Tag archive for "victoria"

The end of the world

Australia, Destinations, Photography

The end of the world

No Comments 03 March 2010

My friend Anna-Lise Rouquier took this photo at Kancoona Velley Wines. Behind the vineyards on the massive property are all types of fun antique-farm equipment. She captured this image on a gloomy day. I like it because people often refer to Australia as “the end of the world,” and in this picture, it actually looks like it.

Photo by Anna-Lise Rouquier

Photo by Anna-Lise Rouquier

Farming for the soul

Australia, Destinations, Dispatches from Down Under

Farming for the soul

3 Comments 25 February 2010

When I told people my plans to work on a farm in Australia, their responses were usually doubtful.

“But you’re not a farmer.”

“You won’t last a day.”

“Do you have any idea how hard farming is?”

They were right about one thing. Farming is tough! Some of the work is straining, but mostly it’s just tedious and time-consuming. It’s harder than the nay-sayers said it would be and harder than I’ll ever know given that I’ve done so little.

However, what those people neglected to tell me is how rewarding and soulful farming can be. You’re in the great outdoors, basking in the sun and working with the land. The work you do is evident. There’s nothing like looking back on a days worth of weeding blackberries and seeing with your own eyes all you’ve accomplished.

2/21/10-Can you tell which row of vines has been weeded? Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

2/21/10-Can you tell which row of vines has been weeded? Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Further, there’s not much thought in most of the work. Once I got into a groove, it was basically just repetition. That gave me a lot of time to think about…everything.

People in my life, things I’ve accomplished, people I’ve met, what I want to write about next, how I’m going to write it, things I’ve said, analyzations of why I did something, how I wish I did it differently, my favorite moments, my favorite sandwich, my first love, friends, family, what I want to accomplish, how I’m going to do it, things I wish I had said, why none of that matters, how I’ll do things differently in the future and I wonder if it’d time to eat yet.

In the midst of it all, I’ll look up for a moment and just go blank at the sight. In the afternoon when the sun is setting, it shines through the leaves and grapes just right to brighten the colors. The mix puts me in my place as to how lucky I am to be here.

2/24/10-The grapes and leaves look especially impressive when the sun hits them just right, usually around 5 p.m.

2/24/10-The grapes and leaves look especially impressive when the sun hits them just right, usually around 5 p.m.

All that thought, can really give a person peace of mind. It comes so naturally too. I don’t even realize I am so into my thought until I look back at meters and meters of completed work and think, whoa how did I get from there to here. It’s extremely relaxing, minus the random pricks from the thorns on blackberry vines.

The soul-searching is only going to get more intense as Lise and I are heading to WWOOF at a yoga retreat center three hours outside Sydney next week. If we thought we were in the middle of nowhere at Kancoona, I think we’re in for a rude awakening.

When I say we’re going to WWOOF at a yoga retreat, I mean that theoretically. There isn’t actually a yoga center there quite yet. We’re going to help built it. I’m not sure what resources are available at this place, but I’m sure not many if there isn’t even a building on the site.

But none of that matters. It’s just another adventure and learning experience in Oz and this one comes with group yoga and meditation.

I’m pretty excited for the trip there as well. Lise has a station wagon, so we’re driving to the center. It will be my first time kind of road tripping in Australia. The place is ten hours away and we are doing it all in one day, so there’s not going to be a lot of time to stop along the way. From what I hear, Australia has a lot of interesting things along its highways, including a massive lobster. From what I know of this country I’m banking on open roads surrounded by grand landscapes.

Country life in Northeast Victoria

Australia, Destinations, Dispatches from Down Under

Country life in Northeast Victoria

5 Comments 18 February 2010

Ever since I first saw “Stealing Beauty” with Liv Tyler when I was about 13-years-old, I have dreamed of living on a vineyard. Between the sun, the culture and of course, the wine, it seemed like an intriguing life.

I tried to stay on a vineyard when I was in Tuscany via Willing Workers on Organic Farms (WWOOF), but got too caught up with traveling, having only three months to see as much of Europe as possible. Luckily Australia has plenty of great wine regions as well, and this trip I have plenty of time to spare from traveling.

I started looking for wineries to host me months before I arrived in Australia. In fact, I was looking at wineries before I even bought my plane ticket. WWOOF is a fantastic organization to go through for volunteering and cultural exchanges in Australia. It only cost $60 to register for a year and they send clients a large book filled with an array of different farms, resorts and more. Some of the first people I emailed were full and a few places fell through, but there are plenty of great places to choose from, so I just kept emailing until I found a match, Kancoona Valley Wines in Northeast Victoria.

2/16/10-A glimpse inside the vineyards at Kancoona Valley Wines in Victoria, Australia from its Cellar Door Restaurant. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

Lena and Joe Birti own the 10-acre vineyard and live on it with their three wonderful children. Both Lena and Joe are second generation Italian immigrants of Australia, which means fantastic food, wine and even better family. Coming off three weeks of not eating much to try and save money, Lena’s meals are more than a treat. I think I gained back any weight I lost while traveling plus 10 pounds.

Located off Great Alpine Road near Myrtleford, this was one of the areas devastated by bush fires just a year ago. On the drive up here, Joe pointed out some of the areas that were affected, which weren’t hard to miss. Complete sides of mountains are still barren and black.

I’ve watched, photographed, learned some winemaking and tasted a few of their wines. Kancoona is one of the only wineries in Australia making preservative free wines. They plan to launch Australia’s first preservative free sparkling wine next year.

2/13/10-One perk of WWOOFing can be all the great meals. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

2/13/10-One perk of WWOOFing can be all the great meals. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

I arrived here Friday, February 12 by train, bus and automobile (in that order, so almost like the movie). I started 8 a.m. Friday morning from Southern Cross Station in Melbourne, where I took a V-Line train to Seymour, then a bus to Wangaratta and another bus to Mytleford.

The moment I walked off the bus in Mytleford, I had a good feeling. Myrtleford is one of those towns in movies that big city girls retreat to for some reason and first hate it then fall in love with it or a man, usually. It reminded me of “small town USA,” which only exists in Disney World nowadays. T here are tons of original bakeries, where the owners are actually working, older women with wicker baskets instead of purses and tiny cottages with giant rose bushes surrounding the yards.

I arrived around noon and my host family picked me up at 4:30 p.m., so I had some time to kill, which I was more than happy to do in such a beautiful place. I first went to the tourist information office, where two women with flower-print dresses and wide smiles were working, to see if they knew of any lockers were where I could put my bags down. They didn’t, but said, “You look like a nice enough girl, you can leave them here for the day.”

After three weeks in the city and 23 years in Jersey (gritty, but not always friendly), it felt nice to be in the Australian country side.

They gave me a map and some suggestions on how to spend my day. It’s not a big town, it actually reminds me a lot of Frenchtown, NJ, but more active. To add to the Frenchtown feeling, there is an Asian imports store in Myrtleford, Red Ramia Trading, that reminds me of Two Buttons, “Eat, Pray, Love” author Elizabeth Gilbert and her husband Jose’s Southeast Asian import warehouse in Frenchtown. (Read my article about Two Buttons here.)

I found a cute bracelet and rustic notebook that had leather flaps with an elephant carved on it in the store.

Unsure what my hosts looked like, my eyes were wandering all around to catch a glimpse when I returned to our planned meeting point that day. I, on the other hand, stuck out with my massive red backpack, so it was Joe who popped out of his white pick up truck and questioned, “Bobbi?” as I walked down the road.

I met his family and Lise, a French WWOOFer that arrived a few days before me, at the grocery store, we drove about 30 minutes through the valley and up some mountains to reach my home for the next few weeks. Off the beaten track in an understatement. No wifi, wireless and mobile phone reception. It’s the complete opposite of the life I am accustomed to in the States, which is the point really. WWOOFing can put travelers in touch with an array of different experiences you can’t find in a guide book.

The winery is located on a hill with their house and a restaurant at the top looking down on the vineyard with a backdrop of mountains. It’s hard to believe this is the landscape I will be looking at the next few weeks. I have only been lucky enough to see places like this for a few days at best thinking to myself, “One day I am going to live somewhere like this!”

My life at Kancoona is country. Neighbors live miles away from one another, everyone is a farmer and heaps of cows graze around the area, but the cows are either pure black or brown and white, unlike the black and white ones in the States.

It’s really spectacular to run through the area, although not the easiest task. There’s no such thing as a flat road out here, but it doesn’t bother me because I’m usually so struck by the scenery.

Saturday was more of a lazy day. I learned about Lena’s family, how they came to Australia and how tough it was to survive in the untouched country at that time. Melbourne wasn’t even a fully functioning city then, so you can imagine how underdeveloped towns a few hours outside the city were. She said there was no running water, electricity, they slept on piles of hay and any food the family ate was either grown or killed by that family. Lena’s mom Maria came over later. She mainly speaks Italian, which is candy to the ears. I really enjoyed listening to Lena, her mom and Lise, who speaks three languages, interact.

That’s one of the best things about WWOOFing at Kancoona Valley. I get the Aussie-farm experience, but also the Italian experience that I missed in Tuscany.

Sunday, Valentine’s Day, we had some customers in the restaurant. I do a lot of cooking here, some work in the winery, play with the kids and help around the house and garden. It’s not like other WWOOFing host I’ve read about where people work hard for a few hours, then do their own thing. Here, I am apart of the family, whether it be helping with dinner or watching movies together.

It’s nice to settle down, leave my bags in one spot and not have to mark my food in bags in the refrigerator for a few weeks after running around for the past three weeks. I hit a bit of a physical and mental wall before arriving here, where I just couldn’t possibly walk through another park or see another sight, so this bit of normalcy is exactly what I needed.

More like Fabulous Ocean Road

Australia, Destinations

More like Fabulous Ocean Road

4 Comments 11 February 2010

The past three days have been the best yet on my trip. Traveling is always refreshing and fantastic, but there are moments that are actually extraordinary. It happened when I stood face to face with Michelangelo’s The David in Florence, Italy and when I road a donkey in Santorini, Greece. Moments that I thought only existed in films and places I thought only existed in dreams.

This moment came on the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, Australia.

Almost every view from this southern coastal road is breathtaking, but my big moment came at Loch Ard Gorge. From the top, the tan cliffs amongst green and blue ocean are beautiful, but it was when I went down to the beach amongst these massive rocks that I thought to myself, “Is this real?”

2/10/10-I did a jump shot for Garrett and Erin at Loch Ard Gorge on Great Ocean Road in Victoria, Australia.

2/10/10-I did a jump shot for Garrett and Erin at Loch Ard Gorge on Great Ocean Road in Victoria, Australia.

Australia keeps amazing me more and more each day, but the past three days seemed straight out of a novel. I flew in a helicopter over the 12 Apostles, swam at the bottom of the earth at Port Campbell (next landmass down is Antarctica) and walked amongst kangaroos in the Grampians.

Parts of the Grampians actually looked like images I saw in the cartoon, “The Land Before Time.” Walking through there I could actually imagine dinosaurs running through the bushes, while pterodactyls fly above.

The first night of my three-day-Bunyip bus tour of the Great Ocean Road, I camped at Bimbi Park with wild Koalas (which by the way are not as cool as I thought after sleeping through their irritating mating calls). I stayed in a tent with two girls from the Netherlands named Lienke and Evelien. The camp site looks like pictures I saw of safaris in Africa with sandy soil and winding trees with bush-like greenery. I watched the most spectacular sunset in the bush with a few people from my tour.

2/9/10-The sunset from a hill at Bimbi Park, where my tour slept the first night. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

2/9/10-The sunset from a hill at Bimbi Park, where my tour slept the first night. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

The sunset came with a price though.

We did not get into the camp until about 7 p.m. and had to set up our tents and eat dinner. After dinner we ran through fields that had some kind of prickly grass and up a hill with bushes, all with bottles of wine and Goon (box wine) in hand. My legs were covered with big bites, feet were a mess and there had to a few snakes in there I luckily missed.

I always find myself recalling the line “love the one your with” in a lot of moments in life. This was one of them. Up on the hill were people from Germany, Central America, France, Israel, England, Ireland, Sweden, Russia and the Netherlands and we were all taken back by this perfect melting sky.

The best part of any trip are the people. Things and places are beautiful, but sharing it with someone makes it even better. This bus tour was great and the 24 people on it, plus our fantastic guide/driver Adam, got on really well. It’s amazing to think that three days ago we were all just strangers waiting for a bus on the curb. Now we’ve all experienced such spectacular things and shared so many great moments together.

2/11/10-My camp mates Evelien, Lienke and I at McKenzie Falls in the Grampians in Victoria, Australia.

2/11/10-My camp mates Evelien, Lienke and I at McKenzie Falls in the Grampians in Victoria, Australia.

Bus trips are really nice in that regard, because you spend so much time with, therefore learn so much about others. There were a lot of single travelers on the trip and we all seemed to just mesh together within the first half of the day.

I was the only American, there were two women from England and four from Ireland, yet everyone spoke English. I am so grateful for that, because I always feel bad that I do not speak another language. I think it’s unfair that other people from countries in which English is not their first language seem to always be the ones speaking in a language that is not their own. It’s my fault, because I should just learn to speak another language.

It makes me feel dumb, but really privileged that they were willing to go out of their way to converse and let me get to know them.

2/10/10-I hightly recommend taking a helicopter ride above the 12 Apostles on Great Ocean Road in Victoria, Austrlia. It cost $70 for a ten minute ride, but the views are priceless. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

2/10/10-I hightly recommend taking a helicopter ride above the 12 Apostles on Great Ocean Road in Victoria, Austrlia. It cost $70 for a ten minute ride, but the views are priceless. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon

It’s always hard leaving a place or adventure where you are surrounded by people, only to be a solo traveler again. It’s amazing how comfortable and use to company you can get in only a few days. But after two nights of sleeping on the ground, and one night of cold showers that cost $1 per four minutes, I am pretty excited for a warm shower and a mattress.

I better enjoy it now though. Tomorrow morning I leave to work on a vineyard four hours outside Melbourne in Myrtleford. I’m not sure what the bedding or showers will be like, but I’m confident the experience will bring on more amazing moments in Oz.

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