WEYBURN – What started as a few months’ “Down Under” travel adventure turned into an extended three-year stay for Weyburn resident Karlene Hennig.
She was finally able to return home for a month-long visit with friends and family for the first time since COVID began, but is expected to return to Australia on September 5 for at least a year to work and travel there. .
Initially, she went for six weeks to New Zealand in August 2019, then on September 23, 2019, she flew to Australia, departing from Cairns in the northeast.
She took the “Kiwi Experience” bus tour through New Zealand and traveled from the northernmost point to the south, seeing both islands.
“It’s like Canada, but it’s more compact. I think the longest drive took about four hours to get to a beautiful place,” she said.
In Australia, she traveled the East Coast, then found work on the farm to earn an extended stay on a working holiday visa. To qualify for the additional one-year stay, she had to perform at least 88 days of agricultural work.
She sent her resume to a few places, with the help of a few companies, and it was easy to find work because of her experience working with horses.
About halfway through his shift, COVID hit and restrictions were put in place, and the Australian Prime Minister suggested that overseas backpackers go home during this time.
The farm location she was at closed due to COVID and for about a month she had no job. Karlene lived in Sydney during this time and found it difficult as she couldn’t even go out to a park unless it was for outdoor physical work.
“I wanted a job like right now, I was just going crazy,” Karlene said, noting that she was able to get a position at a horse stud farm because it was considered essential work, and best of all. for her, it was out of town.
She admits she was about to return to Canada at the time, but she didn’t want to close the door on being able to return to Australia for a second year. In order for her to get that extra year on her visa, she had to work the full 88 days, so she made the decision to stay and work.
Part of her wish to work was to have time to travel and see different sides of Australia. When the COVID restrictions weren’t in place, she was able to see and experience some amazing sights.
One of the most “incredible” places for her to visit was the Great Barrier Reef, where she had her first snorkeling experience.
“I was really nervous because I had never been on the ocean where I couldn’t see any land,” Karlene said, noting that when booking a boat trip you have to make sure that it takes you to a good part of the reef where there is still life and color.
Another place she visited was the whirling sands of the Whitsunday, and she took a two-night sailboat ride to see it.
The sand is really fine and when the tide goes out it swirls with the water and you can walk on it.
One of the most memorable trips for her, of many over the past three years, was to Uluru, or Ayers Rock, located in the Outback.
“It’s just amazing, it’s mind-boggling when you think about what it is. These are layers and layers of the ocean floor that have been lifted,” she said.
Uluru is made of sandstone and rises 348 meters high over the surrounding landscape, and is one of Australia’s most recognizable landmarks.
Karlene also took a unique bus tour of the West Coast, visiting a hostel on wheels called Road2Adventure. The owner has transformed a school bus into a travel bus, including a sink, toilet and shower, as well as a gas stove and refrigerator.
Only eight people travel on each bus, and on the Karlene trip there were two buses and a 4X4 was towed away.
“He took us to all the cool places, as well as outback roads, red dirt roads, which other tours couldn’t get to,” she said, noting that fellow travelers were all young women and one man, from several other countries.
The initial trip she took took her from Perth to Broome, and she enjoyed it so much that she extended the excursion from Broome to Darwin.
“It was such an amazing experience. We were on the bus for 19 days and became really good friends. We were all crying when we had to leave,” she said.
She noted that the West Coast was known for its electric orange sunsets, and many nights they would sit on top of buses to watch the sunset.
On this excursion, she spent an extra $450 to go out on a boat to swim with whale sharks in Exmouth. An airplane spotter guided the boat to where the whale sharks were, and with their snorkeling gear they sat in the back of the boat until they received the signal to jump into the water.
“They are like the biggest fish in the ocean. You swim with them a bit – they swim quite slowly. Sometimes they circle around because they’re curious,” she said, adding that you swim with them until they go down to a lower depth, and return to the boat to wait for another. . She swam with three in all and also got to see other sea life, like a large sea turtle, a guitar shark, a leopard shark, and when they were back on the boat they saw a shark tiger.
A highlight for Karlene was visiting her sister Kelsey in April for three weeks, the first family member she had seen in two and a half years.
She took her on a quick tour of the East Coast, mostly places she had seen before, as well as the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary and a visit to Sydney. Kelsey also visited the Ridgmont Stud where Karlene works.
The farm is located in the Hunter Valley region north of Sydney, New South Wales, known as the horse capital of Australia and renowned as a wine region.
“The racing industry there is massive,” Karlene said, adding that she couldn’t find a job here in Canada working at a stud like this, and pointed out that the equivalent here in North America for horse country would be Kentucky. .
Overall, traveling and working in Australia was a very good experience for her, and she recommended anyone who wants to travel or backpack to use the hostels available. There are cheap ones around $15 a night, but for her level of comfort, she prefers those that are a bit higher quality, and you can meet all kinds of people from all over the world.
“Traveling is a great way to get out of your comfort zone and you learn so many life lessons,” Karlene said.