Morning dawned on the last day of 2016, and we were camped outside Sydney, ready for the big day. There aren’t many campsites near Sydney, so we had to find a quiet road to pitch the tents where nobody would notice. We quickly cleared our makeshift campsite and headed into the city.

Our plan was to watch the fireworks from the Botanic Gardens, which would arguably produce the best view of the fireworks over the iconic Sydney Opera house and Harbour Bridge. However, half of Sydney had the same idea, and this meant meant arriving early. 15 hours early. I don’t think I’ve ever waited 15 hours for anything. And of course, in our half-asleep state of disarray, we forgot to bring most our food and any of the entertaining things we had with us in the car. Still, relaxing in a park with a jumbo bag of nachos isn’t too bad in the scheme of things. Slowly but surely, the day passed and we were suddenly cloaked in darkness, eagerly waiting for the show to begin.

Like penguins, the crowds huddled closer together towards midnight to gain the best possible view. The countdown started… 3… 2… 1… Boom! Fireworks shot up all along the harbour. A waterfall of sparks fell from the bridge. The crowds cheered and strangers hugged. 2017 was upon us.

Soon after the fireworks, we dispersed from the Botanic Gardens, and slowly made our way back towards the car (which admittedly took longer than expected as no one made a note of the street we parked it on). A big NYE night out in Sydney would have truly broken the bank for all of us, so we decided to head towards a beach to wait for the sunrise.

After a day in Sydney, we started the drive towards Melbourne. Andy and Yohan, who had joined us from Sydney, left us and were replaced by a French girl called Lyslore, and an Italian called Marco. Due to the constant bustle of backpackers around the East coast, it was easy enough to meet new people to join and share the costs of the journey.

It wasn’t too far to Melbourne, and we only had one stop on the way; the Kosciuszko national park. Punctuated by Mount Kosciuszko, the tallest mountain in Australia, the park is a picturesque rocky landscape. There are jagged edges, green slopes and slow-moving rivers. Small patches of snow were still scattered across the mountainsides as the last remnants of winter, slowly melting in the strong summer sun. Forests of dead white trees could be seen in every direction, casualties of a huge forest fire that swept through the region 10 years ago. Stripped bear, the trees appeared frozen in time, still waiting for new growth to take over. We walked through the morning, and reached the summit early afternoon. At around 2228m, it’s just a hill in mountaineering terms, but it always feels good to get to the top.

New year in Sydney
Kosciuszko National Park
At the summit of Mount Kosciuszko

Upon arrival in Melbourne, it was my turn to leave the party. For my last week in Australia, I had contacted a small family-run winery on the outskirts of the city where I could volunteer and live for free. After many years working for large-scale vineyards in Victoria, Phil and Lyn had bought a property and had spent the last decade renovating and living off the land around them. With an acre of densely packed vines, they produced small batches of a variety of wines throughout the year. Within the property there also sat a sourdough bakery where Lyn baked around 300 loaves a week, as well as a small lake, and a friendly dog called Jack.

Being far away from anyone else, the house was charmingly quiet at most times throughout the day. In the state of Victoria, the weather can vary dramatically, peaking at 40 degrees one day, and 25 degrees the next. Regardless, the property was always idyllic. Black cockatoos would arrive early evening to feast upon the apple trees the garden, and the ducks would swoop onto the lake for their night’s rest. When night fell the kangaroos would stealthily enter the vineyard to enjoy a snack, although we would only hear the noise of them scampering away if we approached.

After a day in the Sun, we would enjoy a cooling swim before opening a bottle of wine to celebrate the day. One bottle would generally turn into three of four, and were accompanied by a delicious meals of great variety. It certainly beat the camping diet that we were limited to on the road. Let’s be honest, there’s only so many ways you can combine pasta, tinned tuna and tomatoes.

With endless plans to continuously perfect the property, there were plenty of activities to help with. In general, I helped with the upkeep of the vineyard, although on one day we created a lean production line in the winery and bottled 1800 bottles of Pinot Noir. A few of them were unbottled the same night too…

Jack and the lake
At the bottling station
The road to Melbourne


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