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LizIsHere


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Trips:

New Zealand & Australia 2010

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The Red Centre - it's hot

Uluru (Ayers Rock), Australia


I flew to Alice Springs on the 16th, to spend one night in the town before heading off on my three-day camping tour of the Red Centre on the 17th. Expecting hot weather, I donned shorts and t-shirt for flight. As we landed I peered outside, eager to see baking earth and blazing sun. Instead I saw... rain. And that was what I saw for that entire day and the night, pounding, monsoon-style rain, hammering on the roof of the hostel, splashing into the swimming pool, filling the near-constantly dry Todd River-bed, forcing the desert to spring out rare green foliage. Luckily when I awoke at the bright and painfully early time of 5am the next day, it had miraculously stopped, and my fears that Uluru would be obscured by cloud faded away.

We set off at the 6am in our Mulgas Tour minibus, with our guide G-J, a young, fun guy with on his last tour with Mulgas. On the way to the Rock - our first stop of the tour - we picked up seven of his mates from Uluru airport, who'd come for Brisbane for his last tour. The guys were all just finished with uni - rowdy, loud and fun, and injected a huge amount of entertainment into the long bus journeys we undertook over the next few days - although we probably could have done without their gratutious farting on the bus...

Our first day, helped by G-J's extensive Ipod selection, we drove for hours... and hours.... and hours... Through a desert of red dirt covered with pale-green scrub, stretching to the endless horizon and punctuated with burnt-orange and ochre rocky outcrops. The sky seemed endless too - genuine Big Sky. And by the time we reached a rest stop at 1 million-acres-plus Curtain Springs Cattle Station and Roadhouse at around 9am, the temperature had risen to decidedly warm. A hot wind blew across the expanse of red-dirt forecourt as a solitary emu stalked around the four petrol pumps.

After picking up our swags - a sort of hardcore sleeping bag with a mattress inside, which the old bushmen in Australia carried and slept in on their tramps in the outback, and which we would sleep in out under the stars for the next two nights - we drove onwards, past Mount Connor, or 'Fooluru' as it's also known for it's slight resemblance to the Rock when spotted in the distance by eager tourist, to Uluru-Kate Tjuta National Park.

Many Australians had told me that no matter how many pictures you see of Uluru, it won't prepare you for seeing the real thing, rearing up in a solitary mass of rock in the distance, and it was true. It looked both absolutely like the pictures and nothing like them - it seemed, like the Opera House, almost like a movie-scene background, until we got closer and could make out it's true shape - far craggier and with more variation in it's rock formations, shades and texture than the postcards show. It's The Rock. And it took our breath away, the sheer natural mass of it, even without our being able to truly grasp it's significance to the Aboriginal people of the area, to whom it is where their spirit ancestors reside and an extremely sacred place. Which is why they keep telling everyone not to climb on it, naturally enough.

The climb was shut the day we arrived, anyway (it's only open about 50 days of the year, on average), and our small group set off on the base walk, a 10 km walk around the base of rock, taking in some of the spectacular formations in it - wave caves, arched caves, soaring walls of red-orange rock, and even water holes nestled in giant crevices, where it felt as if we could almost walk inside the rock itself. It was a hot day, and the walk had no shade, so we took it slow, meandering along, gazing upward and around, refilling waterbottles whenever possible and sheltering under hats (mine a rather nifty cowboy number borrowed from the hostel)... apparently it's pretty horrible to do in the middle of summer, in 40C heat.. who'd have though it?

From the base walk we drove to Ayers Rock resort, and our campsite - a large fenced-off square of red dirt on which to unroll our swags, with just enough for a dip in the pool before we headed back to a viewpoint to eat dinner and watch the sunset on Uluru. It was just slightly surreal to eat spaghetti while watching the rock change colours from bright orange to dark red to a greyish purple as the sun settled under the horizon...



permalink written by  LizIsHere on November 20, 2010 from Uluru (Ayers Rock), Australia
from the travel blog: New Zealand & Australia 2010
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The final WWOOF

Lilydale, Australia


I spent 10 days WWOOFing for the Groateurs, on their 2 acre property in the Yarra Valley, about an hour on the train from Melbourne. And a packed 10 days it was! From the off I realised that despite being 'retired', Patty and Victor were not exactly made for doing nothing. As they are working towards self-sufficiency, with a large, thriving veggie garden, fruit trees, and 5 chihuahuas (farm chihuahuas, prone to getting covered in oil and dirt, who gave me an extremely loud, unfriendly welcome when I first arrived!), two Dexter cattle, two sheep, 12 ducks, 14 chooks and one grumpy miniature stallion (with serious 'short-man' syndrome) nestled away in the paddocks and on the dam behind their house, they couldn't help but be busy!
Every morning we would go out to feed the animals, release the ducks onto the dam and the chooks into the yard (standing well back as we opened the hut door to avoid being trampled by claws and webbed feet), and muck out the cattle and pony stable. There was also the task of carrying Dot, the blind (ex-battery) duck, from the hut to the dam, and back in again in the evening, as she couldn't quite make it there herself. Her mate Twinkletoes was also an ex-battery hen, which Victor and Patty had nursed back to help through water-therapy (holding her in the dam everyday to let her swim and strengthen her legs, weaked by being made overweight and kept in a tiny battery cage) - she still walked with a slight bow-leg.

Along with the usual planting, harvesting and spreading stable muck on the veggie beds (yum!), the other tasks I did couldn't really be classed as work - from gathering and helping to bottle kilograms and kilograms of rhubarb from the gardens; going with them to collect unsold bread from a Lilydale Bakers Delight to feed to their animals (the shops throw out as waste almost 100% of their stock everyday otherwise!); accompanying Victor to the nearby dairy to collect litres of fresh milk for cheesemaking, and taking part in cheese-making and art classes. Patty was an accomplished artist, and ran classes from home and in community centres in everything from cheese-making to painting to indian cookery, bottling and preserving. I got to take part in the camembert and ricotta-making class, though I didn't get to try the camembert as it takes about 5 months to mature! As Mormons (no, not the scary you-will-be-converted ones, thankfully! And they kept caffeinated tea and coffee in the house for visitors too, phew) they had Sundays off, but even then Patty was keen to get me to do a painting project, which while not my thing at all turned out to be fun. It was all quite full-on, and although once or twice I would have appreciated a little time to myself, they were really open and generous people; I learnt so much and know that I can always email them with any questions about self-sufficiency, about which they were intense and enthusiastic mines of information.

After those ten days, armed with recipes from Patty and having donated some of my trashed clothes to them for rags and mulching material, I returned to Melbourne for one night before flying to Alice Springs for my red centre tour.

permalink written by  LizIsHere on November 14, 2010 from Lilydale, Australia
from the travel blog: New Zealand & Australia 2010
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Melbourne and beyond!

Melbourne, Australia


Melbourne was fun but I'm now off to WWOOF, near Lilydale outside Melbourne for ten days. So no completed Melbourne blog yet because I've run out of time! Trams, art galleries, the riverside, film, performance art, and lots of people in Day-At-The-Races wear sort of sums it up!

Off to the farm... :)

permalink written by  LizIsHere on November 4, 2010 from Melbourne, Australia
from the travel blog: New Zealand & Australia 2010
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A long bus ride, and a chilly city at the end of it...

Melbourne, Australia


Well, the bus ride was decidely NOT fun. In fact it was horrifyingly apt for a Halloween-night trip. Full to capacity, meaning elbows in your face as you attempted to sleep, a stinky toilet, an almost complete lack of sleep and, oh yeah, being trapped on a bus for 12 hours, did not a good trip make. Though seeing the dawn over the countryside outside Melbourne was quite nice - as was catching a glimpse of the skyline of the city on the misty, far horizon.

Arriving, I couldn't check into the hostel for 2 hours (woe-is-me!) which only added to my zombified state, but after dumping my bags and grabbing a shower, I struck out in to the city. Wearing a hoodie. That was the first change from Sydney - down the thermometer, from 24C + to about 17C. Brrrr. (Yes, and I'm sure everyone back in actually freezing cold Britain is sympathising with me here).

My optimistic aims didn't get me too far that first day - a ride on the free, old-style City Circle tram;a wander round Federation Square, a city focal point that's stuffed with museums, where I sat and watched an energetic Londoner doing comedy-performance art...and then it all went a bit downhill when I got lost somewhere around the Greek/Chinese Quarters, collapsed for a little while in the sudden warm sunshine on the Treasury Gardens' lawns and then gave up and headed back to the hostel to lie around on various sofas until a sensible time (8pm, ahem) rolled around for me to be able to go to bed.



permalink written by  LizIsHere on November 1, 2010 from Melbourne, Australia
from the travel blog: New Zealand & Australia 2010
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Syd-neeeeee

Sydney, Australia


We left Taree on the 7.30pm bus and arrived, bleary eyed and slightly disbelieving, in Sydney at past midnight. Luckily our first-night hostel was only a stumble across the street from the bus-station, and we manage to grab six hours sleep before packing up again and catching the tram across town to Glebe, the funky, studenty quarter where we'd spend the next four night (five for me!) at Glebe Village Backpackers.
Glebe does feel like a little village, full of little cafes, independent shops, bookshops, restaurants and pretty wrought-iron-balcony'd old houses. It's a breath of peace and greenery when we come back from the buzzing city centre.



The past few days have been hot, and we've walked a lot! The first day's excursion - taking into the Opera House, harbour bridge, the historical Rocks area, Botanic Gardens and the grungy area of Kings Cross - was enough to wreck my feet in flipflops and cause me to pull a [something] in my foot, so I've spent the last three days limping about! Seeing the Opera House caused an actual 'ooh' intake of breath, and it's become more impressive through all the different ways we've seen it - up close, glimpsed through the bridge, from the Manly ferry. The bridge itself is imposing - i plan to walk across it tomorrow (foot permitting).

On our second day here we headed out on the 2 1/2 train ride to Katoomba in the Blue Mountains - so called because the haze of eucalyptus oil from the forests causes a unique blue haze in the air. It's... and this has been an overused word in this blog... but... stunning. Oh, and breathtaking. And... huge.. HUGE. From Echo Point the forests and cliffs spread out in a never-ending panorama, on and on to the horizon, with the rugged rock formation, The Three Sisters framing the view to the left. I could have gazed at it all day.

Instead, though, we opted to clamber down the 1000 stairs of the Giant Staircase and walk along Federation Pass, an approx. 2 hour forestwalk, which passed under the three sisters and ended up at the nauseatingly-named 'Scenic World', where we could catch the world's steepest railway (I was not keen on this, not at all) back up to the top of the cliffs.
The walk was cool, the air was fresh... the world's steepest railway was TERRIFYING. Steep means steep, and the fact that we were the only passengers heading back up didn't fill me with confidence. The words 'I am NEVER doing that again!' may have escaped my lips as we got off, slightly shakily, at the top.

From the 'Scenic World' (urgh) complex, we caught the Explorer Bus onwards and walked to the Luera Cascades, a walk which passed viewpoints above the Bridal Falls - with white cockatoos soaring over the blue - and climbed up through the trees beside cliffs to the cascades themselves. The heavens opened just as we reached Leura town itself, so we headed back to Katoomba for epic hot chocolates and to catch the train back to Sydney.

On Thursday we checked out the supreme tackiness of Paddy's Markets, then Nik went to Bondi while I chilled out at the hostel nursing my foot, yay. In the evening we went down to Darling Harbour, a massively regenerated area of the city with expensive hotels and restaurants around the harbour, to watch the fireworks displays which have been put on every week this month (I'm not sure why, the info board didn't explain, but they were nice anyway - more the 'Ahhhh I'm watching fireworks over the harbour in Sydney' than for any other reason!)

Yesterday we caught the 'famous' ferry to Manly, a seaside town/suburb with a slightly English feel, pretty beaches and 'good surf', to give Nik his last dose of Aussie beach-time before flying back home today. The ferry ride was a definite highlight, with great views back to the city and Opera House/The Rocks.

It's a cool city, though I like Glebe and it's grungier neighbour, Newtown, far more than the city centre - it's a proper little neighbourhood, somewhere people actually live, and I'm so glad we stayed here rather than Kings Cross or nearer the centre. If I'd come to Sydney first and live/worked here I'd probably never have left to see all the other stuff!

Nik catches his flight back to Blighty today, so I'm back to travelling on my own for next month - starting with what I'm convinced will be a fun fun fun 12-hour bus ride to Melbourne tomorrow night!



permalink written by  LizIsHere on October 30, 2010 from Sydney, Australia
from the travel blog: New Zealand & Australia 2010
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hello!

Sydney, Australia


We're in Sydney now! Hence the proliferation of opera House pics :). So I'm a little behind in blogs... all shall be updated this week while I'm back in the land of easy internet access!

permalink written by  LizIsHere on October 26, 2010 from Sydney, Australia
from the travel blog: New Zealand & Australia 2010
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Hosts the last

Taree, Australia


From Grafton we moved on to Taree, another nowhere town on the backpacker map of the east cost, but the location from where our next host - based out in the countryside near the town of Wingham, got best pick us up. Our hosts, Mary and Roger, lived out in Mooral Creek valley on 100 acres, in their self-built home with some goats, extremely vocal geese, six beautiful white rare-breed chooks and some cattle. There was also sometimes a visiting platypus in their dam, but not on our visit, alas. They described their land as 'mostly for looking at', but they most definitely doers, not observers! They were keen to clear rampant weeds from their property, and regenerate the native forest which had once grown there, using only a few (self-) fenced paddocks for grazing their cattle. From South Africa originally, they had moved to Aus about twelve years ago and were now citizens, Mary working as a primary teacher, and Roger working as a machinery designer from home.

The setting of their house was stunning, about halfway up the slopes of the valley, their solar-biased house faced a breathtaking view of mountains and forest. They had a small veggie garden, which we would help extend, and orchard. They were fun people, very energetic and driven, quick with jokes and laughs, and with an extreme fondness for card games at morning tea and.... well, at any oppotunity! It was by no means a bad place to WWOOF, and as most of their WWOOFers are first timers, coming up from Sydney, they must think they've come to heaven with the beautiful scenery, tasty food, good company, comfortable, private accomodation and the free use of phone and internet! But it wasn't one of the most interesting places we've stayed - and some of the work was up there with the most exhaustingly physical we've done on this trip! During our time there the mattock and shovel became our close companions - for digging pipe-trenches, weeding the new no-dig (ha?!) garden, and digging a frankly gigantic (our fault, we took Mary's estimate of 75cm/75cm/75cm literally!) tree for a fruit tree, going through soil to shale to clay to rock in our quest for a good home for our fruit tree. I say 'our' - their orchard had a fruit tree planted by every one or each pair of their WWOOFers, and each was marked by a WWOOFer painted stone recording their names and the date of planting. "Our WWOOFer graveyard" Mary called it. We planted a quince, and Mary's promised us updates on it's progress.


We also pulled out bagfuls and bagfuls of the dreaded fireweed, a rampant yellow-flowered weed, bashed thistles with (thankfully blunt) machetes, collected and shelled runner beans, and baked and baked and baked - South African 'crunchies', flapjacks, biscuits. It was a welcome relief to go inside to shell beans or bake when the sun, which seemed to have finally realised it's true role in life after a month's sabbatical, became too much.

Mary and Roger also took us out to the cinema one night, to watch Skin, a film about a black girl born to white parents in apartheid Africa. It was interesting to discuss it with people who lived there through that period, and the through the lifting of it, but I was full of more questions which could have possibly caused some tension, and since my journalistic hat wasn't on and I had to live with them for another week, I kept most of them to myself!

We had a nice time, but we were excited to leave, despite the peace of countryside, to get to Sydney... and to leave the mattock behind us!



permalink written by  LizIsHere on October 24, 2010 from Taree, Australia
from the travel blog: New Zealand & Australia 2010
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creek safaris, pancakes and dingos

Grafton, Australia



We had a great time at Fairweather - since Hayden and Eleanor were the closest in age to us of any of the WWOOF hosts, we had a fair few things in common, and they were fun to be around. And, aside from the interesting (even with the cow poo it was good to be out in the forest!) work and having loads of our own space, the food was amazing too, particularly the make-your-own-pizza and bonfire night we had up at their cabin - secluded away up a forested hill from the rest of the farm - one night (Hayden managing to start the fire despite the persistent rain!), and Hayden's pancakes, or as Nik called them after consuming approximately twelve at one sitting, Death By Pancakes.

There was also a lot of land to explore - 450 ha of it - though we only saw a teeny fraction of it. One day after work, with the sun finally peeking through the clouds, Nik and I took the took the dogs on a creek safari - less of walk, more of a clamber, crawl, bash and climb through, round, and over bushes, trees, and rocks alongside the creek in the forest below the main cabin. We also went on a more organised bush-bashing expedition to clear a walking track along the main, wider creek, armed with secatuers, small axes, and a tempermental chainsaw. The day was warm, the creek was full (and COLD when I scrambled across it from rock-to-rock - the only casualty to the crossing was my absolute backpackers waterbottle which I'd had since mission beach, carried away by the creek), the scenery was pretty, and we also got a chance to hack at any undergrowth blocking the path, which mostly followed cattle trails. We were even lucky enough to find a carpet python, curled up circularly in rest on a sunny, grassy patch beside the water. As our last piece of official WWOOF 'work' at Fairweather, it was pretty hard to beat!

But one of the best and most unexpected happenings at the farm occurred on our second to last night, when I, walking up to the main cabin in the darkness guided by torchlight, spotted a strange-looking dog playing with Brandy. It turned out to be a dingo puppy! A dingo! The same animal that they wouldn't even let us get out of the tourbus near on Fraser Island! One of Hayden's friends had rescued two of them from a hollow log when he and his kids had found their mum dead on a bushwalk, they'd been raised domesticated; though they retained all the dingo mannerisms (including no bark - the muscovy duck of the dog world!), they were as happy curled up on John's lap as out hunting bandicoots in the forest. It was amazing to see - particularly to watch Brandy play with the two puppies, while Jasper stood by, eyeing them suspiciously. These are the kind of things we'd never have got to see without going WWOOFing.

permalink written by  LizIsHere on October 14, 2010 from Grafton, Australia
from the travel blog: New Zealand & Australia 2010
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Snakes, too close for comfort!

Grafton, Australia


Our work varied over the day, starting generally around 9am. It involved a fair amount of weeding and mulching, but generally in different gardens or areas around the farm, which kept it fairly interesting. We also planted out herbs and tumeric, filling and planting seedtrays, feeding the pigs, and, joy of joys, heading out into the forest to collect cow poo for fertliser! We'd pile into the ute and bumpy along the steep and often muddy and rocky tracks up to an area Hayden had decided would be rich pickings. Then, a wheelbarrow to each pair and a shovel apiece, we'd shovel and shovel until both the back of the ute and trailer attached were full. Then, usually, someone would have joy of riding back to the farm in the back of the ute, balancing on the pile of poo (and often with a dog lying luxuriously in the softness next to them)! One day, after days of rains, we had an exciting poo-quest when the ute starting rolling backwards down the hill, out of control! Luckily Hayden managed to prevent us ending up embedded in a tree, but that particular route to the poo was ruled out after that.

In addition to poo missions and planting, there were also SNAKES. Many of them. Our first day of work was pretty hot and sunny, and Hayden discovered two giant red-bellied black snakes under a pile of tin at the end of one of the gardens. These he, erm, encouraged away, with the help of the whippersnipper... they writhed off across the grass, towards the dam wall we had to cross every day to our cabin! I ventured to ask whether snakes were active at night, but luckily got an answer in the negative. Hayden also had to kill a snake which wouldn't leave the garden, because it would pose too much of a risk to everyone working in there.
But our best/most exciting/terrifying (take your pick) snake encounter happened after work. Nik and I had just taken our generator-powered showers at the bunkhouse, and he'd left before me to head back to cabin. As I came down the slope towards the dam he was standing there on the dam wall, waving slightly at me. Not understanding I approached close, only to spot what he was transfixed by - two blacksnakes (the ones from earlier) coiled round each other in a hynoptic mating dance (we only found this out later after descrbing it to Hayden - we half-thought they were fighting). It was amazing but creepy... and I crept around them, giving them a very wide berth, to join Nik at a safe distance on the dam wall. We watched them for a while - then suddenly they uncoiled and shot with that surprising speed snakes have in a direction that looked worryingly like 'towards us'. I, being the level-headed and calm person that I am, promptly broke away to run across the dam wall to our cabin - only to be pulled up short by the sight of ANOTHER blacksnake, right in front of me - less than a metre away! Luckily for me it jerked in fear as I pulled up in horror, and shot off away from me, into the dam. I'd nearly stepped on a red-bellied blacksnake, and the other snakes hadn't even come towards us in the end! ...The adrenaline kept pumping for a while after that, I'll say.

And then Hayden, after being told excitedly by us that at least two of the snakes had gone for a swim (yes, they swim) in the dam, promptly stripped to his swimmers and dived in for his planned afternoon swim. "The ripples I cause'll scare them off" ... Aussies.

permalink written by  LizIsHere on October 10, 2010 from Grafton, Australia
from the travel blog: New Zealand & Australia 2010
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Fairweather... or not.

Grafton, Australia


We left Nimbin, spent a few rather time-killing-esque days back in Byron (rain, rain, fish and chips on the beach, some beach-chilling when the sun finally deigned to appear), then caught the bus to the 'dump' of Grafton to meet our second-to-last host. She was not what we expected - a Scottish girl in her mid-twenties, her accent baffled us for a long while until i finally ventured to ask what her connected was with the hosts listed in the book. Turns out that this was Eleanor - 'the WWOOFer who never left'! She had come on to WWOOF (her first ever host) at Fairweather Farm with owner Hayden after spending a month or so travelling between Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney on a 3month backpacking trip to Oz. She got to Fairweather, met Hayden, they got together, she applied for her first year working visa, then her second... Then they got engaged, so she applied for the partnership visa, and since that first planned 3 month trip she's never really left (except for a 6 week trip back to Scotland to pick up clothes... and, presumably, explain herself to her parents - that had to be an interesting phonecall home!). As she herself put it: "It's funny how things work out."

Definitely. I bet she never saw herself living in a wood cabin with her future husband on his 450hectare property when she left home with her backpack a few years back! Fairweather Farm (not so fair-weather, judging by the near-constant rain we had during our ten-day visit!) was a pretty amazing place to visit, let alone live. Mostly forested, with creeks and wild bush, kangaroos and numerous birdlife, snakes (I know for a rather-to-close-for-comfort fact that there were snakes, read on...), and many oddly shaped and hued mushrooms, the farm's business, run almost single-handedly by Hayden and Eleanor, is growing veggies and herbs for sale to restaurants, box schemes, pubs etc. Bought by Hayden - previously a town-boy - about 7 years ago, he transformed the large paddock (very large!) where the three dams, large vege/herb gardens, bunkhouse, 'main cabin' and our private eco-cabin are now situated from nothing, and built up his business by simply learning by doing and probably learning from making mistakes, too. It was all wonderfully laid-back (apart from pickin' and packin' days before a big order had to be delivered, normally a Tuesday), none of the hard-nosed commercial drive I'd expected from a commercial property. Plus, the area was beautiful, and remote.

Fairweather is reached from the mainroad outside Nymboida via 7km of bumpy logging tracks through the state forest - four-wheel driving conditions handled admirably by Eleanor in her decidely 2WD car. It's a long way from, well, anywhere. You have to really, really want that bar of chocolate to simply 'nip to shops' when you live there.


We were staying in a private cedar-wood eco cabin, quite secluded away from the other buildings, in between the three dams - we had to walk aross one of the dam walls to reach it, and at night the walk would be a deafening one as hundreds of frogs set up an astoundingly loud cacophony of different croaks from the waters edge. The one-room cabin with adjoining compost toilet had it's own kitchenette, so we could fix our own breakfasts to eat out on the verandah. It was absolutely the best place we've stayed on the trip - the views, the peace (well, apart from frogs and occasional visits from the farm dogs, red kelpies Brandy and Jasper).

There were 2 other WWOOFers there when we arrived, Austrians Patrick and Max, who were staying in the bunkhouse. The property also had 6 fairly new young pigs, some goats who kept themsleves to themselves, the dogs, and the odd couple - the goose and the Muscovy duck, Daphne, who had a wonky leg from being attacked by a goanna.



permalink written by  LizIsHere on October 7, 2010 from Grafton, Australia
from the travel blog: New Zealand & Australia 2010
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