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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A Year in Review

One year ago today, Donnie and I got off our 17 hour Qantas flight with absolutely no idea what to expect. All I really remember from that first day was feeling super hot (it was -1C/30F the day we left Nashville and 36 C/96.8F the day we arrived in Sydney) and somewhat disoriented. We stayed in a hellacious granny flat for the first week we were here (you can revisit my recount of that lovely experience here) and it honestly took longer than I expected to really settle in to life Down Under. But after a year here, I have found Australia to be a wild, amazing place that I deeply love. I could write loads of serious insights into how different life is and how things have changed, but instead I thought we’d keep it light and fun with a few “Top 5” (or other random number) lists of different things we’ve experienced since February 14, 2016. Enjoy!

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Top 5 Weirdest Things We’ve Learned to Say

1. Chockers (pronounced “Chockahs”): full up, crowded

For example, “Aw mate, I tried to get us a table at Beach Burrito but it was chockers.”

2. How you going?: How are you? (Never answer with actual directions, like “Oh I’m going to the shops.”)

How you going mate?”  “Yeah, good!”

3. She’ll be right: it’s OK

As in, “Are you worried about layoffs at your company?” “Yeah nah, she’ll be right.”

4. Flat out like a lizard drinking: super busy

“How you going mate?” “I’m flat out like a lizard drinking!”

5. Easy as/Sweet as/Aussie as: various uses

“Just ring up Donnie and ask him.” “Easy as!”

“I got two tickets to the rugby match.” “Sweet as!”

“I chucked two snags on the barbecue.” “Ah, Aussie as!”

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Top 7 Trips We’ve Taken

1. Bali, Indonesia

2. Alaska

3. South Pacific Islands

4. San Diego/Nashville

5. The Blue Mountains

6. Brisbane

7. Melbourne

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Top 4 Weirdest Aussie Sports

1. Cricket

2. Aussie Rules Football

3. Rugby

4. Netball

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Top 6 Things We Miss from America

1. Lucy, the greatest little black pup

2. Central AC/heat

3.. Mexican food

4.. Trader Joe’s

5. Chick-Fil-A

6. Amazon (not even asking for Prime, just regular old Amazon)

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Top 6 Foods Australia Does Better Than the US

1. Coffee (Neither of us has ever been a coffee snob, but after getting used to coffee here it’s almost impossible to go back.)

2. Chocolate (specifically Cadbury, though it is still not quite on par with the UK’s Cadbury which is the all-time greatest)

3. Thai

4. Pizza

5. Chips (as in fries. Also chicken salt is the greatest invention.)

6. TimTams (also known as the greatest biscuit ever made)

7. Hot Cross Buns

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Top 2 Scariest Aussie Animals (spoiler alert: neither is a spider or a snake)

1. Magpies (You haven’t experienced true terror until one of these giant birds dive bombs your head and rips your hair from your head.)

2. Cockroaches (As if the giant gross bugs aren’t bad enough- they fly!)

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Top 7 Fave Aussie Experiences

 1. Diving into giant waves over and over and over.

2. Eating fish and chips on the beach.

3. Sausage sizzle.

4. Climbing the Harbour Bridge.

5. Cuddling a koala (which was more like trying not to get clawed to death and less like cuddling.)

6. Seeing a koala in the wild.

7. Watching a movie at the outdoor cinema on the harbour (and an incredible bonus Chinese New Year fireworks show!)

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It’s been a pretty unbelievable year. We are so grateful to our family and friends who make the time to stay in touch and keep up with us, even with the time difference and distance challenges. Cheers to a fabulous year of adventure and a whole new year to come!

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The Great Ocean Road

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While in Melbourne, we took a day trip down the Great Ocean Road. Let me just say that if you ever find yourself in Melbourne you absolutely must venture out on the GRO and I would highly recommend going with Paul and Escape Discovery Adventures (www.escapediscoveryadventures.com.au). It was a truly magical day!

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Our morning started with pick-up at our hotel and an hour or so drive before our stop for morning tea. Paul’s wife made the most addictive Anzac biscuits I’ve ever tasted, and we also had TimTams, lamingtons, French-press coffee, and tea. Paul, our tour guide, is one of the most Aussie of Australians in the best way. He casually said “crikey” and used the phrase “spit the dummy” (to throw a tantrum (a baby’s pacifier is called a dummy)) in normal conversation.

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After tea, we drove for quite a bit before coming to our first glimpse of Apollo Bay. We had to take a slightly altered route as part of the Road is still closed due to severe storms that ruined the road several weeks ago. Luckily, Paul made sure we doubled back to search out some wild koalas. We wandered up a dusty road, staring up into the leafy, tall eucalyptus trees hoping to catch a glimpse of a furry little koala sleeping up in the branches. What we found was so much better: an alert koala who ate some eucalyptus leaves and then climbed down the tree she was in and jumped to a new tree!

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Unfortunately, my husband will not let me waste $76 a year in order to post videos directly to this blog, so you’ll have to click on this YouTube link to see her in action!

Paul takes these tour groups out 4 days a week, and even he was impressed by the experience and made sure we knew how rare of an opportunity we had to see a koala in action!

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We stopped at another scenic overlook before heading into Apollo Bay for lunch. After a scrumptious ham and cheese toasty we left the coastline and made our way into the temperate rainforest of the Great Otway National Park. After terrifying the kids in our small group (there were 10 of us) with harrowing tales of the dangerous, carnivorous mystery animal lurking in the trees (it turned out to be a snail- hah!) and assuring us Americans that he has liability insurance, we went for a pleasant walk through the lush rainforest.

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Post-rainforest we headed back to the coastline and made our way to the 12 Apostles. These limestone stacks are impressive, and also reminiscent of the Koopa Troopa beach levels from Mario Kart. We made a few stops at different vantage points, as you can’t actually see all eight “apostles” (there never were 12, despite the name) at once. We also learned that there used to be 9 apostles, but one collapsed dramatically in 2005. We also learned that the stacks were originally called the “sow and piglets” until a visitor decided one of the stacks looked like a priest, which then became the apostles. The apostles were formed by gradual erosion of the soft limestone that first created arches until the “bridge” of the arch became too weak, crumbled, and left two pillars standing alone. You can actually see the process taking place with what will eventually become the newest apostles which is pretty cool!

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We also had the chance to explore the Loch Ard Gorge that was the site of an awful shipwreck in 1878. While there, we decided (ie I forced Donnie) to take “jumping”pictures because why not? Turns out one of us was really impressive and one of us was terrible. You can make your judgments from the photos below…

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After a lovely dinner of fish and chips we made the long trek back to Melbourne. It was a long (over 14 hours) day, but we were blown away by the natural beauty and wonders of the Great Ocean Road.