hen we still had a home and a steady job, we often wanted to get away from the day-to-day routine during our holidays. But now that we are constantly on the move, a change to a day-to-day routine is often very relaxing. Having the same bed for several consecutive days, finally unpacking our backpacks, going to the supermarket, getting all the washing done, arm-knitting a scarf, do some gardening or mow the lawn, preparing home-cooked meals, etc… It may sound a bit odd, but this sounds very tempting to us after a while on the road. Therefore, we try to include such a relaxing pause at least every few months. Basically so we can do normal stuff, work on our blogs and prepare our next steps.
We usually incorporate such a homey pause thanks to the wonderful world of housesitting. Simply put, we look after a house and the accompanying pets of people who are on a holiday. A perfect way to get to know an area and the local people and to fully immerse yourself in the local culture. It is also very nice to get to know the homeowners themselves to get an in-depth view of a completely different lifestyle. Furthermore, travelling Australia on a budget is pretty tiring and a housesit is the perfect way to recharge our batteries and keep the costs low for a while (read more here about how we manage to travel cheaply in Australia).
After our road trip on the Great Ocean Road and our city trip in Melbourne (read more about that here), we have the opportunity to housesit in Albury on the border between New South Wales and Victoria. When we hop on the bus from Melbourne to Albury, we are full of excitement. Due to the internet issues we haven’t been able to really get to know the homeowners, dogs and house yet, so we are really curious. While we are on the edge of our bus seats, the homeowners probably feel the same excitement about who they will leave their home and dogs with the next few weeks.
When we get to Albury station, we are greeted by a super friendly family. Such great people! Together with Tanya, Tim and Ben we drive to their farm and when we get to their long driveway, we are utterly amazed. This place is just stunningly beautiful! And we haven’t even seen the house yet. A cozy and beautiful home built with love and an eye for detail, surrounded by terraces to enjoy the fall sun and a great pool. All this is set in the middle of pastures sprinkled with cows and sheep, a stone’s throw from the Murray River and against a backdrop of mountains after which a beautiful sun disappears every evening. A homey pause in a great house and a chance to get to know this beautiful area. This is a little slice of heaven! And then suddenly two cute dogs come running towards us. Lucy, the rascal Jack Russell, and Holley, the Golden Retriever, who never fails to try to put herself in the middle of attention.
These cute dogs make our life even more homey and fun. They play very well together and little Lucy drags Holley with her on her mischievous adventures. When we take them out for a walk through the meadows, they get all crazy and run, play and fight non-stop. With so much ground to dig holes in, sticks to catch, water to get muddy in, and rabbits to chase it is no wonder they are so happy. Just the cows are a potential drag on the fun, as they sometimes attack the dogs stampede style if we don’t keep an eye on them. In the morning Holley bangs her tail all innocently against the garage door to get us out of our beds. And when we come out to check out all that noise, she immediately jumps into the back of the car, waiting for all the action to start.
And that car definitely brings the action! We can borrow the “farm car” they use to do the heavy and dirty work. A “Ute”, derived from “utility car” (a.k.a. a pickup truck). A blue 1985 Ford Falcon Ute to be precise. The car has a bull bar, runs on autogas, doesn’t have power steering and is known in these parts as the “Blue Baron”. It is safe to say that this car is not made for sudden manoeuvres or sharp turns. It takes a bit of pulling and getting used to, to actually make it do what you want. But we absolutely love it, this ride has character! We are more than happy that we are allowed to use it to do our groceries because this is not to the place to go shopping on foot. In the mornings as soon as we manage to get the overly enthusiastic dogs out of the back of the truck, we can drive to Albury or the neighbouring villages. Always an adventure and it never fails to attract attention.
What we love doing most is visiting the Farmers’ Market in Albury or Wodonga. There you can get the most delicious fresh produce straight form local farmers, but not before you have had breakfast at Curly Mo’s stall with a “snag in bread” (sausage sandwich) or bacon & egg roll. As soon as we have eaten our fill, we can start our shopping spree. We buy most of our meat from Willowbank Farm (sausages with red beetroot and pepper or with butternut, apricots and chives are our favourites). At another stall we buy our fresh Australian lamb which never fails to be amazing. We also buy our share of seasonal veg, berries, pumpkins, prunes, pears, apples, courgettes, etc… We complement these goodies with herbs and lemons straight from the garden. As you can imagine, we cook a lot here. It doesn’t get any more homey than this!
But even when we are enjoying ourselves playing house, we can’t resist exploring the surroundings a bit. And we have really hit the jack-pot this time, because our farm is on the border between New South Wales and Victoria and perfectly located for a few day trips. The nearby Victoria High Country is incredibly scenic and a delicious foodie destination to boot. To get around we rent a little old car at “Albury Super Cheap Car Rentals”, a rental agency like no other. The proprietor has an impressive mullet and a heavy Australian accent. A true character with LOVE tattooed on his fingers and a cigarette dangling from his lips, but a real sweetheart and very friendly. At first we are allocated a Toyota with more kilometers on its odometer than paint on its body. After a quick check it also seems to have a screw lodged in one of its tires. This is a bit of a problem. “Can you also drive a manual?” “But of course!”. Thus we are assigned a tiny Hyundai Getz for the next few days. We just have to arrange everything in his office, and that turns out to be very uncomplicated. There is no computer on the only desk, just a big paper agenda, a telephone and a car ashtray. After reading the one-page contract, we ask a few questions such as: ”What if we chip the windscreen? Do we have to bring it back with a full fuel tank? How many km can we drive with it? On all of these questions we get a “Don’t care”. Ok, fine by us, this place must have a watertight business plan!
This way we have our very own little rental car to discover the nearby Victoria High Country. And this magnificent area never fails to amaze us at every turn. We thoroughly enjoy taking in its wonderful rolling landscapes, visiting one small village after another, stopping at cellar doors for a wine tasting, following country roads boarded by trees in the process of switching to their fall colors and driving over little mountain roads enveloped by misty clouds. This place is absolutely magical with the peaks of the Australian Alps rising up everywhere. We drive through its foothills and valleys, wind our way through on the Kiewa Valley Highway, Mount Bogong High Plains Road and the Great Alpine Road, and we even make a run for the Snowy Mountains and Mount Kosciuszko National Park. But even a more gentle drive over the Murray River Road, past Lake Hume surprises us with its mirror still water where old dead trees have eerily reappeared due to a long dry spell.
The High Country and its surroundings has a never ending list of small pearls that are all worth a visit. We can wax poetic about every one of them, but we encourage you to check it our for yourself. If Australia is on your wish list, do visit the Victoria High Country and try to include the above main sights but also a few of the following: funny Glenrowan (“famous” thanks to the bushranger Ned Kelly), the foodie village Milawa (buy cheese there!), the wineries of the King Valley, Power’s Lookout, Mount Buffalo National Park, Mt Beauty, the ski resort Falls’ Creek (eerily empty when we were there), Bright & its amazing brewery, Yackandandah, Beechworth (try the delicious fish & chips!), nearby Rutherglen’s cellar doors (and its famously delicious Parker Pies), the gripping Bonegilla migrant centre, etc…
If the magnificent views and sights are not enough to convince you, this place is also a must for foodies. It is an area where a lot of (Southern) European migrants have settled, and they have definitely left their mark. Great food, delicious wines and amazing local produce is on offer everywhere. Almost every time we pass a vineyard, we can’t resist taking a look and maybe having a little taste. We visit a.o. Brown’s Brothers, Campbells, La Cantina (biological wines produced by an old Italian from Lucca, Tuscany) and the Upper Murray River Estate (Walwa). Our evenings on the terrace can always use a glass of wine, can’t they.
Here you still have artisanal producers that create wonderful delicacies, such as Gundowring ice cream, Milawa cheese, cookies from Snow Road Produce and honey from Walkabout Apiaries. People with a passion to make an honest local product, you can only have the greatest respect for that. After our 4 days of touring and snacking around, it sadly has to come to an end. But not before we see our first grunting wombat and we reach the epitome of dumb kangaroo incidents when one manages to jump against our car’s bumper while we are standing still.
For many Australians this area is on their must-see list, but it doesn’t seem to be on the radar of most foreign tourists. Which is a shame, really, as this is a gorgeous area full of awesome local experiences and amazing local food. It is by far one of our favourite places in Australia.
But we mostly spend our time enjoying our beautiful farmhouse. Taking in the quiet of the farm, driving around with the Ute, watching beautiful sunsets and starry skies, playing with the dogs on this huge domain and breathing in the fresh country air. Even the long walk to the mailbox is a daily pleasure. These wide undulating country views give us an indescribable feeling of freedom to boot. Cheers to that with a glass of local wine. What a life! If this beautiful area wasn’t this far away from our family and friends (and almost everything else), we might still be house/farm hunting here…
But everything must come to an end, and the home owners return from their holiday in Vietnam. We get to spend some more time with them, having breakfast on the terrace, driving the pick-up in between the cows, experiencing their life here, enjoying a final dinner and a picnic lunch at the Murray River. A perfect ending to a few unforgettable weeks!
But our train is waiting at Albury station! On to the next destination! First to Byron Bay and then on to Queensland! Read more about that here!
Have a look at our pictures here to see our farm life, this wonderful area and lots of dog cuteness!