I’VE been incredibly fortunate in the past few years, in the course of my travel writing adventures, to indulge in some of the most amazing experiences that exist between humans and animals. Here’s 8 I’ve done that I’ll reckon you’ll love.
1. Walk with the Polar Bears
To be utterly honest, I was more frightened of how cold I expected it to be up in arctic Canada, than being eaten by a polar bear, and I was right. This trip-of-a-lifetime sees you fly into Winnipeg, where you will overnight and be fitted with your polar gear (which assists greatly with minus 14 degree Celsius temperatures). The next day you’ll fly to Churchill, and then board a tiny plane out to Seal River Heritage Lodge. Here, Churchill Wild runs “walk with the polar bear” safaris out on the arctic tundra framing wild and remote Hudson Bay. So unthreatened are these beautiful animals by this tour, one 400kg male came within 10 metres of our group. Sublime.
2. Snorkel with Salmon
In this instance, I WAS frightened of bears, but I had no real reason. On this adventure, you fly out of Vancouver over to Vancouver Island and Campbell River. Here, you can join an eclectic journey with Destiny River Adventures where you will board a raft and paddle down Campbell River, before plunging into 14 degree waters. Yes, chilly, but worth it, as you plummet down the rapids, dodging rocks and snorkelling with salmon. There’s three pools to experience here (in pool two you are advised to fly like a super hero to avoid being shredded to bits by the rocks). And no, there are no grizzly bears waiting by the shoreline to feast on salmon, or you, as it’s the wrong season. What you will experience is a thrill of a lifetime, and come face-to-face with some friendly seals as well.
3. Sail to see the Komodo Dragons
I LOVE lizards and any reptile for that matter, and had always longed to see the komodo dragons. But arriving at Komodo National Park is not as simple as it seems. However, there exists an incredible adventure which makes the journey a dream. Head out with Indonesian Island Sail on its traditional timber boat, and you can spend 14 glorious days sailing from Bali to Komodo and back. Along the way you’ll feast on fabulous food, snorkel some of the clearest waters in the region, swim with manta rays and turtles, and arrive at Komodo National Park where you can snatch a selfie with those gorgeous giants.
4. Float with the Manta Rays
Did someone mention manta rays? A few years ago, while staying on Hawaii’s Big Island, I had the fabulous fortune of a night float with the manta rays. Courtesy of Manta Ray Advocates, at Kona, after dark you are taken out into the bay on an outrigger canoe. Then, when the conditions are just right, you are invited to slip into the ocean. Holding on to a surf board with handles, and sporting a snorkel and mask, you are invited to plunge your face into the ocean and watch as the magnificent mantas swim right up to you. If you are lucky, they will eye-ball you before they perform a tumble turn.
5. Drive a Reindeer or Husky Sleigh
They are hard-core up in Finnish Lapland and it’s easy to see why. When you have months of darkness during winter, and the temperature plummets to minus 40 degrees Celsius, you tend to be made of serious stuff. Up at Beana Laponia Wilderness Boutique Hotel, a working husky farm, you are invited to not only join a husky safari, but are taught how to drive the team. Yes, you can become a musher. And it is seriously great fun as you fly through snowy trails in a pure-white winter wonderland. For those looking for something a little more sedate, the hotel can also arrange for you to do a reindeer safari. Not as fast or as fun as the huskies, but if Santa is your thing, this might be right up your alley.
6. Meditate with a Horse
If only the horse could talk. One of my craziest animal experiences to date, this one occurred in the Gold Coast Hinterland at Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat. Sure, you can do yoga, tai-chi or go bushwalking, or, if you’re like me, you can indulge in a one-hour meditation session with a horse. At first I was dubious, but it became very obvious during this session that Jack knew far more than I realised. Horses are used for therapy as it is believed they can pick up on human emotions (without any of the bullshit) and from my experience, Jack was spot on. When I was nervous, Jack was skittish. When I lost confidence leading him around the ring, so, too, did Jack. By the end of this session I was able to command Jack to gallop, and stop, purely by using my breath.
7. Witness hatching Turtles
There’s few nicer things in nature than watching an animal begin its life journey and at Bundaberg, on Queensland’s Southern Great Barrier Reef, you can do just that. Between November and January, head to Mon Repos Beach and watch the lady loggerhead turtles lay their eggs, and then, between January and March, you can encounter the hatchlings as they erupt from the nests. Carefully managed by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, join a ranger on a guided tour at night on the beach and your life will never quite be the same again. https://www.bundabergregion.org/turtles/mon-repos-turtle-encounter
8. Hang out with some cool Cats
If you’ve ever wanted to witness Africa’s Big Five, this is your chance. And at Sabi Sabi Luxury Safari Lodges, you can do this in style. Plonked within South Africa’s Kruger National Park, each day you’ll head out on two safaris, one before dawn and the other before dusk, for your best chances of seeing animals in their wild habitat. Again, I was initially worried about being mauled by a lion, but you are in a four-wheel drive with a ranger and a spotter who are fastidious about safety. And, by the end of my trip, I was even going on walking safaris, out in the open, with the exceptional guides who will explain animal tracks and the stories behind them.
AND ONE I CAN’T WAIT TO DO
9. Swim with the Whales
Last year, I was all set to slip into the Pacific Ocean off of the Sunshine Coast and swim with the whales, but wild weather prevented that adventure. But each year, between July and October, when the humpback whales are migrating from Antarctica to breed and play in Queensland’s warm waters, visitors have the opportunity to go out with Sunreef Mooloolaba to get wet with the whales. You hold onto a floating line attached to the boat, and then it’s up to these mammoth mammals as to how close they wish to get to you. Watch this space…
What animal experiences have you done that you’ve loved or want to do? My list doesn’t end. At number 10, I want to swim with the whale sharks and do a shark cage dive
I AM cycling along Caloundra’s Coastal Pathway, scavenging snippets of conversation from the people I pass, like a cheeky seagull snatching fish and chips. On this wondrous winter day, someone is pontificating the benefits of full cream milk versus skim. I glide past without catching the answer. The air is seasoned with sea salt and pine needles on this retro ride which takes me from Moffat to Shelley Beach, and back pedals 50 years to when the Sunshine Coast was known as the Near North Coast and no one drank skim milk, nor did they smash avocadoes.
My journey back in time begins in a baby blue kombi van which dates back to 1962 as we wind our way from Maroochydore, Alexandra Headland and through Mooloolaba to Caloundra. The Eagles are crooning Peaceful Easy Feeling and I alternate between staring at the ocean and our long-haired driver Michael Turner, whose blonde locks speak of surf and sunshine. In Michael’s Deluxe Kombi Service, you can perch on a bench seat of a split screen Kombi, without a seat belt, open the sunroof and invite the Sunshine Coast in. After he’s dropped us at our accommodation, Michael plans a sneaky swim before his next appointment. Michael is my kind of man.
We arrive at Rumba Beach Resort, which was once the site of a former Salvation Army summer holiday camp, but these days boasts boutique one, two and three bedroom apartments which maintain that old-fashioned hospitality. Upon arrival, you’ll receive a “Rise and Shine” card which entitles you to complimentary coffee and muffins on your first morning. General Manager Bill Darby says Caloundra still carries a “country town” feeling where you can park the car and not touch it for a week.
“Caloundra is a relaxing, Queensland seaside holiday. It is not the kind of place where you feel you have to get dressed up,” he says.
“It is just beautiful. It is vintage. It is going through that renaissance.”
Over at Caloundra House Boats, Bruce Boucaut is putting the finishing touches to Australia’s first “water glamper”, a floating camping site with all of the benefits of land glamping, and which will be located anywhere in the inshore waters around Caloundra and the Pumicestone Passage. We eat afternoon tea Sunshine Coast style – Moreton Bay Bugs, Mooloolaba prawns and locally-caught sand crab – while Bruce shows us his latest projects, as well as a house boat which is already in operation and ideal for a weekend on Caloundra’s calm waters. Bruce will even pop over with a seafood platter for you, should you so desire. This is pure seduction, Sunshine Coast style.
It’s all hops and hipsters at the Moffat Beach Brewing Company whose brews have recently picked up one gold and two silvers in the National Beer Awards. In this casual, retro setting (there’s even a Space Invader machine), you’ll find the likes of Psychotic Girl, Hipster Doofus and Fu-Manchu on tap here. Owner and brewer Matt Wilson opened the café five years ago and immediately installed beer taps as “there was nowhere to get a beer around here.”
“I started brewing at home to educate myself,” he says.
“We thought we would do something different and it has worked for us. We wanted and needed to be different. That’s the opening we saw.”
Pull up a perch, have a coldie with Matt and watch the blue waters of Moffat Beach.
Later that night I find myself in Spinners Bar & Bowl, one of Caloundra’s newest attractions, which offers state-of-the-art ten-pin bowling facilities and a juke box with retro selections to convince you leap on to the dance floor replete with smoke machine. The joint is pumping with a colourful crowd which likes to adorn itself with piercings and tattoos. Fifty years ago, only sailors had tattoos and pirates wore earrings. (I’ve never actually met a pirate but I’m sure I’d find them fascinating). I feel slightly underdressed with no ink and only two modest ear piercings but with a bar and pizza menu to boot, pretty soon I am walking on sunshine on this journey through time with my new mates.
The next morning, it’s breakfast at Sandbar Café Kiosk overlooking Pumicestone Passage before we kit up and head across the passage with Fishing Australia’s Rob Paxevanos, an Aussie angling expert. There’s plenty of boat hire operators around these parts and the bream, flathead and whiting are apparently biting. I spend a good hour lure fishing from the beach off the tip of Bribie Island with a pitying pelican the only witness to my fishing frustration. Actually, I haven’t felt this calm in ages, simply standing on the shore, the sun on my back and the breeze in my hair. I’m fully focused on my fishing and I realise it’s just like a meditation class, with a pole. I haven’t jagged any fish but I reckon I’ve caught Sunshine Coast fever, and like so many Brisbanites over the past 50 years, I’ll be back.
The Global Goddess was a guest of Sunshine Coast Tourism http://www.visitsunshinecoast.com; and Tourism Queensland http://www.queensland.com
SOME days you just have to let the world come to you. Last week, I was back in beautiful Noosa on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. I’ve been up there a lot lately, more by default than design, and what’s really cool is that every time I’m there, I discover a host of new things. On this trip, I stumbled across some cool international experiences in which you can indulge. Here’s five of my favourites.
New York, New York
If it’s graffiti grunge you’re seeking, look no further than Streets of Harlem Café, along Hastings Street. At first I thought this was a new entrant into the Hastings Street scene, but I am reliably informed this eclectic establishment has actually been there for about five years. Lord knows how I missed it. But I’m glad I found it this time. On an uncharacteristically wet and wild winter’s day, I slipped in here for breakfast. If you like a bit of edge with your eggs, this is the place. Oh, and if you want to know what the future holds, there’s even a clairvoyant upstairs.
(8 Hastings Street, Noosa)
Now this is a café I know has been along Hastings Street for forever and a day. And as kitsch and clichéd as it may appear, if you are looking for some of the finest people watching on the planet, pull up a perch at Aromas Noosa, order a smart latte, and do as the French do, and watch the world wander by. In fact, there’s plenty of French influence in Noosa, from the French Quarter to the acclaimed Sofitel Noosa Pacific Resort. I’ve wanted to stay in the latter since it first opened as the big, pink Sheraton 26 years ago. Now, it’s more subtle but the service is still five-star and the views out over the ocean are divine. For a truly international experience, indulge in the Thalgo Indoceane Spa Ritual in the Aqua Day Spa here, a treatment, which combines Mediterranean, Egyptian, Indian and Chinese influences.
Around this time every year, when the temperature drops in Brisbane, I start dreaming of a return to Bali. If you don’t have the time, or the money, to visit Indonesia right now, here’s the second best thing. As soon as you walk through the heavy, carved timber doors at the Ikatan Balinese Day Spa, you feel like you are Indonesia. Surrounded by statues and set in a tropical environment, you can choose from a variety of sublime spa treatments. I had the two-hour Warmth of Bali treatment which, among other things, involved my spa therapist scrubbing my body with chai tea. Among a long list of treatments you can select the Bali Getaway; Noosa Dua; and Kuta Time. But above all, go. You won’t regret it. http://www.ikatanspa.com
Blink and you’d miss this little slice of Italy tucked away in a quiet corner along Hastings Street. Which would be a great shame as Locale was one of the best dinners I have ever eaten. Outside, you’ll find a zippy Vespa. Inside the moody black interior is a menu of gold. I am not even really a risotto fan, but I will often choose a menu (and a destination for that matter) because I am enamoured by its description. In this case, the Organic Acquerello Carnaroli risotto, Fraser Island spanner crab, lemon and sea urchin butter, was the winner. You had me at sea urchin. A few steps up the street, and also a little hidden, make sure you check out El Capitano Pizzeria and Bar which ferments its organic sourdough pizza bases for 72 hours. Here, I encountered for the first time in my life, burrata cheese. It looks like someone has plonked a scoop of vanilla ice cream on your pizza, but in fact it’s a fresh Italian cheese made from mozzarella and cream which melts all over your topping. Died, I did, and went to heaven.
Having visited Sri Lanka for the first time about two years ago, I’ve since been fascinated by this distinctive cuisine. So it is such a delight to have celebrity Sri Lankan chef Peter Kuruvita call Noosa home for his namesake restaurant. Attached to the Sofitel Noosa Pacific Resort, Noosa Beach House Peter Kuruvita combines a relaxed setting with innovative dining. For breakfast alone, you could order the Sri Lankan crab omelette, while you’ll find the Sri Lankan snapper curry on the dinner menu. Kuruvita combines his exotic recipes with local produce such as Mooloolaba prawns.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Tourism Noosa – http://www.visitnoosa.com