ON the 10th anniversary of the unhappiest day of my life, I am flying to Bhutan – the Happiest Country on the Planet. It’s been 10 years to the day since my marriage suddenly shattered and I was left to carve out a new life, with a splintered compass. I have spent the past decade travelling the world, for my work and my wellbeing, part story-teller, part marathon runner from myself. And I am exhausted, fuelled only by the irony of this date and the promise of the destination ahead.
The Bhutanese baby is roaring like the engine of the plane on which I am travelling, and the acrid stench of stale cigarettes, cloying to the clothing of my fellow passengers, burns my nostrils. The soothing sounds of the sitar music being piped through the cabin do little to salve my mental malaise. I am enroute to Bhutan, the Kingdom of Happiness. My current happiness level: 5/10. Yet I remain optimistic, even when we stop at the remote Indian airport of Guwahati, more bare paddock than runway, which is shrouded in mist and mystery. Some passengers disembark. Those of us who are flying to Bhutan’s Paro International Airport are instructed to stay on, and identify our cabin baggage. I am the only white person on the plane.
Drukair, Royal Bhutan’s Airline, ducks and weaves around the mighty Himalayan ranges, before gliding to a halt in what has to be one of the most visually spectacular and technically difficult landings in the world. My tour guide, Chimmi, 51, happens to be Bhutan’s first female tour guide, appointed in 1997. Now, around 400 women are guides in a country which boasts around 3000 tour guides. My driver is called Karma. I take both as a good sign. The 1.5 hour drive to Thimphu, the Bhutanese capital is gnarly, all twists and turns, flanked by gushing river on one side, and looming mountains on the other. I scribble furious car-sick inducing notes, as Chimmi attempts to explains the concept of Bhutanese happiness.
“We don’t have any enemies, we have nothing to take. We live in a very poor country surrounded by mountains. We are the Hidden Kingdom,” she says.
“Until the 1960s there were no cars in the country and until the 1980s no planes. We were isolated and cut off from the rest of the world. We didn’t have TV and internet until 1999.
“Before 2004, the village I lived in had no electricity. It was such a beautiful life.”
Chimmi believes it is isolation which made it easy for Bhutan to be the first country to conceive of the idea of Gross National Happiness (GNH), which was introduced by the country’s beloved King in the 1970s.
“GNH is a very basic idea to provide basic necessities such as education, a transparent government, a pristine environment and to preserve culture and tradition,” she says.
“It is something very simple, very basic, and if people focus on that it can be achieved.”
I check into charming, colonial-style Hotel Druk in the centre of the capital. Even my WiFi password is “happy”.
On my second morning, I have a much-anticipated interview with GNH Director Sonam Tsoki Tenzin, in a bid to scratch the surface of Bhutan’s happiness. Tsoki sits behind a desk in front of a blank, white wall, and sniffles. She’s suffering from allergies on this unexpectedly hot day, yet she’s all smiles when I ask her about what makes Bhutan so happy.
“We are not talking about that feel-good when you go shopping or get a promotion. We are taking about authentic happiness. It is a collective happiness for the whole country and people and society,” she says.
“It is more about feeling satisfied and content. Happiness can be fleeting.
“Of course we have social problems but we are quite blessed to manage to survive without things such as terrorism. I know that Denmark, Sweden and Belgium score higher than us but that’s related to economic issues.
“Our quality of life and human relationships are better. It is not about money.”
Tsoki, who has a Masters in Management from the University of Canberra, says there are three agencies dedicated to happiness: The GNH Centre, which is hands on, running programs and workshops; the Government’s GNH Commission, committed to bigger projects; and the Centre for Bhutan Studies, which conducts a survey of Bhutan’s people every three years. Interestingly, the survey found that single women were happier than married women but men overall were happier than women. 91.2 per cent of Bhutanese reported they were overall “very happy”.
“I don’t feel sorry for people in the west because you are better educated and have a better lifestyle. But maybe you haven’t used it in the best of your interests,” she says.
“You’ve made it very easy to get things done, but have forgotten to get along with people.”
Tsoki, who works with Australian organisations such as Melbourne’s Small Giants which looks at “sustainable human prosperity”, says the GNH model can be applied anywhere.
“You don’t have a choice, you have to be one global community,” she says.
“Bhutan is not going to stay isolated. In the past 50 years it has had the highest speed of development anywhere in the world.
“We see a lot of things on Facebook and TV that we might want but do we really need it? We are still quite practical people. We have a good respect for our spiritual connection, and practice compassion.”
I end the interview by asking Tsoki, who is 41, whether she is, happy.
“Yes, I’m single, I’m very happy,” she laughs.
I visit the Memorial Chorten in Thimphu, a stupa built in memory of Bhutan’s third king and the Father of Modern Bhutan. I pause to chat to a trio of elderly women, all widowed, who, like their peers, come here daily for social connectivity. I am captivated by Phudra Dema, 80, who lives with her grandson and his wife.
“They take good care of me and give me everything I need. They try to keep me happy,” she says.
“The most important thing that keeps me happy is to meet with my friends and to chant mantra.
“We are the happiest country because the King is there to take care of the people. It is as if we are living in paradise.”
Phudra and her friends tell me they would like to adopt me, and that I look 30 years old. My happiness level is rising rapidly.
At Anim Dratshang nunnery at Drubthob Goemba, in Thimphu, I meet 15-year-old nun Yanchen, who will be required to spend as long as three years in silent meditation, at the end of her teachings.
“Happiness is not about being happy myself, but I want to make everyone happy by doing some good,” she says.
“It’s natural, I don’t find any negativity, I’m more focused on religion and our practice.
“I want to spend my whole life here and teach other young nuns.”
Back in Paro, Chimmi and I wander the local farmers markets like old friends, pausing to admire organic fruit and vegetables, while chattering about our lives, and happiness. We talk about how little money actually matters, it’s about connecting to the world in which we live which counts. A Bhutanese and Brisbane woman, from two different worlds, finding common ground in the seasons of our souls. We taste beer at the country’s newest craft brewery and have long, philosophical chats over lunch. There’s penis paintings on the walls of houses in Bhutan, said to ward off evil spirits and promote fertility. We giggle like school girls. We wander into Bhutan’s oldest temple, in Paro, which dates back to the 7th century. So revered is this timber building, it’s said that every Himalayan Buddhist must set foot inside it, at least once in their lifetime. The monk inside allows me to enter, a rarity for a foreigner, and I am permitted to pray for good karma to erase negative energy. I pray for the world to find love.
Later, on my last night and high in the hills at a forest lodge overlooking the Paro Valley, I stand outside on the terrace and inhale the cool cyprus air, searching the surrounding Himalayas for answers to that big life question of happiness. The mountains mock me, relentlessly shouting the same message back at me until they can no longer be ignored. Look at the privilege of travel and the gift of the pen we gave you, they gently implore. You already have happiness. And it’s more than enough.
The Global Goddess was a guest of Wendy Wu Tours – https://www.wendywutours.com.au and flew to Bhutan via Bangkok with Thai Airways – http://www.thaiairways.com and Royal Bhutan Airlines https://www.drukair.com.bt
PLONKED in the South Pacific Ocean, some 1000km from anywhere, it would be easy to assume there’s little to do on Norfolk Island. Don’t. While this Australian territory is relatively remote, there’s so much to experience you’ll wish you’d stayed longer. Here’s my top 10 tips for a holiday here.
1. Learn the history
To understand Norfolk Island, you should first wrap your head around its history. And it’s beautifully complicated. To assist with this journey, head straight to the Kingston area where, among the preserved ruins of prisons, stately homes and other historic buildings, you’ll find four magnificent museums containing scores of relics which tell the story of the Pitcairn Islanders, the convicts, their jailors, and the settlers.
2. Meet a Norfolk Islander
By the time you’ve left Norfolk Island, you’ll be pretty convinced you’ve met every one of its 1600 permanent residents as they pop up everywhere, often working several jobs. To glean a sense of how the locals live, join Rhonda Griffiths on her new tour “The Contemporary Islander” which showcases her 130-year-old home built during the Melanesian Mission and some traditional island food and customs as well.
3. Explore Colleen McCullough’s house
You don’t even need to have read The Thorn Birds, of any of her other 26 books, to appreciate a visit to famed Australian author Colleen McCullough’s house. Baunti Escapes will take you to this beautiful haven where you can wander through the eclectic art collection which this writer, who died in 2015, loved so much.
4. Eat Locally
There’s some great cafes and restaurants on Norfolk Island. For breakfast on the verandah, served with a smile, head to the Olive. Delicious dining can be had at Hilli Restaurant and Dino’s, both beautiful buildings with some fine fare. To truly taste the island, out at Anson Bay, Hilli Goat Farm Tour allows you to meet the island’s only goats, and even milk them, before you indulge in a feast of goat’s cheese and Norfolk Pine smoked ham, among an array of treats.
5. Visit the island’s only winery
In what is one of Australia’s most remote wineries, you’ll find the friendly faces of Two Chimneys Wines owners Rod and Noelene McAlpine who planted their first grapes in 2003 and found that chambourcin was perfect for the Norfolk climate. These days they produce four different types of wine on the island, and several others on the mainland, and bottle 1500 a year. Noelene’s antipasto platters are legendary on the island.
6. Indulge in a massage
Seeking a cliff top massage? Then head to Bedrock along the deliciously-named Bullocks Hut Road where gifted remedial massage therapist Heidi will pummel your body to perfection while the ocean smashes the cliffs below. You’ll adore the views here from the specially-designed platforms after which you can indulge in tea, coffee and light lunches.
7. Take a ghost tour
Local historian Liz McCoy reckons Norfolk Island is one of the most haunted destinations in Australia. And with such a brutal history, it’s easy to see why. Join Liz on her Twilight Tour of the Kingston area and you may just experience a spook or two. Liz also restores the magnificent headstones in the cemetery and has a tawdry tale or two about her own ghostly encounters in the area.
8. Discover nature
You don’t have to look far to experience nature on Norfolk Island, it finds you. From its glorious National Parks to its incredible surrounding ocean, there’s plenty to satisfy the wildlife warrior within. Walk the National Parks, snorkel her reef, go sea kayaking, visit Cockpit Waterfall, and witness the sea birds on nearby Phillip Island. Norfolk Island even plants 100 pine trees for every resident who lives to a century. To date, there have been three, all women.
9. See a show
If you think there’s no entertainment on Norfolk Island, think again. One of the most delightful ways to spend a Wednesday afternoon is at the Ferny Lane Theatre, an old-style theatre where you can sit on a comfy couch, drink a glass of wine, and watch the Trial of the Fifteen play which gives an entertaining and informative overview of Norfolk’s history. On weekends, you can catch a movie at this same theatre. For something more contemporary, the Jolly Roger hosts live music five nights a week with jolly good meals to match.
10. Hire a moke
Despite measuring just 8km x 5km, Norfolk Island boasts 160km of roads. And one of the best ways to explore these is with the roof down. You can hire a Moke from MOKEabout and drive the island’s rolling green hills to your heart’s content. One of the pure delights of driving on Norfolk Island is that it’s customary to wave to passing cars and pedestrians, which is bound to leave a smile on your face. Oh, and cows get right of way.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Norfolk Island Tourism – http://www.norfolkisland.com.au and Air New Zealand – http://www.airnewzealand.com; and stayed at Broad Leaf Villas – http://www.broadleafvillas.com
BRISK, crisp days out on the remote Arctic tundra can lead to some funny conversations and so it came to be one afternoon that we were watching the polar bears and pontificating about their defining features. While it’s hard to identify polar bears from each other in general (they are all white with few markings), males tend to be bigger with square heads, while females have softer, more refined features. One thing turned into another and before long we were talking about dating, and I coined the phrase Tundra Tinder. Kind of like real-life Tinder, but far more interesting. For your viewing pleasure, I present the following candidates…
BIG OLD BEAR
Big Old Bear weighs about 400kg and is 9 years old. He likes to hang around Seal River Lodge and flop about in the tundra grass, fully aware you are checking him out. But Big Old Bear is also a bit of a show off, and one day, putting himself between the lodge and our group, he decided to come for a wander our way. In fact, Big Old Bear got within 10 metres of our group, and it was only when Churchill Wild guides Derek and Josh started to negotiate with him that he decided to keep walking. He then made a new day bed for himself and promptly plonked his considerable bulk down into it. The only difference between Big Old Bear and a Brisbane boy on Tinder is that you can actually negotiate with Big Old Bear.
Arctic Hare is a bit of stalker, he liked to hang outside my lodge bedroom window at night, looking a little like the Easter Bunny. By day, he’s a bit elusive, hiding behind rocks, cocking his ears for a brief photo, before hopping off into the distance. A bit of a shady character who would probably agree to going out with you to dinner, but disappear when the bill arrived.
Beautiful Girl sported all of the traits of a pretty female bear. And she was far less showy than Big Old Bear. We found her on the other side of the lodge, peacefully stretching and flopping. It’s here I started to think about polar bear yoga poses that I can deploy back home. Beautiful Girl was happy for us to stare at her for hours, which is precisely what we did, and it was one of the most peaceful moments of my life. A low-maintenance date if ever I saw one.
Baby Girl was possibly my favourite of the bears we saw during our stay. She was also the cutest. Only about 4 years old, Baby Girl liked to walk straight down the gravel driveway leading to the lodge, and right up to the fence which kept us humans in. Yes, she adored her human zoo and had a habit of trying to sniff each of us individually, stare right down the camera lens, and then happily walk off. If you ever felt like you could hug a polar bear (not recommended) this was that moment. So beautiful was Baby Girl, that several of us just stood at the fence and cried in her presence. Saving herself for a male bear who deserves her.
Ok. So not all of the Tundra Tinder action revolved around animals. Josh, 19, from Alberta, was one of our guides. And the photos don’t quite show it here, but Josh had the most awesome head of hair I’ve ever seen on a man, coupled with a great personality. Think Brad Pitt’s sandy, foppish hair meets Hugh Jackman’s soul. As a reformed cougar, it was quite the challenge not to leap onto Josh’s head, the situation being somewhat similar to placing a 1969 Grange in front of a recovering alcoholic. But this trip was not about felines, it was about polar bears, and I desisted. I can tell you, young women of Australia, that Josh is a fine specimen indeed, and either you get yourselves up to Seal River Lodge or you invite him to our fair land. The good news is I did manage to pluck a few hairs from his head as I hugged him goodbye, and I am currently cloning him in my downstairs laundry. And yes, I am taking Christmas orders.
The Global Goddess travelled to Canada as a guest of Destination Canada (www.keepexploring.com.au) and stayed at Seal River Lodge with Churchill Wild Safaris (www.churchillwild.com)
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
SINCE starting to seriously dabble in Instagram during the past year, I’ve noticed a trend emerging about what catches the eye of followers and potentially attracts a new audience.
Here’s my top 10, in no particular order.
Whether it’s this mound of spices I stumbled across at a breakfast buffet in a Bangkok hotel or this bike rack at my local university swimming pool, interesting shapes are always eye-catching.
2. People with a sense of place
Photos of people in general, and selfies particularly, have little traction on Instagram, but where people present a sense of place, it’s a whole different story. This surfer on the beach in Hawaii and this woman in Vietnam, both instantly tell a story.
3. The colour red
A photographer’s dream colour, you can hardly go wrong red. It’s bright, it’s catchy and it doesn’t really matter what it is you are photographing, as long as it’s red, it’s a winner.
Everyone loves a sunset. Surprisingly, fewer people love a sunrise. Post a photo of a sunset, like this one I captured recently in Fiji (no filter required) and watch your numbers soar.
5. Flowers and trees
There’s more nature lovers out there than you realise. People loved this kangaroo paw I published around Australia Day, and they went wild when I discovered the bark of this melaleuca tree in Tropical North Queensland recently.
6. Fun phrases
Every now and then, if you stumble across a quirky sign of a funny phrase, give it a go. This particularly works if it’s got something to do with coffee.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I’m not a huge fan of food shots, but if you do happen across something interesting, then sure, post it. Just not the sandwich you had for lunch. Unless you invented the sandwich. Then go for your life.
8. Street Art
This has been my biggest revelation in the past year, both about myself and my audience. Turns out I am quite the street art aficionado and I have found myself on the lookout on every street corner for something new to shoot. My followers adore art.
Similar to street art, if you can present something in an abstract way, people tend to love it. I took this photo of a Buddhist tea ceremony in Brisbane a few months ago. It’s essentially a metonym – where you don’t need to shoot the entire frame to tell a story.
Whatever the weather, people love water. Whether it’s the ocean or a pool, there’s something alluring and aspirational about a body of water.
What are your Instagram tips? Follow me on Instragram @aglobalgoddess
QUELLE horreur! The first shock of my day comes when I realise I am on a flight to Cairns, not Cannes, as I had originally hoped. But I am quick to recover from this minor detail, Tropical North Queensland being, after all, one of my favourite destinations on the planet with frankly far better beaches than in France.
It does, however, take me the entire 2.5 hour flight from Brisbane to come to grips with the fact that somewhere along the line, someone at Qantas appears to have made the incredulous decision to cancel its inflight love-song dedication channel “From the Heart”. Now many people wouldn’t understand but over the years it has formed the highlight of my Qantas flights, the channel to which sad singles like me have long aspired to hear our names.
Oh yes, I’ve spent the best part of the past decade bouncing around this big brown land with the flying kangaroo hearing Peter dedicate something schmoopy to Pam, all the while fantasising that one day that girl would be me. I do note, however, that Qantas does now offer in-seat messaging and I surreptitiously turn mine on to see if anyone is interested in communicating with the girl in 11C. They aren’t. To entertain myself, I spend the rest of the flight staring at the inner thigh of the 30-something man in shorts sitting two seats over.
I’m in Cairns for business, but it never feels like work when you’re in the tropics, what with World Heritage Listed Rainforest to my left and Great Barrier Reef Marine Park to my right (which frankly beats the usual clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right), as I drive north. I’ve hired a car for my brief visit and even the bloke at Europcar is so jovial when I tell him my plans that he suggests we both keep driving and head across the Nullabor, on some kind of bizarre Thelma and Louise meets Wolf Creek scenario. I reject his invitation, as lovely as that sounds, and drive along the Coral Sea, quite happily alone.
I am headed for Thala Beach Nature Reserve 15 minutes south of Port Douglas, but first I stop in Port for a pie. It’s not any pie I’m after, but a crocodile pie from Mocka’s Pies. Yes, plonk me in cane and croc country and all of a sudden I turn into Bear Grylls picturing myself all woman versus wild as I hand over my $5.80, and imagine tackling this beasty boy with my bare hands. I ask the woman with a soupy Greek accent behind the counter where the croc has come from and become excited when I think she says “the bush”. “The bush!” I squeal back. “No, the butcher,” she replies, deadpan. But it takes more than that to deflate me and fully sated I head on to Thala. Me: 1; Croc: 0.
Now, at this point, I should mention it has occurred to me that the very next day I am going to be sea kayaking in croc territory, and I wonder how long it takes for a croc pie to pass through one’s system and for no trace, no scent of this sucker to remain. I can just imagine a float of angry crocodiles splashing around my sea kayak, stalking me to the death. But when I arrive at Thala I discover my tour has been cancelled due to high winds. Me: 2; Croc 0.
I soon discover there’s plenty of other wildlife at this eco-tourism establishment to admire as I embark on a nature tour with the head gardener. One of the highlights of a nature tour is you learn about all of God’s creatures on the property. One of the lowlights is that you now know too much and I soon replace my ridiculous fear of crocs with an ill-founded worry about other things that go bump in the night. Me: 2; Other Critters: 1; Croc: 0.
But I have nothing to worry about, not even the giant carpet python I hear of lurking five doors down outside Cabin 42. For I am in the tropics, and while there is plenty of wildlife, there’s not much that is going to kill you and I’ve got more chance of dying of boredom back in Brisbane on a bad day than anything here. Me: 3; Other Critters: 1; Croc: 0.
In fact, the nature tour turns out to be the highlight of my stay, and I spend almost three hours with Head Gardener Brett Kelly as he takes me around this 58ha property pointing out spiders, butterflies, birds and plants. We end the tour at Oak Beach where Brett combines an element of one of the many other tours, the Coconut Odyssey, and husks a coconut for me to drink. Now, it’s not often a man husks a coconut just a basic spike and his bare hands and I find myself off in fantasy land again, this time picturing the man of my dreams, clad only in loin cloth, presenting me with a husked coconut. If there’s anything to get a city woman’s loins racing it’s the thought of a fella going all primal. I think Brett senses something is amiss and we end the tour shortly after the coconut husking. Me: 4; Other Critters: 1; Manly Men: 1; Croc: 0.
I head back down to the beach and sit at Herbie’s Shack, where I have ordered a picnic basket ploughman’s lunch and ice-cold beer. Fully sated, I crawl into a hammock slung between two coconut trees and listen to the waves. I can’t see him, but I just know there’s a croc out there somewhere. Waiting and watching. Me: 5: Other Critters: 1; Manly Men: 1; Croc: 1.
The Global Goddess stayed as a guest of Thala Beach Nature Reserve. To book your own stay, go to http://www.thalabeach.com.au
FOR one week every year, one magical week between Christmas and New Year, in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland behind the tiny township of Woodford, exists the People’s Republic of Woodford. The Woodford Festival. If you’re looking for an antidote to a frenetic year, a chance to recharge your batteries, to find a destination that for one week only represents the way the world should be, head to “Woodfordia” where reality is suspended, if only for the briefest of times.
On this beautiful 200 hectare environmental parkland, which has withstood the scourge of floods and scorching summers, people are nicer to each other, they dance, laugh and sing. Talk to complete strangers. Engage in debates about the universe, global warming, coal seam gas, fracking, and euthanasia. Dance under huge tents, play the bongos, dine on exotic cuisine, strum guitars, learn how to paint, draw and craft things. They hug trees, hug each other. Trek to the top of the hill and honour the last sunset of the year and the first sunrise of the next. Sit under the Southern Cross and in a huge bush ampitheatre indulge in that unmistakable Australian sound emanating from new bands. Discover foreign groups. Honour the Indigenous custodians of the land in Jinibara Country on which they sit. Chat around the campsite.
If the Woodford Folk Festival isn’t Utopia, then it’s about as close to Nirvana as you will find. What other place on the planet do you line up to fill your recycled bottle with rainwater to discover the person in front has already paid for it? This is a destination where paying it forward looms large. Egos are suspended. Bonhomie reigns. The Global Goddess has been attending Woodford for about a decade, at first apprehensive that it was a bit of a hippie festival with which she would have no connection. Back in the early days I didn’t camp but drove home to Brisbane every night to the comfort of a warm shower and a soft bed. As the years wore on, I started out in a basic tent pitched in the campsite of my friends. I slept like the dead, to the sounds of distant beating drums. I awoke each morning to the cacophony of the Aussie bush.
These days, we’ve upgraded, our site becoming more sophisticated as we sleep in a campervan, our friends in a Kombi, a tarp strung between the two, mapping out our home for the week. There’s Moet in the esky and aged cheese and strawberries in the fridge. We eat fancy pancakes for breakfast. Brew real coffee. And sit down and pour over the program and plan the day ahead. This year’s program, just released late last week, promises to be a corker. Highlights of this year’s festival include singers Beth Orton, Tim Finn and Clare Bowditch; Environmentalist Professor Ian Lowe; former politician Bob Hawke and, yet-to-be-confirmed Malcolm Turnbull; comedian Denise Scott; writer Blanch D’Alpuget.
And there’s some acts always worth revisiting among the diverse performance venues on the site. The Global Goddess likes to spend her time in the Blue Lotus tent listening to talks on spirituality. Sometimes I sit on the hill and watch stunning Spaniards introduce me to fast and frenetic music with a tinge of Hawaii Five’O. Other days, it’s in Bills Bar you’ll find me, people watching as much as music listening, having a cold beer before heading down the hill to the Blues Tent. A couple of belly laughs in the Comedy Tent is also a nice way to end the evening and as I stumble back to camp to the glow of paper lanterns, I’m likely to stop several times, for a tea and a carob ball in the Chai Tent, a cold drink in the Pineapple Lounge, a bit of jazz, a circus act, some Indian or Tibetan music along the way.
Last year’s festival saw 2,200 artists and musicians perform across 25 venues to an audience of 113,000 people over that wonderful week. A steady program of tree planting over the years, in which attendees can “adopt” a tree, has resulted in the 101,000th tree planted in Woodfordia soil this year. Some years there’s dust. Others, it rains and there’s mud. Bring your gum boots. Embrace nature and creativity. Random acts of music. Robust acts of kindness. That’s my idea of Utopia. What’s yours?
For more information on the Woodford Festival please visit http://www.woodfordfolkfestival.com