JUST like this camel caravan I captured in the Sahara Desert, I’ve been working hard to attract more followers. For the past year, I’ve posted a photo a day on Instagram and recently hit my first 1000 followers. I’ve also posted more than 1000 photos, so that’s at least 1000 reasons to follow me. Here’s a selection of my most popular pics, taken from my global travels over the past six months, and published under my Instagram handle @aglobalgoddess. I’d love to see you over there.
From the desert dust to the brilliant blues of Chefchaouen, Morocco served up a kaleidoscope of colour and charm.
Indonesia’s beautiful Bawah Island gave me the blues, in the best possible way.
Finland’s Lapland was all white and all right.
Back home, the Aussie summer served up its bushfire orange sunsets and aqua beach days.
While on my first trip to Japan last month, it was better to be red, than dead.
Follow me on Instagram @aglobalgoddess
THIS is the headline which screeched across my desk late last week. And naturally, being a lover of romance (and travel), my curiosity was piqued. Turns out the fun folk at Tourism Fiji are using Fiji’s famed sense of humour to entice us to their islands. With Valentine’s Day next week, I thought I’d take a closer look at what they have in mind. And even for single girls, like me, there’s plenty of “unromantic” options to keep you occupied.
1. Feed the sharks
Feeling a little fishy? Personally, I can think of a few Brisbane blokes who I would like to feed TO the sharks, but apparently this is not an option. On this adventure you’ll join Fiji’s “shark whisperer” Brandon Paige of Aqua-Trek on a dream dive with 8 species of sharks. Yes, you’ll see bull sharks, whitetip reef sharks, blacktip reef sharks, nurse sharks, lemon sharks, grey reef sharks, silvertip sharks and 16-foot+ tiger sharks. Plus, there’s more than 300 species of fish out in this marine reserve which aims to conserve the shark population.
2. Zipline Fiji
The Global Goddess is not a huge fan of heights (unless it’s a penthouse suite) but for others far braver than me, there’s nothing better than flying through the air with the greatest of ease. Take an eco-friendly zipline adventure across 14ha of lush rainforest where you’ll soar over rivers and waterfalls. Sleeping Giant Zipline, 35 minutes from Nadi, boasts five zips ranging from 80m to 160m and flying at speeds up to 40km/h. Much more my style, afterwards, you can take a guided walk through the jungle to view the Orchid Falls.
3. Soak in the Sabeto Hot Springs
This “unromantic” offering actually sounds quite romantic to me. I mean, smothering yourself with mud? Situated between Nadi and Lautoka, the Sabeto Hot Springs are a series of natural hot springs where you can soak in a therapeutic natural thermal mud spa. Locals believe that the sulphur in the hot springs have healing properties. There’s three pools here, set in lush natural surroundings. They’ve supplied the mud, all I need now is a man to join me.
4. Climb Fiji’s highest mountain
Another activity for lovers of heights, you can climb Mt Tomaniivi, Fiji’s highest, trekking through cloud forest to a summit of 1323. Talanoa Treks offers an overnight excursion and on a clear day, you will be rewarded with views across Viti Levu. The bit of this trip I do like the sound of is the afternoon tea and a dip in the river before heading back to the coast. Just plonk me in a helicopter and I’ll see you up there.
5. Potter around The Pottery Village
Can arts and craft be considered sexy? Decide this for yourself at Nakabuta Village, one of the villages still making traditional Fijian pottery. Here, you’ll witness traditional pottery-making methods. What is rather romantic is the opportunity to shop and you’ll discover Nakabuta-made bowls, plates and other items in craft shops all over town.
6. Drive your own dune buggy
The Global Goddess loves a good driving trip and this one sounds like fun, whether there’s a bloke in the buggy or not. Grab one of Fiji’s only self-drive dune buggies and join a guided tour with Terratrek. On this jaunty journey, you’ll discover Fiji’s most beautiful waterfalls and rainforests or head up into the mountains for panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean.
7. Explore Fiji’s largest cave
I’ve personally done this tour and loved it. Hop aboard an Off-Road Cave Safari where you’ll delve deep into Fiji’s interior and learn about its cannibalism history. People who eat people, what’s not to admire? My favourite part of this tour was walking through Fiji’s largest cave system, Naihehe Cave, which is more than 170 metres long, and at one point, if you don’t fit under a particularly tight spot, it apparently means you’ll become pregnant.
8. Shop like the locals
The Global Goddess isn’t particularly a shopper back in Australia, but plonk me somewhere exotic, and I’ll happily wander for hours. Forage like a Fijian at the Sigatoka Market, which bursts into life in the early hours of the morning. The stunning Sigatoka River Valley is known as “Fiji’s salad bowl” due to its fertile land and you’ll find plenty of pretty produce here.
9. Jetboat the Sigatoka River
One of my all-time favourite Pacific adventures, Sigatoka River Safari is Fiji’s original jet-boat safari. This splashy tour cruises at screaming speed along the Sigatoka River, so if romance to you is having nice hair, forget it. What you will get, however, is a cool ride to authentic Fijian villages and experience a day in the life of a real ‘kaiviti’ (Fijian). If you’re lucky, a handsome Fijian will ask you to dance.
10. Discover Glass Blowing
I’m intrigued by this activity, as I’ve never heard of this in Fiji before. Head to Hot Glass Fiji in Korotogo, and Fiji’s first and only glass-blowing studio. Here, with its views out to the sea, you can partake in a glass-blowing workshop or watch the artists create beautiful pieces from molten glass.
For more information on these activities and the Islands of Fiji, see www.fiji.travel
The Global Goddess took these shots while staying at the beautiful Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort, which, admittedly, is very romantic. https://www.outrigger.com/hotels-resorts/fiji
THIS story is a sashay down memory lane to those halcyon days of childhood summer holidays on the Gold Coast. Worry-free weeks of sandy feet, sandcastles and the occasional sneaky sunburn. Of sunkissed, sleepy nights on cheap, cotton sheets. Pink zinc cream and mozzie bites. Scorching days where we would reluctantly leave Coolangatta beach and pile into the gold Kingswood with its branding-iron seat belts that nobody ever wore. We’d venture across the border into northern New South Wales to visit our wild boy cousins also on holiday. Kingscliff, Pottsville, Cabarita…they were all so daggy back then. About as much style as the terry toweling shorts which barely covered our bums.
But those were the halcyon days where we’d stand along the shoreline like soldier crabs and dig for pippies with our feet. Go on adventures with the wild cousins, mud squelching between our toes, and wander the mangroves with a yabby pump. How time and places change. I am in northern New South Wales visiting Nimbin in search of nirvana, or at the very least, the remnants of Australia’s hippie movement, for a story I’m writing for a magazine about the 50th anniversary of Flower Power. I’m unclear about whether the hippies want to hug or hurt me. I suspect it’s a bit of both. I’m tailgated on the windy road deep into the Tweed Valley. Where is the love? Things just aren’t like they used to be.
With my story captured like a fugitive in my imagination, I head back towards the coast where I check into Halcyon House for the night. It’s the ideal spot for this journey back into nostalgia. The bones of this old surf hotel are still here, replete with 19 individually-designed rooms and two suites, but these days she’s a lady of luxury. These elegant rooms combine coastal chic with all the flair of a British B&B by the sea. But Brighton this is not. It’s sunny Cabarita Beach upon which this grand dame is perched.
There’s an all-inclusive mini bar with floral-infused gin and dirty tonic water which, by description alone, I’m unable to refuse. Organic red and white wine, plus Byron Bay beer and soft drinks make up the remaining delectable drinks. Chips, Lindt chocolate and even some Tweed Coast salami is cooling in the fridge and it would be oh-so-tempting to pull up a perch on my royal blue outdoor chair and watch the ocean, but I’m determined to try the acclaimed restaurant here.
The pretty Paper Daisy is named after the wildflowers that bloom nearby at Norrie’s headland. And chef Ben Devlin, formerly of Noma fame, specialises in coastal cooking. There’s pippies here too, but unlike anything my cousins and me ever imagined. These days you’ll find these shellfish in semolina pasta, native pepper and macadamia oil. I opt for the Wagyu minute steak with fennel, witlof and pomelo and served with purple cauliflower and walnuts, and cucumber and cashew nuts. Want dessert? How about a messed-up cookie or a lemon myrtle meringue cone? Or you could go the whole hog and order the four-course degustation menu.
I return to my room to find the bed has been turned down, there’s a pillow menu from which to choose, and my clothing has been folded. Two home-made chocolate chip cookies sit beside a note wishing me sweet dreams. And that’s another thing that sets this hotel experience aside from anywhere else. The service is immaculate. It could be these yummy childhood feelings this property evokes, but I would go as far as to say it’s the best hotel I’ve ever experienced anywhere in the world. Yes, in coastal Cabarita, they’ve struck gold. That perfect balance between relaxed luxury and sensational service.
And there’s plenty to do here as well. Laze on a plush day bed around the pool, or borrow a complimentary bicycle and explore the area. This hotel also has two Audis available for hire. Or, if you’re like me, and nostalgia has clasped firmly onto your head and heart, if only for one night, do nothing but daydream about those heavenly, halcyon days of your childhood.
The Global Goddess stayed as a guest of Halcyon House – https://halcyonhouse.com.au This five-star boutique accommodation, which is a member of the prestigious Small Luxury Hotels Group, has plans to open a spa in late 2017.
THE waterfall gushes like a South Pacific socialite and indeed, that’s precisely how I feel, lounging in this crisp, private pool, replete with my own bodyguard to ensure no one interrupts my island idyll. I am on assignment for Luxury Escapes, Australia’s fastest growing online travel holiday business. And this delicious destination in which I find myself is Fiji’s luxurious Namale Resort & Spa, on the remote northern island of Savusavu.
I exit the waterfall with what I imagine is all the elegance of a mermaid, dine on prawns and sip champagne with Mother Nature as my only companion, before sashaying back to my villa, Rosi, one of 19 beautiful bures on this yawning 212ha property. What I didn’t know before checking in, is that not only is this resort owned by renowned motivational guru Tony Robbins, he was meant to be on the island at the same time as me.
I glance at the full-sized pool table in my villa lounge room, and picture asking Tony over to sink some balls and shoot the breeze. I can imagine Tony saying something profound such as “The path to success is to take massive, determined action” while I would razzle dazzle him with a few of my own motivational quotes such as “Always use butter first if you are going to make a Vegemite sandwich” or, equally inspirational “Never date a Brisbane bloke” Tony, you’re welcome.
In Tony’s absence I easily entertain myself on this expansive property, which boasts an activity centre, fitness centre, tennis court, 9-hole golf course and two swimming pools. Impressively, it also houses Fiji’s only bowling alley, affectionately known as the Kava Bowl and at which I initially thought I was being taken for a traditional kava ceremony. Bit early, even for me, I thought to myself, and was relieved when I realised it was, in fact, a bowling alley. Plonked in the middle of the South Pacific. There’s also an indoor golf simulator here, more than 700 movies and an indoor basketball centre. In short, there’s plenty to do on a tropical rainy day.
Namale’s other claim to fame is that in terms of actual size, it is home to the largest day spa in the South Pacific with the Valeni Sasauni Spa Sanctuary measuring 10,000 square feet. It is here, nestled among the cliffs overlooking the Koro Sea, that I indulge in a 75-minute Ultimate Fusion Massage combining soft tissue, Swedish, and hot stone therapies while listening to the waves crash against the rocks outside. Afterwards, I shower naked outside. Again, Fijian fishermen, you’re welcome.
There’s also plenty of active outdoor options and I join the boys from the dive centre one sunny Sunday afternoon and we board the Namale Pearl anchored in Savusavu Harbour and head out to the Lighthouse Reef. Here, we drop anchor, slip into Fiji’s famed warm waters and spend a sublime hour snorkelling with tropical fish, turtles and black and white tipped reef sharks. It’s enough to work up an appetite which is just as well as there is nothing The Global Goddess loves more than an impressively-stocked bar and canapés before a multi-course dinner served with local produce. Yes, this is an all-inclusive resort and I mingle with the other guests, before we sit down to the nightly entertainment, which introduces us to local culture through the employees and their families from the two neighbouring villages. With a staff to guest ratio of 3:1, you’ll never feel alone here, unless, of course that is your wish.
Namale Co General Manager Nowdla Keefe says despite his fame, Tony has not branded the resort in his name, as he prefers to adopt a low-key approach to the former coconut plantation which started out as his home, 27 years ago.
“He would bring family and friends and they would open up for him and then close the resort but then it got to the point where they decided to keep it open,” she says.
“His intent is that everybody experiences what he experienced when he first came to Fiji. It’s about disconnecting from the world and reconnecting with yourself. A lot of the staff have been here a long time, 70 per cent come from of the two neighbouring villages and they feel like it is theirs. The service you experience comes from the heart.
“He’s very congruent, he walks the talk and the staff love him.”
Can you picture yourself in this pool? Check out this great deal with Luxury Escapes
Guests are encouraged to leave a piece of themselves at the resort and are invited to inscribe a stone with their name, which will be placed at a locale of their choice upon departure. And instead of tips, guests have the option of donating to the Namale Staff Appreciation Fund; The Namale Education Fund; and/or The Namale Medical Fund; which all support the local villages.
One of the absolute standouts of a stay at Namale is its private dining options and apart from my waterfall experience, there’s also a surprise dinner option. On my last night I am whisked away in the dark, and deposited on a beach under the stars. At my table for one I’m served locally-caught lobster and fine Australian wine. Just when I think things can’t get any better (and that I am becoming very good at romancing myself), out of the bushes pops a Fijian man with a guitar. He proceeds to strum 10 stirring love songs. And I am reminded of another Tony quote “We can change our lives. We can do, have and be exactly what we wish” And right now, on this remote Fijian beach, under a moon as round as a coconut, that’s precisely here.
The Global Goddess was a guest of Namale Resort & Spa. This post is sponsored by Luxury Escapes whose travel packages are personally tested by one of their expert travel team. Her opinions remain her own.
AUNTY Nane’s chuckle is a cross between a garrulous gecko and a violently erupting volcano, the type of which formed the island of Rarotonga, on which I find myself. Aunty, a Cook Islands Tourism Ambassador, is here to tend to my every need, including collecting me at the airport upon my 2am arrival from Brisbane. So dedicated is this generous soul to her role, I am certain that if I asked her, she would also stroke my hair while I surrendered to a deep slumber and sing me a lullaby. She may possibly even spoon me. I decide she is the perfect wing woman to assist me in finding a Cook Islander husband. Yes, I have crossed the International Date Line, or dating line, so to speak, and figure I may as well try my chances at finding love over this invisible border.
Aunty loves to chatter as much as she loves to eat, and over freshly-caught tuna sandwiches on my first day in her idyll island, she gives me the run down on dating, Cook Islands style.
“Cook Islander women are strong minded and determined. We are modern now because in the past everything was about men and the women were in the kitchen and at home. Today, nah, ah,” she says, waggling her finger.
“Women have a big role in the community, at home, at church and wherever they go. Men are having that respect for women now.
“There are a lot of mixed marriages here. There are no taboos about mixed marriage. You have some of these young men who are like ‘I have a white chick, check it out’. I’m like ‘guys, don’t break their heart’.”
Aunty tells me my best chance of finding a Cook Islander husband is to accompany her to church on Sunday. Regular readers of this blog will know I have attempted many unorthodox methods around the world to secure a boyfriend, but I’ve never had a date with God, and so we schedule this in for several days time.
The next day, on a Tuk Tuk trip with Uncle Mata from Tik-E Tours, I learn that the Cook Islander man is “very quiet, very humble, very reserved and they support their women.”
“He is hard working and looks after the family. Whichever woman you pick they are all strong. Men have good values of bringing up their children,” Uncle Mata says.
Uncle’s advice on Cook Islands dating is similar to Aunty Nane’s.
“Don’t go to the pub, they’ll be too drunk and talk a lot of rubbish. Go to church and have a look,” he says.
“Just go up and talk to him. Just say ‘Kia Orana’ and whatever happens after that happens.”
Not since I first learned they gave out free wine have I ever been so excited to go to church.
Onwards I travel, to the island of Aitutaki, best known for its stunning lagoon. Here, my tour guide Aunty Mii tells me she loves her husband “very much” but spends her days trying to avoid him because he is “very stupid”.
“My stupid husband broke the washing machine and now he has to wash his own clothes,” she says.
“In ancient days women had to choose their partners. They had three of four because they had to breed the warriors for the tribe. But when Christianity arrived that ruined everything.”
I avoid asking Aunty Mii whether I should go to church to find a husband, partly because of her views on Christianity, and partly because I am very scared of her. Instead, I ask her if there’s a marriage counsellor on this remote island.
“Yes, that’s me,” she says, breaking into a toothless grin.
Two days before church, I am back in Rarotonga, having dinner with Geoff, 34, who provides me with a contemporary view on dating, Cook Islands style.
“For me, it is not dating per say. I have a couple of girls on the roster and it is a mutual understanding. We wait for the tourist season because the ratio of girls to guys will be in our favour,” he says.
“And white women tend to like Cook Islander guys. You’ve got this revolving door of visitors to keep the bachelors happy and in between you go back to the roster.
“Cook Islander women get complacent real quick. You date them for a year and after that you can’t do right by them. They’ve got that really strong personality.
“A lot of girls are always telling me ‘you are impossible to please’.
Geoff tells me there is also Tinder on Rarotonga but he is yet to find the “ideal woman”.
“The whole idea about the perfect woman I don’t understand yet. Someone with fair skin is quite exotic to me,” he says.
“I’ve had to defend my thoughts on dating many times. Until this system comes crashing down around me, it works.
“One of my best features is not my appearance, it’s because I can talk. I’ve really honed that to a fine art. If I was interested in you normally I’d square off and make sure I touch you on the arm at some stage. It’s all these little nuances you pick up on.
“Then I need to move you to a setting where I’m the alpha male. There will be drinking and dancing. It is so fluid. It’s the meeting, setting up, trying to close and then the logistics.”
Geoff, who has been operating on the same dating scheme for 20 years, has it down to a fine art, even having a draw full of sarongs and toothbrushes for any lucky ladies who happen to spend the night.
“It is a game of numbers. You run the strategy that yields a higher return,” he says.
He admits he sometimes lies to get what he wants and that it can be disrespectful.
“I’ve got four older sisters and they don’t know about this. If they found out they’d try and sit me down and say ‘hey’. I don’t think mum would understand.”
Sunday finally arrives and I dress in a floral frock and place on my head the gorgeous garland of flowers or traditional “ei” that Aunty has bought me from the markets. It’s D-Day. Divinity. Dating. Or Disaster. I enter the church and the congregation is packed, but they all seem to be aged either 5 or 85 with a distinct lack of the middle-aged men I was promised. There’s a visiting Samoan missionary, a huge hunk of a man, but the priest promptly describes him to his parishioners as “married to God”, which, frankly, is a hard act to follow. At one point a sprightly octogenarian breaks free from a prayer line to kiss me on the cheek. There’s lunch with the churchgoers afterwards but alas, no husband.
In the early evening Aunty drops me at dinner overlooking the ocean, paying for my meal before she heads back to church for the evening. I resist the urge to join her again. The only thing I took away from this morning was apparently it’s “Up, Up Jesus, Down, Down Satan.” Instead, from where I sit, the sun is setting, I have a glass of New Zealand wine in my hand, and I can smell the salt in the air. I am alone in possibly the most romantic spot on the planet when it dawns on me, I don’t need a Cook Islander husband, I need a Cook Islander wife. And I can’t wait for Aunty to get home from church to tell her.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Cook Islands Tourism. To plan your own adventure go to https://www.cookislands.travel
I AM driving north of Brisbane to Bundaberg on my latest travel writing assignment when it strikes me that I am also on a personal pilgrimage. So caught up am I in the possibility of finally having the chance to experience the turtle hatchlings at Mon Repos on the Southern Great Barrier Reef, that I have temporarily forgotten my strong links to this regional Queensland town.
It’s been nine long years since I’ve been to Bundy, the birthplace and childhood home of my ex husband, and to where we would retreat each year to visit his family. And now I am returning. Alone. The ghosts of the past first hit me as I’m driving through Childers, when I glance at the façade of the old Palace Backpacker Hostel. In 2000 it burned down, killing 15 young backpackers. I remember that day well, I was the Tourism Reporter on the Courier-Mail and wrote a story about backpackers to this destination, mapping their rite-of-passage along the Queensland coast. How they used Childers as a place to stop, pick fruit, and make money before heading north to the Whitsundays. A bunch of young adults brimming with life and hope. Dead. That’s the thing about being a news reporter. Often it’s months, and in this case years, when beyond the adrenalin of a breaking news story, you finally have time to reflect on what it actually means. In my car I slow down, glance at the building, now an art space and memorial to the backpackers, and keep driving.
This is a blog about new beginnings, courage and resilience. I drive north through a series of summer storms, arriving in Bargara mid afternoon. The sun is shining and I head straight for a swim at the Basin, a tidal pool at the beach. Under the warm blue sky with fish at my feet and the ocean crashing against the rocks, I’m feeling cleansed. There are no ghosts here.
By early evening I am standing in the dark with a group of strangers at Mon Repos, wondering if I’ll have the chance to finally witness the baby turtles hatch on this, the last night of the season. Just 10 minutes after opening there’s a sighting and on this balmy beach night we wander in the dark and experience not one, but two clutches, both numbering in their hundreds. The rangers say this is the best outcome all season.
We form a human channel and the rangers shine a light from the nest to the ocean for the hatchlings to begin their life journey. You want resilience? Consider this. Just one in 1000 of these babies will make it to adulthood. And 30 years later, against all odds, the females will return to this very beach to lay their own eggs. In the dark I feel something crawl up my leg. It’s a rogue hatchling. Its beauty makes me cry. Later, back at my resort, I research the spiritual meaning of turtles: longevity, endurance, persistence and continuation of life.
The following day I snorkel with a green turtle off of Lady Musgrave Island. A 1.5 metre reef shark circles below me but I have nothing to fear. I hover over the turtle for the longest of times. Observing her feeding and resting on a reef cleaning station. I smile into my snorkel about my insatiable love of reptiles. Salty and sated, later that night I dine with Shane and Pascaline, the owners of the new Zen Beach Retreat in which I am staying. The theme of new beginnings recurs.
Shane, Australian, and Pascaline, French were living and working in Vietnam when they decided to swap their stressful, high-profile jobs for a different existence.
“We went back to Australia and went for a beach drive to try and find a block of land. I wanted to have something on the sea and it had to be hot,” Pascaline says.
“Some of the properties were stunning but there was not love there. We kept heading north. Shane stopped at Bargara Real Estate and saw this. We went walking and thought ‘what a great beach’. Both of us looked at each other and said ‘it is fantastic’.”
The couple opened the retreat in early March, after extensive renovations of this former 1970s Bargara beach motel.
“We will be offering health activities and corporate activities and finding a balance in between. In particular it’s about balancing the corporate wellness of the team,” Shane says.
“I found a lot of companies are losing their way, the way to innovate and keep their team motivated.
“What we’ve got here is a recovery treatment and corporate retreat.”
The property, which can sleep a total of 22 people including the couple’s beachfront home, boasts four themed suites – Executive, French, Asian and Oriental/Middle East. Each suite has been furnished with tasteful artifacts from the couple’s travels around the world.
“It is about creating an experience where people recover from the busy day-to-day life,” Pascaline says.
“It’s about having a guide to relax and building packages with different partners in the area such as nature, food, wellness and sports.
“We have a brand that is Zen. We want you to embody happiness.”
Happiness. I spend the next few days looking at Bundy through a different lense. I join Bundy Food Tours, a new tour which showcases the incredible innovation of the hardy farmers who have worked these fields for generations. There’s that resilience again. Even at the iconic Bundaberg Rum Distillery they’ve launched a new Blend Your Own Rum Experience. For the first time I visit Lady Elliot Island. There’s more turtles. More resilience. And I dine in new restaurants, all embracing food direct from the paddocks to their plates.
On my drive home I pause in Childers at the new Cane Fire Cheese House selling regional produce. I decide it’s time to embody the courage of the turtles and finally visit the Childers Backpacker Memorial. One of the volunteers accosts me at the door and explains the horrific events of that night. I listen, deciding against telling her I know the story all too well. She says the deliberately-lit fire, which saw Australian Robert Long jailed for murder, put Childers on the map for “all the wrong reasons”. I silently disagree. On the night of the fire, and for weeks and months afterwards, the locals opened their doors to the survivors and their families and embraced them as if they had lost their own children. And now they are immortalised in these walls. Forever part of this region’s fabric. On the drive south I think again about the turtles and their meaning: longevity, endurance, persistence and continuation of life. Bundaberg, well she has these in spades.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Bundaberg North Burnett Tourism – http://www.bundabergregion.info To stay at the Zen Beach Retreat go to http://www.zenbeachretreat.com
CONSERVATIONIST Derek Ball is clad in a shirt the colour of the deep blue ocean he so adores, but on this particular day he’s diving into the urban jungle of a Brisbane coffee shop, in which we meet.
A khaki backpack with an eco-friendly water bottle sits to his right, and to his left, the luggage he will take the following day to New Zealand, off on his next expedition.
Derek, 51, is the CEO of Wild Mob, an Australian-based not-for-profit organisation, dedicated to long-term conservation initiatives which empower local communities.
This biologist and zoologist, along with his team of fellow scientists, ecologists, educators and adventurers, takes paying volunteers on conservation expeditions to Australian and New Zealand destinations. It works on a principle of 4 C’s: Conservation, Culture, Community and Commerce.
Graeme Wood, who founded the successful online travel company Wotif.com in 2000, and the Graeme Wood Foundation, which supports environmental sustainability, the arts and education, in 2006, conceived Wild Mob eight years ago.
Interestingly, the scientist in Derek was skeptical when first approached about the concept.
“I wasn’t quite sure it would work to be honest. But after three cups of coffee I thought ‘let’s give it a go’,” he says.
“We started out low key in our first few years. Now we are working with islands off of Queensland and in central Queensland, Tasmania, Melbourne, Norfolk Island, New Zealand and are looking to expand into Fiji and the South Pacific.”
I stumbled across Derek purely by chance a few weeks ago when I was on Norfolk Island, a place he describes as a “global biodiversity hotspot” and where he regularly takes groups.
It’s a long way from Outback Queensland’s mining town of Mount Isa where he was born, but it was a trip to the Great Barrier Reef when he was six which changed his world and saw him enamoured with the ocean and its marine inhabitants.
“That was it for me. Everyone has their place in the world and this is mine,” he says.
“It is pretty close to the best job in the world. I get to do stuff I love doing and make the world a better place and have the best time doing it.
“You don’t have to be a dyed-in-the-wool greenie, a scientist, professor or career conservationist, every single person can come out with us.
“On every single trip we do, we get to a stage where people realise what they are doing and after a couple of days they get it. People just go ‘we are out here, making the world a better place’. People go away changed.”
Derek says the beauty of Wild Mob expeditions is that they attract every demographic.
“We target school groups. In my view it is they who are teaching us. They inherit this place. Engaging with kids is absolutely critical. Younger people just get it, they’ve been exposed to far more information than the older generation,” he says.
“But we get everyone from 18 year olds to 83 year olds. There are more women. Women are more empathetic and think through the world much better than men. They tend to be more willing to give than blokes are. Women know how to pace themselves and that it’s not a competition.
“And we get all occupations and from all walks of life. Our expeditions are as much about sociology as conservation. Most of my team are introverts and they are really great project leaders because they observe.”
According to the latest annual report published by Wild Mob, in one year it attracted 333 volunteers who worked for 1843 field days and contributed $440,000 worth of their time. More than $500,000 was spent in local communities; 154 students were taught in six outdoor classrooms; and more than 1300kg of marine debris was removed from 10km of marine turtle nesting beaches.
During the same period, 9ha of bridled nail-tail wallaby nursery habitat was protected from cats; weeds were controlled in 35ha of critically-endangered littoral rainforest; and conservation and survey work completed on 50 islands along a 500km stretch of the Great Barrier Reef.
As recently as last month, Wild Mob announced through its hard work and community collaboration, it was close to establishing a second population of one of the world’s most rare birds, the Norfolk Island Green Parrot, on neighbouring Phillip Island.
But while there are many wins, work as a conservationist is not all sunshine and lollipops with Derek recently posting a scathing attack on social media in which he described leaders of Australian governments as a “dragon’s lair of personal vilification, bigotry, ignorance and greed.”
“That particular day I was frustrated as all get out. There are so many challenges in this country and so many opportunities. You can’t fix the problem without having a purpose, there is no vision in Australia.
“Where do the Australian people want to be in the year 2050? What sort of country do you want to live in?
“As a scientist you need to be objective and logical but I’m allowed to have emotions as well.”
He believes the Australian Greens are “ineffectual” and that the Australian Government “pisses a huge amount of money against the wall”, spending $6 billion a year on the environment without managing to save one endangered species.
It would be easy to assume this vocal conservationist is without fear, he loves sharks “they are perfectly adapted to their environment”; and is happy to remove a deadly taipan from a house; but he does find Australian crocodiles “challenging to work with”.
Just don’t call him a Wildlife Warrior, Conservation Crusader or, even worse, a “bloody Greenie”.
“I am nothing so melodramatic. I am very much Mr Average. One of the great things about Wild Mob is that you meet some very impressive people,” he says.
“The Greenies make our lives so much harder. I want to spend time with people who can find balance in the world.
“Being a conservationist is pretty bloody tough. I can’t think of a time in the past 30 years when it’s been so bloody hard to find money for the environment.
“But I am not going to stop. There is no retirement plan at all.”
To find out more about Wild Mob’s work, upcoming expeditions or to donate to conservation causes, go to https://wildmob.org/about/ Photos in this blog courtesy of Wild Mob
The Global Goddess travelled to Norfolk Island as a guest of Norfolk Island Tourism – http://www.norfolkisland.com.au and Air New Zealand – http://www.airnewzealand.com.au