After a few weather-related mishaps and flight flip flops, we finally made it down under to kick off our year working, traveling, housesitting, and volunteering.
Our first week was spent in tropical North Queensland in the city of Cairns, famous for a jumping point to the Great Barrier Reef. The town is a hub for backpackers as evidenced by the hostels and tourism centers all offering similar packages to pump adrenaline.
Adam and I were fortunate to have secured a help exchange with a lovely couple, similarly aged, who live in a suburb north of Cairns. Jenna and Brenton are unique and creative humans who are a pleasure to be around. When we first arrived, Jenna immediately made us feel relaxed and at home. Their home was embellished with words of wisdom, retro furniture, and kind words from previous guests. The relaxed atmosphere was much appreciated after nearly 48 hours of flight delays and cancellations.
Jenna, an art student/vegan/jewelry maker/model/musician/collector of all things vintage, is passionate about animals. She saved a dozen or so rats from being snake food and cares deeply about them. I attempted to learn their names — Mama Bear, Smudge, Kendrick, Dusty, and Blue to name a few. Unfortunately, four girls with weak immune systems were unable to battle pneumonia. They stayed at the vet for the majority of our stay. Jenna and Brenton provided steam to ease their breathing in hopes of nursing them to wellness. Unfortunately, all of them passed on within a few days. May they rest in peace and turn into fruitful trees!
Jenna is such a gorgeous human. Her artwork adorned the apartment and we got to watch her make a few rings for her Bohemian style jewelry. Check out her website and Society6 store. You can buy some of her gorgeous and unique jewelry (all recycled and vintage!) at the local markets or local retail shops.
Brenton is a man of many talents. During the day, he’s a high school English teacher as well as a Japanese and Geography teacher. A few Japanese language books inhabited the bookshelf, which was timely as we have just arrived from Japan. Oh, and he’s a poet, writer, and an acrobat!
In 2012, Brenton ventured around the world interviewing people on the niche topic of modern Discordianism. There isn’t a simple definition for Discordia, but from what I gather, the main theme is that followers embrace the chaos and disharmony all around us. Some may call it a sort of parody religion. It is certainly a unique topic of which we are glad to have learned a slice. He’s in the process of writing a book documenting these interviews all around the world. Check out his site for updates: Chasing Eris.
Jenna and Brenton lead busy lives and needed help with tidying up the house, so they host via HelpX when they’re not renting out their extra room on AirBnB. There were no formal work hours and it felt more like CouchSurfing. We enjoyed good conversations, home cooked meals, and meeting their friends over tea and trivia.
One Sunday evening, we all went to an open mic night that they hosted at Stratford Pizza. Jenna graced our ears with her talented voice and guitar while Brenton performed poetry. The audience was encouraged to take the mic as well, which Adam bravely did. If you find yourself in Cairns on the second Sunday every month, please check the Pizza and Poetry event at 7pm for an intimate local experience!
Buying a Car in Cairns
Our priority during the first week in Australia was to purchase a car. The city’s public transportation system is decent for Australia, but sparse compared to Japan, so walking and hitchhiking sufficed while we searched for a used car. We checked notice boards at backpacker hostels and toured around sketchy car dealerships, but ultimately found our dream car on Gumtree (similar to Craigslist).
The 2002 Holden Commodore station wagon was preloved by a Canadian couple who gallivanted around the east coast for a few months. I appreciated their honesty and conscientiousness about having the proper paperwork, new registration (rego in Aussie lingo), and roadworthy certificate. An added bonus is that the car came with a bed as well as camping equipment and cooking gear. Buying a car in a new country was a relatively easy process, but we had to learn a lot along the way. I will write a post with important details to consider for when buying a car as a backpacker in Australia. In the end, we got lucky because we are totally content with our purchase!
Onwards to Wyanbeel!
After saying our farewells to Jenna and Brenton, we headed about an hour north to the rainforest where we did another help exchange with a florist who leads a sustainable life. Read an overview of what we learned there and some travel tips in the Daintree Rainforest area!
Recommendations in Cairns:
We didn’t spend a lot of time exploring Cairns because we were busy searching for a car and helping out with Jenna and Brenton, but we enjoyed the city. Here are a few of the highlights! They are all free. We plan to come back next winter to explore the Great Barrier Reef. Every local warned us of the incomprehensibly hot and humid summers, so it’s best to avoid those months (December-April).
- Cairns Botanic Gardens – An impressive array of funky plants as well as walking tracks and some history thrown in there.
- Crystal Cascades – Waterfalls and swimming.
- Cairns Esplanade – Take your time strolling along the park lining the water, have a barbecue/picnic, and take a swim at the Lagoon! There were a few festivals and performances happening while we were there, so check out what’s happening!