I wond’r if it’s really sleeting outside? House sitting in chilly Goulburn, Australia’s first inland city

Without doubt the most expensive aspect of holidaying is accommodation, so how amazing would it be if you could stay in awesome houses and apartments for absolutely nothing? Well, I have news for you buddy, you can, thanks to the wonderful world of House sitting 🙂 All that’s needed in return is to look after the odd dog, cat or water some plants.

The time had come for our first house sitting assignment in Australia: We were off to the lesser known city of Goulburn! Following a 2 hour cruise along the repetitive grey tarmac of Australia’s Hume Motorway, we soon found ourselves parking up outside an old, characterful (for Australia) house just a stone’s throw away from the main high street.

Within seconds of entering, we were attacked (in the kind and metaphorical sense) by two well-fed English Staffies, by the names of Guess and Roxy. Fortunately the welcoming owners quickly calmed things down, and soon we were introduced to the other animals: Spike and Shirley (cockatiels), a canary and two nameless gold fish. After a quick tour of the house and a run through of feeding instructions, the owners departed, and we were left in charge.

Who knew there was so much history!? A walking tour of Goulburn

Goulburn had it’s own tourist information office, bursting with suggestions of things to do locally – little did we know that Goulburn is in fact Australia’s very first inland city! Once we’d collected a pile of brochures, pamphlets and maps, we took a walk up to the war memorial that sits upon a nearby hill, overlooking the town below. Not only was the view impressive, the museum was far bigger and expansive than we’d expected. Interestingly they had on show some Japanese invasion money, printed as a replacement for Australian money following their intended conquest of Australia – fortunately this never became a reality!

5A81FB8A-0887-4343-A55D-353596DE2B4B
94DAB956-05E6-401F-A686-CFBCD0A4E6A9
EB5437B9-3C24-4AE9-BA4D-C5689D1ABB83

After nipping home for a spot of lunch and a quick play with the dogs – Guess loves playing fetch with her beloved ball, we set off on a walking tour of the town following a map acquired at the tourist office. The 3 hour tour proved to be quite interesting and took us past numerous historical buildings with fascinating back stories. These included a huge warehouse full of second hand books by the name of the Argyle Emporium, an old railway station, the wonderfully Art Deco Elmslea Chambers, a quaint little museum and a rather impressive courthouse.

 

9D541C44-4B53-41BA-AA72-38BBB0462798
0B3B7783-787B-413B-A75B-C7256BD237D1
2FBA9623-827D-40DB-B618-00338BFDEDB8
93A5E5DF-B977-4D2F-AAC6-1226B9A63B76
E1F4F5D4-2B9E-4B28-97CA-E1FE15D0F6CC
2260DFFF-1F65-4448-B18C-8DD20474ED37

We were glad to get back home afterwards for a cup of tea, considering it had started to sleet – not what we were expecting! Thankfully we had retro ski jackets lent to us by Martin and Christa, to keep us warm while walking the dogs later on.

Going underground: Checking out the nearby Wombeyan Caves

Conveniently there were two substantial sized caves within a short distance from Goulburn. Although it was tempting to head for the Jenolan caves as it was a nickname given to Joella by my Uncle and cousins when visiting Scotland the previous year, we opted for the closer Wombeyan caves. Following an hours drive through windy country roads and dirt tracks, we found ourselves parking opposite a field full of grazing kangaroos (worryingly referred to as a ‘mob’). We couldn’t help take a few photos before purchasing our tickets and making our way to the entrance of Fig Tree Cave.

With little to no light, we initially felt as though we were walking through narrow tunnels, but as we carefully made our way round the corner, a series of lights dramatically came on, presenting the cavernous underground cave that surrounded us. In fact it’s so big that it goes by the name of the Cathedral Cavern and has appropriately named karst rock formations including ‘The Organ Pipes’. The self guided tour was definitely worth the trip, thanks to the dramatic rock formations and excellent audio guide that automatically played as we approached certain points.

FC542E1E-343A-495A-8A6F-55757662FF5B
C9570143-0577-4539-ABE4-E0D12F62E005

That evening we treated ourselves to Australia’s favourite pub grub: Chicken Schnitzels, washed down with some satisfyingly cheap happy-hour drinks at the Hibernian Hotel.

A whirlwind trip around Australia’s regimentally laid out capital: Canberra

Considering we were just over an hour’s drive away from Australia’s Capital: Canberra, we couldn’t not head over for a day trip. After parking up opposite the enormous fountain by the name of Captain Cook Memorial Jet, we felt very much like we were in a ghost town as we walked around, given how few people were about.

Our first stop was to be the National Gallery, followed by the National Portrait Gallery of Australia. Both offered a mesmerising collection of classical and contemporary art that we could have spent all day gazing upon, but as we only had a day, we reluctantly dragged ourselves away.

00A6C920-6B44-4DAF-9AE4-895951524B05
F84877C5-BF47-49C7-81D9-2BC6A21F7504
CA8C6FD1-4CDE-4490-B79B-38359506F7A6

Canberra’s most striking landmark is without doubt Parliament House that overlooks the surrounding buildings. Initially we walked towards it, expecting to take a few photos then be on our way; little did we know we’d soon find ourselves inside, watching a live debate in the Senate!

Although we were keen to be on our way so as to avoid driving at dusk – a common time for kangaroos to be hit on the road, we couldn’t resist a 15 minute whirlwind tour of the War Memorial Museum, that sits strikingly opposite Parliament House in the distance. The collection of uniforms, tanks, aeroplanes and weapons was truly breathtaking, expansive and fascinating enough to easily spend a day looking around, maybe for another visit then…

That evening I was in the dog house, after hitting Guess’ ball too energetically over the hedge. Despite there being an identical new ball on hand to throw for her, this didn’t stop her sitting outside for half an hour gazing up at the sky hoping for her original ball to soon return – I felt very guilty!

Will it ever end? Blown away (almost literally) by a 3 hour firework extravaganza

Prior to arriving in Goulburn, I’d already researched local events, and was pleased to have discovered a firework display happening on our penultimate evening, in the nearby town of Gunning. We arrived as the sun was setting, and grabbed ourselves some melt in your mouth salt beef rolls before wandering round the oval racecourse that was to be the the stage for the display.

Soon the fireworks began, and we were immediately impressed by the 10 minute introduction. This was then followed by almost 2 hours of continuous fireworks, one by one – this was more of a trade show to allow national display teams to view and buy their favourite gear (fireworks can’t legally be bought in Oz unless you have a license). But all of this was barely a warm-up in comparison to the finale we were treated to at the end; a 15 minute barrage of cataclysmic explosive delights, which often nearly hit the various groups of spectators (inc us), too hypnotised to run away. This was without doubt the greatest firework display we’d ever seen!

1E1C6960-A846-43E2-9230-57F8C7843A8B
0F82F45E-0B30-464F-AE5E-1C50C7CA6268
F83E3396-7806-4005-A6C2-95C646C16544

Before departing, we couldn’t resist visiting the Big Merino, a giant sheep standing proudly alongside the freeway. This is one of over 150 “Big things” that are scattered all over Australia, most of which originally acted as tourist traps along major roads, between popular destinations. Little does Joella know, that I plan for us to visit as many of these as possible during our time here in Australia 😉

I wond’r if that’s a deadly Brown Snake? Exploring national parks, Bondi beach and down-town Sydney

With our new wheels now broken in following our trip to Cronulla beach the previous week, we were keen to explore a nearby national park for our next adventure…

It was long and brown: Strolling past the second most deadly snake in the world

Some 30 minutes after jumping in our spacious wagon, we soon found ourselves walking through the dense undergrowth of The Royal National Park, to the South East of Sydney. We were headed to Karloo Pools, a popular swimming and picnic spot about an hours walk away.

Understandably we were in awe of our surroundings, keen to take in the sights, smells and sounds around us in the forest. However, while paying more attention to the birds in the trees, we nearly stepped upon a brown slithery critter basking in the sun on the path ahead of us. Luckily Joella spotted it before we got too close, giving us to time to stomp on the ground in an attempt to scare it away. The brown coloured snake reluctantly slithered away, leaving the path open for us to complete our journey to the peaceful and refreshing Karloo Pools.

D76405FA-D2D2-42BE-AAEA-7C0400186B74
9AA6BF74-F5BA-482E-BBB7-F049223BEAB6
C8D88D20-D0C9-4958-9DE7-56A9A47181D4

It wasn’t until we were back at my Uncle and Auntie’s that we reflected upon how close we were to possibly being bitten by one of the most venomous animals in the world – scary :-/ From now on we’ll definitely be a little more observant!

Harbour Bridge, the Opera House and Lunar Park

Now that we’d explored some sights outside the city, the time had come to head down-town to central Sydney. Even the journey provided some excitement in the form of double-decker trains, which are fully air-conditioned and significantly more spacious than those on the London underground!

Almost immediately after getting off at Circular Quay, we found ourselves gazing across at the stunning Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge. Like a moth to a light, we made a beeline for the opera house, then through the neighbouring botanical gardens – amusingly these aren’t in giant greenhouses like we’re used to in the UK! Of course we couldn’t not stop in past the New South Wales art gallery, before then finding some bargains in the sales around Pitt St – one of the main shopping districts.

69B8D36C-4361-44DC-A067-CECFE4390FDB
D05110CB-4A4E-4E3F-8EA8-83F387C3D239
94616875-4E7D-42E6-8FF9-48138EF22791

That evening we were hanging out with my cousin and her friends at the famous Luna Park. Although it’s not nearly as big or advanced as the likes of Thorpe Park or Disney World, it instead provides lashings of nostalgia: There were the usual fun fair rides including those that drop you from 50 metres up, rickety roller-coasters and classic dodgems. But best of all was ‘Coney Island’ which contained lots of old-school stuff like vertical slides you go down in old sacks, moving walk ways and even a mirror maze! On the way home we were treated to some yummy Oporto – basically a fancy KFC.

ED0A6B9C-F6FF-4EAC-80B8-03C32078E01F
A080A87E-CBE0-4647-A369-46442FEEFD87
974A6487-35B9-4011-AAF4-A6448F2C45B4
383D5F3F-000A-4254-A31E-50A658FA7D89

Dog walking on Bondi Beach for my birthday

Suddenly my 32nd birthday had crept upon me, giving us the perfect excuse to head over to Sydney’s famous Bondi Beach to celebrate. We were going for Brunch, and my cousin Cass had kindly offered to be our chauffeur. Not wanting to miss out on the action, her dog and Lily joined us too.

After eventually finding a parking space, we grabbed a table on the outside terrace of the famous Icebergs Surf Club, and enjoyed a hearty fry-up. The weather was incredible – so much so, we were squinting despite wearing sunglasses, because of the intense glare of the sun reflecting on the surrounding water.

A7057E86-6177-4AD1-8FF5-972DC538713B
C40F856E-85D4-4221-AABC-44696285F50B
9944FB27-5D20-4236-B278-BBD59E7EE4C9

Our full-English left us happily stuffed and yearning for an afternoon nap, but that isn’t our style; so as soon as the last morsel of food disappeared down our necks, we departed for the epic Bondi to Coogee coastal walk with the dogs. It was so worth it though, as we were continually treated to beautiful sweeping panoramic views of the ocean, from the surrounding cliff tops.

That evening Joella surprised with an extremely fancy meal out – she knows the way to my heart!

EA4FA832-9673-4767-BA16-46597418FB9F
5724EA9D-A17D-41E7-BA32-050DFD5DA2F9
0CB58ED3-16F1-4EBA-B2F0-A9118AB0FFA8
F13ED9B4-7B04-4DA0-B657-F52BFD963B10

I wond’r if 3.6 litres is big enough? Car shopping, beaches and other chores

After a week of doing little more than eating, going on dog walks with Lilly, trips to the local supermarkets, being mesmerised by the enormous bottlos (supermarket sized shops just for alcohol) and attending Bee Gee concerts (thanks Martin and Christa), we accepted that we could no longer use jet lag as an excuse for not getting ourselves setup. Given how massive Australia is (32 times bigger than the UK), a car was our first priority.

Shopping for our wheels

Fortunately we’d already decided the type of car we were looking to get our hands on – a station wagon (an estate for our UK readers).

A station wagon with the biggest trunk (aka boot) possible, to be more exact. Why you ask? Simple: the trunk will become our bedroom while we explore Australia!

After trawling through Gumtree and making a number of calls, we lined up a couple of cars to view. Most were decent, although one was significantly newer and had more features inc electric windows and cruise control – important considering Australia’s hot weather and long straight highways. After some impressive negotiations from my Uncle, we purchased our favoured 3.6 litre Holden Commadore for an awesome 20% discount on the sale price, to the utter disappointment of the boy’s father we bought it from.

AC5BAFED-CFA4-4E40-9972-9B81B6826C08
6CDFAB64-7DCF-4A04-BAFE-44AA93D68E87
1F2D7B90-B0D1-461A-B403-9AE5A9C89D7C

Watching surf rescue on Cronulla beach

Now that we had our wheels, we were ready to start exploring Australia, our first destination was of course the nearest beach! There are heaps to choose from, but Cronulla to the south of Sydney was the obvious choice – being one of the closest and is my cousins favourite (apparently it’s where the cool kids hang out).

After a half hour drive through the sometimes intimidating highways and complex junctions, we were greeted with the stunning view of Cronulla’s beach, perfectly underlining the deep blue ocean stretching off into the horizon. Despite it still technically being winter, the weather didn’t seem to understand or accept this; it was easily 25 degrees C, and there happily wasn’t a single cloud in site. Perfect for our stroll along the nearly deserted, golden brown sandy beach.

While briefly sitting down to enjoy our packed lunch, we couldn’t help notice some commotion occurring in the water directly ahead of us – surf rescue were hauling a bloke into their boat. What are the chances of us witnessing a surf rescue within minutes of our first beach trip! Oh, hang on, why were they pushing the guy back into the water? Ahh, it was a training exercise…. Still, it gave us some entertainment, especially when nearly hitting the person in distress!

87E3AE55-65D8-466C-9073-CBBBD3B98494
44824EC5-185E-4B75-A9B1-49A1D7FFF8BD
51129AE5-0399-4459-87D9-2F9CA4BF141E

Other bits and pieces

Boring, but maybe useful for anyone else who’s also considering moving to Oz are the other chores we had to sort as part of our migration down under:

  • Bank accounts – Australia’s big 4 banks are: Commonwealth, West Pac, NAB and ANZ, some charge monthly fees, but both West Pac and NAB offer free accounts.
  • Money transfer – There are plenty to choose from, although Transfer Wise seems the most straightforward and offers decent rates, significantly better than most UK banks.
  • Mobile SIM cards – Australia has three main network providers: Optus, Telstra and Vodafone, although third parties such as Aldi offer cheaper deals, yet still use the same network.
  • Healthcare – The equivelant of the NHS is Medicare; it doesn’t cover you for everything, but does pay for medical emergencies thanks to the reciprocal agreement with the UK.
  • Car insurance – A minimum of third party insurance is mandatory, although fully comp is recommended, comparethemarket.com.au offers an easy way to find the best deals.
  • Car Rego (car registration) – Something that must be done within 30 days of purchasing, after the previous owner has submitted their papers signed by both parties.
  • Australian driving license – if driving for more than 90 days, you’re considered a resident (although only for an additional 9 months) so must purchase an Aussie license
  • Tax file number – If you’re planning on working legally down under, you’re advised to get your hands on a Tax file number, otherwise you’ll be taxed at an extortionate rate

We were now properly setup, and could proceed with some more sightseeing adventures…