Like pretty much everyone, 2020 was certainly different from 2019 for me (click here to read my 2019 Year In Review). It brought many challenges and uncertainties, but this year also blessed me with gratitude and an unexpected love story.
YEAR IN REVIEW 2020
New Zealand Road Trip
I saw in the New Year in Wellington – the capital of New Zealand, before flying back down to Christchurch to meet my parents who had flown out to join me on a 3 week Aus/NZ adventure! It was so great to see them after spending my first ever Christmas away from home!
We hired a car and toured around, visiting the most beautiful places in New Zealand South Island such as Lake Tekapo, Hokitika Gorge, Mount Cook, Lake Matheson, Queenstown and Wanaka. We then flew up to the North Island and spent some time getting to experience Maori culture in Rotorua which was so interesting! Honestly New Zealand is such a stunning country – I definitely recommend adding it onto your travel bucket list!
Australia Road Trip – Adelaide To Sydney
From Auckland we flew to Adelaide in South Australia where we spent a couple of days exploring the city and visiting the famous vineyards in the Adelaide Hills before starting our four day Adelaide to Melbourne drive via The Great Ocean Road. We stopped off at some interesting places along the way – notable ones being the Port Willunga Caves and Mount Gambier – a town full of unique things such as enchanting sunken gardens, a magnificently blue crater lake and an impressive underground world of caves!
We visited all the stops along The Great Ocean Road such as the iconic Twelve Apostles and Loch Ard Gorge. It was my second time visiting The Great Ocean Road but this time it was not at all crowded: the Australian bushfires had meant a lot less tourists were in Australia compared to normal, which was great for us!
Along the drive we found an injured koala along the side of the road. We called the animal rescue number and waited with the koala until the rescue people came to look after it. His bone was coming out of his leg and he was just sitting on the ground – it was incredible to see a wild koala so close, but I felt so sad it had got injured – probably as a result of trying to escape from the bushfires that were ravaging their way around the country.
We then arrived into Melbourne. Having visited this city thousands of times before as a Flight Attendant, I was able to show my parents all the best photo spots in Melbourne, including the famous Brighton Beach Boxes and the hippy beach town of St Kilda.
The catastrophic bushfires meant we were unable to continue our drive from Melbourne to Sydney as many roads were closed due to the out of control bushfires. So instead we flew to Tasmania for a couple of days before flying into Sydney. We spent time in Hobart as well as hiking up to the top of Wineglass Bay to see the gorgeous views.
Moved To Sydney!
My parents spent 3 days in Sydney with me before they headed home to the UK. We had a great time exploring all the best photo spots in Sydney – my mum especially loved the city, it has such a vibe! We visited The Opera House, walked across The Harbour Bridge, visited Manly, Bondi and Coogee Beaches as well as Mrs Macquaries Point and Luna Park, before enjoying some drinks at Australia’s most iconic bar: Opera Bar!
It was sad to say bye to my parents when they left for the airport. But on the other hand I was excited to be now based mostly in and around Sydney for the next few months with my house sitting!
NSW Central Coast
I headed up to the Central Coast region of NSW (1.5 hours north of Sydney) for a couple of weeks at the beginning of February to house sit the most gorgeous staffy-cross Labrador named Sasha. She was such a sweetheart and was a rescue dog: she had previously been kept in a cage for a year in Sydney before her now owners saved her. I took her to the dog beach every day for the first few days, and then insane flash floods occurred all over the region! The rain was non-stop for days and the lake near our house burst it’s banks and many people had to be rescued from their houses as they got completely flooded. We were without power for a couple of days too. I literally couldn’t believe this was happening whilst the rest of the country was still suffering with the bushfires!
A full week of torrential rain later, and the sun came out again so I made a quick dash up to Newcastle to swim in The Bogey Hole as well as visit Anna Bay at Port Stephens to see the camels walking along Birubi Beach which was amazing!
A Short Trip Back in South Australia
I then flew back to Adelaide for a few days to do what sounded like a perfect house sit on the beach. It infact turned out to be an absolute nightmare as the owners were awful and the dog was horrible – always trying to bite everyone (it even bit the owners in front of me before I left!). Plus the dog kept me up all night barking it’s head off. I was literally exhausted and was so glad to leave.
Before heading back to Sydney I popped over to nearby Kangaroo Island for a couple of days. Just a few weeks earlier, 50% of the island had got burnt by the bushfires, so I really wanted to head over to help support the local economy as they were desperate for tourists to come back to the island. I hired a campervan (my first time driving one!) once I arrived on the island and got to see lots of beautiful areas and beaches there. Many National Parks and tourist sights were still not open to tourists as they were so damaged by the bushfires but the areas I did see of Kangaroo Island were absolutely stunning.
Back To Sydney
I flew back to Sydney for my next house sit – this time for a gorgeous red staffy named Portia! We got along like a house on fire – she would spoon me in the night and sleep on top of me! Every morning I was greeted to a big staffy head lying on my chest glaring at me and patiently waiting for me to wake up and take her for a run in the park or to one of the dog friendly beaches in Sydney! Portia was a rescue doggy too – she had been thrown over a fence when she was just 3 months old and the Sydney Dogs & Cats Home found her. Her right elbow was badly broken and almost needed to be amputated. The vet (her now owner) took her home for a few months to nurse her back to health, and well – she never left!
My housesit with Portia was for a month. A lot changed in that month though. Corona exploded around the world and everything came to a standstill. All my future house sits cancelled as Australians were banned from leaving the country or even their States and Territories. I didn’t have a job in Australia, I had no permanent accommodation and wasn’t sure for how long my savings would be able to pay for Sydney rental prices. Plus I also wouldn’t qualify for any Government help. It wasn’t great to be honest and I was freaking out. So I tried several times to fly back home to the UK. All the flights that I booked kept cancelling though, so in the end I decided staying abroad in Australia was the best option.
Portia’s owner very kindly let me stay a few days longer at her house whilst I looked for some temporary accommodation to tie me over for a while, and in that time I also got to see lots of other places in and around Sydney (whilst safe socially distancing) such as Cockatoo Island and The Blue Mountains.
Moved to Sydney’s Northern Beaches
With a stroke of luck, my cousin’s friend contacted me saying she had a spare apartment in Sydney’s Northern Beaches I could stay in for a month for free, so just before our lockdown started I left Portia and moved to Newport – a lovely beach suburb in Sydney. It was a great place to spend lockdown to be honest – I took strolls along Newport Beach most days and even walked along the coastal path to other beautiful nearby beaches such as Warriewood, Bilgola and Avalon.
Moved to Sydney’s Lower North Shore
In May I moved to the affluent Harbourside suburb of Mosman on the Lower North Shore of Sydney. I was basically working a few hours a week as a nanny in exchange for free board. The location was brilliant as the bus to The Harbour Bridge took just over 5 minutes and Balmoral Beach was a 10 minute walk away. Both Sydney CBD and the Northern Beaches were within easy reach, and I lived just around the corner from the start of the famous Spit to Manly Walk.
The only downside was that the dad of the family was a creep. So I did everything I could to avoid being in the house when I didn’t need to be helping the family. I started running, took up Personal Trainer sessions in the gym 3 times a week and started taking day trips from Sydney. Heck I even went on a couple of god-awful dates just to get out of the house!
Explored Sydney More
The same continued for June: I was still staying with the family until I could find better accommodation, and I managed to do every single Sydney Coastal Walk there is to do – from Palm Beach all the way down to Cronulla and even doing lots of walks in the stunning Ku-Ring Gai Chase National Park such as the Jerusalem Bay, Berowra and Bobbin Head walks! It was nice that the walks were never crowded so I could always keep my distance from people, and I quite enjoyed seeing Australia without tourists!
I also did an epic collaboration with a Sailing Yacht company in Palm Beach – one of my favourite places in Sydney – more about this special place later!
By July I was literally starting to lose my marbles staying with this family, so every opportunity I had I would do local house sits on the weekends. It gave me time to work on my writing in peace, and it meant I could actually enjoy having a whole place to myself again (and not be woken up by a screaming toddler at 5am every morning). I looked after one gorgeous Persian cat, the liveliest Pomeranian dog you’ve ever met, another gorgeous staffy, and some cute kittens during weekend sits. I literally couldn’t wait for more house sits to come up on the website and for people to start taking longer trips away within the State so I would be able to leave this place and continue with house sitting full-time again.
House Sitting Again!
Finally in August I walked out on the family after the dad kept trying to pressure me into taking hard drugs. I briefly did the Workaway program for a week but it was an absolute nightmare too. Then luckily I managed to secure some house sits for the next couple of months as people were starting to holiday within Australia. At last I would be back to living with dogs again and not people: that was how I liked it! I began to think I was destined to just be a dog mum and had basically given up on any hope of ever meeting anyone, but to be honest I wasn’t really bothered!
My first house sit was a stunning mansion on Sydney’s Lower North Shore – complete with a swimming pool (shame it was winter!), a grand piano and the most gorgeous King Charles Cavalier doggies. It was honestly heaven after the last few months cohabiting with people!
As I had been going to the gym a lot since living with that nightmare of a family, I was beginning to see a real change in my body! I got into healthy eating and back into eating keto. During this time I also did a collaboration with a weight loss company called Hypoxi. For 4 weeks I attended sessions 3 times a week which involved wearing suction suits that make you lose weight! I was pleased to say by the end of the 4 weeks my body was looking so toned!
Back With Portia!
September saw me being reunited with Portia the staffy as her owner went on a 3 week camping trip in NSW. Portia literally jumped on top of me when I came through the gate and I just burst into tears. I had missed her so much. We had a great time together for those weeks, honestly I was so happy! All the neighbours and shopkeepers were glad to see me back, and Portia and I spent many hours playing ball in the back yard.
After my house sit with Portia I was so excited the popular Campervan rental company called JUCY had asked me to go on a road trip for an Advertising Campaign with them! The Press Trip was for 10 days and I was given my own van to travel round NSW solo and create photo and written content for the companies’ website. I was so excited to be going on a road trip again after so many months stuck in the same place (albeit Sydney is a great place to get ‘stuck’ during a pandemic!)!
I visited so many stunning famous places along the way, including Bouddi National Park, Booti Booti National Park, Caves Beach, Seal Rocks, Port Macquarie, Dorrigo National Park, Yamba, Minyon Falls, Glen Innes and of course Byron Bay. I also did the epic Tomaree Summit Walk and visited beautiful Jervis Bay that supposedly has the whitest sand in the world!
Colombian Encounter at Palm Beach
I came back to Sydney after my NSW road trip and fancied heading back to one of my favourite places in Sydney: Palm Beach (where the popular TV series Home & Away is filmed!). I headed up to the Barrenjoey Lighthouse where you get an epic panoramic view of the beach and the whole of Pittwater and I got talking to a couple of really nice Colombian guys. They had a really nice energy, we got on really well and took some photos. We chatted for a while and exchanged details. Just as friends. I wasn’t thinking about them in any other way at all – it was just nice to meet people you connect with.
Canberra with Harley
The first three weeks of October saw me house sitting Harley the gorgeous staffy in Canberra. Harley was 14 years old and had suffered from cancer several times – he had even had chemotherapy in the past! Harley was such a placid dude – I loved him so much! Canberra was fairly dull to be honest, but Harley definitely made up for it!
The day before my birthday my next house sit cancelled!! I was literally devastated! I had to find accommodation for 10 days in Sydney, but I didn’t want to burden friends by asking them if I could stay, and I didn’t fancy staying alone in a hotel, so I decided to stay in a cheap and cheerful hostel. Staying in a hostel for my 33rd Birthday was definitely what I had in mind, but hey, you always meet great people in hostels so I wasn’t too bummed. And I met some really nice people when I was there – it was like one big family!
Now back to the Colombians. Now that I was back in Sydney they wanted to hang out, so I told them let’s go out for my Birthday. We had drinks at the iconic Opera Bar and then went to a late night Latin bar which was a bit more lively. We had a great night, then I went back to the hostel. I liked them as friends, but well – I was planning to leave Sydney the following week so the thought of anything remotely romantic happening just didn’t cross my mind. Plus to be honest, I thought they were out of my league.
The day after my Birthday I asked one of the guys (the one I connected with most) if he wanted to go and watch the sunset that evening. So I headed over to Bondi Beach to meet him for a picnic at sunset. Again, not romantic – I just found him really funny and we had a good laugh. We had the picnic, strolled around Bondi for a little bit, then I went back to the hostel to sleep. The next morning I just woke up like heck – it’s my last weekend in Sydney, let me just hook up with this guy (sorry mum if you’re reading!) as it had been many, many months since I had had anything with a guy. I went back to his the following afternoon and let’s just say we barely left the house that weekend.
Postponed My Travels For A Guy!!
This was typical – a decent guy comes along just as I am heading off on a month long trip around Australia. And then after that I’m moving back home to England so I may never see this guy again, especially seeing how things are with the virus. I tried not to get any feelings for him that weekend, but we just had such a strong connection that I knew I needed to see where things went. My flight up to Darwin was the next morning but I did something crazy and postponed my flight by a couple of days. When I told him what I had done he was so happy. He took those days off work and we had such a nice time together. We went camping at Milk Beach, saw the jacaranda trees in Kirribilli and did a whole lot of fun outings in Sydney.
When those two days were over, I again postponed my flight by a couple of days. And then again by a week. I had full on moved in with him at this stage. I had met his whole family on Video calls – it was getting serious! He then asked if he could join me on my month long trip, to which I of course said yes!
Darwin to Cairns Road Trip
So we flew up to the Northern Territory, spent a couple of days exploring Darwin, and then got our huge 6-berth motorhome and drove through the Red Centre towards Cairns. We had so much fun, saw so many beautiful places, swam in so many beautiful natural watering holes (we later found out some were home to crocs, yikes!) and to my delight we listened to Latin music to our heart’s content for the whole 2,500km journey!
Some of our favourite places we visited between Darwin to Cairns were Florence Falls at Litchfield National Park, Mataranka Thermal Pools and the tiny village of Daly Waters right in the middle of the Outback with a swimming pool in the pub! It was fun to drive such a huge campervan (it had 3 double beds, a shower and full kitchen inside!), but every day something in the campervan would break! One day the waste pipe came off in my hand (yuck), another day I drove the campervan into a wall (not my best move), another day the fridge door nearly came off – honestly so many things happened where we could have got stressed and argued at each other, but we just laughed, enjoyed the moment and continued making memories. I just loved how chilled out he was.
Chilled in Cairns
When we got to Cairns we decided we just wanted to relax for a week after all that driving through The Outback. It was so great to chill out there for a week, go for runs along The Esplanade, swim in the Lagoon each day, go snorkelling at The Great Barrier Reef and just enjoy the laidback atmosphere. Honestly we loved that city!
We also visited the Atherton Tablelands and the epic Millaa Millaa waterfall (where the famous ‘Herbal Essences’ advert was filmed). We swam right under the falls with all the water crashing in our faces – honestly it was so magical!
Driving through Queensland
After Cairns we headed down to Townsville, hopped across to Magnetic Island where we fed wild wallabies and rode around in a convertible 4×4 for the day which was so cool! We then headed to Airlie Beach and the stunning Whitsunday Islands (which also claim to have the whitest sand in the world!). The road trip was honestly so perfect and I had the best person to join me on the trip. After so many years travelling mostly solo, it was such a breath of fresh air to find someone I could comfortably travel with and not get annoyed by them!
Queensland to Sydney Roadtrip
Our roadtrip continued until mid-December. At the beginning of December we were in Hervey Bay – the starting point for trips to Fraser Island – the largest sand island in the world. Raging bushfires on Fraser Island meant sadly it was closed to tourists so we were unable to get across. (I had been three years before, but it was Sergio’s first time visiting Queensland). So we headed down south and enjoyed time in Rainbow Beach and fed wild dolphins in Tin Can Bay which was just incredible!
We then enjoyed a day in the lovely beachside town of Noosa before stopping off in Brisbane – the city I first lived in when I came to Australia. We stopped off to see Remy – the gorgeous staffy I was looking after whilst I lived in Brisbane, and ended up spending the whole day with her! She was totally mesmerised and so excited to see me again, it was amazing.
We then spent a few days on the Gold Coast and loved it. Not so much Surfers Paradise on a Saturday night, but all the lovely beaches and surf vibes. We then spent a few days in Byron Bay – kayaking with the dolphins, watching the sunset at Cape Byron Lighthouse and doing beautiful coastal walks.
Back Home To Sydney For Christmas
After Byron we pretty much drove all the way back to Sydney without stopping as Sergio had to (finally) do some work. And it seems we got back just in time, as a couple of days after we returned, Byron Bay and The Gold Coast suffered horrendous weather – roads were completely flooded, Byron’s Main Beach got totally washed away in giant storm waves, honestly it looked like something out of a horror movie.
I couldn’t believe I had been away with a guy for a whole month and things were going so well between us still – I had got so used to being on my own that I really thought it would have been so hard for me to let someone into my life. Albeit it was early days, but we were able to maintain a really healthy relationship travelling together and it definitely didn’t put a strain on our relationship. I guess when it’s the right person it just happens effortlessly.
It was mid-December by the time we got back to Sydney, so the festive season was in full swing (as much as it can be for a hot country!). I certainly missed London at Christmas, but for sure this year it wasn’t going to be the same. I decided I couldn’t go back home to England – I wanted to stay here with Sergio. I’m a soppy romantic and I always believe you should pick love. I was sad to be away from my family at Christmas, but they understood (I think they had even given up hope on me ever finding a guy!) and were really happy for me.
Covid cases were on the rise in Sydney though, and part of the city went into lockdown. Luckily not the area we live in. We spent Christmas Eve celebrating Christmas the Colombian way with his Colombian friends, then had a chilled Christmas Day just the two of us and Netflix.
New Years Eve in Sydney
We had some friends round to celebrate New Years Eve (only 5 people were allowed around because of the covid restrictions) and then walked to a viewpoint 10 minutes away where you get a great view of the Harbour Bridge and the fireworks. We got there literally 10 seconds before the countdown started, and enjoyed watching the celebrations. It was certainly different to other New Years as there was a lot less people, not much hugging and a bit of a sad atmosphere in the crowd, but we had a great time anyway. Despite the personal challenges this year brought, we were both so thankful it brought us together and we ended the year in a beautiful way.
Plans for 2021?
Well with the virus, who knows what 2021 will hold for us. We plan to visit our families back in Europe and South America – but who knows what will be possible. I guess you’ve got to stay tuned to find out!
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Catrina is a Travel Writer, SEO Specialist and ex-Flight Attendant based in Sydney, Australia. She has visited 85 countries and lived in several – including Italy, Australia, United Arab Emirates and England. Her work has been featured in a variety of popular travel publications including Fodors, Escape, Australian Traveller and Bear Grylls, as well as several international aviation and travel companies. The majority of her work however features on her own website – 24hourslayover.com where she has written over 500 travel articles!