“There’s more wine than water on the Granite Belt right now,” Rob Fenwick, Heritage Estate Wines
HANDEL’S Water Music is dancing around the room, ducking under a solid steel beam, which was used to build the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It weaves around the ancient timber table at which I am perched, before one final twirl and the German composer’s notes strike my wine glass. I am at Heritage Estate Wines on the Granite Belt, seated around the same solid rosewood and leather table at which the Queensland Government was formed in 1859. But I am not here to participate in a political discussion, rather, I am clutching a French-oaked wild fermented chardonnay, chatting about wine and bushfire and drought. It’s an unprecedented situation: how to turn wine into water. And the irony of those watery, wistful musical notes waltzing around the room are not lost on me.
This journey has taken me from Brisbane into Southern Queensland Country, past Aratula before snaking over Cunningham’s Gap, through Warwick and into Stanthorpe. The dams are all but bone dry. The soil is so parched it cackles like a witch underfoot. Recent bushfires have painted patches of country charcoal black. Forget Australian poet Dorothea Mackellar’s sunburnt country, this land is blistering. These ragged, jagged edges are enough to make you weep if you allow it, but save your salty tears. For amid the ashes and the dust which lodges in your throat there is resilience and hope in spades.
Heritage Estate’s Rob and Therese Fenwick are fighting back in the only way they know how. With wine. The creamy Chardonnay I am drinking, which is about a divisive as climate change itself, won Winestate Magazine Wine of the Year in 2009. I sample my first ever Fiano, made from an ancient Mediterranean variety, and part of the Strangebird wine varieties you’ll find all around the Granite Belt. There’s a buttery Marsanne and a crisp Verdelho on the Strangebird list here too, along with a Tempranillo, Shiraz Viognier, and Shiraz Mourvedre Grenache. While not a Strangebird, I pause to admire the name of the Rabbit Fence Red. Every winery has at least one of these Strangebird or alternative varieties and it’s the secret to this region’s ongoing success.
“People love the experience of small wineries with real owners and people who have skin in the game,” Rob says.
“The 2020 vintage will be small but it should be fabulous. When you’ve had less water on the vine you get a better taste of grape.
“People should come back to the Granite Belt because while we have more wine than water right now, the biggest fear is unemployment.”
I sashay down to Savina Lane Wines, the newest cellar door on the Granite Belt, but with vines that were planted 65 years ago by an Italian family after World War Two. Despite the drought, the first bud bursts are blooming at this winery which is so popular, it only opens to the public for 10 weeks a year. For the rest of the year, wine is sold to an exclusive membership of just 600. The names Fiano, Graciano, Montepulciano, Petit Manseng, Tempranillo and Viognier swirl around my tongue. Brad Hutchings, who owns this winery with his wife Cheryl, indicates towards the 30,000 bottle cellar before saying “The most expensive thing here is the water. It’s a 2018 vintage because that’s the last time it rained.”
But despite the drought, Cheryl is excited about next year’s vintage.
“It should be extraordinary. Because the vines have had a very hard year they’ve struggled and will work much harder to produce moisture and nutrition,” she says.
“The old 65-year-old girls are thriving.”
The sun has plunged below the horizon by the time I arrive at Jester Hill Wines owned by Mick and Anne Bourke, a couple of motorcyclists who went for a ride one day and ended up buying a winery.
I sip on a Strangebird Sparkling Roussanne, one of only three in the world, while a bubbly Ann reflects on the drought.
She’s been back working full time as a nurse to simply cover the vineyard’s $2500 a week water bill.
“We’ve just had to look at the drought in every positive way and make it work for us. At the end of the day we are here for the long haul,” she says.
“It’s not even about covering our vintage for next year, it’s about looking after the vines and creating an environment that people want to come for.
“For us, our story is always a positive story. What brings people here are positive experiences.”
And positive they are. Dine here on local produce such as Mallow Organic Lamb, feast on the region’s cheese, eat fruit plucked straight from the orchard, and try the Two Fools Trinculo or the Triboulet.
Girraween National Park Ranger Sue Smith, who owns Pyramids Road Wine with her husband Warren, leans like a laconic Queenslander, her heavy walking boots firmly planted on the original timber floor of her cellar door, and talks about the “emotional connection” she has with her winery.
“We are striving for quality. Nothing goes into that bottle unless we believe it is going to sell. Grapes will grow themselves but good grapes, you need to look after,” she says.
“This year is going to be very challenging. We are hoping all the work we’ve done in the vineyard is going to help them survive. We’ve also done a lot of composting and mulching.
“We need tourism badly. The small amount of water you are going to use here is nothing.”
Old-style chardonnay lovers with adore the 2018 Barrel Ferment Chardonnay here.
At Ballandean Estate Wines, the region’s oldest and most renowned wineries, Leanne Puglisi is straight-shooting about the year they’ve endured.
“We started in 1928 and this is probably the toughest year we’ve experienced as a family. It is quite scary the decisions we are having to make with the drought,” she says.
“Our region can do lots of things well. For so long the Granite Belt was left to do what it wanted to do and we love to do what we want to do.
“The general public just assumes that Queensland is all beaches, but we have the highest wine altitude in Australia.”
A heavenly highlight of a visit here, apart from the award-winning wine (try the “Messing About” Fiano) is dining on traditional Italian fare in the Barrel Room Restaurant among 150-year-old port barrels.
Across the road, Golden Grove Estate’s Raymond Costanzo, who is also 2019 Queensland Winemaker of the Year, says their story is all about alternative varieties such as the Tempranillo, Nero d’Avola, Malbec and Durif.
“The last five years has been about having fun, breaking out and playing around with tastes and food,” he says.
It’s a similar story of ingenuity at Twisted Gum Wines where Tim and Michelle Coelli produce single-vineyard, non-irrigated wines.
“I feel that we are in a slightly better position than vines that have been irrigated a lot,” Michelle says.
“Our vines have a deep root system. They are very in tune with seasonality. They are very resilient and opportunistic.”
Sit in this tin and timber Queenslander and sip on the likes of Verdelho/Semillon and Shiraz Rose.
At the adjacent Hidden Creek Winery and Café, ducks are paddling in the remnants of the dam but the 2018 Queensland Winery of the Year powers on, diversifying from old-style wines into more hardy grapes such as Tempranillo and Viognier. This huge-hearted winery also donates $2 from every glass of wine and $5 from every bottle they sell to the Rural Fire Brigade.
Hot winds are fanning another bushfire south of the border at Tenterfield by the time I arrive at the Queensland College of Wine Tourism (QCWT). But amid the acrid smoke in the air, there’s optimism galore. Nearby, a kookaburra laughs outrageously, as if he knows everything is going to be OK.
QCWT CEO Peter O’Reilly says there is already so much growth out of the fire scar in the area.
“Once we see a couple of storms go through, this place will leap out of the ground,” he says.
“There are a lot of really great pictures and encouraging signs in that regard.”
So passionate is QCWT about Queensland as a wine producing region, it is home to the “vineyard of the future” in which 70 different varieties of grapes are being trialled to determine which will perform better in extreme climate conditions.
It’s a sentiment being echoed back in Brisbane at Sirromet Wines, whose 105ha of vines are grown out at Ballandean, and which is poised to plant 15 new varieties to meet climate change challenges.
“I have a strong belief that Queensland wine will dominate not only in Australia but across the world,” says wine maker Mike Hayes.
“We are acting on the Granite Belt crusade. The good thing about the Granite Belt is that it is relatively new.
“Queensland has got the ability to showcase the varieties to the world. We are not tied up in tradition. We’ve shown the world it can be done.”
The Global Goddess stayed at Grovely House Bed and Breakfast https://grovelyhouse.com.au
And travelled as a guest of the Queensland Wine Industry Association https://queenslandwine.com.au
and Granite Belt Wine and Tourism https://granitebeltwinecountry.com.au
This post was created in partnership with Southern Queensland Country https://www.southernqueenslandcountry.com.au
JUST like a dish you’d create in a Thai cooking class, travelling on the new Brisbane to Bangkok Air Asia route is a blend of the five ingredients essential to this nation’s cuisine: sweet, spicy, salty, sour and bitter. Last week I flew this new route, which was launched mid year, to Thailand. I hadn’t travelled with Air Asia for a decade, more by default, than design, the majority of its direct flights previously operating out of the Gold Coast rather than the Queensland capital. As a Brisbane resident, who has seen airlines soar and plummet out of BNE over the years, I really wanted to like this airline. It was like going on a first date, where you’re secretly willing it to work. But, unfortunately, it fell short of the mark.
Check-in at Brisbane International Airport is prompt, polite and professional. On board, the all-Thai staff greet me in Thai, their hands poised in prayer position. Even better, I have an entire row to myself for this nine-hour direct leg. On both legs the Thai crew are super vigilant about safety, on take-off and landing walking through the cabin and checking and triple checking every safety detail such as fastened seat belts.
The cost of this return flight is extremely competitive, coming in at around $500 which is about half that of a full-service carrier. For an additional $400 from Brisbane you can upgrade to a Premium seat which reclines into a flat bed. For those who don’t want to pay the extra $400, but want peace and quiet in economy, there’s also a Quiet Zone towards the front of the plane, which costs an extra $15 and is well worth it.
The word “salty” has crept into the Australian vernacular as a term you used when you are annoyed. On this flight this emotion arose from time-to-time. Inexplicably, on the day flight out of Brisbane, crew in the Quiet Zone insist that every passenger close their window shades for the entire flight, so that the cabin is plunged into darkness for nine hours. Even more bizarrely, on the midnight flight home, there is no such insistence, so several hours after take-off, once the sun starts rising in the southern hemisphere, the cabin is flooded with light as you try to sleep. More annoyingly, despite it being deemed a Quiet Zone, the crew did nothing to police the noise of the rowdy boys in the last row of the cabin who decided to share their entertainment device…without headphones. Speaking of entertainment devices, despite this airline being up and running for months now, there are still no devices, nor an entertainment App you can download on this route. I was advised to “bring a good book”.
An airline which makes its money from extras such as food and drinks but rapidly runs out of both? Unbelievable. There were only two drink and food runs on this nine-hour flight and while you can pre-book meals, many people don’t. By the second run they were out of white wine plus numerous other meals including their signature hamburger dish they tout on the front of their menu. An ordinary-tasting Australian wine on this route costs $12. There are, strangely, no breakfast items on the menu and so, at 9am Brisbane time (6am local time) I am served a meal of roast chicken in black pepper sauce. Except it looks nothing like that which is presented on the menu. And no, you don’t get real cutlery as the photo suggests either.
I am not an entitled passenger who moves seats without seeking permission from the cabin crew first. On this flight, there were copious rows available in the Quiet Zone for the midnight flight home, so I asked a member of the crew before take-off whether I could move specifically to the back row. She said yes. We took off, the seat belt sign went off, I put on my eye mask, covered myself with my cashmere wrap and proceeded to snatch some much-needed sleep after this work trip. A few minutes later I was being shaken awake by a member of the cabin crew. She told me this was now a “crew rest” area and I needed to move. She accused me of not asking permission to move to this seat. I assured her I had. She left, and was replaced by a second, and then third member of the cabin crew, who all tried to tell me this seat was now reserved for crew rest. Finally, the crew member who originally told me I could have the seat arrived. She admitted she had “made a mistake”. Eventually she acquiesced and told me I could keep the seat. A colleague travelling in the same cabin commented that the crew took out another three entire rows for “rest” but barely used them. When I awoke in the morning I noticed the tray tables were filthy. So filthy I wondered whether this was dirt that was actually a stain which couldn’t be removed. I tested the dirt with my make-up remover wipes. It was easily removed.
Brisbane travellers who are solely price driven may wish to consider this airline but take your own food, entertainment and some antibacterial wipes to clean the seat. For those flyers who want more Bangkok for their buck, this may not be the airline for you.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Air Asia http://www.airasia.com She made several attempts to source basic information from the airline for this review but received no response.
ONE button. A single shard of plastic, that had escaped the wrestling match that is a sewing needle and thread, was all that was missing from Colin Hannigan’s shirt on Saturday. But for Lifeline’s Queensland Business Development Manager, it was the difference between this item of clothing being discarded, and it ending up on Colin’s back. The shirt itself was freshly pressed, Colin’s eyes creased in the corners like someone who has seen it all in his job, but can still crack a smile. Think giving someone the shirt off your back isn’t worthwhile? Think again. In Queensland alone, the clothes you donate result in a staggering $45 million a year in revenue for Lifeline, which uses the money to fund critical services such as its phone support services.
It was an unexpected and delightful development when Hannigan took to the stage at Brisbane’s Eco Expo at the weekend. He was there for Lifeline’s $2 clothing sale where 40,000 items were on sale for the price of a gold coin. But a last-minute cancellation saw him on the stage to speak. I nearly didn’t stay for his talk, so intent was I on hearing the person who no longer could make it. Funny that. How life works out. But I decided to give Hannigan five minutes. And from the moment he started speaking, I was hooked on the power of the clothes we wear, and more importantly, toss away like old relationships. And the ripples those seemingly simple actions have around the world.
Lifeline Queensland has 138 stores from South Tweed north to Mossman and as far west as Mount Isa. There’s nearly 1000 donation bins in the state. The top 10 per cent quality of these donations end up in Queensland stores. The next level, are sent to islands such as Papua New Guinea and the Solomons in the South Pacific. But here’s where it gets even more interesting. Australia has a free trade agreement into Dubai for its second-hand clothing where our donated clothes are combined with those from America and Europe and sent into places like Afghanistan for people such as refugees. At the end of the scale, there’s a commercial ragging business to transform tatty clothes into industrial rags. Only the bottom 10 per cent of donated clothes end up in landfill.
And that $45 million Lifeline Queensland makes? It funds their critical support line 13 11 14 which operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to assist people in crisis such as those contemplating suicide. It’s not cheap running a service like this. Each phone call costs the service $39 to answer once training, support and office space is taken into account. Hannigan says they are currently able to answer about 80 per cent of those calls. In an ideal world, they would answer 100 per cent and Hannigan is working on that, thinking of new ways to turn old items into gold.
“All of a sudden we had all of these donations of pillow cases. We sent them into the Brisbane Women’s Correctional Centre and the women put straps on them and turned them into goodie bags,” Hannigan says.
“We sell these for $5 and we can’t keep up with demand. They are a really good example of how we are trying to avoid landfill. It is our last resort.
“Our waste bill is huge and if we could get rid of that cost we would be able to fund that 20 per cent gap of phone calls we can’t take.”
Hannigan says another issue is the ease at which Australians discard their clothes, citing the “Instagram generation” as one of the major perpetrators of such waste.
“Once they’ve had their photo taken on Instagram they can’t wear that item again. If we can get everyone under the age of 21 to wear everything twice…learn to accessorise,” he says.
“All of this is impacting on fast fashion. If we can take away this fuel, fast fashion will dissolve.”
Hannigan says the best way to donate is face-to-face in the store, the second is via a collection service and then there’s the Lifeline bins.
“It is fun shopping at Lifeline shops and digging through one of our sales. We see girls coming to our sales and they leave with between $2000 and $3000 worth of clothing with change out of a $100 note. We see refugees come in with an empty doona cover and they leave with it full of clothing for five families.
“We’ve done the research and one item of clothing passes through 38 hands by the time it leaves your hands, goes to the driver, the sorter, the packer and the store. And we employ 70 full-time people.
“Someone giving us a bag of clothing is the same as giving us a $50 bill, we really do appreciate it.”
Hannigan’s words resonate with me on this warm spring day where I’m wearing a light cotton summer frock I’ve bought in Bali from a local designer, hopefully injecting cash directly back into the Indonesian economy. I’m pleased to say I’ve worn it many more times than once. But I’m also becoming more and more aware of my footprint on the planet. Later that day, in a seminar about the burgeoning Tiny House movement at the Eco Expo, I learn that 1 billion people around the world live in slums. That’s 1 in 8 people on this planet. In a world where there are more than enough resources, it makes me want to weep.
Give someone the shirt off your back, it may just save a life.
To make clothing and furniture donations in Brisbane, you can call Lifeline on 36 32 10 10. Lifeline is opening a new retro clothing store in Stones Corner in two weeks.
If you need help, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
The Global Goddess funded her own ticket to the Brisbane Eco Expo and went with her fellow eco warrior No Impact Girl pictured below.
I EXPECTED her to be more rough and tumble in person. An unpolished diamond. After all, this was the Aussie woman who told the world to “get stuffed”. And as for the actor sitting beside her? I anticipated she’d exude more airs and graces. But last night, when Australia’s first female Melbourne Cup winner Michelle Payne took the stage at the Brisbane premiere of Ride Like A Girl, she was petite, poised, confident and charming. Next to her, Australian actor Rachel Griffiths, who made her film directing debut with this movie, deliciously dropped the f-bomb and unapologetically stated “I just swore like a girl”. Things just got real.
Like the film itself, which debuts in Australian cinemas on September 26, these are two fabulous feminists telling audiences how it is. And just like these two strong, smart, sassy women, Aussies are going to love this movie which captures the moment a woman won the Melbourne Cup for the first time in its 155th history. Like most Australians, I remember that day well. On November 3, 2015, I made my annual trek to the TAB and put my usual $1 each way on the outsider. My life motto? Always back the outsider. At 100 to 1, I liked the odds on Prince of Penzance. Little did I realise at the time it was being ridden by a woman, or I would have put $100 on that horse that day.
Griffiths says she was at a barbecue on that 2015 Melbourne Cup Day and at the 300-metre mark of the race she heard the name Prince of Penzance, the horse that would carry Payne to victory.
“At the 200-metre mark I heard Michelle Payne and Prince of Penzance. I remember turning to the barbecue and saying ‘is there a girl racing? Are girls jockeys?’,” she says.
“My first thought was ‘what kind of woman would do that and what would it take to break that 155-year-old history of men winning the race?’
“Then she told the world to get stuffed and that was an Australian heroine. I had a feminist sports film that would make men cry.”
During this 100-minute film, you’ll learn that it takes a lot for a woman to win the Melbourne Cup. Payne, the youngest of 10 children, lost her mother when she was only six months old. She grew up in a chaotic household with her horse trainer father, jockey siblings, and her best friend and younger brother, Stevie.
Stevie, who was born with Down Syndrome, plays himself in the movie, and is considered the best strapper in the country.
After this film, he may well be considered one of Australia’s best actors too.
Payne says she was surprised after her Melbourne Cup victory that many considered her a one-race wonder, rather than understanding the sacrifices she made to win, including crippling injuries and multiple bone breaks, and the death of one of her sisters from a race fall.
As for the victorious day itself?
“I felt like I was so ready that day. I’d left no stone unturned,” Payne says.
“I’d watched the last eight Melbourne Cup races to see where it was won and lost.
“It was an eerie feeling to be going into the largest race in Australia but I was unbelievably confident and calm .
“Any other day, any other race, I would have been so nervous. I felt I was so ready for that race. When we went over the finishing line it was the most incredible feeling you could ever imagine.”
You’ll see plenty of well-known Aussie faces in this film including Sam Neill as Paddy Payne, Magda Szubanski, Mick Molloy and Shane Bourne. Lesser known Teresa Palmer, who plays Michelle Payne, stamps her authority as an actor to watch in this movie which will make you laugh and cry.
This isn’t so much a story about horse racing, as it is about a sista sick of sexism in her industry.
Payne confessed to the Brisbane audience she would have preferred there was no film and was “just happy to go about my business” after the Melbourne Cup.
“But I started to get really excited about it. My dream was winning the Melbourne Cup from five years old and it became so apparent it was so much more than that,” she says.
“I had my role models of my sisters being female jockeys and this film gives me the chance to give back. If this film can give young girls inspiration for a dream…that’s what makes me so proud.
“Not only that, having Stevie a part of that, who in my opinion steals the show. People with Down Syndrome are so capable of so much. When Stevie was born people said sorry, like it was at tragedy. He brings so much joy, he’s hilarious.”
Griffiths says the film title came to her because growing up in Australia, the phrase had a negative connotation.
“It’s kind of crazy as a woman that when growing up ‘like a girl’ meant giving up, not doing something well,” she says.
“For young girls it must be so dismaying to hear that used as an insult. ‘Like a girl’ means winning.”
Curiously, Payne has a different take on the title.
“I was really intrigued by the choice of the name. For me, it was a whole different meaning. I fought the battle that we are not strong enough. That was part of the reason for the ‘get stuffed’ comment,” she says.
“I think that ‘ride like a girl’ is an advantage in so many ways. It is being at one with your horse and developing a connection where that horse wants to try for you.
“I think for a lot of the boys it is about strength. They are hustling and bustling, while you see a female rider, it is smooth and beautiful to watch. We bring a whole different element to racing. I proudly ride like a girl.”
Ride Like A Girl is out in Australian cinemas on September 26. Go and see it, and always, always, back the outsider. And For God’s Sake, ride like a girl.
(The Global Goddess attended the Brisbane Premiere as a guest of Transmission Films. Photos courtesy of Transmission Films’ Official Trailer)
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
A BOLD black mole has taken up residence beside Madam Kwok’s nose, but rather than being viewed as a facial flaw, it’s considered good luck for this Mauritian-born Chinese woman. And Kwok, 75, knows a thing or two about fortunes. This fortune teller and astrologer has been predicting the future for the past 35 years, and so I find myself seated in her China Town premises, in the middle of the chaotic capital of Port Louis, discovering my fate.
Kwok sports kind eyes, wears a jade bracelet on her left wrist and is perched behind a desk, a gold statue of Buddha to her left, a shrine behind her. She speaks Creole, French and Mandarin, but no English, so my fortune is being translated courtesy of my hotel Host, Vimla, from SALT of Palmar. I am furiously trying to scribble notes for my travel stories, an impossible task while Kwok holds both palms, and I wonder how much of my fate is being lost in translation and my sloppy scribbling.
She tells me I am fiercely independent, faithful and frank, a writer who is happy discovering the world, and that money is not important to me (mmm, well a little would be nice). While Kwok tells me I will be happy even when I’m single (no, Kwok no!), she says I will find love again (phew), but not marry (fine). She thinks he may even be Mauritian.
“You will meet someone who will be a traveller like you. They will have the same character as you,” she says.
“But there will only be one and that person will look at you like you are the only one.
“It will all be about love and affection.”
Kwok tells me I will keep moving, for now, until I’ve found “the person” and he will take me to where I am meant to live.
I will also live for a long time, but I need to take care of my health (stop drinking wine Goddess) and I will never stop writing until I take my last breath (which, frankly on some days, could be the very death of me).
To find Kwok, Vimla and I have driven past ripe banana and pineapple plantations and rustling sugar cane crops. The country’s cyclone-proof concrete homes are a confusing jumble of African, Indian and Chinese architecture, and there’s a mesmerising mixture of mosques, temples and churches in this multicultural pot which is so hot, it sizzles. We arrive in Port Louis and ask around the streets of China Town for Kwok, part madam, party myth in these parts. But find her we do, and after our reading, Vimla and I saunter to a tiny hole-in-the-wall shop carved into a 100-year-old building, and sip on a sweet Coca Cola in a glass bottle, redolent of my Australian childhood, and eat Chinese chicken noodles, all for $5. At the pumping Port Louis Central Market there’s plump olives and fat cauliflower heads, pungent spices, colourful vegetables and tropical fruit served the Mauritian way with salted vinegar. It’s so strong it makes my eyes water.
Later that day, and as part of SALT of Palmar’s bid to encourage guests to meet the community, I visit the hotel’s potter Janine Espitalier-Noel, who handmade SALT’S 950 pieces of crockery. Janine, 58, originally from South Africa, fell in love with pottery when she was 16 years old and says it “changed the course” of her life.
She met and married a Mauritian man in her home country and they decided to move to the island in 2008.
“I’ve learned everything from trial and error and have always been drawn back to pottery,” she says.
“I saw a wheel and kiln for sale and brought it to Mauritius and taught fabric painting all around the island to expats.
“About a year ago SALT phoned me and said ‘we are doing locally produced’ and they sat with me and together we worked out what would be correct for them such as mugs, plates and dishes.
“They have really put me on the map.”
It took Janine and her potter partner Richard 1.5 months to complete the 950 pieces for the hotel.
Now, guests are invited to do a “taste of pottery” at her studio in lessons where they learn wheel throwing, hand making, clay modelling and glazing.
“When people come they are so happy, it fills their soul,” she says.
“It is the feel of the clay, a ball becoming a face or a beautiful bowl from a blob of clay.
Janine hands me the wheel and I make what appears to be a penis. Maybe Kwok was right, I will find my man in Mauritius?
The next afternoon I encounter Nathalie Marot, 56, who retired from her former sustainable dry-cleaning business, and started making eco-friendly soaps as a hobby. Now, she supplies SALT with its soaps, hair masks and body scrubs for its guest rooms, as well as massage oils, balms and salt for the spa.
“I was talking about no waste and everything ecological and non-detergent based products long before anyone else,” she says.
“Eventually SALT heard about me and it fit into their concept and they contacted me and we began.
“For SALT, the soap is custom-made and everything is done inhouse in my shop here in Mauritius. There is no extra packing and we like to use the same kind ingredients as you would in cooking.”
On my last night at SALT I am due to interview mother of nine girls (four of her own and five adopted), Mirella Armance at her home but she has been called away. Instead, I meet two of her delightful daughters and we sip local rum in the back yard before feasting on traditional Mauritian curries. The night has turned cool for this tropical destination but the conversation is warm. Like all women around the world we talk of love and loss and loneliness. And while I don’t meet my Mauritian man on this trip (despite many and varied offers), I fall in love with this Indian Ocean island, her magnificent madams, and a heavenly hotel group connecting strangers with community. And so, as Kwok predicted, I keep wandering and writing.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of The Lux Collective https://www.theluxcollective.com and stayed in both SALT of Palmar https://www.saltresorts.com/en/mauritius/hotel/saltofpalmar
And its beautiful sister property LUX Belle Mare http://www.luxresorts.com/en/hotel-mauritius/luxbellemare
East coast Australians can overnight in Perth and stay in the likes of the new QT Perth, which opened last September, and boasts an award-winning restaurant and elegant rooms. https://www.qthotelsandresorts.com/perth
Air Mauritius has up to three flights a week from Perth to Mauritius. http://www.airmauritius.com
Imagine all the people, living life in peace.” John Lennon
IT was her handbag which captured my attention. A beautiful travel tale of tapestry which whispered of a faraway land. I commented on her bag and she glanced at me from under inky black eyes. Her accent was baklava sweet, dripping in Middle Eastern exoticism, of sultry deserts and sticky desserts, piquant shisha pipes and ancient mosques wailing the Muslim call to prayer. “I am from Iran,” she said, smiling, “do you know Iran?” I have never walked in her homeland, but I know her region. Yet another destination. Like loneliness. Since publishing my blog on loneliness last week I have made an effort to walk my talk and try to connect more with my fellow humans, on a day-to-day level. I have been showered with so much love about my blog post, I couldn’t ignore the deluge. And what a torrent it was. I have been overwhelmed by phone calls, messages, emails and comments from friends and strangers from around the world. So today, I thought I’d share some of those responses, to remind you, that we are not alone.
One of my most deliciously surprising messages came in the form of an email, from the Netherlands.
“I stumbled upon your blog, “Only the lonely” and it touched me.
It feels vulnerable, and showing vulnerability is also strength,” the male reader said.
“Although from a slightly different angle, I can relate with your story.
I flew back from Brisbane(!) 2 month ago to the Netherlands after seven months of traveling alone.
“Yes, travelling you meet all kinds of awesome people down the road, but – also yes – it’s easy to miss the deeper connections.
Moreover, I felt a kind of alienated coming home.
“In my case, because I have had so many new and weird experiences to the extent, I have difficulty connecting to “normal” people.”
One of dear friends, who lives in the UK, sent me a message from the midst of their freezing summer.
“Your blog brought a tear to me…people don’t understand loneliness. I can howl for England on my down days,” she wrote.
It seems I made quite a few people cry (sorry), but I’m told in the nicest way.
Closer to home, a friend messaged me with the words “You made me cry with that post this morning. Beautifully written, and a good reminder to us all to be kind to each other,” she said.
Another wrote: “I cried and then smiled as I read your beautiful words and realised how terribly I am disconnected as well.”
And yet another wrote: “Oh, just having a teary in to my coffee. All those lonely days out in the regions coming back to haunt me through your always stunning words.”
Believe me when I say I never expected my two-day cry-fest, which ended in me penning a blog to try and write my way out of it, punch my way out of that painful paper bag, would have such an impact.
Another friend commented “I think we need more honesty to counteract all the bullshit because life is hard and shitty sometimes. By sharing your truth, you give other people permission to be honest…community is how humans have evolved and survived. It’s crazy (and arrogant) to think we don’t need it anymore.”
And this from another “I stopped walking to work months ago now, from the car park 20 mins away….. I have just felt worse and worse and retreated into my shell – over the last few weeks I have slowly started again! It has been great to see the happy Irishman I have gotten to know, and his wife – we always smile and chat quickly, today was in the morning and afternoon! It is always the small things that make us connected.”
Connections. Every person spoke about connections. And so many, many people admitted to being lonely. The issue is so big, that in the UK, they’ve even appointed the first ever Minister for Loneliness. And it got me thinking, is loneliness a First World problem? To some extent, yes, as we tend to have less community or “tribe” than those in Third World countries, but it would be too simplistic to suggest that those in developing nations don’t also struggle with loneliness. When I think back to my travels of the past two years, I think of the Ubuntu women in Kenya, who were ostracised by their communities and husbands, after they gave birth to disabled children; and the survivors of sex trafficking in Nepal, whose parents sold them into the sex trade so that their families could survive. On the other hand, I think about Bhutan, a place I travelled last year to see if it really was, as it claimed, the happiest place on the planet. In my interview with Gross National Happiness Director Sonam Tsoki Tenzin, she spoke about “authentic happiness”, a collective for the whole country and its people.
“I don’t feel sorry for people in the west because you are better educated and have a better lifestyle. But maybe you haven’t used it in the best of your interests,” she says.
“You’ve made it very easy to get things done, but have forgotten to get along with people.”
Back home in Australia, the World Kindness Movement shared my blog, which sparked another stream of conversations among strangers I had never met. I don’t have the answer to loneliness, but I believe it lays somewhere in remembering to be compassionate to yourself and others. Say hello to the exotic woman with the pretty handbag; wave if someone gives you a break in traffic; apologise if you are wrong. It costs nothing to be kind, but the impact you may have on just one person, could make all the difference to their day. Let’s keep this conversation going. In the words of John Lennon, imagine…
Everybody hurts, sometimes. REM
A BITING, bitter Brisbane wind is howling outside and I am inside, howling too. I’d love to say I have a case of the winter blues, but if only it were that easy. I am back home after a hectic six months of travel and I am struggling to earth myself, drop anchor. When you are out in the world, living the frenetic life of a travel writer, hunting and gathering the stories of others, it’s all too convenient to forget your own story. And that story is loneliness.
One in four Australians now live alone and despite having greater electronic connectivity than ever before, we are less connected. A recent article in the Guardian online, penned by Penelope Blackmore, examines the latest casualty of our disconnected world. In the United States, Uber has just launched a new service in which you can now request that you are not disturbed during your ride by the driver speaking with you. That’s right, cordial chit chat has just flown out the window.
In her piece, Blackmore argues that we can outsource almost every “irritation” in our lives, but we can’t outsource loneliness.
“Studies have shown that regular interactions with weak ties, or acquaintances, can drastically improve your mental health and feelings of connectedness,” she writes.
“So while we might think there’s no point waiting around at our local coffee shop when you can pre-order your flat white on an app, studies prove us wrong.
“Baristas, cashiers, yoga teachers – these are all people that might recognise you, and people that are worth talking to, even if it’s just a quick nod of the head.”
Baristas, cashiers, yoga teachers…her words resonate with me on this particular day, when the black dog of loneliness (or is that 10 cats for a single woman?) is nipping at my heels, poking and prodding at me with thoughts that I’m worthless, unlovable, all alone in the world. I’ve had a long, dark night of the soul that seems to affect writers who care about their words, and the world. Some days you wonder if you’re making any difference, on others, you doubt your basic ability to write. And then you panic. Because without your words, what are you? I have awoken on this particular morning in this precise frame of mind. So I force myself to return to my yoga studio that I’ve been neglecting for the past 18 months. Due in part to travel and part to laziness. I walk into the studio, tell the yoga teacher that “something” told me I needed to come back, and then burst into tears. “I need to release today, so please ignore me” I say. She understands, and tells me to simply resort to child’s pose at any point during the class. I make it through the class, noting how badly my balance is off, and leave in tears.
Around the corner, I pause at the second hand book store run by Lifeline volunteers. I say hello to the elderly gentleman behind the counter, and he greets me with a hearty hello back. I linger around the travel biographies section, my favourite genre, and see if any juicy new old books have arrived. On this chilly, crappy day, I want to escape into the arms of another writer, live vicariously through their travels, while I collapse on the couch. I should be writing words myself, but I’ll tell myself that this is research. Even better, the biographies are half priced and with their wizened, yellow pages, they smell so good. Of wild adventures, love, loss and ultimately triumph.
The next destination in my world which has shrunk considerably for now is the local coffee shop. Simon, the owner, sees more of me during winter, when I can finally bask in the winter sunshine after a long, hot summer. I am wearing sunglasses to hide my red eyes. I ask for a hot chocolate but then realise the Eftpos machine is out of order and I don’t have any cash on my person. Simon senses I need this hot chocolate, and simply says “no worries, fix me up next time.” I sit in the sun and fat, salty tears are streaming down my face. Anyone noticing me on this wild and windy day will think my eyes are running from the weather. I clutch my hot chocolate and nudge the karma fairy in Simon’s direction. If only he knew how much this cuppa means today.
Back home on this day, like the wind which is making my windows and bones rattle, I can’t stop howling. I try, but it doesn’t work. So I acquiesce to the sadness. Sometimes life’s answers are held in the pauses between the next breath. The next big adventure. Sometimes they aren’t. I have no answers today. I have friends scattered around the world, and in my hometown of Brisbane, yet I yearn to belong. I crave the next great love affair of my life. On a marvellous night, I want a moon dance. I search for a constant community with which I can connect, not merely dip in and out sporadically.
People think the life of a travel writer is one of pure glamour. And for 10, maybe 20 per cent of the time, this is true. But for the rest, it’s bloody, hard work. One of constant pitching stories and rejections. God, the rejections. Readers will stalk you from around the world to tell you that your story sucks. You spend an enormous amount of time chasing unpaid invoices, juggling Peter to pay Paul, wondering why it is so hard for publishers to pay you what is rightly yours. And for writers such as myself, it can be a lonely life on your own, out on the road. But you keep going, driven by a love of the written word, and the desire to understand the world. I know what a great privilege I have been afforded.
Blackmore sums up loneliness in her excellent article.
“Instead of plugging in your AirPods and listening to a podcast on how to better connect with your loved ones, or how to market your startup, or how to be as productive as humanly possible, try something new,” she says.
“Make small talk, make eye contact. Perhaps give a non-creepy smile to someone that looks like they need it.
“Walk to the train station without distraction, taking in the smells and sounds of your town. And for goodness sake, have a chat to your Uber driver. You never know, you might even enjoy it.”
Even the Pope has weighed into the conversation this week, during his Pentecostal Mass, saying “the more we use social media, the less social we are becoming.” The New York Post has quoted his warning that the temptation to cling to “our little group, to the things and people we like,” saying it’s only a “small step from a nest to a sect, even within the church.”
Two days later, the external and internal howling has finally relented and I return to my yoga studio. A woman I’d noticed the other day smiles at me when she sees me again. My teacher and I discuss my physical and mental release. I drop into the coffee shop and tell Simon I’m here to repay my debt. And I want to pay it forward, buying a coffee for the next person who needs one. His supreme act of kindness has reminded me to be kind, to myself, and others. I’m sipping my hot chocolate when a woman interrupts me. “Excuse me, but thank you, they just told me you paid for my coffee,” she says.
“My name is Chris,” I reply.
“I’m Aleisha,” she says, beaming as she skips off into the winter sunshine.
And all of a sudden, I’m smiling too.
IT had been a terrific trip. I’d trekked for seven, blistering and beautiful hours through Queensland’s gorgeous Carnarvon Gorge, stayed up late partaking in star gazing tours one night, watching for yellow-bellied gliders the next. Heck, I’d even cuddled an echidna (and if you think that’s a little tricky, you are right). Hold it like you’re about to eat a hamburger, my host advised. Which was fine, except a hamburger doesn’t feel like you are holding 1000 sewing needles, nor does it wiggle in your hands.
On my last morning, I expressed reservations about flying in a helicopter as I am not a fan of small aircraft. Give me an A380 and four Rolls Royce engines any day. Preferably Business Class, while we’re at it. But the life of a travel writer is nothing if not many and varied, and I not only survived my helicopter ride over a neighbouring gorge, which involved some spectacular banking so we could see the valley below, but enjoyed it. As my gay boys back in Brisbane would say, focus on the cockpit and everything will be fine…
Like most things in life, it’s not the things you fear, but the things you don’t even consider, that will surprise you. Later that same day, I was on a Fokker 100 out of Rockhampton airport, bound for Brisbane, on a clear-sky night. In 45 minutes I would be touching down in Brisbane at the end of several months of back-to-back trips. My own, glorious bed, beckoned. And then, suddenly, the aircraft plummeted. Not slightly, but by 5000 feet I was later told by the cabin crew. And then it pitched upwards, only to drop again, and again.
My fellow passengers grasped for sick bags, I clutched at the arm of the young bloke next to me, at the same time apologising profusely for being all handsy. We were caught in a storm that wouldn’t release us, and for the next 10 minutes we continued to lurch around the sky. There was a five-minute reprieve, and then it continued again. So bad was this out-of-the-blue storm, we had to abort landing…and go back up into the storm for another 30 minutes before we finally landed.
I was once a good flyer, until all of a sudden I wasn’t. I blame years as a news reporter as the reason behind this. You experience and write about everything, including airline disasters, and eventually some of it sticks. I’ve tried everything over the years, meditation, wiggling my toes (apparently this interrupts the fear pathway to the brain), drinking (plenty of it), prescription drugs, and a combination of prescription drugs AND drinking which has resulted in me hitting the slightest bump and declaring “we’re all going to die.” But one of the best remedies, I have found, when encountering turbulence, is to have a great playlist on hand on your device. Treat this turbulence like a carnival ride, hold on, and go with the flow. And so, I give you, my Perfect Playlist for Turbulent Flying.
1.Stay The Night, by James Blunt
This is potentially the perfect take-off song, particularly with its opening lyrics. “It’s 72 degrees, Zero chance of rain, It’s been a perfect day, We’re all spinning on our heels, So far away from real.” Not only is this such a sunny song, you’ll be so distracted by trying to convert 72 degrees Fahrenheit into Celsius you won’t even realise the wheels have left the tarmac.
2.Daniel, by Elton John
A soothing song for when you are flying into the night and have said goodbye to a loved one. “Daniel is travelling tonight on a plane, I can see the red tail lights heading for Spain.” Who cares if you are only headed to the Sunshine Coast and not Spain, and you’ll be back later tonight? It’s the thought that counts. Except, of course, if you have just broken up with a bloke called Daniel. Then you should be listening to Elton’s I’m Still Standing. Stuff you, Daniel.
3.Uptown Girl, by Billy Joel
Yes, you’ve been living in your white bread world, and now you’re in the ultimate uptown, 40,000 feet above the ground. Enjoy it at least as long as Billy’s marriage to Christie Brinkley, particularly if you are living the rock-star lifestyle and have been upgraded (see my previous note about Business Class).
4.Working My Way Back To You, by Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons
So, the plane is starting to lurch around but hey, Frankie Valli reminds you that you are working your way back. To You. To Who? Who cares? Just don’t confuse Frankie Valli (who is still alive) with Buddy Holly (who died in a plane crash). You should never, ever play Buddy Holly on a flight.
5.Holy Grail, by Hunters and Collectors
Look, if you are going to go down in some fiery plane crash, let it be to good old Aussie pub band like Hunters, and seriously, what could be more fitting for your final descent than a song about the Holy Grail? And the chorus, should you hit turbulence, is rather fitting. “I’ve been high, and I’ve been low, But I’ve got nowhere else to go, There’s nowhere else to go.” Except down. You are going down. By hey how great were the 80s?
6.Human, by The Killers
“And sometimes I get nervous, When I see an open door, Close your eyes, Clear your heart”. No matter how nervous you get, don’t open the plane door. Just don’t.
7.All The Lovers, by Kylie Minogue
This song is a bit of a final montage to all those you have loved…and may never see again.
8.F**k You, By Lily Allen
Another song that pays homage to your past, but this is for those you hope to never see again.
9.If Tomorrow Never Comes, by Ronan Keating
Speaks for itself. (Note to my sister: make sure those travel editors pay those outstanding invoices in my in-tray)
10.Against The Wind, by The Tributes
Because, ultimately, no matter how turbulent and terrifying, you will survive this flight. Against the wind.
Note to readers: The Global Goddess takes hundreds of flights each year, and hasn’t dropped dead yet (nor been arrested for groping hot, young blokes or staring at the cockpit of pilots). Happy Flying!
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