Between 1991 and 1995, while the Serbian-Croatian war raged, I was a young journalist, cutting my teeth in newsrooms on the Gold Coast, Hong Kong and London. Watching the nightly news of bombings in Dubrovnik and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, it was a conflict in a place far away, somewhere with which I could not connect and would never likely visit. Next year marks 25 years since the war in former Yugoslavia ended. Last week, on a trip to Croatia, I fell in love with this country and its people, many the same age of me, who have endured so much.
I AM flying from Zagreb to Dubrovnik, soaring above the dazzling Croatian coastline, whose aqua waters don’t even wear a wrinkle on this diamond day. It’s high summer when I land in Europe and my driver weaves around the Adriatic Sea, past cosy coves and quaint villas with their red-tiled roofs, rebuilt after Serbia bombed Croatia. I drag my plump suitcase into Dubrovnik’s Old Town, along polished sandstone streets, pushing past the throngs of tourists in their floaty summer frocks that they will wear to a fashionably late European dinner. There’s no rush in summer in Croatia, where the sun rises around 5am and plunges into the ocean about 8pm.
From my third-floor loft apartment in a 600-year-old building smack bang in the Old Town, I slip straight into summer in Europe with its long, lazy evenings. By early evening I sit on a shady terrace overlooking the Adriatic Sea while I feast on a salty seafood risotto and clutch a crisp, local beer. The outside air temperature is 32 degrees, the water temperature is 26 degrees and the ice-cream is melting along with the tourists. Later, as I drift off to sleep, I’ll hear laughter bouncing around the walls of this seventh century city.
I rise, glide down the steep, timber stairs of my attic apartment with its sloping ceilings. It smells of fresh pine and reminds me of my family in Germany and this is the Europe I adore. I climb a set of steep, cobbled stairs for breakfast, dining on a Dalmatia, or omelette with pungent Gardana cheese and parma ham. I wash down a buttery croissant with a strong coffee. Locals mistake me, a woman on her own who has slipped so effortlessly into this magical morning, as a Croatian and speak to me in the local dialect. I simply smile, nod my head and say “da, da”. Sated, I wander the old, stone walkways which sing to my soul.
It’s been more than a decade since I’ve visited Dubrovnik, another woman in another life, and one magical moment remains etched in my memory, a story my spirit has souvenired for years. Way back then I was walking the Old Town when a sudden summer storm struck. At that point, the store owner threw up her hands, snatched a bottle of grappa from the shelf and insisted I sip and sit out the fury. On that day, so many moons, travels and personal lifetimes ago, I bought a hand-painted egg and it has hung on my bathroom door since.
Last week, just when I’m about to surrender on ever finding this shop again, I stumble upon it by chance, as I’m about to depart the sanctuary of the city walls. I recognise the owner, more than a decade older, and remind her of this day. She smiles and say “Would you like a grappa now?” and we laugh, and sip a home-made rose water grappa. It’s 10am. She tells me this grappa is not for tourists, but for friends, and that I should not leave it another 10 years before I visit again.
I skip out of her store smiling like a fool. These are the reasons we travel. To connect with the world. For a brief moment, to remind ourselves what it is to be human. And the Croatians know what that means more than most. I join Cruise Croatia for my eight-day boat journey from Dubrovnik to Split and meet Nikoleta, my Cruise Manager. She tells me she’s 42. I do the mental maths. At just six years younger than me, she was a teenager when the Serbs invaded her homeland of Bosnia in 1992. I’m intrigued. How could a woman so like me, modern, passionate, direct and open, have survived so much?
“The war didn’t start straight away but you could feel something was going on. There was some weird energy,” she says as we sit on the back of the boat one sunny afternoon.
“My father came and collected us from school and said ‘I want you and your mother and sister to go away for 15 days to Vienna’.
“On the bus journey, a soldier got on the bus and asked if there were any Bosnian-Serbs on the bus and if there were, he would slit their throat. My mother was a Bosnian-Serb. I looked at my mother and a woman next to her said ‘no, there are no Bosnian Serbs on this bus’.
“Two hours after we left Bosnia, they started bombing. With a bag packed for 15 days we stayed away 5 years, leaving Vienna and coming to Croatia.
“My dad stayed in Bosnia to protect the property we had. He was a truck driver driving humanitarian aid from Croatia to Bosnia. It was very dangerous.”
Nikoleta says when they arrived in Croatia after Vienna “everything was different.”
“You always expect the worst things and you found them. There were many refugees from Bosnia,” she says.
“People had no money. You are getting humanitarian aid from all over the world and some are getting rich and some are getting poor. It was a very tense time.
“My mother, she was amazing, she would get canned food but she didn’t want her children to eat bad food. She would go to the local markets and trade the canned food for local products such as milk and cheese.
“Everyone was trying to survive. Everything was destroyed. We never entirely recovered.”
Nikoleta made a return visit to Bosnia but said she cried every day.
She applied to study economics in Austria and stayed for 12 years. Now, for the past 17 years, she has been a tour guide in Croatia, living on the beautiful island of Korcula.
“I lived my life to the fullest. I lived in Switzerland, married a Nigerian man but I got tired of moving around,” she says.
“I thought I should go back home but I went to the Croatian island of Korcula as Bosnia still didn’t recover.
“My husband came with me but his priority was money so we separated.”
Despite the huge changes in her life, she remains optimistic.
“Either you are satisfied with your soul or you are not. I decided to stay in Croatia because the quality of life is really good here,” she says.
“I often hear young people talking about the war and they have extreme ideas and I ask them ‘how old are you? Have you seen that?
“My life taught me there is never reason enough to fight a war.”
I am trying to wrap my mind around our different lives, despite our close ages. I tell Nikoleta that when I was a teenager, I was listening to Whitney Houston and trying on lipstick. That what happened to her was not fair.
“I was doing that too. But I was also worried about being hungry. And whether my father was alive in Bosnia,” she says.
“These days I take life as it comes. If I sit down and think I would have many reasons to cry. It definitely affected my life and destroyed it in some way.
“But I am never looking back and thinking.”
It’s time to wrap up the interview and we both look at each other, knowing that something has shifted in both of us. Two similar women from two separate worlds. More than a week later, as I sit back in Australia writing this, her words, her directness, still swirl around in my head as I try to make sense of it all. When Croatians speak, it’s a shouty jumble of consonants, like they are screaming at each other in rapid gun fire. And in many ways they are. But underneath this facade, they hide huge hearts. In their history, they’ve only ever known 45 years of peace and that was between World War Two and the Serbian-Croatian war. Next year marks 25 years since their last conflict. May these gentle, generous souls finally know peace.
The Global Goddess travelled with Cruise Croatia, Australia’s leading dedicated Croatia small ship cruising operator – http://www.cruise-croatia.com.au
Before the cruise, stay in Dubrovnik’s Old Town at Apartments More Dubrovnik. These charming apartments, smack bang in the ancient city, are 600 years old and are central to all of the key tourist spots.
After the cruise, fly directly from Zagreb, via Dubai, to Australia. Stay in the Croatian capital’s gorgeous Esplanade Zagreb Hotel, which dates back to 1925. https://www.esplanade.hr
The cruise ends in Split. Take a day tour with Portal Split to Croatia’s stunning lake’s district to Plitvice Lakes, ending in Zagreb https://split-excursions.com
THERE’S tin and timber shacks – pops of pink, green and blue – framing the roadside lined by sugar cane paddocks and laundry swaying in the South Pacific breeze. Makeshift roadside stalls are peddling tropical fruit picked fresh off the tree and fish plucked straight from the ocean. Lush sugar cane paddocks are punctuated by skinny kids clutching soccer balls and there’s a cacophony of chooks, horses and goats. I am being driven along a potholed road, pointing in the direction of lumpy, bumpy emerald hills. The air is scented with frangipani and hibiscus.
I’m back in Fiji, home to big, bursting blue skies and Bula smiles. And I’ve returned to the Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort, one of my favourite hideaways in the South Pacific. Later this night I’ll sip a vodka spiced with Fijian rum and scattered with shards of coconut. It tastes like a sun-kissed day at the beach. But before then, I check into this 18ha resort, perched right on the Coral Sea, and my beautiful bure which signals I am home. Late afternoon, a butler will bring me champagne and canapes, before I feast on lobster and one of the finest Fijian sunsets for dinner.
The next day heralds what the Fijians call a “monkey’s birthday”, a morning of sun showers which quickly concede to sunshine which is fortuitous, as I am on the new Ecotrax tour, a 23km return cycling trip along dormant sugar cane tracks. This journey begins in a locomotive shed which dates back to the early 1900s with the beautiful Britney, who I’ve met on previous trips to Fiji. The tracks were once used by the thriving sugar cane industry but floods in 2009 put a halt to this, and many farmers have now turned to lifestyle farming.
On this jaunty journey I will cycle across 10 rickety rail bridges and past two sleepy villages at a maximum speed of 20kmh, part roaring reef and through rainforest which smells like moist mangroves. There’s even a Tunnel of Love but there’s no such luck for me on this day, as I continue on past curious children, cows, goats and villagers before arriving at Vunabua or “frangipani” beach. Enroute, our guides have collected from the villagers coconuts, in a move which encourages microbusinesses, and whose hydrating waters I sip with gusto after my cycle and bath in the warm waters of the South Pacific Ocean. There’s plenty of new things happening in Fiji since my last visit, and I drink it all in with thirst. I’ve never slept in a bure at Outrigger Beach Resort and lay awake at night, intrigued by the hand-painted tapa ceilings whose different symbols tell a story, a bit like Australian Aboriginal rock art.
A stiff south-easterly trade wind is blowing the next morning when I meet Outrigger Beach Resort Guest Activities Manager and Cultural Advisor Kini Sarai. Kini is poised oceanfront to talk about this resort’s environmental and conservation initiatives, which are part of Outrigger’s global OZONE initiative. June is world oceans’ month, and the Outrigger group takes its role in this story seriously. Here in Fiji, May is the month of tidal surges, which leads to reef erosion, something Kini, staff and guests are trying to stem. There’s a fish house made from sea rocks and concrete upon which coral is planted on top and transplanted to the reef.
At Outrigger Beach Resort, coral planting takes place every Wednesday at 10am and is an organised activity for guests. The program, which has been in place for three years, has already resulted in significant improvement to the reef with increased numbers of fish in the lagoon. By December this year, Kini hopes to have planted a football field of coral.
“We are seeing fish that used to be here, returning,” he says.
“At high tide, on a good day, we have baby reef sharks, sometimes as many as 100, that come up the beach here.
“Everybody that we take out on this program comes back very satisfied with themselves. It adds to the experience of staying here, we see it as a win/win.”
There’s more new things to see and do here at Outrigger Beach Resort, which aims to launch a refurbishment program of its rooms next January. Dine at the award-winning IVI Restaurant on a new menu which boasts the likes of sizzled scallops and prosciutto salad; sea snapper and shelled mud crab; and that old firm favourite, flaming crepes for dessert. High on the hill, where there are future plans to build private pool villas, indulge in a traditional Fijian facial and massage at the Bebe Spa Sanctuary. Like the reef itself, every time I visit Fiji I find myself rejuvenating. Nothing quite beats a big Bula hug and that feeling of home. Hope sways like a hammock here, and the hearts, well they’re as huge as a South Pacific sunset. Pure Fiji indeed.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Outrigger Beach Resort Fiji http://www.outrigger.com/hotels-resorts/fiji/viti-levu/outrigger-on-the-lagoon-fiji
To find out more about Outrigger’s OZONE initiative, go to https://www.outrigger.com/ozone-program/overview
Take an Ecotrax tour with https://www.fiji.travel/us/activity/ecotrax
A HEAVENLY Hawaiian girl is dancing the hula on the dashboard as I bounce along in the back of a Teale-coloured kombi, circa 1966. The sun is threatening to set over the Noosa River, where a cheeky chorus of rainbow lorikeets is chattering like a gaggle of Hastings Street gossips. It’s been a scorching autumn day and I grasp for the breeze on my face as we chug along into the cooling evening.
Even Elani, the hula girl, appears to nod in approval, as does Old Skool Kombis owner Scott Montague, whose hands are wrapped lovingly around the huge, white wheel as if it is precious cargo. Valued at $70,000, this retro ride takes up to eight passengers on tours of Noosa, the Sunshine Coast Hinterland, the coast road from Noosa to Coolum or custom-made trips from anything to a private picnic to a surfing safari.
“I make sure passengers enjoy it and it’s relaxed because that’s what kombis are all about,” Scott says.
“It was always my passion. I’ve always had kombis and I turned it into a business to pay for it. Everybody loves them around Noosa, it’s an iconic surf wheel.”
Fortune favours the brave. And on this balmy evening, arriving at our Noosaville destination, fortune also flavours the brave. I have the great privilege of attending the official opening of Fortune Distillery, Noosa’s only distillery providing Australian spirits. It’s adjacent to their Land and Sea Brewery, which opened 14 months ago, and which boasts Harley and Honda motorcycles above the bar, and old-fashioned pinball machines and a surfboard or two in the corners.
On this edgy evening, there’s a tattooed muso perched on the back of a 1954 fully, restored old school Chevy from the United States. Slick? You ain’t seen nothing yet. On the menu there’s a white malt as well as a vodka, but it’s the signature dry gin which uses eight botanicals, including North Queensland honey dew melon, which steals the show here. The dudes behind the distillery are all pointy shoes, hairy faces and tattoos but say this new venture is less about the hipster set and more about the next stage of life.
Brand Creator Tim Crabtree says he launched Land and Sea as Noosa was calling out for a lifestyle-based brewery.
“We live in Noosa, it’s a beautiful part of the world, we go to the beach all day, and eat fine food, nothing sets it off like a beautiful craft beer,” he says.
“The plan was to expand our range while keeping a similar sort of ethos…let’s create a spirit brand that echoes the same sort of lifestyle. There’s an element of fun, personality and hijinks in the brand.
“Let’s take our Land and Sea customers and move them on 15 years where they wear fine clothes and drink fine drinks.
“It’s also aspirational, it’s chasing the dream a little bit.”
At this point in the conversation I pause and wonder why I’m still stuck in the craft beer phase, when I should be wearing fine clothes and drinking fine drinks. Hell, I should have a Noosa beach house by now. I decide it’s best that I take another sip of that fine gin while I contemplate what I’ve been doing with my life.
What I do know is that I’m in Noosa previewing the Noosa Food and Wine Festival which will be held from May 16 to 20. Fortune Distillery will be there, collaborating with local businesses such as the Peter Phillips Gallery which will showcase a retrospective of renowned pop artist Peter Phillips. It’s the first time the Noosa Food and Wine Festival, in its 16th year, has explored art and food together and to celebrate, Fortune will be releasing a Peter Phillips gin. Two events will be staged at the gallery over the weekend where celebrated chef Josh Lopez will create a six-canape course inspired by six decades of Peter’s work. At the second event, a full degustation menu which also pays homage to Peter’s work will be served on this beautiful acreage property.
There’s much to ponder on this Indian summer evening as I jump back into the kombi just in time to snatch a Neapolitan sunset. We chug back along the river, taking a brief detour to witness the renovated boardwalk from Hastings Street to Noosa National Park. Warm salt air wiggles through the window and the boardwalk is lit up with fairy lights. It feels like Christmas. We dine on Fraser Island spanner crab risotto with sea urchin butter at Locale, one of the restaurants which will be involved in the Noosa Food and Wine Festival Noir Noosa event, a black-tie dinner along Hastings Street which will celebrate Moet and Chandan’s 150th anniversary. Sated by all this talk of food, and the fab food itself, we wander back to our hotel, the Sofitel Noosa Pacific Resort, which is not only a stylish stalwart of the Noosa scene, but also of the Noosa Food and Wine Festival itself, hosting a number of swanky events.
Noosa Food and Wine Festival Director Sheridah Puttick says there are some exciting additions to this year’s event. Expect a Noosa-inspired cocktail called Tan Lines; the new exclusive River Lounge; the Red Snapper brunch serving gin Bloody Marys; and chefs from Bikini in Bali’s Seminyak. The highlight which catches my eye, however, is the industry day on the Monday, where Australia’s leading food rescue charity OzHarvest will create a brunch from festival leftovers for the hospitality industry. In fact, all of the food left over from the festival village itself is recycled by OzHarvest.
Sheridah says the Noosa Food and Wine Festival is about sustainability and building on the natural beauty of Noosa.
“It is about supporting our local industry. A lot of our businesses are in hospitality or accommodation,” she says.
“For me, it is about working with passionate people.”
The Noosa Food and Wine Festival will be held from May 16 to 20 http://www.noosafoodandwine.com.au
• Stay at the Sofitel Noosa Pacific Resort http://www.sofitelnoosapacificresort.com.au
• Travel around the region with Old Skool Kombis http://www.oldskoolkombisnoosa.com.au
• The Peter Phillips Gallery will be open to event ticket holders or by private appointment http://www.peterphillips.com
• Check out Fortune Distillery http://www.noosaheadsdistillery.com/fortune; and Locale Noosa http://www.localenoosa.com.au
The Global Goddess was a guest of Tourism Noosa http://www.visitnoosa.com.au
ON a sassy Southampton Saturday evening, I am stalking screen siren Sophia Loren. Let me repeat that. I am stalking Sophia Loren, the acclaimed Italian actress. Sure, it’s not my usual Saturday night, back in Brisbane, clutching a bottle of shiraz and what’s left of my dignity while I watch Disney movies, but life as a travel writer sometimes takes you to the most unusual places, where you are plunged into the most unlikely scenarios, and on this particular Saturday night, this is precisely where I find myself.
I am in the UK, at Southampton Port, to be precise, covering the launch of the world’s newest cruise liner, MSC Bellissima which claims to be the most beautiful ship in the world. And I am sitting front row of the media throng, on the dock, having just watched Andrea Bocelli and his son Mateo perform on stage. The gargantuan ship sits in the background, attempting to provide a buffer from the gale-force winds that have whipped up on this evening. But just as Ms Loren is about to appear on stage, and cut the all-important ribbon before a bottle of champagne is smashed against the hull (a waste of plonk, in my humble opinion), all 2000 guests in the marquee are told to urgently evacuate themselves back onto the ship. The winds have become wicked, and a little dangerous in this tent, and so we “Brexit” back onto the boat. I am reminded of one of Ms Loren’s famous quotes: “Everything you see, I owe to spaghetti”. We have so much in common.
Amid the confusion, my new Kiwi mate and I make some swift decisions. Turn left and we follow the confused crowd. Turn right, and we are in a mad mosh pit of VIPS. We take a sharp right, and walk straight past a waiting Mercedes Benz. The windows are dark but we know who is in there. It’s Ms Loren, but we have no time to loiter as the crowd shuffles us in the rain and wind, back onto the boat. We snatch a champagne from the bar while we contemplate our brief brush with fame. Meanwhile the heads of this Italian shipping company, bless them, rise to the occasion.
“Everybody, have a drink,” they declare as only Italians (and possibly Aussies) in an emergency can, and 2000 people scatter among the ship, awaiting details on what to do next. I stand with my Kiwi mate, hoping to catch a glimpse in the distance of Sophia and strategizing as only two desperate Antipodeans can, on where we think she’ll do the launch.
I am dressed to impress, in a faux fur I’ve bought online from China. But I was no longer worried about embarrassing myself. The previous day, I locked myself out of my cruise cabin wearing nothing but my QANTAS pyjamas. Shoe-less and bra-less, I complete the shuffle-of-shame to the ship’s lift, descend five decks below, and saunter through a bar full of well-dressed Europeans to reception to order a new key. In order to stop my breasts from jiggling, I cross my arms over my chest, as if I’m about to abandon ship and jump into the seas below. Hell, who needs a bra when God has given me two perfectly good arms? What was I thinking all these years?
On this evening of Ms Loren, I am wearing a bra, shoes and my fur and impressively, in less than 15 minutes since the disruption, the show is ready to resume. If you can judge a cruise company on how it handles an emergency, MSC comes up trumps. I am pondering all of this when something spectacular happens. Inexplicably, I turn around. And right behind me, within hugging distance, there she is, in all of her Italian glory. She’s 84 and as elegant as ever, in a shimmering gold gown and giant crucifix. I frantically snap shots as she saunters past. She sashays and steals centre stage, mid ship. The “godmother” of MSC Cruises, she makes some comments about the beauty of cruising, before she heads back my way. I want to reach out and touch her, tell her that Australia loves her, but I simply stand there in giddy adoration. A month before, a fortune cookie I had eaten during a Chinese New Year celebration in Sydney had predicted “Your life will soon be graced with the presence of stardom.” And there she was.
One day, when I’m 84, the age that Sophia is now, I’m sure I’ll be telling these tales to unbelieving ears. By then, I’m pretty sure I will also be wearing QANTAS pyjamas full time and locking myself out of my room on a regular basis. Who will ever comprehend that I flew to Europe for less than a week, jumped aboard the world’s newest cruise liner, and bumped into Sophia Loren? Such is the crazy life of a travel writer. Amid all of the fog of jetlag, those long, lonely hours on the road, the anxiety of deadlines, the uncertainty of where the next word or pay cheque may come from, come these magical moments. A good mate recently reminded me that as travel writers, we have a backstage pass to the world. And if my job has taught me anything, it’s this: just like this ship launch on this wild, windy evening, life never works out as you had planned. But sometimes, it can be better. So travel as much as you can, turn right when you should turn left, and wait for the wonderful.
The Global Goddess was a guest of MSC Bellissima – http://www.msccruises.com.au
That’s right. The one and only. Regular readers will know I have erotic dreams about Hugh and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only Australian woman, or man for that matter, in this situation. The film set for the movie Australia may have long departed Bowen, but Hugh’s spirit lives on. Swim at Horseshoe Bay, where Hugh used to take a dip, or even better, head to Jocheims Bakery and wrap your mouth around Hugh, by ordering the Jackman Special Hunky Beef pie.
2.Coral Cove Resort
This 4.5-star apartment building, perched on the edge of the Coral Sea, is Bowen’s most luxurious and deservedly so. Opt for a penthouse or sub-penthouse and sit on your yawning balcony overlooking Grays Bay, sipping champagne and waiting for a spectacular sunset over the ocean. Every one of these tastefully-decorated apartments has a sea view, so you can’t go wrong. Order a tasting platter from Meraki Whitsundays, which also has a café overlooking the beach at Horseshoe Bay (where Hugh likes to swim), and you never need leave your apartment.
3.The Cove Restaurant
Everyone I spoke with about Bowen raved about the local Chinese place here. And there I was, picturing some badly-decorated joint from 1970s Queensland serving sweet and sour pork. Wrong. The Cove Restaurant, which is on the ground floor of Coral Cove Resort, serves delicious Chinese and Thai food. Feast on the likes of Local Barra Fish Fillet with Ginger and Shallot while enjoying a North Queensland sunset (preferably with Hugh). It’s Asian food, with an Aussie twist.
While The Global Goddess actually has three sisters, none of them live in Bowen. Instead, I am referring to Le Sorelle, Three Sisters Coffee House and Florist. Three local girls, Alexandra, Bianca and Virginnia, who also happen to be sisters, have banded together to open this cute café with its faux grass walls and ceiling. You’ll find fake and real flowers here (Hugh, are you reading this?), as well as good coffee among an extensive menu.
Breakfast was so delicious I forgot to take a photo…
5.The Big Mango
Yes, it’s a bit daggy, but Queenslanders love their big things (um, Hugh…), and once you’ve arrived at The Big Mango, you know you’ve arrived in Bowen. Pause for a mango sorbet here or to buy some mango soap, learn about all the things you can do in this alluring area, and take an obligatory snap with this huge yellow icon. What I didn’t know is that what we call the Bowen mango is actually the Kensington Pride, developed in Bowen and considered the best eating mango due the fact it is not stringy, is sweet, travels well and looks good. It was Indian horse traders who actually introduced mangoes to north Queensland.
6.The Grandview Hotel
This heavenly hotel, which turns 100 this year, has recently undergone a facelift. Outside, it’s still that stately Queenslander building which was a popular haunt for cast and crew filming Australia (Hugh was here) but inside, it takes its exposed brick and timber and blends it with a tasteful Hamptons feel. Think plush olive couches, plenty of cushions, great lighting. There’s old black and white photos adorned along the bar above which sits a boat, while a ship mast in the courtyard has been salvaged off another vessel. In the women’s toilet, you’ll love the black and white photo of Bowen’s bathing beauties, which dates back to 1948.
Again, I was too busy eating/thinking about Hugh, and forgot to take a photo
7.Bowen Summergarden Cinemas
Built in 1948, this is the longest continuous-running cinema in Queensland, and potentially Australia. Even better, owner Ben De Luca has worked here for the past 56 years, since he was first a trainee projectionist at 15 years of age. Ben’s passion for film is palpable and while the cinema has transformed from one theatre with hessian chairs into two modern theatres, this institution retains its old-world charm. Walk down “Catherine Martin’s Hall” and admire signed movie posters from the cast of Australia (you know Hugh…). Ben was named Queensland Cinema Pioneer of the Year in 2018 and knows a thing or two about the flicks.
Bowen boasts eight beaches within a 10-minute drive. That’s one for every day of the week, plus a spare. And each beach has its own distinct personality. Kings Beach is for the Robinson Crusoe traveller who likes to take their dog for a walk; Rose Bay is ideal for snorkelling; The Front Beach is for families where kids chase soldier crabs and frolic in a water park; Gordon Beach is off-the-beaten track which is great for fishing; Queen’s Beach is the longest with a 5km stretch of sand; Grays Bay is for sunset drinks, paddle boarding and kayaking; Murray Bay is a hidden local secret found down a little track; and on Horseshoe Bay you can be snorkelling reef with 10 kicks off the shore. Did I mention Hugh Jackman used to swim at Horseshoe Bay? Which brings me to ninth beach. Nudie Beach. As the name suggests, it’s for those who like to get their gear off. Hugh, I know you’re reading this…
“If you like pina coladas, and getting caught in the rain…” Robert Holmes
THE gorgeous ghost gums are whispering in the wild Whitsundays wind, of anecdotes and ancient tales of the land on which I lounge. A sulphur crested cockatoo, cheeky as all buggery, perches on the edge of the plunge pool in which I find myself, chattering to me above the howl. I imagine both the trees and this native bird have much to teach me about Hamilton Island, if only I could speak their language. Instead, I slurp French champagne, and absorb the soaking view. It’s a Whitsunday Monday and it’s raining cats, dogs and rainbow lorikeets.
I have arrived in the midst of the monsoon season, fully aware there could be rain. It’s the tropics, and the region doesn’t flower and flourish without a damn good soaking. The Australian tourism industry gets spoiled by long spells of drought, while the farmers search the heavens for answers to their heartbreak. It’s been a tough season in Australia, one of delirious drought and flooding rain. As I write this, things are so dire that farmers in outback Queensland have run out of bullets to shoot their dying livestock. This is Dorothea Mackellar’s Australia. But that doesn’t make it any easier for anyone.
So I am surprised and delighted just before I arrive in the Whitsundays at the cheeky campaign adopted by the locals. Fed up with the scathing headlines and horror stories around the wet weather, they nickname themselves The Wetsundays and dive head first into the monsoon. It’s a no bullshit Facebook campaign embracing the “WetsundayWeek….because every cloud has a silver lining.” Locals drink cheeky pina coladas, play beach volleyball in the rain, stage a rain dance, and host a pool party at the lagoon. This soaking spirit is infectious.
As one local puts it “It’s not heavy rain, it’s soaking” and they wrap their raincoats around it with gusto. This is the Queensland spirit I adore and I am swept up by the tide. Bring it, Mother Nature, we’re ready for you. I plunge into my plunge pool at Qualia, determined to embrace this upbeat attitude. I drive my golf cart around the island and explore every inch. Soaked, but smiling, I pause for a meat pie down at the marina, and two rainbow lorikeets perch on my shoulder. I squeal with delight. Late afternoon, I indulge in a relaxing massage at Spa Qualia. My jaw is too taught from tension, I’m told, I need to slow down. Over dinner at Qualia, manager Scott Ratcliffe laments the weather but points to the inherent beauty of the view and the resort.
“If you are going to be stuck inside, you need to be stuck inside looking at this,” he says.
“There is nothing wrong with rugged beauty.”
I ride the waves from Hamilton Island to the Port of Airlie where I meet with Tourism Whitsundays. On a cool, wet day at La Marina Italian Restaurant, we feast on Nonna’s hearty meatballs, spicy mussels and seafood gnocchi. I arrive at Freedom Shores, a quirky mainland accommodation offering which resembles ten boats. On this dreary day I am the only guest, and it is divine. A smoked wagyu for dinner washed down by a gutsy Tempranillo and a shot of tequila from one of only two bottles of its kind in Australia, and I am ready to slumber. On my way back, there’s a gorgeous little tree snake also seeking shelter from the rain. It’s a good omen. Into my boat cabin I crawl, under the doona, and listen to the divine rumblings from the heavens. I sleep like a sailor.
It’s a wild and windy crossing over to Palm Bay Resort on Long Island, but it refreshes and rejuvenates me. If only those who think my job is glamorous could see me now, all salty and drenched. It turns out be the ideal afternoon to work, read and rest. Sure, I would have loved to have snorkelled the fringing reef here, but you can’t have it all. And how often are we forced to slow down? Not often enough in Australia. I feast on woodfired pizza and share a bottle of red and some flaming good tales with the manager here. Into the night I stroll back to my cabin and again, crawl under the doona for a rollicking good sleep.
By the end of the week I’m back on the mainland, and headed north to Bowen. After three weeks of monsoonal weather in the Whitsundays, it’s trying to be fine. We drive behind a convoy of State Emergency Services volunteers headed north to Townsville, to tackle the flood mop up. There’s pot holes the size of wading pools on the road. In Bowen, I check into the classy Coral Cove Resort overlooking the Coral Sea, sip more champagne and wait for a sunset that never comes. Never mind, the company is good and the tales are tall. On my last day in the region the sun finally breaks through the clouds, shy at first, but then with gusto. The humidity cloys to my skin like a koala bear on a gum tree.
Some days you forget that Australia is a wild nation, plonked down the bottom of the globe as if it was an afterthought. But I love my Down Under homeland of fires, floods, droughts and mad monsoons. And I adore my fellow Queenslanders who reminded me of our spirit which shines, even when the sun does not. May you all get to experience a WetsundayWeek at least once in your lifetime, for it is in those stupid, soaking days that you are forced to confront yourself. And if you’re lucky, your spirit will rise with every raindrop.
The Global Goddess was a guest of Tourism Whitsundays https://www.tourismwhitsundays.com.au
THE flags are flaccid but the surf is sloppy. Out the back line, ballsy board riders are being smashed, while in the shallows, tourists are tackling the chop. Some win and float over the waves, others lose and are unceremoniously dumped as if they’ve been on a rotten date. Brazen blue bottles saunter into the shore which is already littered like diamonds with harmless jellies. The air is scented a Surfers Paradise summer, of salt, seaweed and sunburn. It’s all so sublime.
I’m shaking off a long, lusty lunch at the new voco Gold Coast, the 389-room hotel in which I will also sleep the night. Brissos, like me, will remember this building as the Watermark, but after a multi-million-dollar refurbishment, it’s now the upscale voco brand, the first in the world for the InterContinental Hotel Group’s stable. Later, I will retire to my deluxe ocean view room, which, along with the suites, have undergone a total overhaul including new bathrooms, beds, carpet, sofas and televisions.
But first, we lunch. We start at the Social House, a space with numerous nooks and crannies, intoxicating old black and white pictures of bathing beauties, and recycled timber windows. There’s a colourful cocktail menu here including martinis which taste like apple pie and lemongrass; and the salted caramel which features home-made salted caramel sauce and Himalayan rock salt. Voco Sales and Marketing Director Ashley Britnell says there are many different spaces within Social House to explore and experience.
“The idea is there is a place for everyone and at every time of the day,” he says.
Clifford’s Grill & Lounge is our dining destination and visitors can expect some innovative offerings from Executive Chef Daniel Smith and his 10-burner iron grill. That, and the fact that the food served here hasn’t travelled more than a 200km radius. On this delicious day we feast on the likes of the Char-Grilled 1kg t.bone steak; Bangalow pork; and a bread board of Middle Eastern dips of moutabel, spicy hommus Beirut, sour herbs, and house-baked flat bread. Voco General Manager Brenden van Blerk says voco is a Latin word meaning “to come together”.
“At the heart of it, we want to break bread with everyone,” he says.
And break bread, we do.
This hotel, which uses the tagline “reliably different” is also working towards a more sustainable footprint, currently running a market trial in some rooms of tamper-proof recycled amenities products.
It also one of only a handful of Gold Coast hotels which recycles 100 per cent of its green waste and receives a rebate from the Gold Coast City Council which then uses this waste on local garden beds. There’s also a hive of some 350,000 bees which produce honey used in everything from its desserts to its cocktails and even bees wax candles for sale in the lobby.
At this edgy establishment, you’ll also find a modern gym, two swimming pools (a second one was built after the towering Q1 across the road cast too much shadow on the first); the L’Aqua Day Spa; 800 square metres of meeting space; and a third dining space in Waves Buffet restaurant. Back in my 18th floor room, it’s a stylish Hamptons vibe with crisp, white linens (even the bedding is made from recycled plastic) and a yellow and blue colour theme, right down to the chaise lounge which is perfectly positioned against the large window. And it’s from here that I sit and watch the shadows grow longer on this Surfers Paradise summer day. Little by little the lights flicker on in the neighbouring high rises. The last stragglers leave that sloppy surf and I smile and think, yep, this is pure, rolled, Gold Coast.
The Global Goddess was a guest of Voco Gold Coast https://www.ihg.com/voco/hotels/gb/en/surfers-paradise/sfppb/hoteldetail?cm_mmc=GoogleMaps-_-VX-_-AU-_-SFPPB