Last month I went home with Zac for a weekend to Ballarat. It was about an hour and a half by train from Melbourne and was a nice getaway from the city for the weekend. His family was lovely and it was nice to have a home-cooked meal for a change, too. I think it's definitely worth visiting the smaller, lesser known cities in the country you're studying in because there is still a lot to take away from those cities, too, in addition to the well-known cities.
The Ballarat Gold Rush!
Ballarat played a big part in the Victorian Gold Rush back in the 1850's and Ballarat has a well-known outside museum called Sovereign Hill which recreates the Gold Rush era. It's a big tourist attraction for the city.
While I didn't have the chance to go there, the highlight of the weekend was definitely going to the Ballarat Wildlife Park. I was able to pet multiple kangaroos, an emu, a koala and a snake. I was able to essentially see all of the Australian wildlife (finally) in one place!
At first, the kangaroos seemed really scary - some were pretty big!! I didn't have food to give them, so once I went near them and they figured out I had no food, they lost interest and laid back down. Some made some really cute faces. There were a few joeys and we came across one kangaroo with a joey in its pouch. It was actually pretty scary looking, because just the tail and one foot was hanging out of the pouch.
When we were looking at the koalas, there was one that had a little baby koala attached to its front. It's the same way monkeys carry their babies - it was so cute!
And of course the emu. I was afraid to touch it at first because their beaks look extremely sharp and I didn't feel like getting pecked! But once Zac pet one, I pet it and it was fine. Apparently emus make a deep sound, almost like drums, when they're walking around. It was pretty cool, but pretty weird, too! It wasn't a sound I expected them to make.
Casually Playing UNO... At the Bar
Of course, I had to experience the Ballarat nightlife. So we went to one of the karaoke bars to meet up with some of Zac's friends on Saturday night. By the end of the night, hard core games of UNO were being played... at the bar. I'm pretty sure I can say that is both the first and last time I will ever see or take part in a game of UNO at a bar.
All in all, it was an interesting weekend and I'm happy I made the trip out to Ballarat! Below are a few more pictures from the park!
I don't think anyone can disagree with the fact that the best part about studying abroad is the abroad part and the opportunity to see more of the country you're studying in or neighbouring countries. This past weekend I embarked on my first extended Australian trip to the Northern Territory and outback Australia. To sum up the trip in one word - incredible.
Using budget airline Tiger Airways, three other girls and I were able to get a relatively cheap flight to Alice Springs. We then bought a discounted three day tour with The Rock Tour. While food was fairly expensive in the city, it was still a relatively inexpensive trip.
Before arriving, I didn't quite know what to expect out of the city. While it was very flat, there were still surprisingly quite a few shops/stores. And it was sunny and hot - a nice change from the winterish Melbourne weather. There also seemed to be lots of jobs available - people come and go and work while they stay before moving on to the next place on their list. It's a very laid back city and everyone was friendly. Surprisingly, I didn't mean a single American the whole trip - I'm usually never the only one! There were heaps of English and German folks though, especially on our tour.
While in town we checked out the Botanical Gardens and went atop Anzac hill to watch the sunset over Alice Springs. It was so pretty!
The Rock Tour.
My main reason for wanting to go out to Alice Springs was to check out Ayer's Rock (Uluru). With the tour, 19 of us were able to hike King's Canyon, walk through Kata Tjuta and do a base walk of Uluru, viewing it at both sunrise and sunset. While parts of the hikes were really strenuous in the heat, it was good fun. It was exactly how I pictured the desert to look - dry with lots of red sand. I was bummed that we didn't see much wildlife, but I still have time!
King's Canyon was pretty neat - we started the hike going up a hill called Heart Attack Hill. The name suited it - after getting to the top with my 7.5kg backpack on, I wanted to die. That was the worst part though and from there on, it got better. There was an amazing echo throughout the canyon and we were able to see fossilised ripples of water from when the area was once covered by water. Our guide also told us that a species of fern extremely close to a species found in Darwin can be found in the canyon, indicating the rainforest once extended all the way down from Darwin to King's Canyon - really amazing since it's so far away!
The first night, we stopped on the side of the road to get firewood and then drove off to our campsite in a remote area for the night. No bathrooms or running water. The guys quickly got a campfire going and we laid out our swags around the fire. Basically, a swag is like a heavy duty sleeping bag with a cushion at the bottom. Each side zips up to the top where there is a "monster flap" as our guide called it that we could put over our faces while sleeping to attempt to keep "monsters" away. Essentially, anything could crawl in while I slept. But it was okay though, since when I looked up, I could see millions of stars and the Milky Way Galaxy. Our group also took turns helping to cook dinner using coals from the fire!
The second night I even saw two shooting stars. It was just amazing. It was the first time I've ever slept outside in the open like that and it was so much better than I anticipated.
We also did a hike through Kata Tjuta. It was a lot less work than the King's Canyon hike. Many aboriginal rituals were held in Kata Tjuta and the Valley of Winds. It's a bit difficult to imagine how these sacred areas were used and I definitely plan to do more research on this. Before the end of our Kata Tjuta hike, our guide pointed out bush plums. I tried one - very gross but high in Vitamin C. Afterward, we checked out the Aboriginal cultural centre and learned a bit more about aboriginal culture and the symbols.
Uluru was beautiful. I never could've imagined a rock could be so enchanting. At sunset it's bright red. Breathtaking. And the silhouette at sunrise was spectacular. Instead of going to the sunrise viewing area, our guide took us back to the sunset viewing area so we could see the colour change from the same view as the night before. None of the ither tours do that, but I'm happy we did. But better than Uluru at sunset and sunrise, there is just so much history around it. It's very sacred for the aboriginals and it is said that every mark on Uluru has it's own story. It's just incredible.
When we did our walk around Uluru, we saw many people climbing it. Some tours even advertise that they climb it. Our guide, rightfully so, was against climbing it. First of all, it's sacred to the natives and they prefer if people do not climb. Second, the footpath that people use to climb up is eroding the rock - looking at it, there's a white path going all the way up from where people continuously walk (you can see it in the picture). Third, although you can see for kilometres at the top, all there is to see is flat desert. Nothing that great. It's not worth disrespecting a sacred monument of another culture.
On our way back from Uluru to Alice Springs, we stopped at a camel farm. It was my first time riding a camel. It was so bumpy and a bit painful, especially when the camels started running. Still awesome riding one though!
Great Trip, Great People.
If you plan on seeing the great Australian outback, I'd highly recommend doing The Rock Tour. It was a great value for what we did and our guide, Nate, was awesome. After the tour, we were able to go with our group to The Rock Bar to enjoy food and drink specials, along with some live music. Some drank a bit more than others. But hey, after giving a three day tour, guess he deserved it!!
I've been a bit preoccupied with life lately and thoroughly enjoying my time in Australia. As a result, this post has been a long time coming. A few of the highlights of the past couple of weeks include another night spent at the Luna1878 night market, an australian gig and a trip with friends to Phillip Island.
The next weekend, I went on a trip to Phillip Island with 7 others. We rented a private beach house. It was a nice break from Melbourne and the city, although I do wish we could've stayed longer. We spent a lot of time down on the beach. We went for walks, played catch, played soccer and a couple of guys brought a guitar and mandolin. The weather was PERFECT for being the first couple days of spring! I even went into the ocean. It was a bit chilly though. On Saturday night we went down to see the Fairy Penguins, also known as little penguins. They we TINY but so cute!!! It was so awesome seeing them wash up on the shore then waddle through the rocks to get to their burrows. We also saw a kangaroo up on the hill while we we watching the penguins - my first kangaroo sighting! Overall, It was just an amazing weekend spent with amazing people. Definitely one of the highlights of my time here so far.
While going for a run in the park a few weekends ago, I noticed there are TONS of wild parrots in Melbourne. They're noisy, but beautiful. I knew there were parrots here, but I didn't actually see them until then. They drove the dogs in the park nuts - they stopped at the bottom of the tree and kept barking at them. I've seen quite a few more since then - they seem to be out closer to dusk, it's interesting!
I'm falling more and more in love with Australia every day and this has been one of the best decisions of my life deciding to come here. I can't complain about a single thing, this place is awesome.
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