Goodbye Outback, Hello East Coast

We got the chance to sleep in this morning, at least compared to the two mornings before where we woke up before sunrise.

However, this morning was a little somber, since the “walkabout” trip was splitting off from the “outback” trip and heading to cairns. We had made good friends with some of the people who were headed back to Alice Springs to finish out their trip there.

Our trip manager and driver cooked us up a storm of brekkie: eggs, bacon and toast. We all sat and talked about how we would keep up with each other.

We went back to our rooms to pack up everything and check out. Then, we headed to the coach to say goodbye to our friends we made in the Outback. We couldn’t stop singing “home among the gun trees” and hugging. Finally, everyone drove off and the “walkabout” trip was left.

Everyone that was left went their separate ways. Most went to the pool to cool off in this very hot and dry weather. I had honestly had enough sun and just wanted to relax and get things ready for the east coast.

Our room had been near a path up a hill, which promised a great view of Uluru and Kata-tjuta. I made the trek up the red sand path, finally making it to the top to see that red rock we had been staring at for almost 3 days now. I must have at least 100 pictures of this rock from difference angles and different times of the day. However, I couldn’t get enough.

For the aboriginal people, this rock is very spiritual for them and has great meaning. For Australia, it is basically in the center of the country, and is sometimes called the heart of the country. I felt very strongly that day the spiritualness of the rock and all the many meanings of this freak of nature.

If I’m being honest, I cried, by myself, just looking at this large red rock in the distance. It was like I finally realized I was in Australia, making my way around the country and taking it all in. I did this for me and I felt really proud and happy. So of course I cried…

I stood there for a while just looking out and taking in the stunning view for a while. But, I had things to do, so I made my way back down.

I had a list of to-dos to get done before we caught our flight so I immediately headed off to the laundry room to clean my clothes. I sat on the washer and updated my journal.

A mother and daughter were washing clothes in the washer diagonally across from me and clearly were American, from their accent. I said “hi” to the mom and asked her where she was from. She said Virginia…fairfax, Va! I excitedly told her I was from fairfax!! We quickly exchanged the similarities. Her kids actually went to my elementary school, but not my middle or high school. We talked about people we knew and where her kids went to college. It was nice to talk to someone from home, especially halfway through the trip.

She was excited to hear I was traveling around at my age and shared her large trip around Africa when she was younger. It was such an education for her and remarked that I would come back with such a rich world view.

She left to get lunch while I put my clothes in the dryer. When she came back with her daughter we talked for a few minutes more. Her daughter was studying broad to learn more about excercise science and was loving life.

We said goodbye and good luck to each other for the rest of our trips. It seemed like a cool happenstance that I would run into someone from my hometown just when I was leaving this amazing experience in the Outback.

I found some of the group mates hanging out and eating lunch. I ate with them while we all talked about our excitement to be continuing on to the east coast.

We got our luggage from reception and waited impatiently for the airport bus to come and get us. Before we boarded the bus, I took some red sand in plastic baggies and put it in my suitcase. It is bad luck if you take something from Uluru, but this was from the resort area. I wanted to remember this place forever.

We got the airport just in time to board the quantas plane and leave for Cairns.

On the plane, I updated the blog and relaxed, trying to transition my mind for the new leg of the trip: the east coast of Australia.

As we descended from the clouds, we could see the mountains and ocean, clearly a more tropical climate than we had experienced in the past few days.

When we landed, we were greeted by our new coach driver and taken into the city center of cairns (pronounced: cans). We then our new trip manager on the bus to go over the plan for the day and to help us transition into this new environment.

We were joining a large group. All together, we were 56 people, who just barely fit on the coach. Most of them had done the first day of the trip the day before in the Daintree Rainforest. We were going to be outsiders in some way. But, also, we were told not to cluster around each other, so we could meet others and not seem exclusive.

We then went inside the hotel to our rooms and were pleasantly surprised. While staying in the Outback, we had to deal with average accommodations. There were lots of bugs, bunk beds and basic bathrooms. Here, we had large beds, a jacuzzi, a balcony and more. For us, it was luxury after the Outback.

We were pretty tied from our long trip in the Outback and decided we would take it slow this night and relax. We wanted the night to transition back into society. So we of course decided to get pedicures. We had many beach days ahead, so we needed to have our toes looking pretty.

We ventured down the main road to the main shopping areas. We found a salon that could take us, but in turns. I was in the second group, so we went to the local woolies (i.e. woolworths) to get a quick dinner. I picked up some beet root hummus, which I had discovered the day prior and had become obsessed with. Also, some sweet chili chips to dip with. We abolsutely need beet root hummus in the US!

When we got back from our grocery shopping adventure to the nail salon, we ate and talked about how excited we were for this upcoming adventure. We were now in a large city and felt a bit out of place. We missed our friends from the outback, but knew we would make new friends with the group!

I got in a massage chair to get my pedicure and quickly relaxed. It was nice to get a little pampering after roughing it in the Outback. Treating yourself is especially nice when you are on holiday 🙂

After we all had our toes done, we headed back to the hotel to get a good night’s rest, for an exciting day on the Great Barrier Reef tomorrow!

Uluru Sunrise and Sunset 

We got up early again…ugh! But, so very worth it. We got a quick breakfast at 4:15 in the morning and made our way into the national park.

Because Uluru is known for its beautiful color changes during the day, there is both a sunset and sunrise viewing area. We made our way to the sunrise viewing area of course.

We got there early and I set up my GoPro to do a time lapse of the sunrise.

The sunlight reflecting off of rock gave off beautiful colors. It was definitely worth it to wake up early for this sight. I took a bunch of pics with this red rock and so many more over the next 24 hours…

From there, we headed to the base of the rock to walk around the rim, which is normally a 10 km hike. However, this morning some of it was closed because of large puddles, so we didn’t get to walk the whole thing.

It was stunning to get closer to this red rock and see how imperfect it was up close. From far away, it looks so round and red. But, there are many colors on this rock and many holes and hidden caves. It felt like a intimate look at Uluru.

From there, we headed back to our accommodations to relax a little before our helicopter ride to see a whole other side of Uluru Kata-tjuta National Park.

We were picked up a little after lunch time to make our way to the helicopter ride.

We headed up and made our first stop to see Kata-Tjuta!

From there, we made our way to see Uluru!

I LOVED seeing the rocks from the ariel view because it gave you another view of these massive monolithic red rocks in the middle of Australia.

We then made it back to the accommodation in time to get all dressed up for our special event tonight to end this Outback adventure. We actually got to put on makeup and tried to care about what we looked like, which was a first for basically this entire trip.

At 6:15 pm, we left our accommodations to go back into the national park

for a campagne sunset. We arrived at the sunset viewing area and I again set up my camera to take a video of it all. Unfortunately, the battery was so I didn’t get the whole sunset…

But, we enjoyed some bubbly and snacks! Most importantly, I discovered beetroot humus, which is insanely good! Haha


We took lots of group pictures, to make sure we would remember this moment. We were so happy to be together and to have met each other.

We got back on the bus and sang our new favorite song: home among the gun tree! It’s an Australian fave and we learned all the dance moves. Now it is stuck in my head…

We headed back to the bar at our accommodations and danced until late. Some of us would be continuing on to the second leg of the trip on the east coast, and some of us would not. We had all survived the conditions of the outback and just didn’t want to say goodbye.

Uluru = Ayers Rock

I woke up to people around me shuffling around in the dark and bright beams of flashlights shining in my face. It was 4:15 am and we were heading out to Kings Canyon for a sunrise hike.

I had already gotten dressed the night before in my hiking clothes just so I could easily get up and on the coach, no hassle.

The stars were still stunning when we were heading to the coach. I quickly ate my breakfast bar and gulp down water for the hike ahead. We were about to do a 6 km hike, which our tour manager said could take us up to 3 hours to complete. I plugged in my headphones, still sleepy for waking up earlier than normal, and blasted some EDM to help me get ready for a great hike.

We got to the base of the canyon at around 5:15 am, just as the sun was beginning to rise. I quickly put on my sunblock, being the incredibly pale person that I am, you never know if the even in the rising sun will give you a sunburn. Also, I sprayed some bug spray, to make sure bugs didn’t want to be close of friends with me on this hike.

Our tour manager had let us know that there were two options for hiking this morning. The first was a 6 km hike, which for the first 30 minutes would be straight up the canyon with seemingly never ending steps. It would exhaust you at first, but after the first 30 minutes the rest of the hike was not a heart pumping. The second option was shorter and through a creekbed. I of course wanted to do the 6 km hike, knowing the view would be worth the sweat this early in the morning.

We started up the steps and damn was it tough. Non-stop steps for about 30 minutes. A few people headed back down the to do the creek walk instead of completing the rest of this 6 km hike. When we made it to the end of these delivish stairs we had a great view of the rising sun just beginning to hit the tops of the canyon. It was a pretty sight!

The rest of the hike was just as beautiful and stunning. It was relatively easy for the most part. The way the rising sun hit the red rocks of the canyon gave off a beautiful golden glow unlike anything I had ever seen in person. I was just so happy to be there, taking in the view.

We took some steps down and crossed a bridge over what was called the “garden of eden” and then climbed more steps up to get to the other side with a really gorgeous view over the whole canyon. We stopped here for a while to take some photos.

Having a tour manager/ someone to guide you around places is great for so many reasons like having special insights, someone planning and organizing activities, and someone to look after you if anything happens. But, in this moment we were happy to have Mark because he knew all the best places to take great pictures to capture the moment. Especially in the tricky lighting of the rising sun. We got some really cool photos.

We continue on and down the canyon, down many steps until we made it back to our starting point.

We felt absolutely elated as we joined the rest of the group, high off of endorphins and beautiful sights. We boarded the coach and headed back to the station for some brekkie.

Brekkie in oz (Australia slang) is mostly fried eggs, bacon (more ham like), beans, toast and tomatoes. Put it all together and you’ve got a great sandwich. I am loving it!

After brekkie and a quick shower, we loaded onto the bus to go to Yulara for our final days of the trip. On our way, we stopped at fool-a-roo, which can fool some people who think it is the real Uluru. The sand was getting so red, we knew we were getting closer to the red center.

By lunch time, we had made it to the town square and got lunch from the local grocery store. I picked up some boomerangs to bring back at a gift store.

We then boarded the coach again, this time to go into Uluru Kata-Tjuta Nationa Park!

So before I go further, I want to better explain the park. Uluru is more commonly known in the states as Ayers Rock. Kata-Tjuta is a rock formation nearby, which is less round compared to Uluru. In fact, Kata-Tjuta literally translates into many heads, referencing the 26 domes of red rock. Both are huge monolithic rocks made of sandstone with high amounts of iron in them, which exposed to the elements, give them the red color.

The first thing we did was go to the cultural center to learn more about how this park came to be. In the mid 1970s, the land was given back to the indigenous people, who then leased the land back to the government for 99 years to have this park. There are many stories about Uluru, which is the most sacred of the two rock formations. Though Uluru is quite round, it does have some holes and discoloring on it, so there are many aboriginal stories to explain how the rock came to be.

From a geological perspective, the rock was formed over thousands of years from sediment. Then, it was pushed by up through the ground, turning exactly 90 degrees. Though Uluru is quite tall from the ground up, it is not as tall as Kata-Tjuta, which has some domes taller than Uluru. However, Uluru is considered the largest monolithic rock in the world because geologist believe that it goes as far at 6 km below the ground.

Geographically, it is basically in the center of Australia. So people consider it the heart of Australia.

It is truly incredible on all fronts: both spiritually and scientifically.

We then got back on the coach and took a lap around the rock which gave us a better perspective of how massive it really is. We would get to interact with the rock a lot more tomorrow!

We spent the rest of our time in the park with Kata-Tjuta, specifically doing the whopper Gorge walk. It was a bumpy one and the second one of the day, so I was a bit tired. However, being up close with the rock gave you great perspective on spectacular this lesser known rock formation is on its own.

Once we completed the hike, we went back to our lodge style accommodations, got a good shower and ate dinner. None of us wanted to stay up very late, given that we had gotten up before sunrise today and would do it again tomorrow.  We passed out happily!

Sleeping in a Swag in the Outback

We woke up to more rain this morning. Though it is supposed to be the dry season here, it has been rainy and overcast the entire time we have been in Alice Springs. In fact, this is true for most of the desert area of the Outback. Uluru (also known as Ayers Rock), which is our grand finale to this leg of the trip, was flooded out yesterday and the national park was closed. We were starting to get worried we wouldn’t be able to go into the park, which would put a damper on the trip. Our tour guide kept a positive attitude and lined up a plan b, c, and d for us, if the park was closed.

I am keeping positive thoughts, no matter what!

We got up early, packed our overnight bag for camping, ate breakfast and headed out for the day at 7 am. When we were talking about what we were looking forward to most at the beginning of the trip, I said what was going to happen tonight: camping outdoors in swags. It’s a very Aussie thing to do, plus we would be deep in the Outback, so I wanted to see all the stars. Because of the rain, we wouldn’t be able to do a ATV ride around the campsite and might not be able to camp outside…I was a little disappointed.

Our first stop of the day was on the outskirts of Alice Springs to learn about Aboriginal culture. On the way there, we passed the Royal Flying Doctor’s Service, which helps assist people in remote areas. It was established a while ago by a famous Australian who even made it onto the paper money.

When we pulled up to the shelter where we would meet our guide, it started raining even harder. We ran under shelter. One thing I have noticed is that no one but me brought a rain jacket. Our tour manager said that Americans and Canadians seemed to always have the best rain gear. I love my Gore-Tex rain jacket, which has been incredibly useful here. Trying to bring back the rain jacket trend!

Our guide was very knowledgeable about aboriginal people, so I was looking forward to hearing his thoughts. In particular, I was interested in comparing how the US has worked with Native Americans and the Australians and Aboriginal people. From what I could tell in my travels so far, there was a bad unemployment problem. There was also some health issues and quite possibly alcoholism.

Besides learning about the culture, we would also be able to try Bushtucker, which is food from the bush that aboriginal people would eat. There were some normal fruits and vegetables, but also some insects we might be able to try…

The guides started off by talking about how the aboriginal people got here and survived in the bush. They came over from Shri Lanka a while ago and have survived in Australia for over 40,000 years. They slowly moved from the Northern Territory to lower down in the continent. They moved in small tribes and kept their numbers small, allowing for more adaptablility. They had survival rules like sharing their food with everyone or there would be serve punishment and if someone was gravely injured, they would be left behind.

They had some very interesting marriage traditions as well. Apparently, a long time ago there was an inbreeding problem that they wanted to avoid, so they created strict rules about who could marry who. You could only marry people who were 4 families removed. How you would know which lines someone came from was their name. In fact, there were only 8 names in their culture. You would receive your name from your great grandmother or great grandfather. That meant that if you had a sister, you both would have the same name, since you both has the same grandmother.

The girls were married off at around the age of puberty, so around age 12. This was because of the harsh conditions, many of the women did not receive the nourishment to have enough body fat to have a menstrual cycle, so having a baby at a young age was really your best bet for reproducing. The man who the girl would marry, however, was in his early to mid twenties. The boys would need to go through initiation with their fathers and uncles to learn how to provide for his future family, which took time.

The mother was the one who picked out the husband for her daughter, choosing the best to provider. After the daughter married to the husband however, the mother-in-law and son-in-law did not interact. This was because of the closeness in ages. If you married at 11, had your first child at 12 and then married off your 12 year old child when you were 24 to a 24 year old man, then the husband was closer to your age. There would be issues with attraction, so this rule was put into place.

We got the chance to try some bush tea and bush bread, which was delicious. It honestly was just like black tea and scones.

We then got into the learn about the bushtucker. We got to look at vegetables, fruits and seeds that indigenous people found in the bush.

We then got to learn about the whittchity grub, a caterpillar like insect found inside trees. One of our group mates was the one to try it..

We then also got to try kangaroo tail. It was like a really fatty piece of beef or pork.

From there, we went over to see some of the art that aboringal women had created. I even bought a piece that would go nicely in a kitchen or dining room.

Finally we went to learn about the weapons that they used, including spears, shields and boomerangs.

I even got to try my hand at throwing a boomerang, and realized I would not have survived in those days.

We then drove off to our next destination, kings creek station, to camp under the stars.

On the way, we stopped at an emu farm.

When we finally got to Kings Creek Station, there was a noticeable difference in the climate, which was much drier.

It was an absolute beautiful sight, with red sand everywhere. The sunset was gorgeous at nighttime.

We got to sleep in swags outside, under the beautiful stars, which was awesome. We had been so worried about missing this opportunity. A Swag, for those who don’t know, is a canvas covering for your sleeping bag, so that you don’t have to use a tent.

We listened to some guitar, watched all the bugs dance close to the light and just gazed at the stars. Being so far away from a city, I saw the most spectacular sight of stars I had ever seen. We saw the Milky Way and just stared in awe. We even got to see the southern cross, which is on the Australian flag. There is not picture because it is very hard to capture the stars without a proper camera.

We fell asleep outside in hot weather, with nature all around us. And, I’m here to say, on the other side, that I survived!

Boxing Day in the Outback

It’s Boxing Day, whatever that means?! The aussies said that basically it is like the American Black Friday.

I got up earlier than everyone else to FaceTime with my family at 5:30 am my time and 2:30 pm their time. It was great to see them and wish them Merry Christmas. They told me about their plans for dinner with some of my family and thanked me for their presents. I expressed how thankful I was to them for letting me not be there during christmas, since I knew they missed me during this time when families get together. They were very supportive of my decision and even empowered me when I was having doubts. I couldn’t ask for a better family!

After hanging up with them, I saw a Snapchat that my sister had sent me of everyone opening the presents that I got them. It made me feel like I was there, which was a good feeling.

We got on the bus and started our next adventure to Alice Springs, which is literally in the middle of Australia. We’ve come so far from the very top of the Northern Territory to the middle of the country.

Our first stop of the day was to see the Devil’s Marbles, which is a rock formation in the middle of the outback. It got its name from some of the first pioneers of this area who called the area Devil’s Country because it was so hot. These round rocks in the middle of the outback made sense to be called the Devil’s Marbles.

The rocks are made of granite and due to weathering and such, are in round shapes. It is pretty amazing when you think about it, since the round shape was created by Mother Nature.

We got some cool pictures in the area.

We then got back on the coach and headed to a roadhouse about 20 minutes down the road. This was an extra special roadhouse, because it is the the UFO capital of Australia. It was basically alien themed and even had a fake alien in a tube in the back, because why not. I’m just not sure whether the owner actually believes in aliens sighting here, or this is just a marketing ploy.

We got back on the road for another 2 hours.

Though the outback is quite remote and we often don’t run into other cars in front of us, there are some different types of traffic jams here than there are in the city. First, since it is wet season we have seen quite a few flooded roads, which we then raise the coach to cross over. The next is wild animals hanging out in the middle of the road. We had to slow down a few times for wild cattle in the road. You know, your everyday traffic jam.

We had about 2 hours into we would make it to Alice Springs, where we would meet about 16 new group mates.

In between making it from lunch and Alice Springs, we stopped at the Tropic of Capricorn, which is the imaginary line that divides the tropical climate from the temperate climate. Basically, we were leaving the wet climate for a drier one. All of us were quite happy about that!

After sitting on a bus for so long, I needed a bit of activity. One of the aussies and I raced across the imaginary line from tropic to desert and didn’t feel a thing, haha.

We continued on our way to Alice Springs. A good friend of mine actually spent her Christmas here for 2 years to be able to be with her family, so I let her know I had made it to town.

We got to Alice Springs, met the new group, did a “ninja” check-in to our new accommodations and hopped back on the coach to head to our first sight here.

About 30 minutes away was Simpsons Gap, which is a gap in the massive ranges out here in Alice Springs. Rain weathered away basically a slice out of a hill. The rocks out here are much more red, since we are literally in the red-center of Australia.

We got out and started heading down to the gap. I met a new guy who is originally from the US, but is on a holiday-work visa in Australia. It is only open to Americans under 30, and gives you the chance to work in Australia, then maybe apply for citizenship. Good to know…right?! (Mom, don’t worry, yet!)

Simpsons Gap area was very windy. There was sand all around that was flying into us as we got closer. There was a pool at the bottom area. We got some cool pictures of the gap.

Our next stop was Anzac Hill, which has a memorial to Australian Vetrans. It also is a great overlook over all of Alice Springs.

From there, we headed to the reptile center to learn more about the types of reptiles that inhabit this area. Our speaker was very funny and quite crude, all in good fun. He was clearly excited about reptiles and loved his job.

As many of you may know, Australia is home to the most venomous snakes in the world. However, there are some upsides. First, if you find yourself close to one in Australia, they cannot sense heat, so its best to just stay still. Second, they have very tinh fangs, so you can wear long pants and not get bitten. Third, if you are bitten, you can rightly wrap the infected area with a bandage and expand your time alive by almost double. This is all in comparison to snakes from the rest of the world.

Though people are bitten in Australia by snakes, only 2 people die each year, on average. That is compared to a country like Shri Lanka, which has a similar amount of people, but 20,000 people die of snake bites each year.

I got to hold the well-trained python for a photo opt!

We also learned about lizards in the area. We got to hold two different types of lizards, one was a dragon lizard and one was a blue tongue lizard.

Here is me kissing the dragon lizard.

Here is me being a lizard momma to the blue tongue lizard.

We also got to look around and see some more crocs, which I am slowly realizing are so much more dangerous than I first thought. Crocs in Australia kill in order of country 1. Australians 2. Germans 3. Americans 4. Chinese. This speaker also made fun on Germans hard core, not just because they seem to have a lot of run ins with crocs. There was a small croc behind glass, who if you got to close would snap at you. I just thought about how I had swam with one earlier in the trip…

We got back into the coach and headed back to the hotel to rest before dinner. Plus, there was wifi, which made me happy!

At dinner, we got to know the new group mates better. They all seem great and they bring good energy to the group, who had been with each other for a while on the road. We needed some new blood!

It seems like there is an abnormal amount of rain in the red center right now and Uluru (also known as Ayer rock), our grand finale of sorts, might get cancelled. I’m hoping that in 2 days time the flooding clears and they reopen the park. Fingers crossed!

I got some laundry done, repacked everything and got ready for our swag camping tomorrow night. Goodnight everyone!

Christmas Outback Adventure

It’s Christmas here in Australia!!

I woke up early, got everything together and went to the coach to start the day. Our tour director decked out the coach with green, red and gold garlands, along with beads across the seats that made it look like a sleigh. It was a nice sight to see first thing in the morning on Christmas!

I put my Secret Santa gift in the pile of gifts with everyone else’s. As the coach started to move onto our destination, Christmas music started. Our Christmas Outback adventure was on!

Our tour manager handed out all the secret santa gifts. I got my secret santa person nice Shea butter lotion, given all sun we would be encountering. My secret santa got me a tabloid magazine and some nice chocolate protein bars, perfect for our trip!

We drove for a little before coming upon Mataranka Thermal Pools. There was short path through a palm tree forest to get there. We could see red tailed bats on the way to the pools.

When we got there, we jumped in a loved how warm it was, even though it was pretty warm out already. The water was so clear and flowed over a little brook into a larger stream. We hung out there for a little and decided to go back to the bus early after about 40 minutes in the water.

We hopped back on the bus, ready for a long day of travel. We had over 700 km of travel ahead of us for this Christmas Day.

The next stop was at lunch time. We came upon the Daly Waters Pub, which is the oldest pup in the Northern Territory. Airplanes used to land nearby to deliver goods, so this pub was created. It reminded me of Jack’s Browns from Harrisonburg, with all the knick knacks and such. Outside, there was an old helicopter was santa inside and a beer keg Christmas tree. Inside there were bumper stickers everywhere, bras hanging from the ceiling and funny posters everywhere.

We sat down at a table near the pool outside and relaxed. Though the pub wasn’t open, they had a few staff members there for us. They gave us a eskie full of beers. No, ciders or anything. So I thought I would actually try the beer and see if this could be the one that changes my mind. And…. I actually liked it! It was called Summertime, it was an Australian lager with a hint of mango. Literally a Christmas miracle that I enjoyed a beer!

Our tour manager and driver cooked us up a delicious lunch on the Barbie. Patties (hamburgers), snags (sausages) and more. We had a real Aussie barbecue, which was awesome!!

There was even wifi there, so I got to FaceTime my family to say hello and wish them a merry Christmas, even though it was only the 24th there.

Once back on the bus, there was lots of candies to eat, like Cadbury chocolate, pink marshmellows, Tim-tams, and gummies.

During the next drive, I was noticing the Termite mounds were sometimes dressed up in human clothes. Which, from far away made it look like people were on the side of the road. It was funny and interesting.

We watched a couple movies given the amount of driving time. When we finally made it to the accommodations, it was very welcomed to be standing and walking around after such a long drive. And, there was free wifi, amazing!

After relaxing and catching up with the world for a little, we headed to dinner at the restaurant next door. Tennant Creek is a very small town, and there was not many places open on Christmas night especially. We had Chinese food, which was great. One of the girls on the trip is Jewish and she loved it since the unofficial American Jewish tradition is to go to the movies and eat Chinese on Christmas.

This restaurant is also where I learned about Christmas crackers. They are a U.K. and Australian Christmas tradition. Basically, it is a bon on shaped cardboard thing, with two does. The idea is that you partner up with one other person and you each pull yourside until there is a popping noise. The person who gets the middle section wins, technically. Inside there is a small toy, a corny joke and and a Christmas crown. The crown is made of tissue paper and comes is every color. Everyone from Australia talked about their favorite memories wearing a Christmas crown.

I went to my room not too long after and fell asleep quickly, knowing I needed to wake up very early tomorrow. I had let my parents know I would FaceTime them on their Christmas Day at 5:30 am my time, 2:30 pm their time.

Gorgeous Katherine Gorge

It’s Christmas Eve and it is about 80 degree Fahrenheit here, along with humidity. No white Christmas here!

We woke up at 6 am to get breakfast at 6:30. The night before, as I expressed my love for tim-tams, one of the aussies told me about a trick with Tim-tams and coffee.

The trick is to bite off diagonal corners, then place one of the bitten off corners into the coffee. Then you need to suck through the other bitten off corner to get coffee and make the cookie smooshie! Yum, so delish!

We then got on the bus with all our stuff and headed out of Kakadu National Park, where we had spent the last 2 nights. Our first stop was the Kakadu entrance sign to get a picture or two.

Then we headed off to a cafe to get lunch that we would take with us to Edith Falls just down the road. When we got to Edith Falls, we were not allowed near the water, since there may be a few crocs in there. We are our lunch in the grass near by with a view of the Falls. The flies were insufferable though. I guess that is the outback for you!

We then quickly changed into bathing suits for our next adventure.

We then arrived in the town of Katherine about 2 hours later. We stopped at Woolworths for some water and other necessities. Finally heading off to our next adventure, we passed the Katherine School of the Air. Because of how remote this area is, they used to have children gather in a school house and listen to the radio to learn. It just helped me understand how remote the area we were in was, before modern technology. But, even then, I was still having trouble getting wifi now.

The coach pulled up to a dock, where we all loaded into the boat for a Katherine Gorge tour. The gorge was huge and went on for over 100 km. It had a reddish tint to it from exposure to the elements. It actually reminded me of what I imagine the Grand Canyon would look like in person.

We got a certain point in the Gorge where we wouldn’t be able to cross by boat, so we got out and crossed to the next boat on foot. We got a photo or two there.

On the next boat, we saw the iconic Katherine Gorge photo. It was beautiful to see the water running through the reddish rocks, with a little green here and there, a blue sky with a smattering of clouds. Picture perfect!

We then docked the boat again, this time to find a waterfall within the Gorge.

We started on the path, which clearly was not well laid out. There was a lot of climbing on rocks that were slippery with sand and no clear place to put your foot next. A few of the girls only had on thong sandals which broke on the way there. I was behind them and got a little annoyed at the situation, since I had my tevas with me. I really wanted to see this waterfall, so I was getting impatient.

We did get to the waterfall with plenty of time to enjoy the water and the experience.

I brought my GoPro in with me, which was great because the footage is awesome!

The two Aussie sibilings climbed up a rock formation nearby the waterfall and were jumping off the ledge. It looks like fun, so I decided to climb up (again thankful for my tevas) to the top.

Once at the top, about 12 feet from the water, it was a little nerve racking to think about jumping. But, of course there was no other way down and I really wanted to do it.

I jumped and it of course was exhilarating! I came up smiling and laughing. Just a fun way play in the waterfall pool. And, I love that kind of stuff!

Feeling more alive, I swam to shore to get my outer clothes back on and head back to the boat. We got back on the boat, headed back to the dock, got on the coach and headed to our accommodations for the night.

Given that it was Christmas Eve, there were not many restaurants open. So, we ordered pizza and sat by the pool. We got to try an Australian dessert called “lamington.” It’s a yellow cake with a chocolate and coconut frosting and a whipped cream top. Really good!

We swam for a while, before heading to bed for another early morning. This time it would be Christmas!

Exploring Kakadu!

We woke up at 6 am, got breakfast at the restaurant. I made sure to avoid the vegemite! We left the accommodation at 7 pm, to drop off some people who were signed up for a scenic flight of the park.

Kakadu is a massive national park. In fact it is half the size of Switzerland and the size of Maryland. There are over 10,000 different species of insects, which was quite obvious by looking around. There are lots of wild animals as well, like wallabies, crocodiles, dingos, board, wild horses and more.

While some did the scenic flight, the rest of us headed over to the Bowali cultural center to learn more about the indigenous people. We saw their calendar on a stone. It was not by months, but by seasons, which makes more sense to me. I don’t get the point of month’s of December 21st is when winter starts. Just had an extententional crisis wondering about why we had months on our calendar.

We then headed to an area where there was an indigenous rock art walk. We loaded up on bug spray and sunblock before heading in.

There are ants with green butts running around everywhere. Our tour guide mentioned that if you ate the green butt part, you would get a shot of vitamin C. A few of us tried it and it was actually pretty great. It just tasted like citrus.

There were large rock formations, almost wall like, where we could see the paintings. Because most of the culture is held closely by elders, many of the larger meanings of the stories are not known by people outside of the culture. However, we could glean some basics from the drawings. We saw a wallaby on one, another was about fertility, another about celebration and so many more.

From there, we did a quick hike up to see the larger rock formation from a distance. Mark told us about the small rock on the edge of the cliff. Apparently, within the indigenous culture, you are not supposed to mate with a sibiling. But, a chief did and he symbolically placed a feather up there. Now, there is a rock to symbolize it and remind others not to do what he did.

Here is me at the top!

We headed over towards the yellow water, to have lunch. We had a baguette with some cold cuts. Relaxed for a while and just enjoyed the air conditioning.

We then headed down to the yellow river for our cruise. We were on the billabong river in kakdu, getting a wetlands cruise. Our guide was straightforward and funny. He knew a lot about the waters and the animals inside. Though we couldn’t see any crocodiles. There were definitely a few hundred in there!

They are able to hold their breath for up to 6 hours and slow their heart beat down to one to two beats per hour. In dry season, they layout in the sun to keep warm. But, since it was very hot out, they were mostly sitting at the bottom of the river. We were instructed to try not to fall overboard. But, if we did, we had about a minute before a croc would be after us. Comforting, huh?

There were lots of other wildlife in the river as well. We saw “Jesus birds” who look like they are walking on water, but really they are walking on Lilly pads. We saw some beautiful flowers from a specific type of Lilly pad. This one the indigenous women would harvest for their stems. Not before doing a prayer to keep the crocs from eating them. If they did get eaten, the elders would say they didn’t do the prayer right…

After a long day in 80 degree weather, we headed back to the accommodations to hangout in the pool. A girl from LA bought some yellow tail wine and red solo cups. We enjoyed some laughs over that. We hung out in the pool for a couple hours before heading to dinner.

After dinner, we just hung out around the table and talked about the differences in culture. I love hearing from the aussies on the trip because though they don’t know this part of their country, they know about most everything else. We talked about cricket, politics, differences in candies, stores, restaurants and more. It was funny to hear they even have the bachelor in australia. It is the Australian version, of course. I thought I might actually watch that one! Ha!

We headed off the bed because we once again had to wake up early.

Road to Kakadu 

Day 2 we got to sleep in until 8 am…which is major apparently. At the continental breakfast, I saw vegimite and thought I might want to try it. Because, why not? I’m in Australia and it’s their favorite treat!

So I took some advice from the local: step 1 toast the bread, step 2 spread on butter, step 3 lightly spread vegemite. Then, I tried it and it was disgusting! I wanted so bad to like it, but it reminded me of reduced soy sauce. Very salty and ew, just ew. At least I have tried it!

A few of us went to the woolworths, the Australia grocery store, to get some stuff since we would be in remote areas for the next few days. Also, we are doing a secret santa on Christmas, so I needed to get a gift.

Once I packed everything up and closed out the room, I face-timed my family to just check-in and let them know I would be unavailable for a few days.

We boarded the coach and headed off to Litchfield National park and ultimately Kakadu National Park. It was going to be a long day on the coach.

It took us about 2 hours until we got to Litchfield National park to see the Termite mounds. We saw two different types. The first was the cathedral Termite mounds, which would remind you of a grand cathedral in europe. The second was the magnetic Termite mounds which looked like grave stones. The idea is that they face north and are very skinny, so they avoid the sun and keep the temperature moderate.

Next, we headed to Florence falls to see the waterfall. With all the recent rain from the wet season, we were unable to go in. However, we could see the falls from the lookout and it was amazing!

Once we got back on the coach, Mark, out tour guide, went over a lot of rules and such. The thing that stuck out most to me was the “life coach” talk about staying positive and living in the moment. It’s not something I will have a problem with at all. The “wow moments” are why I am here!

We got into Kakadu at around 6 pm and headed to our rooms. This accommodation was in one of the remote areas, so it had “boil water” meaning you couldn’t drink the tap water without boiling it first. The bugs were out of control! There was a lot of bug spray to be used!

After a long bus ride, I went for a jog with lots of bug spray on, took a quick shower, then headed to dinner. We had burumundi, which is a local fish. We were mostly tired from the long coach ride today, so we went to bed by 10 pm, knowing we had an early rise the next morning.

Swimming with Crocs

Day 1 of the official trip started with a museum about the history of Darwin, which is the largest city in the Northern Territory of Australia.

There are approximately 100,000 people in Darwin. It has been rebuilt twice, due to horrific events. The first was a bombing during WWII where the Japanese dropped more bombs on Darwin than on Pearl Harbor. The next was in the 70s, where a powerful cyclone raged through the town on Christmas Day, destroying almost everything in its path. At the museum there was a room where you could listen to a recordering of the sounds from the cyclone, which demonstrated just how devestating the wind was for this town.

There was also a stuffed crocodile in the museum, because, you know, it’s the Northern Territory. The crocs name was affectionately and irconically called Sweetheart. Sweetheart was a large male croc who would guard his Territory in the water by chomping on anything that came through, this included motors of boats. He was accidentally drowned with nets when a group was trying to catch him. A taxidermist stuffed him and while cleaning him out found some sea turtles, the motor of a boat and some pig bones in this stomach. Apparently it was world news when he was killed and the newspapers made wild accustations about how big he was and that he even ate people.

In the museum there was also quite a lot of art, both from aboriginals and Australians. One of my favorite pieces was of the lighthouses in Australia, of which there are many.

From there, we headed off to the main city to get a quick tour, since the town is quite small. I had already seen most of it from my exploring the day prior.

The coach then dropped us off at crocosorous cove, a museum on the infamous Northern Territory crocodiles. I had signed up to dive in with a croc and was super excited to see what it would be like.

Crocodiles have extremely powerful jaws, which have the power of a 2-ton truck, compared to a humans power of a sack of potatoes… Over their lifetime, they may crack teeth, but there is always one ready to replenish the broken one. In total, a crocodile can have over 3,000 teeth in their lifetime. When a crocodiles snaps to get food, there is an incredible snapping noise, just reminding everyone how powerful the jaw is and how you might not want to come up against one in the wild.

My diving time was later, so I got some Thai food at a local restaurant and read some more my Australian novel that my uncle gave me for Christmas called “The Rosie Project.”

A few of us headed in the cove again to get ready for our dive. Most of us weren’t too worried, especially after seeing multiple people go in and be okay. Basically, there was a huge acrylic cylinder which was on a electric pulley system which would slowly drop you into the water environment with the croc. The keepers would then tempt the croc with food to get it close to the enclosure. We had googled to see under water and everything.

I took my GoPro with me to get some footage from within. A few new friends agreed to take photos from outside the tank from up above and from below. We got some great shots…
I still haven’t edited the GoPro footage, but I’m excited to finally get some time to edit everything when I’m on the coach for a long drive.

We headed back to the hotel to wash off the crocodile water and get ready for a night out. Since Darwin is the largest town for the first leg of this trip through the outback, this was our one night to stay out and have fun.

We went to a local place called Monsoon, which was fitting since it was the wet season and always raining off and on. I got the house wine (cab sav, Australia!) and the steak. There are a few difference between US food and Australian food. For one, they call ketchup “tomato sauce” and an entree is an “appetizer.”

We all got to know each other a little better and talked about our flights over and our home countries. There are a lot of aussies on this trip, which is great because we can ask them questions about the country and their culture. But, it reminds me of how I haven’t seen all of the US yet. Just another reminder that I need to do a road trip across the country at some point soon!

Later on, once we had all had a few, there was a call to the dance floor to play a few games and dance. One game involved a carton from a case beer. Basically, everyone had to bend down and pick up the box with their teeth. However, after each round they would rip off a layer and make the top of the box closer to the ground. Basically you were squatting down to get the box. Two girls from our group won!

I was pretty tired, and left with another girl to get some sleep in my room. I’ve got another 25 days ahead of me, so I’m definitely not trying to kill myself early on.

Overall, day 1 was awesome and the group of 18 is great!