Postcard from the Cook Islands


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

New Beginnings


I AM driving north of Brisbane to Bundaberg on my latest travel writing assignment when it strikes me that I am also on a personal pilgrimage. So caught up am I in the possibility of finally having the chance to experience the turtle hatchlings at Mon Repos on the Southern Great Barrier Reef, that I have temporarily forgotten my strong links to this regional Queensland town.

It’s been nine long years since I’ve been to Bundy, the birthplace and childhood home of my ex husband, and to where we would retreat each year to visit his family. And now I am returning. Alone. The ghosts of the past first hit me as I’m driving through Childers, when I glance at the façade of the old Palace Backpacker Hostel. In 2000 it burned down, killing 15 young backpackers. I remember that day well, I was the Tourism Reporter on the Courier-Mail and wrote a story about backpackers to this destination, mapping their rite-of-passage along the Queensland coast. How they used Childers as a place to stop, pick fruit, and make money before heading north to the Whitsundays. A bunch of young adults brimming with life and hope. Dead. That’s the thing about being a news reporter. Often it’s months, and in this case years, when beyond the adrenalin of a breaking news story, you finally have time to reflect on what it actually means. In my car I slow down, glance at the building, now an art space and memorial to the backpackers, and keep driving.

This is a blog about new beginnings, courage and resilience. I drive north through a series of summer storms, arriving in Bargara mid afternoon. The sun is shining and I head straight for a swim at the Basin, a tidal pool at the beach. Under the warm blue sky with fish at my feet and the ocean crashing against the rocks, I’m feeling cleansed. There are no ghosts here.

By early evening I am standing in the dark with a group of strangers at Mon Repos, wondering if I’ll have the chance to finally witness the baby turtles hatch on this, the last night of the season. Just 10 minutes after opening there’s a sighting and on this balmy beach night we wander in the dark and experience not one, but two clutches, both numbering in their hundreds. The rangers say this is the best outcome all season.

We form a human channel and the rangers shine a light from the nest to the ocean for the hatchlings to begin their life journey. You want resilience? Consider this. Just one in 1000 of these babies will make it to adulthood. And 30 years later, against all odds, the females will return to this very beach to lay their own eggs. In the dark I feel something crawl up my leg. It’s a rogue hatchling. Its beauty makes me cry. Later, back at my resort, I research the spiritual meaning of turtles: longevity, endurance, persistence and continuation of life.

The following day I snorkel with a green turtle off of Lady Musgrave Island. A 1.5 metre reef shark circles below me but I have nothing to fear. I hover over the turtle for the longest of times. Observing her feeding and resting on a reef cleaning station. I smile into my snorkel about my insatiable love of reptiles. Salty and sated, later that night I dine with Shane and Pascaline, the owners of the new Zen Beach Retreat in which I am staying. The theme of new beginnings recurs.

Shane, Australian, and Pascaline, French were living and working in Vietnam when they decided to swap their stressful, high-profile jobs for a different existence.
“We went back to Australia and went for a beach drive to try and find a block of land. I wanted to have something on the sea and it had to be hot,” Pascaline says.
“Some of the properties were stunning but there was not love there. We kept heading north. Shane stopped at Bargara Real Estate and saw this. We went walking and thought ‘what a great beach’. Both of us looked at each other and said ‘it is fantastic’.”
The couple opened the retreat in early March, after extensive renovations of this former 1970s Bargara beach motel.
“We will be offering health activities and corporate activities and finding a balance in between. In particular it’s about balancing the corporate wellness of the team,” Shane says.
“I found a lot of companies are losing their way, the way to innovate and keep their team motivated.
“What we’ve got here is a recovery treatment and corporate retreat.”

The property, which can sleep a total of 22 people including the couple’s beachfront home, boasts four themed suites – Executive, French, Asian and Oriental/Middle East. Each suite has been furnished with tasteful artifacts from the couple’s travels around the world.
“It is about creating an experience where people recover from the busy day-to-day life,” Pascaline says.
“It’s about having a guide to relax and building packages with different partners in the area such as nature, food, wellness and sports.
“We have a brand that is Zen. We want you to embody happiness.”

Happiness. I spend the next few days looking at Bundy through a different lense. I join Bundy Food Tours, a new tour which showcases the incredible innovation of the hardy farmers who have worked these fields for generations. There’s that resilience again. Even at the iconic Bundaberg Rum Distillery they’ve launched a new Blend Your Own Rum Experience. For the first time I visit Lady Elliot Island. There’s more turtles. More resilience. And I dine in new restaurants, all embracing food direct from the paddocks to their plates.

On my drive home I pause in Childers at the new Cane Fire Cheese House selling regional produce. I decide it’s time to embody the courage of the turtles and finally visit the Childers Backpacker Memorial. One of the volunteers accosts me at the door and explains the horrific events of that night. I listen, deciding against telling her I know the story all too well. She says the deliberately-lit fire, which saw Australian Robert Long jailed for murder, put Childers on the map for “all the wrong reasons”. I silently disagree. On the night of the fire, and for weeks and months afterwards, the locals opened their doors to the survivors and their families and embraced them as if they had lost their own children. And now they are immortalised in these walls. Forever part of this region’s fabric. On the drive south I think again about the turtles and their meaning: longevity, endurance, persistence and continuation of life. Bundaberg, well she has these in spades.

The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Bundaberg North Burnett Tourism – http://www.bundabergregion.info To stay at the Zen Beach Retreat go to http://www.zenbeachretreat.com

Paradise on a Plate


THE Moreton Bay bugs are swimming in it, but for once, it’s not the Pacific Ocean to which I am referring. Rather, I’m dining at Australia’s Number One Seafood Restaurant, 2 Fish Restaurant Port Douglas, where plump bug tails are floating in a sea of Penang curry sauce, pumpkin, spinach, green beans, lychee and coriander. A balmy breeze, the type that only North Queensland can deliver with flair, is whispering gently through the open doors and my pinot grigio is ice cold. Life, you could say, is pretty bloody good at this particular point in time.

A foodie, I am not. But as a true blue Queenslander, there’s not a lot of arm twisting required to entice me to visit any part of my beautiful state. Yes, I am biased when it comes to my big back yard, but when the restaurant in which you are dining has been voted the 2016 National Restaurant and Catering Award winner for Best Seafood Restaurant in Australia, who am I to argue? Feel like coral trout? You’ll find that lounging in the shallows of a seafood bisque with boy choy and a swimmer crab croquette; while the tiger prawns have paired up with a coconut lime espuma. And 2 Fish is just one of many Port Douglas restaurants partaking in this year’s Carnivale to be staged in May.

Now in its 23rd year, Port Douglas Carnivale was originally launched to mark the start of the sugar cane harvesting season but it’s now considered the official opening of the tourism season. Sure, there’s still plenty of that iconic cane around these parts, but some of the country’s finest foodies and chefs have now found their way to Port these days as well. Among this year’s celebrations, you’ll find Port On A Fork – Food Music and Wine – in which local chefs will present their signature dishes inspired by the gourmet delights of the region. Plus Paradise on a Plate, which is the renowned Longest Lunch in Rex Smeal Park and in which I find myself several evenings after my Moreton Bay bug encounter.

The waves are gently crashing against the point and a Spanish guitarist is crooning to our table under a full moon. Romance? Port Douglas has this in spades. Recipes? You’ll find some of the region’s most innovative on this menu of sesame yellowfin tuna dressed with shallot and wakame cracker; shell off/shell on tiger prawn with smoked avocado and herb buttered rye; and chicken ballottine, toasted corn, pickled fennel and coconut ash mayo.

And that’s just the start. Visitors to this year’s event can expect the likes of local barramundi with star anise cured pineapple, roasted yellow curry sauce and baby coconut salad; and lamb backstrap with a shallot puree, truss tomato, and olive crumb and sage crisps. As for dessert, how about all the textures of pina colada on a plate? A dessert which tastes like a cocktail? Now you’re speaking my language. While there’s plenty for grown ups during Carnivale, kids will also love the Wonders of the Reef Macrossan Street Parade and the Family beach Day at Port Douglas’ world-renowned 4 Mile Beach.
“It’s a party in paradise for all ages, it’s a wonderful event,” Event Director Melissa Head says.
“There’s lots of synergies and friendships formed at all of the events.”
So prestigious is this event, Melissa has also managed to lure Australian musician Ben Lee north for the event.

Not that encouraging anyone to visit Port Douglas is such a hard task. Outside of Carnivale, you’ll find a charming North Queensland town with an eclectic mix of old and new. Down the main drag, there’s still cane toad racing at the Iron Bar; the odd croc pie at Mocka’s Pies; and plenty of colour and life at the Port Douglas Sunday Markets where signs will encourage you to “drink more plants”. Meanwhile, down at the marina, Hemingway’s Brewery opened in June selling micro beers from what was once disgraced entrepreneur Christopher Skase’s apartment. In fact, Skase’s Sheraton Mirage Port Douglas, which many credit with putting the town on the map in what seems like eons ago, has also undergone its first facelift in decades. Yes, Skase may be long gone but Port Douglas lives on.

The Global Goddess travelled to Port Douglas as a guest of Tourism Port Douglas and Daintree – http://www.visitportdouglasdaintree.com; and stayed at QT Port Douglas – https://www.qthotelsandresorts.com/port-douglas/
For more information on Port Douglas Carnivale go to http://www.carnivale.com.au

 

Finding Refuge

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ON a balmy Brisbane evening I am slouched under a magnificent tree, savouring a plate of colourful African fare and sipping a Tusker malt lager. There’s but a whisper of a wind on this hot summer evening, just enough to scatter the tree’s tiny white flowers onto the faded tablecloth like confetti. The flowers fall into my hair and onto my head, like little sparks of inspiration.
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I’m at Mu’ooz Eritrean Restaurant in West End, surrounded by fellow writers, artists, poets, singers and daydream believers, attending Wild Readings. I blew in here a little like the white flowers, an invitation from a friend to join this underground movement of creatives, who gather on the third Tuesday of every month. It is here that they soak up the collective juices, which are threatened with drought when you are alone for too long in a big city, stalked by the shadows of conformity.
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The host opens the night by describing Wild Readings as a “public series for the storyteller in all of us.”
“We’d like to build a community of storytellers and people who just want to listen to words,” she says.
There are four readings in this delicious hour, Alanna uses art to tell stories about mental health and is reading from her book called “The Letter R” for Resilience. You need a lot of resilience to be a writer anywhere in the world, and it’s apt for this setting in which I find myself.
Tina is a published author and runs a children’s and young adults’ writers conference in Brisbane, fuelling the fire of future generations of crazy creatives.
Really, they should be building asylums for those of us insane enough to keep striking the keyboard in a world which begs us to do otherwise. And yet, thank God, we continue.
Annie, a program co-ordinator for newly-arrived refugees, picks up a ukulele and strums her story. There are others, a couple of poets and an author, but it’s Annie and her uke which strike a literal and metaphorical chord with me this evening.
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I didn’t leave the house expecting to find a story, but in this salacious setting how could I not? Not only am I inspired by the passion and prose of my fellow artists, but Mu’ooz itself is a not-for-profit social enterprise, established by Eritrean Refuge Women, which assists women arriving in Brisbane from many parts of Africa.
Shortly before the evening begins, I stumble across Manager Saba Abraham, who opened the West End location three years ago and since then has provided training and employment for more than 100 refugee women.
“We provide a pathway to employment with many of the women now employed in other places including schools, factories and cleaning jobs,” she says.
“The program aims to give them confidence and help them understand the workforce.
“Women refugees have minimal employment opportunities and many of them have never had any education in their country, therefore finding it extremely challenging in Australia, to learn the language and secure employment.
“Many of them feel like this is home to them, it is much more than a workplace.”
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Saba tells me the business is not without its challenges, rents in West End are high and there is still a disconnect between mainstream Australia and what they are trying to achieve, even in this socially-progressive suburb.
Which is a great shame, as the food here is different and delicious, boasting many dishes and ingredients even a well-travelled Australian palate may have never tasted such as Enjera – savoury purple pancakes; Silsie – a traditional Eritrean sauce; Berbere – traditional hot pepper seasoning; and Tasame – butter flavoured with Eritrean herbs and spices.
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I sip on my second Tusker malt lager, a beer I’ve never encountered before – and the white leaves keep falling on my head, urging me to write this story. A tale of a little courtyard in Brisbane, a meeting of people with big hearts and those cursed with that damn desire to write.
We are gathered on the traditional land of the Jagera, Yuggera and Yuggerapul people and we pay homage to them. A Yuggera elder has penned a Welcome to Country for us: “Everything sits in a circle around us. When we open ourselves to looking and listening it allows us to connect with Mother Earth, everyone’s Mother.”
On this hot night, I embrace the circle of refugees and creatives and watch as those tiny flowers keep falling, reminding me to keep writing.
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The next Wild Readings will be held on Tuesday, Feb 21 at Mu’ooz West End at 6pm for 6.30pm. You can join Wild Readings on their Facebook page. To dine at Mu’ooz and support their incredible work, go to http://www.muooz.com.au

That Old Black Magic

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THIS is a tale of scoundrels, scallywags and sailing and it begins with me losing my credit card on my first day in Bali on my last trip of 2016. I have no one else but myself to blame for this mishap, the effects of two champagnes and several red wines enroute adding to the utter delirium of approaching the invisible finishing line of another working year and causing me to lose focus. And so I simply went to a cash machine, withdrew $200 worth of Indonesia rupiah, and left my card in the ATM, never to be seen again.
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It took me a good hour to realise my folly by which time my card had well and truly be swallowed by the machine, or was being given a good, old workout by a Balinese man claiming to be a blonde, Australian woman with a non-Indonesian name. I cancelled my card and did what any Australian in a foreign land on their own without any ready source of cash would do…went to the nearest beach bar and ordered a Bintang. The healing powers of alcohol should never be underestimated in my opinion, and it was only several sips in that I realised there was a solution to my problem. And so I emailed a mate I hadn’t seen in some 20 years, my only friend in Bali, and wondered whether he might like to turn up to a lunch we were having the next day with a cool $500 cash.
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This is the other thing I love about Australians. We tend to be pretty decent people, particularly when another Aussie is in strife and my old mate Richard Laidlaw, who by the way pens the most excellent Hector’s Diary https://8degreesoflatitude.com
from his Bali home, barely battered an eyelid, turning up with a wad of cash, not unlike a pimp. But I digress. That very morning I was being picked up by another Aussie, Amanda Zsebik, who owned the ship on which I would be sailing for the next 9 days around Indonesia.
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I confessed the previous night’s utter stupidity to Amanda enroute to Al likai, and suspected she too, would curse my carelessness. But instead, she offered her view on Bali which has been her home for more than a decade.
“The energy in Bali takes your money. Many of us come to Bali to learn a life lesson quickly whether it is losing money or screwing up a relationship,” Amanda says.
“I’ve really seen the dark side of Bali, I love it, it’s my home, but you learn an enormous amount of respect for it.
“I don’t think they are bad people but in karmic terms they are having a Bali life to learn the dark side of nature.
“I’ve had black magic on me and spent two years in hospital. Bali has an incredible positive energy but there is a dark side to it too.”
So powerful is this dark side that not only does Amanda wear a black coral bracelet on her right wrist to protect against the black magic of which she speaks, but the words “light and love” are tattooed on her left ankle.
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Richard, who along with his partner Lea Crombie joined us aboard Al likai for lunch before we set sail, believes the future of Bali will be “the same shit, but more of it”.
“The Balinese were rich in a self-sustaining way but then people arrived with money. There were the artists of the 30s but it was really when the airport opened in the 60s and the surfers started arriving in the 70s. They would see these guys coming and knew they had money and they wanted it,” he says.
“I think its edge, in regional terms, is it is not Muslim. There is nothing wrong with places that are, but you must accept there are restrictions on the western style of life in a Muslim place.
“There is a sort of mystery to the east. The social structure here is so strong that local religion is not really threatened by western secularism. They are prepared to let people party on.
“I think they have been playing everyone for suckers for decades and I say ‘well done guys’.”
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Despite its negatives, Bali remains a place for rule breakers, scoundrels, scallywags, and the sailors I mentioned before. And Amanda, 60, who once called upmarket Rose Bay her permanent home, fits into at least one of these categories, offering sailing journeys which take travellers beyond Bali. On the particular trip on which I join her, we travel east from Bali in the direction of Timor, in a journey which will take us to remote eastern islands, to snorkel with the most sublime of sea creatures and to Komodo, to see the dragons. Over 9 days we’ll travel 350 nautical miles which will take 50 hours of sailing.
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On the first day of sailing I ask Amanda, who has completed this journey many times, what draws her to this part of the region.
“I don’t have a favourite place because every place is different and every time we get in the water there will be a different thing to look at. I love swimming with the mantas,” she says.
“The thing I love is the constant moving. Spiritually, only 10 per cent of humans are spiritually awake. Jung talks about this. Those 10 per cent who have to see what’s around the horizon or over the next hill.
“It doesn’t matter where I go, just as long as I’m going. The challenge is to find stillness within the motion.”
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The stillness within the motion. Her words stick with me during the entire journey. On the rare occasions that I’m sea sick, and on others when I’m sitting out on the deck in the early evening, contemplating the wild ride that has been 2016, and wondering what 2017 will bring. I focus long and hard on this mantra and then one afternoon, as the sun is dipping below the ocean, snorkelling the warm waters off of Gili Trawangan, I concentrate on one particular green turtle, gently lazing and grazing along the ocean floor. And in that one golden moment, the motion finally stops and the stillness begins.
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The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Al likai. For more information on the boat and her sailing itineraries go to http://www.indonesianislandsail.com
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Follow me on Instagram @aglobalgoddess

2106: The year I followed my animal instincts

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Postcard from South Africa

Photo by Rod Wyndham courtesy of Sabi Sabi private game reserve

Photo by Rod Wyndham courtesy of Sabi Sabi private game reserve


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
Earth Lodge - Safari Lounge