Absent Without Leave.

Hi Pals,
I’ve kinda been (hundred percent) AWOL recently, and this is with (semi) good reason. The last two months, I’ve been volunteering at Blachford Lake Lodge, a place that requires you to take a 20 minute bush plane from Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories which is a ‘digital detox’ if I ever did see one.

If you’d like to see how my time Volunteering at Blachford went, click “Read More.”


Situated on Blachford Lake, 17km of fresh water which sits around Precambrian rock (earliest part of the Earth’s history), the closest town is Yellowknife, the largest and only city within the Northwest Territories. Although remote, it doesn’t sit on an island (something the other volunteers loved to remind me, but it FELT like an island.)  With the managers, chef, assistant cook and the 5-8 volunteers, you get close with the people you’re working with and I was lucky enough to have two extraordinary groups while there.

Whether opting to take a walk in the woods, collecting/eating wild berries (raspberries, juniper berries and blackberries, to name a few.) You can also harvest plants such as Labrador Tea, Spruce and Birch, which have many different medical benefits in which Elders boil down into a drink. 

Many guests, staff opt to take the boats out and fish on a catch-and-release basis. Others sign out to take hikes out to look points over the lake, joined by a friendly dog Oscar, aka a bear deterrent. 
Because I get motion sickness from small boats (fantastic), I only left to go to Second Island or ‘Royal Island’ as some call it; in which The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visited. You can read an article here about it.
Some people say it’s 1km away, some 2km. Nobody seems to know; it’s speculation. Regardless of the distance it didn’t stop two people swimming over while I was there  (I was clearly not one of those people) and that’s impressive. 

I did a few hikes, making sure to carry bear spray and a bear horn, because they are around, as we are in Bear Country. Two black bears had been spotted at the lodge, both times about 10m away. Luckily, the lodge is prepared for that. I, however, was not. Mostly, I spent my free time with the other volunteers, reading, swimming and for the last week spent my time on shift for the Northern Lights.

Staying at Blachford for three days gives you a high percentage chance of seeing the Northern Lights, also known as the aurora borealis. The first few times they appeared, I missed them (classic), but then it turned into something where I could say “they weren’t as good tonight as the other night.” Now, that’s what I call living.
The lights are spectacular, out of this world and it’s probably the most popular of reasons to go.


A lot of travellers opt to do things like Workaway, HelpX, Woofing – which often take an annual payment and allow you to connect with hosts who are more often than not, offer lodge & food in exchange for a minimum amount of work hours.
Whichever country you’re travelling to, it’s a chance to meet real locals, other travellers and learn new skills (or, in my case, try and fail to learn them.)

PlatformAnnual FeeBlachford Link
Hippo HelpFreehere
Help X ‎$32 AUD| $22.07 USD | €20 | £17
lasts two years
Wwoofing.$44 AUD| $30 USD | €27 | £24
lasts one year for individual countries.
if traveling around > you’ll need to purchase for each country.
Workaway $61 aud| $42.00 usd | €37 | £34
lasts one year.

Generally speaking, you work six hours, six days a week.

08:30 – 09:00 Breakfast
09:00 – 12:30 Dishes, Bathrooms, Daily Chores, Lodge Clean. Housekeeping.
12:30 – 13:30 Lunch
13:30 – 16:00Housekeeping, Daily Chores, Odd Jobs.
16:00 – 18:30Dinner.
19:30 – 20:30Dishes & Kitchen Clean (if rostered on)
20:30 + Free Time.

I didn’t mind the roster, you were always working with another volunteer which made time go by pretty fast.
I had no expectations regarding what I would be doing. Someone I knew from Kelowna had passed my CV onto the managers, and then through that, got hired. All I technically knew was that it was six hours, six days, one day off and housekeeping, cleaning & odd jobs. No internet (okay 250MB a day – I still classify it as no internet), time to think & free use of hiking gear, bikes, boats etc. Seemed like a good fit, what I needed and signed myself up.

You have the option of your own “tent” (actually cabin like structures) occasionally in summer, but mostly you’ll be sleeping in the Staff House. It’s four bunks, a large dinner table, bookshelf, fireplace, three couches and more beds on the other side. It’s cosy, warm and you spend a lot of free time there. Mostly, playing Kaboo (we had to write up rules due to many disagreements) in which I don’t think I ever won a game.

Mostly, I had large events while there instead of smaller guests, and my last week of the 8 was doing night shift from 23:00 – 05:00.
Including myself,
3 x Chinese| 1 x Taiwanese | 1 x French | 2 x Australian | 2 x German.
My second group was
2 x Australian | 1 x Italian | 1 x Swedish | 1 x Irish | 1 x Mexican.
+ the two Canadian managers | 1 x Canadian Chef | 1 x Indigenous cook.

Honestly, my time here was a mixture of feelings but ultimately, I guess, I’m glad I did it. I gained experiences, new friendships and personal growth.
I did have a bad moment or two, but once I removed them from the equation, my time was all positives.
It’s important to go there with an open mind, be willing to do anything once and speak to others about what’s going on, open communication is key!

Have you ever volunteered?
How was your experience?
Let me know below.
As always, stay cool.
– Sarah.


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