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Litchfield NP didn’t require half as much time as we expected.  The park is very small and unlike Kakadu, the attractions are very close together and easy to access.  No wonder why this is such a local’s destination.  In hindsight, we would have made this our first stop and spent our extra last day in the majestic Kakadu.

Today we saw an (angry looking) cow on the side of the road, Tabletop Swamp, Tolmer Falls, the very commercial Wangi Falls (complete with free wifi on the lawn), the less than impressive Cascades and stopped to picnic (with our now soggy salami) by Walker Creek on our drive out.

Anthony drove us to the Litchfield Pub where we chilled out and regrouped.  We found a nearby campground in Berry Springs where we played cards and enjoyed some beers for the rest of the day.  It was my turn to make dinner: black beans and rice.  Shortly after the sunset, I started to boil the water with our one burner butane cooker.  I didn’t realize how long everything was taking until we finally got to eat an hour and a half later.  Would have been smart to check and see how much butane the empty can wasn’t producing…

Team Dino traveled so well together, none of us could believe it.  It was a great holiday and a safe holiday with zero casualties …except for Anna’s flip flops and a pair of sunglasses.  #LSDinTheOutback for the win!

Today’s picture was actually taken at a lookout in Kakadu on our way to Gunlom Falls, but it was too good not to share and seemed only appropriate for my final Team Dino blog. That’s Theodore. He’s pretty intimidating, isn’t he?!

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On our early drive from Edith Falls to Litchfield National Park, we stopped again at the Lazy Lizard, but this time for croc jerky.  First stop: the magnetic termite mounds.  The cathedral termites build their mounds in such a way that it reminded me of tombstones in a cemetery.  And of course, there was a massive (MASSIVE) termite mound standing around 5 meters high (US readers: that’s around 16 feet).  Australia, you’re just insane.

We staked out our campsite by Florence Falls before checking out Buley Rockhole.  This place was like somewhere Florida Georgia Line would hang out and write a song about.  It was a really comfortable river scene with people chilling and listening to music.  If I lived nearby, that place would definitely be my local.  We decided to go swimming closer to home and the falls did not disappoint.  I could certainly get use to this “chasing waterfalls” pool hopping kind of thing!

After dinner, we (by “we,” I mean “Anna”) built a campfire and I taught Anna how to roast her first s’more.  Too bad the Hershey’s bar that Anthony had been lugging around this whole time had completely melted into chocolate syrup.  Now I understand why Anna said we should just make “outback s’mores…”  (It gets so blasted hot that even things in your cooler start to melt.)

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It was our earliest start yet to pack up and head off to Edith Falls, which is also part of Nitmiluk NP, but you have to drive out of Katherine Gorge and back through the town of Katherine to get there.  Since the campground there does not accept reservations and fills up quickly, we wanted to arrive on time to grab a spot.

It didn’t take long before the Leliyn Trail let us to the most beautiful swimming hole we had seen yet.  The upper pool of Edith Falls reminded me of a place that theme parks would draw inspiration from.  The water felt refreshing and there were rocks all around to sun bathe and picnic on.  If there was more shelter from the sun there, we could have easily stayed until the sun set.  The hike down even offered some beautiful lookouts to the falls and pools below.  I would also add this to your list of Aussie must dos.

By the way, that’s Team Dino with our blue dinosaur Cletus that I’m holding in my hand. Unfortunately I’m not bffs with Ross Geller, so I do not know what specific species he is.

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We woke up really early (with the wallabies) to make our 8am canoe hire at Katherine Gorge.  On the walk there, we saw heaps of fruit bats upside down in the trees above.  I had never seen bats hanging out in the wild before and I could not believe how much noise they can make.  Since saltwater crocodiles have been spotted in the first gorge this season, they boated us to the second gorge to commence our paddling.  The guides told us about how park rangers have croc traps set up along the banks and they can judge from their bite marks whether it’s a large (aggressive) saltwater crocodile or a small (harmless) freshwater crocodile.  Some of the beaches were even closed off for croc nesting sites and we could see their tracks fresh in the sand.

There are 13 gorges in total with rocky passages and small rapids separating each still and calm body of water.  The gorges got progressively more beautiful the further along we got.  Anna and I made a good team in our double kayak on the way up and we made it to the bottom of the fourth gorge before we had to turn around for the day.  On the way back, Team Steph and Anthony were not so in sync.  I couldn’t figure out for the life of me why Anna and I glided along so well and Anthony and I couldn’t paddle straight for anything.  It wasn’t until I saw Anna’s pictures after the fact when I figured out why she never complained about my erratic paddling strokes.  That cheeky girl had her feet propped up in the back while she was taking pictures the entire time!

As there’s not much else to do in Nitmiluk National Park, we would all highly suggest a canoe trip for as far as you can physically go.  The rest of the afternoon, we relaxed and enjoyed a poolside BBQ that evening of the most perfectly cooked kangaroo I have ever had.

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We took a morning hike to the top of Gunlom Falls which was by far my favorite of the trip.  At the top of a steep descent, there were a number of pools linked together with secret waterfalls and secluded water holes to be discovered.  We explored by clambering over rocks and splashing around just how three grown children would do.  It was one of the coolest things I have done in a while.  Anna and I even got to sit on the edge of Gunlom Falls and in the midst of the dry season, our white girl booties were enough to stop the flow of the waterfall.

On our drive out of Kakadu, we made a pit stop at Lazy Lizard Roadhouse for a couple of beers before continuing on to Nitmiluk National Park where Katherine Gorge is.  If the campgrounds at Gunlom Falls hadn’t been so scenic, the Nitmiluk Caravan Park would have definitely been my favorite site because there were wallabies bouncing around all over the place!  I wasn’t too keen on the signs in the bathroom warning of snakes though…

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It was another huge bummer that our AWD couldn’t make it down to Barramundi Gorge, but the drive alone (as far as we could make it) was still all sorts of fun.  There were massive termite mounds all over the place and our detour made for some really amusing photo ops.  (That’s where our picture of the day was taken.)

Gunlom Falls was one of my favorite camping spots.  Once we got there, we enjoyed a relaxing late afternoon swim in a pool below a tall trickling waterfall.  I was actually surprised by how chilly the water was.  And I know everyone is probably wondering how we were able to swim there.  Yes, there are crocodile warning signs nearby.  There are no 100% guaranteed safe swimming spots, but the more popular places to take a dip very rarely, if ever, encounter a saltwater croc.  Regardless, it was a beautiful way to spend our arvo and success that we all made it out alive!

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The lookout at Nourlangie was another stunner. (Hence the picture of the day.) It was great exploring with two Aussie natives because Anthony was good about reminding me not to get too close to the rocks (because of snakes) and Anna taught me to run in a zig zag if we happen to see a croc near a billabong.

We were really looking forward to Jim Jim Falls for today’s field trip. Unfortunately, our rental company gave us bad advice and we were unable to make it there. Wicked Campers told us that our AWD Subaru Outback would be able to get us down the unsealed 4WD road to Jim Jim Falls, but because our vehicle had such a low clearance to the ground, two park rangers turned us away before we could get stuck. In short, Wicked Campers has heard more than one complaint from me and I would passionately advise against anyone using them. There are far more reputable companies to use.

Fortunately, Team Dino kept a good attitude about our plan b and we headed to Yellow Water. There we saw water buffalo and I was the closest I had ever been to a hopping roo and a lurking croc. (Don’t worry Dad, we were safely on the guarded footpath.) This was also a really special place to watch the sunset and for the wildlife alone, I found this backup plan to be a winner!

Later that night, a possum kept throwing leaves and half eaten berries down on our campsite from where it was sitting in the tree above us. It was like it was deliberately picking on Anthony while he was trying to eat dinner which I found absolutely hysterical. We could also hear water buffalo far away that almost sounded like a distorted “moo.”

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For a week and a half in July, my boyfriend Anthony and I went on a road trip in the Northern Territory with our good friend Anna.  We flew from Melbourne and spent a night in Darwin before picking up our Jurassic Park themed rental.  Here are some of our favorite recaps of the trip we lovingly decided to hashtag #LSDinTheOutback, not for the drug reference, but for a combination of the first letters of our last names, Lipiarski, Schroeder and Dobson.

Day #1:

Australia is probably most famous for its wildlife, and we kicked our trip off with some good spottings courtesy of the observant Anna.  On our drive from Darwin into Kakadu, we saw water buffalo on the side of the road.  We even made Anthony turn around in the middle of the road so we could park it on a bridge to gawk at the saltwater crocodile lurking in the murky water below.  I don’t like to remember that my first roo sighting was of roadkill…

We made it to Ubirr Rock just in time for the sunset.  This is a must do.  The top offers stunning 360 degree views of the most peaceful, vast landscape you could imagine.  Behind us, shallow hills of soft rocky terrain and before us, lush open green fields where the animals can roam freely.  It was like something out of the Lion King.

Appropriately enough, on our drive to the campground, DJ Anna played us “The Lion King” soundtrack.  I was so shocked and impressed that my new found Melbourne friend knew every word to “I just can’t wait to be king.”  And I mean every single word.  She was so enthusiastic about her song that when Anthony rolled down his window to pay the park ranger for our campsite, the ranger quickly popped his head in the car and said, “Two adults and one child?”  He was absolutely serious.  Sweet 35 year old Anna was just singing her little heart out in the backseat and I instantly knew that this trip was going to be too much fun!  That evening after we set up camp and made dinner, we fell asleep to the sound of dingoes off in the distance.

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Melbourne is big on their coffee and to say that it’s a huge part of the culture here would be somewhat of an understatement. As a non caffeine addict living in the Melbourne CBD, I sometimes feel a bit excluded from the coffee culture. I know I can easily sit in a café, order lunch, use the free Wi-Fi, and that be that, but when the waitress asks what I would like to drink, I can always tell that they are slightly thrown off when I say that I am fine with water. So, I have adopted the chai latte as my water (or beer) afternoon substitute. I never realized that a chai latte was simply chai black tea brewed with milk instead of water. And come to find out, chai offers a lot of health benefits. Even though I am not actually drinking coffee, the “latte” part of my tea order makes it sound (and almost makes me feel) like I am drinking coffee and is just a silly little way for me to enjoy Melbourne life a bit more. On my free days, I have been enjoying café hopping to new and different places around town (my bar hopping escapades will be exclusively featured in another blog to come) and I am still on the hunt for a chai latte that tops the one at Hash. The barista does not use chai powder like a lot of other places and she has her own recipe that includes just a touch of chili in it, which is not common for a chai but is delicious and totally works.

As far as the rest of my “day to day” life in Melbourne, I workout with my girlfriends in Collingwood every Wednesday night, catch up with the Raiders when I can on Thursdays or Fridays and go out for steak night with friends, date night with my boyfriend Anthony or gym night with my neighboring friends in between. When I left for Australia 6 months ago, my primary goal was to feel like I created a life for myself and am apart of the community here, and I feel like so far I have been very successful in that aspect and am so proud of myself for finally getting happy again J

Today’s picture is of the sunset from my balcony view. Needless to say, I really love where I am living.

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Since I have been living and working in Melbourne, visiting my friend Kelly in Perth was my first travel adventure outside the state of Victoria. Even though a nonstop flight from Melbourne to Perth is only about 4 hours, I hadn’t realized how isolated Perth really is. It’s actually one of the most remote state capitals in the world. With a time difference of exactly 12 hours ahead of Virginia Beach, I could only think that I was about as far away from home as I could get. Western Australia almost made me feel like I had entered an entirely new world. WA even has quarantine for fruits, vege and plants for domestic travelers in attempts to try and limit the spreading of certain pests and diseases. Perth is a relatively new city and the architecture of all the buildings reflects its modern development supported by WA’s huge mining success, so there is plenty of money circulating in the area.

The turquoise beaches surrounding Perth were by far the most stunning part of the region. The nearby city of Fremantle is also worth a visit. Kelly took me to the Fremantle Prison which I found a most appropriate field trip given Australia’s history. It was a pretty interesting tour, but I remember being shocked the most about the level of hygiene they maintained. Each inmate ate every meal in their cell and if I remember the dates correctly, they used buckets for the bathroom up until the 1960s. After a major riot in 1988 that sparked a fire which caused $1.8 million worth of damage, the prison eventually closed in 1991.

Just a 45 minute ferry ride off the coast of Perth lies Rottnest Island and this was by far my favorite adventure with Kelly! We hired bikes to explore the 11km long island and discover the number of beautiful beaches that line the coast. But aside from the clear blue waters, Rotto is most famous for the quokka, the island’s only native land mammal. The quokka is an adorable marsupial related to the kangaroo about the size of a domestic cat that can only be found on small islands off the coast of WA. When Kelly and I did some brief research about the quokka via the ever reliable Wikipedia, we both found it hard to believe that the source claims the quokka as a nocturnal animal because we saw them just about everywhere on the island. I couldn’t believe how friendly and approachable these little critters are. And they hop! They are just so precious when they hop! They seem to be intrigued by the human race because some of them get so close that you can take a selfie with their cute smiling faces. In fact, someone coined the term “#QuokkaSelfie” last year and it became an internet phenomenon.

No trip to WA is complete without a visit to the Margaret River region. About a 3 or so hour drive south of Perth are more blue water beaches and picturesque scenery to discover. Kelly and I enjoyed the better part of the day just watching the abnormally large 8-10 foot waves crashing in from the Indian Ocean. The area is also dotted with a number of caves, Mammoth Cave being the one we visited. This cave is well known for the extinct animal fossils found within, and let me just express my disappointment when I say how sad I am that the giant kangaroo is no longer around. Other sites worth noting in the area are the Boranup Forest, Yallingup and Sugarloaf Rock in Naturaliste. I would definitely make an effort to come back through this area and check out a few of the local wineries.