Friday, November 22, 2013

G'day from the Outback

The most red dirt you've ever seen, views for miles, dry and hot climate, clear starry nights, Aboriginal communities, and spectacular scenery...this was the outback for me.

Going to the Outback was an absolutely amazing experience that I will remember forever. 

I went with a friend that I met in Melbourne, her and I arrived in the morning by plane to Alice Springs and welcomed the hot dry climate after months in cold and windy Melbourne. I was sad to leave Melbourne as I realized that chapter of my life was closing, but the memories were heartwarming and full of smiles and laughs. We spent that evening preparing for our 3 day tour and had a nice dinner and beer. 

The next morning we popped into a van/bus with 20 other people from around the world; Ireland, Poland, Canada etc. We had to drive a couple hours outside of Alice Springs to get to the main attractions; the landscape was all desert and all red. We spotted many eagles and even a dingo on our way out to Kings Canyon. Once we got to Kings Canyon, we prepared for the 3 hour hike through it. One thing I was not prepared for was the flies, my god they are so abundant and annoying, and apparently only get worse as it continues on into summer. Our hike started out with 'heart attack hill' to get up to the top of the canyon, we were rewarded with a beautiful view of the desert and down into the canyon. We continued our hike through the 'lost city' (dome like rock formations) and down into the 'garden of Eden' (a palm oasis sanctuary in the middle of the desert).
Hiking through King's Canyon

Hiking in Kata Tjuta

Seeing as the desert is so massively huge, a lot of time is spent driving, but luckily our tour guide was funny and prepared which made the time go by fast. We collected firewood in the middle of the bush and spent a good hour picking up sticks so we could have a dinner that night. We spent the evening spotting Fool-uru, the fake Uluru, and yes there is more than one giant rock in the middle of the freaking desert...who would of thought! We watched the sunset over the desert and next to a dry salt lake, it was stunning sight to see and it finally set in that I was in the middle of the Outback. We flew into our camp with our bus like bats out of hell, blaring music and cruising out the middle of nowhere to set up camp. That evening was laughs and giggles as we attempted to cook dinner around our massive camp fire. We spent the night under the starry sky in our 'swags' (sleeping bags with pads), the night sky was crystal clear and it would take you a lifetime to count all of the stars.
Looking up at Uluru
The next day was a jammed packed one beginning with breakfast, camp clean up, and then we headed to Kata Tjuta. This was my favorite day on the tour because this 3 hour hike was through some terrain that I had never seen before. Surrounded by desert was this huge group of these round red rocks towering hundreds of feet above you, and you are able to hike between them as they hover above you. They look smooth as butter from afar, but up-close you see that they are made of tons of smaller rocks. They've been created by earth plates shifting and eroded by wind and water, now they look like melting ice cream scoops...or maybe it was just so hot that I wished they were cold and delicious ice cream scoops. One the hike, our tour guide explained some of the Aboriginal stories and also how they used the local plants and such in their every day lives; for example, they made spears out of these one plants and used a certain vine on the end which helped in hunting kangaroos. That afternoon we headed to the information center that explains the Aboriginal significance of Uluru (Ayers Rock - you know that big red rock) as well the cooperation between the Aboriginal community and the Australian government when it comes to the national park and Uluru.  There is some cooperation between the two, but tensions remain because the majority of people involved with Uluru don't want climbing to be possible, but there is still a small group (the Australian tourism section) that wants to keep the option to climb the rock available. Plenty of people have died doing it and the Aboriginals don't want people climbing it, but it still happens.

Aboriginal cave art
Our tour guide, with Uluru in the back
Uluru was absolutely breath taking, especially when we did a 9 kilometer base walk around the entire thing. We were treated with beautiful views of the rock, looking straight up and not being able to see the top, the blue sky with a faint moon, Aboriginal cave art and stories of the legends that the Aboriginals have of the area. I am so happy that I got to go the Outback, it was everything I wanted it to be and an overall fantastic experience.

On the way back to Alice Springs, which is about a 4 hour drive, we stopped at a racing camel farm. Yes, I know, random; Australia has lots of camels. So the option was available to ride them, and what happens to be on my list to do before I die, ride a camel. So I hoped on the camel with another friend and we rode around a bit. It was hilarious and the ride was a lot smoother than I thought it would be (similar but not exactly like riding horses because they have different steps than horses). Camels are pretty cool creatures, and that was only reinforced by the fact that they can survive in a place like the Outback.

Overall the Outback was a memory I won't soon forget and I'd do it all over again! 

My buddy, I called him Ed, although he looks a lot like other people I know

Friday, November 8, 2013

A glowing greeting from New Zealand

        Sweet as!!
A common phrase here in New Zealand, and I can't help but say it when I drive through the beautiful countryside of New Zealand. This is some of the most beautiful landscape I've ever seen, and some of the nicest and friendliest people I've met abroad.

I left Australia and headed to New Zealand to meet up with 4 friends from my university, we've rented a camper van (company name "Jucy".... uuuhhh) and we've been road trippin' through New Zealand's north island for almost 2 weeks now.

The city of Auckland was nothing of great importance, a standard city with some nice buildings and walks. But, what New Zealand is known for is their natural beauty....and we soon experienced it as we left the outskirts of the city. Rolling green hills, sheep everywhere, mountains in the back, and small towns in the middle of nowhere.

We headed from Auckland to Waitomo, and 3 hour drive. One lovely thing about driving around NZ is the short distances and drastic changes in landscape. In just 3 hours, we went from a city by the sea to Lord of the Rings-esque landscape with a huge system of underground caves below and pastoral landscape above. My Danish friend and I decided to explore the caves in an adventurous style; we went on a tour with a few other people that took us through the caves. We grabbed inner tubes and hiked into the ground; we were rewarded with the entire ceiling of these caves being covered in bright glow worms. It was a beautiful sight to see as we floated down the underground river looking up at the milky way of glow worms covering the cave ceiling. The pitch black caves had some surprises, we had to slide down a waterfall and jump off another - in pitch dark, it was quite the adrenaline rush. The cave was also full of stalactites and stalagmites, and unfortunately we weren't able to take pictures in the cave because it affects the glow of the worms, so I've uploaded some that represent what it looks like.

The milky way like stream of glow worms was a magnificent sight, nothing like anything I've ever seen.

Other natural wonders of New Zealand include natural hot springs in the Rotorua area (a geothermal hot spot). We found a local spot just south of Maori land (Maori is the local indigenous culture), it was a beautiful natural hot spring that also had mud. Uniquely, this river ran right into a cold stream from the other direction, so depending on where you were standing, you could be in hot, cold, or warm water. It was fantastic, and the natural mud facial was an added bonus!

The adventures and beauty of New Zealand continue to amaze me, but seeing as we are road trippin', internet access is limited at best so unfortunately I won't be able to update everyone too often.
Life is good!