I AM driving north of Brisbane to Bundaberg on my latest travel writing assignment when it strikes me that I am also on a personal pilgrimage. So caught up am I in the possibility of finally having the chance to experience the turtle hatchlings at Mon Repos on the Southern Great Barrier Reef, that I have temporarily forgotten my strong links to this regional Queensland town.
It’s been nine long years since I’ve been to Bundy, the birthplace and childhood home of my ex husband, and to where we would retreat each year to visit his family. And now I am returning. Alone. The ghosts of the past first hit me as I’m driving through Childers, when I glance at the façade of the old Palace Backpacker Hostel. In 2000 it burned down, killing 15 young backpackers. I remember that day well, I was the Tourism Reporter on the Courier-Mail and wrote a story about backpackers to this destination, mapping their rite-of-passage along the Queensland coast. How they used Childers as a place to stop, pick fruit, and make money before heading north to the Whitsundays. A bunch of young adults brimming with life and hope. Dead. That’s the thing about being a news reporter. Often it’s months, and in this case years, when beyond the adrenalin of a breaking news story, you finally have time to reflect on what it actually means. In my car I slow down, glance at the building, now an art space and memorial to the backpackers, and keep driving.
This is a blog about new beginnings, courage and resilience. I drive north through a series of summer storms, arriving in Bargara mid afternoon. The sun is shining and I head straight for a swim at the Basin, a tidal pool at the beach. Under the warm blue sky with fish at my feet and the ocean crashing against the rocks, I’m feeling cleansed. There are no ghosts here.
By early evening I am standing in the dark with a group of strangers at Mon Repos, wondering if I’ll have the chance to finally witness the baby turtles hatch on this, the last night of the season. Just 10 minutes after opening there’s a sighting and on this balmy beach night we wander in the dark and experience not one, but two clutches, both numbering in their hundreds. The rangers say this is the best outcome all season.
We form a human channel and the rangers shine a light from the nest to the ocean for the hatchlings to begin their life journey. You want resilience? Consider this. Just one in 1000 of these babies will make it to adulthood. And 30 years later, against all odds, the females will return to this very beach to lay their own eggs. In the dark I feel something crawl up my leg. It’s a rogue hatchling. Its beauty makes me cry. Later, back at my resort, I research the spiritual meaning of turtles: longevity, endurance, persistence and continuation of life.
The following day I snorkel with a green turtle off of Lady Musgrave Island. A 1.5 metre reef shark circles below me but I have nothing to fear. I hover over the turtle for the longest of times. Observing her feeding and resting on a reef cleaning station. I smile into my snorkel about my insatiable love of reptiles. Salty and sated, later that night I dine with Shane and Pascaline, the owners of the new Zen Beach Retreat in which I am staying. The theme of new beginnings recurs.
Shane, Australian, and Pascaline, French were living and working in Vietnam when they decided to swap their stressful, high-profile jobs for a different existence.
“We went back to Australia and went for a beach drive to try and find a block of land. I wanted to have something on the sea and it had to be hot,” Pascaline says.
“Some of the properties were stunning but there was not love there. We kept heading north. Shane stopped at Bargara Real Estate and saw this. We went walking and thought ‘what a great beach’. Both of us looked at each other and said ‘it is fantastic’.”
The couple opened the retreat in early March, after extensive renovations of this former 1970s Bargara beach motel.
“We will be offering health activities and corporate activities and finding a balance in between. In particular it’s about balancing the corporate wellness of the team,” Shane says.
“I found a lot of companies are losing their way, the way to innovate and keep their team motivated.
“What we’ve got here is a recovery treatment and corporate retreat.”
The property, which can sleep a total of 22 people including the couple’s beachfront home, boasts four themed suites – Executive, French, Asian and Oriental/Middle East. Each suite has been furnished with tasteful artifacts from the couple’s travels around the world.
“It is about creating an experience where people recover from the busy day-to-day life,” Pascaline says.
“It’s about having a guide to relax and building packages with different partners in the area such as nature, food, wellness and sports.
“We have a brand that is Zen. We want you to embody happiness.”
Happiness. I spend the next few days looking at Bundy through a different lense. I join Bundy Food Tours, a new tour which showcases the incredible innovation of the hardy farmers who have worked these fields for generations. There’s that resilience again. Even at the iconic Bundaberg Rum Distillery they’ve launched a new Blend Your Own Rum Experience. For the first time I visit Lady Elliot Island. There’s more turtles. More resilience. And I dine in new restaurants, all embracing food direct from the paddocks to their plates.
On my drive home I pause in Childers at the new Cane Fire Cheese House selling regional produce. I decide it’s time to embody the courage of the turtles and finally visit the Childers Backpacker Memorial. One of the volunteers accosts me at the door and explains the horrific events of that night. I listen, deciding against telling her I know the story all too well. She says the deliberately-lit fire, which saw Australian Robert Long jailed for murder, put Childers on the map for “all the wrong reasons”. I silently disagree. On the night of the fire, and for weeks and months afterwards, the locals opened their doors to the survivors and their families and embraced them as if they had lost their own children. And now they are immortalised in these walls. Forever part of this region’s fabric. On the drive south I think again about the turtles and their meaning: longevity, endurance, persistence and continuation of life. Bundaberg, well she has these in spades.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Bundaberg North Burnett Tourism – http://www.bundabergregion.info To stay at the Zen Beach Retreat go to http://www.zenbeachretreat.com
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/