“At home, I was a stranger to myself, and, on the road, a stranger to everyone else. I longed to belong, but I didn’t know where,” Irish Travel Writer Jean Butler
I AM perched in a loft bedroom overlooking Bundaberg’s Burnett River, surveying the sailing boats bobbing on the water and wondering about the stories of the sailors within. I long to know what these old salts could tell me about the horizons they have crossed. After a busy year out in the world myself, I have returned “home” but not quite. At the last minute I have accepted an invitation to return to Bundaberg, on Queensland’s Southern Great Barrier Reef, and I find myself at the Burnett Riverside Motel, sitting in the new H20 restaurant and bar, with the new general managers Ian and Karyn Wade-Parker.
I sip a Bargara Brewery Ray Xpa and chat to this charming couple who are injecting as much local flavour into this experience as possible. This dynamic duo, who have worked in tourism and hospitality for decades, had a longing to return to Queensland after a stint in drought-stricken New South Wales. It was a heart-breaking time for this pair, who despite running a successful business, witnessed first-hand the effect of the drought on their community. And for Karyn, who grew up in Charleville in Outback Queensland, it’s a special homecoming.
“We needed to get back to the water. What we are trying to create here in Bundy is something that will go well,” Ian says.
“It is needed. There is a percentage of people who are looking for quality. The opportunity that we have here is to give Bundy a bit more maturity. It is moving from a country town into the next thing.
“We are rated four-star but what we are about to deliver is a five-star hotel experience.”
And it’s evident in the menu. Sip on a Bargara Brewery beer, cradle a Bundy rum or scoff a local Kalki Moon gin and watch the river change colours in the late afternoon before you dine on a menu which shouts Bundaberg loud and proud. On this colourful card you’ll find the likes of Bundaberg Brewed Sarsaparilla Sticky Pilled Pork; Bargara Brewery Black Braised Lamb Shanks; Kalki Moon (gin) Butter Basted Salmon; and even a Bundaberg Rum Coffee brulee. The next stage for Ian and Karyn is to oversee the renovation of this 44-room motel, which boasts eight different room styles, including the four loft rooms.
“It’s about those little one per cent (changes) that turn the experience into something that’s OK into something extraordinary,” Ian says.
“We look at it from a customer’s point of view. You turn it into your home. It is an extension.”
The theme of “coming home” resonates on this trip. I have coffee down at the beach with Christine from Bargara Coastal Accommodation; drinks and dinner with Tracy whose underwater photos of the Southern Great Barrier Reef will make your toes curl; and breakfast with Katherine from Bundaberg Tourism. I enjoy a long chat with Suzie from Bundy Food Tours about her recent Queensland Tourism Awards win; and Rick from Kalki Moon Distillery tells me how his gin is winning awards in London. I drop into the new headquarters of Bundaberg Tourism, Spring Hill House, a former Queenslander home built in 1883. I catch up with this hard-working crew who treat me like family each time I return. Plonked at the back of the Bundaberg Rum Distillery, the sparkly new Visitor Information sits next door. Here visitors are treated like royalty, and encouraged to sit and stay and peruse the incredible experiences they can have on offer in the region.
Back inside Bundy Tourism’s new digs it’s all tin and timber, polished wooden floors and even a friendly resident ghost. They think it’s the oldest daughter, Mary-Ann, of the original Noakes family who inhabited this former sugar cane plantation house. It appears Mary-Ann approves of her new inhabitants. And for me, wandering the halls of this Queenslander, it reminds me of my home, back in Brisbane. The place that sustains me on those lonely days when I’m out on the road, and I dream of my fragrant frangipani tree off my big, back deck, and those summer nights punctuated by a chorus of cicadas.
And it’s from that very spot, on the back deck of my Queenslander cottage in Brisbane, that I’m penning my final travel blog of 2018. And what a year it’s been. I have trained to be a Ninja Warrior in Japan; trekked in Nepal to meet the SASANE survivors of sex trafficking; wandered the humid back alleys of Bangkok tasting street food; island-hopped in the Southern Great Barrier Reef; fine-dined in Noosa; been pampered in Abu Dhabi; discovered the secret of happiness in Bhutan; explored Sydney’s secret Tank Stream; driven up the guts of Australia from Uluru to Humpty Doo in the Northern Territory; experienced Thailand’s Koh Khood; danced till I dropped at my niece’s wedding in Emerald; met inspiring Indigenous operators in Tropical North Queensland; tasted tapas and life as it should be lived in Spain; laughed with a mate in Prague; hugged my family in Germany; snorkelled in Samoa; and hidden away in the hills of Byron Bay.
It’s been a year that has enriched me beyond belief, and refuelled this sassy story teller with a thirst for the world. A huge thank you to all of the PR people, tourism operators, and the random strangers who swept me up and took me with you on this journey. It takes intellect, courage, and above all, a generosity of spirit to take the time to tell me your stories and I can’t wait to get back out there in 2019 and do it all again.
The Global Goddess travelled to Bundaberg with the assistance of Bundaberg Tourism https://www.bundabergregion.org and Burnett Riverside Motel http://www.burnettriversidemotel.com.au
IT was bone-chillingly cold, still dark, and far too early to be checking in for yet another flight, in what had been an already hectic year. But there I was, at Canada’s Winnipeg Airport, heavily clad in winter clobber and dragging behind me a duffle bag containing a polar suit and kick-arse thermal boots. I was bound for Churchill, where I would board a tiny, old Russian jet, and land in remote Hudson Bay, to go on a walking safari with the polar bears. I was far more scared of the cold than meeting the King of the Arctic.
I did not know her yet, but I recognised her as part of my group from the same duffle bag she was carrying. She spoke, in a refined British accent, and while I cannot remember what it is she said, it prompted me to say “Hello, you Pommie Bastard, are you on my trip?”. She turned, smiled, and immediately responded with “Hello Skippy!” And from that point onwards, we became friends. I did not know at the time that Karen Burns-Booth was one of Britain’s best bloggers and a renowned foodie, I just knew that I had a new playmate with whom to explore remote, arctic Canada on this travel writing assignment.
I told her I hated small planes, so she sat behind me on the flight as we soared over this spectacular winter landscape, patting me on the back when we encountered turbulence. While out walking on the slippery arctic ice, we held hands, to prevent from falling. We stood in unison and cried when we encountered the most beautiful polar bears and laughed till we cried by the warm Seal River Lodge fireplace at night. We shared deep secrets out on that ice. That was several years ago now, she went back to her home in France, and I to Brisbane. But you don’t forget a friendship forged like that.
Karen Burns-Booth has just released her first book, named after her blog Lavender & Lovage – A Culinary Notebook of Memories & Recipes from Home & Abroad ¬– and I couldn’t be prouder of my feisty friend. Just back from a hectic year of travels, I collected the copy she had sent me, from the post office last week. And on those pages, I can sense her soul and smell her cooking even from this far away. Part travel memoir, part cookbook, Karen, who now lives in Wales, gives readers an insight into her full and flavoursome life.
“In this book I’ll be sharing recipes from an old schoolhouse kitchen in North Wales, a farmhouse kitchen in SW France, and from all the other places I have called home,” she says.
“From Cornwall, Hong Kong and South Africa, to the North East of England and numerous other far-flung places, with the aid of my trusty note books and diaries – this is truly a cookbook based on recipes from my suitcase, with notes from all of the countries and British counties I have ever lived and eaten in.”
In this delicious, thick tome, Karen shares some spectacular dishes and travel tales. There’s the “Typhoon” Bacon Butty, made by her father when they were living in Hong Kong during a typhoon; The First Nations “Indian Tacos”; The New Orleans Muffuleta Sandwich; “Panama Canal” Coronation Chicken; and Durban Lamb Curry among a feast of international dishes. Demonstrating her cheeky sense of humour, there’s a whole chapter dedicated to A Bit On The Side, which refers to Salads and Accompaniments; and towards the back of the book, decadent deserts such as Fat Rascals; as well as Sundry Gems such as Hannah’s Chilli Chicken Pasta with Chorizo, named after her daughter.
The gorgeous recipes and tantalising travel tales aside, what really strikes me about this beautiful book, is that I can feel Karen’s lovely soul as I wander through these pages. It’s almost as if I’m in a field, plucking her two favourite herbs, lavender and lovage, after which she named her blog and which launched her into our kitchens. If you’re lucky, like me, you stumble across generous, funny souls who become your friends in the most unlikely of places. The fact she is also so talented, is simply a plus. It’s the Christmas season, and I am reminded of this British gem, the “Pommie Bastard” who held my hand on the ice and whispered secrets in the arctic cold. May all of Karen’s readers, and mine too, be so fortunate to find a stranger who may hold your hand when you need it, and share their souls on those days when you feel its arctic cold and a little alone. This is my Christmas wish for you.
To order Karen’s book, go to Amazon or to read more about her work, go to her blog Lavender and Lovage – https://www.lavenderandlovage.com
THE waves are whispering off the reef, but in my half-awake/half-asleep daytime slumber, I can’t quite catch what it is they are saying. I am snatching a languid nap on the veranda day bed, listening to this seaside lullaby and the resort staff singing as they work. I have flown, overnight, on the new Samoa Airways’ Brisbane-Apia route and on the only plane it its fleet, a 737-800. The airline launched last year to replace the former national carrier, Polynesian Airlines, which ceased flying in 2005, due to financial issues.
On board, the baby blue vinyl seats remind me of the interior an old FJ Holden and the seat belts are just as tricky to buckle as well. There’s no seat 13 on this plane, and in 14F on the flight over, apparently no button to recline my seat either, despite it not being in an exit aisle. The seat pitch itself is generous, with plenty of leg room, with some saying it’s a deliberate move to accommodate for the typically larger frames of Samoans. I don’t eat on the late overnight flight, instead preferring to lay across the three seats available on this leg, but despite having my eye mask on and my pashmina over my body, am shaken awake by a male steward, asking whether I want the “beef or chicken”.
I arrive in the Samoan capital of Apia just as the sun rises and am transported across the island to Seabreeze Resort in the south. This adults-only resort is a consistent award-winner, and it’s easy to see why. Owned by Australians Chris and Wendy Booth, there’s just 12 rooms all overlooking the ocean and where the staff and service are immaculate. Over lunch, I ask Wendy whether Samoa possesses a masculine or feminine energy, and she doesn’t hesitate with her response.
“It’s got a masculine energy. Everyone looks to the father of the family,” she says.
“The mother plays a very important role in Samoa but she’s quite happy to be in the background. The women are very powerful people in Samoa.
“The men are the fathers of the family but if someone wrongs you, the father will defend your honour.
“It is an interesting society and interesting in the village. Everyone shares the upbringing of the children. It works because everybody has something to give.
“There is no ownership in Samoa. The biggest belief they have is what goes around, comes around.”
There are 2000 people in the local Aufaga village and I have the incredible privilege of meeting some of them. I attend the local school, a make-shift affair for around 200 kids while their old school is being rebuilt, and there’s a sea of pink and green uniformed faces waiting for me. Turns out they have been practising their dance moves and singing all week. The boys do the haka and the girls perform a kind of hip hop hula. I am invited to repay the compliment and shake a leg, and the kids are in hysterics. This “palagi” (white girl) can’t dance.
I visit a village family who have cooked me an entire chicken as a gift that I share with a colleague, and watch as they roast a pig underground in a traditional umu, covered in leaves. They’ve done this just for us, and it’s delicious. I’m touched beyond words. For people who have so little to give, they have shared this feast with me.
My week unfolds like the daily tropical storms. I walk through steamy jungle foliage to visit gushing waterfalls, I swim, kayak and snorkel in the lukewarm ocean, and on my last day, a Sunday, I go to church. Some of the village kids remember me, smile, wave and sing out “hi Chris” like we’re old friends. There’s a pesky lump in my throat which turns to tears when the Samoans start to sing church hymns.
Oe my last night, I check into the Honeymoon Villa, which sits on its own private point overlooking the ocean. There’s a luscious lobster with my name on it and I dine, alone, under the stars. I have lounged on plump day beds and enjoyed a facial replete with local ingredients such a cucumber, honey, lime and banana. Later, when the moon rises, I snatch a sneaky skinny dip in my private plunge pool under the night sky. There’s a stingray, sashaying through the shallows. I search for the spiritual meaning of stingray. It means protection. I look out to the ocean and silently thank Brother Samoa for looking after me on my journey across the South Pacific.
On the Samoa Airways flight home, in seat 26A, my tray table is so damaged, I cannot actually eat my food from it, as it slides right off, and I note one of the drop-down screens which displays the safety message doesn’t deploy. For a short-haul flight, and boasting some great launch specials, it’s a good option from Australia’s east coast, but don’t expect any frills. The inflight entertainment is via wifi and you don’t need to download an App beforehand. There’s a reasonable selection of movies, TV shows and games to keep you entertained on this flight which is about five-hours long. The food and beverage is also retro…there’s the beef or chicken… but despite my initial scepticism about the chicken dish, it turns out to be tasty. Alcoholic beverages are extra, and you must pay in cash, but the full glass of red wine was good value for $5.
Back in Brisbane, my luggage arrives promptly, but when I open my case back home, all of my clothes inside are soaked, despite there being no rain in Apia when I leave, or Brisbane when I arrive. With only one plane in its fleet, Samoa Airways is taking a huge punt should anything go wrong on its routes which include Sydney, Auckland, Pago Pago, Apia and Brisbane. But the airline does have plans to introduce a second plane in March next year, and an agreement with Qantas and Fiji Airways to assist should the plane not work for any reason. I really wanted to like Samoa Airways, and overall, if you are looking for a retro ride that will get you across the South Pacific, for a competitive price, and pleasant and professional staff, consider this airline. With a few tweaks, and more attention to detail, this airline could make the Samoans proud of once again, having a national carrier.
The Global Goddess flew as a guest of Samoa Airways https://samoaairways.com and stayed as a guest of Seabreeze Resort http://www.seabreezesamoa.com
The children at Aufaga Village school desperately need reading and other school material. You can donate these to Seabreeze Resort and one of the staff, who lives in this village, will ensure they are delivered.