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
“Out on the patio, we sit, and the humidity, we breathe. We watch the lightening, crack over cane fields, and laugh and think, this is Australia…” Gang Gajang
IT’S more rooftop terrace, than patio, the humidity has conceded to a ballsy bay breeze, there’s fireworks, rather than lightening, and the cane fields sit a bit further north. Australia Day, 2019, and I’m plonked on the rooftop of the sassy Sebel Margate overlooking Moreton Bay, perched on a bar stool, clutching a crisp Aussie white, and spinning a bit of bullshit with two mates. A cheeky breeze has whipped the white caps into a minor celebrity frenzy, while along the bay, Aussies have hoisted makeshift tents adorned with Southern Cross flags. One bloke has even settled in for a long day of drinking by dragging his tattered, brown leather loungeroom recliner chair, and planting it along the boardwalk. You’ve got to admire that sort of commitment.
I’m 45 minutes north-east of Brisbane, celebrating our January 26 national day in style, in this bayside suburb which harks back to a more serene Australia. One of seagulls, sand and simplicity. The prevailing hot northerly has blown in both blue bottles and bare bums, festooned with our controversial Union Jack/Southern Cross combo. Down on the street, there’s even a rare telephone booth. Out on the blustery bay itself, a fleet of sailing boats is leaning a bit too far to the right, reminding me a bit of Australia these days. Some days you just have to wait to tack.
From my lofty perch on the fourth floor, I spy a luxury cruise liner slowly stalking Moreton Island on the horizon. It’s the same bay which lured my great, great grandfather Christian to sail from Hamburg aboard the Susanne Godeffroy in 1863, in search of a better life. Five generations later, I still carry his surname, and in my wildest dreams, when I’m out in the world as a travel writer, I like to think I’ve also inherited some of his pluck. The Australia Day weekend is the unofficial marker for Aussies to seriously return to work and school, and soon enough, I too will be setting sail again in search of stories. But on this day, I’m content in my chair on the rooftop where a barbecue sizzles along with the conversation. How lucky are we to be born in Australia? Even better, in south-east Queensland, with beautiful bays and boutique hotels to boot?
The $15 million Sebel Brisbane Margate Beach, opened in May last year, is a lovely addition to this seaside scene. I am fortunate on this busy summer weekend to have secured a king-suite in this 58-room hotel, which eschews a beachy interior in favour of industrial chic with its exposed brick walls, brass, and cow hide leather couches. There’s even free retro bicycles for guests to borrow and cycle along the esplanade here. Dine at the Margate Beach House on the ground floor and you’ll experience the creativity of two-hatted chef Michael Harris, whose career launched at the flagship London hotel, the Dorchester. Overlook the bay and feast on local Queensland produce such as Smoked King Ora salmon and Fraser Island Crab cannelloni; Darling Downs Wagyu; and Mango and Passionfruit cheese cake.
Sated, plonk yourself by the rooftop pool and watch lazy bay days unfold. And that’s what this bay, and the Sebel Margate, is all about. This is no glamorous Gold Coast, nor is it the sizzling Sunshine Coast. Rather, this darling destination transports you back to an Australia you might remember, one of sandcastles and sun-kissed sleeps. Late at night I sit on my oceanfront balcony and look out at the Southern Cross sky. I don’t need these five stars tattooed on my skin, as they’re deeply etched in my soul. I had just forgotten, for a brief moment in my busy life, where to find them.
The Global Goddess stayed as a guest of The Sebel Brisbane Margate Beach. https://www.accorhotels.com/gb/hotel-B2R3-the-sebel-brisbane-margate-beach-/index.shtml
“At home, I was a stranger to myself, and, on the road, a stranger to everyone else. I longed to belong, but I didn’t know where,” Irish Travel Writer Jean Butler
I AM perched in a loft bedroom overlooking Bundaberg’s Burnett River, surveying the sailing boats bobbing on the water and wondering about the stories of the sailors within. I long to know what these old salts could tell me about the horizons they have crossed. After a busy year out in the world myself, I have returned “home” but not quite. At the last minute I have accepted an invitation to return to Bundaberg, on Queensland’s Southern Great Barrier Reef, and I find myself at the Burnett Riverside Motel, sitting in the new H20 restaurant and bar, with the new general managers Ian and Karyn Wade-Parker.
I sip a Bargara Brewery Ray Xpa and chat to this charming couple who are injecting as much local flavour into this experience as possible. This dynamic duo, who have worked in tourism and hospitality for decades, had a longing to return to Queensland after a stint in drought-stricken New South Wales. It was a heart-breaking time for this pair, who despite running a successful business, witnessed first-hand the effect of the drought on their community. And for Karyn, who grew up in Charleville in Outback Queensland, it’s a special homecoming.
“We needed to get back to the water. What we are trying to create here in Bundy is something that will go well,” Ian says.
“It is needed. There is a percentage of people who are looking for quality. The opportunity that we have here is to give Bundy a bit more maturity. It is moving from a country town into the next thing.
“We are rated four-star but what we are about to deliver is a five-star hotel experience.”
And it’s evident in the menu. Sip on a Bargara Brewery beer, cradle a Bundy rum or scoff a local Kalki Moon gin and watch the river change colours in the late afternoon before you dine on a menu which shouts Bundaberg loud and proud. On this colourful card you’ll find the likes of Bundaberg Brewed Sarsaparilla Sticky Pilled Pork; Bargara Brewery Black Braised Lamb Shanks; Kalki Moon (gin) Butter Basted Salmon; and even a Bundaberg Rum Coffee brulee. The next stage for Ian and Karyn is to oversee the renovation of this 44-room motel, which boasts eight different room styles, including the four loft rooms.
“It’s about those little one per cent (changes) that turn the experience into something that’s OK into something extraordinary,” Ian says.
“We look at it from a customer’s point of view. You turn it into your home. It is an extension.”
The theme of “coming home” resonates on this trip. I have coffee down at the beach with Christine from Bargara Coastal Accommodation; drinks and dinner with Tracy whose underwater photos of the Southern Great Barrier Reef will make your toes curl; and breakfast with Katherine from Bundaberg Tourism. I enjoy a long chat with Suzie from Bundy Food Tours about her recent Queensland Tourism Awards win; and Rick from Kalki Moon Distillery tells me how his gin is winning awards in London. I drop into the new headquarters of Bundaberg Tourism, Spring Hill House, a former Queenslander home built in 1883. I catch up with this hard-working crew who treat me like family each time I return. Plonked at the back of the Bundaberg Rum Distillery, the sparkly new Visitor Information sits next door. Here visitors are treated like royalty, and encouraged to sit and stay and peruse the incredible experiences they can have on offer in the region.
Back inside Bundy Tourism’s new digs it’s all tin and timber, polished wooden floors and even a friendly resident ghost. They think it’s the oldest daughter, Mary-Ann, of the original Noakes family who inhabited this former sugar cane plantation house. It appears Mary-Ann approves of her new inhabitants. And for me, wandering the halls of this Queenslander, it reminds me of my home, back in Brisbane. The place that sustains me on those lonely days when I’m out on the road, and I dream of my fragrant frangipani tree off my big, back deck, and those summer nights punctuated by a chorus of cicadas.
And it’s from that very spot, on the back deck of my Queenslander cottage in Brisbane, that I’m penning my final travel blog of 2018. And what a year it’s been. I have trained to be a Ninja Warrior in Japan; trekked in Nepal to meet the SASANE survivors of sex trafficking; wandered the humid back alleys of Bangkok tasting street food; island-hopped in the Southern Great Barrier Reef; fine-dined in Noosa; been pampered in Abu Dhabi; discovered the secret of happiness in Bhutan; explored Sydney’s secret Tank Stream; driven up the guts of Australia from Uluru to Humpty Doo in the Northern Territory; experienced Thailand’s Koh Khood; danced till I dropped at my niece’s wedding in Emerald; met inspiring Indigenous operators in Tropical North Queensland; tasted tapas and life as it should be lived in Spain; laughed with a mate in Prague; hugged my family in Germany; snorkelled in Samoa; and hidden away in the hills of Byron Bay.
It’s been a year that has enriched me beyond belief, and refuelled this sassy story teller with a thirst for the world. A huge thank you to all of the PR people, tourism operators, and the random strangers who swept me up and took me with you on this journey. It takes intellect, courage, and above all, a generosity of spirit to take the time to tell me your stories and I can’t wait to get back out there in 2019 and do it all again.
The Global Goddess travelled to Bundaberg with the assistance of Bundaberg Tourism https://www.bundabergregion.org and Burnett Riverside Motel http://www.burnettriversidemotel.com.au
IT was bone-chillingly cold, still dark, and far too early to be checking in for yet another flight, in what had been an already hectic year. But there I was, at Canada’s Winnipeg Airport, heavily clad in winter clobber and dragging behind me a duffle bag containing a polar suit and kick-arse thermal boots. I was bound for Churchill, where I would board a tiny, old Russian jet, and land in remote Hudson Bay, to go on a walking safari with the polar bears. I was far more scared of the cold than meeting the King of the Arctic.
I did not know her yet, but I recognised her as part of my group from the same duffle bag she was carrying. She spoke, in a refined British accent, and while I cannot remember what it is she said, it prompted me to say “Hello, you Pommie Bastard, are you on my trip?”. She turned, smiled, and immediately responded with “Hello Skippy!” And from that point onwards, we became friends. I did not know at the time that Karen Burns-Booth was one of Britain’s best bloggers and a renowned foodie, I just knew that I had a new playmate with whom to explore remote, arctic Canada on this travel writing assignment.
I told her I hated small planes, so she sat behind me on the flight as we soared over this spectacular winter landscape, patting me on the back when we encountered turbulence. While out walking on the slippery arctic ice, we held hands, to prevent from falling. We stood in unison and cried when we encountered the most beautiful polar bears and laughed till we cried by the warm Seal River Lodge fireplace at night. We shared deep secrets out on that ice. That was several years ago now, she went back to her home in France, and I to Brisbane. But you don’t forget a friendship forged like that.
Karen Burns-Booth has just released her first book, named after her blog Lavender & Lovage – A Culinary Notebook of Memories & Recipes from Home & Abroad ¬– and I couldn’t be prouder of my feisty friend. Just back from a hectic year of travels, I collected the copy she had sent me, from the post office last week. And on those pages, I can sense her soul and smell her cooking even from this far away. Part travel memoir, part cookbook, Karen, who now lives in Wales, gives readers an insight into her full and flavoursome life.
“In this book I’ll be sharing recipes from an old schoolhouse kitchen in North Wales, a farmhouse kitchen in SW France, and from all the other places I have called home,” she says.
“From Cornwall, Hong Kong and South Africa, to the North East of England and numerous other far-flung places, with the aid of my trusty note books and diaries – this is truly a cookbook based on recipes from my suitcase, with notes from all of the countries and British counties I have ever lived and eaten in.”
In this delicious, thick tome, Karen shares some spectacular dishes and travel tales. There’s the “Typhoon” Bacon Butty, made by her father when they were living in Hong Kong during a typhoon; The First Nations “Indian Tacos”; The New Orleans Muffuleta Sandwich; “Panama Canal” Coronation Chicken; and Durban Lamb Curry among a feast of international dishes. Demonstrating her cheeky sense of humour, there’s a whole chapter dedicated to A Bit On The Side, which refers to Salads and Accompaniments; and towards the back of the book, decadent deserts such as Fat Rascals; as well as Sundry Gems such as Hannah’s Chilli Chicken Pasta with Chorizo, named after her daughter.
The gorgeous recipes and tantalising travel tales aside, what really strikes me about this beautiful book, is that I can feel Karen’s lovely soul as I wander through these pages. It’s almost as if I’m in a field, plucking her two favourite herbs, lavender and lovage, after which she named her blog and which launched her into our kitchens. If you’re lucky, like me, you stumble across generous, funny souls who become your friends in the most unlikely of places. The fact she is also so talented, is simply a plus. It’s the Christmas season, and I am reminded of this British gem, the “Pommie Bastard” who held my hand on the ice and whispered secrets in the arctic cold. May all of Karen’s readers, and mine too, be so fortunate to find a stranger who may hold your hand when you need it, and share their souls on those days when you feel its arctic cold and a little alone. This is my Christmas wish for you.
To order Karen’s book, go to Amazon or to read more about her work, go to her blog Lavender and Lovage – https://www.lavenderandlovage.com
THE waves are whispering off the reef, but in my half-awake/half-asleep daytime slumber, I can’t quite catch what it is they are saying. I am snatching a languid nap on the veranda day bed, listening to this seaside lullaby and the resort staff singing as they work. I have flown, overnight, on the new Samoa Airways’ Brisbane-Apia route and on the only plane it its fleet, a 737-800. The airline launched last year to replace the former national carrier, Polynesian Airlines, which ceased flying in 2005, due to financial issues.
On board, the baby blue vinyl seats remind me of the interior an old FJ Holden and the seat belts are just as tricky to buckle as well. There’s no seat 13 on this plane, and in 14F on the flight over, apparently no button to recline my seat either, despite it not being in an exit aisle. The seat pitch itself is generous, with plenty of leg room, with some saying it’s a deliberate move to accommodate for the typically larger frames of Samoans. I don’t eat on the late overnight flight, instead preferring to lay across the three seats available on this leg, but despite having my eye mask on and my pashmina over my body, am shaken awake by a male steward, asking whether I want the “beef or chicken”.
I arrive in the Samoan capital of Apia just as the sun rises and am transported across the island to Seabreeze Resort in the south. This adults-only resort is a consistent award-winner, and it’s easy to see why. Owned by Australians Chris and Wendy Booth, there’s just 12 rooms all overlooking the ocean and where the staff and service are immaculate. Over lunch, I ask Wendy whether Samoa possesses a masculine or feminine energy, and she doesn’t hesitate with her response.
“It’s got a masculine energy. Everyone looks to the father of the family,” she says.
“The mother plays a very important role in Samoa but she’s quite happy to be in the background. The women are very powerful people in Samoa.
“The men are the fathers of the family but if someone wrongs you, the father will defend your honour.
“It is an interesting society and interesting in the village. Everyone shares the upbringing of the children. It works because everybody has something to give.
“There is no ownership in Samoa. The biggest belief they have is what goes around, comes around.”
There are 2000 people in the local Aufaga village and I have the incredible privilege of meeting some of them. I attend the local school, a make-shift affair for around 200 kids while their old school is being rebuilt, and there’s a sea of pink and green uniformed faces waiting for me. Turns out they have been practising their dance moves and singing all week. The boys do the haka and the girls perform a kind of hip hop hula. I am invited to repay the compliment and shake a leg, and the kids are in hysterics. This “palagi” (white girl) can’t dance.
I visit a village family who have cooked me an entire chicken as a gift that I share with a colleague, and watch as they roast a pig underground in a traditional umu, covered in leaves. They’ve done this just for us, and it’s delicious. I’m touched beyond words. For people who have so little to give, they have shared this feast with me.
My week unfolds like the daily tropical storms. I walk through steamy jungle foliage to visit gushing waterfalls, I swim, kayak and snorkel in the lukewarm ocean, and on my last day, a Sunday, I go to church. Some of the village kids remember me, smile, wave and sing out “hi Chris” like we’re old friends. There’s a pesky lump in my throat which turns to tears when the Samoans start to sing church hymns.
Oe my last night, I check into the Honeymoon Villa, which sits on its own private point overlooking the ocean. There’s a luscious lobster with my name on it and I dine, alone, under the stars. I have lounged on plump day beds and enjoyed a facial replete with local ingredients such a cucumber, honey, lime and banana. Later, when the moon rises, I snatch a sneaky skinny dip in my private plunge pool under the night sky. There’s a stingray, sashaying through the shallows. I search for the spiritual meaning of stingray. It means protection. I look out to the ocean and silently thank Brother Samoa for looking after me on my journey across the South Pacific.
On the Samoa Airways flight home, in seat 26A, my tray table is so damaged, I cannot actually eat my food from it, as it slides right off, and I note one of the drop-down screens which displays the safety message doesn’t deploy. For a short-haul flight, and boasting some great launch specials, it’s a good option from Australia’s east coast, but don’t expect any frills. The inflight entertainment is via wifi and you don’t need to download an App beforehand. There’s a reasonable selection of movies, TV shows and games to keep you entertained on this flight which is about five-hours long. The food and beverage is also retro…there’s the beef or chicken… but despite my initial scepticism about the chicken dish, it turns out to be tasty. Alcoholic beverages are extra, and you must pay in cash, but the full glass of red wine was good value for $5.
Back in Brisbane, my luggage arrives promptly, but when I open my case back home, all of my clothes inside are soaked, despite there being no rain in Apia when I leave, or Brisbane when I arrive. With only one plane in its fleet, Samoa Airways is taking a huge punt should anything go wrong on its routes which include Sydney, Auckland, Pago Pago, Apia and Brisbane. But the airline does have plans to introduce a second plane in March next year, and an agreement with Qantas and Fiji Airways to assist should the plane not work for any reason. I really wanted to like Samoa Airways, and overall, if you are looking for a retro ride that will get you across the South Pacific, for a competitive price, and pleasant and professional staff, consider this airline. With a few tweaks, and more attention to detail, this airline could make the Samoans proud of once again, having a national carrier.
The Global Goddess flew as a guest of Samoa Airways https://samoaairways.com and stayed as a guest of Seabreeze Resort http://www.seabreezesamoa.com
The children at Aufaga Village school desperately need reading and other school material. You can donate these to Seabreeze Resort and one of the staff, who lives in this village, will ensure they are delivered.
IT’S a wonderful warm day and I am ambling along La Rambla, Barcelona’s beautiful and bustling pedestrian street, before pulling up a perch for a sultry Sangria and some prime people-watching. I sashay on, in Spanish style, arriving at a teeming Tapas bar, all colour and life on this glorious day with customers politely pointing and seemingly shouting for these tasty treats. Dinner and a show? You had me at rioja. I have arrived in Spain’s sexiest city earlier this morning, having flown in fashion aboard Singapore Airlines’ new A350-900 aircraft from Brisbane, via Singapore, with a brief touch down in Milan, before my final destination…Barcelona. And I immediately fall in love.
This jaunty journey for me begins before I even leave the ground in Brisbane. Last September, Singapore Airlines turned the heat up on the competitive airline food market, launching its Book the Cook service from Brisbane for its Business and Premium Economy Class customers. And I have done just that, booked the cook, a few days prior to flying pre-ordering a main meal from a selection of options with creations inspired by the Airline’s International Culinary Panel of Chefs, including Matt Moran. I had the privilege of taste-testing these delicious dishes on the ground last year, but I had never tried them at 30,000 feet. According to experts, you lose 30 per cent of your ability to taste at altitude, so would the dish I chose stack up?
But before I board, I am ushered into Brisbane’s SilverKris Lounge, a place I last passed the Duchess of Cornwell, Camilla, who was in town earlier this year for the Commonwealth Games with Prince Charles. Camilla, bless her, took one look at me and sighed, just as it occurred to me from where I knew this familiar face flanked by police. I may not be a blue blood, but I am treated like royalty in the lounge, with staff remembering me from previous visits, enthusiastically encouraging me to try “every dish on the menu”. “But I’ve Booked the Cook onboard,” I plead. I defer and munch my way through the lounge’s Asian-inspired delights including delicious dim sum and some Aussie treats with a twist as well such as mac and cheese infused with truffles.
Sated, I take my Business Class seat on Singapore Airlines’ new A350-900ULR aircraft, bound for Singapore. Singapore Airlines is the launch customer of these beautiful birds, taking delivery in late-September. In October this year, Singapore Airlines used this aircraft to launch the world’s longest commercial flight between Singapore and New York, covering 16,7000km with a travel time of 18hours and 45 minutes. By comparison, I have around 8 hours on which to sip creamy Charles Heidsieck champagne, before ordering a full-bodied 2015 Bordeaux to accompany my lunch. I’ve pre-booked the lamb and it’s as plump and juicy as I remember trying on the ground. In fact, I could be at a five-star restaurant. The other great thing about the Singapore Airlines’ afternoon flight from Brisbane is that it’s a meal, movie, a nap and snack before you are touching down at Changi Airport. On board, the Business Class service is so impeccable, the crew fold and tidy your bedding whenever you rise to stretch your legs, meaning you come back to a fully-made flat-bed every time, something I’ve never experienced on any other airline.
In Changi, I am ushered to the First Class Lounge and it is a first-class affair with a swanky bar where the bar man mixes your drinks and delivers them to you, and food is cooked to order, before again, being served to your seat. On this connection to Europe, there’s time for a shower with pristine facilities and thoughtful toiletries you’ll need for the next leg, before boarding, just before midnight, to Barcelona (via Milan). On the second leg I’m in Premium Economy which is a great, affordable alternative with the same service and meal offerings you receive in Business Class. Here, the seats remind me of the first-generation Business Class seats favoured by airlines before flat-bed became the norm. The only quirk in this entire journey was the refreshment served between Milan and Barcelona which fell short of Singapore’s impeccable meals, with my tuna, mayo and lettuce sandwich tasting less like tuna and more like mayo and lettuce. The young Aussie girl in the seat beside me, who raves about Singapore Airlines’ Premium Economy because of her long legs, says the same about her vegetarian roll, which is simply some soggy eggplant plonked onto bread. I note on the sandwich packet that it’s an Italian caterer, and may be something for Singapore Airlines to review, given this airline is excellent in every other way. I arrive in Barcelona early in the morning, and am ready to amble along La Rambla with a Singapore spring in my step following my flights.
My journey home, from Munich to Brisbane, via Singapore, is in Economy Class and is again, effortless. One of the reasons I personally book Singapore Airlines is that even in Economy Class, you are still granted that Singapore smile and service. There’s refreshing hot towels, speedy service, and on both of these legs, Singapore has taken the trouble to ensure every Economy Class passenger has a spare seat between them. This is something I’ve never seen any other airline do, preferring to let guests battle it out for space in the air. It’s little wonder this airline continues to win awards. In February in London, Singapore Airlines was awarded three top awards at Cellars in the Sky including the coveted Gold Medal for Best Overall Cellar. In April, it was crowned Best Airline in the World in the TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards. And in July, it was named the World’s Best Airline in Skytrax’s World Airline Awards. And it’s easy to see why. Any airline can fluke good service once or twice, but you cannot fake that consistently supreme service offered by Singapore Airlines, regardless of which class you choose to fly. Consider booking your next trip with Singapore Airlines and treat yourself to an upgrade, particularly if flying long-haul. You, too, will disembark with that trademark Singapore smile.
The Global Goddess experienced the Novelties of Northern Spain Tour as a guest of Collette Vacations https://www.gocollette.com/en and flew to Spain with Singapore Airlines as a guest in their Business and Premium Economy cabins http://www.singaporeair.com/home.form
Hola from Spain! I am currently on assignment in Spain courtesy of Collette Tours and Singapore Airlines, and about to take a week of R&R in Prague and Germany, to catch up with family and friends. I’ll be back soon with some more tantalising travel tales. In the meantime, please follow my travels on Instagram @aglobalgoddess