A HEAVENLY Hawaiian girl is dancing the hula on the dashboard as I bounce along in the back of a Teale-coloured kombi, circa 1966. The sun is threatening to set over the Noosa River, where a cheeky chorus of rainbow lorikeets is chattering like a gaggle of Hastings Street gossips. It’s been a scorching autumn day and I grasp for the breeze on my face as we chug along into the cooling evening.
Even Elani, the hula girl, appears to nod in approval, as does Old Skool Kombis owner Scott Montague, whose hands are wrapped lovingly around the huge, white wheel as if it is precious cargo. Valued at $70,000, this retro ride takes up to eight passengers on tours of Noosa, the Sunshine Coast Hinterland, the coast road from Noosa to Coolum or custom-made trips from anything to a private picnic to a surfing safari.
“I make sure passengers enjoy it and it’s relaxed because that’s what kombis are all about,” Scott says.
“It was always my passion. I’ve always had kombis and I turned it into a business to pay for it. Everybody loves them around Noosa, it’s an iconic surf wheel.”
Fortune favours the brave. And on this balmy evening, arriving at our Noosaville destination, fortune also flavours the brave. I have the great privilege of attending the official opening of Fortune Distillery, Noosa’s only distillery providing Australian spirits. It’s adjacent to their Land and Sea Brewery, which opened 14 months ago, and which boasts Harley and Honda motorcycles above the bar, and old-fashioned pinball machines and a surfboard or two in the corners.
On this edgy evening, there’s a tattooed muso perched on the back of a 1954 fully, restored old school Chevy from the United States. Slick? You ain’t seen nothing yet. On the menu there’s a white malt as well as a vodka, but it’s the signature dry gin which uses eight botanicals, including North Queensland honey dew melon, which steals the show here. The dudes behind the distillery are all pointy shoes, hairy faces and tattoos but say this new venture is less about the hipster set and more about the next stage of life.
Brand Creator Tim Crabtree says he launched Land and Sea as Noosa was calling out for a lifestyle-based brewery.
“We live in Noosa, it’s a beautiful part of the world, we go to the beach all day, and eat fine food, nothing sets it off like a beautiful craft beer,” he says.
“The plan was to expand our range while keeping a similar sort of ethos…let’s create a spirit brand that echoes the same sort of lifestyle. There’s an element of fun, personality and hijinks in the brand.
“Let’s take our Land and Sea customers and move them on 15 years where they wear fine clothes and drink fine drinks.
“It’s also aspirational, it’s chasing the dream a little bit.”
At this point in the conversation I pause and wonder why I’m still stuck in the craft beer phase, when I should be wearing fine clothes and drinking fine drinks. Hell, I should have a Noosa beach house by now. I decide it’s best that I take another sip of that fine gin while I contemplate what I’ve been doing with my life.
What I do know is that I’m in Noosa previewing the Noosa Food and Wine Festival which will be held from May 16 to 20. Fortune Distillery will be there, collaborating with local businesses such as the Peter Phillips Gallery which will showcase a retrospective of renowned pop artist Peter Phillips. It’s the first time the Noosa Food and Wine Festival, in its 16th year, has explored art and food together and to celebrate, Fortune will be releasing a Peter Phillips gin. Two events will be staged at the gallery over the weekend where celebrated chef Josh Lopez will create a six-canape course inspired by six decades of Peter’s work. At the second event, a full degustation menu which also pays homage to Peter’s work will be served on this beautiful acreage property.
There’s much to ponder on this Indian summer evening as I jump back into the kombi just in time to snatch a Neapolitan sunset. We chug back along the river, taking a brief detour to witness the renovated boardwalk from Hastings Street to Noosa National Park. Warm salt air wiggles through the window and the boardwalk is lit up with fairy lights. It feels like Christmas. We dine on Fraser Island spanner crab risotto with sea urchin butter at Locale, one of the restaurants which will be involved in the Noosa Food and Wine Festival Noir Noosa event, a black-tie dinner along Hastings Street which will celebrate Moet and Chandan’s 150th anniversary. Sated by all this talk of food, and the fab food itself, we wander back to our hotel, the Sofitel Noosa Pacific Resort, which is not only a stylish stalwart of the Noosa scene, but also of the Noosa Food and Wine Festival itself, hosting a number of swanky events.
Noosa Food and Wine Festival Director Sheridah Puttick says there are some exciting additions to this year’s event. Expect a Noosa-inspired cocktail called Tan Lines; the new exclusive River Lounge; the Red Snapper brunch serving gin Bloody Marys; and chefs from Bikini in Bali’s Seminyak. The highlight which catches my eye, however, is the industry day on the Monday, where Australia’s leading food rescue charity OzHarvest will create a brunch from festival leftovers for the hospitality industry. In fact, all of the food left over from the festival village itself is recycled by OzHarvest.
Sheridah says the Noosa Food and Wine Festival is about sustainability and building on the natural beauty of Noosa.
“It is about supporting our local industry. A lot of our businesses are in hospitality or accommodation,” she says.
“For me, it is about working with passionate people.”
The Noosa Food and Wine Festival will be held from May 16 to 20 http://www.noosafoodandwine.com.au
• Stay at the Sofitel Noosa Pacific Resort http://www.sofitelnoosapacificresort.com.au
• Travel around the region with Old Skool Kombis http://www.oldskoolkombisnoosa.com.au
• The Peter Phillips Gallery will be open to event ticket holders or by private appointment http://www.peterphillips.com
• Check out Fortune Distillery http://www.noosaheadsdistillery.com/fortune; and Locale Noosa http://www.localenoosa.com.au
The Global Goddess was a guest of Tourism Noosa http://www.visitnoosa.com.au
AS a travel writer, it’s natural for me to focus on the destinations in which I find myself, but for my last blog of 2017, I wish to highlight the people behind those places I was incredibly fortunate to visit this year. When you’re out in the world, hunting and gathering stories and photographs, it can be a bit of a lonely place, particularly if you’re travelling alone, as has been my strategy in recent years. Until you meet your guide. This year, I was blessed to have the most generous souls cross my path as I wandered around the planet, people who went above and beyond their roles as tour guides or tourism staff, many of whom became friends.
My travels started in February, at beautiful Noosa, on the Sunshine Coast. It was as hot as hell that weekend, where I partook in my first mountain bike tour with Bike On Australia. The next day, I kayaked the Noosa Everglades with Kanu Kapers Australia and both of my female guides were encouraging and taught me new techniques in both adventures, but above all, were the strong, smart women I so admire. Later that same month, I visited the remote Australian territory of Norfolk Island. Here, I met Tania from Norfolk Island Tourism, who introduced me to this destination’s incredible history, local food and wine, and the rugged landscape. I don’t have a snap of Tania, but I took plenty of the cows which inhabit this place, and which outnumber residents.
March was devoted to my home-state of Queensland, firstly visiting Tropical North Queensland’s Port Douglas and the Daintree. Here I ambled among the world’s oldest rainforest, Mother Nature being a particularly good guide on this trip, and snorkelled the Great Barrier Reef, reminding me of why I love living in this part of the world so much. Two weeks later I was in Bundaberg for a series of stories, where among my great guides, I met Suzie from Bundy Food Tours. Mother Nature made another big impact on this trip, introducing me for the first time to her turtle hatchlings on Mon Repos beach. It was so beautiful, I cried.
I encountered one of my favourite guides all year in the Cook Islands, when I met Aunty Nane. Aunty’s laugh was a cross between a gecko and an erupting volcano, and epitomised the soul and spirit of these proud Pacific Islanders. Aunty loved to eat and talk, and we spent 10 days doing just that, enjoying the spoils of the tropics. Aunty was convinced I would find a husband if I accompanied her to church, so off we trotted. I never found a bloke, but the singing gave me goose bumps. On an outlying island I also met Aunty Mii, who told me she spent her days trying to avoid her husband because he was “stupid”. You can’t win ‘em all.
In May, I was in Fiji for the wedding of my beautiful friend Saskia who married her Fijian warrior Pauliasi. The Fijians are great and gentle guides, who teach you much without even knowing it. It’s all about Fiji time up here, learning to slow down, that things don’t always go to plan, but you can always find a reason to smile. It’s a lesson which was carried into later that month when I visited the Whitsundays, which was rebuilding after Cyclone Debbie. Resilience? These people have it in shades, and again, amid the destruction, there were still smiles.
In June, I was up at Noosa again, gathering some last-minute stories for an urgent deadline, but my biggest teacher in both June and July was my wild eastern Australian carpet python, Sylvia. For a few weeks every winter, if the stars align, I try to slow down, stay home, go to yoga and try to find some balance. It’s not an easy fit for someone like me with such an active mind, but it’s crucial if I am to continue a hectic travel schedule for the rest of the year. Sylvia, my beloved snake, taught me the importance of hibernation, to follow the natural rhythms of the seasons, and to just be, at least for a few weeks. And so I did.
By August I was ready to go again, and after a brief trip to northern New South Wales, I attended the Australian Society of Travel Writers’ annual convention, which was this time held on the Sunshine Coast. On a beautiful winter day, while cycling along Caloundra, I bumped into these bathing beauties, who taught me you’re never too old and it’s never too cold, to swim, or laugh.
September was hectic, but also delicious. First, I flew to Canada where I fulfilled a story wish to snorkel with the salmon over at Vancouver Island on the Campbell River. My guide, Jamie, from Destiny River Adventures, was a little hard core, and proved to be scarier than the unexpected rapids into which I was flung and told to “fly like a superhero” to avoid being injured by rocks. But in the end, Jamie and I became friends, particularly when I emerged from the 14 degree rapids, smiling and shouting “that was awesome.” I was back in Brisbane for only four nights before it was off to Hong Kong, where I met another of my favourite guides, Vivian. I was hunting a story about fortune tellers, and Vivian and I trekked the streets of Hong Kong, while I indulged in “villain hitting” (to banish former boyfriends) and having everything from my face to my tarot read. I also popped over to Macau on this trip, where the guide really understood my need, mid-tour, to pop into the local bottle shop to pick up a drop of the local Portuguese wine.
I spent two weeks in October in Morocco where I was fortunate to have Khaled as my guide as we trekked, on an Intrepid Tour with 13 others, across this incredible country. It was here that I really sat back and observed how tough it is to be a guide, dealing with 13 different personalities, three distinct nationalities, long distances and tiring days. But Khaled never faltered, always finding the positive in every situation, doing his best to secure a glass of wine for us at the end of the day, and at one point, turning up at my door with a can of cold Casablanca beer after listening to my endless observations about how warm the beer was in Morocco.
In November, it was off to Bawah Island, a luxury new destination half way between Malaysia and Borneo, and three hours from Singapore. In terms of guides, it was an unusual week for me, as I spent it with a group of men, mostly part of the management team from Singapore, who were putting the final touches on this beautiful resort. With five men from different destinations, all of whom spoke at least two languages, conversations were colourful and entertaining. One of my favourite guides was the Italian dive instructor Paulo, with whom I would book in a morning snorkel straight after breakfast, and whose enthusiasm for Bawah’s underwater beauty was infectious.
Which brings me to December where I have just returned from a trip to the North Pole to interview Santa. I’d love to say Santa was my best guide, but he was hugely overshadowed by the kind and eccentric Irene, an artist who makes amazing things out of reindeer parts. Irene also talks to her house elves (one of which is currently being naughty and getting naked while Irene is in her studio), which made her one of the most interesting interviews I had all year. I headed further north in Lapland and stayed at Beana Lapponia Wilderness Lodge, where I met Tony, the husky handler, and he was also an incredible guide, teaching me not only how to harness huskies, but how to drive the husky sled through the snow.
It’s been another incredible year and I’d like to thank all of the tourism and travel operators, local communities, kind random strangers, PR people, publishers, editors and fellow writers, who I met on this incredible journey that was 2017. See you out there in 2018.
And to my beloved readers, thank you for supporting me. Wishing you peace on earth.
I POSSESS the dubious fortune of being born under a lucky star and by dubious, I mean weird stuff happens to me all the time. By fortune, I mean that I have not only managed to find a way to laugh at most of this whacky business, but I somehow make a living out of it. Unlike one of my sisters, who is a nurse, when things go wrong in her profession, she can kill someone. When things go wrong for me, people pay me to write about it.
And so I am delighted to announce that I am now a regular columnist for Jetstar’s inflight magazine! Yes, you will find me, on the back page, or Row 57 (as we like to call it in the airline business…yes, I like to think I’m a pilot now too), telling more tawdry travel tales among a small stable of regular writers. Trying to be entertaining in 400 words is as challenging as watching those people who pack too much hand luggage, attempting to shove it into the overhead lockers. (Learn to pack properly, people). Please enjoy my debut column, out now on all Jetstar flights.
TALES FROM ROW 57*
WHEN TRAVEL RHYMES WITH UNRAVEL
For some who journey, it’s a jungle out there, as Christine Retschlag knows all too well
I AM WRITING this having just “showered”, crouched under the tiny faucet of the bath tap in my Cairns hotel room. I would have preferred to stand under a gushing flood of water like normal people, but not for the first time in my travels have I been unable to work out how the shower nozzle actually works. We’ve all got that one friend for whom the world is a big, scary place where inexplicably weird things happen while on holiday. I am that friend.
I once took my sister on a “relaxing” holiday to Queenstown, and I distinctly recall her scoffing as I grabbed two bottles of Duty Free Whisky as we dashed to the plane. Fast forward to the next four days among which included two of our tour vehicle’s four wheels precariously spinning over a cliff ledge; me being carried down a mountain in a white-out by not one, but two sherpas, and on our last day, at a seemingly sedate farm visit, a ram breaking free from the pack and charging straight at us. Drink? We were opening those whisky bottles for breakfast by the end of that trip.
Once, on a work trip to Phuket, I accidentally stole the room maid’s shoes, believing they were the hotel slippers. It was only at dinner that night, having pranced around the resort in those slightly worn orange wedges, did it become apparent that my colleagues had not been “gifted” the same footwear. From Cambodia to Coolangatta to the Cook Islands and everywhere in between, I’ve left similar stories of destination destruction.
Back in Australia, I recently tried to furiously open my Noosa hotel room, only to eventually realise I was on the wrong floor. This wouldn’t have been so bad had there not been a group of frightened tourists inside, staring through the peep hole at a complete maniac slapping at their door.
I am yet, unlike one friend who possesses similar dumb luck, to lock myself out of my hotel room, stark naked. In his case, he stole The Australian newspaper conveniently outside another guest’s room, and used it to cover his vitals while he sheepishly approached reception for a spare key.
I’m sure that day is coming and when it does, I intend to take this copy of Jetstar Magazine with me, and hope this tawdry travel tale adequately covers all of my sins.
*Row 57 is the last row of seating on Jetstar’s 787 aircraft. To book a Jetstar flight or holiday go to http://www.jetstar.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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
IT seems incongruous, but I am sitting down to pen my last blog for 2015. Equally unbelievable, I know, is that I’m still as single as when I sat down to write my first post this year. Yes, desperate and dateless as the New Year dawned, and staring down the barrel of yet another looming Valentine’s Day, in January I rejoined Bogandating.com (not its real name) and attracted the likes of blokes such as “Fairdinkumkiwi”, “Gazza”, and “DancingandRomance”. At this stage of the year/game I’d like to say (and kids, look away), based on my experience of dating sites in 2015, there is NO Santa Claus.
Purely by coincidence in January, I also interviewed a woman who launched The Self Pleasure Revolution. Yes, 35 women from Australia, England, Chile, America and the Netherlands signed up and paid $US89 to participate in conscious masturbation every day for three weeks. While I admired their tenacity, I indulged in my own self pleasure revolution of going to the bottle-o and consuming vast quantities of wine…a semi-conscious decision which has lasted much longer than three weeks and cost far more than $US89, but each to their own.
In February I explored my own backyard, covering stories in Brisbane where I stayed in the New Inchcolm Hotel & Suites dating back to the 1920s; sauntered down to Brisbane’s south side to explore its heart and soul; and west to Ipswich where I went to high school more than two decades ago. Apart from taking my first hot air balloon ride over the Lockyer Valley where I grew up, on Brisbane’s south side I discovered the Chung Tian Temple at Priestdale where the hum of Buddhist chants blended with the intoxicating sounds of silence. Here, I partook in an ancient tea ceremony where I learned that not only that tea is good for you, but apparently so is red wine. Just sayin.
Just as the weather started to cool down in Brisbane in March, my travel schedule started to heat up. In one week I visited Singapore, Indonesia and Vietnam. In Indonesia, in my four-poster bed, replete with white chiffon curtains, I imagined I was an Indonesian High Priestess. I arrived at the Banyan Tree Bintan Island in my usual disheveled state, the effects of some aeroplane turbulence as we crossed the Equator, a reasonable swell on the ferry as we sailed across the South China Sea, several prescription drugs and red wine to fuel my travels, all beginning to wear off. But I remained chipper, for I was to sleep under this thatched Indonesian roof, or “alang alang”, in my seaside villa, skinny dip under the stars, and have several Asian women touch me inappropriately during a number of massages that wonderful week.
I was home for a grand total of three days…enough time to wash and repack my undies… before I was on a plane to Rabaul in Papua New Guinea. Having exhausted every possibility or hope of ever finding the man of my dreams in Australia, I cast the net wider. While I was in PNG writing a series of travel stories, never let it be said that I waste any opportunity to find love. What I really adore about my travels is that no matter in which new country I find myself, I merely need to tell a local that I’m looking for love and they are immediately on the case. In this instance, the lovely Lucy, a 50-year-old PNG woman who works at the Kokopo Beach Bungalows Resort, instantly became my latest wing woman. Every day Lucy told me that I was beautiful and that I even looked like her daughter “she has a sharp nose like you”. She said when I returned to Rabaul I must come and stay with her in her village and she’ll find me a man. I am planning a return visit any day now.
In April, my sister and me escaped to Fiji for a short Easter break where we indulged in snorkelling, swimming and sunshine while gracefully fanning away hot weather and men who were hot for us (the last element of that sentence is simply not true). Weeks later I was up in Tropical North Queensland at Thala, out on a nature tour with Head Gardener Brett Kelly. The highlight of this three-hour tour occurred Brett husked a coconut for me to drink. It did not take much for me to disappear into fantasyland, picturing the man of my dreams clad only in loin cloth, presenting me with a husked coconut. Sensing my sexual fantasy, the happily-married Brett promptly disappeared in the rainforest, never to be seen by me again.
While there were a number of domestic trips in May (back to Port Douglas and the Sunshine Coast), the absolute highlight was travelling to Vienna to cover Eurovision. Despite being in the gayest city of Europe at that point in time, I viewed this trip as a chance to snag me some single European royalty (and a much-coveted EU passport). And I had my sights set on Liechtenstein’s Prince Wenzeslaus. Not only was he age appropriate at 41, his family is considered the richest monarchy in Europe. Vince the Prince, or Vincent, as he prefers to be called, has never married, but has been known to date the odd Victoria Secret supermodel. I felt that we were the perfect match but apparently he didn’t receive my emails alerting him to my European escape. I still hold out hope.
In June, I took a brief break from overseas travel and relished the chance to catch up on some big writing projects. I interviewed the fabulous Feather from Byron Bay who was the subject of Natalie Grono’s award-winning photo: Feather and the Goddess Pool. Natalie had just received the People’s Choice award for this year’s National Photographic Portrait Prize. Feather, in her 70s, invited me to join her for some topless sunbaking and told me:
“I’ve got TMB – Too Many Birthdays. Men who are 80 and 81 look at me and say I’m too old for them. They can’t do anything and they are ratshit and I’m not really interested in being a cougar.”
Fabulous females continued to enter my life in July when I met Brisbane Trike Tour owner Chrissy McDonnell and her black three-wheeler The Bling Queen. On a crisp winter day in which we took a spin down to Canungra in the Gold Coast Hinterland, Chrissy told me how she quit her job at an insurance giant last December to follow her dream of running her own business. We spoke just last week and things are going gang busters.
Up at Noosa in July, another new tourism business operator Kelly Carthy from Luxe Fitness Escapes paddled with me into the mangroves of the Noosa River where we partook in a beautiful floating yoga class to the sounds of the birds.
“I want women to feel strong and confident and I think there is lots of space to really empower women to feel strong in their bodies and focus on what they can do rather than how they look,” Kelly told me on this spectacular Sunshine Coast day.
In August, I held hands with a man for the first time all year out at ReefWorld on the outer Great Barrier Reef. I was participating in a learner’s dive and, as fate would have it, it was just me and a handsome Spaniard for 30 glorious minutes. I was mesmerised by his brown hair which floated in the water like sea weed and spent the entire time dreaming of us having to share the same oxygen hose. But perhaps the most interesting character I met all year was out at the Mount Isa Rodeo in Queensland’s Outback. Here, Beaver, or Brettyln Neal as she is sometimes known, was about to notch up her 150th fight as part of Fred Brophy’s travelling boxing troupe.
“I’ve got a little furry Beaver mascot and sometimes Fred will get up and say ‘show us your Beaver’ and I’ll have it in my pants,” Beaver told me one dusty Outback afternoon. For the record, Beaver you are still my BFF.
I took a journey to Australia’s spiritual heart of Uluru in September but anguished over how to capture its magic in words. Instead, I relinquished my role as a writer for one entire afternoon, and took a cycling tour of the red rock. It was my first visit to this ancient landmark and instead of clumsily grasping for the toolkit of adjectives and mixed metaphors upon which I usually rely, I emptied my head, opened my heart and clutched the handlebars. The words, well they came later. Shortly after, I found myself in Canada’s Nova Scotia covering a “sausage fest.” Yes, it took one classy sheila from Brisbane to point out to the Canadians that the term meant something entirely different back in the cosmopolitan Queensland capital.
October found me in Sri Lanka and most notably Kandy where I went in search of my Kandy Man. My best chance presented itself at the Kandy Cultural Show where one of the acts included “10 male damsel drummers in harmony”. There was even one fine fella in the show who smiled at me and dropped his tambourine, such was my sex appeal, but our interaction ended there. I also had a Sri Lankan yoga teacher instruct me to rub “special herbal cream” on my face and boobs. Turns out his special cream was actually Vicks Vapor Rub. My boobs still sting at this memorable travel moment.
I spent early November on the Gold Coast hunting and gathering a series of stories and allowed myself to indulge in childhood beach holiday memories. These messages in a bottle floated up every day…mum on Greenmount Beach tanning her back against a rock, dad driving our gold Kingswood around Kirra bend when he finished work on a Friday afternoon. Cream buns at Coolangatta. Shifting sands. And regular readers will recall it was only last month that I returned from the Solomon Islands, where, still no closer to snaring my solo man, I interviewed the locals about love. Panda, 37, told me Solomon Island men were good lovers because “they like the girls”.
“They love the white skin. There are lots of good boys around. If you come to me I can help you to find a good man. I think you will be the boss and he will do everything for you. He will think ‘I’ve got a white lady’ and he will treat you like a Queen,” Panda told me. Inexplicably, I returned home single.
It’s now December, and this week I fly out for three weeks in Indonesia, where a girlfriend and me intend to flop and drop on each of the Gili Islands. There will be snorkelling, swimming, yoga, beer and plenty of daydreaming. A huge thank you to all of the tourism bodies, PRs and editors who supported my travels this year, the terrific characters I met along the way and to you, my loyal followers and readers. I wish you all love and light this Christmas and may we all find peace on earth in 2016. See you then. x