Sep262012
Little Detours - WWOOFing in Australia

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 5, 2012

WWOOFing in Australia

WWOOF WWOOF WWOOFing!

Alright guys, here's another 'rapid fire' super-post summing up a portion of my travels through Australia because I've only recently managed to get a laptop and bring some concord to my chaos.

This blog will be looking at my travels using the volunteering site 'WWOOFing'. I've had two major episodes in Australia in which I've laid roots, made friends and had fun via the organisation and, similarly to CouchSurfing I'd recommend using this as a means of peppering your travels with some truly unique experiences.

What is it?
Other than a dogs call, WWOOFing stands for Willing Workers OOrganic Farms (and then add the ingfor grammatical effect) or possibly World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. It allows travelers to undertake voluntary work in regional places off the beaten tracks of whatever country you're traveling within. From my understanding, you can WWOOF in just about any country.

WWOOFing vs Couchsurfing
In a similar way to Couch surfing, WWOOFing takes you away from the well traveled roads to visit people who've laid down roots in the lands and actually have a life. However, unlike couchsurfing, WWOOFing provides a different kind of experience. There is no direct trade in travel from hosts in WWOOFing, meaning you're not expected to put them up for a few nights when they visit you. However you are expected to work for them in order to earn your keep – a fair trade.
In order to become a WWOOFer you need only sign up to it. Although I did meet a few people who just turned up and asked whether or not WWOOFers were accepted, so I believe there is a level of freedom to it. Alternatives include HelpX and other voluntary work groups.

Both of my experiences were elongated stays of around two months at each. But I should point out the minimum stay is usually a few days to a week. I should also point out that neither of these experiences were on a classic crop farm, something I'm quite proud of when telling others about them.

Adelaide: The Snake Farm

First and foremost, the snake farm. Everyone I've mentioned this to cringes at the sound, but I was enthralled to discover I could do voluntary work with fabled Australian reptiles allowing me to see some of Aus's most ferocious creatures with minimal chance of being bitten (minimal). The host was a family originally from New Zealand. The father was an environmental officer, the mother was a herpetologist (reptile scientist) and the son was a budding photographer. They owned a large open property in the Adelaide hills, surrounded by beautiful countryside and far from the ills of the city. On their property, other than the house was a large environmentally controlled room, filled with vivariums for numerous species of endemic reptiles, mainly legless.
There was something understandably unnerving about the job originally, but after my baptism to the world of herpetology, wearing a five foot long albino python named poppy, my unease quickly dissipated. The weighty length of sentient muscle was a complete pussy cat and sat quite happily over my shoulders watching the introductions and quite possibly feeding on my fear.
After working there for two months my worries of venomous animals didn't quit, but more importantly I gained a much deeper understanding and measure of respect for animals which I never truly considered before.
Snakes are naturally intimidating creatures. For me it's not a phobia, but knowing they're venomous and strike with incredibly quick reflexes is enough to make me duly cautious around them.
Once a snake escaped a handlers grasp and very swiftly fled the onlookers to the corner of the room far faster than the volunteers could reach the door. It was incredibly surprising how spry and agile something without legs could be. Intellectually speaking snakes don't quite match orca, dolphins or primates but they can be surprisingly calculating when they need to be.
The most ferocious snake in the vivariums, and possibly of the whole of Australia, was the taipan. It's name alone seemed to me as fitting of something so powerful. It combines an incredibly potent venom with a quick wit allowing it to judge its attacks and assess its target before striking, where as (so I'm told) most normal serpents simply strike out in the general direction with blind hope.

My time WWOOFing at the snake farm was very educating, and it also served as a rent-free base of operations to explore Adelaide and some of South Australia. Randomly, I also learnt about kombucha there (a kind of vinigerised tea which is a classified super-food). And it was the place where I re-engaged with the couchsurfing community and began my travels with them.
This served as my introduction to WWOOFing and did a great job opening up the potential of the site as a means of educating. While I was there I learnt a great deal from my hosts, they opened my eyes to all sorts of new things and allowed me to try life from a new perspective. Prior to this I'd never lived so far from a city and the peace of countryside life was very welcome. I also had the opportunity to try some new things which were introduced to me by the family, including geo-caching, a global hunt and hide game played using GPS and some imagination.
I left Adelaide to couchsurf in Townsville and explore Queensland which is where I had my second WWOOFing experience.

Bosco, the friendliest snake in the world!


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