Motivational Mondays

My quote for this week is, “we don’t travel to see different things, we travel to see things differently.”

Similar to the previous quote, I couldn’t find the original author. I connect to this quote deeply because traveling is so much more than just going to a new country and being tourist. It’s about immersing yourself in different cultures and getting out of your comfort zone. Most importantly, travel to me is about growing as a person through the experience.

Book Review 10: A Town Like Alice

The novel A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute was published in 1950. At the beginning of the novel it’s hard to imagine it being a love story, but that’s exactly what it evolves into. Alice refers to Alice Springs, Australia in Northern Territory aka the outback. Unlike most rural towns in the outback, Alice Springs is a thriving community. The whole premise of the book is to transform another outback town into a town like Alice Springs. 

It’s very cool because one of the main characters is a young woman (late 20s) without much education, but with a savvy mind for business and she’s the one initiating all of the change to the town. Given that a man wrote in the 50s it’s really cool to see how progressive he was for the time period.

We bought this book at Red Kangaroo Books, the Alice Springs bookshop, (mentioned in the book) mostly for that novelty of being there.

If you’re familiar with Australia it was really cool being able to see the places that are mentioned in the book in the past because a lot has changed. My biggest takeaway from the book was that I needed to visit Green Island in Cairns when I’m up there in a couple of months. 

It was a good book and very easy to read. Not sure if I would recommend it because it’s not relevant to today, but I wouldn’t not recommend it if that makes sense. If you stumbled on it at a library give it a read, but definitely don’t go out and purchase it. 

Book Review 9: Little Women

With the new movie recently released I figured it would be the perfect time to read Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. I’ve actually had this book on my bookshelf for years (I had the 2004 Barnes and Noble edition that sold for $7.50 back in the day), but I’ve never read it. I asked my mom to bring it along with her to Australia. 

This is a classic in many ways and even reading it in 2020 there are many underlying themes and lessons that are relevant in the modern world. The writing is simple and easy to understand even though it was written over 150 years ago. I especially see a benefit for young girls to read Little Women as they “come of age.” 

If you are not familiar with the story I’ll give a very brief synopsis. Little Women follows a New England American family during the Cilvil War era, the Marchs. We are introduced to the four spirited sisters and are immersed into their daily lives and relationships as they grow and mature into womanhood.

The novel draws many parallels with Louisa May Alcott’s actual life and the reader feels as they are getting an accurate depiction of life in America at that time. Jo, the second oldest sister, is the free spirited, wild one of the bunch and has been a favorite literary character since the work was originally published. Despite Jo’s popularity, I would say that sister Beth won my heart. Regardless of which March sister you like best, you can’t help loving all of them and routing for their well being and happiness. They face the ups and downs that come with life and growing up, but overall it is a feel good story. Once you get into the groove of the book you will breeze through it. Now I really need to see the new movie

Sunset Dinner Experience – Uluru

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.

Guide to the Australian Outback

The Outback is quintessential Australia, but probably one of the lesser visited areas of the country. In the states we even have the popular chain restaurant with the infamous blooming onion. That being said most people neglect to visit the Outback and stay on the East Coast of the country. During my mom’s visit we were determined to make it out to the Outback.

The Outback is also known as the Red Center. It is located in the Northern Territory, which is a massive and vast state of Australia. Looking at a map it is between Queensland and Western Australia – directly in the center of the country and north towards Darwin, and thus it is aptly named. The overall population of the state is less than a quarter of a million, but approximately 30% of this population is of Aboriginal descent. This number is significant because Australia’s other states Aboriginal population is typically under 4%. 

By land size it’s third largest state, however the entire state is pretty much desert and therefore remote. Naturally, the climate is significantly different than the other states as well. We were coming during summer and pretty much got the worst of it. This was a very dry heat too. I don’t mind the heat and would much rather be in hot than cold weather. The heat was ruthless, but the worst part was the flies by far. You can visit at any point of the year and will have temperate weather during the day. I think a good rule of thumb, if you could swing it with other travel plans, would be to avoid visiting the area between December – April. That being said this time period would be when you could get the best deals. I’ll repeat it again and then drop it – the heat did not bother me, but the pesky flies could actually drive you mad; I would avoid February in particular because it seemed like that was when the flies were at their peak. 

Things to Do

The most well known site/attraction in the Northern Territory is Uluru, or Ayers Rock. The picturesque rock formation is part of the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. The park has been deemed as a UNESCO World Heritage site for its cultural and natural significance. Until October 2019, visitors were able to climb on Uluru. It is now officially banned given that it was not only extremely dangerous, disrespectful to the Aboriginal people and traditional owners of the land, and harming the surrounding landscape and animals. There are photo lookout points around the area, and you really can’t miss Uluru as it seems to have been dropped out of thin air in the middle of the flat surroundings. However, to actually get a closer look, walk around, or take a tour you have to purchase a pass. The pass is $25 and lasts for 3 days with unlimited entries to both Uluru and Kata Tjuta. Make sure you don’t lose you pass and it’s a good idea to write your name/where you are staying and maybe even a number just in case you misplace it. Having a car would be helpful to have more freedom to come and go at your leisure. If you’re like us and without a car there were some tour options to optimize your visit – including fully guided or more of a shuttle like service. 

Kata Tjuta, or the Olgas, is the other, less known rock formation in the National Park. Coming here for the sunrise and then hike is the perfect start to a day out here. There’s an hour-long hike through the Walpa Gorgeor approximately a three-hour hike through the Valley of the Winds. The early start helps you beat the heat. 

In the area there are many different types of tours and experiences based on budget and preferences. You can ride a camel or in a helicopter or scenic plane; once in a lifetime dining experiences outdoors; star gazing either on your own or guided; a spectacular light/art installation; bike/Segway/motorcycle tours; and many chances to learn about Aboriginal history and culture. 

Three hours by car from Uluru will get you to Watarrka National Park and the location of Kings Canyon. This could technically be done as day trip, but it would be an extremely long day, and better off done as a little detour on the route from Uluru to Alice Springs (or vice versa). 

As the capital of the Outback, Alice Springs is also a popular and historic stop when in the Northern Territory. It is located directly between Darwin and Adelaide, communicating between the two cities via telegraphs was the reason the town was originally established in 1871. You can visit the historic telegraph station while in Alice Springs. Another awesome activity for your stay in Alice Springs is a sunrise hot air balloon ride. 

How long do you need? 

I think a week in the Outback would be a generous amount of time. We spread our stay to three nights in Uluru (Ayers Rock) and one in Alice Springs. If I had to plan the trip again I would have done two nights in Uluru, one night in Kings Canyon, and one night in Alice Springs with a late flight – if a late flight wasn’t available then stay in Alice Springs for an additional night before traveling onward. So I think your first trip to the Outback can be done in around 5 nights. Obviously, you can pad your trip more in Uluru if you wanted a more relaxing/laid back scheduling. 

How do you get there? 

The quickest and most direct method of getting to the Outback would be via flying. Uluru does have an airport, Ayers Rock Airport, which you can fly directly into. We did this from Sydney and it was a pretty painless flight despite my prior experiences with Jetstar. Our flight price to Ayers Rock was also pretty reasonable at $222 for two people (not including luggage or seat selection). If you want to focus your holiday just in Uluru and surrounding area/day trips you can easily fly back the way you came. When we looked at flights these were a lot more expensive – think over $300 for the one way for one person. This is a pretty significant difference from the flight price to fly in. 

The other option is to fly in or out Ayers Rock one way and the other in/out of Alice Springs. This route will give you more ground to cover and see and maybe get a better deal on the flight. Keep in mind you will have to get between the two locations and this is about a 7-hour drive (with some stops) with zero reception. A bus transfer is a safe option, but will cost you around $150-$180 per person. 

A crazier way of traveling would be to drive on your own. I say this is crazy because the desert is no joke. The terrain is massive and different then what I’m sure you have driven through before. I really was serious that on the road from Uluru to Alice there was zero cell phone service (a.k.a. no way of calling for help). If you want the independence of driving at your own time just be safe and do your research. Also, printing out directions MapQuest style would be useful on your trip. 

To tour or not to tour? 

There are many multi-day and stop tours in the Outback. If I was traveling solo, I would have definitely done one of the tours. The Rock Tour is most well known, but I was also recommended WAYOUTBACK and Groovy Grape Tours.

On my trip we went more at our own relaxed pace rather than a ridged schedule. It was the perfect way for us because we had the freedom and independence to spend our days how we pleased. This is a vacation for my mom after all. 

The Ayers Rock Property 

A monopoly is the correct definition of the accommodation near Uluru/Ayers Rock. However, it is a fair, reasonable, and well-run “monopoly,” and that usually isn’t the case. Everything in the surrounding area of Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is one property – Voyages Ayers Rock Resort. Within the resort you have different types of accommodation – there are campgrounds, apartments, hotel, ultra luxury, etc. 

Lots of options, but they all fall under the one Voyages umbrella. This is helpful because they make it easy to travel around the property with a resort shuttle running every 20 minutes. You aren’t confined to one resort and it’s dining options for example and can explore easily without a car. There’s also a town center on the route. The town center has a few stores, restaurants, a grocery store, and post office. The camel farm is also on the shuttle route and on property. Everything is basically in one circular route and it is convenient. The resort also offers complimentary airport transfers. 

The town center also has a visitors section with all of the tour companies represented. The main company was AATKings. They seemed like the main transport provider and we were happy with all our interactions with their staff (airport transfer, first night dinner experience, tour of Uluru, and transfer to Alice Springs).  

Full list of properties at the resort: 

My Personal Tips

Buy a fly net. Buying one beforehand will leave you looking prepared and less annoyed than everyone else upon arrival. In the town center thankfully the fly nets were a reasonable price at $10 for one or two for $15. They definitely could have charged more and people would have paid out of desperation. I haven’t checked online, but I’m sure Amazon has them. 

Water bottle. Water is the most important while you are in the Outback. They recommend a liter of water per hour. Carry a reusable water bottle around with you at all times and refill throughout the day. At any day tour they make sure to have coolers of water to refill. 

Bug spray. This will also be a lifesaver. I was reading that the Bushman products are a miracle worker so stock up on some before you head out.  

Sunscreen. Wear it. The sun is brutal and you feel it so make sure to protect your skin. In that regards I also think a hatis very useful. Not only do you get extra shade/protection you can use it as a fly swatter when they get really unruly. You can purchase an Outback looking hat in the town center as well. 

Layers. Temperatures can vary significantly from day to evening so if you are planning on staying out make sure to have something warmer. The reverse advice also goes for sunrisers. If you are taking on the three-hour hike in Kata Tjuta make sure you can easily shed some layers, which were originally necessary for the 4:30am wake up call. 

Bookings. With the recent bush fires and overalls tourism down at the moment you can find some really good flight/accommodation deals to travel here. The resort is also very timely and with it so they usually offer deals around holidays. I booked our trip during an Australia Day sale. We went during the middle of the summer and although typically a popular time to travel I don’t think this is the area’s peak tourism time. Be aware of when that is when you book. We had the luxury of being pretty relaxed with our bookings and could even call the day of/a couple of hours in advance to book. During peak season things may sell out or need more notice. 

I’m really glad that I was able to experience the Australian Outback. This was a once in a lifetime trip and I absolutely loved it! If you want something totally different and a unique experience you should really consider traveling out here yourself!

Brava I went to an Opera

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.

Capital City – Wellington

Welly is New Zealand’s current capital. I say current because NZ apparently changes up their capitals and there has been discussion to move the capital once again due to Welly’s unpredictable weather and potential for natural disasters, like earthquakes. It is known to be the windiest city in the world. I have no idea how that would be measured, but that was what I was told and it was extremely windy while I was there.  The weather was probably the only negative I experienced of the city, everything else was lovely. It was definitely more of a “hip” city reminding me of Melbourne or Williamsburg in New York. I spent 3 nights here, but I definitely could see myself coming back and that’s saying a lot with the less than ideal weather. 

Wellington has a massive museum, Te Papa, which has free admission with the exception of some special exhibits. One of the running exhibits was an Alice in Wonderland interactive hall. They did a really great job with it and I didn’t mind paying the $20 for entry. It’s only running through March 8th so if you are making your way to Welly check it out! Otherwise, you can spend a decent amount of time just walking around the free portions of the museum. 

The food scene was incredible. Similar to Melbourne I didn’t have a bad meal or coffee here. There were so many other restaurants/food vendors (small shops without seating where you could order food, like waffles for example, these shops gave off permanent market stall vibes, but a street cart vendor) I would have loved to eaten at. 

Sweet Mother’s Kitchen

This place was recommend to me by the Stray driver and conveniently it was located just around the corner from the hostel I stayed at. It’s a New Orleans’ style restaurant and coffee shop. I made my way here for a breakfast/brunch my last full day in town. Wow it was consistently so busy here and it seemed like a lot of locals/regulars were dining here or grabbing coffee. I sat at the bar and it’s possible I was forgotten about because the service at first wasn’t great. I didn’t have anything else to do so I didn’t mind just people watching/waiting around for a bit. I waited over 20 minutes to order and then it was a total of 45 minutes before I got my coffee. My order was a little off and by the time it reached me it was cold. At that point I wasn’t very happy, but keeping my New Year’s goals in mind I decided how I wanted to react. The main server (possibly manager because she had fantastic customer service) took control and offered me a new meal and for the coffee to be on the house. I really appreciated how she handled the situation and I would say it was an overall positive one. I hate to say it though, but my food wasn’t mouth watering or anything life changing. It was good, but not the best thing I’ve eaten so I wouldn’t come here just for that. It is more so the entire experience – being in a small space, surrounded by people, with funky décor, and nice staff. 

Flamingo Joe’s

This is a totally Instagram decorated spot. Located right on the water the location couldn’t be beat. They also have boozy brunches and craft cocktails. I think this would be a weekend favorite for my friends and me if it was found in New York. I highly recommend coming here for a cocktail before a night out or late night bite. 

Aroy Thai

My last night in Welly I was really craving Thai food. When searching on yelp a “quick service” Thai place came up first on the list. I decided to check it out and was greeted with again an almost full restaurant – and I thought it must be good. I was feeling like I wanted to have meat one more time before diving into veganism so I had chicken pad thai and a side of roti. The roti was amazing, but the sauce was super sweet and they definitely did not give enough of it for the amount of roti. For more you had to pay an additional $1. The pad thai was less than amazing I’ve had a lot better, but I guess for the quick service-dining category it wasn’t horrible. Overall, I was satisfied with my meal.

I only went out my first night in Welly with the group we were traveling with. I had to be up at 6am so I didn’t stay out too late. We spent a good amount of time at Danger Danger. The music and drink specials were nice. I’m not sure how it would compare to other bars, but it was fun time!  

I was planning on maybe doing a hotel while here, but decided it against it and ended up staying in two different hostels. I’ve written a review for them, but there were so many accommodation options in Welly given that it is a major city feel free to explore them.  

I really loved this city and if/when I come back to New Zealand this will be a sure stop. 

Getting Cultured at Lake Aniwhenua

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.

The cutest resident of the Lodge –
She fell asleep eating!

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.

We ate our hangi in traditional
woven baskets

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.

Kohutapu Lodge

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.

Seeing Sylvia

I love seeing musicals, plays, concerts, any type of performance really. So I’ve been on the lookout for interesting performances taking place at the Sydney Opera house. One day I saw my name, well a the more traditional spelling of it, and I was intrigued. What could Sylvia be?

Well it turned out to be a ballet about three “superheroines” aka three total bad ass women. My attention was officially peaked. Then I realized I had also never actually been to a ballet. So I decided I was going. I bought my tickets pretty last minute. It also happened to be the last performance for the tour. The stars were aligned since I was getting back from Brisbane the night before.

I was excited for a “cultured” night out and decided that if I was going to go why not go all in so I bought the themed drinks package. This included a pre-show drink and one in between each part (ballets have three acts) plus sweet treats.

The experience was fantastic! I loved everything about it. The music was phenomenal and the dancing was mesmerizing. I can’t wait to go to another ballet!

Synopsis

Sylvia is an epic journey, combining the stories of three superheroines in all the splendour of Ancient Greece. Join the fierce goddess Artemis, the adventurous nymph Sylvia and the mischievous Psyche as they navigate desire and deception in the realm of short-tempered gods and fantastical creatures.

This exciting revival of a rarely staged ballet was first performed in Paris over 150 years ago. The delightful Delibes score, which drew a rave review from Tchaikovsky, has since attracted some of the world’s leading choreographers, including Ivanov, Ashton, Balanchine and Neumeier.”