Whether you’re looking to apply for your second year working holiday visa in Australia or just looking for work to get you to your next destination, grape picking is a pretty grape option!!
I really didn’t hate the days I spent in the vineyards, sure you walk into a lot of these bad boys pictured above, which takes some getting used to to say the least, but I wouldn’t change my experience. I believe every situation in your life happens to present a lesson, whether it be something you’re meant to realize and learn from right then and there or perhaps there is something in the experience which you will reflect on in the future and put to use the wisdom and knowledge you’ve gained from that experience. I can name probably a million things I learned from life on the vineyards, and not necessarily just about grapes. Every situation in life presents a lesson, it’s just a matter of understanding and appreciating everything each situation has to offer. I say all this because I find people tend to believe such experiences in your life are unimportant and meaningless because, “It’s just another labouring job…It’s just something to pay the bills…. It’s just getting me to my next destination” etc. To me, experiences such as these are amazing and humbling. I know it isn’t a glamorous job, the most fun, or the most interesting, but sometimes you take the most away from situations you wouldn’t expect, in the end I was very grapeful for this opportunity. A lot of hard work and dedication goes into farming and I believe that is highly overlooked and unappreciated. Anyways, that’s my brief little spiel on appreciating your situation and farmers especially.
Grape picking is an awesome opportunity for backpackers. Well, fruit picking in general is a great option for backpackers as there are so many job opportunities around the country. Also, 88 days of regional work (or farm work) are necessary to be completed if you wish to extend your stay and apply for a second year working holiday visa in Australia. The seasons vary from state to state so you can line it up with your travels and follow the season. The thing with grape picking is you’ll be looking for a company that gets contracts for different vineyards around the area, most vineyards go through company like this for their pickers as it makes more sense because if you only approach one vineyard and inquire about picking sure they might employ you, but once you’ve picked all their grapes that’s it for the season and your employment. It doesn’t take long to pick grapes and another reason you want to go through a third-party company is because every vineyard’s grapes are going to be ready at different times. So to ensure you’re not out of work for a week or so waiting for them to ripen enough, these companies will already have schedules with various vineyards on when they need to pick their grapes, so all you have to do is show up and pick and the work is steady. I found a company in Dunsborough, Western Australia that did this and it was a great job with a great manager. Super helpful, they even provided rain gear and stuff for us which was kind of them. The map pictured to the left shows all of the different wine regions in South Western Australia alone. We would travel between various regions day-to-day between Margret River, Geographe Bay, Manjimup, etc. All the vineyards we worked at through the company out of Dunsborough were pretty much within a 40 minute radius of where we were. We stayed in Dunsborough during this time.
The Picking Part
So a typical day would start out very early as grapes need to be picked when its cold (or as cold as Australia can be haha). So we’d get to the vineyard at about 4:30-5 AM, and oh my gosh what a drive it would be every morning! We would honestly see at least 50 kangaroos/wallabies on the way to the vineyard each morning. No matter which direction we would go, we were sure to see so many of these funny guys every morning, I loved it! Scary sometimes as they’d just jump right out in front of the van without warning. But honestly I hadn’t seen so many kangaroos in the whole duration of my stay in Australia thus far (and at this point I was about 1 year into my Aussie adventure). South Western Australia is Kangaparadise!!!
So we’d get to the whichever vineyard the boss told us to meet at bright and early, and he’d give us our numbered tickets for the day. Every morning every picker is assigned to a stack of plastic tickets with a number which are used to count the amount of buckets each person picked at the end of each day. As you go along, you just stick your ticket with your number in your full bucket to be collected.
So basically, there will be empty buckets laid out throughout the vineyard for you to grab as needed. You have a partner who is on the other side of the vine to ensure no grape is left behind. (Unless it’s rotten/diseased).
You obviously want to work as fast as possible to make the most money, you almost have to look at the other pickers as competitors while working because the faster pickers are going to get all the grapes. I always just kick my bucket along and don’t even really bother looking up or further down the vine. We had a bit of a system, so my partner would go at a bit of a slower pace and make sure no grape is left behind on either side (still moving quite quickly), and I would hurry along as quick as possible grabbing the largest bunches and filling up my buckets very rapidly so others lose the opportunity to grab the largest bunches of grapes before we get to them.
You are paid by the bucket, some places might be hourly but most likely not with grape picking. So this can be good or bad depending on your work ethic. I really loved being paid by the bucket, because this meant I could smash out my picking and just go in hyper-speed for maybe like 3 hrs and that’s my day done. The only downfall being I often cut my fingertips off working so quickly and needing to cut each bunch of grapes with extremely sharp cutters.
I ended up taping my fingers up with electrical tape or medical tape every morning for extra safety (extra finger tips haha). Gloves would have helped but a decent pair just didn’t fit in my budget and a cheap pair would just get in my way and slow me down. (Note the stickiness/dirtiness of life as a picker…what can you expect to look like when constatntly being covered in squished grapes and dirt).
I would make the same amount of money at the end of the day if I was being paid hourly and worked an 8 hour shift, but I completed this work in 3 hrs. I found this was such a great lifestyle!!
Who wouldn’t want to be done work for the day by about 8 or 9 AM, drive straight from work to the beach and run into the ocean and wash away all the dirt, cobwebs, and stickiness that cover you after picking.
Some days the boss would ask for additional help with pulling nets off of vines (nets keep the birds from getting to the grapes), pruning vines or counting tickets at the end of the day, or even chasing birds out that have snuck their way into the nets and found themselves stuck (I’m extreamly terrified of birds so my boss never made me stay to help with this one haha) etc. These extra jobs were always paid by the hour which is a great bonus! These jobs usually go to the people who have been on the team the longest (everyone wants work so obviously priority goes to those who have been there the longest). So it does help to inquire with these companies before the season even starts. The company I worked for had other backpackers working for them for a couple of months prior to the season even starting, just in preparation, but that is something I never even realized at the time and therefore didn’t bother inquiring about work until I knew the season was about to start.
Everyone knows Australia is the land of poisonous snakes, spiders, and other deadly creatures. Luckily we didn’t come across too many poisonous snakes or spiders on the daily, however we would run into orb weavers every two seconds. They’re everywhere!!
I’m honestly not even 100% sure what kind they were. People had different opinions. But this is what they looked like. One of the guys working at the vineyard said the spiders in the vines are orb weavers, others have said they are Christmas spiders. Either way, they’re huge reddish colour and FURRY.
These suckers are so big and juicy that you can see their leg hair! Oh what an adventure haha. Some days I’d just feel a little tickle and look down to find one of these guys taking a stroll up my arm. A little bit distracting when you’re trying to work as fast and efficiently as possible. The other thing is the spiders create large webs spanning from one vine to the other, and when you’re working at a very fast pace, you’re not going to be looking up every time to move further down the vine….but you will 100% walk right into their giant webs and might find a hairy friend in the process, or perhaps find it playing in your hair later on. Oh the joys!
I would combat this problem by running down my vine waving a stick in front of me like a magic wand before I started picking each row. Or I’d send my partner down the line first but he felt foolish walking down the vine waving his arms up in the air like a wacky-waving-inflatable-arm-flailing-tube-man.
There are tons of ways to find work. A lot is just word of mouth from other backpackers you’ll meet. Asking different farms or checking job boards online. Also you can find farmers looking for workers on Gumtree, which is the Kijiji of Australia. The Backpacker Job Board can also be helpful and even job postings in backpacking groups on Facebook will be helpful! There are also tons of working hostels around Australia which is awesome because they provide cheap accommodation and also have a bunch of connections with employers around the area frequently looking for workers. Also a bonus if you’re alone as it’ll be a great communal place for you to make new friends. Honestly, the relationships you build in these experiences are so unique because there are so many days you’ll just look at each other covered in sweat and dirt, in a random field in Australia, and you just have to laugh at how random some situations can turn out and how you’re both there in that moment of time in that corner of the world. These hostels are sometimes a bit more expensive, but geared towards a longer stay and will be cheaper than renting your own place/renting a room and usually provide you with transportation to and from work as well. (Most grape picking jobs will require you to have your own transportation to get to and from each vineyard).
Check out these sites for working hostels around Australia;
I also did other forms of farm work before grape picking such as packing tomatoes, picking and packing pumpkins (squash in Canada), and picking mangoes (my favourite picking job, but short season). They are all definitely very different jobs with their own pros and cons. When you’re looking for farm work to complete your 88 days in order to apply for your second year WH visa in Australia, keep in mind you’re going to be doing whatever task is involved for 88 days, or three months (if you switch from farm to farm). Some jobs are definitely much better than others, but I will go into a more detailed comparison of my experiences another day.