Hi. I’m Madolline.
And I’m seeing the world One cat at a time

A Christmas cat sit in Australia’s Top End

A Christmas cat sit in Australia’s Top End

I don’t think anyone plans to visit Darwin during the summer, but I decided to brave the humidity when I accepted a house and cat sit commencing mid-December.

It’d been a good eight or nine months since I’d travelled anywhere, and this meant some Australian destinations had suddenly become more appealing. I started to think Darwin—in Australia’s Northern Territory—might be a good option for a Christmas getaway. I’d never been to Darwin, the Northern Territory was letting Queenslanders in without having to quarantine and there hadn’t been a COVID-19 outbreak up there in months.

As luck had it, something came up on Aussie House Sitters. An almost month-long sit in Darwin. There was a bit of back and forth during my initial conversation with Pepper the Persian’s owner because I was in Queensland and these guys are in the Northern Territory. I also had to check with work, check border restrictions, and look at flight availability, but we got there in the end. I was flying to Darwin on 16 December 2020.

One four-hour flight later and I’d arrived in Australia’s Top End. ‘The weather isn’t as bad as they say,’ I thought to myself as I exited the airport. But that’s because it rained less than five minutes ago. I was now on my way to meet the couple I was sitting. One of the first things I remember them telling me about Darwin was it’s unusually busy for this time of year. They said most businesses close for the wet season because there’s no backpackers to employ and tourist numbers are down. I guess I chose the best wet season to venture up here because not much was closed.

The couple’s apartment complex was a bit of an unusual one—instead of a single high-rise tower, it was made up of five or six four-level buildings called ‘residences’. They told me they’d just finished moving all their stuff in to this particular apartment over the weekend. They’d been living in the complex for a while, but in a one-bedroom apartment in a neighbouring residence. With their upcoming holiday, Christmas, and everything else going on in the world, they didn’t have time to unpack some of their stuff. The main bathroom was being used to house their art collection. But because they’ve got two bathrooms in the new place, showering wasn’t an issue.

Pepper popped her head out of the second bedroom as if to say ‘Who’s this?’ She was much smaller than I imaged. And she’s got the cutest lion cut. These guys get her shaved regularly so she doesn’t succumb to the heat. I was then briefed on to prepare Pepper’s breakfast and dinner. She gets a small serve of mince mixed with pumpkin twice a day. Her treats include a small bowl of biscuits no more than three times a week, and a sachet of wet food once or twice a week.

I was also shown the pool and gym areas, and told the beach was five minutes down the road. Fannie Bay is really beautiful, but you’re not allowed to swim there because crocodiles and box jellyfish might be lurking. The couple mentioned I could walk to the CBD in less than an hour, but I would be crazy to do that:

  1. given how sweaty I’d be, and
  2. when the bus comes every half hour.

Darwin’s bus service proved to be somewhat reliable for a smaller city. The bus I would be catching most days ran every half hour regardless of whether it’s a weekday, Saturday or Sunday, or public holiday. And it showed up every single time. On time, too.

The first day

I returned to the apartment the next morning for the first day of the sit. I noticed an A4 print out in the lift detailing the complex’s cyclone procedure. Cyclones—not something that occurred to me ’til this moment. And, thankfully, not something I had to worry about in the end.

Pepper hid in the second bedroom for about 20 minutes, but was sitting with me on the couch in no time. While Pepper spends most of her day in the second bedroom, she enjoys relaxing on the balcony just as much. Cats on a balcony makes me a little nervous—you never know if they’re going to jump over or not. The couple said Pepper is good like that, but we agreed you never know what they’ll decide to do one day.

A few days later

I decided to hire a car so I could visit places not reachable on Darwin’s public transport system. Hiring a car up here meant a ridiculous amount of rules I haven’t encountered anywhere else in Australia, the USA or Japan. Big name rental companies have a limit on the amount of kilometres you can do each day. You can do more, of course, but you’re billed per kilometre. The Budget Rent A Car customer service lady then decided to tell me I’m only covered for accidents within 50km of Darwin CBD after I had paid an extra $100 for insurance. Thanks. And I was advised not to drive between dusk and dawn because I won’t be covered either.

My first stop was at the ‘world famous’ Humpty Doo Hotel. My uncle said this pub was worth a visit. He remembers it being a bit of an unruly joint when he was here in the ’80s or ’90s, but I knew I wasn’t going to see much at midday. Just a couple of tradies having a beer on their lunch break. I did get a bit of a shock when someone called out to me. Turns out it was one of the ladies from my Kakadu tour.

I continued down Arnhem Highway to get to Window on the Wetlands for my crocodile cruise. There’s several companies doing crocodile cruises, but I booked with Spectacular Jumping Crocodile Cruise. All of them charge about the same price and each tour goes for an hour. We saw about six or seven crocodiles in this time, and one of them was the rare white-headed girl called Pearl. The guy told us she’s the only one in the world like this. And they think she’s related to another white-headed crocodile, called Michael Jackson, who was shot in 2014 not long after he ate a local fisherman.

The next day was spent venturing out to Adelaide River. The town’s bar is known for its taxidermy’d buffalo who featured in Crocodile Dundee. It’s also full of fun memorabilia dating back to World War II. But other than the bar and rail museum, which was closed, there’s not much else to see in Adelaide River. I planned to drive straight through to Robin Falls, but the road was partially flooded. Another big no-no in the rental car. So to Berry Springs it was.

By now it was Christmas Day. The first day I got to relax. I slept most of the morning before getting lunch. Hardly anything is open in Brisbane on Christmas Day and I thought Darwin—being way smaller than Brisbane—would be the same. Nope. I was able to dine in at the local momo and kebab shop, and there was no public holiday surcharge. Christmas lunch cost me $13. I then went for a walk along Fannie Bay and called mum for Christmas before calling it a day.

The rest of my time up here was spent sweating it out around Darwin and relaxing with Pepper. Pepper was incredibly easy to care for. She didn’t lash out once. I enjoyed seeing her chase flies at night, pole dance up her cat tree and run through her tunnel at lightning fast speed. I think everything Pepper does is made funnier because she has that classic Persian face.

Things to do

Street art

Street art wasn’t something I was expecting to see much of up here, but I was wrong. Austin Lane, Shadforth Lane and West Lane are good places to start, but Darwin has murals scattered all over the CBD and suburbs.

Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory Darwin

The Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory Darwin is definitely more museum than art gallery, but that’s how I like it. There’s a Cyclone Tracy exhibition, crocodile Sweetheart has his own display, and a huge shed out the back houses 20+ boats and canoes from all over the Southern Hemisphere

Fannie Bay Gaol

Fannie Bay Gaol is part of museum and free to visit. The tour guide gave everyone ‘homework’ that needed to be presented before we could leave. He asked me to tell him the name of the gaol’s cat and when it died, and the names of the last two men hanged there. He seemed genuinely excited to hear the answers and helped me navigate the The Territory Check In app.

World War II oil storage tunnels

Not something on my original itinerary, but I went to visit the World War II oil storage tunnels on my last weekend in Darwin. The tunnels were built to hide and protect oil supplies from the Japanese. It’s a pretty interesting attraction and the guy who runs it told me it’s often hired out for art shows.

Litchfield National Park

I visited Litchfield National Park on an AAT Kings tour. I hate group tours, but, sadly, it was cheaper to do it like this. We visited Florence Falls, Tolmer Falls and Wangi Falls, and made stops at some termite mounds and Howard Springs. I planned to visit most of these places on my own, but Darwin’s car rental rules put an end to that plan.

Nightcliff Beach

I walked up to Nightcliff Beach after being disappointed by the suburb’s Sunday markets. Unlike some of the other beaches up here, there’s plenty of green space to sit and watch the ocean. There’s even a coffee van/cart/caravan across from the jetty.

East Point Reserve

East Point Reserve is at the back of Fannie Bay. It’s a nice stretch of coastline, with more amazing red-, orange-, yellow- and white-coloured rocks. East Point Reserve reminds me of Tasmania’s Bay of Fires except you can’t swim up here.

Cafes

Darwin has no shortage of good cafes. My favourites were Laneway Coffee and Ruby G’s. Ruby G’s has two locations—in the city and at Coconut Grove. The Coconut Grove cafe has more dishes and pastries to choose from. Ray’s Patisserie and Cafe isn’t bad either. It’s one of the only coffee shops in the city open from 6am. And Salvator’s has a good selection of cakes.

Things not do

Parap Village Markets

I was told the laksa at the Parap market is probably the best in Australia, but I couldn’t think of anything worse than eating something hot when it’s already 32°C at 10am. There’s long lines for ATMs and the queues to order food are even worse.

Kakadu National Park

A lot of people come to the Northern Territory to visit Kakadu National Park, but I don’t think the AAT Kings tour showcased the most memorable parts of the park. I know you can’t see much in one day, but I wasn’t wow’d by the billabong cruise or Aboriginal art walk. Especially when I paid nearly $300. Most of the day is spent onboard the bus, with only two or three hours (if that) dedicated to activities.

Nightcliff Markets

There wasn’t much on offer at the Nightcliff Markets. A few people selling clothes, someone else selling plants and some hot food stalls. It still drew a substantial crowd, but I can’t work out why.

Darwin tips

If anyone’s reading this and thinks they’d like to visit Darwin, here’s some things I’ll share with you first.

  • Buy calamine lotion and hydrocortisone cream. This is for the heat rash you’re bound to get. I developed heat rash after a mere two hours in Darwin, and had to apply the hydrocortisone cream once or twice a day for the rest of my stay.
  • Invest in a thermos water bottle—cold water won’t stay cold for long without one.
  • Your hair will get really knotty from the humidity. I don’t have a solution for this, but I can’t wait to put a proper treatment in it later today.
  • Take bug spray if you’re doing a crocodile cruise. There’s flies aplenty along the Adelaide River.
  • Always take an umbrella with you. The rain will come and go throughout the day, and it can storm in the morning and again in the afternoon.

Next stop

This trip was limited to just the one house and cat sit so my next stop is home. Or at least I hope I can get home. Brisbane was declared a COVID-19 hot spot after a quarantine hotel cleaner contracted the UK strain of the virus. Once in Brisbane, assuming my flight doesn’t get cancelled, I’ll be there for the next six months at least. That’s because my contract job was extended until the end of the financial year. I’ll re-assess my travel plans towards the end of May.

One final thing. For anyone who’s interested (and I know there’s a few of you), there’s more photos of Pepper on my cat sitting Facebook page.

How COVID-19 affected my cat sitting travels in 2020

How COVID-19 affected my cat sitting travels in 2020

I was fortunate enough to spend about three weeks house and cat sitting in the US earlier this year before COVID-19 wreaked havoc on all our lives.

This was back in February and March, and I was in Charleston and New York City. Coronavirus wasn’t a big concern in Charleston. It was talked about on the news, but it was business as usual for the best city in the United States. There was no social distancing, and nobody was wearing a mask or latex gloves. But it started to get serious when I got to New York City. There was hardly anyone on the subway, tours were getting cancelled, and almost everywhere was sold out of wipes and hand sanitiser. Museums and galleries closed, and I wasn’t able to check out the Morgan Library before it shut its doors. I did, however, get my photo taken for the New York Post before flying back to Australia a few days earlier than planned.

It was a good thing I changed my flight when I did because the Virgin Australia flight attendants announced it was now a full flight. Clare—the lady I was cat sitting for—decided it was best to fly home early, too. Her flight from Mexico arrived around the same time I flew out of LAX.

My last-minute change meant I got stuck with a middle seat and I found myself sitting between two other Australian girls. One was about 20 and she told us she got a diving scholarship (this is a thing?) at a university in Arizona. The other girl, I think she was a little older than me, went to Los Angeles to meet up with a guy she had been messaging on Instagram.

Some 14 hours later, we arrived at Brisbane International Airport. We were told biosecurity officers would be escorting two passengers off the plane before anyone could disembark. These passengers had let the flight attendants know they were experiencing COVID-like symptoms just before we touched down. I remember the crew being shocked neither person asked for a mask or mentioned the possibility they were sick. Everyone else was given a COVID one-pager before getting to passport control and customs, and then we were free to roam the airport before making our way home.

The next two weeks were spent confined to my house. I guess I should be grateful I was able to quarantine at home. International arrivals must now quarantine at a government arranged hotel at a cost of $2,000 per person. What’s worse is they have to foot the bill themselves.

Later in the year

Australians have been banned from travelling overseas since the end of March. There’s a few exceptions, but anyone who’s considering it must seek approval from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Those who’ve thought about taking an interstate holiday instead have had to contend with the constant closing and re-opening of state and territory borders, and these rules can take effect almost immediately.

With no real travel plans, I accepted two short sits in Brisbane. One was just for the weekend and the other was a week-long sit in West End. I’d looked after both cats before—Kushy is kind of a regular and the other cat, Jaspurr, is the one I cared for last Christmas. I then spent another weekend with Kushy in October.

Christmas 2020 plans

I’d been keeping my eye on Aussie House Sitters hoping to score a Christmas sit in Hobart, Perth or Darwin. Tasmania remained closed to the rest of Australia ‘til late October and Western Australia only just opened up. This meant Hobart and Perth were a no-go. The Northern Territory was my only option unless I wanted to stay put.

There was a sit in Darwin that piqued my interest and it was all confirmed a few days after responding to the couple’s ad. Even though I accepted it back in September, there was some unexpected uncertainty about it going ahead. The couple planned to travel to Adelaide. Adelaide was declared a COVID-19 hotspot on 16 November 2020. Not long after, the entire state of South Australia went into a six-day lockdown. This very strict lockdown was then relaxed one or two days in when the state government learned a hotel security guard lied to them. Adelaide’s no longer a declared hotspot and everyone’s holiday plans are back on.

Darwin for the Christmas break

Darwin wasn’t on my list of must visit places before COVID hit, but I’m pretty excited about spending December and January up north. This is probably a little longer than most people would spend in Darwin, but I’ll be hiring a car for some of the trip and I have a list of places I want to visit. It’ll also be nice to do nothing after picking up a fulltime contract job in July. I think this is the longest I’ve gone without taking an interstate or international trip.

Daytime temperatures will be around 35°C and nights won’t be much cooler. This sit couldn’t be more different from my Boulder house and cat sitting experience two Christmases ago. Christmas Day was a mere 2 or 3°C, and I was snowed in on New Year’s Eve. The closest I’ll get to snow is hail during an afternoon thunderstorm.

I must complete a border entry form no more than seven days before arriving in Darwin and present it upon arrival at Darwin International Airport. I’ll be keeping an eye on the news while I’m there in case anything changes for Queensland or the Northern Territory. I—like most Australians holidaying across the country—want to avoid hotel quarantine at all costs.

Where house and cat sitting took me in 2019

Where house and cat sitting took me in 2019

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.

Next stop

What’s in store for 2020? Well, I’m sure it comes as no surprise I’d like to keep exploring the US. And while I have a list of places I’d like to visit, it isn’t exhaustive. 

Living with two Birmans in Launceston

Living with two Birmans in Launceston

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.

Launceston CBD

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

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.

Campbell Town

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

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.

Batman Bridge

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.

Cataract Gorge

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.

QVMAG

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.

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Next stop

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.