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
CONSERVATIONIST Derek Ball is clad in a shirt the colour of the deep blue ocean he so adores, but on this particular day he’s diving into the urban jungle of a Brisbane coffee shop, in which we meet.
A khaki backpack with an eco-friendly water bottle sits to his right, and to his left, the luggage he will take the following day to New Zealand, off on his next expedition.
Derek, 51, is the CEO of Wild Mob, an Australian-based not-for-profit organisation, dedicated to long-term conservation initiatives which empower local communities.
This biologist and zoologist, along with his team of fellow scientists, ecologists, educators and adventurers, takes paying volunteers on conservation expeditions to Australian and New Zealand destinations. It works on a principle of 4 C’s: Conservation, Culture, Community and Commerce.
Graeme Wood, who founded the successful online travel company Wotif.com in 2000, and the Graeme Wood Foundation, which supports environmental sustainability, the arts and education, in 2006, conceived Wild Mob eight years ago.
Interestingly, the scientist in Derek was skeptical when first approached about the concept.
“I wasn’t quite sure it would work to be honest. But after three cups of coffee I thought ‘let’s give it a go’,” he says.
“We started out low key in our first few years. Now we are working with islands off of Queensland and in central Queensland, Tasmania, Melbourne, Norfolk Island, New Zealand and are looking to expand into Fiji and the South Pacific.”
I stumbled across Derek purely by chance a few weeks ago when I was on Norfolk Island, a place he describes as a “global biodiversity hotspot” and where he regularly takes groups.
It’s a long way from Outback Queensland’s mining town of Mount Isa where he was born, but it was a trip to the Great Barrier Reef when he was six which changed his world and saw him enamoured with the ocean and its marine inhabitants.
“That was it for me. Everyone has their place in the world and this is mine,” he says.
“It is pretty close to the best job in the world. I get to do stuff I love doing and make the world a better place and have the best time doing it.
“You don’t have to be a dyed-in-the-wool greenie, a scientist, professor or career conservationist, every single person can come out with us.
“On every single trip we do, we get to a stage where people realise what they are doing and after a couple of days they get it. People just go ‘we are out here, making the world a better place’. People go away changed.”
Derek says the beauty of Wild Mob expeditions is that they attract every demographic.
“We target school groups. In my view it is they who are teaching us. They inherit this place. Engaging with kids is absolutely critical. Younger people just get it, they’ve been exposed to far more information than the older generation,” he says.
“But we get everyone from 18 year olds to 83 year olds. There are more women. Women are more empathetic and think through the world much better than men. They tend to be more willing to give than blokes are. Women know how to pace themselves and that it’s not a competition.
“And we get all occupations and from all walks of life. Our expeditions are as much about sociology as conservation. Most of my team are introverts and they are really great project leaders because they observe.”
According to the latest annual report published by Wild Mob, in one year it attracted 333 volunteers who worked for 1843 field days and contributed $440,000 worth of their time. More than $500,000 was spent in local communities; 154 students were taught in six outdoor classrooms; and more than 1300kg of marine debris was removed from 10km of marine turtle nesting beaches.
During the same period, 9ha of bridled nail-tail wallaby nursery habitat was protected from cats; weeds were controlled in 35ha of critically-endangered littoral rainforest; and conservation and survey work completed on 50 islands along a 500km stretch of the Great Barrier Reef.
As recently as last month, Wild Mob announced through its hard work and community collaboration, it was close to establishing a second population of one of the world’s most rare birds, the Norfolk Island Green Parrot, on neighbouring Phillip Island.
But while there are many wins, work as a conservationist is not all sunshine and lollipops with Derek recently posting a scathing attack on social media in which he described leaders of Australian governments as a “dragon’s lair of personal vilification, bigotry, ignorance and greed.”
“That particular day I was frustrated as all get out. There are so many challenges in this country and so many opportunities. You can’t fix the problem without having a purpose, there is no vision in Australia.
“Where do the Australian people want to be in the year 2050? What sort of country do you want to live in?
“As a scientist you need to be objective and logical but I’m allowed to have emotions as well.”
He believes the Australian Greens are “ineffectual” and that the Australian Government “pisses a huge amount of money against the wall”, spending $6 billion a year on the environment without managing to save one endangered species.
It would be easy to assume this vocal conservationist is without fear, he loves sharks “they are perfectly adapted to their environment”; and is happy to remove a deadly taipan from a house; but he does find Australian crocodiles “challenging to work with”.
Just don’t call him a Wildlife Warrior, Conservation Crusader or, even worse, a “bloody Greenie”.
“I am nothing so melodramatic. I am very much Mr Average. One of the great things about Wild Mob is that you meet some very impressive people,” he says.
“The Greenies make our lives so much harder. I want to spend time with people who can find balance in the world.
“Being a conservationist is pretty bloody tough. I can’t think of a time in the past 30 years when it’s been so bloody hard to find money for the environment.
“But I am not going to stop. There is no retirement plan at all.”
To find out more about Wild Mob’s work, upcoming expeditions or to donate to conservation causes, go to https://wildmob.org/about/ Photos in this blog courtesy of Wild Mob
The Global Goddess travelled to Norfolk Island as a guest of Norfolk Island Tourism – http://www.norfolkisland.com.au and Air New Zealand – http://www.airnewzealand.com.au
THE very first thing I learned when I moved to Brisbane almost 20 years ago is that the city is divided into two tribes. Those who live north of the Brisbane River, and those who live to the south. So distinct is this demarcation you could be talking about the Scottish and the English. Turns out I’m a true northerner through and through and, with some shame, admit that in two decades I’ve never ever stopped to explore the south, rather giving it a cursory glance on my way to the Gold Coast. But this all changed on the weekend when I was given the opportunity to “cross the river”, pause, and reflect on what the south has to offer. And what I discovered was that the south has soul in spades. Just as the human body has 7 chakras, here’s 7 ways you can discover the spirit of the south side.
1. Back to the bush
Redlands IndiScapes Centre is Australia’s first environmental centre for indigenous plants, and I’m stunned to learn it’s been here for 15 years and I’ve never visited. Which is my great loss, as this 14.5ha site is home to 14 demonstration gardens, more than a kilometre of walking tracks, an environmental information centre and a 600-year-old Tallowwood tree. The good news is that 55,000 visitors a year have discovered this bush beauty which hosts a range of events all designed to acquaint Brisbane residents with native plants. Bush Care Extension Officer Travis Green is passionate about this patch and works with 300 volunteers who plant 20,000 trees in the Redlands region each year. Make sure you stop for a bite in the breezy tea garden café where you can sip on lemon myrtle ice tea while eating native bush tucker.
2. Red, red wine
Regular readers will know that The Global Goddess is rather partial to a drop of wine, or three, and I am more than happy to support local wine makers, all in the name of story research and robust good health, of course. Sirromet Wines at Mount Cotton is one of Queensland’s stunning success stories, clocking up more than 780 national and international awards. Opened by businessman Terry Morris in 2000, this gorgeous property overlooks southern Moreton Bay and produced 640 tonnes, or 500,000 bottles, of wine last year. A highlight of a visit here is the timber antique wine press which dates back to 1793 and hails from the Austrian Hungarian Empire. Around 3500 people a week flock here to sample the 10 varieties of wine on offer, look longingly at the 3000 wines from around the globe in the Morris family cellar (or that could just be me), and dine in the winery’s signature restaurant Lurleen’s, lovingly named after Terry’s wife.
3. Body and Soul
A relatively new entrant to the south side, Body and Soul Spa Retreat at Mount Cotton uses products derived from Australian wild flowers in its spa treatments among this Aussie bush setting. Visitors are first asked to choose an essential oil based on which smell most resonates with them and which corresponds to either fire, water, earth or air. Retreat owner Gail Keith says the process is about balancing the “whole person” so that “you function in your whole life a lot better”. On this particular day I discover I have a strong water element, described as sensitive, intuitive and creative. And my two-hour treatment ironically includes a Goddess Youth Infusion Facial with collagen and hibiscus flower. A cup of tea brewed from native Australian flowers is offered at the end of the treatment, and my water element and me practically float on to my next appointment, looking 10 years younger, of course.
4. Into the woods
Water dragons skip over the lily ponds playing a salacious game of catch and kiss as I sit (rather enviously I might add) on the deck of my charming cabin among the scribbly gums and iron bark trees at Mt Cotton Retreat and Nature Reserve. While the seclusion is seductive, what I really adore is the fact this property has embraced the environment with both hands. Not only is this retreat certified under the internationally recognised Ecotourism Australia, they have established a 20ha private nature refuge which includes three relatively untouched eco systems and more than 75 bird species. Birds on this property have actually been formally identified and registered in the Australian Bird Atlas and in 2011, this retreat created Boom-Ber-Pee (which means koala in the language of the local Minjerribah people) a private nature reserve which protects endangered regional ecosystems and koala habitat.
5. Sit with yourself
I’d heard that the south side had a Buddhist temple but I was unprepared for just how big and beautiful the Chung Tian Temple at Priestdale actually is. The hum of Buddhist chants blends with the intoxicating sounds of silence on this 90ha bushland property which opened in 1992. The City of Logan is home to 215 nationalities and this is one heartening example of the multiculturalism this part of Brisbane embraces. A Bodhi tree, grown from a cutting of the original plant under which Buddha is said to have found enlightenment, is on this site which hosts a number of buildings and temples. Guests who give advance notice can participate in an ancient tea ceremony by donation and in which you’ll learn about the 5 different types of tea – green, red, oolong, yellow and white. In this intricate ceremony Tea Maker William Zhao will explain that tea must be drunk slowly. Even better, William believes red wine is a good for you as tea. I knew it.
6. There’s a bear in there
Another startling fact about the City of Logan that I learned on the weekend is it is home to more than 900 parks and more than 80 per cent of this city is considered “green”. Which makes it the ideal corridor for wildlife to inhabit. Turns out koalas are also huge supporters of the southside, and a really restful place in which to experience these Aussie icons is at the Daisy Hill Koala Centre. Set within the 435ha Daisy Hill Conservation Park, which, by the way, makes an ideal spot for a picnic, a handful of koalas are housed in this environmental and education centre. Now, call me un-Australian, but I’m one of those people who think koalas are a little dull. They sleep for an inordinate number of hours each day, smell a little, are pretty hairy and when they do wake, are pretty scratchy. A little like my ex-husband. But that all changed when I met Harry, the 8kg male, who sprung to life during my visit and struck this sensational pose.
7. Food, glorious food
Until now, when I thought of dining on Brisbane’s south side, I thought of the huge proliferation of excellent Chinese restaurants which pay homage to some of the first migrants to the area. But this is a region which is thriving in a number of foodie fields. From The Berry Patch at Chambers Flat to the Global Food Village at Woodridge, the NT Fresh Cucumber Farm and Riverview Herbs, there’s a range of dynamic producers doing some great stuff here. Let’s not forget the Beenleigh Rum Distillery for a bit of liquid gold, Carcamos Gourmet Caramel Apples, Poppy’s Chocolate, and last, but not least, the unusually exotic Greenbank Mushrooms – where oysters and shiitake mushrooms are grown from a log, like potted flowers. I was gifted one of these beauties and can’t wait to see what springs from its soil. Day of the Triffods or dinner on Tuesday, who can tell?
The Global Goddess explored the south side and Brisbane’s back yard as a guest of Brisbane Marketing. To discover the south side’s soul and awaken your seven chakras, go to http://www.visitbrisbane.com.au