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
THIS is the headline which screeched across my desk late last week. And naturally, being a lover of romance (and travel), my curiosity was piqued. Turns out the fun folk at Tourism Fiji are using Fiji’s famed sense of humour to entice us to their islands. With Valentine’s Day next week, I thought I’d take a closer look at what they have in mind. And even for single girls, like me, there’s plenty of “unromantic” options to keep you occupied.
1. Feed the sharks
Feeling a little fishy? Personally, I can think of a few Brisbane blokes who I would like to feed TO the sharks, but apparently this is not an option. On this adventure you’ll join Fiji’s “shark whisperer” Brandon Paige of Aqua-Trek on a dream dive with 8 species of sharks. Yes, you’ll see bull sharks, whitetip reef sharks, blacktip reef sharks, nurse sharks, lemon sharks, grey reef sharks, silvertip sharks and 16-foot+ tiger sharks. Plus, there’s more than 300 species of fish out in this marine reserve which aims to conserve the shark population.
2. Zipline Fiji
The Global Goddess is not a huge fan of heights (unless it’s a penthouse suite) but for others far braver than me, there’s nothing better than flying through the air with the greatest of ease. Take an eco-friendly zipline adventure across 14ha of lush rainforest where you’ll soar over rivers and waterfalls. Sleeping Giant Zipline, 35 minutes from Nadi, boasts five zips ranging from 80m to 160m and flying at speeds up to 40km/h. Much more my style, afterwards, you can take a guided walk through the jungle to view the Orchid Falls.
3. Soak in the Sabeto Hot Springs
This “unromantic” offering actually sounds quite romantic to me. I mean, smothering yourself with mud? Situated between Nadi and Lautoka, the Sabeto Hot Springs are a series of natural hot springs where you can soak in a therapeutic natural thermal mud spa. Locals believe that the sulphur in the hot springs have healing properties. There’s three pools here, set in lush natural surroundings. They’ve supplied the mud, all I need now is a man to join me.
4. Climb Fiji’s highest mountain
Another activity for lovers of heights, you can climb Mt Tomaniivi, Fiji’s highest, trekking through cloud forest to a summit of 1323. Talanoa Treks offers an overnight excursion and on a clear day, you will be rewarded with views across Viti Levu. The bit of this trip I do like the sound of is the afternoon tea and a dip in the river before heading back to the coast. Just plonk me in a helicopter and I’ll see you up there.
5. Potter around The Pottery Village
Can arts and craft be considered sexy? Decide this for yourself at Nakabuta Village, one of the villages still making traditional Fijian pottery. Here, you’ll witness traditional pottery-making methods. What is rather romantic is the opportunity to shop and you’ll discover Nakabuta-made bowls, plates and other items in craft shops all over town.
6. Drive your own dune buggy
The Global Goddess loves a good driving trip and this one sounds like fun, whether there’s a bloke in the buggy or not. Grab one of Fiji’s only self-drive dune buggies and join a guided tour with Terratrek. On this jaunty journey, you’ll discover Fiji’s most beautiful waterfalls and rainforests or head up into the mountains for panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean.
7. Explore Fiji’s largest cave
I’ve personally done this tour and loved it. Hop aboard an Off-Road Cave Safari where you’ll delve deep into Fiji’s interior and learn about its cannibalism history. People who eat people, what’s not to admire? My favourite part of this tour was walking through Fiji’s largest cave system, Naihehe Cave, which is more than 170 metres long, and at one point, if you don’t fit under a particularly tight spot, it apparently means you’ll become pregnant.
8. Shop like the locals
The Global Goddess isn’t particularly a shopper back in Australia, but plonk me somewhere exotic, and I’ll happily wander for hours. Forage like a Fijian at the Sigatoka Market, which bursts into life in the early hours of the morning. The stunning Sigatoka River Valley is known as “Fiji’s salad bowl” due to its fertile land and you’ll find plenty of pretty produce here.
9. Jetboat the Sigatoka River
One of my all-time favourite Pacific adventures, Sigatoka River Safari is Fiji’s original jet-boat safari. This splashy tour cruises at screaming speed along the Sigatoka River, so if romance to you is having nice hair, forget it. What you will get, however, is a cool ride to authentic Fijian villages and experience a day in the life of a real ‘kaiviti’ (Fijian). If you’re lucky, a handsome Fijian will ask you to dance.
10. Discover Glass Blowing
I’m intrigued by this activity, as I’ve never heard of this in Fiji before. Head to Hot Glass Fiji in Korotogo, and Fiji’s first and only glass-blowing studio. Here, with its views out to the sea, you can partake in a glass-blowing workshop or watch the artists create beautiful pieces from molten glass.
For more information on these activities and the Islands of Fiji, see www.fiji.travel
The Global Goddess took these shots while staying at the beautiful Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort, which, admittedly, is very romantic. https://www.outrigger.com/hotels-resorts/fiji
AS a travel writer, it’s natural for me to focus on the destinations in which I find myself, but for my last blog of 2017, I wish to highlight the people behind those places I was incredibly fortunate to visit this year. When you’re out in the world, hunting and gathering stories and photographs, it can be a bit of a lonely place, particularly if you’re travelling alone, as has been my strategy in recent years. Until you meet your guide. This year, I was blessed to have the most generous souls cross my path as I wandered around the planet, people who went above and beyond their roles as tour guides or tourism staff, many of whom became friends.
My travels started in February, at beautiful Noosa, on the Sunshine Coast. It was as hot as hell that weekend, where I partook in my first mountain bike tour with Bike On Australia. The next day, I kayaked the Noosa Everglades with Kanu Kapers Australia and both of my female guides were encouraging and taught me new techniques in both adventures, but above all, were the strong, smart women I so admire. Later that same month, I visited the remote Australian territory of Norfolk Island. Here, I met Tania from Norfolk Island Tourism, who introduced me to this destination’s incredible history, local food and wine, and the rugged landscape. I don’t have a snap of Tania, but I took plenty of the cows which inhabit this place, and which outnumber residents.
March was devoted to my home-state of Queensland, firstly visiting Tropical North Queensland’s Port Douglas and the Daintree. Here I ambled among the world’s oldest rainforest, Mother Nature being a particularly good guide on this trip, and snorkelled the Great Barrier Reef, reminding me of why I love living in this part of the world so much. Two weeks later I was in Bundaberg for a series of stories, where among my great guides, I met Suzie from Bundy Food Tours. Mother Nature made another big impact on this trip, introducing me for the first time to her turtle hatchlings on Mon Repos beach. It was so beautiful, I cried.
I encountered one of my favourite guides all year in the Cook Islands, when I met Aunty Nane. Aunty’s laugh was a cross between a gecko and an erupting volcano, and epitomised the soul and spirit of these proud Pacific Islanders. Aunty loved to eat and talk, and we spent 10 days doing just that, enjoying the spoils of the tropics. Aunty was convinced I would find a husband if I accompanied her to church, so off we trotted. I never found a bloke, but the singing gave me goose bumps. On an outlying island I also met Aunty Mii, who told me she spent her days trying to avoid her husband because he was “stupid”. You can’t win ‘em all.
In May, I was in Fiji for the wedding of my beautiful friend Saskia who married her Fijian warrior Pauliasi. The Fijians are great and gentle guides, who teach you much without even knowing it. It’s all about Fiji time up here, learning to slow down, that things don’t always go to plan, but you can always find a reason to smile. It’s a lesson which was carried into later that month when I visited the Whitsundays, which was rebuilding after Cyclone Debbie. Resilience? These people have it in shades, and again, amid the destruction, there were still smiles.
In June, I was up at Noosa again, gathering some last-minute stories for an urgent deadline, but my biggest teacher in both June and July was my wild eastern Australian carpet python, Sylvia. For a few weeks every winter, if the stars align, I try to slow down, stay home, go to yoga and try to find some balance. It’s not an easy fit for someone like me with such an active mind, but it’s crucial if I am to continue a hectic travel schedule for the rest of the year. Sylvia, my beloved snake, taught me the importance of hibernation, to follow the natural rhythms of the seasons, and to just be, at least for a few weeks. And so I did.
By August I was ready to go again, and after a brief trip to northern New South Wales, I attended the Australian Society of Travel Writers’ annual convention, which was this time held on the Sunshine Coast. On a beautiful winter day, while cycling along Caloundra, I bumped into these bathing beauties, who taught me you’re never too old and it’s never too cold, to swim, or laugh.
September was hectic, but also delicious. First, I flew to Canada where I fulfilled a story wish to snorkel with the salmon over at Vancouver Island on the Campbell River. My guide, Jamie, from Destiny River Adventures, was a little hard core, and proved to be scarier than the unexpected rapids into which I was flung and told to “fly like a superhero” to avoid being injured by rocks. But in the end, Jamie and I became friends, particularly when I emerged from the 14 degree rapids, smiling and shouting “that was awesome.” I was back in Brisbane for only four nights before it was off to Hong Kong, where I met another of my favourite guides, Vivian. I was hunting a story about fortune tellers, and Vivian and I trekked the streets of Hong Kong, while I indulged in “villain hitting” (to banish former boyfriends) and having everything from my face to my tarot read. I also popped over to Macau on this trip, where the guide really understood my need, mid-tour, to pop into the local bottle shop to pick up a drop of the local Portuguese wine.
I spent two weeks in October in Morocco where I was fortunate to have Khaled as my guide as we trekked, on an Intrepid Tour with 13 others, across this incredible country. It was here that I really sat back and observed how tough it is to be a guide, dealing with 13 different personalities, three distinct nationalities, long distances and tiring days. But Khaled never faltered, always finding the positive in every situation, doing his best to secure a glass of wine for us at the end of the day, and at one point, turning up at my door with a can of cold Casablanca beer after listening to my endless observations about how warm the beer was in Morocco.
In November, it was off to Bawah Island, a luxury new destination half way between Malaysia and Borneo, and three hours from Singapore. In terms of guides, it was an unusual week for me, as I spent it with a group of men, mostly part of the management team from Singapore, who were putting the final touches on this beautiful resort. With five men from different destinations, all of whom spoke at least two languages, conversations were colourful and entertaining. One of my favourite guides was the Italian dive instructor Paulo, with whom I would book in a morning snorkel straight after breakfast, and whose enthusiasm for Bawah’s underwater beauty was infectious.
Which brings me to December where I have just returned from a trip to the North Pole to interview Santa. I’d love to say Santa was my best guide, but he was hugely overshadowed by the kind and eccentric Irene, an artist who makes amazing things out of reindeer parts. Irene also talks to her house elves (one of which is currently being naughty and getting naked while Irene is in her studio), which made her one of the most interesting interviews I had all year. I headed further north in Lapland and stayed at Beana Lapponia Wilderness Lodge, where I met Tony, the husky handler, and he was also an incredible guide, teaching me not only how to harness huskies, but how to drive the husky sled through the snow.
It’s been another incredible year and I’d like to thank all of the tourism and travel operators, local communities, kind random strangers, PR people, publishers, editors and fellow writers, who I met on this incredible journey that was 2017. See you out there in 2018.
And to my beloved readers, thank you for supporting me. Wishing you peace on earth.
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.
THIS jaunty journey begins at Fiji’s major airport of Nadi, aboard a stiflingly hot, crowded, 16-seater plane. Regular followers of The Global Goddess know that she finds small planes about as appealing as Brisbane blokes. Some days they turn up, others they don’t. They’re often late, are prone to leaving you stranded in a remote locale, and when things get bumpy, it’s unpleasant. On this occasion, just as we’re about to take off, the avionics screen goes blank (a little like a Brisbane bloke) and we taxi back to the hangar. I should point out I’d rather this scenario occurs on the ground, than when we’re in the air, and an hour later we’re back on board enroute to the remote northern island of Savusavu, via the capital of Suva.
On my Suva stopover I meet two colour characters: a bubbly blonde from Hobart who is off to a health retreat at which, she has been told, she will be handed a snorkel and a horse for the week. The Hobartarian confesses the retreat follows a heavenly hedonistic week in Las Vegas which ensued after she and her brother won a significant sum of cash at Hobart’s casino, departed the gambling den at 2am, and boarded a flight to Vegas with their winnings, four hours later. It was only halfway across the Pacific Ocean, when they started to sober up, did they realise what they were actually doing. Suffice to say, she needs that horse and snorkel real bad.
The other character is a young man from Utah who proudly informs me he hails from a Trump voting state. “Gawd,” I sputter, “but you didn’t vote for him, did you?” The coy look on this young man’s face teaches me a very valuable lesson: That I should never again ask an American that question (I mean, clearly, yet inexplicably, someone voted for him) and I board my next small plane flight convinced I could die next to a Trump supporter. Or worse, be stuck on a life raft out in the middle of the South Pacific, with one. I think I need a horse and snorkel.
I arrive safely in Savusavu for the wedding of my lovely friend Saskia. We met three years ago, in Fiji, just as we she was about to head to a remote island for some voluntourism work. Over breakfast, we were bemoaning the lack of decent dates back in Australia when a mutual friend walked past, heard Saskia was off to this particular island, and mentioned a dive instructor called Pauliasi who worked on that island. One day Saskia wandered down to the dive centre, met Paul, and they fell in love. You can date every bloke in Australia and your soul mate might just be sitting out there in the South Pacific somewhere. And so, on the finest Fijian Friday, they wed. The bride, channeling all of the elegance of Grace Kelly and the groom, mustering that handsome strength of a Fijian warrior. I stand under the stars and thank the full moon for this amazing opportunity. I get to do a lot of cool things in my job, but you can’t buy entry into a traditional Fijian wedding of two people you love.
We all wept. We all danced in the sand to a live band. On the dance floor I was accosted by a Fijian man who introduced himself as Solomon and who offered to show me around the island. He kissed me on the cheek and then he disappeared into the night, never to be spotted again. Minutes later I was introduced to Sonny, one of the Fijian relatives to whom I suspect I had been promised in marriage. We shook hands and then Sonny declared he was off to “get drunk.” I have that effect on men. It was only two days later, over breakfast, that Pauliasi told me that there were scores of Fijian men at the wedding approaching him to ask about the blonde woman on the dance floor (me) and trying to muster the courage to approach her. Opportunity lost, fellas.
Later that night I arrived back by boat from the wedding venue with three other Aussies, all of us in search of a cab on this remote Fijian island. A clean-cut bloke pulled up in his ute, admitted he wasn’t a cabbie, but offered to drive us to our resort. At the other end, we offered him money, be he politely declined.
“No thanks,” he said “I have to park my car for the night, I’ve just been at the wedding and I’m so drunk.”
I really need to find me that horse and a snorkel.
The Global Goddess funded her own trip to Fiji. Keep an eye out for my upcoming blog on Fiji’s luxurious Namale Resort, which was one of the most romantic experiences of my life. And in the meantime, check out some more of my Fiji photos on Instagram @aglobalgoddess
I AM sitting in my hot Brisbane office dressed in a leopard-print summer dress, reflecting on my life as a travel writer in 2016. Let’s not beat around the boiling bush, it was always going to be a quirky one after I kicked off the year in January at Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat on the Gold Coast where I spent an hour in a one-on-one mediation session with a horse, of course.
Yes, Jack, the 22-year-old horse, was quite the listener and as it turned out, I was a good learner, discovering more about myself in that paddock than years of therapists have been to unravel. Working with my breath, and the fact horses are instinctive creatures, I was able to go from having Jack walk away from me (apparently I hate rejection) to have Jack trotting around the ring by the end of the session, based purely on my inner calm and emotions. He even stopped on cue when I exhaled. In that one crowded hour I learned I am prone to being a bit of a bull at a gate, and expecting others to join me on my crazy schemes, without first checking that they’re on board. Jack, you taught me a lot.
In February, and in the name of another story, I plunged into the warm waters off Lord Howe Island for Ocean Swim Week with World Ironman Champion Ali Day and Pinetrees Lodge. I’d never swum out in the open ocean before and learned that it was far more different and difficult to the university pool in which I try to carve up a daily 1km. Swimming among reef sharks and over fantastic coral, I also learned I could overcome sea sickness in rough swells and complete an impressive 2-3km a day. I also learned I’m incredibly stubborn once I push through an initial lack of confidence. Salty and stubborn. And I wonder why I’m single.
March saw me in Fiji, working with the fine folk at the Outrigger Fiji Resort and writing stories about some innovative and compassionate community projects in which they are involved, building new kindergartens and maternity wards. That kindy opened last week and it was heartening to know I was there at that pivotal point in history with people who have so little, but find so much reason for joy. Want perspective on your life? Head to the South Pacific. Sit under a coconut tree and pull your head out of your proverbial. It will change you, I promise.
In April, I was in Germany on a beer tour, also in the name of research, and if you think I had to train for Ocean Swim Week, it’s like I was born for Beer Week. And to think successive maths teachers over the years said I would never amount to anything. Add to that a dash of Mother Nature where I summited Germany’s highest mountain…and by summit I mean taking a gondola to the top and promptly order a beer and goulash. Because I’m hard-core. I explored my animal instinct here by taking to Bavarian Tinder and I was quite the hit in Germany. Not that I had time to actually meet any of my Bavarian boyfriends, but I got the distinct impression they were different to Brisbane boys and not once did anyone send me a photo of their penis. #winning
May turned out to be a journey of a different kind where I had some long-awaited tests and surgery for health symptoms that killed a fellow travel writer last year. While my tests turned out fine, the surgery laid me up for four weeks in incredible pain, and it was a time to reflect and go inwards, something I’m not particularly good at. But when Mother Nature speaks, sometimes you have to listen and it was a good life lesson. I did have a moment of truth while awaiting those test results, questioning myself on whether I was living the life I wanted. And the answer was yes. By June, when I was back on the road in Vienna and Monaco, exploring Royal and Imperial Luxury Europe, I was thrilled. I may have even danced around the house just prior to leaving to Willie Nelson’s On The Road Again. Because I have an excellent taste in music.
In July, I braved a chilly Toowoomba trip to explore the city’s sensational street art. And it blew my socks off. Not literally, as that would have been unpleasant in the cold, but metaphorically. I also took my first trip to Darwin and again, was thrilled by the Northern Territory capital with its outdoor cinemas, national parks, and great dining and accommodation offerings. This is a city which celebrates its sunsets, with hundreds of residents and tourists flocking to the beach to watch the sun plunge into the ocean and that, in itself, was a magical moment. A destination which sells tickets to its annual festival out of an original caravan used to house homeless people after 1974’s Cyclone Tracy? You’ve gotta love that.
August saw me at Sabi Sabi Private Game Lodge in South Africa on a luxury safari and yes, I was lucky to experience the Big 5, plus all the rest. Mother Africa and her beautiful people stole a piece of my heart and I came home reeling from Jo’Burg’s street art to Robben Island where the mighty Mandela spent 18 years of his 27 year jail term. There’s usually about one month of the year where I try to stop, pause, reflect and recharge and it was September this year, which also turned out to be my birthday month, and what a delight it was to be a normal person again, catching up with friends, going to yoga classes, and just “sitting with myself” as we say in meditation.
In October, I was out on the road again, on my longest trip of the year to Canada where I started in Vancouver, sitting in a traditional indigenous sweat lodge with an elder, talking to our ancestors. But the absolute highlight of that three-week journey was the opportunity to go on a walking safari with the polar bears with Churchill Wild. I discovered that the Lord of the Arctic was to be respected, not feared, and that if we don’t manage the way we treat the planet, polar bears may be relegated to the history books.
The conservation theme continued into last month, November, when I jumped on a plane to the Maldives Outrigger Konotta Resort and spent a fascinating few days talking with a marine biologist who is trying to resurrect the reef with innovative coral planting strategies. On a monsoonal Monday I sat on the edge of a jetty weaving coral necklaces from coconut rope that would later be implanted on the reef, in a moment I will always remember when my fingers are no longer nimble and I’m too old to travel. From the Arctic, where the ice is melting, to the Indian Ocean, which is becoming too warm, I had the immense privilege of experiencing the impacts of Climate Change first hand.
Which brings me to December. In two days I’ll be boarding a plane for my last travel writing assignment of the year. And yes, this trip has another animal theme. I’ll be boarding a sailing boat and exploring beyond Bali to the islands around Indonesia, before we arrive at the land of the komodo dragons. Along the way we’ll be snorkelling with manta rays and sharks. And I cannot wait. Yes, it’s been a big year, and moments of great challenge, times when you are so jetlagged you want to weep, a deep-seated loneliness from long weeks out on the road, and a disconnect from normal life. I didn’t find the love of my life, but I know he’s out there. And when I’m out in the world, doing what I love best, hunting and gathering stories, there’s no better feeling on the planet. I wish you a Happy Christmas and may 2017 be everything you dreamed of and more.
The Global Goddess would like to thank all of the tourism and travel operators, local communities, kind random strangers, PR people, publishers, editors and fellow writers, who joined her on the incredible journey that was 2016. See you out there in 2017.
IT’S raining a sigh of relief on this humid day, which heralds the official turf turning ceremony at the Conua Primary School Kindergarden project. And aside from providing a welcome reprieve from the mugging March heat, it’s seen as good luck. I’m in Fiji’s Sigatoka Valley, hunting and gathering stories on the community tourism projects in which the Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort plays a critical role. And the new kindy is just the latest in a long line of voluntourism activities available to the resort’s guests.
This is a story about hope, community, cyclones and courage. The cyclone component was never meant to be a part of this tale, but when Mother Nature speaks, she cannot be ignored. In late February, just weeks before my visit last week, Tropical Cyclone Winston struck Fiji, killing 42 people, completely flattening more than 108 villages, leaving more than 80 schools without roofs and causing more than $1 billion damage to infrastructure and crops.
While the Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort was relatively lucky, weathering only superficial damage to things such as thatching on bures and destroyed gardens, its sister property Castaway suffered more serious damage and will be closed until mid year. Castaway guests were relocated to the Outrigger and everyone was placed in lock-down for six long hours while the cyclone raged. But Winston forgot he was dealing with Fiji. And despite the destruction, it’s still open for business with Fiji rapidly launching a fearless campaign #strongerthanwinston
These are warrior people from a warrior nation and aid is flooding in from around the world. But tourists don’t have to wait for something as devastating as Winston to help Third World nations such as Fiji. Since 2010, Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort has been involved in community projects and in 2014 it introduced the concept of “voluntourism” to its guests. Under the scheme, visitors are invited to become involved in a variety of projects from coral planting on the reef to visiting local village church services.
Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort General Manager Peter Hopgood has been instrumental in driving community tourism in the Nadroga province in which the resort is located.
“In my first year as GM I visited the 168 schools in the province and gave every kid a green shopping bag to take home to their parents to be used instead of plastic bags,” Hopgood says.
“We are now three months away from the introduction of Local Government legislation banning plastic bags in the province.
“It is still so pleasing, five years on, that every time I go into town I still see the green bags. Everyone has got one.”
And there are some big projects too. Last November, the resort opened the
$128,000 village meeting and school hall bure at the Conua Primary School in the Sigatoka Valley. The project took 14 months and the assistance of 80 volunteer guests to complete. The latest project is the construction of a $51,000 Kindergarden at the school. When finished in November it will accommodate 30 children. For the first time, the kids will have outdoor playground equipment.
Perhaps one of the most crucial projects about which he is most passionate in the new $384,000 maternity ward at the Sigatoka Hospital, built by the Coral Coast Hotels Association of which Hopgood is chair. The Association includes Outrigger, Intercontinental Fiji Golf Resort and Spa, Shangri-La Fijian Resort and Spa, Warwick Fiji, The Naviti Resort, and Fiji Hideaway Resort and Spa. Outrigger visitors can book a half-day tour every Tuesday and Thursday to tour the Conua School Kindergarden project, Sigatoka Maternity Ward, and local produce markets. Money raised from tour fees (Adults $64/Children $41) is used to purchase building materials.
Hopgood says while there are many areas of need in the province, the hospital was “diabolical”.
“There were no birthing facilities in this province. Because of the distance, the mortality rate was horrific,” he says.
“Health is the biggest issue in Fiji without a doubt. We do a really good job here on the Coral Coast but we can only really target our area of responsibility. You go outside the province and you see how harsh it is.
“It took us five years to build the facility, now it’s the best in all of Fiji. The reality is Fiji is still Third World but we have a very good hospital.”
The resort also enables 20 international professional eye surgeons to come to the province each year, who restore sight to between 80 and 100 people. And every year, former champion Australian swimmer Shane Gould is invited as a guest of the resort to teach village children, who have to cross the Sigatoka River to get to school, how to swim.
“It just can’t be a hand out to the community. We help those who help themselves. They have to contribute both funds and labour,” Hopgood says.
“From a tourism perspective this is what all the other resorts in the area need to do…engage and bring guests into the community.
“It’s almost like every western child should experience this.”
Fiji may be the occasional cyclone, but it is overwhelmingly warm waters, sizzling smiles, aqua oceans and white sand. These are fresh fruit, frangipani and hibiscus flower days. It’s local seafood washed down by cold beer. Champagne and sunsets. Fire dancing under crescent moons. Shuffling hermit crabs and kids who play outdoors. It’s warrior dances and sanguine smiles. Bold singing and big hearts. Humility, humanity, resilience, family, community and courage. Above all else, Fiji is courage.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of the Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort – http://www.outriggerfiji.com
The resort has established a Cyclone Appeal to assist people living in the north of the country. The bank account details are:
Account Name: Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort
Bank: Suncorp Bank; Gold Coast Business Banking Centre