I POSSESS the dubious fortune of being born under a lucky star and by dubious, I mean weird stuff happens to me all the time. By fortune, I mean that I have not only managed to find a way to laugh at most of this whacky business, but I somehow make a living out of it. Unlike one of my sisters, who is a nurse, when things go wrong in her profession, she can kill someone. When things go wrong for me, people pay me to write about it.
And so I am delighted to announce that I am now a regular columnist for Jetstar’s inflight magazine! Yes, you will find me, on the back page, or Row 57 (as we like to call it in the airline business…yes, I like to think I’m a pilot now too), telling more tawdry travel tales among a small stable of regular writers. Trying to be entertaining in 400 words is as challenging as watching those people who pack too much hand luggage, attempting to shove it into the overhead lockers. (Learn to pack properly, people). Please enjoy my debut column, out now on all Jetstar flights.
TALES FROM ROW 57*
WHEN TRAVEL RHYMES WITH UNRAVEL
For some who journey, it’s a jungle out there, as Christine Retschlag knows all too well
I AM WRITING this having just “showered”, crouched under the tiny faucet of the bath tap in my Cairns hotel room. I would have preferred to stand under a gushing flood of water like normal people, but not for the first time in my travels have I been unable to work out how the shower nozzle actually works. We’ve all got that one friend for whom the world is a big, scary place where inexplicably weird things happen while on holiday. I am that friend.
I once took my sister on a “relaxing” holiday to Queenstown, and I distinctly recall her scoffing as I grabbed two bottles of Duty Free Whisky as we dashed to the plane. Fast forward to the next four days among which included two of our tour vehicle’s four wheels precariously spinning over a cliff ledge; me being carried down a mountain in a white-out by not one, but two sherpas, and on our last day, at a seemingly sedate farm visit, a ram breaking free from the pack and charging straight at us. Drink? We were opening those whisky bottles for breakfast by the end of that trip.
Once, on a work trip to Phuket, I accidentally stole the room maid’s shoes, believing they were the hotel slippers. It was only at dinner that night, having pranced around the resort in those slightly worn orange wedges, did it become apparent that my colleagues had not been “gifted” the same footwear. From Cambodia to Coolangatta to the Cook Islands and everywhere in between, I’ve left similar stories of destination destruction.
Back in Australia, I recently tried to furiously open my Noosa hotel room, only to eventually realise I was on the wrong floor. This wouldn’t have been so bad had there not been a group of frightened tourists inside, staring through the peep hole at a complete maniac slapping at their door.
I am yet, unlike one friend who possesses similar dumb luck, to lock myself out of my hotel room, stark naked. In his case, he stole The Australian newspaper conveniently outside another guest’s room, and used it to cover his vitals while he sheepishly approached reception for a spare key.
I’m sure that day is coming and when it does, I intend to take this copy of Jetstar Magazine with me, and hope this tawdry travel tale adequately covers all of my sins.
*Row 57 is the last row of seating on Jetstar’s 787 aircraft. To book a Jetstar flight or holiday go to http://www.jetstar.com
“This year I do not want the dark to leave me. I need its wrap of silent stillness, its cloak of long-lasting embrace. Let the dawns come late, let the sunsets arrive early, let the evenings extend themselves while I lean into the abyss of my being,” Joyce Rupp, Winter’s Cloak
IN summer, we learn to live again. In winter, we learn about ourselves. And the presence of a wild snake on one’s back deck is, arguably, one of life’s great teachers. I used to be scared of snakes, having grown up in country Queensland where scorching summers were punctuated by frequent snake sightings. Red Belly Blacks and King Browns were the order of the day out there, the type of rebellious reptiles that could easily kill a small child. And so I learned to fear those slithering serpents of my youth. But several years ago, when I first spotted a carpet snake on my back deck, I decided to finally face my fear. On the one hand, this was made much easier by the fact it’s a harmless common Eastern Australian carpet python. On the other hand, a snake is still a snake.
Anastasia arrived first, who departed only to be replaced by Sylvia, who grew from a one-metre juvenile in the first year, into a three-metre monster by her third. Too fat to fit back into the ceiling cavity, she departed, only to be replaced by Saskia, who arrived about a year ago. Saskia, like Sylvia, was also slim, but with a ready diet of bush rats and possums right out the back, she too has grown. And now she’s possibly the fattest snake I’ve ever seen. My anaconda girl also measures about three metres long, but sports the beer belly of a Brisbane bogan. Lay off the possums, I want to advise, particularly given I gain great comfort from their roaring thunder along my timber roof late at night. To me, that’s the soundtrack to living in Brisbane, and I love it.
So, what have I learned from my snake this winter? The first lesson is that it’s important to slow down. While my snake is still surprisingly active, even in winter, she moves at a slower pace. She basks on the back deck in the winter sunshine, that I, too crave. Learn to love the softer light, she seems to whisper to me. Take the time to laze. Stretch. Sleep. We need these seasons to rejuvenate. Reflect. Retreat inwards. For in a place like Brisbane, where the summers are long and lusty, it’s too easy to keep running. And run out of steam.
My sassy Saskia has also taught me while it’s important to eat, don’t eat too much. Fuelled by her latest possum catch, and a ridiculously distended belly, she tried and failed many times to return to her ceiling cavity the other afternoon as the sun signalled its early afternoon departure. She crawled and wiggled and pretty much looked like I do every winter when it comes to trying on that first pair of jeans. Eventually, she gave up. And whether she will return is anyone’s guess. I’ve learned to grow OK with that too.
She’s taught me to shed my skin a little. Be vulnerable. And she’s taught me to face my fears. In an ideal world, there would be no wild snakes on my back deck. But history has taught me that not long after one has departed, another one arrives. They are territorial like that. And so, I must embrace this paradigm. Just as winter follows autumn, the seasons will keep on changing. I used to hate winter too. The short days, the cold mornings, being constrained by too many clothes. By nature I’m a summer frock girl who loves being in the water. Those beautiful balmy evenings, bare feet and ice-cold beer. But I’m slowly learning that life is also about embracing the shadow side. Not only in nature, but in myself and others. Instead of rejecting the things I dislike about myself, learning to acknowledge them as a part of a greater sum.
I’m back on the yoga mat this winter, a nourishing alternative when the water is too cold in which to swim, and last week we celebrated the winter solstice in the southern hemisphere. The days are starting to grow longer and pretty soon, they will grow warmer again. But for now, I’m going to relish the words of Joyce Rupp: “Let me lie in the cave of my soul, for too much light blinds me, steals the source of revelation. Let me seek solace in the empty places of winter’s passage, those vast dark nights that never fail to shelter me.” Wherever you are in the world, whatever the season of your soul, I hope you find solace too.
SOME days you just have to let the world come to you. Last week, I was back in beautiful Noosa on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. I’ve been up there a lot lately, more by default than design, and what’s really cool is that every time I’m there, I discover a host of new things. On this trip, I stumbled across some cool international experiences in which you can indulge. Here’s five of my favourites.
New York, New York
If it’s graffiti grunge you’re seeking, look no further than Streets of Harlem Café, along Hastings Street. At first I thought this was a new entrant into the Hastings Street scene, but I am reliably informed this eclectic establishment has actually been there for about five years. Lord knows how I missed it. But I’m glad I found it this time. On an uncharacteristically wet and wild winter’s day, I slipped in here for breakfast. If you like a bit of edge with your eggs, this is the place. Oh, and if you want to know what the future holds, there’s even a clairvoyant upstairs.
(8 Hastings Street, Noosa)
Now this is a café I know has been along Hastings Street for forever and a day. And as kitsch and clichéd as it may appear, if you are looking for some of the finest people watching on the planet, pull up a perch at Aromas Noosa, order a smart latte, and do as the French do, and watch the world wander by. In fact, there’s plenty of French influence in Noosa, from the French Quarter to the acclaimed Sofitel Noosa Pacific Resort. I’ve wanted to stay in the latter since it first opened as the big, pink Sheraton 26 years ago. Now, it’s more subtle but the service is still five-star and the views out over the ocean are divine. For a truly international experience, indulge in the Thalgo Indoceane Spa Ritual in the Aqua Day Spa here, a treatment, which combines Mediterranean, Egyptian, Indian and Chinese influences.
Around this time every year, when the temperature drops in Brisbane, I start dreaming of a return to Bali. If you don’t have the time, or the money, to visit Indonesia right now, here’s the second best thing. As soon as you walk through the heavy, carved timber doors at the Ikatan Balinese Day Spa, you feel like you are Indonesia. Surrounded by statues and set in a tropical environment, you can choose from a variety of sublime spa treatments. I had the two-hour Warmth of Bali treatment which, among other things, involved my spa therapist scrubbing my body with chai tea. Among a long list of treatments you can select the Bali Getaway; Noosa Dua; and Kuta Time. But above all, go. You won’t regret it. http://www.ikatanspa.com
Blink and you’d miss this little slice of Italy tucked away in a quiet corner along Hastings Street. Which would be a great shame as Locale was one of the best dinners I have ever eaten. Outside, you’ll find a zippy Vespa. Inside the moody black interior is a menu of gold. I am not even really a risotto fan, but I will often choose a menu (and a destination for that matter) because I am enamoured by its description. In this case, the Organic Acquerello Carnaroli risotto, Fraser Island spanner crab, lemon and sea urchin butter, was the winner. You had me at sea urchin. A few steps up the street, and also a little hidden, make sure you check out El Capitano Pizzeria and Bar which ferments its organic sourdough pizza bases for 72 hours. Here, I encountered for the first time in my life, burrata cheese. It looks like someone has plonked a scoop of vanilla ice cream on your pizza, but in fact it’s a fresh Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream which melts all over your topping. Died, I did, and went to heaven.
Having visited Sri Lanka for the first time about two years ago, I’ve since been fascinated by this distinctive cuisine. So it is such a delight to have celebrity Sri Lankan chef Peter Kuruvita call Noosa home for his namesake restaurant. Attached to the Sofitel Noosa Pacific Resort, Noosa Beach House Peter Kuruvita combines a relaxed setting with innovative dining. For breakfast alone, you could order the Sri Lankan crab omelette, while you’ll find the Sri Lankan snapper curry on the dinner menu. Kuruvita combines his exotic recipes with local produce such as Mooloolaba prawns.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Tourism Noosa – http://www.visitnoosa.com
THIS travel tales begins where all good journeys should, back in my hometown of Brisbane at my temple of worship…the Regatta bottle shop. I don’t usually dash to the bottle-o just before I’m about to fly to another destination, but I have just learned that my next stop is BYO, I can’t bring any glass, and red wine is also forbidden. And so I find myself in a peculiar pickle, hunting for the finest chateaux cardboard that can be carried, along with my clothes, in a 20 litre dry pack.
I’m off to the Whitsundays as part of the first media contingent to return to the region after tropical Cyclone Debbie hit on March 28 causing an estimated billion dollars worth of destruction during the 36 hours it raged. The Category 4 cyclone, the worst since Cyclone Ada hit in 1970, destroyed 93 boats in Airlie Beach and took out the town’s electricity and water in some parts for up to 16 days. Both Hayman and Daydream Islands were extensively damaged, and will not reopen until 2018. Hamilton Island also sustained damage, but reopened a week after the cyclone. On the mainland at Airlie Beach, the Airlie Beach Hotel is closed, as are several other businesses.
On this journey I will spend two days and two nights at Paradise Cove Resort with Red Cat Adventures. This particular tour is called the Thrill and Chill package. But there are very strict rules attached to this tour. No glass and no red wine. No nail polish or nail polish remover. And finally, no bags with zippers. While on the island I also learn I am only allowed to have an ice cream if I agree to take a napkin first. I’m intrigued. What the HELL happens on this island? After all these years of travel, am I about to have my first Lord of the Flies encounter?
Paradise Cove, on the Australian mainland about 30 minutes by road, or the same time by boat from Airlie Beach, is owned by millionaire Jodee Rich and leased to Red Cat Adventures. And it appears the millionaire does not like spillages. Legend has it a backpacker once tipped nail polish on the floor there and then attempted to clean it up with nail polish remover, which made the situation worse. As for the bags with zippers, apparently zips carry bed bugs. And here I was blaming the backpackers.
On this particular tour I am surrounded by 17 backpackers who are young enough to be my children. Look, I like backpackers, I was one once, but I don’t like them enough to be stuck in a remote locale with them with only white wine in a pouch to console me. Luckily for me, I am upgraded to the “Dream Villa” in which Mr Rich stays when he’s at his resort. It is part African safari lodge/part Aboriginal art gallery with thousands of dollars of authentic Indigenous bark art on the walls. A wooden hippo is perched on the floor and there’s binoculars in an old-fashioned leather case and an ancient typewriter on a desk, which appeals to this writer. A free-standing bath stands in one corner of the yawning bathroom and in the other, a shower surrounded by glass, so that you can bathe with Mother Nature as your witness. On one morning, I am visited by a wild dingo.
The most comfortable king-sized bed in which I’ve ever slept is the centerpiece of the villa which also houses plush day beds inside and a gorgeous swing chair outside from which you can watch the sun rise over the ocean. And the best bit, I can only hear the sound of screaming curlews late into the night, my backpackers scattered somewhere else around this bush property, which sits in Woodwark
Cove. During the 2 day/2 night tour you’ll board the 12 metre, 600 horse power boat and take snorkelling trips to the likes of Hook and Whitsunday Islands. There’s a three-hour visit to Whitehaven Beach and on your last day, you’ll be taken to Langford Reef where some believe Lara Bingle infamously muttered “Where the bloody hell are you?” for an Australian tourism campaign.
While I silently mutter “What the bloody hell am I doing on this tour with backpackers?” in my head, the thing I love most about returning to Airlie Beach is that this town reignites the dormant backpacker in me as well. There she is, my 20-year-old self, who took off around the world with a 10kg backpack of clothes and a fistful of optimism. And this reminds me of a chat I had with a Balinese local years ago, shortly after the Bali bombings. I am always conscious of the “ugly Australian” who enters Bali, the one who drinks too much or packs their boogie board full of drugs, and so I continually check in with Balinese tourism operators as to how my fellow Australians are treating them. On this particular day, the Balinese man said: “We love Australians, when the Bali bombings happened you were the first tourists to return back.”
And so it is with the backpackers to the Whitsundays. Yes, there is some pain in this region, and there are some things to rebuild, but there’s still plenty of amazing things to do here. These fearless travellers, the backpackers, are the first to return. And for that, I can’t help but love them. Bed bugs and all.
Important footnote: Should you find yourself in a similarly dire wine predicament to that I have described above, I have just discovered there’s an excellent new alternative on the market. Tote Wines has launched premium wine pouches in an easy to chill, easy to carry, 1.5 litres. The launch range includes a 2014 Barossa Valley Shiraz and a 2016 Eden Valley Sauvignon Blanc with a Barossa Valley Rose set to launch in the coming months. http://www.totewines.com.au
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Tourism Whitsundays http://www.tourismwhitsundays.com.au and Tigerair Australia. Tiger has released $33 fares each way between Brisbane and Whitsunday Coast Airport and $66 each way between Sydney and Whitsunday Coast Airport, until sold out. http://www.tigerair.com.au Whitsunday Transit offers transfers to and from the airport http://www.whitsundaytransit.com.au
THE waterfall gushes like a South Pacific socialite and indeed, that’s precisely how I feel, lounging in this crisp, private pool, replete with my own bodyguard to ensure no one interrupts my island idyll. I am on assignment for Luxury Escapes, Australia’s fastest growing online travel holiday business. And this delicious destination in which I find myself is Fiji’s luxurious Namale Resort & Spa, on the remote northern island of Savusavu.
I exit the waterfall with what I imagine is all the elegance of a mermaid, dine on prawns and sip champagne with Mother Nature as my only companion, before sashaying back to my villa, Rosi, one of 19 beautiful bures on this yawning 212ha property. What I didn’t know before checking in, is that not only is this resort owned by renowned motivational guru Tony Robbins, he was meant to be on the island at the same time as me.
I glance at the full-sized pool table in my villa lounge room, and picture asking Tony over to sink some balls and shoot the breeze. I can imagine Tony saying something profound such as “The path to success is to take massive, determined action” while I would razzle dazzle him with a few of my own motivational quotes such as “Always use butter first if you are going to make a Vegemite sandwich” or, equally inspirational “Never date a Brisbane bloke” Tony, you’re welcome.
In Tony’s absence I easily entertain myself on this expansive property, which boasts an activity centre, fitness centre, tennis court, 9-hole golf course and two swimming pools. Impressively, it also houses Fiji’s only bowling alley, affectionately known as the Kava Bowl and at which I initially thought I was being taken for a traditional kava ceremony. Bit early, even for me, I thought to myself, and was relieved when I realised it was, in fact, a bowling alley. Plonked in the middle of the South Pacific. There’s also an indoor golf simulator here, more than 700 movies and an indoor basketball centre. In short, there’s plenty to do on a tropical rainy day.
Namale’s other claim to fame is that in terms of actual size, it is home to the largest day spa in the South Pacific with the Valeni Sasauni Spa Sanctuary measuring 10,000 square feet. It is here, nestled among the cliffs overlooking the Koro Sea, that I indulge in a 75-minute Ultimate Fusion Massage combining soft tissue, Swedish, and hot stone therapies while listening to the waves crash against the rocks outside. Afterwards, I shower naked outside. Again, Fijian fishermen, you’re welcome.
There’s also plenty of active outdoor options and I join the boys from the dive centre one sunny Sunday afternoon and we board the Namale Pearl anchored in Savusavu Harbour and head out to the Lighthouse Reef. Here, we drop anchor, slip into Fiji’s famed warm waters and spend a sublime hour snorkelling with tropical fish, turtles and black and white tipped reef sharks. It’s enough to work up an appetite which is just as well as there is nothing The Global Goddess loves more than an impressively-stocked bar and canapés before a multi-course dinner served with local produce. Yes, this is an all-inclusive resort and I mingle with the other guests, before we sit down to the nightly entertainment, which introduces us to local culture through the employees and their families from the two neighbouring villages. With a staff to guest ratio of 3:1, you’ll never feel alone here, unless, of course that is your wish.
Namale Co General Manager Nowdla Keefe says despite his fame, Tony has not branded the resort in his name, as he prefers to adopt a low-key approach to the former coconut plantation which started out as his home, 27 years ago.
“He would bring family and friends and they would open up for him and then close the resort but then it got to the point where they decided to keep it open,” she says.
“His intent is that everybody experiences what he experienced when he first came to Fiji. It’s about disconnecting from the world and reconnecting with yourself. A lot of the staff have been here a long time, 70 per cent come from of the two neighbouring villages and they feel like it is theirs. The service you experience comes from the heart.
“He’s very congruent, he walks the talk and the staff love him.”
Can you picture yourself in this pool? Check out this great deal with Luxury Escapes
Guests are encouraged to leave a piece of themselves at the resort and are invited to inscribe a stone with their name, which will be placed at a locale of their choice upon departure. And instead of tips, guests have the option of donating to the Namale Staff Appreciation Fund; The Namale Education Fund; and/or The Namale Medical Fund; which all support the local villages.
One of the absolute standouts of a stay at Namale is its private dining options and apart from my waterfall experience, there’s also a surprise dinner option. On my last night I am whisked away in the dark, and deposited on a beach under the stars. At my table for one I’m served locally-caught lobster and fine Australian wine. Just when I think things can’t get any better (and that I am becoming very good at romancing myself), out of the bushes pops a Fijian man with a guitar. He proceeds to strum 10 stirring love songs. And I am reminded of another Tony quote “We can change our lives. We can do, have and be exactly what we wish” And right now, on this remote Fijian beach, under a moon as round as a coconut, that’s precisely here.
The Global Goddess was a guest of Namale Resort & Spa. This post is sponsored by Luxury Escapes whose travel packages are personally tested by one of their expert travel team. Her opinions remain her own.