite moments from the last year. 12 in fact, one for each month.


Experiencing the Commonwealth Games

As soon as I realised that the Commonwealth Games were going to be held on the Gold Coast, Australia around the same time that I was thinking about starting my working holiday visa I started looking at flights to the Gold Coast.

Sport has always been apart of my life. Even though my dream of competing at a major event such as the commonwealths or Olympics never came to be, it has never stopped me from wanting to be a part of these events.

I was lucky enough to be selected as a games maker for the London 2012 Paralympics.

6 years on and I was just as excited to be able to get lost in the bubble of the commonwealth games as a spectator.

I was even lucky enough to get tickets to see some of the events. I braved the scorching midday sun to watch the English Men’s hockey team. Relaxed in the cool evening breeze as the lawn bowls players battled it out on the green. I even got caught up in the electric atmosphere of the women’s rugby sevens.

None of that compared to being able to experience a finals session at the swimming. It wasn’t just any session though.

Commonwealth Games Swimming Pool
My view of the pool

This session included my event, women’s 200m breaststroke. Plus the event I was most looking forward to seeing, the men’s 100m breaststroke. There is something both special but strange about sitting in an Australian crowd shouting your heart out for and seeing an English swimmer win gold.

Adam Peaty would not have been able to hear, or even see me from my seat way up on the 2nd to last row from the back. That didn’t matter.

Read more about my experience at the Commonwealth Games

Witnessing a Dreamy Winter Sunrise

“Rachel are you getting up or what? It’s already getting light.”

Literally 2 minutes before my alarm was due to go off my brother, Paul, does the job for it. He was right though; the first light of the day had already crept up over the horizon. I needed to decide now if I was getting up or not.

Screw it, I thought, I’m already awake. Plus, I don’t know how many more chances I’m going to get during my working holiday visa to catch a sunrise.

I quickly threw on some clothes, a hat and my coat. Then attempted to put on my shoes without falling out of the van. I grabbed my camera and tripod from where I’d stored it after last nights successful first attempt of photographing the night sky.

It had been a magical night. I had only seen that many stars and the milky way once before, on the beach in Cuba. Back then, I didn’t have the means or knowledge to even consider capturing it. Last night I was still lacking some of the knowledge.

This morning, however, I discovered I had left it on standby overnight and drained most of my battery. I was going to have to be strategic about this. Especially as I didn’t have a car charger for my it and I had no idea when I was next going to be able to charge it.

The sky began to change from its dark indigo into lighter shades of blue. Then finally into a warm, golden glow, summoning a mist above the lake which we had camped next to.

Winter Sunrise over a lake in Victoria, Australia
Can you feel the morning chill?

It gave the morning a dreamy feel. Like I wasn’t really yet awake, only no dream would ever be this cold. Luckily Paul was in the process of boiling some water for a hot drink. Neither of us realised that it would take until the sun was fully risen for the water to actually boil!

We felt extra lucky as there was no one else around to witness this magical start to a winter’s day. As if nature was treating us for making the effort to witness its daily ritual.


Conquering Mount Oberon

I’d read about the walk to the summit of Mt Oberon before we had got to Wilson’s Promontory National Park. I’d even been told about by one of the FIFO workers back in Injune. It is still one of my favourite views that I have seen during my working holiday visa.

Sure, we also visited a few of the beaches and were lucky enough to have some close encounters with emus and wombats. However, I was intrigued to see the panoramic views from the top that I had heard about.

Afterall an hour walk to the top didn’t seem so bad. After filling ourselves up on porridge we drove the van to the carpark at the bottom of the walk.

It was still fairly early and the middle of winter, so we were fairly confident that there weren’t going to be many other people around. In fact, it turned out that we had it all to ourselves. We only saw another group on their way up as we made our way back down.

The climb (or should I say walk) was fairly easy.

The path wound its way up the mountain at a steady yet slightly relentless steepness. Fortunately, the wonderful people of the national park had placed benches at what seemed like strategic points. Hmmm, I’m definitely not as fit as I’d like to be, I thought at several points on the way up.

Or perhaps it was just trying to keep up with the giant strides of my brother?

Either way we soon made it to the end of the path, but not quite the summit. The last challenge was to navigate some quite narrow and uneven steps. Which led to a quick scramble over some rocks to the top.

As a steadied myself in the breeze I found I was breathless in the face of the view that was confronting me.

the view from the top of mt. Oberon, Wilsons Promontory National Park
The view from the top of mt. Oberon

There, down below were the beaches that we had explored yesterday glistening in the morning sun. I could see the whole of the Prom from here, or at least it felt like it. The forest stretched as far as could see in one direction and the ocean in the other.

Small, white, wispy clouds felt like they were within touching distance. Yet the fear of being knocked over by the breeze kept me from finding out. Yet somehow it didn’t seem quite real. Like someone had rigged up a backdrop just far enough in the distance that I could reach it.

We both sat for a while in silence. Just taking in the view. Lost in our own thoughts. It wasn’t even 10am yet how could the rest of the day even live up to this?

Find out more about what you can get up at Wilsons Promontory National Park

White Water Rafting the Tully River

There was no budging the dull, grey clouds overhead. The slight drizzle in the air would usually convey a miserable outlook on the day ahead. However, today was no usual day. Besides, I was going to be getting wet so what’s a little bit of rain?

As I pulled on the bright orange thermal wet-top that I had been provided I knew that it, along with a healthy dose of adrenaline, would keep me warm enough for today’s adventure.

Picking up my paddle I followed my guide for the day down to todays mode of transportation, a rubber dingy. OK so the technical term is raft but we all know what they look like.

I had been looking forward to this day ever since I found out that white water rafting was a thing in Australia. After my first experience on the Ottawa river in Canada I had no hesitation in jumping straight onto the “extreme” rafting option.

I was here to get wet and get my blood pumping.

However, the raft capsizing half-way down the first rapid was not something I was expecting to happen. I definitely wasn’t expecting to subsequently get squashed between it and the rocks on the side of the river.

You could say we were thrown in at the deep end.

It was indicative of the rest of the day. From racing the other rafts, jumping off rocks, swimming down one rapid and paddling through a waterfall, we conquered the Tully river.

whitewater rafting tully river adventure
Riding the rapids like a boss!

Then, on those quiet moments between the raging rapids when I got the chance to take in the surroundings. Only then did the true majesties off the day really sink in. For we were winding our way through dense rainforest. A rainforest that was one of the oldest in the world.

Towering high above us was the canopy hiding a multitude of plants and creatures that could watch us at their leisure and we would be none the wiser.

At times it was like we had stumbled upon a Jurassic park set. Then just as we let our eyes wander a bit further, we were drawn back to reality as the roar of the next rapid grew louder.

My day rafting on the Tully river was by far my favourite part of tmy east coast Australia trip. In fact it is probably one of my top 3 tours that I have done during my working holiday visa.

 Read a full account of my day white water rafting.

Escaping my Outback Pub for the Day

7am, the sun was still low in the sky. It was still cool enough for me to be wearing my jacket but that was likely to change in the next few hours. I stood waiting patiently for my friend, Cian, to come pick me up for our little day road trip we had planned.

I’d been working at the pub in Injune for just over a month now and this was the first day off I had got (it would turn out to be the only) and I wasn’t going to waste it.

He’d said he’d pick me up at 7 it was now 10 past. Screw it, I thought and began walking the 2 blocks to his house. Knocking on his window there was no sign of movement, where was he?

I set my bag down on the comfy looking chair outside and quietly slid open the door. Yeah, I should have known he was still asleep. After apologising profusely, grabbing us both some lunch for later and filling the car up we were finally on our way.

I wasn’t sure where we were on our way to though and it soon became apparent that neither did, he. Today was, definitely going to be an adventure!

We took a turning after spotting a sign for Nagga Nagga lake. A lake that several of the locals I had befriended had suggested as a place to visit. So, we drove the dirt road through Arcadia valley. A vast expanse of land with few properties. An area which much resembles the backdrop to many a cowboy film.

view across Arcadia Valley, Queensland from Lonesome national park lookout
The view across Arcadia Valley from the lookout

We drove and drove and drove. Blasting out music and generally enjoying the freedom that the road brings. Then we came a T-junction where we could re-join the sealed roadways.

Somewhere on our bid to freedom. In our elation at being out of the very small town of Injune and on the road we had missed the turning for the Lake. In his infinite wisdom Cian had checked a map before we had left but had not brought one with him. And of course, there was no phone signal so google maps was definitely out of the question.

In an effort to draw the information out of his head, Cian took to drawing the map in the dirt. It looked a little like one of those plans of attack scenes you see in a film. Only the end result of our plan was to turn left onto the sealed road and head to the next town. The lake would have to wait.

So, on we drove to Rolleston.

Pulling up in the car park we spotted a small coffee stand. Cian opted for a double shot and I a hot chocolate. I don’t think I’ve ever driven 2 hours for a hot drink before.


A Unique Beginning

I turned my alarm off and the bedside lamp on.

When I retired from competitive swimming almost a decade ago, I never thought I’d be doing early mornings again. There again, I never thought I’d ever work on a dairy farm either. Yet here I am 2 months into my 3-month stint on my Australian working holiday visa and it still isn’t any easier.

I pull myself out of bed, get dressed and sneak out into the kitchen. The house is old and creaks a lot and I’d rather not wake up the others. I grab the days first breakfast of an oat bar washed down with water. It’ll be a few hours until I can consume anything again.

Outside on the porch I slip on my wellies and set off torch in hand to fetch the dogs. Excited as usual their energy always manages to transfer to me, if only a tiny bit.

It’s a beautiful morning/night. Clear, sprinkled with stars. I have gotten used to Orion watching me round up the cows for the morning milking, a constellation I had never really seen until coming to Australia.

However, this morning Mother nature had a surprise for me.

As I zigged and zagged my way across the field pushing the cows towards the gate it became apparent that the moon was setting.

grainy silhouettes of cows walking past a setting moon
This was the best I could capture on my phone. It in no way does the moment justice

It was growing larger as it sank towards the horizon and the impending sunrise was lending it a golden cloak which it wore with a dignified beauty.

Knowing that I had only my camera on my phone which was in no way equipped to capture a non-grainy/blurry image I stood and watched for a while. Taking in the view that I knew very few others were seeing right now.

As the moon disappeared below the horizon, I turned my attention back on the cows but only for a little while. For on the other side of the sky the sun was readying itself to make an appearance.

It seemed that Mother nature was rewarding me for my continued efforts with a phenomenon that I think few people ever really witness. The setting of the moon and so the night on one side of the sky followed by the rising of the sun and so the beginning of a new day.

first light on a dairy farm
Waiting for the sun to rise on the opposite side of the sky

I felt truly luckily that day.


Learning to off-Road

Just off the east coast of Australia lies the largest island of sand in the world, Fraser Island. It’s a popular destination for travelers of all ages especially those on a working holiday visa.

There are no sealed roads there, only dirt tracks and beaches. Yet it’s not off limits at all. All you need is a 4WD of some variety and you can explore till your hearts content.

Having never driven off-road before the prospect of doing it on sand, in a car I didn’t really know on an island that probably didn’t have reception was a little intimidating to say the least.

Luckily there is a tour for that.

In fact, there are several. They are tag-along where by you join a group of people who all want to explore Fraser but not alone. You have a guide who drives the first car and then you all take turns driving the other cars in convoy.

Fraser Island Tag-along tours with Nomads
I did my tag-along adventure with Nomads

My first chance to drive the car was on the way back to our accommodation from Lake Mackenzie. After spending an hour taking in the dazzling white sand and crystal-clear turquoise waters it was time to head back before dark.

My first challenge was to find reverse! Having parked up I had to first navigate out of the car park all while getting used to driving an automatic.

Challenged completed it was on to the dirt tracks of the rainforest. Taking care to follow in the tracks of the car in front I soon got the hang of it. Needless to say not having to worry about gears made everything so much simpler. Soon we were going much faster to the point where I misjudged a dip in the road and sent the 3 girls in the very back seats flying into the roof of the car. I was having so much fun that I had forgotten there were other people in the car with me!

Too soon we were back at our accommodation and I would have to wait until tomorrow for another chance to drive. Perhaps the others won’t want to drive tomorrow? I could hope, couldn’t I?

Read more about my Fraser Island trip here.

Whale watching at Byron Bay

I never planned to spend a part of my working holiday visa on the east coast of Australia during whale migration season. It just sorts of happened. I had seen glimpses of them on our way up from Melbourne but now, in Byron Bay, the most easterly point of Australia, we had lucked out.

My brother Paul and I had decided to check out the lighthouse of Cape Byron. Cheating a little, we took a taxi to the top and were going to walk back down the track into town.

It was far to warm to walk both ways. Our driver was super helpful, giving us lots of tips on where to go and what to see and telling us all about the whales. As he dropped us off at the lighthouse, he asked the man staffing the car park if there had been whales spotted today. He was quick to reply, yes, they are just over there.

Surprised at our luck we rushed over to the barrier in time to see the graceful creatures gliding past.

My eyes scanned the horizon looking for more of them, hoping to see one jump up out of the ocean and crash back down in some kind of whale ballet.

I was not so lucky.

Whale watching in Byron Bay
We must have stood and watched these guys for a good 30 mins just doing their thing

We left our spots and walked on up to the lighthouse where several hefty camera setups and their owners were hoping to capture some dramatic events. I looked longingly at their professional-looking and obviously very expensive equipment. Perhaps one day I will have a set up like that.

Still reliving our whale encounter we began to make our way back down to town.

We didn’t make it too far before we spotted another small pod of whales who were swimming fairly close to the cliffs we were perched upon. They knew they had an audience and were playing around. Spraying water from their blowholes and swimming on their backs with their white bellies exposed. One even swam for a little while on its side with its fin in the air waving at us like something you’d expect to see at SeaWorld.

We must have spent a good half hour just standing and watching them do their thing before they swam out of sight.

As we began to descend back down to Byron Bay Paul turned to me and said, “you don’t need to go on a whale watching cruise now do you?”

He was right.


Lunch with the Wildlife

While planning the next days route on our road trip, my brother Paul had spotted a potential place to stop for lunch. It was a secluded beach called Elizabeth beach yet had easy access from the nearest car park.

He chose wisely.

We had the beach to ourselves in a large bay hidden behind sand dunes and flanked by rocks at one end and forest at the other. I sat down shoes in one hand and my foil wrapped sandwich in the other. We really couldn’t have found a more perfect place to relax and eat or lunch.

I turned my camera on to take a few quick photos before eating and as I pressed the shutter button Paul yelled out and pointed at the ocean.

“Is that a whale?”

Sure, enough just chilling in the calm waters was a whale and what I think was its offspring. Probably just taking a well-deserved break from their epic migration. I’d heard it was whale season, but this was the first time I’d ever seen a wild whale in real life before.

I just watched, mesmerised by them, camera in hand but unable to take a shot. Some moments are just better lived.

I sat back down eager to eat my sandwich. Afterall it had been a few hours since I’d last eaten something. I unwrapped the foil from my sandwich and took the biggest bite I could muster.

It hit the spot.

Somewhere in the distance I could hear the familiar laugh of the Kookaburras. I guessed the y were in trees, but my gaze was still lingering on the ocean. Perhaps I would see the whales one last time.

Ouch.

I felt a sudden, sharp pain between my thumb and finger in the hand that was holding my sandwich. As I looked down all I saw was a flurry of colour as a Kookaburra swiftly robbed off with my half-eaten sandwich.

It landed only a few feet away and proceeded to gulp it down. Except for the lettuce, it didn’t seem to want that.

Looking out to sea
This was taken a few minutes post incident and as you can see the seagull is still hanging around hoping for its own lunch

I sat there in shock. Yes, I knew that seagulls have a tendency to nick off with your food straight out of your hands, but I had never expected a Kookaburra to. I felt like an idiot. All the more because Paul was stood there eating his sandwich and laughing at me. I knew better than to ask him to share his.

All I could think was thank goodness we had made an extra one this morning. I ate that one in the safety of the van.


Exploring Freemantle Prison

There’s something about exploring an old prison that is exciting yet a little creepy. Most prisons are full of stories of notorious criminals, gangs and escapes. Of executions, wrongful convictions and even riots. Freemantle Prison was no different.

However most old Prisons that you can go visit never operated during my lifetime. This is not the case of Freemantle prison, which was not closed until 1991.

Eager to learn more about this prison I joined one of its tours which took me behind the scenes. Seeing the Kitchens, exercise yards and cells were an eye-opening experience. Even up until closure there was no toilet facilities inside cells. Inmates were forced to use buckets during the hours that they were confined to their cells. I can only imagine how bad the smell must have been in the height of summer.

Our guide told us stories of attempted escapes. Of how the prisoners rose up against the guards in order to secure better conditions. How in the last years of the prison the inmates were allowed to decorate their cells with art. Some of which you can still see.

I got to visit the hanging block, where the executions took place and learnt how on those days a solemn mood fell upon the prison.

Freemantle Prison hanging room
There was something a little ominous about this room

Our guide told us the tale of one particular man who was sentenced to death but due to luck escaped that sentence. As there was only one executioner that would travel around carrying out sentences, he would often do several in a day.

However, apparently hanging a man is quite physically demanding work. So this one particular prisoner who was on the list to be hung on that day was spared due to exhaustion on the executioner’s behalf. This happened a second time and before the third time capital punishment was banned. The prisoner lived out his life in the prison.

So often, places like this seem so far removed just because of the amount of time that has passed. Freemantle prison felt different. Even though I never knew this place when it was in operation the fact that there are former inmates that are still alive, and it only closed its doors just under 30 years ago makes its stories more real than say the stories of Alcatraz.


Rekindling an old flame at Scarborough beach pool

February was always both my least favourite and most favourite month back when I was at school.

It was the month that my asthma was usually the worst as the weather began to change. It was also the month that would bring with it my swimming clubs annual training camp. For the entire half term holiday, we would jump on a plane (usually to somewhere warm) and spend the week getting some solid training done.

It was a taster of what life as a full-time athlete could be like. It was also an entire week that I got to spend every waking moment with my second family.

This year marks a decade since my last training camp. Yet when I stumbled across the open-air swimming pool on the foreshore of Scarborough beach, WA I just had to dive in.

It just so happened to also be February. As I stood there behind the blocks looking down the 50m pool, the sun beating down on me I was taken back to the training camps of old.

Scarborough beach pool, Western Australia
I felt so at home here

I won’t lie I was slightly nervous. Not since before I hung up my goggles a decade ago had I swam in a 50m pool.

That first time I ever swam in one at the old Wigan pool had felt so long. I needn’t have worried.

I glided through the water, albeit at a slower pace, and faced the familiar old troubles of outdoor training. There was a reason I used to favour darkened goggles. Apparently my ability to swim in a straight line on backstroke hasn’t gotten any better with time!

My working holiday visa may have taken me to the other side of the world, but the pool will always be a place where I can find a connection with home.


Getting my 2nd year Visa

The backpacker Facebook groups are just full of questions about gaining the 2nd working holiday visa.

Can I count weekends?

How many hours is fulltime?

Is piece rate worth it?

Are just some of the common ones. Then there’s the horror stories. It seems everyone either knows someone or has been ripped off or exploited in some way when it comes to finding specified work to gain the 2nd working holiday visa. Not to mention the nerve-wracking application process that may or may not involve you being investigated.

Needless to say, I was a little stressed about the whole process. I ended up doing the majority of my specified work on a dairy farm but not before a bad experience on a veg farm and then paying for a farm skills course.

Yet it was done. I had more than the required days so now all that was left was to apply for my extension.

Filling out the application wasn’t as completed as I first thought, and I had soon filled in everything I needed. I clicked send and waited for the page to refresh. Back on my Immi account dashboard it didn’t look quite right.

Flicking over to my email tab I checked my junk mail to find I already had 2 emails. The newest one was a confirmation of my application. Phew I had done everything right. However just seconds earlier than the confirmation emails I had received another email.

I opened it. As I read it a huge smile crept over my face. It had been granted. I was getting my 2nd working holiday visa I was one of the lucky ones that wasn’t being investigated. A wave of relief swept over me. All those early mornings were worth it, I could stay another year.

Then it dawned on me. Now I can start planning it.


I’m still planning it now.

As I start my second working holiday visa in Australia, I hope that it brings just as many adventures. I hope that by sharing some of my highlights of the last year that you can get a sense of exactly what travel can bring you. Whether it is travelling your own country or jumping into a working holiday visa like I did, there is just much to explore.

Until Next time

Keep Adventuring!

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