If you had told me this time last year that I was going to Australia for three months, and 6 weeks of this I would be working with dolphins, I would've laughed and said no way!
My mum found this volunteering through the Travellers Worldwide website online. I was very much a home bird and even deferred my university place because I didn't feel ready to leave home yet. I wouldn't say I was pushed to go away for three months, but I was definitely not allowed to pass up the opportunity. I had a good start and travelled the east coast and north island of New Zealand with my best friend in order to ease me into to being away from home. However, I realised that it was easier than I thought and I found myself not missing home at all.
For the last six weeks of my trip was when I planned to go to Bunbury (two hours south from Perth) to volunteer with dolphins. I was doing this part alone as my friend had to return to the UK, and although I had definitely gained some independence, it was still quite daunting going it alone. I arrived in Perth and spent the night there, having had a somewhat strained dinner with a very shy Austrian girl, I was ready to meet new people in Bunbury. There were three of us travelling down to Bunbury together which was nice and by the bus journey we had had a chance to get to know each other a little better. My first night in the Dolphin Retreat hostel was fun, however I made sure that as soon as I had dropped off my bag into my room, I went into the common area so that I could meet some of the other guests-some of whom were doing the dolphin project also.
My first day at the DDC was very exciting, you get a welcome pack which is essentially your bible however most of it is self explanatory and unless you want to brush up on your dolphin knowledge you probably won't look at it again! You're shown around the centre and may even have a chance to get into the water if there is a dolphin visit. After this you're free to go back to the hostel at 12. Usual shifts are 7:30am-12 noon, 12-4pm and occasionally 7:30am-4pm. You only have to do 5 shifts a week, so if you wanted to you could do two full days and one half, or like me, just do sporadic days. I would now recommend picking certain days- at the beginning its fine doing shifts sporadically in the week but as you begin to make new friends at the hostel, you'll want to do other things so by having specific day you'll know exactly when you're free. You can change it though throughout the period you're there by filling it in a diary for the person who does the rota.
Throughout my time at the DDC I made many friends and acquaintances who made the shifts go faster and more enjoyable. I have to say the best bit about the centre is when the dolphins come into the interaction zone. Not only is it incredible for yourself to have the chance to see these amazing creatures up close, but its also amazing to watch the reactions on visitors' faces, especially if its been a quiet day, and they suddenly appear out of nowhere! Although I'm pretty sure I won't remember all the facts I picked up while I was there, you will also gain a much larger knowledge of marine animals, such as sea stars, octopus, turtles and stingray as well as dolphins.
Although my experience at the DDC was unforgettable, having the chance to stay in a hostel and meet people from all over the world was also a great experience. I can now say that I literally have friends from all over the world and that, if I get the chance, I could stay with if visiting their country. It allows you to grow up and become independent as you don't have mum or dad to cook, clean or wash clothes for you. You get the sense of adventure without going somewhere or doing something that crazy.
If I were to give future volunteers advice, I'd say make the most of the time you have. You may think its a long time but it goes by so fast. Try to be as outgoing as possible, no-one is going to talk to you if your face is staring at your phone the whole time, so if someone offers you to join them in going to the beach, into town or just to have dinner, say yes - you may meet your new best friend ... Also, sorry to burst peoples ideas of backpacking, but it's really not that party orientated. In Bunbury there are two main bars and one nightclub, all of which aren't that good compared to city life, as well as being expensive! However, if everyone is around and up for it-going out can be fun - its just not what happens every night :) But, most of the time people tend to just hang out with each other at the hostel, listening to music, playing a few drinking games and if its a good night, maybe go to the beach after - its by far the cheaper way to go ($5 wine is great) as well as more enjoyable as you'd all hang out together in the club anyway, so why not just do it in the hostel for free!
Overall, I loved my volunteering placement. I've gained so much independence through it as well as realised that I can go to uni and fend for myself! Its also allowed me to meet so many different people from different backgrounds and cultures which will only help me in the future.