Condo Reunion: a blast from the past.

Not so long ago, while enjoying breakfast at the Surf Club in Ballina , Kenn and I finalised the route for a week long trip to the Central West of NSW.

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The cafe at the Surf Club is excellent, very reasonable and as you can see has a fabulous view.

We traveled from Byron Bay to Condobolin via Sydney, Leura, Orange, Cowra and Forbes to help celebrate 150 years of Public Education. While it was a very scenic trip (who doesn’t love the country in springtime),  spending time with family and friends who live over 1000 kms away from us, was the highlight. Catching up and reminiscing  about the good times we’ve  shared, the adventures we’ve  had, the things that have made us happy or sad was great. There was also a special bonus: Kenn was invited to launch his second novel, Snow Chains as part of the celebrations.

And so, a few days before the Long weekend, we set off. The Byron to Sydney leg was a little frustrating. Too much traffic and too many roadworks especially between Ballina and Coffs Harbour. Still, we reached Christian and Kelly’s home in Balgowlah Heights with enough time to play with our adorable grand daughters before bed-time and lend a hand the next morning.  Kelly and Christian were getting ready to take the girls on their first camping trip.  While we would have loved to be able to join them, Christian’s pic of Baby Francesca in their tent filled us in on the fun had by all.

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Just love the simple life: just give me my tent and my keys and I’m happy.

While Kelly and Christian headed off to the South Coast, we headed west to the Blue Mountains, stopping in Leura for lunch. The village was awash with blossoms and that almost spearminty green of new leaves on deciduous trees.

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There seemed to lots and lots of tourists trying to capture that perfect shot.
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The banks of Azaleas were lovely as well. Would have loved to have had the time to visit the Everglades. Maybe next time …

A lovely lunch and we were off to Orange where we caught up with my sister Maryanne. We really enjoyed taking her dogs for a walk through the outskirts of Orange but I will admit to some sisterly pangs of jealousy as I admired the lovely collection of spring bulbs in her garden. Tulips! Need I say more?

All too soon, it was time to head for Woodstock via Canowindra along the Cargo road. Travelling this road as the sun set was beautiful: enough clouds  for the sun to watercolour with shades of pink and mauve while the rolling green hills and vineyards seemed to stretch away forever on either side of the road. Magical!

The next day was full of surprises. Firstly, Jenny and I played 9 holes of golf at Cowra Golf Course. It was less of a game and more of a Jenny Dresser masterclass but such fun. Secondly, I ended up enjoying a long lunch with two of my oldest and dearest friends who just happened to be in Cowra that weekend! Serendipity indeed!

Time to head for Condo. We  stopped off briefly in Forbes to meet the latest addition to Kenn’s side of the family, gurgling, cuddly baby Ava before making our way along the South Forbes road to where Kenn’s great grandfather is buried overlooking the river.

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He was killed in a terrible horse accident in 1892
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James is recorded on the side of the grave marker

This little cemetery is very poignant because it’s also where the Fitzgerald children are buried. It reminds us of how difficult life was in those early pioneering days.

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Those poor parents!

Shaking off the past, we arrived at the Condobolin Library to prepare for the book launch.

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The town looks lovely with all the landscaping! 

The Librarian, Theresa and her team had ensured a great afternoon.  So many familiar faces showered us with  country warmth that we were quite overwhelmed and very touched. Some had already read his first novel, Sugarcane Lane and endorsed the general consensus that it’s a very enjoyable read. It was very affirming for Kenn to hear how enthusiastically they were looking forward to Snow Chains and Castles Perilous.

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All the reviews have been great! So proud of Kenn.
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All proved to be very popular. Thanks Condo for all the love and support.

A lively discussion about writing and publishing ensued followed by a delicious afternoon tea. Nothing beats home made scones, jam and cream! I might have had two …or three…  Alas, Kenn was so popular that he missed out on his favourite treat!  I’ve included a snippet from  the Library’s facebook page, which sums up the event.

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Thank you so much Theresa and Bonnie. This wouldn’t have happened without you.

Book launch finished it was time to put on our dancing shoes. We were attending a dinner to celebrate 50 years since the opening of the High School in Condobolin. Again it was wonderful to reconnect with former colleagues and students. Then the music started.  As soon as I heard Steve Still’s ‘Love the one you’re with’, I was back in the past. A first year out teacher dancing the night away at the Golfie.

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And Kenn was in his element singing along with the band!

The organising committee did an amazing job of the whole weekend. We attended the breakfast at the High School the following morning and it was delicious. I wanted to explore the school where I taught for so many years and which my children attended. It was fun to search through the photos in the various historical displays for our children and their friends. They haven’t changed much! The school has grown since I left, a new wing has been added as well as the largest cola I’ve seen. Some respite from the heat for kids in the playground at last. There’s more landscaping and there’s even a learner car!    It’s evident that kids  get a quality education here. There’s much to be said for a country upbringing and education.

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Looking towards the library in the top quad
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My classroom used to be on the right hand side.

Later on, we visited Eryn and Simon Carey’s place on Melrose Hill. They have established a beautiful, very unique garden featuring a breathtaking view of the western plains, so  immortalised by Banjo Paterson in ‘Clancy of the Overflow’. Like Clancy, we saw ‘ the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended’ and could readily imagine ‘at night the wond’rous glory of the everlasting stars.’

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This garden features fascinating art sculptures and whimsical retro features like a vintage bathtub and caravan
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How fitting is this for an Outback garden?  Eryn is an accomplished artist who paints and exhibits as Eryn Mullins.  Well worth checking out. 
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Fell in love with the lions. 

Even though, the garden features natives like ironbark and black wattle, there is a beautiful pond area, a little reminiscent of an English garden.

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the goldfish are flourishing
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Lovely formal entrance to the main part of the garden

There are fascinating rock walls and even a boules court.

 

 

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Such a lot of work

Closer to the house, there is a delightful courtyard area which is full of detail and Eryn’s artistic flair.

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So much to enjoy! 
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There was something about the chook that I loved!

 

We could have lingered for ages. All too soon, it was time for the long trek home. Looking forward to returning!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coffee at Elements of Byron

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Looking over the toddler pool towards the Reception and Restaurant area

Last Wednesday, I joined my friends Annie and Grace for morning coffee at Elements at Byron, our newest 5 star resort.  I love going out for coffee. Savouring that first spoonful of chocolate-sprinkled foamy deliciousness atop a cappuccino, endeavouring to avoid  a hitler-resque  moustache and perhaps sharing a slab of Middle Eastern orange cake or a lemon tart or a white chocolate, raspberry muffin are some of life’s simple pleasures. But while the coffee is important, for me and I’m sure for many others,  going out for coffee is  more about catching up with friends. And if this catch-up can take place in beautiful surroundings, so much the better.

We had our coffee on the back terrace, overlooking the infinity pool.

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Overlooking the infinity pool. This photo was from an earlier visit when the weather wasn’t quite so obliging.  The fountain in the foreground becomes a fire pit at night. Very cool.

Soon we were catching up on each other’s news: Grace regaled us with fascinating snippets about her trip to Portugal where she spent time at an ashram and retreat centre in Monte Sahaja and the shenanigans of her very astute pre-schooler grand-daughter. This little one asked her mother, ‘Mum can you carry me home from the park?’ to which her mother replied. ‘No, you’re a big girl now.’ The little one promptly sat down where she stood, a mutinous look on her face. Mum exasperated, cajoled,’ Tell you what, if you walk home by yourself, you can have an ice-cream when we get home!’ The little one considered, pondered, thought long and hard. Her eyes lit up. ‘How about this, Mum. If you carry me home, I’ll share the ice-cream with you!’ Such consideration!  A lawyer in the making?

All too soon, coffee was finished. Grace hadn’t been to Elements before so we showed her around some of the resort. We pointed out where the Writer’s Festival had been held and then followed the path to Belongil Beach. Here you can recline on sun loungers while you take in the beautiful sweep of beach before you.

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As you can see, we made ourselves at home. The view to the lighthouse was so lovely.

Nearby, the resort has a sunset lookout. It too was lovely. This is a resort which has really spacious grounds. If you wanted to get away from it all, in 5 star luxury this might be the place for you.

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Beachcombing in style

All too soon, it was time to go. Another catch-up, this time, a coffee afternoon was organised. In keeping with the 5 star theme, this catch-up will be at the Byron at Byron. I do love going out for coffee! Hope you do too.

 

Summer daze in Byron Bay

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Sunset beach walks along Main Beach

Despite traffic gridlock, long supermarket queues, tourists occupying all the best spots at my favourite cafes and an inability to snag a rock star park at the beach,  I have to admit that this summertime, the livin’ has been easy  in Byron Bay and we have enjoyed that  ‘peaceful, easy beach holiday feeling.’

Looking back, 2016 was a big year for us: travel to distant destinations both abroad and here in Australia, the arrival of our first grandson, beautiful Hudson, ‘ Huddie’  James  and our daughter Lyndsay’s picture perfect wedding at Cradle Mountain in Tasmania among the many highlights. By mid November we were ready to relax and  get into the holiday groove. The Christmas tree went up and channeling that ‘peaceful, easy feeling’, I shopped early. I found I had time to wander, consider and unearth! My former self; a demented banshee rushing around in a blind panic trying to find the perfect present at the last minute and failing miserably, was banished … hopefully forever.

So with gifts nestled beneath the tree, we threw ourselves into the revelries of the silly season: parties and drinks with friends and of course, Carols at the ‘Byron at Byron.’ one of the premier resorts in Byron Bay.  Nestled in coastal rainforest, the staff welcomed us with a glass or two of champagne on the deck (helps to lubricate the vocal cords) and offered delicious bites both traditional and local.  Who could resist a delicious mince tart or a Bangalow Pork roll or a nibble of this or a nibble of that?  Certainly not us! Our group  was soon in a very festive mood.

 

And so we sang, mostly in tune, as the dusk closed in. Luckily the choir was loud enough to make us all sound ‘joyful and triumphant’.

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Our singing mingled with the ‘songs’ of the black cockatoos who, according to the Bundjalung people, herald in the New Year!

The peaceful, easy feeling just grew and grew.  Melissa and Ben hosted Christmas Dinner on the deck of their home in beachside Byron. Everything was just perfect. And I didn’t have to stress about a thing.

All I had to do was cook a turkey and make a couple of salads to contribute to the festive fare. So easy. So delightful. So restful.

 Even Ninja got into the holiday spirit as we exchanged gifts.

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What’s Santa bringing me ?

All of Ben’s family had traveled from Adelaide to share Huddie’s first Christmas. Who would have thought that a roomful of adults could be spellbound as a 7 month old baby opened his first Christmas presents! And there were a lot of presents to open.

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Eventually, it was time to return home. Christian, Kelly and little Genevieve were arriving the next day for a week. The cousins would meet for the first time!

And Genevieve traveled to Coomera to play with her great grandfather and mother and enjoy a swim with Nemo and Dad in their pool. It’s a special moment to see four generations all together these days.

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Come on Dad, can’t this fish swim any faster?

And I  got to play sandcastles with Genevieve and Huddie at Lake Ainsworth, located next to the surf club at Lennox Head and take them both for a swim. Watching their expressions as little waves washed over their feet and their toes dug into cool soft sand was everything I thought it would be. That  beach holiday feeling had arrived.

Even though the days were hot, they were perfect for long evening walks along the beach.

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misty magic

Even one of the locals joined us entranced by the sunset.

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And when the clouds rolled in,  the sky seemed to say, ‘look at me, look at me

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Mirror heaven

Despite the traffic and the arrival of bluebottles on a couple of occasions, we lolled around in the surf and  when the waves permitted, caught a few in to shore. It’s reassuring to know that you haven’t lost the knack.

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That rush when the wave takes you …so good!

We have enjoyed leisurely breakfasts  and evening barbecues on the patio while the cat has played with his holiday treat, a cardboard castle.

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Will I fit?

And there’s something about watching the cricket and tennis  in the heat of the day. that is deeply relaxing, I find.

And so our summer continues:  early morning games of golf, lighthouse walks, swimming and kayaking  in the lake and in the bay and a new arrival to welcome  and a special birthday celebration in March to look forward to.    Yep, that ‘peaceful, easy beach holiday feeling’  is definitely here. Hope your summer has been as enjoyable.

Rainforest magic

Would you love to walk down a rain forest path shaded by tree ferns and ancient antarctic beech trees? Follow a cascading mountain steam to uncover a myriad of  unique waterfalls?  Reach a lookout where you can see the forest meet the sea?  If so, then the Tooloona Creek Circuit at O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat in the Lamington National Park, is the walk for you!

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Water cascading over rocks near Elabana Falls

Although our family has visited the Lamington National Park regularly over the past 20 years, we had never  undertaken this particular walk.  I had huffed and puffed my way around the 11km Box Tree Circuit, dragged myself achingly, slowly, one step at a time up the mountain from Stairway Falls  and nearly had a snake induced heart attack at Python Rock,  but I had baulked at the 18 kms  Toolona Creek Circuit!  It’s not that I’m against exercise per se, but the thought of climbing 1000 metres from  Elabana Falls to the ridge line, with a further 9 kms to walk home seemed, well,  a trifle excessive.

 But Kenn and I are off to the south island of New Zealand in December to walk the Queen Charlotte Track and I knew that some serious training was needed.

Lyndsay leading the way

So armed with my shiny, new walking boots, I tackled this walk accompanied by Kenn,  my daughter, Lyndsay and her fiance  Reece. I’m great at walking down hills so the first six kms were easy, We cruised down to Elabana Falls passing beautiful  stands of tree ferns and listening to birdsong. We stopped for morning tea at the aptly named Picnic rock and refreshed, were ready to tackle the Toolona Creek section of the walk.

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Cascades running over river rocks

Initially, we followed the creek and were delighted by fern encrusted cascades of water rippling over mossy rocks. Then, a couple of creek crossings later,  we started to climb.  To my surprise, this was much easier than I thought it would be. The track was quite rocky and damp, so we had to be careful and go slow. This suited me perfectly. I certainly haven’t inherited any mountain goat genes!

Around every second bend we encountered a new part of the creek cascading down a unique waterfall. Each one was different, each one was lovely! We counted 17 different waterfalls in total along this section ranging from cascades to the spectacular Toolona Falls.

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This is so pretty!
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Like a veil, covering the rocks.
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What a drop!
Tooloona Falls reworked by google photos!
Tooloona Falls. photo by me, reworked by google photos! Nice…I think.

Not only were the waterfalls wonderful but the rain forest itself was spectacular. Along this section there were ferny tree gardens growing in the canopy. But all good things come to an end and before we knew it we were on the Border Track.

Near to the intersection of the Tooloona Creek and Border tracks, there is a wonderful lookout with a spectacular view, where we stopped for a well earned lunch.

View from the Border track to Mount Warning and the Pacific Ocean.
View from the Border track to Mount Warning and the Pacific Ocean.

Although we still had to walk 9 kms to O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat, this was quite easy as it was mainly downhill. About halfway home, we encountered the Antarctic Beeches. These are amazing trees, remnants of when Australia was part of Gondwana! This is a wonderful part of the rain forest, so dark and so deep. All too soon, we were back. Ready to enjoy Happy Hour and watch the sun set over the ranges.

Sunset over the ranges
Sunset over the ranges

The Toolona Creek circuit is located in the Lamington National Park in the Gold Coast Hinterland, about two and a half hours drive from Byron Bay. We stayed at O’Reilly’s Guest House in a Rainforest Villa which was a wonderful experience in itself. We didn’t have time luxuriate in the Lost World Spa, one of the many amenities at the resort, but next time it’s definitely on our list of things to do. Maybe you would like to join us some time?

Red Centre Treks

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Uluru Sunset

Nature’s big things are truly impressive. For instance, when my sister Jenny and I flew over the Grand Canyon in a helicopter, we were struck by its enormous scale: Deep, long and rugged, it was surrounded by beige desert so different from the colours in Australia. It was awe inspiring but somehow remote. We were only able to get up close and personal  with the canyon when we landed halfway down on a rocky outcrop. We admired the view, stretched our legs  and scoffed a champagne lunch. It was an unforgettable, exciting experience, after all you don’t get to ride in a helicopter or a limousine every day.  But, there wasn’t time to immerse ourselves in the colours, textures, scents and spiritual history of the the canyon itself. This is not the case when you visit Uluru, Kata Tjuta and King’s Canyon in the Red Centre. There your senses are saturated as you trek, stroll or saunter along paths that have that have been part of Aboriginal Dreaming for thousands of years.

All of the walks are around 10 kms in length, vary in difficulty and take a few hours to complete. I undertook these walks with my husband, Kenn and friends, Helen and Phil. Although capable of setting new land speed records and clambering up cliffs like mountain goats, these three intrepid trekkers slowed their pace to accommodate my more slothful saunter. I suspect the thought of having to carry me back to base, a victim of exhaustion or a premature heart attack might have been part of their motivation.

Our first walk was around the base of  Uluru,  the biggest monolith on Earth. It dominates the flat expanse of the desert for as far as the eye can see.

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Setting a cracking pace. Sunset is not far off.

The path is well marked and the rock is there beside  you, revealing different faces as the light moves.

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I was surprised by the amount of vegetation and the sense of mystery you feel in the shadows.

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Desert Oaks

We completed this relatively easy walk with enough time to get to the sunset viewing area. Nature puts on the most amazing light show as the rock lights up and the sky is smudged with many of the colours of the rainbow.

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Smudgy colours soften the rock

Our second walk was far more challenging. We hired a 4WD and drove 300 kms to King’s Canyon. What I didn’t realise, until I reached the starting point of the walk, was that you have to climb 500 steps up a cliff face to begin!

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I think I can, I think I can!

 Kenn appointed himself as my personal water boy and with his help I made it. This was definitely the hardest part of the walk. The views from the canyon’s rim were amazing and almost made the memory of the 500 steps melt away. Almost ..

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I think I can, I think I can!

 

We clambered over rock platforms and negotiated bridges onto sandstone spurs.

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And …  hidden away deep within the canyon was ‘The Garden of Eden’.

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What a gem!

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This place is significant for the Aboriginal people and it was easy to see why. In the midst of so much dryness, hidden from the unrelenting sun, the water is cool, sheltered by ferns and palms. It is very quiet there. Like all who went before us, we were refreshed and restored and finished this walk on a high.

Our third walk was also challenging and in my opinion, the most rewarding of all. This was the ‘Valley of the Winds’ at Kata Tjuta or the Olgas.  We decided to do the whole walk, which is a loop, but you can do shorter sections if you wish. It’s only about 50 kms from Yulara, the Uluru township. The first part of the walk from the car park to the base of the Olgas is quite long and for a time, you could easily imagine that you were walking on the moon.

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Path to the Olgas
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Kenn striding out in the moonscape

But then you turn a corner and find yourself walking in between the beehive domes of sandstone that are the Olgas. The wind whistles around you, an unusual experience as usually it is really quiet out here. In places there is enough water to support vegetation; we walked through a lovely avenue of ghost gums.

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Part of the ghost gum avenue

Winding in and out of the domes, down and up rock faces, we reached the lookout. Again, like everywhere around Uluru, there was an amazing vista.

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Lookout view

We scrambled down a steep incline. It was at this point that I started having a few worries. It was so steep that I negotiated most of it on my bottom. As I was sliding from rock to rock, getting rid of my cellulite, I started thinking about how I was going to climb back up!  It would be a tough ask at the end of a long walk. I felt totally knackered just thinking about it. But we had come so far! At the bottom we found ourselves inhaling the scents of the savanna surrounding the Olgas, that unforgettable, eucalyptus smell of the Australian bush. Tramping through mulga, spinifex and assorted grasslands we had wonderful views both of the desert stretching away in one direction and the Olgas standing guard in another.

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View from the Savanna of the Olgas.

We didn’t have to retrace our steps. I was saved from the slippery cliff of hell. A relatively gentle climb found us back among the Olgas via a different route and eventually we made our way to the car park.

All the walks were special and were, for me, the most memorable part of my visit to Uluru. It is a very personal way to connect with this ancient landscape and its dreaming.

If you haven’t visited Uluru yet, I hope you are able to soon. It really is a very, very special part of the world.