My first house and cat sit for 2019 was at the end of my December–January winter trip to the United States. I spent just over a week in Santa Fe, New Mexico, looking after a feral cat called Kitty Rumi.
The Santa Fe home—like most homes in New Mexico—was Pueblo style. This is the traditional architecture of the Pueblo Indians who built most things with adobe bricks. I would describe the lady’s house as a cute clay shack. It’s definitely one of the more ‘simple’ homes I’ve stayed in, but not in a bad way. I feel it’s just how homes are designed in New Mexico.
I remember leaving the house one night to walk 20 minutes down the road to get dinner. It was the only time I’d left the house that day because I spent most of it sleeping. It was snowing on and off, it was cold, and it was nearing the end of my trip. I was tired. Anyway, I walked to Annapurna’s World Vegetarian Café where I got a Mediterranean pasta dish and stopped in at Carl’s Jr for my diet coke. I was so excited to get home and eat the pasta—I’d heard great things about Annapurna’s. And everything on the menu sounded so good.
I got back to the house and tried to unlock the door. I’d locked both locks despite the lady saying not to lock the top one. I thought this was more of a ‘I don’t lock the top lock because it’s a safe area’ rather than a ‘DON’T LOCK THE TOP LOCK BECAUSE WE CAN’T UNLOCK IT’. I tried several times. With all the different keys. The top lock wouldn’t budge. I went around the side hoping I could open the glass door where my room was. Nope. Then I went around the back hoping to unlock the back doors. I can’t remember the exact setup, but something prevented me from unlocking the screen door. ‘Well, shit,’ I thought. ‘What am I going to do?’ My phone was unable to call or text anyone because my plan had expired, and all I had was WiFi access. I was able to message (thank you, iPhone) the lady explaining what’d happened. She told me her boyfriend would be over to help out. He lived up the road. Thank god. He was eventually able to open the door and I learned never to lock the top lock again. If it wasn’t for the boyfriend, I don’t know what I would’ve done. Stuck outside forever in the cold. With my pasta and diet coke.
I returned home to Brisbane just before Australia Day. I then did my first local sit for a couple in Paddington over the long weekend in May. This coincided with my 29th birthday. I’ll be looking after Kush Kush for a third time over the next few days. Not long after, I left on my longest house and cat sitting trip yet. I was in the US from mid-June to the first week in August. My first stop was Las Vegas where I was staying in a hotel. I hired a car so I could make it to some of the state’s more interesting attractions before flying to Nashville for my first cat sit of the trip.
I made my way to 12South where I was greeted by cats Nancy and Griffin. Both ladies are quite old and I’ve learned Griffin has recently passed away. I think she was 19. The most memorable (entertaining?) thing from this sit was seeing them drink their water from a glass, not a bowl. I also learned Nashville was full of drunk tourists, but I’m still keen to go back. Just not in the summer.
I then flew out for Austin where I met the couple I was sitting for at the airport. These guys stick out in my mind because they were so… likeable? And personable. Their apartment was in a great location. Pretty much opposite the flagship Whole Foods store and in a less busy part of downtown Austin. Their cat, Shady, was another character. I remember he’d sit on the stove and I’d freak out. Even though I never used the stove, it just made me nervous.
After two weeks in Austin, where it was incredibly humid, I flew out to Seattle. I was very happy to be flying into a cooler city. One where it usually rains at least once a day. I was technically cat sitting in an area that’s not quite Seattle, but is about 20–30 minutes from downtown. I still find it easier to say it was Seattle. The actual neighbourhood is called Lake Forest Park. This sit was memorable for a few reasons. The cats were cute, sure. And the view of Lake Washington was great. But the couple were very particular. Highly strung. And I couldn’t quite gauge that from their TrustedHousesitters listing or the FaceTime chat I had with the husband. Despite it probably being my least favourite sit, I was thankful to get a five-star review out of it.
I took an overnight flight from Seattle to Birmingham, Alabama, for my last sit. This home will be hard to beat in terms of being the most fun and artsy. Clint and Vero, the owners, have also just left on an adventure. Each room in their house was full of unique art pieces they’d made or collected from their travels. They’d even renovated the main shower to resemble (or at least in my mind) a cave/rock climbing wall. I’m not quite sure how to describe it. And their cat, Zoey, still remains the only one-eyed cat I’ve cared for.
Not long after flying back to Australia, I discovered Aussie House Sitters. I’d check the site each morning for sits in Tasmania in the hope of finding one that:
- was in a central enough location (so, like, Hobart or Launceston)
- only had a cat or cats (i.e. no dogs or other animals)
- was more than a few days, but wasn’t longer than two weeks.
I found one in Launceston and signed up.
The Launceston sit was probably my favourite one this year. The home was so homely. The cats—two young Birmans—were adorable. Literally. Their names were Dora and Abel. The lady calls them ‘The Adorables’. And the city was beautiful. My Uber driver on the way to Hobart Airport was like: ‘Launceston is a bit boring, isn’t it?’ I totally disagree. I guess if I didn’t have a car, it would have been very hard to get around and I wouldn’t have been able to visit half the places I did. But I definitely loved Launceston and would love to go back.
And now for right now. Today’s my last day looking after Jaspurr. Another Ragdoll. ‘Do you only look after this type [Ragdoll] of cat?’ my friend’s sister asked. Her question made me laugh, but I can see how she’d think that. Jaspurr’s the first cat I’ve looked after who had his nails painted. Green and red glitter for Christmas. Festive.
This sit began on Christmas Eve and was at a property in my hometown. I decided to take it as a kind of mini vacation. And it has been just that. The couple’s apartment is in West End, but it’s kind of like a community of its own here. Their street is very resorty and I keep thinking I’m at the coast. Despite apartments everywhere you look, it’s very quiet. And the pub down the road’s my new favourite. The Montague Hotel. They have $10 espresso martinis all day every day.
What’s in store for 2020? Well, I’m sure it comes as no surprise I’d like to keep exploring the US in 2020. And while I have a list of places I’d like to visit, it isn’t exhaustive.
I was fortunate enough to secure a house and cat sit in Launceston thanks to Aussie House Sitters. I hadn’t considered Launceston as a holiday destination before, but I’m glad I finally made my way to the north of Tasmania.
I applied for this sit on a whim. I didn’t have a membership with Aussie House Sitters, but I’d check the website every day for sits in Tasmania. I was a bit reluctant to sign up because I have memberships with four other house sitting sites, but I caved when I saw this ad. I signed up and responded as quick as I could. I made sure to mention I’d owned a Birman (both her cats are Birmans (and I did actually have one before I got Gracie)) before clicking ‘Send message’. I got a response within 24 hours and was told I was the first person to reply. We arranged to speak on the phone the next day.
The lady told me her cats are called Dora and Abel. When you put their names together, they’re ‘The Adorables’. I had to tell my mum this because I knew she’d love it. It’s something she’d do. It reminded me of how she chose to spell my name—Madolline. Pronounced exactly how you’d say Madeleine (mad-a-lin), but with ‘doll’ in the middle. I was confirmed as the sitter while we were speaking, but now I had to work out whether I’d start in Hobart or Launceston.
I decided to start in Hobart. I’d fly out of Hobart as well. I was able to get cheap flights through Virgin Australia and had enough Velocity points to get $100 off the fare. It cost me just over $300 all up. I then booked five nights at Hobart’s Alabama Hotel and decided I’d make my way to Launceston on the Monday.
The drive from Hobart to Launceston took about two and a half hours. I saw a lot of sheep farms. And a lot of roadkill. Perhaps the most roadkill I’ve seen on any my travels. This record was held by the stretch of road from Austin to San Antonio via Fredericksburg in Texas. When I went to collect my car in Hobart, the customer service guy asked if I wanted extra insurance in case a kangaroo hit my vehicle. For those not from Australia: If an adult kangaroo hit my car, it would survive and hop along. My car, however, would be ruined. Maybe not ruined. But it’d need to be repaired. The coverage would cost me $300+. An extra $300? I declined.
The house sit
It was great to have my own toilet and shower again, as well as a car (hired), proper fridge, TV, and washing machine. I could live without fear of running into—and having to talk to—someone en route to the bathroom. I was also treated to an electric blanket and a heated towel rack.
Dora and Abel—the cats—are a little over one-year-old. They’re from the same litter. Dora, the darker coloured one, is the braver of the two. Abel was in hiding until my third day in Launceston. Not long after, he was walking up to me to rub against my legs and was happy to play. He even jumped onto my bed on that Wednesday afternoon, but ran out in fright when I came back in after a shower.
Abel became a lot more comfortable with me as the days went on. He no longer hid in the cupboard and slept on my bed most nights. Or at least for a few hours before he and Dora would run amok. Abel began to follow me everywhere and would jump on the bed as soon as I’d enter my room. Dora also eased up.
The home was very traditional English cottage. Or at least what I imagine an old English cottage to be like. It was also decked out in cat stuff—cat ornaments, cat cushions, a cat hot water bottle cover—and included a cat-shaped door mat to greet me each time I came home. The lady’s garden was pretty, too. It didn’t require much attention because it rained half the time.
I was able to walk to the Launceston CBD in under 15 minutes and there are several grocery stores close to the lady’s home (i.e. 10- or 15-minute walk). Most of Launceston’s main attractions were walkable from the house, but I wouldn’t have been able to do any of the day trips without a car.
Places to go
Launceston, much to my surprise, seemed to have nearly everything a larger city has. They even have snow monkeys—yes, those Japanese ones—in one of the parks.
This was the first place I wanted to check out. The Launceston CBD has plenty of cafes and bakeries, and a diverse range of cuisines (unexpected (or maybe that says more about *my* perception of small towns). My favourite stores were:
- Inside Home and Gifts—I’m not sure if the store’s associated with the magazine? But they’ve got lots of Australian-themed Christmas stuff, skincare, plants… just a lot of nice things. Go visit.
- miiOmai—a cute clothing store.
- Acreage—homewares and fresh flowers, and coffee. I went back to buy an Ivy & Wood diffuser after mulling about it for a few hours. The scent is ‘oakwood and cinnamon’ and it’s lovely. Turns out the brand was founded in Brisbane.
- Mission Shop—lots of good quality second hand art, dinnerware and bric-a-brac. All of the op shops I visited were so clean and tidy.
- Gourlay’s Sweet Shop—we nearly have the same last name. Gourlay’s sells a lot of their sweets in vintage tins. I got a cat one for my mum. We’ll soon find out if she’s fussed on what it contains… chocolate covered strawberries and cream lollies.
The city centre’s got several nice parks. Prince’s Square and City Park. City Park is the bigger of the two. It’s the one with the snow monkeys. You can see/watch/observe the snow monkeys for free any day of the week. When the lady I’m sitting for told me about them, I was a bit confused. ‘Snow monkeys in a public park in Launceston?’ I thought you’d have to pay to see them. Like they were in a zoo attached to the park. But, nope. Not the case. Snow monkey viewing doesn’t cost a thing.
I was taking a photo of some flowers in Prince’s Square one afternoon when a guy came up to me to tell me the name of the plant. Turns out he’s from Brisbane. He then said something like: ‘I’ve never been to Germany, but this park is what I imagine Europe to look like.’
Cradle Mountain is about a two-hour drive from Launceston. The day I went, it was snowing. Quite heavily. This meant you weren’t allowed past Dove Lake and couldn’t drive through the national park in your own car. The shuttle buses came every 10 minutes, but it’s still not ideal having to walk to/from where the bus drops you. Minor annoyance aside, Cradle Mountain National Park is beautiful. Maybe I’ll return another time. Sans snow. And in hope of seeing some wombats.
If you’re driving from Hobart to Launceston, it probably makes the most sense to stop in at Campbell Town on the way. Or you can do it on your way to Freycinet National Park. I was hoping there’d be a bit more to see here, but it was still a cute town. There’s a bookstore with an Alice in Wonderland theme going on and an okay antique store. Apparently JJ’s Cafe does a good vanilla slice, but I can’t vouch for this because I wasn’t hungry. And I stopped in at a small weekend market, run out of a hall, about 20 minutes up the road. The town is called Epping.
George Town wasn’t on my list of places to go in/near Launceston. I hadn’t even heard of it. The lady I’m sitting for told me about when I explained I was hoping to do Bay of Fires in a day. She said that was a bit ambitious and suggested George Town instead. I went on a Saturday and it seemed most of the stores along the main street were closed. It was windy, rainy and about 10°C when I got there, but I’m not a beach person anyway. I actually think the beach and sea looked nicer in the depressing weather. There’s quite a few spots to stop in at, but I only did Lagoon Bay and the Low Head Lighthouse.
I’m not sure if the bridge is related to the Batman comic in any way, but I saw a sign for it on my way back from George Town. A quick Google search tells me the Batman Bridge was one of the first cable-stayed truss bridges in the world. If that means anything to anyone. It offers a nice view of the Tamar River and there’s a park area underneath.
A nature walk minutes from the CBD? Yep. Cataract Gorge. It annoyed me having to pay to park my car to appreciate nature, but you’ve got to pay to park pretty much everywhere in Launceston? A bit weird considering it’s a small city. There’s a few walks you can do along Cataract Gorge, then there seems to be some paid activities (river cruise, chairlift, cliff walk(?)). The one-kilometres walk I did takes you to the basin where there’s a cafe and flower garden.
Admission to the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery—or QVMAG as it’s written everywhere—is free. The art gallery and museum aren’t located on the same premises. The art gallery’s technically in the Launceston CBD while the museum is about two kilometres out. Most of the exhibits/rooms at the art gallery were being audited when I went. This meant I couldn’t view them and I was done within 15 minutes. The museum, however, was very interesting. Lots of Tasmanian tiger history, including a fur/skin replica you can touch, and dinosaur objects.
Freycinet National Park
It took me about two and a bit hours to get to Freycinet National Park. Honeymoon Bay was my favourite part of the national park. It’s one of the first stops in the park and it’s easy to find. I didn’t have as much luck with my second stop, Sleepy Bay. I gave up trying to find it after finding the parking lot, but no track to the water. A lot of the locations (beaches, bays, etc.) are only accessible by foot. I didn’t realise it’d be like this. But I guess that’s my fault. These hikes range from one to five hours. Not my thing.
On my way back to Launceston, I decided to stop in at a cafe I’d passed on the way. The Pondering Frog. I remember a sign saying they did ice cream and thought I’d get some to see me through to Launceston. The Pondering Frog looked cringey from the outside and I expected their menu to be limited. But I was wrong. They even had deep fried Camembert. I got the pumpkin falafel burger and it was unexpectedly good. While eating my burger, it was then I discovered Freycinet National Park and Bay of Fires aren’t the same thing/place. I must’ve thought the rocks in Honeymoon Bay looked close enough to the images I’d seen on Google. So stopping in at The Pondering Frog proved to be a win-win for me. I got a decent meal and learnt I still had somewhere left to visit that afternoon.
Bay of Fires
The drive from Freycinet National Park to Bay of Fires is very picturesque. You’ve got the ocean on your right for most of the journey. If you’re not up for the long drive north, you could probably stop at any of the beaches along the way. But Bay of Fires is really, really pretty.
Can you see how it looks kind of like Honeymoon Bay? I wish I’d come here before going to Freycinet National Park, or dedicated an entire day to St Helen’s, because I was a exhausted when I arrived. Before driving back to Launceston, I stopped at Banjo’s for another ‘see me through to Launceston’ snack. Banjo’s is a Tasmanian bakery chain I’ve seen in most of the bigger towns and I hadn’t eaten at yet. I got the spinach and curried chickpea roll. It, too, was surprisingly good.
Verdict: Aussie House Sitters
Would I recommend Aussie House Sitters? Definitely. Especially if you’re looking for a sit in Australia. While TrustedHousesitters is my preferred website, TrustedHousesitters doesn’t have nearly as many Australian sits available. The Aussie House Sitters website is easy to navigate and you can filter results based on your preferences (sit length, house type). My only gripe with Aussie House Sitters is I wish it’d offer a combined membership across all its sites (House Sitters America, House Sitters Canada, etc.). I haven’t renewed my House Sitters America membership because I can’t justify the cost right now.
Get $10 off
Use my code to get $10 off Aussie House Sitters membership.
My next stop’s home. I’ll be working for about a month in the lead up to Christmas, then I’ve got a local house and cat sit over the break. After spending the past two Christmases abroad, it’s time to celebrate with family in Brisbane. Follow my Instagram account to see what I get up to between now and then.
I wanted to visit Hobart (again) before making my way to Launceston for my first interstate house and cat sit. So I booked a room at the same place I’d stayed about five years ago. The Alabama Hotel.
The Alabama Hotel describes itself as a ’boutique style art infused hotel’, ‘with emphasis on creating an enjoyable, affordable and artistic space’. I already knew the hotel’s amenities were pretty basic, but it redeems itself with the vintage interiors, furnishings and bric-a-brac scattered over two floors. It has a small bar and nice outdoor space, and they do coffee from 8am each day. The hotel’s location’s pretty decent, too. It’s on Liverpool Street. Less than a minute away from Elizabeth Street Mall, and about a 10- to 15-minute walk to Salamanca Place and Franklin Wharf. And there’s a Woolworths a few doors down.
It cost me just under $500 for five nights in a deluxe queen room. This time my room was directly above the bar and looked out on to Liverpool Street. Room 17 has a queen size bed, bar fridge, dressing table, heater and fan, and a small wardrobe to hang your clothes up in. Each floor has separate male and female bathrooms, and I’ve never had to wait to use the shower. Not back in 2014 and not in 2019 either. Shared bathrooms gross me out, but the ones here are really clean (shared bathrooms still gross me out). Enough about the hotel, here’s some fun things to see and do in Hobart.
Places to go
I have a feeling this is one of the most expensive suburbs in Hobart. Traditional homes, with beautiful gardens and views of the water. My favourite thing to do is walk up and down the streets admiring the architecture, and people’s well kept gardens.
Continue walking up Elizabeth Street for about 20 minutes. There’s Indian, Vietnamese, Thai and Mexican restaurants, European-style cafes and the typical Australian pubs/hotels, and the State Cinema. The State Cinema has been operating for 100+ years. The cinema’s bookstore is also worth checking out.
Hobart Cat Cafe
On my way to find lunch in North Hobart, I saw what I thought was a shopfront selling cat trees/towers. I thought a shop like this, especially in Hobart, was odd. I crossed the road to have a better look and could see it was actually a cat cafe. My favourite! This cat cafe is huge and they have a proper food menu. It looks like all the food is made to order in their kitchen. And like all cat cafes, they’ve got a drinks menu (alcohol included (unlike most cat cafes)).
The seven or eight cats they’ve got are rescues and I’m sure they love their new home. Some of their play things go from floor to ceiling, and they’re spoilt for choice when it comes to finding a comfy spot to nap in. Another great thing about Hobart Cat Cafe is you don’t need to book. You can just rock up. Like I did.
The city centre has some good stores and the food options are a lot better than I remember them being last time. I picked up a cute fox print from merchant and Thai Veggie Hutt, directly under the Alabama, has delicious-looking vegetarian dishes. The only downside is they close at 4.30pm. And they’re not open on Sunday. Augustus Chocolates is another good one for homewares. Hobart also seems to be big on street art now. You’ll find it everywhere you look in the CBD.
Daci & Daci was my favourite place for pastries and sweets, and they do breakfast ‘til 11am. And I like the Brunswick Hotel. It seems like a more grown up pub/hotel, with a great duo playing the night I went. Harry and Jane. This place gets extra points because they do espresso martinis.
The Saturday market is overrated. I told myself I wasn’t going to bother with it again . And I shouldn’t have. I went down at about 11am. As expected, it was ridiculously hard to get around. Some of the stalls have some good stuff, but I’m sure you can find it at other locations around Hobart and Tasmania.
I do, however, like the shops down here (i.e. not the market stalls). Norman and Dann was my favourite this time. Lots of Japanese-y stuff, cat stuff and cute homewares.
Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens
The gardens are about two kilometres out from the CBD. Easily walkable in the cool weather. Beautiful rose gardens. And it’s surprising to see they’ve got a substantial succulent and cactus collection.
Museum of Old and New Art (Mona)
I didn’t visit Mona this time. I considered it, but the main exhibit I wanted to see—’Eat the Problem’—finished in September. I don’t think this gallery will appeal to everyone. Some of the exhibitions are a bit crass. There’s a poop-making machine, a wall of vulva moulds, and it’s owned by a professional gambler. And it’s a bit of a pain/expensive to get to if you don’t have a car in Hobart. The Mona ferry is about $20, and I’m not sure if that’s each way or return. Uber might be an affordable alternative.
Other things worth checking out
- Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery—admission is free or at least it was when I went.
- Hobart Convict Penitentiary—I did a tour of this place last time. Very interesting.
- Mt Wellington—I’ll be driving up here tomorrow before making my way to Launceston.
Launceston is my next, and final, stop on this trip. I’ve got a 10-day house and cat sit in West Launceston. This sit was found through Aussie House Sitters—a website I haven’t used before. It has more Australian house sits than TrustedHousesitters, housecarers.com and MindMyHouse combined.
House and cat sitting in your city or town can be a great way to start out. You’ll get some ‘experience’ and hopefully a five-star review. But it wasn’t until May 2019—after completing 11 sits in the United States—that I accepted an invitation for an overnight sit in Brisbane (my hometown).
The Brisbane couple own a one-bedroom cottage in Paddington and have a one-year-old Ragdoll. His name is Kush Kush. Well, actually, his name is Pudding. But it was Kush Kush when I looked after him back in May.
The couple adopted Kush Kush nearly a year ago after their other Ragdoll, Charlie, passed away. These guys originally reached out to me before Charlie died, but I was cat sitting in East Boston at the time. I’d never been fussed on the idea of house sitting in Brisbane. House and cat sitting was more of a holiday thing for me. But I’m glad the couple kept my details. Paddington is one Brisbane suburb I’d happily house sit in.
A few weeks back, the same couple reached out to me again via TrustedHousesitters. They asked if I was free to look after Kushy in mid-October. But for two nights this time. I was very much available.
The second sit
When I went to meet the couple on Friday afternoon, they mentioned they’re planning an overseas trip next year and asked if I’d be interested in a substantially longer sit. The dates aren’t set, but they said they’d get back to me ASAP because they seem to think I’m quite popular. Cute. They were also keen to hear about my last house and cat sitting holiday. They knew about the trip because they’d messaged me while I was looking after Nancy and Griffin in Nashville.
Kush Kush was out in the garden when I arrived. He’d almost doubled in size since I saw him last. But he was just as cute. The couple now have a cat flap built into the back door to give him easy access to the garden, but they had to tape the flap up because he refused to use it otherwise. Even with some adjustments, he still seems to struggle with it. He just fits through. And he much prefers to meow at the door to be let back inside.
Sunday morning came around pretty quickly and it was time to start packing up. Bed stripped, dishes washed, bins emptied, cat fed. But where was Kush Kush? I wanted to bring him inside before I left. This is the second time I’ve been ready to leave and the cat’s nowhere to be seen. It happened the other week with my friends’ cat, Dorian. After a few looks in the garden and shaking Kushy’s box of treats, I wandered around the side. Again. I lifted up a tarp. Still no Kushy. But he must have been nearby because started to meow. Thank God. I grabbed him and locked the door behind me. I messaged the couple to let them know I was heading off and to contact me if they had any problems/concerns when they got home. “Many thanks for looking after Puddo and the cottage. See you next time,” was the reply.
Next week I’m off to Tasmania. I’ll be staying in Hobart for a few nights before driving to Launceston for a 10-day house and cat sit.