Wednesday, April 09, 2014

11 Days; 3 States; 1 Country (Part 1)

Dearest readers, I'm back again! Sorry if you guys missed me. Haha. Here's the blog post that i promised you guys about my road trip in australia last month. It's going to be broken down into a few parts, cause there's just too much info & photos to share with you guys! Hope y'all don't mind!

28th Feb
D'day is finally here. After 2.5 years of uni in blue mountains international hotel management school, I am now proud to be a GRADUATE!!!!!
Hip Hip Horrrrrray!!

I would like to thank my parents, friends and everyone else who supported me in my uni journey, who believed that I will succeed in obtaining a degree. Cheers to you guys! 
So my entire day of 28th Feb was a total rush. Trust me, it was so rushed that I didn't even realize time flew by so quickly! My family arrived in Sydney on 27th, and they spent the morning of 28th exploring Sydney Fish Market & Opera House since I was busy with my graduation preparations (e.g. fitting of gowns, hood, mortar, photos etc). I met up with Yimin & Charisse outside St Andrew Cathedral (the venue of our grad ceremony) at noon and we were the first few to get fitted for our gowns. Everyone was really excited to see one another, catch up with each other on our lives, what we're doing, where we're headed to next etc. it was good to see familiar faces again :)

After some camwhoring as usual, we had our group intake photo taken by the official photographer and the ceremony started. Everyone was backstage and feeling jittery as we picture ourselves strutting down the aisle, winking to family & friends, and finding our designated seats.

That's Ms Ting Huang on the left, my little thai girl, and Mr Firdaus on the right, the annoying singaporean brother
Of course we can't miss out Kerry Ann who had to do her "handbag modelling" pose
After the ceremony ended, everyone dispersed to their own groups of family & friends for more photos. I'm soooo touched that these awesome Singaporean peeps from UNSW actually came down to attend my grad ceremony! awwwwwwww, i feel so lovedddddd! Tp girls+ Sign on army boy; Singaporean loveeeee!

Kenny, myself, Shanying & Jey!

Left: Happy to see Jelita & Sherly at the ceremony too! 
Right: Awwww, Mr Redhead's here for Ting

Ceremony started at 2pm, and i think it ended at 4ish? It wasn't long before we had to go for the graduation dinner. Walked back to our hotel since it was in the vicinity and got breakfast along the way. The newly opened bakery along George Street, opposite Event Cinema has got really awesome bread! I can't really remember its name, but its a distinctive bakery. Go check it out! They even have samples for you to try in front of each bread selection. 

Got back to hotel, everyone took turns to get ready for the dinner, there was absolutely no break time at all! Left our hotel at 530pm and made our way to Darling Harbour, Cockle Bay Wharf where the graduation dinner was held at. This dinner, which cost me $100/pax was the first ever dinner that I treated my family for. It was a sit down 3 course dinner with free flow of alcohol (thus the $100 per head). 

Overall, the $500 dinner was alriiiiighhhtttt. The food could have been better, but it wasn't too bad overall. The free photobooth made up for it. hahaa. We spammed it. Kudos to the organizing team for putting in the effort and doing all these up!  

Went back home after the dinner and had an early night. Its a shame I didn't go for the after party as we had to leave Sydney the next morning, VERY EARLY. On our entire roadtrip, our bedtime and wakeup call was very early due to the itinerary we had planned. 


1st March
We woke up at 4am, and checked out at 5am in the morning Took the ariport shuttle to airport and that saved quite a fair bit of time. Did some shopping, had some breakfast & coffee and waited for our boarding. It was raining cats & dogs in the morning, and because we're flying via Tiger Airways, we had to walk under the rain to get to the plane. boohoo.

Few hours later, we were greeted by FLIES! Yes, flies are rampant in Alice Springs. Hot, sunny, fly-ly, yeapppppppp. Well, its a experience i guess...

Alright, took the airport shuttle to our motel for the night. The accommodation types in Alice Springs are generally hostels, backpackers, and motels. There are a couple of branded hotels, but not many. We chose a place named Alice Springs Motor Inn and i must say, it is rather value for money. The family room only cost us AUD110/night! It's got a Queen sized bed, 2 Singles, a Double sized foldable sofa bed and kitchenette too! Photos below are grabbed from their website!  Pretty darn worth it since we're a big family of 5 travelling and the size is perfect for us.

After checking in, dad & bro went down the street to get fish & chips takeaway (fetch a pail of water, not) while i set up my GoPro app on my iPhone! Finally got it activated and now, i can take selfies from a further angle! yippppe!~

Our first activity of the day is Camel Riding! We were quite late when we rung Camel Tracks up to ask for camel riding slots for the day. Quite lucky that we got the 230pm slot. They operate at a 3 timeslots, each camel ride tour can take up to 16 pax and they are a 1 hour tour. It cost us AUD50/pax, pretty alright/slightly expensive for an hour's of camel riding. But they do pickups from your motel so that's a plus point! There's a couple of tour operators that do camel riding, but Camel Tracks are more prominent and they're also advertised in the Alice Springs handbook, which makes it a little more convincing & safe to go with. Well, if you're ever in Alice Springs and you had a great experience with other camel tour operators, do let me know! :)

So 2pm came by pretty quickly and we got on the minivan which brought us to the outback area where the camels are housed. There were 9 of us during the 230pm slot, which consisted of my family of 5, 3 friends and the tour guide/camel lead. One of the ladies chose to have a camel to herself, and so did I.

Anna was my camel; she's the 2nd oldest in the pack. Here's a little more about Anna (as abstracted from the website)
Anna is named after Marcus Williams’ friend ‘no tooth’ Anna, who both have lost a tooth on their bottom jaw. Marcus caught her wild in the northern Simpson Desert in 1993 and very soon after she gave birth to Odin. Camels can live to about 45 years and Anna is about 35 years old. She is reliable, steady and strong and our preferred camel for young riders. Her favourite massage spot is on her long neck below her fawn coloured woolly beard. Her film credits include The AliceTroy Dan’s Big Adventures and appearances on ABC3.
 I was the last rider of the pack as Anna was more reliable to be left alone at the back. Going up the camel made me step on shit, but its fun to feel the camel move up and stand straight. you gotta lean back and hold on tight or else you'd be thrown off the camel as it stands up. It was fun, despite the massive dump...

My Pretty Anna
We went on a trail, a pretty long one I must say, where you feel Mother Nature staring at you. Grassy greenery everywhere, mustard/red sand beneath, kangaroos staring back at you and lazy cows & horses grazing nearby. My word of advice for all those going out on camel rides; PLEASE wear a tight fitting cap and lots of sun screen. Expect heaps of hot sun burning through your skin, but occasional strong gusts of wind will cool you down. And potentially blow your cap off (well that happened to me). Ohyes, and if you're the front rider, becareful of possible abrasion on your inner thigh, as experienced by my mom & xinni. I was the back rider and enjoying everyone's... backside. Oh wells, i got to camwhore heaps anyway. :D
All the photos below were taken by my GoPro Hero 3 Black. 


One hour flew past quickly, and we're back at the stables again. Time to bid farewell to my cute Anna. Byeeeeeee Anna, you've been a great camel & a cute one too!

We got dropped off at main shopping area called Todd mall, but most of the shops closed by then (it was 5pm). Chanced upon a restaurant named Pizza & Spaghetti House, and we were just in time for their dinner service. Didn't take any photos cus everyone was exhausted from the camel ride. Walked back to our motel and got down to packing our overnight bag for 3D2N Ayers Rock Tour. Dropped luggage off at reception at 7pm (closed after, and not opened before we leave for tour tmr). All of us went to bed at 8pm and something hilarious happened after. 
dad & mom happened to wake up at 1015pm, thinking it was 3am (our wake up call was 430am). dad got ready in the bathroom and mom realized it was only 1015 pm, called dad out and went back to sleep giggling and trying to stuff herself from not laughing. 

Alice Spring Motor Inn
25 Undoolya Road
Alice Springs Northern Territory 0870

(08) 8952 2322
Price: $

Camel Tracks
PO Box 1939, Alice Springs, Northern Territory 0871
+61 (0)416 170 164
Price: $$


2nd March
Rise and shine at 430am, fixed up breakfast for ourselves at the motel's communal kitchen with another older french couple. Our tour group, Emu Runs, picked us up outside our motel at 550am. 
Alright, with the Uluru tour packages, there are a handful of operators offering the same 3D2N package but at different prices and perhaps some differences in the itinerary. But the general 3D2N package includes Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon. It costs us $330/pax and everything is inclusive. Oh yes, its a camping trip. You'll get to sleep under the stars in a swag (it is a large sleeping bag, with a sponge mattress sewn inside) inside for the first night, and second night u'll be in a tent. So if you're not the kind of person who would sleep on the floor, in sleeping bags, then this tour is definitely not for you. They have got 2D1N package where you get to stay at a lodge, but it is a shared dormitory anyway. My bro had to convince my parents to come for this as they're not very young, and they might not have the stamina to climb and walk those tiring tracks, and sleep on the floor. haha, but we all made it there, and back!
So between Alice Springs and Ayers Rock, there's a total distance of 500miles and its approx a 5 hours journey. We were the last family to be picked up (total of 12 pax on the tour excluding us). We had a couple of pit stops to rest; our first was  a 40min rest at a souvenir shop and camel/dingo/ostrich enclosure.
Xinni and i rode a racing camel for $7 each. I guess we can't get enough of camels! It was really fun, bouncing up and down on a racing camel and my body was nearly flung sideways

Our pet bird for the trip. we nicknamed it Stupid. hahahaha!

moved on with our trip and soon after, our 2nd pit stop was here. It was a 20min rest & gas refuel, and 250 miles to go! Oh, and we bought fly nets for $10 each (NEEDED MUST BUY BEFORE YOU COME). My advice is to buy it at coles or kmart at Todd mall before coming on the trip. It's a must for you to have a fly net over your head unless you don't mind flies going up your nostrils, flying to your eye and into your food as you eat it. I cannot emphasize how important it is to have a fly net!!
 After that pitstop, they'll drive to a lookout point where you can take photo of the plateau  (looks like uluru, but its not). and you can collect the red sand here with the ziplock they provide from the packet lunch on the bus. Once we enter the national park, you're not allowed to remove any part of it so guides told us to take the sand for souvenir now if you want to keep it. buttttt, nah, why should we? you're not even allowed to bring sand across borders. haha!

After some photos, we went back en route and arrived at uluru national park. Did you know Uluru is the only 3 times world heritage listing national park. 1987 it was awarded for environment, 1993 for culture and 1995 caso award setting standard higher than anywhere in the world (only place to win this award, no other place has it).
Unfortunately, the rock was closed for climbing/trekking as it is aborginal's home. 46 people died in the last 25 years (from trekking on the rock)and they feel bad, so it was closed. Also, we have to take into consideration the environmental impact- litter, pee (no toilets up at the rock), rain washes down to waterhole and it gets polluted. Today,  there aren't many waterholes left because of these reasons. 
Our bus driver/tour guide brought us on our first guided walk (yes he doubles up as tour guide and a chef too!), and it was seriously SCORCHING HOT. 

These are the remains of where the aboriginals once populated. These photos have evidence of the caves being used as kitchen, some were as "classrooms". You could see the burn marks on the stones, and children's drawing on the walls of the classrooms.

After an hour of educational tour by our tour guide, we were on our own. It was a straight track, halfway round the base of the rock. Mind you, it was only halfway round the base and we walked for 2 hours plus!!! FREAKING HOT. The whole time we were walking, the only thing that was on our minds were cold water, and aircon. 

Oh, and this is what you'll get on your face and every inch of your body if you didn't wear a fly net! 

We finally reached the check point after an arduous footwalk of 2 hours, only to be told  that there's another 40min to go. We gave up and boarded the bus to be driven to the other gathering point. Well, everything was more or less on repeat mode; the same rock, different angle. 2hours looking at the rock under the scorching sun is more than enough for us. After picking everyone up at the last checkpoint, we were brought to see the last remaining waterhole at uluru.

And we set off for sunset bay where we had champagne and nibbles, alongside with many other tour operators.

Please wear good footwear. This is what happened to my sports shoe after 1 day of walking on the hot dry red sand. P.S. the other side of my shoe sole dropped out the next day, and i had to climb the hill on a soleless pair of shoe. not fun. 

Sunset ended at 730pm and everyone set off back to base camp. Our tour guide,Simon, whipped up a delicious dinner for everyone. FYI he used to work as a chef, thus he could cook well. Oh, on this trip, everyone is supposed to play a part in everything. From preparation of food items to washing of dishes and cleaning down, everyone has to help out. I dont know if its the same for other tour companies, but this is for ours. Well, ours was the cheapest tour package. hahaha. So if you're not a big fan of washing other people's dishes, you might want to think twice about coming onboard. 
We had hot showers, don't worry, but it was rather rushed. There's a big communal bathroom (like those at public swimming pools) and there were at least 3 other tour operators at base camp, thus everyone was rushing for a cubicle to shower comfortably. 

Our first night was spent in a swag. As i mentioned earlier, a swag is a thick sleeping bag with a sponge mattress sewn inside. We were given mattress covers, pillow, pillow case and a sleeping bag to be put inside the swag. Honestly, it was quite comfy! 

We put our swags out on the ground, clear from trees. No we do not want to see tree branches hovering above us, with the possibility of ants falling down on us too. It was pretty cold outside, so I wrapped myself up in my hoodie and a beanie over my head to prevent insects from crawling into my ear when I sleep. We are in the open, anything could happen.

And that is the end of our first day at Uluru. Pretty amazing sights, but it was a very rushy tour. Like we were constantly being rushed to site A, site B, site C etc. At the end of the day, everyone is totally exhausted, so we all slept pretty much the second we hit our sacks. 
Oh, and there isn't any reception out there. So, just leave your phones on airplane mode and use it to take photos. hahahahaa! 

Emu Runs
Todd Street, Alice Springs
Northern Territory 0870
+61 8 1800 687 220
Price: $$

Stay tuned for more updates on my journey!