Ever heard of Wwoofing? What about Helpx? It’s a bit like the big brother of Couchsurfing (where you stay for free with a local). Instead of staying at somebody’s house for free, you do some volunteer work and lend a hand to the landlord. This is often a good way to meet Australian locals and other travellers! Read on to know a bit more about Wwoofing and HelpX in Australia!
What is Wwoofing and HelpX?
WWOOF = World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms
When the Wwoofing concept first appeared in the United Kingdom in the early 1970s, it was primarily about helping organic farmers to start up their business. It was also about spreading the practice of organic farming, which is sustainable and more respectful of the environment. Over the years, the wwoofing concept has become internationalized and diversified. Each country operates independently, with its own lists of WWOOFers and WWOOF hosts. WWOOF was established in Australia in 1981. So that today, in Australia, it is possible to volunteer at farms (organic or conventional) as well as at hotel, or helping out individuals.
The concept of the Help Exchange or HelpX is pretty similar. The biggest difference is the diversity of guests and variety of jobs it offers: apart from farm work, you can also do gardening, help renovate a building, cook, work on a ranch, do the cleaning of a luxury hotel, or repaint a house … The idea is, as for Wwoofing, to work between 4 to 6 hours per day in exchange for accommodation and three meals a day. Sometimes you work less than 4 hours per working day, in which case you are probably required to buy your own food and cook for yourself.
How to work in Wwoofing / HelpX in Australia?
If you are interested in this kind of experience, you can choose between two main networks that list Australian hosts for volunteers.
If you’re interested in a Wwoofing-type volunteer experience in Australia, you can find hosts easily. To do this, register with the “Wwoof” association. Registration is quick and easy and is done directly on their website. In a few clicks you will have access to the contacts of the hosts throughout Australia. You will need to create your profile with information about yourself, what you are looking for, past experiences etc.
Registration costs $70 per person and is valid for two years in Australia. You can also opt for the couple or 2 person option which is $120 for 2 years. Your annual subscription gives you a basic insurance policy that covers you during your stay (wwoof only). But be careful, it does not include civil liability.
This registration gives you access to the list of all Wwoofing hosts in the country with a description of their activity, their hosting conditions and their contact details. You will be able to view the hosts on a dynamic map. A mobile application also allows you to access all their services quickly.
The second option is registering on the Helpx.net site as a Premier host or helper for $20. The registration is valid for two years in every country of the world, for a single person or a couple. You will need to create your profile with information about yourself, what you are looking for, your past experiences etc.
You will have access to the host list where you find all available host addresses, as well as a description of their activity and hosting conditions.
Farms, hotels, private individuals… how to choose your host?
You get access to profiles of host members, including names, contact details and a description of each host property, as well as the work to be done and what kind of accommodation and meals are provided.
Before “applying” to a future host, ask yourself a few questions:
- What jobs really interest me?
- Is the property not too isolated?
- What area am I looking to gain experience in? Rather in contact with animals or plants, or rather in the building or hotel industry?
- What are my physical labor limitations?
If there’s a host you’d like to volunteer for, contact them and offer your help. Schedule the days and hours you work with your host prior to arrival, to avoid surprises. You normally work 4 to 6 hours each day in return for all of your meals, snacks and accommodation.
As you can see, volunteering in Australia is not the same as staying at a hotel. The work is often physical and outdoors, so it’s not a vacation! Before you start the adventure, take the time to contact your host, discuss housing arrangements, working conditions … Unfortunately, there are people trying to abuse the system, so be careful! Before making an appointment with your host, seek advice from previous volunteers, ask questions, and rather choose hosts who publish photos of their property. Some people also claim they would be able to renew your WHV, which is not possible anymore – so be careful!
Whatever the case may be, the most important thing about volunteering in Australia is meeting people and exchanging experiences. Most of all, it is a matter of feeling good. So if it feels good, go for it!
How to be accepted by a host?
Hosts with nice offers will often find themselves with a lot of requests and will have to make a choice. To give you the best chance of being selected, complete your profile.
Don’t hide your face, having a decent profile can definitely help you stand out in the volunteers list! To have better chances of finding a place, carefully complete your profile description, talk about yourself, what you like to do and what motivates you to volunteer. If your potential host likes your personality or interests, it will surely open doors! The whole thing is based on trust, so it is important to get along with your host and be on the same wavelength.
Having references from other hosts is also a real plus. Always make sure that things go well with your hosts so that they can then give you a good reference, very useful for your next Wwoofing. As you have understood, the more complete your profile, the more chances you will have!
What are the benefits of volunteering?
Volunteering allows volunteers to work for hosts, who in return for this work (5 days / week, 4 to 6 hours / day, on average) provide free accommodation and food. For those who do not know this system, it is an incredible experience, which has only advantages (most of the time).
You will be able to develop your network, because even if you work without pay, your hosts will undoubtedly know other people in Australia. You may be offered a paid job a few weeks later. Because yes, as elsewhere, networking is very important in Australia.
It is an amazing way to go to places you would have never visited if not for volunteering. In addition, you will live a unique experience, discover activities that you will certainly never have discovered before, sometimes with animals in remote regions and in areas that are surely not your favorite areas (painting, gardening , general work on the farm).
It is also a great way to save money as you don’t have to pay for anything during your stay at your host…
You will also meet locals and lots of over travellers that might become close friends! They are mostly people who have voluntarily asked for your help, because they like to share, discuss, meet travellers and talk about their country. You will keep lasting memories of these experiences, in contact with incredible people. The human adventure as you wanted it before arriving in Australia.
Other options to volunteer in Australia
Australia is a unique country, particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. In the recent few years, the country has seen more frequent bush fires, flood, warming oceans. You can be involved in protecting the environment, wildlife or even helping the locals to rebuilt affected areas.
There are many organisations around the world and in Australia helping you to become a volunteer. The endangered Great Barrier Reef, one of the seven natural wonders of the world, always needs volunteers. Australia’s native wildlife also needs your help to rehabilitate sick, injured native wildlife.
The best way to find the right volunteer opportunity in Australia is to find the organisations and actions that motivate you. Try to be clear about what you want out of your volunteering experience and the skills you can bring in. Then you can easily register online to become a volunteer. Know that you usually have to pay a fee, which helps the organisation in its actions.
Since 2015, volunteer work can no longer be counted towards your specified work for the renewal of your Working Holiday Visa.
However, Bushfire recovery work carried out after 31 July 2019 in affected areas is eligible specified work for the purpose of a second or third Work and Holiday visa. Similarly, flood recovery work carried out from 1 January 2022 in affected areas of Australia is eligible specified work for the purpose of a second or third Work and Holiday visa application lodged from 1 July 2022.
Experiences as a volunteer in Australia
Alicia, Wwoofer in Australia
“The type of work you are going to do depends on the hosts. At the farm or in the house, I did the house work and mowed the lawn. Luckily, they suggested a few more rewarding jobs, such as helping with the construction of enclosures, planting of seedlings, harvesting, as well as looking after and cuddling the farm animals. In hotels, you obviously expect to do more housekeeping, to welcome guests at the reception, and to fulfill administrative tasks.”
Claudia and Jeremy, Wwoofing in South Australia
“Seduced by a particular farm profile, we choose the town of Nairne in Adelaide Hills area. In this region, the offers for volunteering are varied. From homestay (missions in homes, usually in cities), to childcare, but above all a majority there are offers for work on animal and fruit/vegetable farms in the region. Our hosts are a family of 5. The mother is a photographer and the father, through successful financial investments, has fulfilled his childhood dream by becoming the owner of several farms.
Our missions are from the most classic for a farm (painting, maintenance of enclosures), to other more original ones (sheep shearing, cooking, transfer alpacas and lambs to enclosures, look for runaway chicks…).
During these 4 weeks, we meet the parents of our hosts who invite us to Brisbane. We also meet friends of the family. One of whom will give us discounts at the hotels he runs in Australia and Bali. We were offered tours in Port Lincoln and the Barossa Valley wineries. And all this in exchange for a few hours caring for lambs, chicks and other farm animals! Thanks to these few weeks of Wwoofing, we were given employer references that helped us find painting jobs in Queensland. So volunteering if always a good opportunity to meet people and create a network in Australia !”