The Sydney Opera House, The Rocks, the Botanical Gardens, and West Side Story

This morning we had a delicious breakfast in the hotel. There was the usual breakfast items, but in addition, they featured pork dumplings, stir fried noodles, and congee. There is a large Asian presence in the city. 

After breakfast, we visited the iconic Sydney Opera House for a private tour.  Groundbreaking for this magnificent structure began on March 1, 1959 and was completed in 1973.  The opera house is the home to Opera Australia, The Australian Ballet, the Sydney Theater Company, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, and others.

It was designed by Jorn Utzon, but completed by Peter Hall due to circumstances that overshadowed the building of the opera house, causing Utzon to be forced out and resign. Sadly, he never returned to Australia to see his design completed, but he did live long enough to see it named a UNESCA World Heritage Site.  

Our tour guide explained how the structure was built.  It features a series of over 900,000 precast concrete shells forming the roofs. It is supported on concrete piers that sink at least 82 feet into the ground. The shells are not all white (ice), but also include beige colored ones (cream) so the overall look from the distance is not stark white and instead becomes “ice cream” colored. 

We were very fortunate that there were no rehearsals going on in the different concert theaters so we got to see the Joan Sutherland Theater where Opera Australia as well as the Australian Ballet perform.  Interestingly, the floor where the ballerinas perform is made with a special Tarkett floor which gives slightly so the ballerinas do not injure their legs when they perform. And often, the stage managers mop the floor with classic Coca Cola  to make the surface sticky so the dancers’ shoes will stick better and they won’t slide. 

Beautiful red carpet, a royal color, leads the way to the Sutherland Theater, but into the concert hall, there is a purple carpet leading the way.  Although purple is a royal color as well, it is considered bad luck by many musicians. When Pavorotti came to sing at the concert hall, he refused to go in and so they had to move everything to a different hall, one without any hint of purple. 

There are what look like large petals hanging from the ceiling in the concert hall that can be moved in different ways to reflect sound back to the musicians so they can hear better.  

The opera house is just beautiful and we enjoyed learning all about it from our guide. It is well worth seeing the inside and of course marveling at the iconic outside, as it sits perched on the water. 

We then met another guide who walked us all through The Rocks District. The Rocks is the oldest historical district in Sydney and was originally a slum with very squalid conditions. The bubonic plague broke out at one point causing thousands of homes to be demolished. 

We walked through the “Nurses Walk” which runs into the “Suez Canal”, a narrow passageway where sewage actually flowed through, hence “Sewers” canal.  The canal was later filled in and became a haven for prostitutes and gangsters. Today, the Rocks is a thriving neighborhood with cafes, restaurants, and boutique shops and is lovely to wander through the narrow lanes that wind throughout. 

We enjoyed lunch and then took a long walk through the botanical gardens with another guide who was a First Nations member.  First Nations’ recognises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the sovereign people of the land. She told us about her life and customs, many of which we had already learned about in Port Douglas, but she was very interesting and we enjoyed the talk as well as touring the gardens. 

The heavens opened up at one point with thunder and lightning, so we made our way to the cultural center where she showed us many artifacts indigenous to her culture. 

I want to mention that whenever we take a flight in Australia, begin to listen to a lecture, or begin a tour of an historical area, the Aboriginal people are honored with these words: “We respect and honor Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders past, present, and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions, and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders on this land and we commit to building a brighter future together”. This is usually followed by a moment of silence. 

Allan and I had a quick bite to eat and then we took an Uber over to the Handa Opera House on Sydney Bay to see West Side Story in the open air overlooking the bay. 

We had fabulous center seats since I purchased them months ago, and it was a sold out performance, so I was happy to have purchased tickets so far in advance. 

It was a beautiful moonlit night with mild temperatures, although we were dressed warmly which we appreciated as the evening wore on and the breeze over the water picked up. 

The sets were amazing, the singers spectacular, and the dancing choreography was unbelievable. The actor who sang Tony’s part was our favorite. His voice was beautiful as he sang Maria. Fireworks went off at one point during the show which was wonderful!  

We had purchased platinum club tickets for intermission which was to include drinks and appetizers, but that was a waste of money. The wine was awful and we were only offered two measley appetizers along with a cookie. 

The show was well worth the price and we Ubered back to the hotel with the iconic tunes to the musical swirling around in our heads until we climbed into bed. 

It was a fabulous day. 

Flying into Sydney

Sydney’s beautiful skyscrapers

The iconic bridge

Inside the opera house

An amazing architectural feat

The ice and cream colors

The purple carpet

Spectacular!

Botanical gardens

Art museum. ….Michael Angelo??? Too funny!

The stage

A friend took this photo. Gorgeous!

Port Douglas to Sydney

Nothing was planned this morning before our flight to Sydney so we slept in and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast.

We checked out of our hotel and said goodbye to Port Douglas – the gateway to two UNESCO World Heritage natural wonders – the Great Barrier Reef and the beautiful and lush Daintree Rainforest. So glad we were able to experience both.

Had a great Qantas flight to Sydney, a short orientation briefing when we arrived at our hotel, and then Allan and I had some Chinese dumplings and soup and it was off to bed.

The streets in Sydney were bustling with city night life and we are right in the middle of it all – staying in a hotel at World Square. Can’t wait to experience it all tomorrow.

Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures

First let me say that yesterday, some of the seasoned snorklers decided not to go out because the water was too rough, so now I’m really proud of myself that I did the snorkling for the first time in not the greatest of conditions!

We woke up this morning to rain, which was predicted for the whole day. Allan and I were well prepared with rain jackets and rain pants from REI. Everyone was impressed that I kept my pocketbook in a jumbo ziplok bag to keep it from getting soaked. We also wore our waterproof shoes so we stayed dry for the tour to Hartley’s Crocodile Adventures, which sounded rather hokey, but actually, was a wonderful opportunity to see many of Australia’s wildlife up close and personal. 

First stop was a boat ride around Hartley’s lagoon where the captain of the boat dangled chicken carcasses periodically and we watched as the crocodiles came up and out of the water to snatch the chicken off the line. The captain also tapped his long pole on the side of the boat which alerted the crocs to feeding time. 

Interestingly, in Queensland in the fishing areas, it is no longer allowed to tap on anything in order to see the crocodiles  This law came about after a man who was fishing tapped his pipe on the side of the boat to empty it and a crocodile dove out of the water and over his boat. Fortunately, the fisherman wasn’t harmed. 

After seeing the crocs, we walked all around the park seeing cassowaries, wombats, emus, kangaroos, wallabies, and we even had an opportunity to feed the kangaroos and to pet a koala.  It was really amazing seeing the animals and birds close up. Some of the animals are dangerous to humans so you have to be very careful and respectful of the fences. 

We had lunch at Hemingway’s Brewery which was delicious. Interestingly, it’s very hard to get a nice dark ale anywhere. Australians prefer the lighter beers, so Allan and I opted for a Shiraz instead. 

Dinner was a BBQ but it was still a tad rainy so we ate indoors. Nice selection of food and then we bid everyone good night and went back to our rooms. On the way back, we passed the lily pad pond by the pool. Beautiful lilies open up each evening and we can hear the frogs chirping when we went by. I was snow to get a photo of one of the frogs, but on closer inspection…. Well…. You draw your own conclusion from the pic.

Tomorrow we fly to Sydney.

On the boat going through the lagoon

Koala

Redlegged Padimelon

Cassowary

Wombat

I’m feeding a little joey

Our group

Photo op with a real koala named Crumbles.

The pond at our resort. Love is in the air!

The Great Barrier Reef


First of all, there are two posts about Port Douglas on two different days, so hopefully you read both of them.

Also…I forgot to mention that our guide from yesterday, Lync, told us that the Australian zookeeper and conservationist Steve Irwin was killed near where we were having our talk. He was killed by a stingray while filming in 2006. He had decided to snorkel in shallow waters when a stingray’s barb penetrated his chest causing massive trauma. People need to obey the signs and warnings around the reefs and beaches. It is serious. He wasn’t wearing protective gear at the time, which sadly would have saved his life. 

After breakfast, we boarded a coach and spent the entire day aboard a boat that took us out to three different sites in the Great Barrier Reef to snorkel and for those who had a certificate, to scuba dive. 

It was rainy today and the wind had picked up to about 30 miles an hour, so it was rough waters as we traveled deep into the reef. I had never snorkeled, but I was determined to give it a try. 

They tied the boat onto a massive concrete block that sits down on the ocean floor, since they can’t lay anchor into the reef. Before anyone could get into snorkel gear, they gave us the safety instructions. By the time they were done, I was thinking to myself, maybe I don’t want to do this. The water is rough with waves bouncing up and down, and keeping the snorkel above water with the waves didn’t sound feasible. 

I went down below to the first deck of the boat with all the snorkelers, and we were handed our snorkel gear. First, we had to don a full Lycra body suit that covered us from head to toe since the stingrays’ barbs can be lethal as I told you above. Then we were given a snorkel and fins and I was assigned to one of the crew since I was a newbie. 

I got into the water and tried to form a seal around the mouthpiece, but to no avail. The waves were crashing into me and I was not having fun. Finally the crew guy said don’t use the snorkel – just hold your breath and put your head down. I still had the mask on so that’s what I did!  WOW!!!!  What a glorious sight. The reef is spectacular and I could see little fish floating under me and beautiful sealife growing out of the reef. It was magnificent. 

I stayed out for a while and then told the crew guy I was done!  Everyone said this was not the weather to learn how to snorkel in, but they were all cheering that I did it!  I was proud of myself too. It was not the calm waters of the Caribbean for sure.

We had lunch on the boat and the boat stopped at two other sites for those who wanted to continue snorkeling. I was done and Susan helped me get out of my Lycra suit and I changed back into my clothes. 

The waters were even rougher going back to port and the rain was pouring down. Susan asked if Allan and I would host a birthday party for one of our fellow travelers in our room and of course we said yes. So at 6 everyone came with their glasses of wine and whatever snacks they had to share and we all sat around talking and wishing our fellow traveler happy birthday. 

Susan then shared with us that just last week on an OAT trip to the reef, a traveler almost died while snorkeling. She still is in intensive care. Yikes!!! I might not have gone in if I knew that beforehand. 

Everyone stayed talking and when they finally went back to their own rooms, Allan and I walked to the restaurant in the pouring rain only to find out it was closed. So…we ate cheese and crackers in our room and of course drank some wine as well. 

In the past two days I’ve licked a green ant and survived snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef!!  Life is good!

How the heck does this thing go on!!!!

Ok…just about all set

Got my fins and snorkle! Ready as I’ll ever be.

I’m going in!!!! See ya!

And off I go!!

Looking down under with my crew guy.

beautiful waters

Our Great Barrier Reef boat

Port Douglas continued

After breakfast and a leisurely morning, we left at 9:30 and boarded our coach for the drive to Cooya Beach.  We were greeted by our guide Lync who told us about the fishing and gathering ways of his family and the region.  

He guided us to a small tree area and before he started his talk, he lit paperbark and waved it around all of us. This is called a smoking ceremony and it is an ancient as well as a contemporary custom among some Aboriginal Australians. The smoke is believed to have both spiritual and physical cleansing properties, as well as the ability to ward off bad spirits. Our guide said it was to protect us from anything bad happening to us. 

We stood under a canopy of trees and he said that sometimes snakes can drop from the trees. Fortunately, none came down while we were there. 

He showed us turtle shells from turtles that were large enough to feed hundreds people. He also showed us boomerangs with different shapes and different purposes. Some boomerangs are to throw at birds to knock them down as they were flying, while other boomerangs are used to break the legs of a kangaroo to fell them.

We enjoyed homemade bread with sugar cane syrup and butter and he cracked open a coconut shell and we all drank from the shell and savored the milk.

We walked down to the beach. You have to be cognizant of crocodiles and you have to stay near the foliage and not go by the water’s edge.  The water is also filled with jellyfish that have deadly stingers. 

He picked leaves from a plant and rinsed them in the water and we put it on our skin. It is used as a bandage or as a cooling agent in warm weather. He also picked flowers and we tasted them and Lync said they are used in salads. 

Lync reached into a Yangga nest (green ants) and had many crawling on his hand.  These ants have medicinal purposes and are used to combat coughs and flu. You can eat them or crush them and then inhale their vapor which smelled like Vicks vapor rub. 

He grabbed each ant by the back part so those who wanted to (of course I did) could grasp the ant by the head and then lick the back part.  It tasted like lemon.

Lync played the Didgeridoo for us and then we all had a lesson in spear throwing which is how they catch their fish. Some natives are able to throw a spear the length of a football field. 

His family paints burner beans and they make them into trinkets for sale so I purchased one that I’ll make into a slide. Burner beans are rubbed on a flat stone to make a spark to start a fire. 

We drove to Mossman Gorge, the  gateway to the Daintree Rainforest region. This is the oldest rainforest in the world, and home to the  Kuku Yulanji people for more than 50,000 years. 

We met with a local Kuku Yalanji and learned about his culture. Before we began, we had another smoking ceremony. We walked around in a circle around a fire that was burning paperbark and we all got close to the smoke to inhale it so it would protect us and drive away the evil spirits. Our guide chanted while we walked. 

Afterwards he told us about his customs and how some of the local plants are used. It was very interesting. 

We enjoyed lunch and then went on a nature hike through the lush rainforest. Susan pointed out all of the interesting vines and trees along the way. We arrived at the rocky fast flowing water where kids were swimming. They were stupid because there were signs all over saying you cold not swim today because it was too dangerous. Susan said people do not listen to the warnings and some sadly drown. 

Before dinner, we meet with a marine biologist who talked about the Great Barrier Reef and coral bleaching. 

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the most complex natural phenomena on earth.  It is composed of almost 3,000 individual reefs and it is so large it can be seen from outer space. 

The biologist said the reef is composed of and built by billions of tiny organisms, known as coralpolyps. However, climate change, overfishing, and cyclones, among other things, have created lasting damage and has contributed to coral bleaching. 

When the water is too warm, corals expel algae that lives within their tissue. This causes the coral to become white. It isn’t dead and can possibly survive until conditions get better.  But if the detrimental conditions continue, the coral will continue to be under stress, and can die.  In 2020, a study found that the Great Barrier Reef has lost more than half of its corals since 1995 due to warmer seas driven by climate change. 

It can take decades for coral to recover from a bleaching event so it is vital that these events are few and far between. 

After listening to the biologist, we went for dinner and then went back to our rooms to prepare for our outing tomorrow – snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef. 

Turtle shell

Sawfish

Didgeridoo

Mother of pearl shell they use to make buttons out of

Delicious bread with butter and sugar cane syrup

Medicinal plant leaf

Eating a flower

Licking the end of the green ant

Spear throwing

My necklace slide to be

Smoking ceremony

A local Kuku Yalanji showing us his traditions. The large wooden piece on the right is used for protection if someone tries to injure you, for rain protection when placed on your head, for digging in the ground, for paddling when in the water, for carrying a child, and for carrying food etc. Very versatile.

The rainforest vines and foliage

We crossed a suspension bridge

Spotted a kookaburra

Rapids in the rainforest

Port Douglas

We had a delicious breakfast this morning. I am so hooked on the thick multigrain bread smeared with peanut butter and jam. So delicious! After breakfast we boarded the bus to take us to the airport.  Susan changed our flight and that’s why we were up so early. We flew directly to Cairns instead of first flying to Sydney. That was great news.  The only disappointing thing was, because of the change, we didn’t have the morning free, so we couldn’t take the helicopter ride over Uluru. 

It was such a wonderful experience being in central Australia – camping in the Outback  and learning so much about the Aborigines. We all said a fond palya as we left to go to the airport.  

 Bulletin:   I apparently have a McDonald’s foodie reputation with the group. Susan announced on the bus what restaurants would be in the airport when we landed and then added “And sorry Irene. No McDonald’s”!  The whole bus said. “Irene – Oh no!!!!”  Too funny!!

We had a wonderful flight. We had a nice sandwich and drink en route and then we met our bus driver who took us to pick up wine and snacks and then we went on to Port Douglas and the Oaks Resort Hotel. 

On the way, we drove along the coast and Susan said you can’t swim wherever you’d like because of sharks and crocodiles. The beaches have lifeguards that cull the water within the roped area everyday to make sure the swimmers will be safe. 

We also observed washed out areas and huge boulders that had traveled down the mountain side. Apparently there was a cyclone that came through in December and did quite a lot of flooding damage to the area.

We arrived at our hotel and checked into a  lovely suite…sitting area, large bedroom, and two nice patios off both the living room and bedroom. We even have a washer and dryer in our suite that Susan requested for us since we are such frequent OAT/Grand Circle travelers. This is our ninth trip! 

The best part is…we no longer need to wear our fly nets. No black flies here!!!  It’s about 80 degrees outside and we can take advantage of the pool if we’d like. 

Since today was a travel day, we had a free evening. We were invited to help celebrate one of our fellow traveler’s birthday in their room at 6 pm and then we ordered pizza at the restaurant and sat and laughed and chatted with some of the other travelers and then we went to bed. Busy day tomorrow. 

Palya Uluru

On our way to Port Douglas

Uluru

This morning we again had an early wake-up call to catch the sunrise at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National park. We wanted to watch the sunrise as it cast its rays onto Uluru, also known as Ayers Rock. Uluru is a large sandstone monolith that is sacred to the Aborigines. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site twice over and is only one of a few dozen sites that has achieved that status in the world. It was first recognized in 1987 for its rare plant life, geological formations, and its animals. And then in 1994 it received its second award for “the unique relationship between the natural environment and the belief system of the Aborigines, one of the oldest societies on earth.”

Uluru is noted for appearing to change color at different times of the day and year, most notably when it glows red at dawn and sunset.

As we entered the park to see the sunrise, Susan told us to say the word palya which means hello in the Aborigine language. It is a form of respect to the sacred monolith. Interestingly, the word also means goodbye, finish, and thank you.

Susan and Tristan arranged for us to have coffee, tea, and biscuits when we arrived at the park which we enjoyed in the darkness, and then we walked to one of the viewing platforms to wait for the sunrise.

It was dark and serene, and a few people had already arrived to witness the event. We stood quietly and watched as the sun started to emerge from the horizon and began to cast its colors and shadows on Uluru.

And what a sight it was!! The pictures do not do it justice. We all just kept taking pic after pic to capture the changing colors of the rock.

After sunrise, we went back to the resort and had breakfast and then we were out once again to visit the National Park and Kata Tjuta . While Uluru is the centerpiece of the national park, Kata Tjuṯa, meaning many heads, is sacred to the local Aboriginal Anangu people, who have inhabited the area for more than 22,000 years. It is an important focus of their spiritual life. It includes spectacular rock formations and we were able to walk to the gap area that made for a great photo op.

The walk wasn’t easy as the rocks and uneven stones made for difficult footing, but we persevered and Susan pointed out interesting points along the way.

As we boarded our coach to return for lunch, Susan passed out Tim Tam, a favorite chocolate cookie that the Australians love. It was very good, but very sweet.

After lunch we took an impromptu tour back at Uluru, getting up close and personal to the rock. First we visited the Cultural Center, which according to the brochure, “promises a warm welcome from the Anangu, the traditional owners of Uluru. It introduces visitors to Tjukurpa, which is the foundation of Aboriginal culture in the region and the traditional law that guides daily life for the Anangu people.” It was very interesting to learn the ways of these people.

After the visit to the center, we once again visited Uluru and Tristan told us many of the stories and legends of the different markings on the rock. He took us to a cave where paintings and markings from thousands of years ago were still present. We walked to a waterhole which is sometimes dry but today was beautiful with the water sparkling in the sun. It is a sacred area and Tristan asked us to meditate in silence for a few minutes as we gazed into the water.

Sunset was quickly approaching, but we made one more stop to a place where we could touch Uluru. There are places around the rock that the Anangu people have asked visitors not to photograph because of its sacredness, so of course we all complied. But we were able to touch the rock in a designated area. Tristan had the idea to photograph our shadows on the wall which made for a great pic.

We then had a lovely champagne party at sunset, with cheese and crackers as we watched the sun set and cast colors and shadows, just like sunrise, onto Uluru.

We left after the sunset and Allan and I and one of our friends Sharon went to dinner at a local pub. Tristan drove us over and then joined us for a soda. When we arrived, Allan and I selected our meat (2 lamb chops) and then we went over to the BBQ area and I grilled them myself. We also had unlimited salad bar to go with the meat.

Unfortunately, the lamb was fatty and very tough. We couldn’t even cut it no less eat it. We had the salad bar but we didn’t have the beer we were hoping for since they didn’t have any dark beer available.

We enjoyed talking with Tristan and Sharon and then Allan, Sharon, and I caught the shuttle back to our hotel in the resort to pack for our flight in the morning.

Beginning of sunrise

Uluru as the sun rose

The rocky path at Kata Tjuṯa

Kata Tjuṯa

Kata Tjuṯa

Kata Tjuṯa

One of the caves of Uluru.

Sunset party

Uluru at sunset

Our shadows on Uluru

Touching Uluru

Allan and me

Grilling lamb chops at the Outback pub.

The Southern Cross in the night sky

Kings Canyon

I’m a bit behind in my postings since I couldn’t post in the Outback, so I might be adding two days of postings today…one after the other… if I get back to the hotel in time tonight, so be on the lookout for yesterday’s and hopefully today’s adventures.

There are a few more things I want to say about our Outback camping adventure in this post.

First of all, the experience was almost spiritual. Wandering the camp with only a headlamp to illuminate the way and being under the canopy of stars, makes you realize how insignificant you are in this world. 

We were sitting around the campfire, and most everyone had already gone to their tent or swag, only Tristan and Jessie were still at the fire. When I got up to leave they all said goodnight Irene.  I said, you both are too young to know this, but there is a song entitled Goodnight Irene, and then I sang it softly for them. They said…that was just lovely. I thanked them and then I walked on to gather pillow and blanket for my evening under the stars. 

And the only other comment I’d like to make about our camping is…they need to install at least one mirror in the campground.  I took my shower at night… Of course no hair dryers, so in the morning my hair was a look… But not a good one. It would have been helpful to be able to tame my tresses with the help of a mirror. Our guide said no one wants to see what they look like after spending a night in the camp and I agree.. but I told her that some people might need eye drops and without the aid of a mirror, it would be difficult. She said good point. I never thought about that. So maybe there will be one mirror installed in the future.  You’re welcome future Outback campers!  

We had traveled the Stuart highway to arrive at our campgrounds, tracing the route forged by Scotsman John Stuart who managed to traverse Australia from north to south. The highway stretches almost 2,000 miles from Adelaide to Darwin. When traveling this road, you need to make sure you have plenty of water with you since if your vehicle breaks down, there’s nothing around for miles.  A lot of the road as I mentioned yesterday is dirt, with deep ruts. 

There is a service called the Royal Flying Doctor Service that uses the highway as an emergency landing strip and sections of the highway are used for that specific purpose. This is a service that provides emergency and primary care to people living in the remote areas of Australia. 

Camels and kangaroos can be seen crossing the road although we never saw any. The landscape was breathtaking, changing every few hundred miles. 

Camels you say?  That story began in the 1800’s when the early settlers came to realize that horses could not be relied upon to transverse the unforgiving  terrain, since water was not readily available. Hence the introduction of a few camels. The camels of course mated and eventually made their way deep into the Outback. Today, more than 500,000 to 1,000,000 feral camels roam the area. 

So now, I’ll talk about today’s adventure. 

We were again up bright and early and had breakfast at 5 and left the camp site before sunrise to drive to Kings Canyon. We wanted to take advantage of the cool morning for our three hour hike through the canyon. 

Tristan and Susan were adamant about the amount of water we needed to carry with us. They weren’t being annoying… It is actually the law and you can be fined if the rangers catch you without the required amount of water on your person. Some of the folks opted to do the very challenging hike but because of my wonky foot, Allan and I joined the group that went through the lower canyon rather than hiking the more challenging upward climb. 

Tristan added electrolyte powder to all of our  1.5 liter bottles. We were required to take one bottle for our hike, whereas the others needed two 1.5 liter bottles. People die every year in the canyon because of dehydration or from just being stupid and not walking on the designated paths. There are emergency phones along the way.  You press a button and a ranger will answer and you tell him where you are and what the emergency is. Then help is on the way. 

Our hike was still very challenging as we went over rocks and stones and we had to be careful of our footing.  But the scenery was so worth it as you will see in the photos. It was breathtaking gazing up at the canyon walls.  

After our hike, we set off for a picnic lunch at the Curtis Springs Station. On the way, we again stopped at the bushes along the way to pee, but I decided to wait for the next opportunity, which was a long hole toilet. It is called that because you can’t flush it. You do your business and everything just goes down and disappears into a long hole that goes God knows where. You have to be careful that you don’t drop your glasses or camera because…they are gone baby gone !  (And I’m sure if that happened you would say Aww Sh!t… pun intended!). 

At the toilet, I met an Aborigine family. I tried to make conversation, but they just nodded and said hello and that was it. My guide said that the Aborigines are very shy and do not look you in the eye. As of 2021, there were 983,700 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, representing 3.8% of the total Australian population.  Their culture is so interesting and I strongly recommend you research on your own. 

They believe the grounds at many of the sites we have and  will still visit, are sacred and should be treated as such. 

We arrived at our hotel which is really a resort. We all took showers to wash away the Outback and then met for a delicious dinner in the restaurant. 

After dinner Allan and I did our laundry. Washer and dryer was free as was the laundry detergent. While there, we met a lovely couple from India that were with a different tour group, basically following the same route we were taking. We chatted till our laundry was finished and the lady and man said they wished we were both traveling together. Such a nice sentiment. 

sunrise at Kings Canyon

Emergency call box

My bottle of electrolyte water

Beautiful scenery

Looking at the canyon walls

The salt flats

Our first glimpse of Uluru… Ayer’s Rock

The Outback

What an amazing day we had today!!! 

Breakfast was delicious at the hotel and then off we went to Simpsons Gap in the West MacDonald mountain range. The scenery was beautiful and we even spotted a wallaby looking down at us. 

Then it was a four hour drive to the Outback over a very rough unpaved road. Our driver had to get out and switch to 4-wheel drive to traverse the road.  We had stops along the way, even having a pee break where we all found a bush of our own and squated down, since there is literally nothing around for miles and miles. 

The big problem with the Outback is the black flies. They are all over no matter where you go. The flies don’t bite but they are always buzzing around your face and are really annoying. Thankfully we have the fly nets that go over our hats and they work great.  Fortunately, when the sun sets, the flies are gone. 

Our guides provided a delicious lunch for us along the way and then we stopped and we all worked together to collect wood for our camping experience. Allan helped cut the wood into the pieces needed for both the main fire pit and for the shower waters that are heated by firewood to keep the water in the tank hot. 

We arrived at our campsite and were greeted by Jen and Jessie, the camp hosts.  Allan got the fires started and we all helped the hosts whenever they needed it. We were told that we would be washing our own plates, glasses, and silverware in the sink which would be filled with hot water from the stove. Everyone works together. 

Susan took us on an orientation walk of the camp grounds. Everyone was assigned a tent and if we wanted to, we could sleep under the stars in a swag, using the tent to store our knapsacks.  She showed us the shower facilities. There were two showers, and you pull a chain across the path to the shower that says “Occupied” when you wanted to take a shower. The two toilets are also on the path and you again pull the chain across the path to let people know the toilet is in use. You were able to sit on the ‘throne’ and look out into the wilderness and when showering, you could do the same.

We had some wine and some cheese appetizers and the hosts came around with grilled kangaroo as well as camel burgers. The burgers were really good. 

We watched the sunset and then we all enjoyed a delicious BBQ with roasted potatoes, sausages, beef steak, and salad. 

After we helped clear and wash the dishes, three people took showers… Of course I was one of them. I wanted to experience showering under the stars. The night wasn’t too cold and the water was nice and hot since the fire had been going for quite awhile. The camp provided the towels, washcloths, and soap, shampoo, and conditioner.  

We were given head lamps since there is not much lighting to speak of around the grounds. There are only some solar lights along the pathways. These paths go to the cabins and also to the swag platforms, as well as to the bathroom facilities, but you have to be very careful as there are ruts and stones along the way. 

We sat around the fire for awhile and then Allan and I pulled the blankets from our tent along with the pillows, and we headed to our platform and crawled into our swags. 

I can’t begin to tell you how unbelievably magnificent the starry sky was. Of course since we are in Australia, we were seeing a different starry sky then what we normally see. The Southern Cross was very visible and the sky was cloudless and the stars twinkled non-stop all night long. 

We were comfy warm – even when the wind kicked up a bit. It was lovely being all snuggled in the swag, with the wind blowing gently across our faces. I had a great night’s sleep and we were up at 5 for breakfast, which was toast with peanut butter and jam, cheesey muffins, and an assortment of cereals.  

We stripped our bedding and brought it to the kitchen area and then bid goodbye to the camp staff as we went off for our hike in Kings Canyon. We needed to get an early start as the weather gets hot and it’s better to hike before the sun starts beating down. 

Camping in the Outback was amazing and it was awesome to eat, shower, and sleep under the stars.  Looking up at the vast and starry sky, it makes you really appreciate just being alive. 

Walking through the National Park

We spied a wallaby

The rock formations were magnificent

Cutting wood on the way to our camping site. (When we were done, we all found a private little bush to pee behind. Could not leave any tissue paper behind.)

We all wore gloves and helped collect wood. Had to make sure no termites. Allan helped saw the larger pieces.

Everyone helped to load the wood into our vehicle.

We arrived at our camping site. It definitely was but glamping!!! Here’s where we enjoyed dinner under the stars.

We each had a tent to store our overnight bag.

The outside of the tents

The sleeping platforms for the swags. The swags are stored inside.

The wood burning heater for hot water for the shower. Allan was helpful getting the fire started.

The shower. The toilet area had flushing toilet as well as a sink. I didn’t take a photo but it looked just like the shower area.

We had some appetizers while we waited for the sun to set.

Allan and I connected wood and Allan for the blaze roaring. Then someone else was assigned to keep it going by adding more wood.

One of our travelers holding kangaroo meat. It was delicious!

One of the people who run the camp. He cooked camel burgers for us to try. Delicious!!!

Camel meat

The beginning of the glow of sunset

Sunset.

Our driver Tristan helping to cook our dinner

Australian BBQ!!! Glad they fired up the barbie!

Tucked into my swag all cozy and warm.

The starry sky. This photo doesn’t come close to what the sky actuallylooked like.

Alice Springs

Our box breakfast

This morning we were up very early to leave the hotel at five to arrive at the airport for our first flight to Sydney and then to continue on to our next flight to Alice Springs. We were given a box breakfast since the hotel cafeteria would be closed. It contained milk, a cereal that was very tasty, orange juice, and an oat bar. The whole meal was very satisfying. 

We arrived at the airport and Susan our guide was very efficient and had us all checked in through security, and boarding the plane in record time. Qantas is VERY strict about luggage weight and you cannot go over the limit even by an ounce, so we all made sure we were well within the limit.  

On the plane to Sydney we were served a delicious breakfast sandwich and a beverage. 

The flight was only about an hour or so and then we boarded our next flight to Alice Springs which was about a 3 hour flight. We  were served a nice snack and beverage. 

We had already been advised to bring a hat and mosquito netting to put over it because of the flies, and they weren’t kidding. The minute we deplaned, the flies were buzzing around our faces. They don’t bite…they are just annoying. 

We picked up our luggage and then walked to meet our driver and guide Tristan who we will be with during our time here. 

Tristan is a certified guide who will oversee our Outback camping experience and it is vital that we pay attention to both him and Susan since the Outback can be a dangerous  place. People die each year because of dehydration and the Australian government has instituted strict rules about the amount of water that you must carry when hiking in the Outback. 

The vehicle that will be ferrying us around has large wheels for the terrain as well as a huge water container that will be filled each day for our use. It has a trailer on the back for our luggage. 

Our first stop was the Alice Springs Telegraph Station that was established in 1871 to relay messages between Darwin and Adelaide along the telegraph line. Prior to the line, a message to England would travel by boat and take 3-4 months each way. After the telegraph was built, Morse code messages could arrive in London as quickly as five hours. In today’s standards that seems unbelievably slow, but back then, it was a revolutionary. 

The Telegraph Station operated for 60 years, after which time the buildings served as a school and ‘Bungalow’ for Aboriginal children from 1946 to 1972. These children came to be known as “The Stolen Generation” who were forcibly removed from their families by the government supposedly for the children’s assimilation into white society and for their welfare. The Anglican Church has recently apologized for its compliance in these policies.

After hearing the history of the site, we walked around and then had lunch. Fans were going to keep the flies at bay, but we were lucky since there was a lovely breeze so we ate outdoors without a problem. I tried ginger beer which was quite delicious. 

While walking around the grounds we spied a very colorful bird and Susan told us it was a galah.  

The next stop was the Alice Springs School of the Air. This school caters to primary and early secondary education for children in remote Outback areas or places throughout Australia where the school age population is too small to warrant a conventional school.  

It was founded in 1951 by Adelaide Miethke and the schooling was originally conducted via radio. Of course now with technology, the students have computers and internet connections for their schooling. 

Each student had direct contact with a teacher and spends about one hour receiving their lessons and the rest of the time is spent on homework and working on the assignments the teacher has assigned. The school provides all the equipment needed for the students and since it is a public school, it does not cost the families much money to maintain the equipment and for the required school fees.  It is mandatory that each student have a tutor who goes through training at the school. It can be a parent or the parents sometimes hire a governess to live with them to aid in the schooling. Years ago, learning packets were mailed each month in mail bags to the children for their use, but now, everything is delivered via the internet.  

Since the children are isolated, the School of Air tries to socialize these children as well, so they are required to get together 3-4 times a year, attending the actual school for a week and meeting with the teachers and classmates who they only had been seeing via computer each day. 

At present, there are about 150-170 students enrolled. The school has a classroom with a green screen and cameras, and the children can see each other as they interact with the teacher during the live lesson, asking and answering questions by pushing a button on their computers. The children are schooled in the basics as well as music, art, language (last year they learned Japanese) and we even watched a lesson that taught the children how to hold and swing a baseball bat for their sports curriculum requirement. 

It is an amazing concept and according to studies, these children fare equally (and most times better) scholastically than their peers who attend conventional schools. 

We bid farewell to the school and drove to the Anzac Hill Memorial dedicated to all those members of the armed services who gave their lives in the wars that Australia participated in through the years. Anzak Day, similar to our Veterans Day, is celebrated on April 25. 

Before going to our hotel for the evening, we stopped at a convenience store to get some supplies for our overnight tomorrow in the Outback. We picked up wine, snacks, and depending on what hike we would be taking in the Outback, the mandatory required water supply.

Tristan and Susan, being trained in Outback regulations, will be the ones to determine who in our group would be eligible to take the 3 hour early morning hike the morning after our Outback overnight. The terrain is risky, rocky, and at times, the only way to navigate the climb is by crawling on hands and knees. Tristan would be guiding the ones who would be able to hike, making sure of their safety. Susan will be taking the others on an easier hike into the canyon.  Those people will also be required to take sufficient water with them. 

Each year, people die of dehydration because they do not understand how hot and dry the air is and how quickly things can go south if not well prepared. 

Because of my wonky foot, I would not be allowed on the more dangerous hike, which is fine with me as I’m not sure even with a good foot it would have been something I would have undertaken.  Allan and I will be content to hike the flat paths through the lower canyon. 

We arrived at our hotel and we were warned not to travel alone outside, as the area recently has been experiencing robberies by young gangs. As a matter of fact, there were riots recently because the mayor had instituted a curfew for kids and they were not allowed out on the streets after 6 pm. The kids took to the streets in protest so the curfew was lifted. 

We felt completely safe, however, and we dined in the restaurant at the hotel and had a delicious meal with a complimentary glass of wine. The hotel has a swimming pool as well as a casino. 

Then it was back to our rooms to pack our knapsacks with what we will need for our overnight under the stars.  We will not have access to our other luggage.  

The journey tomorrow will be long as we will be traveling deep into the Outback for our adventure. 

Replica of one of the first telegraph poles.

Our Outback vehicle

The latest fashion statement! Mosquito netting

Aznak hill