Working Holiday: Australia – One Man’s Story


australia working holiday travel couple

Steven Wilke traveled to Australian on a Working Holiday Visa with his partner.

Steven Wilke left his homeland (the U.S.A) in June 2015 to complete a Working Holiday in Australia.  Before departing, he reached out to everyone he knew for tips, advice, and connections.  His sister knew an Australian couple she’d met in Vancouver, Canada.  They knew another American woman who’d work exchanged with them in Australia while also doing a working holiday.  That woman is this website’s author!

you could end up drinking with locals like this if you go on a working holiday australia

Half the Clothes’ author (L) on her Australian Working Holiday, sharing a fun evening with the folks who would meet Steven’s sister months later in Vancouver.

Steven and I became Facebook buddies and embarked on a series of conversations that eventually became this page:

Australian Working Holiday Visa Checklist: 17 Tips to Know Before You Go

He returned to the U.S. in 2016, and he’s willing to pay the info-sharing forward.  Below you’ll find the run-down of his Australian Working Holiday Visa experience, which he undertook with his girlfriend. But first, the quick and dirty timeline for those of you looking for fast answers about what Australia’s Working Holiday Visa might have in store for you.

Working Holiday: Australia – One Man’s Journey

“I’ll start off by saying that I got every single job that I had while in Melbourne by talking to people face to face.  I am a big fan of human connection.”

~ Steven Wilke, discussing the work side of his Australia Working Holiday Visa

JUNE 2015:  Arrive Australia – did not immediately utilize the work part of the Australia Working Holiday Visa

JULY 2015:  Sydney for 2 weeks, then driving towards Cairns stopping at Fraser Island & Whitsundays

AUG 2015:

  • Finished Cairns road trip, meet up with friends, sightseeing
  • Looked for work for a couple weeks in Cairns.
  • Decided that the market was too saturated with backpackers.
  • Headed south to find more work opportunities.

SEPT 2015:

  • Decided to move to Melbourne to look for work, find place to live, get transport.
  • 3 weeks looking for work at cafes & bars.
  • Used Melbourne City Library free WiFi & computers to secure six weeks accommodation via Flatmates.com.au so they could look for jobs and meet new friends.

OCT 2015:

  • After handing out countless CV’s to various cafes, restaurants and bars over a period of about 3 weeks, living off dwindling savings, they were worried.
  • At the end of the third week they got a short interview and a trial shift at a beer hall in Fitzroy.  Hired!

OCT 2015 – MAR 2016:  Worked, Explored Melbs, trip to Tassie, Great Ocean Road…

MAR 2016: Departed Australia after working for six months on his Working Holiday Visa.

To find out how it all went down, read on!

MY AUSTRALIAN EXPERIENCE

Arriving in Australia

My initial goal when planning out my working holiday in Australia was to chase the summer.  I left Portland, OR in summer, and arrived in Sydney on June 25, 2015.  The Aussies were already in a season that they called “winter.”  When I heard this I laughed.  It was sunny and beautiful and there were people on the beaches wearing bikinis and budgie smugglers.  I reunited with my girlfriend Christine who had already been in Sydney working for about a month.

If you want to work in australia like this man and woman in front of the sydney harbour bridge and opera house, you should get an australia working holiday visa

Steve and his girlfriend just after embarking on their working holiday in Australia.

We chilled out in Sydney doing the touristy thing for a couple weeks, and then decided that we wanted to live the camper van life.  We hired a camper van and headed north towards the warmth.  We took about 3 weeks to drive from Sydney to Cairns, stopping along the way to do a self-drive 4×4 tour on Fraser Island and some sailing in the Whitsundays.  Fraser Island was one of the top highlights of my entire 9 months in Australia.  Driving on the sand trails and along the surf all over the largest sand island in the world in a right-hand-drive FJ78 Troopy Land Cruiser was definitely high up on my list, and in hindsight, was worth every penny and minute spent.  Sailing through the Whitsunday Islands was breathtaking.

group jumping in air fraser island working holiday people going to work in Australia

Steven’s Fraser Island tour group taking a break from their work in Australia.

SIDENOTE: Airlee Beach is the starting point for most Whitsundays sailing trips.

BACK ON TRACK:  The highlight was our short 2-hour stop on Whitehaven Beach, which had 98% pure white silica sand that squeaked underneath our feet.  Those were the most amazing sand-angels that I’ve ever made, and probably ever will.   Our last stop before hitting Cairns was Josephine Falls, which is a short drive off of the main highway, and a short walk through the rainforest up to a natural smooth/slippery rock waterslide that dumps you into a crisp clear-water mountain pool.  It was definitely worth the detour!

Once in Cairns, we met up with my friend Shane who is a local and works as a marine biologist/helicopter pilot/scuba dive instructor.  Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to go up in his helicopter, but we got a friend-discount for some scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef, as well as showing us his favorite lesser-known local swimming hole up in the hills that was Crocodile-free.  For preservation’s sake, the location of the swimming hole must remain a secret.  Just talk to a local and you might stumble upon it.  By the way, watch out for the drop-bears, they’ll getcha!

working holiday australia leads to opportunities like scuba diving on the great barrier reef!

Steven and Christine got to see the Great Barrier reef before starting work in Australia.

SIDENOTE:  If you’re looking to book any kind of adventure tours, or bungee jumps, scuba diving, skydiving, etc., while in Australia/New Zealand, check out BookMe.com.au for OZ and BookMe.com.nz for NZ.  They usually have awesome deals on stuff like that.

BACK ON TRACK: While in Cairns, we stayed at the Calypso Hostel, which is a funky hostel with an outdoor pool, bar, and nightly events.  The hostel was a short walk from Cairns CBD, and therefore, was a bit more chilled out and less party-oriented which we were happy about.  Of course, I did have one big night in which I volunteered to jump into the cold swimming pool naked to win a free bungee jump…but if you’re after a true party hostel, hit up Gilligan’s in Cairns CBD.  They’ve got you covered.  After sightseeing and looking for hospitality work for a couple weeks in Cairns, we decided that the market was too saturated with backpackers, and it was time for us to head south to find more work opportunities.  The decision that we faced was whether to pick Sydney or Melbourne.  We had friends in both places, but it really came down the vibe that we were after.  Sydney is all business and the beer was mediocre.  Melbourne was more chilled out, and had better food, beer & coffee.  Honestly, this is what made our decision.  Coming from Portland, OR and Fort Collins, CO, we wanted to be around chilled out people, not feel pressure to dress up and go out to clubs, and be surrounded by good beer, food, coffee, and culture.  Our decision had been made.  We booked our tickets to Melbourne using Sky Scanner and hopped on a plane pointed south the next day.

If you work in Australia, you will no doubt see a gorgeous coastline like this of your australia working holiday

Lucky for Steven and Christine, although they had to leave the gorgeous beaches of the north to look for work in Australia, the whole darn country is surrounded by gorgeous coastline!

Arriving in Melbourne

We arrived in Melbourne safely, grabbed our packs, and headed outside to try to figure out the cheapest way to get into the city.

SIDENOTE: The best way to get to CBD is the Sky Bus.  Go to the ticket office outside the arrivals terminal and buy a ticket to Southern Cross Station for $18.  When you get to Southern Cross Station, buy a Myki Card and put some credit on it.  This will be your ticket to take public transit around Melbourne.  Keep in mind that anywhere in Melbourne CBD is a “Free Tram Zone.”

BACK ON TRACK:  Once at Southern Cross, we walked pretty much across the street to United Backpackers on Flinders Street and booked a hostel for a few nights.  We were in Melbourne and our Urban Aussie Journey had officially begun.  Life was good.  Beer was consumed.  Good times were had.  Our hostel was really nice and the security was great.  Now our priority shifted to finding a more permanent place to live.  The Melbourne City Library was right around the corner with free WiFi & computers, so we spent some time there over the next few days looking on Flatmates.com.au for a place to live.  Apply for a library card using a fake address and you’ll be all sweet.  Just have the address handy when you show up to apply.  Eventually, we found a temporary sublet in a renovated 3-story warehouse space with a spiral staircase up in Fitzroy North, which was bicycling distance from everything.  We hopped on the 96 tramline and headed north up Nicholson to go check out our new place.  We arrived, settled in, and all was good.  We had bought ourselves 6 weeks in one place to look for jobs and meet new friends.  Life was good.  Beer was consumed.  Good times were had.  Boom.

you could pass this colorful fence on a bike ride, too, if you go working in australia

While getting serious about work in Australia, Steven and Christine took some time out to explore the greater Melbourne area.

SIDENOTE:  After living in Melbourne and getting connected for about a month, we found out that the Facebook page: “Fairy Floss Real Estate” was a much better way to find a flat-share in the Fitzroy/Carlton/Brunswick/Collingwood area (which in my opinion is the best area to live in Melbourne).  The people on this page are super chilled out, and you’re likely to find a pretty cool place to live in a short amount of time.

BACK ON TRACK: Through networking (just opening my mouth and talking to people in the world around me), I found out about a sweet as bicycle repair shop called Bikes Please.  They’re located at 130 Lygon Street, Brunswick East, VIC 3057.  I bought a repurposed single-speed bicycle for $300 flat and the super cool kiwi owners Fynn and Ash let me help break down and reassemble the entire bicycle!  That’s their thing.  They take old rusty bikes and give them a new life, and they let you help with the process.  They are givers of bicycle life.  Now that I was mobile, it was time to ride around and look for work.

Working in Melbourne

Now that our lives had settled down a fair bit, it was time to look for work to sustain our beer, food and coffee habits.

SIDENOTE: I’ll start off by saying that I got every single job that I had while in Melbourne by talking to people face to face.  I am a big fan of human connection, but I realize that many skilled jobs in certain fields do require online applications.

BACK ON TRACK: I had heard that Fitzroy was a pretty cool spot, so I rode my shiny new bike down to check it out and see about making some money.  Having very little experience in hospitality or coffee was a small hurdle that I knew had to get over.  I decided to just lie a bit on my CV/Resume to make myself more desirable.  As far as they knew, I was a barista extraordinaire and a craft beer guru.   Knowing that employers would never call internationally to verify my references, I set out to apply for jobs and hand out CV’s on Smith and Brunswick Street.  After handing out countless CV’s to various cafes, restaurants and bars over a period of about 3 weeks, we were getting a bit worried.  We were living off of savings that were quickly dwindling down.  At the end of the third week of searching, Christine and I walked into Little Creatures Dining Hall (now closed down) to hand in CVs.  It was a craft beer hall and the people were super rad.  We both happen to love drinking good beer, so it was a match made in heaven.  After a short interview and a trial shift we were hired.

melbourne street art that can been seen on a working holiday australia

When Steven and Christine weren’t working in Australia, they partook in the holiday part of their working holiday and checked out Melbourne’s street art.

SIDENOTE: It’s expensive to live in Melbourne, but you’ll have a super rad time as long as you find a job that gives you hours, and don’t spend all of your money on food, coffee, booze and entertainment.  There is a Facebook page called “Melbourne Bartenders Exchange.”  Get added to the group, and look for hospitality jobs all over the greater Melbourne area.  There’s always work popping up for all experience levels.

BACK ON TRACK:  After a bit of training, I was in the groove.  Life was good.  Beer was consumed.  Good times were had.  Through talking to a Little Creatures bartender named Stu, I landed a job at a high end catering company that he worked for called The Big Group.  I applied, interviewed, and was immediately hired.  I was packaging up orders and doing deliveries all over Melbourne in a refrigerated Mercedes delivery van.  Boom, second job in the bank.  I decided that I wanted to get a third job for one or two days a week to fill up my schedule and stack some cash.  With my mechanical background in the U.S. Marine Corps, I decided that I wanted to get a casual job where I could use my hands and create something.  I immediately thought of the bicycle shop that I had bought my bike from.  I went back and talked to Fynn and Ash at Bikes Please up in Brunswick East.  After a few unpaid trial days, I was hired.  One day per week, I was taking rusty vintage bikes, breaking them down to the frame, and building them back up to be shiny and functional again. It was so rewarding to take something that was so dirty and rusty, and give it a new life for someone to enjoy.  Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle!

work in australia at a bike shop like this guy if you go there on a australia working holiday visa

Steven picked up his third working holiday job via networking. If you want to work in Australia, networking should be your first angle of attack!

Boom, third job in the bank.   Life was good.  Beer was consumed.  Good times were had.  The hard part now was to balance my schedule while juggling 3 jobs.  It didn’t turn out to be so bad.  There were a few times here and there where I had a scheduling overlap with 2 jobs, but most of the time my employers were pretty reasonable.  Through her network at Little Creatures, Christine ended up getting a second job waiting tables at the Boat Builders Yard right on the Yarra river down in South Warf.  Boom, second job in the bank for her.

SIDENOTE: I’m telling you, the end of the winter is the best time to get to Melbourne and find work.  It’ll be a bit cold, but you’ll get there before the summer rush and there’ll be more casual jobs available.

BACK ON TRACK:  Through working at this beer hall in Fitzroy, I got connected to the most beautiful and unique network of friends.  From Kiwis to Germans to Aussies to Spaniards to Italians to Koreans to Chinese to Brits…the list goes on.  I had so many beautiful human being around me.  Life was good.  Beer was consumed.  Good times were had.  Now, it was time to live while I worked in Melbourne.

Living in Melbourne

Living in Melbourne was a beautiful experience.  It’s such a rad place.  Coming from Portland, OR in the States, I was really happy to see such a bicycle-friendly city.  There are dedicated bike lanes on almost all roads within the city and the immediate suburbs.  Also, there are so many parks!  Let me talk for a minute about Melbourne’s park culture. Aussies in Melbourne love their parks.  They’ll rock up with a group of 25 people, lay down the blankets, set up the tables, crack open the beers, play music and throw the frisbees back and forth for hours in the sun.  As far as I know from my observations, there are no laws against drinking in parks in Melbourne.  We never got hassled.  I’d ride my bike through Edinburgh Gardens or Carlton Gardens on a hot summer day and there would be people drinking and partying as far as I could see.  Such a beautiful, rich, and care free culture.  It is definitely a special place in the world.  Take a day and go down to the Royal Botanical Gardens.  It’s a magical place, as well as an awesome spot for a picnic and a few beers.  It’s also a really peaceful place to meditate and do yoga.

a man sitting on a eucalyptus tree during work in australia

Steven spending a little time communing with nature during his Australia Working Holiday.

While in Melbourne, make sure to take advantage of all of the rooftop bars.  There are so many!  They are the perfect place to kick back with friends and watch the sunset over the city after a hard days work, or even a day with no work.  I love the fact that Aussies work to live; they don’t live to work.  They value rest, leisure and time off.  If you’re up north of CBD towards Collingwood, make sure and stop by Lentils As Anything.  It’s a pay-as-you-feel vegetarian restaurant right inside the picturesque Abbotsford Convent.  It’s an interesting concept, where you pay what you can afford for your meal.  Some people pay nothing, and some pay extra if they can afford it.  If you’re on a bicycle, hop on the Yarra River bike trail and follow the river northeast for a while.  It’s a good way to get some nature in your life while you’re in the city, and there are heaps of great places to stop and meditate along the way.  Make sure and pick up a free Beat Magazine while you walk around.  They can be found almost anywhere and they’ll keep you up to date on all of the live music, festivals and events going on in town.

Trips outside of Melbourne

Christine and I also took a few trips out of town while we were in Melbourne.  The first spot we hit was Tasmania.  We met up in Hobart with my sister Gina and my cousin Daniel who were coming from the States.  We rented a car and drove north through the center up to Cradle Mountain in Lake Saint Clair National park.  By the way, World Heritage sites and National Parks protect 40 percent of Tasmania.  That being said, we had heaps of wilderness time, and loved every minute of it.  Climb to the summit of Cradle Mountain on a clear day, and drive down the East Coast from Bay of Fires down to Wineglass Bay.  You won’t regret it.  It’ll change your life.

cradle mountain group of working holiday hikers breaking from their work in australia

A trip to Tasmania during their working holiday made it that much more fun to work in Australia!

On your way out make sure and stop by the MONA.   It’s a world-class art museum, and I guarantee it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen!  Once back in Australia, the next big trip that we did was the Great Ocean Road.  We rented a car and pointed it southwest towards Torquay, which is the gateway to the GOR.  Because we only had 3 days to see the coastal road, we decided to change our route and power through on A1 West, cutting down south towards Apollo Bay so that we could work our way back east down the GOR.  This was the best choice we could’ve made.  It was such a beautiful experience.   We didn’t find any free campsites along the way because it was peak season, but there are plenty of affordable pay sites down the road that you can find if you ask around.  We had no problems finding a place to pitch our tent.  I think the most we paid was $15 per night for a tent site.  One morning, we woke up to a troop of 12 kangaroos outside our tent, and one even had a little joey in her pouch.  That was definitely an amazing way to wake up!

New Zealand

On my way out of Australia, I decided to go backpack around New Zealand for a month with Christine and a group of our Aussie and Kiwi friends.  We flew into Wellington and hit up the cafés, breweries, and nightlife for a few nights, while staying in one Air B&B together.  A few friends parted ways, and the rest of us headed south on the InterIslander Ferry towards Picton on the South Island.  We hired a car at the ferry terminal, drove to Nelson to see Fat Freddy’s Drop at Neudorf Vineyards.  What an epic performance!  The next day, we headed up to Marahau in Able Tasman National Park.  We caught a boat taxi north up to Tataranui.  This was the beginning of our 2-night/3-day Able Tasman coastal walk.

SIDENOTE:  Keep in mind, during peak season, the campsites book out really fast.  I recommend planning and booking out the tracks you want to do at least 2-3 months in advance, to ensure an awesome experience.  In hindsight, procrastinating works great too, because you get to fly by the seat of your pants.  It’s such a nice feeling not knowing where you’re going the next day or where you’re sleeping the next night.

abel tasman hikers after doing work in australia on an australian working holiday visa

When Steven and Christine finished their working holiday in Australia, they hopped to nearby New Zealand to explore places like Abel Tasman.

BACK ON TRACK:  After Abel Tasman, the rest of our Aussie friends parted ways, and Christine and I hitchhiked north up to Takaka.  We pitched our tent for free along the Takaka River in a camp with some fellow travelers.  That was such a magical place.  We would wake up and skinny dip in the crisp clear river and spend time during the day with our new friends.  We met two girls from New York that had a camper van and were headed south.  We hitched a ride with them, and ended up staying with them as far south as Queenstown, Fiordlands, and the Milford Sound.  We stopped along the way to camp for free along rivers and on beaches.  Make sure to bring you bug spray because those sand flies are little assholes and get worse the further south you go.

SIDENOTE:  If you travel with an unlocked smartphone in NZ and just happen to get a Skinny Mobile SIM card (the cheapest plan for short-term travelers in NZ), make sure to download the WikiCamps and CamperMate apps.  They will be lifesavers and show you heaps of free campsites along your way.  If you plan to stay for a working holiday, Spark Mobile might be a better option.  They have free Wi-Fi hotspots in most major towns.

BACK ON TRACK:  There were a handful of places that we stopped along our way south that are worth mentioning.  First off, if you see a sign for glow-worms, follow it and go get your mind blown (preferably at night).  We headed down Highway 6 and stopped to see Franz Joseph Glacier.  The next day, we decided to skydive over Fox Glacier, which was absolutely epic!  From there, we headed south towards Wanaka.  Wanaka is what it is.  It’s a resort town that overcharges for everything, but they make up for it with their beautiful landscape, gorgeous Lake Wanaka and so many outdoor activities available.  We did some stand-up paddle-boarding and hiking for a couple days there.  Of course, we camped for free the whole time.  Life was good.  Beer was consumed.  Good times were had.

franz josef signs as seen by hikers after completing their working holiday australia

Another benefit to a working holiday? Holidaying afterward! After their work in Australia, Steven and Christine got to see New Zealand highlights like the Franz Josef glacier.

Then, it was time to head south to Queenstown on our way to Fiordlands and the Milford Sound.  The Fiordlands were definitely a highlight on our NZ journey!  The first day, a few of us hiked up Gertrude Saddle, and the other New Yorker Cynthia went scuba diving in the Milford sound in search of black corral and large deep-sea creatures.  Gertrude Saddle is supposedly rated as the best day hike to do in all of New Zealand.  It was super challenging.  Most of the way up was bouldering.  Once at the top we had a 360-degree panoramic view of the glacial valley below and the Milford Sound.  We stopped along the way to skinny dip in a frigid alpine lake.  The mountain spring water was so crystal clear and pure that you could fill up your bottle and drink it with no filtration.  It’s definitely among the purest water in the world.  The adventure guides and people of Milford Sound get to cook with and bathe in this water.  I’ve heard that this turns them into water snobs.  No water can come close.

On my last full day of adventure in New Zealand, Christine, myself, and our two friends from New York decided to take a sea kayak tour through the Milford Sound.  We saw so many waterfalls, penguins, fur seals, and beautiful birds.  Milford Sound has the tallest mountains and sea cliffs in the world that rise from the sea.  It is a truly magical sight.  It looked like a CGI backdrop from a movie, unreal, unbelievable.  I was sad to see my short-lived NZ adventure come to an end, but I guess that all good things must do end at some point.  I will definitely be back some day for sure.  My advice to anyone who hasn’t been, just go, you won’t regret it.  It’ll change your life.

Steven Wilke is a Traveler, Photographer, Musician, Woodworker.  Exploring the world in search of love, happiness & everything in between.

Happy Traveling, everybody! ♣



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