The Red Centre

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I wasn’t really sure what to expect when we arrived at Uluru. I knew there was a giant rock and a lot of red dirt, but other than that, I was out of ideas. After spending a few days in the Red Centre, I don’t believe anyone should visit Australia without making the trek out to Uluru. I’m also anxious to explore more of the area– perhaps even braving an adventure in a camper van!

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After checking into the simple, clean, and spacious Emu Walk Apartments (part of the Ayers Rock Resort– the only place to stay) we grabbed a quick bite at the Kulata Academy Cafe. The cafe is run by trainees of the Rock’s indigenous training academy, and the students take their job seriously, while providing efficient service with a smile. After our toasties and pies, we met our camel guide Burt for the short transfer to the camel farm.

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I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a camel in person before. They are much cuter than I was expecting! They were also much bigger than I imagined. After Burt described the curious manner in which a camel stands (from his knees to back legs up, then front legs) I was more than a little nervous to get on Nicko, my camel for the evening. Donnie went first– climbed into the saddle, held on, leaned all the way back– and his camel stood up in one quick, fluid motion. I breathed a little sigh of relief and decided not to be nervous. Nicko, however, decided to be quite stubborn, and I ended up holding my breath and leaning back for a solid three minutes while he burped, Burt rubbed his head and cajoled him, and eventually smacked his rear before deciding to stand. My heart was pounding through my chest! But I managed to stay on, and once we were up, it was magical.

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The camels walked at a leisurely pace while we admired the scrubby landscape and Burt taught us more about the area and the camels. Surprisingly, the camels are caught in the wild and trained to work as adults. We also learned that when the International Space Station passes overhead, it is the closest neighbouring “town.” I’m not exaggerating when I say we were out in the middle of nowhere.

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Being at Uluru was humbling. We learned a lot of the stories and legends passed down from the traditional owners, and it’s easy to see why country is so important. Uluru is a sacred place for the Anangu, and it wasn’t actually handed back over to them until 1985. Learning about the troubled history was challenging but necessary. It’s difficult to really understand the complex relationships that develop within a country that is not your home, but at the end of the day, it basically boils down to colonialism and the power exerted over original peoples by European “settlers.” I am really trying to learn more of the nuanced history, and visiting here helped in that regard.

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The day after our camel adventure, we spent time within the National Park, walking up close around Uluru and soaking in the awesome power of the place. Several times we reached a resting point and just sat silently, all four of us just taking in the energy as we looked around in awe.

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We also got caught in the rain, which is incredibly rare as they only receive approximately twelve inches of rain annually. Somehow this was not surprising since my parents were with us, and I’m pretty sure we’ve experienced rain in virtually every desert we’ve visited.

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The small amount of rain was enough to force a cancellation for our field of lights tour, which was incredibly disappointing as the installment is only there for a short time. We made up for the disappointment with a few games of Bananagrams and some ice cream. While visiting Uluru may not be at the top of everyone’s Australian bucket list, I would highly recommend including it in a visit. The majesty of the land is hard to describe, but wonderful to experience. And if that’s not enticing enough, I’d go again just to ride the camels!

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To the Lighthouse

Donnie and I took on an interesting challenge for the month of May: No spending money on anything other than groceries and transportation.

Traveling is a major priority for us while living in Australia, so we wanted to see if we could save money while still enjoying our new home and not being boring homebodies. While Australia, specifically Sydney, is one of the most expensive places in the world, it turns out it is almost one of the best places for fun, free activities.

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One of the top places on my “free in Sydney” list was the Barrenjoey Lighthouse in Palm Beach. Palm Beach is located right at the tip top of the Northern Beaches, about 20 km from our neighborhood. We hopped on the bus and settled in for the hour-long journey.

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The lighthouse sits in the Ku-ring-gai National Park, where it was built in 1881. To get to the top, we took what was described as “an easy 1 km walking trail” to the top. The walking trail was short and paved, so there was no real hiking involved, but the trail was at one of the steepest grades I’ve ever encountered. There’s a chance we took a few “Oh look at that beautiful view” breaks that were poorly disguised “gotta catch my breath” breaks on the way up.

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Once we reached the top, the views were unbelievable. It’s supposed to be a great place to spot whales, but we didn’t have binoculars so we were unable to see if there were any passing by. With the bay on one side and the sea on the other, you are almost completely surrounded by water.

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It was an absolutely lovely day to sit and enjoy the views once we reached the lighthouse. Our late fall (or autumn, since “fall” isn’t really a thing here) has been almost consistently mid-70’s temperatures and warm, bright sunshine, so we’ve been spending as much as time outside as possible.

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While we were enjoying the lovely panoramas, I was overcome with gratitude. Australia is truly the most beautiful country I’ve ever seen, and I have the freedom and opportunity to explore and enjoy each day here. My life has changed significantly in the three months I’ve called Australia home. I am surprised and thrilled with the direction my life is heading, and Australia is the gorgeous catalyst for those changes.

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As for our May challenge, we did great! With the exception of a ballet and a Swans (Aussie Rules Football) game, which we had bought tickets for prior to May, we limited our spending to groceries, transportation, and a few necessary household items. I was shocked at how much money we were able to save without feeling like we were sacrificing anything. The best part is planning the trips we’ll be able to take! I also got a part-time job this month, which has been really fun while also contributing to our travel fund. I’m teaching Kindy to Year 6 students in private and small-group literacy lessons. My kiddos are adorable and the center where I’m teaching is fabulous with really great materials, curriculum, and support. The hours are flexible and should work well with my class schedule once my masters program begins in late July.

May has been a pretty fabulous month!

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