Back on the Bike

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THE Pacific Ocean is swooshing into the shore on this sizzling summer afternoon and if I listen carefully, I can almost hear the waves whispering the word Noosa on the outward tide. In local Aboriginal dialect Noosa means “shade” or “shadows” and it’s a fitting descriptor as tourists flock to the pandanus trees lining Noosa Main Beach. From my privileged perch on my balcony of Netanya Noosa Resort, I watch the shadows grow longer and at sunset, Noosa blushes pink, just like the young bride having her photo taken on the beach.
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I eat a Eumundi steak I’ve sourced from Netanya’s Providore on Hastings, the only deli around these parts, and which I’ve cooked for myself on my balcony barbecue. A family in wet togs and sporting sun-kissed, salty hair, sits just outside the resort on the grassy knoll and eats pizza, in no rush on this languid Sunday to head back to balmy Brisbane. As for me, for once I have all the time in the world, and in the early evening, I make like the Italians and replicate that lovely tradition of La Passeggiata…the evening promenade through the main street of town. In this case, it’s Hastings Street where I stop for gelati, ordering a single, sugary scoop of chocolate ice cream. I stroll towards the Esplanade, swirling the creamy texture around my tongue, and pausing to dig my feet into the now cool sand.
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I’m on my first travel writing assignment for 2017 and I’m relieved it’s in my own backyard of Queensland. After a brief break, I need to find my feet again. Get back on that bike, which is apt as my first task of the year is to undertake a mountain bike tour through Tewantin National Park. When I was asked whether I’d like to do a new cycling tour for several stories I’m writing about Noosa’s natural side, I jumped at the chance, imagining mounting a mint green retro bike and gliding along some beachfront Esplanade. In my fantasy I would be wearing a colourful summer frock and scarf, and the wind would be blowing my hair in precisely the right direction. I laughed when I realised it was a mountain bike tour but it’s something I’m glad I do, in equal parts cursing some aspects of my job in the summer heat and pleased I’m out of my comfort zone, yet again. The next day, I do a five-hour kayak tour through the Noosa Everglades.
In recent years I’ve been out of my comfort zone so many times for work that I feel I almost need to start training for my job. I’m a travel writer, not a stunt woman, I want to scream some days, secretly pleased I’m being physically pushed, particularly as I enter middle age.
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Yes, I’m not the same girl I used to be and neither is Noosa. You see, Noosa used to be oh, so posh. But these days, it’s for everyone. On my second evening on my beach balcony, a young couple sits on the grass and drinks red wine from a cask. No one bats an eyelid. Sure, you can still spot the southerners, the blokes conspicuous in their boat shoes and crisp chinos and the women in their white linen with just a dash too much makeup for a Queensland summer.
In a couple of days they’ll figure Noosa out once they’ve sat long enough on that famed Aromas sidewalk.
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Across from the Surf Club, Betty’s Burgers is now an empire, but it’s not the Betty of old with her $1 burgers she used to sell from a shop window in the middle of Hastings Street. According to local legend, these owners also had a relative called Betty and these days a burger will set you back $10. As for the original Betty, she now grows and sells herbs to local restaurateurs.
I stop for lunch at the Surf Club on my last day and am joined by a curious little girl from the next table. She pulls up a perch, watches me eat and we talk about travel. She’s six and she’s flown from Sydney to be in Noosa. We find common ground talking about planes. She wants to build a sandcastle but has left her spade and bucket back home in Sydney. I tell her she can use her hands. There’s lemonade back at her hotel in the fridge, she says.
And then, out of the blue she exclaims: “I love Noosa.”
“Me too,” I smile. Me too.
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The Global Goddess was a guest of Netanya Noosa http://www.netanyanoosa.com, which has been a Noosa favourite since 1995 and has recently undergone a facelift and opened Providore on Hastings. There’s 47 beachfront luxury apartments in this complex which is 100 per cent smoke free with smoking not permitted anywhere on the property including balconies, roof tops, apartments, corridors and the pool.
The Global Goddess also travelled with the assistance of Tourism Noosa http://www.visitnoosa.com.au

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Darwin’s Evolution

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Destination: “Batchelor” Northern Territory. Population: No eligible blokes.
A FRAGRANT frangipani guard of honour framing the road from the airport announces my arrival into Darwin city. I’m driving an automatic hire car and I must be the only person on the entire planet who can’t handle an automatic, my feet fumbling every few metres for the clutch. So poor am I at mastering this skill, that I realise I am actually driving the car in neutral. That explains the odd looks from the people outside the vehicle and the strange sounds from inside. In retrospect, it’s not a bad thing to arrive in a new city in neutral. No expectations. And Darwin is my last Australian capital city to conquer.
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Yes, 30 years of travelling the globe and I am possibly the only Australian who hasn’t been to Darwin. In human terms, I am the last cab to Darwin, so to speak. But I’ve heard all the stories. About the croc attacks and bum cracks. Those Top End “terrors” (I’m talking about the blokes here), apparently even more daring than those in my hometown of Brisbane. I’ve seen NT Cops on television and I’m an avid follower of the Northern Territory News’ front-page headlines such as “A croc ate my cock” (you should be so lucky, mate) and frankly, I can’t wait to see what this final frontier is all about. A female friend finds out I’m going to Darwin and assures me there’s a “mansoon” happening up here. Yes, the ratio of men to women is apparently 13:1. The very same time last year I was in Mount Isa where the bloke/sheila ratio is 7:1. Things are improving. According to another friend, the odds are good but the goods are odd.
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While I expect to meet plenty of men, what I don’t expect is to find a city that is thriving as much as those frangipani trees. I walk down the Smith Street Mall on a glorious winter day, past the posh Paspaley Pearl store with its swanky shell handles. A few doors down, di CROCO Boutique is selling handbags made from NT crocs for around $3000. I spy some $20 key rings more in my price range. All the beautiful people are sipping skinny chai lattes in the Star Village courtyard, home to local designers.
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Down the Mall I wander, stumbling across an old black caravan. There’s a pretty girl inside with a killer smile and I ask to take her photo. She’s selling tickets to the Darwin Festival in August. She points out a plaque on the caravan. Turns out this van is called Tracy, and it’s the original van used to house one of the 25,000 people rendered homeless when Cyclone Tracy destroyed the city on Christmas Eve 1974. It is at this exact point I fall in love with this city. I love a destination with a story and soul and Darwin has both in spades surviving not only the Japanese bombing in 1942, but Tracy too.
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Around the corner, I bump into the old Country Women’s Association building. Fair enough, I think to myself, there’s a CWA here. But as I step closer I discover it’s now an eco café serving the kinds of things our grandmothers had never heard of. Yes, there’s acai bowls and skinny lattes where once there was crochet and black tea. On this particular afternoon I have time, and I let the gentle breeze off Darwin Harbour blow me in whatever direction it chooses. I find myself in Austin Lane, just off of Smith Street, where I discover graffiti art galore. Little do I realise that in a few days I’ll be back here, taking a cooking class in Little Miss Korea, a converted loading bay at the back of the old Woolworths complex. Korean chef Chung Jae Lee, who was born on the floor of his mother’s Seoul restaurant kitchen, will teach me how to make a seafood pancake. And God, will we laugh.
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But before I cook with Chung, I’ll head to the Wave Lagoon where I’ll grab a boogie board and join a bunch of excited kids in Darwin’s answer to the ocean. And it’s pumping. Queensland board riders hate this sort of choppy onshore surf, but on this divine Darwin day I can’t think of anything more swell.
Days later I’m swimming at Litchfield National Park, spending the day wading from waterhole to waterhole. It’s on this journey we pass through that town called Batchelor. While the spelling is slightly skewiff, the sentiment is spot on. There’s even a Batchelor Museum which forces my face into a wry smile. Yes, single blokes are so rare in Australia, they are now building shrines to them. Of course, this museum is about something entirely different, but it keeps me amused all the way back into Darwin.
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I’m in Larrakia country, the birthplace of Australian singer Jessica Mauboy and actress Miranda Tapsell, who I had the great pleasure of interviewing before I came to Darwin. Tapsell was a pure delight and so in love with Darwin it was infectious. I adore how at this time of the year, when the wet season finally concedes to the dry, Aborigines describe the weather as “knock-em down storms” and “clean em-up country”. Everything is fresh. And with it comes an air of possibility. Of Dreamtime and daydreams.
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It’s my last night in Darwin and I head out to Mindil Beach for the sunset markets. No one told me how much Darwinians love a sunset and I watch in utter fascination as hundreds of locals and tourists flock to the cool sand at this magic hour to watch the sun collapse into the ocean. The crowd applauds in a gesture which makes me love this city even more. What is this mystical place where hundreds gather to celebrate Mother Nature at her finest? I head to the Deckchair Cinema where the cool breeze blows off the harbour and sit under the stars, slouched in a canvas chair. It’s one of the most romantic settings in Australia and I am all alone, but I am not lonely. For I am sitting in a city which has had everything thrown at it and not only keeps bouncing back, but flourishing. And that feeling, that delicious Darwin magic, is contagious.
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The Global Goddess travelled to Darwin as a guest of Tourism Northern Territory – http://www.travelnt.com
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Camping, Kombis and a Kangaroo or two

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AN organised man, my best mate is not. Loyal, kind, and the sort of caring bloke who will take your call at 3am if you are broke, or worse, broken – absolutely – but he was obviously buried under a pile of dirty laundry when the organised gene was handed out. And so I find myself, at the end of our weekend camping trip, straddling the side of a busy highway, semi-trailers brushing past me on one side, snakes in the grass on the other, thonged feet and desperate eyes searching frantically for the tyre to our campervan that has mysteriously flung off as we drove. How did this happen? My mate forgot to tighten the wheel nuts when he changed the spare.
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We’ve known each other 30 years, my mate and me, so none of this should have come as a surprise, least of all to me. But each time it somehow does. The ante upped on what could possibly go wrong. Our trip out to Queensland’s pretty Girraween National Park starts late. We’re meant to leave at 6.30pm for the four-hour journey south-west but that is pushed back as my mate is getting his car serviced. The same uninsured car we discover he’s been driving without brakes. He can’t find the camp stove which is meant to be where all the other camping gear has been plonked. Under his house, home to piles of unwashed laundry and a plethora of treasures owned by a variety of people, both living and dead, who may or may not also be buried beneath the rubble.
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We eventually hit the road and arrive at the National Park close to midnight. We’re meant to be meeting our mates in their Kombi as they know in which of the two campsites we’re booked. My mate hands me a cigarette lighter in the dark. “What’s this for?” I ask. “I forgot the torch,” he says, as I stare incredulously at the stick which is meant to illuminate the night to allow us to make camp. Just as we pitch the campervan for the night in the middle of the Aussie bush, the Kombi arrives, having come off second best to a kangaroo, with all of its right hand side panels dented. I climb into bed for a restless sleep about angry kangas, and a nagging fear an equally annoyed park ranger is going to shine his torch into our illegal impromptu campsite in the death of night.
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Things are looking brighter the next morning and we decide to move to a proper campsite where we don’t have to wee in the bush in the dead of night in the middle of snake breeding season. My mate decides he’s not going to put the pop top down on the campervan, instead driving the short distance to our new site with protruding beds still made. Things are going well, until my mate turns a tight corner and the van crunches into the back of his expensive black jeep, denting not only two corners of the four-wheel-drive but putting the pop top out of alignment. All of a sudden, our cheap camping weekend is looking expensive.
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But troopers that we are, we set up camp, drive into the nearest town to pick up eggs (my mate forgot the eggs), and the four of us regroup over a few beers on one of those all-Aussie bush hotel verandas. We spend the next day walking the tracks for which this particular park is known. It’s three hours of solid bushwalking and food for the soul among the blooming spring wild flowers. It’s my job that evening to cook dinner – Beef and Guinness stew in a camp oven – while the others take a second hike. I’ve never cooked in a camp oven before and I’m nervous. What if the hungry hikers return and I’ve burned the beef? There’s not exactly a pizza place out here in the bush.
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It’s a stunning afternoon as I stoke the fire, sip on a beer, and the others set off on their walk. And then the weather changes, rapidly, dramatically. Angry thunder starts grumbling in the distance and I have just enough time to put my beer (first rule of camping: save the beer) under some shelter before the sky erupts. I jump around like a mad marsupial, simultaneously racing to zip up the campervan, close the Kombi, the car windows, save the fire wood from a soaking and most of all, salvaging dinner. The storm is raging all around me, my friends are somewhere in the blackening bush, but there’s no way the stew on which I’ve spent the past 3 hours is going to spoil. I stand in the cold, wet, dark, hair plastered to my face, stoking my fire and stirring my stew like a wild witch.
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The storm blows over as quickly as it arrived and my friends are swept back into camp. The camp table is set for dinner, red wine is poured and my stew is sumptuous, all tender and smoky and made with a kind of frenzied love. We wake up the next day, our cars and bodies a bit bruised and battered, feet and faces dusty and ready to hit the road. It’s only when I’m standing on the side of the highway with my mate several hours later, looking for our missing tyre, that his words of earlier that weekend hit me: “This doesn’t happen sitting around at home, you know.” We never do find the tyre and instead, limp into the tiny town of Aratula on the original shredded spare, and abandon the van there, until we can return the next day with new tyres. We stop further down the road and crack open a warm beer from the back of the car and laugh outrageously. And that’s the crux of this story. In life, sometimes you come off second best to a proverbial roo or two, you get dinged and dusty, wet, hungry and tired. Things don’t go to plan. But, like a kangaroo, it’s how you bounce that matters most.
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