The best way to experience the views of the dessert and Uluru is either at sunrise or sunset. Obviously, with a park pass you can enter the national park anytime throughout the day, but at sunrise and sunset the heat isn’t unbearable and the flies are asleep. This is also when you can get epic, beautiful shots.
Our first night in the outback we booked the Sounds of Silence dinner experience through Ayers Rock Resort. It was pricey, but a once in a lifetime experience and totally worth it. The evening started with bubbles and canapés on the viewing platform overlooking Uluru. After light nibbles, taking lots of pictures, and a spectacular view we headed down the path to the main dining area.
Drinks were unlimited throughout the night. The first course was a tomato soup and bread. At first I didn’t get the point of hot soup while outside in the desert, but it was actually yummy. Next up was a full buffet while a didgeridoo was played. Everything I had was delicious and there were so many options (from salads, to pastas, to different meats, and more). I didn’t try any, but they also had outback delicacies such as kangaroo, crocodile, emu, and so on. After dinner, a dessert buffet was served with port, coffee, and tea.
When dinner was over we had a star gazing expert speak about the sky. Unfortunately, we had a cloudy night so it took a bit of imagination. The final part of the evening was exploring the Field of Lights exhibit. Originally, this was a temporary art exhibit by Bruce Munro, however, it was just made permanent a couple of months ago. There’s 50,000 solar-powered lights that transform this section of the desert. The section covers a distance of more than seven football fields. The lights seem to be alive with the spirit of the area.
The Sydney Opera House is iconic. I’ve seen a comedy show and a couple of ballets to date, but I was missing seeing an actual opera at the venue. With my mom coming into town it was the perfect time to finally see an opera. Don Giovanni was on the weekend we were in Sydney. We booked our tickets and were ready for a night out at the Opera House.
First and foremost, everyone on stage was incredible. Their voices were captivating and powerful. I couldn’t believe how they could project throughout the room without the use of microphones. They sang in Italian and there were English subtitles above the stage, however you didn’t need to know exactly what was said to appreciate the performance. Composed by Mozart in 1787 it was really cool seeing how the music and story have held for hundreds of years.
That being said I didn’t care for the storyline at all. I’ve also never been so annoyed with a fictional character as I was with Donna Elvira in the second act. She went from being to a total powerhouse to the exact opposite. Not to be preachy or throwing feminism around, but you could tell that this story was written by a man.
I’m glad I went and now I can say I’ve experienced an opera, however, I won’t be running back to see another one right away. I love live performances – concerts, plays, musicals, ballets, etc.; but I learned that operas aren’t my preferred art form.
I’ve officially been traveling and away from home for four months (eek that means I’m a third of the way through my year long visa). It’s crazy how quickly time flies by. It’s obviously been a long time away from my family and friends, but it’s also been jam packed with new memories and experiences. I’ve been really reflecting on my decision to move to this side of the world and realize how lucky I am to have this opportunity to live abroad.
I’m not settled down in one place and I’m not sure I will any time soon. However, I’ve spent the most amount of time in Sydney and it has sort of become a home base. I have my favorite spots and have also met amazing friends here. After, every trip when I get back to Sydney it feels a bit like coming back home.
I flew back last Wednesday and even though I was only away for six weeks I think a lot of change has taken place in the city. The lock out laws are a thing of the past; the light rail is now operational; it’s significantly hotter/muggier outside; the T8 train now goes from the airport to Circular Quay – no transfers necessary; those are just a few things I noticed. It is great to come back to a city and see all the progress and changes that occurred over a few weeks. I think when you live somewhere you don’t really notice these types of things because it’s part of your daily life.
My time back in Sydney has been busy. My first full day back I had brunch at Speedo’s Cafe and had to say goodbye to one of my first Sydney friends as she is now off to New Zealand and Bali before heading home to Spain. Then I attempted to go to Bondi, but it was a bit too steamy to stay out very long. I did get to see some filming for Bondi Rescue.
The weekend held another brunch, this time at the “most instagramable spot,” at Social Hideout. Then my friend J and I explored the surrounding neighborhood of Green Square and Rosebery. I really loved this area and could potentially see this as a future apartment area if it comes to that point. Later that evening we went to the markets and got dumplings in celebration of the Chinese Lunar New Year.
Now that brings us to Australia Day. Before coming to Oz, as an American I incorrectly associated Australia Day with a Fourth of July type of holiday. I thought that it was fully a national holiday of celebration. Then once you’re in Australia you realize that there is a much deeper and darker side to it in regards to the Indigenous people of this land. I am in no means an activist or claim to know nearly enough to educate others on this topic. That will be my self-assigned homework. What I did know is that Australia Day was going to be a long day full of city-wide activities, many of which are “fun” and celebratory. If I was going to partake in these activities, I wanted to at least start the day honoring/acknowledging the other side of the holiday and get a bit cultural. I woke up early to make it to the 7:45am WugulOra Morning Ceremony at Barangaroo Reserve. This morning’s event included the ancient custom of a smoking ceremony, dancing and singing performances, appearances from NSW’s governor, and more. Afterwards, I headed to the Rock’s Market and then to Manly. We went to a cute brunch spot, Girdlers Cafe, tried to go on the beach but were prevented from going into the water by bluebottle jellyfish, and went to the wharf instead. Then we bounced around more and went to a house party out in Pymble, where I finally got to experience and Aussie BBQ. It was a nice, but long day. I’m glad I didn’t go over the top and was able to “celebrate” in a mindful way. First Australia Day in Oz was a success, but now I’m going to do some historical research.
Stray Travel is known to take you “off the beaten track” and it is totally accurate. Lake Aniwhenua was going to be a true cultural experience. I love those kinds of activities so I couldn’t wait for it. We met our Maori guides early in the afternoon and were guided through their tribal lands along a couple of stops. We saw 1,000 year old cravings and the largest man-planted forest, and a beautiful waterfall before driving through a local town and arriving on the property we would be staying on.
Wow the property was gorgeous. There were cute cabins situated all around with a breathtaking lake and mountain views. The best part of the experience was the warm hospitality and love we felt from everyone there. We feasted on a traditional hangi dinner. This is a method of cooking that was used by Maori tribes for special occasions. They essentially create a natural pressure oven underground.
We all played an old school “training” type of lawn game and were treated with fried bread (yep exactly what it sounds like) after a winner was crowned. Then there were optional activities including bracelet weaving and learning traditional hakas. This was of course to pass the 2.5 hours it would take for the food to fully cook underground.
When it was dinnertime we were all more than ready to eat! The food was absolutely fantastic and totally worth the wait. Most, if not all, of us went up for seconds, but there was still plenty to box up and it would be delivered within the community the next day.
We spent the evening learning more about Maori culture and history. When we were retiring to bed we were treated by an insanely beautiful, starry sky.
Part of this experience is going to the Maori school the next day to deliver the food and meet the local kids. We were unable to go into the school because they were already on holiday break.
This was such a special, beautiful experience that really just makes you appreciate what you have and opens your perspective further. You don’t have to be a Stray passenger to visit so if you are looking for an authentic, cultural experience in the North Island this is worth checking out.
This isn’t a popular tourist destination and not a rich town so there aren’t any accommodation choices, but the Kohutapu Lodge and everyone there is really lovely and it’s worth the stop. The cabins seemed very well maintained and I thought they were absolutely perfect. Ours had two bunk beds and a lofted double bed area. There were communal lounge, kitchen, and dining areas on the property as well as a shower/toilet facilities all in really close proximity to all the cabins. I really wasn’t ready to leave when we had to head out the next day.