Escape Room!

Escape Room!

I heard about the idea of Escape Rooms from our friends Tom and Kate who did one in Prague. I had a quick google about it and it sounded like excellent fun – Crystal Maze meets murder mystery! After some further searching it turned out one was going to open up in Sydney in August, so I subscribed to their newsletter and got an email one day saying they were opening soon and the first 100 people got a big discount off the entry fee.

How it works

We booked online, and got a 30% discount for being one of the first 100 people to go in,. You go in and meet your ‘game master’, who is on hand outside to give you hints if you get stuck, at the expense of 1 extra minute of time. You get ‘locked’ in the room, and have an hour to solve the mystery, unlock the last padlock to press the buzzer. You can press to get the game master in if you want, and there’s a big countdown timer on the wall showing how long you have left, to crank up the pressure. You can play with between 2 and 5 people.

The venue 

While we were waiting the venue had some cool puzzles on the tables for us to play with, as well as Sherlock Holmes style detective outfits you could dress up in and have your picture taken. I did do this, but can’t find the evidence! There are 6 rooms (2 lots of three different puzzles), with computers so the staff an monitor how you’re doing. We were there on the opening day so it was a little bit chaotic, but nothing they won’t sort out with some practice. Two of the room themes are ‘extortion in the dock’ and ‘murder in the pub’, which is an advanced version.

The room 

We went for the ‘robbery in the cottage room’. It was styled like a cottage from the Rocks are of Sydney (the old bit), from the 1900’s. There were lots of period pops like pictures, trunks, dressers, old kettles, old books etc. In the room there were a lot of padlocked things, so you gradually had to solve puzzles and get clues to find keys and open them one at a time. There were a lot of cryptic clues, a whiteboard for working things out and cards with profiles of the different suspects. Along the way there were lots of little surprises, like when we unlocked something and found it actually led to a whole other room!

How did we do?

We got really stumped by one of the puzzles right at the end, which was actually written badly – booo. We were about 1 minute away from getting out and totally could have done it if they tweaked that puzzle.

It was really good fun though, with a nice balance of feeling the pressure of time ticking away and good senses of achievement when you solved a puzzle and got it right. It made our brains work which was good, we worked together well and was interesting becasue its quite a different thing to do.

There is more info about the Sydney one here. There are also ones called Hint Hunt in the UK. I’m keen to go back and try the harder room soon!

Uluru sunset

Uluru sunset

Last weeks post covered the start of our Red Centre adventure. Here’s what we got up to on the rest of the trip.

Day 3 – Kata Tjuta and Uluru sunset

Day 3 was unfortunately a 5am start! There were still a lot of stars about, and I’m pretty sure I hadn’t had any decent sleep! We were all up, had camp packed up, ate breakfast and were on the bus and off by 6am.

We headed off past Uluru, admiring it out the windows as we went, and on to Kata Tjuta – also known as the Olgas. Kata Tjuta is about 25km west of Uluru, and a collection of many dome shaped rock formations. We went on a walk around them for a few hours, admiring all the cool shapes and the bright blue sky against the red rock and green of the plans. The walk included a climb up between two big rocks with cool views back down the valley afterwards.

The area was very cool. We had researched it, so would have gone if we had done the trip ourselves. It was formed by similar geological processes and around the same time as Uluru, but is nowhere near as well known. Maybe it’s harder to market when it isn’t one big rock. If you’re going to the area I’d definitely recommend a trip.

Kata Tjuta

Kata Tjuta

After lunch we headed to Uluru and spent some time at the cultural centre, learning about the Aboriginal Anangu people in the area, their culture and why they ask that you show them respect and don’t climb up Uluru, which is a sacred place for them. As well as the spiritual side there are environmental issues with climbing it too – as you’d expect for a natural chunk of rock, there’s no toilets or bins and many people seem to think its OK to leave all their rubbish at the top. We only had about an hour there, and I would have liked to of had more time. There is a board of 8 people who manage Uluru, 4 Anangu and 4 from Government, 1 of which is the tourism rep. They need to all agree to close the walk up, and every year the tourism people vote no. (In 2084 it will stop anyway, when the lease runs out). There are some condition now, where if less than 20% of people visiting walk up, or there are 40 total deaths on the rock they will close the walk (there have been 35 so far).

People walking up Uluru

People walking up Uluru

We did a short part of the walk around the base, saw a cave with Aboriginal art in and learnt about some of the different symbols used in the artwork. The views of the rock from around the bottom are really interesting, so we didn’t see the need to climb up.

That evening we watched sunset while Kellie cooked us dinner. We even had some sparkling wine. The viewing spot was fairly quiet when we got there, but rapidly filled up with A LOT of tour buses. We had a good spot and mainly ignored them, but it did slightly detract from the experience. I guess any other designated spot would be pretty similar though. I had my tripod so got some cool shots. The rock really did change colour as the sun went down and lit it up differently. Apparently geologists have worked out it extends a full 6km under ground which is pretty impressive.

That night we had another fire and ate smores – a toasted marshmallow and piece of chocolate sandwiched between biscuits! Whilst they were good I reckon the marshmallows by themselves are just as tasty. We caped in the swags again, and I slept really well having been so knackered from not much sleep the night before!

Day 4 – Uluru sunrise and base walk

On the final day of the tour we for a lie in and got up at 5.30am – woo! We packed up and headed back to Uluru to watch the sunrise with our breakfast. The sun actually rose slightly to the side of the rock, and it was a bit cloudy so not that impressive. Sunset was definitely better views, but there was nobody else there this time which was much better.

After sunrise we went on the rest of the 10km walk around the base of Uluru. It was really very cool, with loads of different shapes and features in the rock. There were smooth undulating bits, foldy bits, bits with holes and part that looked like a whale. I really enjoyed the walk around the bottom. The classic picture of Uluru is the whole rock with sunrise / sunset, but when you walk around it you realise how many interesting features it has. We saw a watering hole, and some more caves with paintings.

Whale shape in Uluru

Whale shape in Uluru

Some of the areas were specific sacred sites for the Anangu people, so you are not allowed to take epicures of them. They are used for sacred rituals, mainly related to gender, so people of the opposite sex aren’t allowed to see the place, and if you take photos of it they might come across them.  I took a lot of pictures of the other bits though, some of which are below. For me this was my favourite part of the trip, followed by Kata Tjuta.

After the walk we got dropped back at the resort. This is basically the only official place to stay in the National Park, and it has a range of options from camping which we did to hotels, apartments and posh camping in tents. We chilled out there with an ice cream until it was time to get the free shuttle bus back to Ayers Rock airport. This seemed more efficient that completing the full tour by spending 6+ hours in the bus going back to Alice, and about 3/4 of the group did the same thing!

Domey bit of Uluru

Domey bit of Uluru

Overall we really enjoyed the tour. The schedule with the long days and early starts was pretty gruelling, but we managed to fit a lot into a short time, and having all the food and arrangements sorted did make life fairly easy. The tour was pretty active which was good, and we certainly didn’t have any time to get bored. There was some faff, and I probably would have got frustrated about sticking to someone else’s itinerary for anything longer than the few days we did. It was definitely good value for money and we had an excellent time, even if I did feel like I needed a holiday after to recover! 🙂

Foldy holey bit of Uluru

Foldy holey bit of Uluru

Mount Connor

Mount Connor

One of the places on our Australian holiday list was Uluru, and we decided to this year. Being in the middle of the country it gets very hot, so we planned to go around September, once winter was ending so it wasn’t too hot in the day or too cold at night.

We only wanted to take a couple of days off work, so spent a while debating whether to do the trip ourselves, or join in with an organised tour. In the end the big distances involved in the drive, the fact hire car companies don’t insure you to drive at night in case you hit a camel and the cost actually being cheaper for the tour meant we decided to go with the tour. We booked through the YHA, although the company was actually Rock Tours.

The tour was pretty action packed, with a lot crammed in, so this will be a two parter.

Day 1 – Alice Springs

We flew out to Alice Springs on Saturday morning, which is about a three hour plane ride. Time passed quickly with X men on, and we enjoyed seeing a lot of not very much out the window.

Once we landed it was pretty much lunchtime, so we checked into the YHA and headed out for some lunch and an ice cream. We stocked up on some snacks for the trip which was definitely a good move. There was a 24 hour disco as part of a festival week which was pretty comical to look in on.

There is some stuff to do in Alice Springs (but not a weeks worth probably). We didn’t have a lot of time though, so just went on a short walk up Anzac Hill to watch sunset. Alice is bounded by the MacDonald range if mountains, but apart from that it’s not especially pretty, and the sun went down mainly over big industrial units and car parks! We had some nachos for dinner which ended up bring free because the messed up our order, and headed to bed nice and early ready for the tour the next day.

Anzac Hill Memorial

Anzac Hill Memorial, Alice Springs

Day 2 – Kings Canyon and bush camping

We joined the tour very early at 5.25am, and turned out to be the first people on the bus. We spent about an hour driving around Alice picking people up, including going to two places twice because the people failed to get up. Grumble.

After a quick coffee stop Kellie got some good 90s tunes going on the stereo and had us drawing our names and pictures on the bus windows (in special pens) so be could work out who everyone was a bit easier. There were 16 of us in all.

All in it took about 6 hours to get to Kings Canyon. We went on the 3 hour rim walk around the canyon, which was very cool with lots of big red layered rocks. It was about 34 degrees, but a fairly dry heat. We stopped a lot and drank a lot of water (having all taken the 3 litres each recommended by the safety signs). Kellie explained a lot of things to us about the area which was good, including about the rare Pygmy koalas only found in Central Australia. I was sceptical about this, but then we saw some real ones in a tree….Some of the people in the tour believed they were real ones a bit longer than they should have done!

Pygmy Koala

Pygmy Koala

After the canyon walk we drove a couple more hours, stopping to collect some fire wood for the evenings fire. We also caught sunset over Mount Conner, which at first we spot bought might have been Uluru. It looked pretty cool in its own right and would have been interesting to see closer up.

We got the camp pretty late, built a big fire and cooked chilli and damper bread on it which was tasty. Because there was literally nothing around the stars were amazing. I tried some star photos, but need more practice on those. That evening we did bush camping, sleeping out in swags around the big fire. The swag is basically a big thick army style bag with a foam mat inside it. You sleep inside your sleeping bag inside the swag. We got taught about making lines around them and putting salt down to stop snakes and spiders!

It was very cool opening your eyes and seeing so many stars out above you. That said, I didn’t sleep very well because 1) I was scared of snakes and spiders and 2) I was actually really really hot with the combined heat of my winter down sleeping bag, the swag and the fire. I tried to solve this by sticking my arms and legs out to cool off, but that just made problem 1 worse! Cool as it was, and although I did survive the night, I’m enough of a spiderphobe to want to sleep in a tent in future!

Stay tuned for more about Uluru and Kata Tjuta in the next post.

Kings Canyon

Kings Canyon

 

Uluru

Here’s a run down on September.

Liking: After three weeks of pretty wet weather, it’s finally starting to warm up and spring is on the way. 🙂 We did a long coastal walk which was good, starting and ending with a scenic half hour ferry ride.

Disliking: Jellyfish on the beach – a lot of them. Not sure what they were exactly but we decided not to go for a dip!

Watching: I’ve been getting through more Greys Anatomy on the ipad when I’m away in Brissie and we caught the latest Xmen film on the plane to Alice Springs. We watched Transcendence with Johnny Depp on DVD which was pretty good too.

Playing:  Our latest game has been Netrunner. It’s pretty geeky and has a very big rule book. It takes a few goes to get the hang of it, but it’s actually pretty good once you get past the geeky computer references. It’s for two players, basically a defender and an attacker (a hacker). Once I got to be the attacker I enjoyed it much more! There are lots of different combinations with it, so we still have many more to try.

Consuming: I’ve done a couple of very yummy bakes recently including ginger and lime cheesecake bars and some lemon curd fairy cakes. Ummm,cake!

Also it was our third wedding anniversary this month (how time flies) so we went to another fancy restaurant, this time humorously called Oscillate Wildly. It has one chefs hat and looked pretty funny in the calendar. They only do an 8 course degustation menu and don’t tell you in advance what you’re getting so it’s a surprise. My two favourite things were 1) the 100% wagyu beef steak with shitake mushrooms, sesame dressing and a crispy leaf – soooo good and 2) gin and tonic compressed into a big slice of sugar cane, served in a glass of ice. You basically munched but didn’t actually eat the sugar cane and it tasted of very very yummy gin and tonic.

Buying: The rain guage Matt ordered came, about the time it stopped raining much. Apart from that I’m thinking about getting a new phone as mine is dying and with a new contract I can get some international minutes chucked in too.

Thinking about: Nothing in particular! Right now after a relaxing day of baking, eating cake, chatting and sitting in the hot tub I’m thinking about (but battling the urge for) a nap.

Visiting: We went on a three night break to the red centre including Alice Springs, Kings Canyon, Kata Tjuta and Uluru which was really good. More about those in upcoming posts.

Missing:  After three 5am starts for our tour I’m missing sleep! Looking forward to a big Sunday lie in this weekend.

Looking forward to: We have tickets to see Bill Bailey on on tour in Sydney in October, which I’m pretty excited about.