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
AUNTY Nane’s chuckle is a cross between a garrulous gecko and a violently erupting volcano, the type of which formed the island of Rarotonga, on which I find myself. Aunty, a Cook Islands Tourism Ambassador, is here to tend to my every need, including collecting me at the airport upon my 2am arrival from Brisbane. So dedicated is this generous soul to her role, I am certain that if I asked her, she would also stroke my hair while I surrendered to a deep slumber and sing me a lullaby. She may possibly even spoon me. I decide she is the perfect wing woman to assist me in finding a Cook Islander husband. Yes, I have crossed the International Date Line, or dating line, so to speak, and figure I may as well try my chances at finding love over this invisible border.
Aunty loves to chatter as much as she loves to eat, and over freshly-caught tuna sandwiches on my first day in her idyll island, she gives me the run down on dating, Cook Islands style.
“Cook Islander women are strong minded and determined. We are modern now because in the past everything was about men and the women were in the kitchen and at home. Today, nah, ah,” she says, waggling her finger.
“Women have a big role in the community, at home, at church and wherever they go. Men are having that respect for women now.
“There are a lot of mixed marriages here. There are no taboos about mixed marriage. You have some of these young men who are like ‘I have a white chick, check it out’. I’m like ‘guys, don’t break their heart’.”
Aunty tells me my best chance of finding a Cook Islander husband is to accompany her to church on Sunday. Regular readers of this blog will know I have attempted many unorthodox methods around the world to secure a boyfriend, but I’ve never had a date with God, and so we schedule this in for several days time.
The next day, on a Tuk Tuk trip with Uncle Mata from Tik-E Tours, I learn that the Cook Islander man is “very quiet, very humble, very reserved and they support their women.”
“He is hard working and looks after the family. Whichever woman you pick they are all strong. Men have good values of bringing up their children,” Uncle Mata says.
Uncle’s advice on Cook Islands dating is similar to Aunty Nane’s.
“Don’t go to the pub, they’ll be too drunk and talk a lot of rubbish. Go to church and have a look,” he says.
“Just go up and talk to him. Just say ‘Kia Orana’ and whatever happens after that happens.”
Not since I first learned they gave out free wine have I ever been so excited to go to church.
Onwards I travel, to the island of Aitutaki, best known for its stunning lagoon. Here, my tour guide Aunty Mii tells me she loves her husband “very much” but spends her days trying to avoid him because he is “very stupid”.
“My stupid husband broke the washing machine and now he has to wash his own clothes,” she says.
“In ancient days women had to choose their partners. They had three of four because they had to breed the warriors for the tribe. But when Christianity arrived that ruined everything.”
I avoid asking Aunty Mii whether I should go to church to find a husband, partly because of her views on Christianity, and partly because I am very scared of her. Instead, I ask her if there’s a marriage counsellor on this remote island.
“Yes, that’s me,” she says, breaking into a toothless grin.
Two days before church, I am back in Rarotonga, having dinner with Geoff, 34, who provides me with a contemporary view on dating, Cook Islands style.
“For me, it is not dating per say. I have a couple of girls on the roster and it is a mutual understanding. We wait for the tourist season because the ratio of girls to guys will be in our favour,” he says.
“And white women tend to like Cook Islander guys. You’ve got this revolving door of visitors to keep the bachelors happy and in between you go back to the roster.
“Cook Islander women get complacent real quick. You date them for a year and after that you can’t do right by them. They’ve got that really strong personality.
“A lot of girls are always telling me ‘you are impossible to please’.
Geoff tells me there is also Tinder on Rarotonga but he is yet to find the “ideal woman”.
“The whole idea about the perfect woman I don’t understand yet. Someone with fair skin is quite exotic to me,” he says.
“I’ve had to defend my thoughts on dating many times. Until this system comes crashing down around me, it works.
“One of my best features is not my appearance, it’s because I can talk. I’ve really honed that to a fine art. If I was interested in you normally I’d square off and make sure I touch you on the arm at some stage. It’s all these little nuances you pick up on.
“Then I need to move you to a setting where I’m the alpha male. There will be drinking and dancing. It is so fluid. It’s the meeting, setting up, trying to close and then the logistics.”
Geoff, who has been operating on the same dating scheme for 20 years, has it down to a fine art, even having a draw full of sarongs and toothbrushes for any lucky ladies who happen to spend the night.
“It is a game of numbers. You run the strategy that yields a higher return,” he says.
He admits he sometimes lies to get what he wants and that it can be disrespectful.
“I’ve got four older sisters and they don’t know about this. If they found out they’d try and sit me down and say ‘hey’. I don’t think mum would understand.”
Sunday finally arrives and I dress in a floral frock and place on my head the gorgeous garland of flowers or traditional “ei” that Aunty has bought me from the markets. It’s D-Day. Divinity. Dating. Or Disaster. I enter the church and the congregation is packed, but they all seem to be aged either 5 or 85 with a distinct lack of the middle-aged men I was promised. There’s a visiting Samoan missionary, a huge hunk of a man, but the priest promptly describes him to his parishioners as “married to God”, which, frankly, is a hard act to follow. At one point a sprightly octogenarian breaks free from a prayer line to kiss me on the cheek. There’s lunch with the churchgoers afterwards but alas, no husband.
In the early evening Aunty drops me at dinner overlooking the ocean, paying for my meal before she heads back to church for the evening. I resist the urge to join her again. The only thing I took away from this morning was apparently it’s “Up, Up Jesus, Down, Down Satan.” Instead, from where I sit, the sun is setting, I have a glass of New Zealand wine in my hand, and I can smell the salt in the air. I am alone in possibly the most romantic spot on the planet when it dawns on me, I don’t need a Cook Islander husband, I need a Cook Islander wife. And I can’t wait for Aunty to get home from church to tell her.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Cook Islands Tourism. To plan your own adventure go to https://www.cookislands.travel
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
THIS is a tale of scoundrels, scallywags and sailing and it begins with me losing my credit card on my first day in Bali on my last trip of 2016. I have no one else but myself to blame for this mishap, the effects of two champagnes and several red wines enroute adding to the utter delirium of approaching the invisible finishing line of another working year and causing me to lose focus. And so I simply went to a cash machine, withdrew $200 worth of Indonesia rupiah, and left my card in the ATM, never to be seen again.
It took me a good hour to realise my folly by which time my card had well and truly be swallowed by the machine, or was being given a good, old workout by a Balinese man claiming to be a blonde, Australian woman with a non-Indonesian name. I cancelled my card and did what any Australian in a foreign land on their own without any ready source of cash would do…went to the nearest beach bar and ordered a Bintang. The healing powers of alcohol should never be underestimated in my opinion, and it was only several sips in that I realised there was a solution to my problem. And so I emailed a mate I hadn’t seen in some 20 years, my only friend in Bali, and wondered whether he might like to turn up to a lunch we were having the next day with a cool $500 cash.
This is the other thing I love about Australians. We tend to be pretty decent people, particularly when another Aussie is in strife and my old mate Richard Laidlaw, who by the way pens the most excellent Hector’s Diary https://8degreesoflatitude.com
from his Bali home, barely battered an eyelid, turning up with a wad of cash, not unlike a pimp. But I digress. That very morning I was being picked up by another Aussie, Amanda Zsebik, who owned the ship on which I would be sailing for the next 9 days around Indonesia.
I confessed the previous night’s utter stupidity to Amanda enroute to Al likai, and suspected she too, would curse my carelessness. But instead, she offered her view on Bali which has been her home for more than a decade.
“The energy in Bali takes your money. Many of us come to Bali to learn a life lesson quickly whether it is losing money or screwing up a relationship,” Amanda says.
“I’ve really seen the dark side of Bali, I love it, it’s my home, but you learn an enormous amount of respect for it.
“I don’t think they are bad people but in karmic terms they are having a Bali life to learn the dark side of nature.
“I’ve had black magic on me and spent two years in hospital. Bali has an incredible positive energy but there is a dark side to it too.”
So powerful is this dark side that not only does Amanda wear a black coral bracelet on her right wrist to protect against the black magic of which she speaks, but the words “light and love” are tattooed on her left ankle.
Richard, who along with his partner Lea Crombie joined us aboard Al likai for lunch before we set sail, believes the future of Bali will be “the same shit, but more of it”.
“The Balinese were rich in a self-sustaining way but then people arrived with money. There were the artists of the 30s but it was really when the airport opened in the 60s and the surfers started arriving in the 70s. They would see these guys coming and knew they had money and they wanted it,” he says.
“I think its edge, in regional terms, is it is not Muslim. There is nothing wrong with places that are, but you must accept there are restrictions on the western style of life in a Muslim place.
“There is a sort of mystery to the east. The social structure here is so strong that local religion is not really threatened by western secularism. They are prepared to let people party on.
“I think they have been playing everyone for suckers for decades and I say ‘well done guys’.”
Despite its negatives, Bali remains a place for rule breakers, scoundrels, scallywags, and the sailors I mentioned before. And Amanda, 60, who once called upmarket Rose Bay her permanent home, fits into at least one of these categories, offering sailing journeys which take travellers beyond Bali. On the particular trip on which I join her, we travel east from Bali in the direction of Timor, in a journey which will take us to remote eastern islands, to snorkel with the most sublime of sea creatures and to Komodo, to see the dragons. Over 9 days we’ll travel 350 nautical miles which will take 50 hours of sailing.
On the first day of sailing I ask Amanda, who has completed this journey many times, what draws her to this part of the region.
“I don’t have a favourite place because every place is different and every time we get in the water there will be a different thing to look at. I love swimming with the mantas,” she says.
“The thing I love is the constant moving. Spiritually, only 10 per cent of humans are spiritually awake. Jung talks about this. Those 10 per cent who have to see what’s around the horizon or over the next hill.
“It doesn’t matter where I go, just as long as I’m going. The challenge is to find stillness within the motion.”
The stillness within the motion. Her words stick with me during the entire journey. On the rare occasions that I’m sea sick, and on others when I’m sitting out on the deck in the early evening, contemplating the wild ride that has been 2016, and wondering what 2017 will bring. I focus long and hard on this mantra and then one afternoon, as the sun is dipping below the ocean, snorkelling the warm waters off of Gili Trawangan, I concentrate on one particular green turtle, gently lazing and grazing along the ocean floor. And in that one golden moment, the motion finally stops and the stillness begins.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Al likai. For more information on the boat and her sailing itineraries go to http://www.indonesianislandsail.com
Follow me on Instagram @aglobalgoddess
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
FACES and places. As I reluctantly relinquish those long, languid days of cool sarongs, cold beers, ocean swims and sunsets, and sit down at my desk to plan 2016, the thing that most excites me is those faces I haven’t yet met. For me, travel is all about the characters, the people whose personalities sing the true story of a destination. Sitting here in Brisbane, I can’t begin to imagine upon whom I’ll stumble this year, and that thought alone is incredibly exciting. Today I’m launching a three-part photo series of my Indonesian adventures over Christmas. And I thought it would be apt to start with the faces that made me smile. Happy New Year! Please enjoy.
There were the cool dudes…
The happy kids…
The beautiful Muslim women…
The elegant older men…
And even the statues seemed to have something to say…
The Global Goddess funded her own travels to Indonesia
I’m on assignment in the Solomon Islands this week. I’ll be back next week with a colourful blog outlining all of my adventures. You know there’s bound to be some.
Love and Light,
The Global Goddess
A CHINESE family, whose Hello Kitty fashion sense loudly suggests they got dressed in the dark on this particular morning, are on my flight over the Great Barrier Reef. But I have bigger concerns today than fellow tourists who combine stripes with flowers and chuck in a Mickey Mouse or two for good measure. I hate small planes and spend most of my time in them imagining plunging to a fiery death while clasping at my notebook just hoping, when the time arrives, that I can pen the perfect farewell sentence. The fact I am placed in the front seat next to the pilot, and warned to touch NOTHING, does little to erase my fear as we soar over the Whitsunday Islands. It is only when we drop to 150 metres above Heart Reef that I unclench my fists long enough to snap a photo or two. Even a scaredy cat like me can appreciate this natural wonder and I’m pretty sure when I’m back on terra firma I’ll love it even more.
I’m in the Whitsundays writing a story on the Great Barrier Reef from every angle and for the next five days I am the equivalent of Action Barbie, constantly stepping out of my comfort zone in the name of research. Later that morning I find myself zipping out to Whitehaven Beach on an ocean raft which reaches speeds of up to 30 knots. The colourful Chinese family are on this trip too and plonk down right beside me, one of them clutching a sick bag she’s snatched from this morning’s light plane flight. Soon enough, Hello Kitty is using the bag, just metres from my face, and as the wind whips up and we hit bumps, I live in mortal fear she’s going to spray her vomit all over my face. Even more fascinating is the fact that after each time she yaks, she quickly composes herself, with nary a snotty nose, flushed cheeks or bloodshot eyes in sight. I’m almost as enthralled by this spectacle as the breaching whales which stalk our boat.
We arrive safely at Whitehaven Beach where we are explicitly warned, in several languages, not to feed the sea gulls. The Chinese family alight, give their child a giant bread roll, and proceed to watch her feed the sea gulls, the hungry gulls angrily swarming Hello Kitty and her clan on the beach. It’s like something out of a Hitchcock movie and it is only when the chain-smoking Germans, who smile maniacally like they’ve stepped straight off the set of Die Hard, and who are polluting the pure silica sands with their toxic fumes, complain that the birds are “annoying” that the child stops.
I half expect to find the Chinese family the next day when I arrive at Daydream Island, their Hello Kitty fashion shredded to bits by the birds, but there’s just a couple of topless mermaids sunbaking on the rocks when I arrive. I’m half tempted to join them on this perfect winter day, but I have bigger fish to fry. I am on a Stingray Splash Tour which involves me stepping into thigh deep water and having baby stingrays suck on my toes like a member of the British Royal family. One ray even tries to mount my leg and I’m pretty sure he wants to have sex with my shorts, just like a British Royal. But they are like a group of baby puppies and it is one of the most delightful moments of my travel writing career. I eschew Lovers Cove and its snorkelling as there’s only so much a single woman can bear, and spend the afternoon in the day spa.
It’s a bit of a bumpy two-hour boat ride out to Reef World on the outer Great Barrier Reef the next day and I suck on four cups of ice to stave off seasickness. I stare feverishly at the horizon and think fondly of Hello Kitty and her sick bag. She would have adored this journey. And just as I’m about to vomit, we arrive in the calm lagoon of Hardy’s Reef where I have booked a learn-to-dive session. As fate would have it, it’s just me and a handsome Spaniard who holds my hand tight for the 30 minutes he’s showing me the Great Barrier Reef from below. I really should be looking at the coral and the fish, but it’s not every day a handsome Spaniard holds my hand and I’m mesmerised by his brown hair which floats in the water like sea weed. He has come-to-reef-bed-with-me-eyes. And yes, as one mate suggests, there may have been a giant grouper down there and I’m not talking about the fish. I fantasise about us having to share the same oxygen hose.
I sleep the night in a swag on the reef pontoon under the big moon and stars with a small group of fellow travellers including a happy Hong Konger called Mabo. Mabo is prone to laughing hysterically at absolutely everything, followed by loud exclamations of “very good, very good”. Mabo’s wife apparently works hard in a seafood company in Hong Kong while Mabo himself spends his days wandering around the world, becoming particularly excited when he poses for photos with nubile Netherlanders. At one point when snorkelling, I find Mabo sitting, stranded on a floating device out on the reef, unable to swim back to the pontoon against the turning tide. When we’re both rescued, I tell him he could have drowned. “Yes, very good, very good,” he replies. His enthusiasm is infectious. There was plenty of colour above, on and below the Great Barrier Reef on this trip and I got to hold the hand of a handsome Spaniard. I didn’t find Nemo, but I met a man named Mabo. And life is very good indeed.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Tourism Whitsundays – http://www.tourismwhitsundays.com.au
IT’S a Whitsunday Wednesday and I am aboard the 80ft yacht, Brahms and Liszt which I am informed is sailing rhyming slang for pissed. Somewhere, in the shimmering waters around me, are 800 sex-charged sailors. Or so I’m told. What I do know is that every second salt is called Fitzy, so I’ve just taken to singing out “g’day Fitzy” when I walk down the dock of the Abell Point Marina each morning and hoping that my greeting lands on the right shoulders. What I am yet to learn is that crusty old salts like their calamari young, so to speak, and I have a better chance of spotting a whale in the Whitsunday Passage than hooking a man. Me, I’m more of a barracuda.
Airlie Beach Race Week and every man and his dinghy is in town, lured by the warm trade winds which sweep the Australian sailing fraternity north along the Queensland coast. The weather is perfect except for one thing. There’s no wind and so, somewhere out to sea, sit 800 frustrated sailors, the lack of breeze keeping their sails limp, so to speak.
I, too, am frustrated. I am meant to be writing a story about Airlie Beach and sailing, but it’s difficult without any wind in the sails. In these parts, it blows every week of the year but for once, Mother Nature is refusing to co-operate. Bored sailors circle each other like sharks, jokes and jibes tossed across bows, until early afternoon, when enough breeze picks up to warrant enough of a race. It’s not perfect, but it will do.
As for me, a great story I eventually find, but it is one borne from dredging rather than smooth sailing. A quick quip here, a chat there, a day out on a tallship, a spot of snorkelling, a few drinks at the yacht club, a wander down the main drag. Some stories are like life. You have to wait for them to come to you, rather than force them. And so it is with this one.
Sure, I could shout superlatives from the bow of a boat about how wonderful the Whitsundays is, but it’s all that and more. It’s the crinkly smiles behind the sunglasses as experienced eyes look out to sea, searching for a hint of a breeze. Just like I look frantically to the horizon for a story. It’s recognising boats – Fifty Shades of 50, Rum Gutz, Malice – like they are all old friends. It’s the unexpected.
I came to Airlie Beach expecting some wild winds and, if I’m a little bit honest, hoping I might meet a man. In between grasping for my story, I fantasise about what I would do with a drunken sailor. I’d be fibbing if I didn’t say the thought of sailing off into the sunset with someone held great appeal. But life’s not like that. You can’t just rig up the sails and expect the wind will arrive at your command. Instead, you sit, you watch, you wait. You drop anchor. And you laugh. At life’s perfect imperfection.
The Global Goddess travelled to Airlie Beach Race Week as a guest of the Whitsunday Sailing Club. Next year, Airlie Beach Race Week will celebrate its 25th anniversary. And with a bit of luck, there will be a breeze. http://www.airlieraceweek.com
IT’S bang on mid-winter Down Under, so I thought I’d bring you a few snapshots of sunshine from my recent trip to Thailand. As travellers, we find sunshine not only in the sky, but in the colours, characters and culture of a destination. Please join me as I explore Phuket. I hope you can feel the warmth of this beautiful place, inhabited by sunny people.
I was walking through the floating Muslim island of Koh Panyee when I turned around and noticed this little girl simply sitting against the wall, chatting with her friends. I snapped a series of shots, some of her looking bored, some of her laughing, some of her looking pensive. This is my favourite.
This kids on the floating Muslim island off Phuket were more aware of the camera. Happy kids, normal kids, just going about their business, is always a great delight when you’re travelling. Somehow it centres you, reminds you we are all the same.
Sometimes you stumble across some cool dudes, as this Phuket Life Saver proved late on a sunny afternoon as I was walking along the beach.
And this cool dude, I met at the Outrigger Laguna Phuket Beach Resort pool.
Sometimes you just get a glimpse, a tiny snippet, into someone’s life…
Sometimes life is there on a platter, in all its splendidly, colourful glory…
And then there are those days, sitting on your own private Phuket island you’ve borrowed for a few hours with some new friends, when your heart really sings.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Laguna Phuket. For more information on how you can experience some of this sunshine, please go to http://www.lagunaphuket.com