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Weyburn woman has a three-year adventure Down Under

Karlene Hennig shared some of her amazing experiences and sights in Australia

WEYBURN – What began as a travel adventure “Down Under” for a few months turned into a three-year extended stay for Weyburn resident Karlene Hennig.

She was finally able to come home for a month-long visit with friends and family for the first time since before COVID began, but is set to return to Australia on Sept. 5 for at least another year to work and travel in that country.

Initially, she went for six weeks to New Zealand in August of 2019, and then on Sept. 23, 2019, she flew to Australia, starting at Cairns in the northeast.

She went on the “Kiwi Experience” bus tour through New Zealand, and traveled from the northernmost point down to the south, seeing both islands.

“It’s like Canada, but it’s more compact. I think the longest drive was about four hours to get somewhere gorgeous,” she said.

In Australia, she toured down the East Coast, and then found some farm work to earn an extended stay on a working holiday visa. To be eligible for the extra stay for a year, she had to do at least 88 days of farm work.

She sent out her resume to a few places, with the help of a couple of companies, and it was easy for her to find work with her experience working with horses.

About halfway through her work time, COVID hit and restrictions went into place, and the Australian Prime Minister suggested that overseas back-packers should go home during this time.

The farm location she was at closed due to COVID, and for about a month she had no job. Karlene lived in Sydney for this time, and found it hard as she couldn’t even go outside to a park, unless it was for outdoor physical labour.

“I wanted a job like right now, I was just going crazy,” said Karlene, noting she was able to get a position at a horse stud farm, as it was considered essential work, and best of all for her, it was out of the city.

She admits she was on the verge of coming back to Canada at that point, but she didn’t want to close the door on being able to return to Australia for a second year. In order for her to get that additional year on her visa, she had to work the full 88 days, so she made the decision to stay and work.

Part of her wish to work was to have time to travel and see different aspects of Australia. When COVID restrictions weren’t in place, she was able to see and experience some incredible sights.

One of the most “incredible” places for her to visit was the Great Barrier Reef, where she had her first experience snorkeling.

“I was really nervous, as I had never been out on the ocean where I couldn’t see any land,” said Karlene, noting when one books a boat tour, you need to make sure it takes you to a good part of the reef where there is still life and colour.

Another place she visited was the whirling sands at Whitsunday, and she took a sailboat tour for two nights to see it.

The sand is really fine, and when the tide goes out it swirls with the water, and you can walk out on it.

One of the most memorable trips for her, among many in the past three years, was to Uluru, or Ayers Rock, located in the Outback.

“It is just incredible, it’s mindboggling when you think about what it is. It’s layers and layers of ocean floor that’s been pushed up,” she said.

Uluru is made of sandstone, and towers up 348 metres high over the surrounding landscape, and is one of Australia’s most recognizable landmarks.

Karlene also took a unique bus tour of the West Coast, going on a hostel-on-wheels called Road2Adventure. The owner renovated a school bus into a travel bus, including a sink, toilet and shower, and a gas stove and fridge.

Only eight people travel on each bus, and on the trip Karlene did, there were two buses and a 4X4 was towed along.

“He took us to all the cool places, plus on Outback roads, red dirt roads, that other tours couldn’t get to,” she said, noting her fellow travelers were all young women and one guy, from several other countries.

The initial trip she did took her from Perth to Broome, and she enjoyed it so much, she extended the excursion from Broome to Darwin.

“It was such an amazing experience. We were on the bus for 19 days, and we became really good friends. We were all crying when we had to leave,” she said.

She noted the West Coast was noted for its electric orange sunsets, and many evenings they sat on top of the buses to watch the sunset.

While on this excursion, she spent an extra $450 to go out on a boat to swim with whale sharks at Exmouth. A plane spotter guided the boat to where the whale sharks were, and with their snorkeling gear on, they sat on the back of the boat until they got the signal to jump into the water.

“They’re like the biggest fish in the ocean. You swim along with them somewhat – they swim quite slow. Sometimes they’ll circle around because they’re curious,” she said, adding you swim with them until they go down to a lower depth, and you return to the boat to wait for another one. She swam with three altogether, and also got to see other ocean life, like a big sea turtle, a guitar shark, a leopard shark, and when they were back on the boat, they saw a tiger shark.

One highlight for Karlene was the visit by her sister Kelsey in April for three weeks, the first family member she had seen in two and a half years.

She took her on a quick tour of the East Coast, mostly to places she had seen already, as well as to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, and a visit to Sydney. Kelsey also visited the Ridgmont horse stud farm where Karlene works.

The farm is located in the Hunter Valley region north of Sydney in New South Wales, known as the horse capital of Australia as well as being famous as a wine region.

“The racing industry is massive there,” said Karlene, adding she wouldn’t be able to get a job here in Canada working on a stud farm like this, and pointed out the equivalent here in North America for horse country would be in Kentucky.

Overall, travelling and working in Australia has been a really good experience for her, and she recommended anyone who wants to travel or backpack around should do using the hostels available. There are some cheap ones around for $15 a night, but for her comfort level, she prefers ones that are a little better quality, and you can meet all sorts of people from all over the world.

“Travelling is a great way to push yourself out of your comfort zone, and you learn so many life lessons,” said Karlene.