AUNTY Nane’s chuckle is a cross between a garrulous gecko and a violently erupting volcano, the type of which formed the island of Rarotonga, on which I find myself. Aunty, a Cook Islands Tourism Ambassador, is here to tend to my every need, including collecting me at the airport upon my 2am arrival from Brisbane. So dedicated is this generous soul to her role, I am certain that if I asked her, she would also stroke my hair while I surrendered to a deep slumber and sing me a lullaby. She may possibly even spoon me. I decide she is the perfect wing woman to assist me in finding a Cook Islander husband. Yes, I have crossed the International Date Line, or dating line, so to speak, and figure I may as well try my chances at finding love over this invisible border.
Aunty loves to chatter as much as she loves to eat, and over freshly-caught tuna sandwiches on my first day in her idyll island, she gives me the run down on dating, Cook Islands style.
“Cook Islander women are strong minded and determined. We are modern now because in the past everything was about men and the women were in the kitchen and at home. Today, nah, ah,” she says, waggling her finger.
“Women have a big role in the community, at home, at church and wherever they go. Men are having that respect for women now.
“There are a lot of mixed marriages here. There are no taboos about mixed marriage. You have some of these young men who are like ‘I have a white chick, check it out’. I’m like ‘guys, don’t break their heart’.”
Aunty tells me my best chance of finding a Cook Islander husband is to accompany her to church on Sunday. Regular readers of this blog will know I have attempted many unorthodox methods around the world to secure a boyfriend, but I’ve never had a date with God, and so we schedule this in for several days time.
The next day, on a Tuk Tuk trip with Uncle Mata from Tik-E Tours, I learn that the Cook Islander man is “very quiet, very humble, very reserved and they support their women.”
“He is hard working and looks after the family. Whichever woman you pick they are all strong. Men have good values of bringing up their children,” Uncle Mata says.
Uncle’s advice on Cook Islands dating is similar to Aunty Nane’s.
“Don’t go to the pub, they’ll be too drunk and talk a lot of rubbish. Go to church and have a look,” he says.
“Just go up and talk to him. Just say ‘Kia Orana’ and whatever happens after that happens.”
Not since I first learned they gave out free wine have I ever been so excited to go to church.
Onwards I travel, to the island of Aitutaki, best known for its stunning lagoon. Here, my tour guide Aunty Mii tells me she loves her husband “very much” but spends her days trying to avoid him because he is “very stupid”.
“My stupid husband broke the washing machine and now he has to wash his own clothes,” she says.
“In ancient days women had to choose their partners. They had three of four because they had to breed the warriors for the tribe. But when Christianity arrived that ruined everything.”
I avoid asking Aunty Mii whether I should go to church to find a husband, partly because of her views on Christianity, and partly because I am very scared of her. Instead, I ask her if there’s a marriage counsellor on this remote island.
“Yes, that’s me,” she says, breaking into a toothless grin.
Two days before church, I am back in Rarotonga, having dinner with Geoff, 34, who provides me with a contemporary view on dating, Cook Islands style.
“For me, it is not dating per say. I have a couple of girls on the roster and it is a mutual understanding. We wait for the tourist season because the ratio of girls to guys will be in our favour,” he says.
“And white women tend to like Cook Islander guys. You’ve got this revolving door of visitors to keep the bachelors happy and in between you go back to the roster.
“Cook Islander women get complacent real quick. You date them for a year and after that you can’t do right by them. They’ve got that really strong personality.
“A lot of girls are always telling me ‘you are impossible to please’.
Geoff tells me there is also Tinder on Rarotonga but he is yet to find the “ideal woman”.
“The whole idea about the perfect woman I don’t understand yet. Someone with fair skin is quite exotic to me,” he says.
“I’ve had to defend my thoughts on dating many times. Until this system comes crashing down around me, it works.
“One of my best features is not my appearance, it’s because I can talk. I’ve really honed that to a fine art. If I was interested in you normally I’d square off and make sure I touch you on the arm at some stage. It’s all these little nuances you pick up on.
“Then I need to move you to a setting where I’m the alpha male. There will be drinking and dancing. It is so fluid. It’s the meeting, setting up, trying to close and then the logistics.”
Geoff, who has been operating on the same dating scheme for 20 years, has it down to a fine art, even having a draw full of sarongs and toothbrushes for any lucky ladies who happen to spend the night.
“It is a game of numbers. You run the strategy that yields a higher return,” he says.
He admits he sometimes lies to get what he wants and that it can be disrespectful.
“I’ve got four older sisters and they don’t know about this. If they found out they’d try and sit me down and say ‘hey’. I don’t think mum would understand.”
Sunday finally arrives and I dress in a floral frock and place on my head the gorgeous garland of flowers or traditional “ei” that Aunty has bought me from the markets. It’s D-Day. Divinity. Dating. Or Disaster. I enter the church and the congregation is packed, but they all seem to be aged either 5 or 85 with a distinct lack of the middle-aged men I was promised. There’s a visiting Samoan missionary, a huge hunk of a man, but the priest promptly describes him to his parishioners as “married to God”, which, frankly, is a hard act to follow. At one point a sprightly octogenarian breaks free from a prayer line to kiss me on the cheek. There’s lunch with the churchgoers afterwards but alas, no husband.
In the early evening Aunty drops me at dinner overlooking the ocean, paying for my meal before she heads back to church for the evening. I resist the urge to join her again. The only thing I took away from this morning was apparently it’s “Up, Up Jesus, Down, Down Satan.” Instead, from where I sit, the sun is setting, I have a glass of New Zealand wine in my hand, and I can smell the salt in the air. I am alone in possibly the most romantic spot on the planet when it dawns on me, I don’t need a Cook Islander husband, I need a Cook Islander wife. And I can’t wait for Aunty to get home from church to tell her.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Cook Islands Tourism. To plan your own adventure go to https://www.cookislands.travel
I’m flying to the Cook Islands today on assignment for 10 days. I’ll be back just after Easter with some more pics and words on my incredible adventure where I’ll be snorkelling and sailing these beautiful waters, interviewing the only female chief of one of their tribes, participating in a traditional bush beer ceremony with the men, staying in a brand new eco retreat, going on a cycling storytelling tour and visiting some of their most remote islands. I can’t wait to meet these beautiful people.
Photos and travel courtesy of Cook Islands Tourism http://www.cookislands.travel
I AM sitting in my hot Brisbane office dressed in a leopard-print summer dress, reflecting on my life as a travel writer in 2016. Let’s not beat around the boiling bush, it was always going to be a quirky one after I kicked off the year in January at Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat on the Gold Coast where I spent an hour in a one-on-one mediation session with a horse, of course.
Yes, Jack, the 22-year-old horse, was quite the listener and as it turned out, I was a good learner, discovering more about myself in that paddock than years of therapists have been to unravel. Working with my breath, and the fact horses are instinctive creatures, I was able to go from having Jack walk away from me (apparently I hate rejection) to have Jack trotting around the ring by the end of the session, based purely on my inner calm and emotions. He even stopped on cue when I exhaled. In that one crowded hour I learned I am prone to being a bit of a bull at a gate, and expecting others to join me on my crazy schemes, without first checking that they’re on board. Jack, you taught me a lot.
In February, and in the name of another story, I plunged into the warm waters off Lord Howe Island for Ocean Swim Week with World Ironman Champion Ali Day and Pinetrees Lodge. I’d never swum out in the open ocean before and learned that it was far more different and difficult to the university pool in which I try to carve up a daily 1km. Swimming among reef sharks and over fantastic coral, I also learned I could overcome sea sickness in rough swells and complete an impressive 2-3km a day. I also learned I’m incredibly stubborn once I push through an initial lack of confidence. Salty and stubborn. And I wonder why I’m single.
March saw me in Fiji, working with the fine folk at the Outrigger Fiji Resort and writing stories about some innovative and compassionate community projects in which they are involved, building new kindergartens and maternity wards. That kindy opened last week and it was heartening to know I was there at that pivotal point in history with people who have so little, but find so much reason for joy. Want perspective on your life? Head to the South Pacific. Sit under a coconut tree and pull your head out of your proverbial. It will change you, I promise.
In April, I was in Germany on a beer tour, also in the name of research, and if you think I had to train for Ocean Swim Week, it’s like I was born for Beer Week. And to think successive maths teachers over the years said I would never amount to anything. Add to that a dash of Mother Nature where I summited Germany’s highest mountain…and by summit I mean taking a gondola to the top and promptly order a beer and goulash. Because I’m hard-core. I explored my animal instinct here by taking to Bavarian Tinder and I was quite the hit in Germany. Not that I had time to actually meet any of my Bavarian boyfriends, but I got the distinct impression they were different to Brisbane boys and not once did anyone send me a photo of their penis. #winning
May turned out to be a journey of a different kind where I had some long-awaited tests and surgery for health symptoms that killed a fellow travel writer last year. While my tests turned out fine, the surgery laid me up for four weeks in incredible pain, and it was a time to reflect and go inwards, something I’m not particularly good at. But when Mother Nature speaks, sometimes you have to listen and it was a good life lesson. I did have a moment of truth while awaiting those test results, questioning myself on whether I was living the life I wanted. And the answer was yes. By June, when I was back on the road in Vienna and Monaco, exploring Royal and Imperial Luxury Europe, I was thrilled. I may have even danced around the house just prior to leaving to Willie Nelson’s On The Road Again. Because I have an excellent taste in music.
In July, I braved a chilly Toowoomba trip to explore the city’s sensational street art. And it blew my socks off. Not literally, as that would have been unpleasant in the cold, but metaphorically. I also took my first trip to Darwin and again, was thrilled by the Northern Territory capital with its outdoor cinemas, national parks, and great dining and accommodation offerings. This is a city which celebrates its sunsets, with hundreds of residents and tourists flocking to the beach to watch the sun plunge into the ocean and that, in itself, was a magical moment. A destination which sells tickets to its annual festival out of an original caravan used to house homeless people after 1974’s Cyclone Tracy? You’ve gotta love that.
August saw me at Sabi Sabi Private Game Lodge in South Africa on a luxury safari and yes, I was lucky to experience the Big 5, plus all the rest. Mother Africa and her beautiful people stole a piece of my heart and I came home reeling from Jo’Burg’s street art to Robben Island where the mighty Mandela spent 18 years of his 27 year jail term. There’s usually about one month of the year where I try to stop, pause, reflect and recharge and it was September this year, which also turned out to be my birthday month, and what a delight it was to be a normal person again, catching up with friends, going to yoga classes, and just “sitting with myself” as we say in meditation.
In October, I was out on the road again, on my longest trip of the year to Canada where I started in Vancouver, sitting in a traditional indigenous sweat lodge with an elder, talking to our ancestors. But the absolute highlight of that three-week journey was the opportunity to go on a walking safari with the polar bears with Churchill Wild. I discovered that the Lord of the Arctic was to be respected, not feared, and that if we don’t manage the way we treat the planet, polar bears may be relegated to the history books.
The conservation theme continued into last month, November, when I jumped on a plane to the Maldives Outrigger Konotta Resort and spent a fascinating few days talking with a marine biologist who is trying to resurrect the reef with innovative coral planting strategies. On a monsoonal Monday I sat on the edge of a jetty weaving coral necklaces from coconut rope that would later be implanted on the reef, in a moment I will always remember when my fingers are no longer nimble and I’m too old to travel. From the Arctic, where the ice is melting, to the Indian Ocean, which is becoming too warm, I had the immense privilege of experiencing the impacts of Climate Change first hand.
Which brings me to December. In two days I’ll be boarding a plane for my last travel writing assignment of the year. And yes, this trip has another animal theme. I’ll be boarding a sailing boat and exploring beyond Bali to the islands around Indonesia, before we arrive at the land of the komodo dragons. Along the way we’ll be snorkelling with manta rays and sharks. And I cannot wait. Yes, it’s been a big year, and moments of great challenge, times when you are so jetlagged you want to weep, a deep-seated loneliness from long weeks out on the road, and a disconnect from normal life. I didn’t find the love of my life, but I know he’s out there. And when I’m out in the world, doing what I love best, hunting and gathering stories, there’s no better feeling on the planet. I wish you a Happy Christmas and may 2017 be everything you dreamed of and more.
The Global Goddess would like to thank all of the tourism and travel operators, local communities, kind random strangers, PR people, publishers, editors and fellow writers, who joined her on the incredible journey that was 2016. See you out there in 2017.
BRISK, crisp days out on the remote Arctic tundra can lead to some funny conversations and so it came to be one afternoon that we were watching the polar bears and pontificating about their defining features. While it’s hard to identify polar bears from each other in general (they are all white with few markings), males tend to be bigger with square heads, while females have softer, more refined features. One thing turned into another and before long we were talking about dating, and I coined the phrase Tundra Tinder. Kind of like real-life Tinder, but far more interesting. For your viewing pleasure, I present the following candidates…
BIG OLD BEAR
Big Old Bear weighs about 400kg and is 9 years old. He likes to hang around Seal River Lodge and flop about in the tundra grass, fully aware you are checking him out. But Big Old Bear is also a bit of a show off, and one day, putting himself between the lodge and our group, he decided to come for a wander our way. In fact, Big Old Bear got within 10 metres of our group, and it was only when Churchill Wild guides Derek and Josh started to negotiate with him that he decided to keep walking. He then made a new day bed for himself and promptly plonked his considerable bulk down into it. The only difference between Big Old Bear and a Brisbane boy on Tinder is that you can actually negotiate with Big Old Bear.
Arctic Hare is a bit of stalker, he liked to hang outside my lodge bedroom window at night, looking a little like the Easter Bunny. By day, he’s a bit elusive, hiding behind rocks, cocking his ears for a brief photo, before hopping off into the distance. A bit of a shady character who would probably agree to going out with you to dinner, but disappear when the bill arrived.
Beautiful Girl sported all of the traits of a pretty female bear. And she was far less showy than Big Old Bear. We found her on the other side of the lodge, peacefully stretching and flopping. It’s here I started to think about polar bear yoga poses that I can deploy back home. Beautiful Girl was happy for us to stare at her for hours, which is precisely what we did, and it was one of the most peaceful moments of my life. A low-maintenance date if ever I saw one.
Baby Girl was possibly my favourite of the bears we saw during our stay. She was also the cutest. Only about 4 years old, Baby Girl liked to walk straight down the gravel driveway leading to the lodge, and right up to the fence which kept us humans in. Yes, she adored her human zoo and had a habit of trying to sniff each of us individually, stare right down the camera lens, and then happily walk off. If you ever felt like you could hug a polar bear (not recommended) this was that moment. So beautiful was Baby Girl, that several of us just stood at the fence and cried in her presence. Saving herself for a male bear who deserves her.
Ok. So not all of the Tundra Tinder action revolved around animals. Josh, 19, from Alberta, was one of our guides. And the photos don’t quite show it here, but Josh had the most awesome head of hair I’ve ever seen on a man, coupled with a great personality. Think Brad Pitt’s sandy, foppish hair meets Hugh Jackman’s soul. As a reformed cougar, it was quite the challenge not to leap onto Josh’s head, the situation being somewhat similar to placing a 1969 Grange in front of a recovering alcoholic. But this trip was not about felines, it was about polar bears, and I desisted. I can tell you, young women of Australia, that Josh is a fine specimen indeed, and either you get yourselves up to Seal River Lodge or you invite him to our fair land. The good news is I did manage to pluck a few hairs from his head as I hugged him goodbye, and I am currently cloning him in my downstairs laundry. And yes, I am taking Christmas orders.
The Global Goddess travelled to Canada as a guest of Destination Canada (www.keepexploring.com.au) and stayed at Seal River Lodge with Churchill Wild Safaris (www.churchillwild.com)
FACT: Canadians are the most polite people on the planet. How do I know this? Having spent three weeks in this beautiful land recently, I can honestly say I have never encountered a more genuine, friendly bunch of humans anywhere in my world travels. Sure, Australians are reasonably happy-go-lucky, but Canadians take it to a whole new level, apologising to YOU if you are clumsy enough to bump into them, which I did both literally and metaphorically on many occasions. Here’s a great bunch I bumped into during October.
Erika Vader (just like Darth Vader, she told me) is a lovely, young Shishalh Nation woman, who took me on a Talking Trees Tour of Vancouver’s iconic Stanley Park. Erika is one of a number of First Nations Canadians who are passionate about preserving their culture and on this tour she explains the Indigenous significance of animals and trees.
From Vancouver I travelled to Toronto, where I stayed in The Thompson Hotel. Attached to the hotel was a diner, where I met Dana. Dana in the diner was a delight. Dana and I had an enlightening conversation talking about the advantages and disadvantages of travelling the world from the perspective of a black woman, and that of a white woman. Before I left, I told Dana I was flying to Winnipeg that day. She packed me a BLT to have for lunch on the plane. Yes, Canadians really do this sort of thing.
I spent a brief night in Winnipeg getting kitted out in polar gear, before I flew to Churchill and onwards to Seal River Lodge to walk with the polar bears. Meet my Churchill Wild guides Derek and Josh, who are better known as the “polar bear whisperers”. Derek and Josh were a bit like Superman. At night, by the fire sipping wine and talking about bears and life, they were just mild-mannered Clark Kent types. But put on that polar gear and strap on a rifle, and boom, Superman. Or, in this case, Batman and Robin. If you’ve never seen two men negotiate with a 400kg male bear who is getting a bit too close to tourists, then this is the trip for you. (Is it getting hot in here?)
Just when I thought I was going to explode from the testosterone out on the Arctic tundra, I flew to Quebec, where I met Eric. Staying in a monastery is not where you’d expect to bump into “the most handsome man in Quebec” but as we know, the good Lord works in mysterious ways. Eric works as a therapist at La Monastere des Augustines, and before I met him, was told by staff that he was a good-looking cat. I’ll be the judge of that, I thought. But yep, it appears the sacred sisters of the monastery and I share the same tastes. Not only is Eric impossibly handsome, he’s also got a good heart. When he’s not at the monastery giving reflexology treatments to tired travellers such as myself (yes, he touched my feet!), he works with dying patients in the adjacent hospital for whom morphine no longer relieves their pain. Yes, I think I met the world’s most perfect man. And it’s no surprise, as Canada is that kind of place. Kinda like Australia, but with a whole lot more snow. And polar bears. And polar bear whisperers. Did I mention the whisperers?
The Global Goddess travelled to Canada as a guest of Destination Canada (www.keepexploring.com.au)
To check out more of my Canada pics, including loads of incredible street art in Toronto, head to my Instagram @aglobalgoddess
Today I am heading on assignment to South Africa where I hope to bring you lots of photos like this one above, and also plenty of colourful tales from Mother Africa, from on safari at Sabi Sabi private game reserve to Jo’Burg, Cape Town and the rugged West Coast. (I’ve heard the wine’s pretty good there too). In the meantime, check out my Instagram page where I’ll be posting lots of photos. @aglobalgoddess.com
Destination: “Batchelor” Northern Territory. Population: No eligible blokes.
A FRAGRANT frangipani guard of honour framing the road from the airport announces my arrival into Darwin city. I’m driving an automatic hire car and I must be the only person on the entire planet who can’t handle an automatic, my feet fumbling every few metres for the clutch. So poor am I at mastering this skill, that I realise I am actually driving the car in neutral. That explains the odd looks from the people outside the vehicle and the strange sounds from inside. In retrospect, it’s not a bad thing to arrive in a new city in neutral. No expectations. And Darwin is my last Australian capital city to conquer.
Yes, 30 years of travelling the globe and I am possibly the only Australian who hasn’t been to Darwin. In human terms, I am the last cab to Darwin, so to speak. But I’ve heard all the stories. About the croc attacks and bum cracks. Those Top End “terrors” (I’m talking about the blokes here), apparently even more daring than those in my hometown of Brisbane. I’ve seen NT Cops on television and I’m an avid follower of the Northern Territory News’ front-page headlines such as “A croc ate my cock” (you should be so lucky, mate) and frankly, I can’t wait to see what this final frontier is all about. A female friend finds out I’m going to Darwin and assures me there’s a “mansoon” happening up here. Yes, the ratio of men to women is apparently 13:1. The very same time last year I was in Mount Isa where the bloke/sheila ratio is 7:1. Things are improving. According to another friend, the odds are good but the goods are odd.
While I expect to meet plenty of men, what I don’t expect is to find a city that is thriving as much as those frangipani trees. I walk down the Smith Street Mall on a glorious winter day, past the posh Paspaley Pearl store with its swanky shell handles. A few doors down, di CROCO Boutique is selling handbags made from NT crocs for around $3000. I spy some $20 key rings more in my price range. All the beautiful people are sipping skinny chai lattes in the Star Village courtyard, home to local designers.
Down the Mall I wander, stumbling across an old black caravan. There’s a pretty girl inside with a killer smile and I ask to take her photo. She’s selling tickets to the Darwin Festival in August. She points out a plaque on the caravan. Turns out this van is called Tracy, and it’s the original van used to house one of the 25,000 people rendered homeless when Cyclone Tracy destroyed the city on Christmas Eve 1974. It is at this exact point I fall in love with this city. I love a destination with a story and soul and Darwin has both in spades surviving not only the Japanese bombing in 1942, but Tracy too.
Around the corner, I bump into the old Country Women’s Association building. Fair enough, I think to myself, there’s a CWA here. But as I step closer I discover it’s now an eco café serving the kinds of things our grandmothers had never heard of. Yes, there’s acai bowls and skinny lattes where once there was crochet and black tea. On this particular afternoon I have time, and I let the gentle breeze off Darwin Harbour blow me in whatever direction it chooses. I find myself in Austin Lane, just off of Smith Street, where I discover graffiti art galore. Little do I realise that in a few days I’ll be back here, taking a cooking class in Little Miss Korea, a converted loading bay at the back of the old Woolworths complex. Korean chef Chung Jae Lee, who was born on the floor of his mother’s Seoul restaurant kitchen, will teach me how to make a seafood pancake. And God, will we laugh.
But before I cook with Chung, I’ll head to the Wave Lagoon where I’ll grab a boogie board and join a bunch of excited kids in Darwin’s answer to the ocean. And it’s pumping. Queensland board riders hate this sort of choppy onshore surf, but on this divine Darwin day I can’t think of anything more swell.
Days later I’m swimming at Litchfield National Park, spending the day wading from waterhole to waterhole. It’s on this journey we pass through that town called Batchelor. While the spelling is slightly skewiff, the sentiment is spot on. There’s even a Batchelor Museum which forces my face into a wry smile. Yes, single blokes are so rare in Australia, they are now building shrines to them. Of course, this museum is about something entirely different, but it keeps me amused all the way back into Darwin.
I’m in Larrakia country, the birthplace of Australian singer Jessica Mauboy and actress Miranda Tapsell, who I had the great pleasure of interviewing before I came to Darwin. Tapsell was a pure delight and so in love with Darwin it was infectious. I adore how at this time of the year, when the wet season finally concedes to the dry, Aborigines describe the weather as “knock-em down storms” and “clean em-up country”. Everything is fresh. And with it comes an air of possibility. Of Dreamtime and daydreams.
It’s my last night in Darwin and I head out to Mindil Beach for the sunset markets. No one told me how much Darwinians love a sunset and I watch in utter fascination as hundreds of locals and tourists flock to the cool sand at this magic hour to watch the sun collapse into the ocean. The crowd applauds in a gesture which makes me love this city even more. What is this mystical place where hundreds gather to celebrate Mother Nature at her finest? I head to the Deckchair Cinema where the cool breeze blows off the harbour and sit under the stars, slouched in a canvas chair. It’s one of the most romantic settings in Australia and I am all alone, but I am not lonely. For I am sitting in a city which has had everything thrown at it and not only keeps bouncing back, but flourishing. And that feeling, that delicious Darwin magic, is contagious.
The Global Goddess travelled to Darwin as a guest of Tourism Northern Territory – http://www.travelnt.com