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.
THOSE same old scents are still there on those same old streets. I catch the perfume of Peking duck, plump and perspiring, a little like me, as I saunter along these sultry pavements. They speak of sweat, soaking showers and dried seafood in the markets. There’s pungent coiled incense spiralling out of the temples, tempting me inside. The trim trams and red taxis are still rattling along the roads, the latter still as manic as ever. A coffin shop sits next door to a coffee shop. On Victoria Harbour it’s all rickety, rockety boats, the sea a cellulite of bumps. This is Hong Kong and in a way, it’s a homecoming.
Twenty-five years ago, as a young cadet newspaper journalist and when Rupert Murdoch still owned the South China Morning Post, I was sent to work and live in Hong Kong and gain some valuable news reporting skills. I was a green Gold Coast journo, not the jade you’ll still find in the markets here, but naïve. But, back then, journalism was all about being plunged into the deep end, and so I dove, hard. On any given day I’d be running around the sordid back streets, uncovering stories on illegal rhino horn being used in Chinese medicine. Chasing celebrating stock brokers when the Hang Seng hit record levels, and breaking a front-page yarn on Filipino maids that were not allowed in lifts in which dogs were allowed, in the lofty heights of Mid-Levels living. These were heady Hong Kong days indeed.
Last week, I returned for the first time in two decades. Wondering whether I’d find more change in this city, or myself, over the past 20 years.
Mr Chow, my limo driver, picks me up at the airport with a broad smile and a face full of opinions on the past 20 years on Hong Kong.
“We are always arguing on the political issues with China. Hong Kong people became used to their freedom. Since we went back to China we are feeling our freedom less and less,” he says.
“Before if there was a protest the police would just stand by. But now the police are becoming involved. They are controlling freedom of speech.
“The population has now grown from 5.7 million people to 7.3 million before. The Chinese people are looking for a better life in Hong Kong as they want to get a job more easily. The people from China do many things the Hong Kong people don’t like, like sitting on the floor, spitting, talking loudly and never queueing.
“We view ourselves very differently to the Chinese. We have a very different culture. We don’t like their manner and attitude. We are China but we still have one country and two systems. This is very important. We have our own life, they have their own life.
“This time you come back it will be very exciting for you. You will find it is quite a big change in some parts.”
Mr Chow is right. These days there’s funky new neighbourhoods. Soho, Poho and Noho. Urban artists are claiming the streets as public space. Hong Kong’s favourite son Bruce Lee adorns one wall. I pause for a sweet sugar cane juice in an old Chinese shop house, which dates back to the 1940s. In Wan Chai, under the flyover, I visit a “villain hitter” who beats my bad luck away with an old shoe. They’ve been doing this here for five decades. One minute I dine in ancient dim sum halls, the next, in Michelin-star restaurants. I seek solace in temples and drink in edgy bars.
In two decades I had imagined there would be little of the old charm left. How wrong I was. The same heady Hong Kong is here. And it’s a little like me. The old structure which makes me unique remains. But there have been transformations. I’m no longer the naïve, young journalist from the Gold Coast who chase ambulances for a living. These days I’m seeking more substance from my existence and my writing. I’m trying to slow down but reap more from both work and life. It’s that constant paradox and similar to how I view Hong Kong. And inside every city, and every human, perhaps that’s the key. We are all a little east and west, yin and yang, dark and light. Given how difficult it is to understand our changing selves, how could we possibly know anyone else, or any one place? Twenty years on and I’m slowly figuring it out, this life business. Embracing the impermanence that a colourful city like Hong Kong, and a constant thirst for life, can teach a willing student like me.
The writer travelled as a guest of the Hong Kong Tourism Board – http://www.discoverhongkong.com.au and Cathay Pacific – http://www.cathaypacific.com.au
Cathay’s A350 aircraft boast 38 business class seats, fine dining, luxury amenity kits and plenty of storage. While in Hong Kong, check out Cathay’s newest lounge, the Pier, which includes an exclusive Noodle Bar and Teahouse.
QUEENSLAND’S ICONIC REEF NO BARRIER TO GREAT SEX THIS YEAR
We’ve all heard of sex on the beach, but what about sex on the reef? Queensland’s scuba diving fraternity is poised for the raunchiest sex show on the planet as the Great Barrier Reef prepares for its annual coral spawning season. A combination of warm sea temperatures, plus a late November full moon, has scientists predicting this year’s November 22-24 spawn (or should that be porn?) spectacular will be the best in years. Two Cairns-based dive operators – Tusa Dive and Quicksilver’s Silverswitft – have packed special night diving tours specifically around this event. And if you miss that, on the Southern Great Barrier Reef at Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort, coral spawning is expected to occur between December 20 and 25. http://www.queenslandholidays.com.au
SUNSHINE COAST SET TO SIZZLE THIS SUMMER
As The Global Goddess prepares to head to Noosa this weekend (it’s all work, I swear it is), it seems timely to give you a snapshot of what you can expect on the Sunshine Coast this summer. Among a menu of tropical treats, you’ll find the Woodford Folk Festival (December 27 to January 1) about which I regularly wax lyrical; and the Ginger Flower & Food Festival (January 17 to 19) – The Global Goddess and ginger have been long-time friends when it comes to rough travel. But you’re really not Australian until you’ve attended the Australia Day Dunny Races at Ettamogah Pub on January 26. While The Global Goddess lost a considerable amount of money last Australia Day at Brisbane’s Story Bridge Hotel backing a racing cockroach she called The Global Goddess (we’re lovers, not fighters), perhaps she should consider a dunny race next time? And if I met a bloke there, imagine the toilet humour stories we could tell at our wedding. http://www.visitsunshinecoast.com.au
GIRLS LIKE TO GET DIRTY
No, I’m not talking about some kind of crazy Russian porn flick, but the Dirty Girls 4×4 Weekend on Brisbane’s Moreton Island. Following its super successful sellout first weekend this year, Global Jamboree has announced this event will be held once a month in 2014. Billed as the ideal girls’ getaway, you can spend your days 4WDing around stunning Moreton Island on its long beach tracks and beautiful bush trails, exploring its expansive national park, before returning to your luxury tent and the recently-opened Glampsites. Each tent here is furnished with a queen-size bed and private ensuite and veranda. The Global Goddess might just have to grab some of her girl gang and head over. http://www.globaljamboree.com.au
NOW YOU CAN SCOOT TO HONG KONG
Some of the best headline writers in the airline game, Scoot, is encouraging passengers on this Low Cost Carrier of the Year to “don’t be dim, save sum loot” and enjoy its new service to Hong Kong. The service, launched last week, is Scoot’s 12th city in 7 countries. Twenty years ago, when The Global Goddess was a cadet journalist in the Murdoch empire, she was sent to Hong Kong for four months to gain some valuable experience. It changed her world, from the sunny Gold Coast to the bright lights and big city of this vibrant Asian destination. You too can Scoot to Hong Kong with fares from Singapore – Scoot’s hub – starting at SGD$119, one-way, including taxes. There’s some great deals on flights out of Australia to Singapore to connect you with Scoot’s other destinations in the region. http://www.flyscoot.com
SUPPORT SASSY SURVIVORS
Those sassiest of sheilas, Gold Coast-based Sassy Survivors which supports young women with breast cancer, have published an awesome calendar for 2014. This colourful calendar, designed to show there can be a positive side to breast cancer, did so well in its first year it expected to sell 100 calendars and ended up selling 1200. The 2014 Sassy Survivors calendar is aimed at reminding people there is life after breast cancer. All money raised from calendar sales, which is just $15 plus postage, goes towards continuing to assist young women battling this disease. And, as the cover below shows, it’s fun, it’s flirty, it’s fabulous, just like this terrific organisation. And what a great Christmas present it will make! http://sassysurvivors.org/sassy-survivors-2014-calendar/
THERE’S a fascinating article in the February edition of Cathay Pacific’s Inflight Magazine Discovery which examines Asia’s love of the exotic, specifically its cuisine and culture. The story focuses on fashion, and how many traditional styles of dress not only still exist, but are part of the vernacular. From Vietnam’s elaborate ao dai’s to Japan’s kimono’s, wearing historic dress is not considered unusual. In China, women wear the qipao; the Balinese don the hip-wrapping kambe; while in India, modern-day Maharanis are embracing the sari. But what happens when certain Asian cultures swing dramatically in the other direction? The result, as I discovered on my trip to Taiwan last week, is weird, wacky and wonderful.
Is it a nurse, a nun or a sign indicating the women’s toilet? I stumbled across little pinkie while in the acclaimed Taiwanese restaurant, Silks Palace, better known for its award-winning yin and yang beef noodle soup served in a cauldron. Yes, our host is at the table explaining all about this amazing dish, and I’m out the back taking a photo of the dunny.
I’m not quite sure what a Damper Baby is, but it seems to play a crucial role in Taipei’s exclusive 101 shopping centre, home to the esteemed Din Tai Fung dumpling palace.
This little pooch outside Taiwan’s first ever Bubble Tea shop in Hsinshu was not only wearing this attractive leopard-print coat, but had four baby shoes on each foot. I mean paw. I bet puppy was named Gucci or Muffin.
Everyone else was gazing at the amazing spectacle up in the sky at the Sky Lantern Festival in Pingxi. I was looking downward at this young lady who was not afraid to put her best foot forward.
Proving that if you stay anywhere long enough the culture rubs off on you, my fellow Australians Natasha Dragun (Double Dragon) and Bev Malzard (Honey Ooolong) unleashed their inner animals.
And immediately sparked a trend among the younger Taiwanese visiting the Shen Fen Waterfall as these two cute little copycats demonstrated.
It was not just the fashion which fascinated in Taiwan, but the food, as these decadently sweet tomatoes soaked in plum juice proved at the Silks Palace. Is it a tomato? Is it a plum? Who could tell?
Back at the world-renowned Ding Tai Fung, the mountains of dumpling dishes were enchanting.
While the coffee sign at Pingxi was a little confusing…
The pippies in chili, ulimately interesting…
And the Buddhists at Long Shan Temple, inspiring.
Meanwhile, Cathay Pacific’s Rosemary was as bubbly as the champagne the airline served on the flight to Taipei, via Hong Kong. The Global Goddess travelled in style courtesy of Cathay Pacific’s Premium Economy cabin. Launched in February 2012, the new Premium Economy experience features a more quiet, spacious cabin than the traditional Economy Class with between 26 and 34 seats per aircraft. The seat pitch is 38 inches – six inches more than Economy Class – and the seat itself is wider and has a bigger recline. Special features include a large meal table, a cocktail table, footrest, a 10.6 inch personal television, an in-seat power outlet, a multi-port connector for personal devices and extra personal stowage space. Premium Economy passengers are also allowed 25kg of luggage and have priority check-in at dedicated counters and priority boarding.
How to get to Taiwan from Australia: Cathay Pacific has multiple flights a week to Taipei via Hong Kong from six major Australian cities, including at least three flights daily from Sydney; three from Melbourne; daily from Brisbane; seven weekly flights from Cairns and Adelaide; and ten weekly flights from Perth.