“At home, I was a stranger to myself, and, on the road, a stranger to everyone else. I longed to belong, but I didn’t know where,” Irish Travel Writer Jean Butler
I AM perched in a loft bedroom overlooking Bundaberg’s Burnett River, surveying the sailing boats bobbing on the water and wondering about the stories of the sailors within. I long to know what these old salts could tell me about the horizons they have crossed. After a busy year out in the world myself, I have returned “home” but not quite. At the last minute I have accepted an invitation to return to Bundaberg, on Queensland’s Southern Great Barrier Reef, and I find myself at the Burnett Riverside Motel, sitting in the new H20 restaurant and bar, with the new general managers Ian and Karyn Wade-Parker.
I sip a Bargara Brewery Ray Xpa and chat to this charming couple who are injecting as much local flavour into this experience as possible. This dynamic duo, who have worked in tourism and hospitality for decades, had a longing to return to Queensland after a stint in drought-stricken New South Wales. It was a heart-breaking time for this pair, who despite running a successful business, witnessed first-hand the effect of the drought on their community. And for Karyn, who grew up in Charleville in Outback Queensland, it’s a special homecoming.
“We needed to get back to the water. What we are trying to create here in Bundy is something that will go well,” Ian says.
“It is needed. There is a percentage of people who are looking for quality. The opportunity that we have here is to give Bundy a bit more maturity. It is moving from a country town into the next thing.
“We are rated four-star but what we are about to deliver is a five-star hotel experience.”
And it’s evident in the menu. Sip on a Bargara Brewery beer, cradle a Bundy rum or scoff a local Kalki Moon gin and watch the river change colours in the late afternoon before you dine on a menu which shouts Bundaberg loud and proud. On this colourful card you’ll find the likes of Bundaberg Brewed Sarsaparilla Sticky Pilled Pork; Bargara Brewery Black Braised Lamb Shanks; Kalki Moon (gin) Butter Basted Salmon; and even a Bundaberg Rum Coffee brulee. The next stage for Ian and Karyn is to oversee the renovation of this 44-room motel, which boasts eight different room styles, including the four loft rooms.
“It’s about those little one per cent (changes) that turn the experience into something that’s OK into something extraordinary,” Ian says.
“We look at it from a customer’s point of view. You turn it into your home. It is an extension.”
The theme of “coming home” resonates on this trip. I have coffee down at the beach with Christine from Bargara Coastal Accommodation; drinks and dinner with Tracy whose underwater photos of the Southern Great Barrier Reef will make your toes curl; and breakfast with Katherine from Bundaberg Tourism. I enjoy a long chat with Suzie from Bundy Food Tours about her recent Queensland Tourism Awards win; and Rick from Kalki Moon Distillery tells me how his gin is winning awards in London. I drop into the new headquarters of Bundaberg Tourism, Spring Hill House, a former Queenslander home built in 1883. I catch up with this hard-working crew who treat me like family each time I return. Plonked at the back of the Bundaberg Rum Distillery, the sparkly new Visitor Information sits next door. Here visitors are treated like royalty, and encouraged to sit and stay and peruse the incredible experiences they can have on offer in the region.
Back inside Bundy Tourism’s new digs it’s all tin and timber, polished wooden floors and even a friendly resident ghost. They think it’s the oldest daughter, Mary-Ann, of the original Noakes family who inhabited this former sugar cane plantation house. It appears Mary-Ann approves of her new inhabitants. And for me, wandering the halls of this Queenslander, it reminds me of my home, back in Brisbane. The place that sustains me on those lonely days when I’m out on the road, and I dream of my fragrant frangipani tree off my big, back deck, and those summer nights punctuated by a chorus of cicadas.
And it’s from that very spot, on the back deck of my Queenslander cottage in Brisbane, that I’m penning my final travel blog of 2018. And what a year it’s been. I have trained to be a Ninja Warrior in Japan; trekked in Nepal to meet the SASANE survivors of sex trafficking; wandered the humid back alleys of Bangkok tasting street food; island-hopped in the Southern Great Barrier Reef; fine-dined in Noosa; been pampered in Abu Dhabi; discovered the secret of happiness in Bhutan; explored Sydney’s secret Tank Stream; driven up the guts of Australia from Uluru to Humpty Doo in the Northern Territory; experienced Thailand’s Koh Khood; danced till I dropped at my niece’s wedding in Emerald; met inspiring Indigenous operators in Tropical North Queensland; tasted tapas and life as it should be lived in Spain; laughed with a mate in Prague; hugged my family in Germany; snorkelled in Samoa; and hidden away in the hills of Byron Bay.
It’s been a year that has enriched me beyond belief, and refuelled this sassy story teller with a thirst for the world. A huge thank you to all of the PR people, tourism operators, and the random strangers who swept me up and took me with you on this journey. It takes intellect, courage, and above all, a generosity of spirit to take the time to tell me your stories and I can’t wait to get back out there in 2019 and do it all again.
The Global Goddess travelled to Bundaberg with the assistance of Bundaberg Tourism https://www.bundabergregion.org and Burnett Riverside Motel http://www.burnettriversidemotel.com.au
MUD crab, barramundi, exotic produce, native Indigenous ingredients…the world-class chefs in Tropical North Queensland are embracing it all. Here’s a snapshot of the fabulous feasts which await should you head to this Pacific paradise.
The Global Goddess was a guest of Tourism Tropical North Queensland http://www.tropicalnorthqueensland.org.au
I’VE been incredibly fortunate in the past few years, in the course of my travel writing adventures, to indulge in some of the most amazing experiences that exist between humans and animals. Here’s 8 I’ve done that I’ll reckon you’ll love.
1. Walk with the Polar Bears
To be utterly honest, I was more frightened of how cold I expected it to be up in arctic Canada, than being eaten by a polar bear, and I was right. This trip-of-a-lifetime sees you fly into Winnipeg, where you will overnight and be fitted with your polar gear (which assists greatly with minus 14 degree Celsius temperatures). The next day you’ll fly to Churchill, and then board a tiny plane out to Seal River Heritage Lodge. Here, Churchill Wild runs “walk with the polar bear” safaris out on the arctic tundra framing wild and remote Hudson Bay. So unthreatened are these beautiful animals by this tour, one 400kg male came within 10 metres of our group. Sublime.
2. Snorkel with Salmon
In this instance, I WAS frightened of bears, but I had no real reason. On this adventure, you fly out of Vancouver over to Vancouver Island and Campbell River. Here, you can join an eclectic journey with Destiny River Adventures where you will board a raft and paddle down Campbell River, before plunging into 14 degree waters. Yes, chilly, but worth it, as you plummet down the rapids, dodging rocks and snorkelling with salmon. There’s three pools to experience here (in pool two you are advised to fly like a super hero to avoid being shredded to bits by the rocks). And no, there are no grizzly bears waiting by the shoreline to feast on salmon, or you, as it’s the wrong season. What you will experience is a thrill of a lifetime, and come face-to-face with some friendly seals as well.
3. Sail to see the Komodo Dragons
I LOVE lizards and any reptile for that matter, and had always longed to see the komodo dragons. But arriving at Komodo National Park is not as simple as it seems. However, there exists an incredible adventure which makes the journey a dream. Head out with Indonesian Island Sail on its traditional timber boat, and you can spend 14 glorious days sailing from Bali to Komodo and back. Along the way you’ll feast on fabulous food, snorkel some of the clearest waters in the region, swim with manta rays and turtles, and arrive at Komodo National Park where you can snatch a selfie with those gorgeous giants.
4. Float with the Manta Rays
Did someone mention manta rays? A few years ago, while staying on Hawaii’s Big Island, I had the fabulous fortune of a night float with the manta rays. Courtesy of Manta Ray Advocates, at Kona, after dark you are taken out into the bay on an outrigger canoe. Then, when the conditions are just right, you are invited to slip into the ocean. Holding on to a surf board with handles, and sporting a snorkel and mask, you are invited to plunge your face into the ocean and watch as the magnificent mantas swim right up to you. If you are lucky, they will eye-ball you before they perform a tumble turn.
5. Drive a Reindeer or Husky Sleigh
They are hard-core up in Finnish Lapland and it’s easy to see why. When you have months of darkness during winter, and the temperature plummets to minus 40 degrees Celsius, you tend to be made of serious stuff. Up at Beana Laponia Wilderness Boutique Hotel, a working husky farm, you are invited to not only join a husky safari, but are taught how to drive the team. Yes, you can become a musher. And it is seriously great fun as you fly through snowy trails in a pure-white winter wonderland. For those looking for something a little more sedate, the hotel can also arrange for you to do a reindeer safari. Not as fast or as fun as the huskies, but if Santa is your thing, this might be right up your alley.
6. Meditate with a Horse
If only the horse could talk. One of my craziest animal experiences to date, this one occurred in the Gold Coast Hinterland at Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat. Sure, you can do yoga, tai-chi or go bushwalking, or, if you’re like me, you can indulge in a one-hour meditation session with a horse. At first I was dubious, but it became very obvious during this session that Jack knew far more than I realised. Horses are used for therapy as it is believed they can pick up on human emotions (without any of the bullshit) and from my experience, Jack was spot on. When I was nervous, Jack was skittish. When I lost confidence leading him around the ring, so, too, did Jack. By the end of this session I was able to command Jack to gallop, and stop, purely by using my breath.
7. Witness hatching Turtles
There’s few nicer things in nature than watching an animal begin its life journey and at Bundaberg, on Queensland’s Southern Great Barrier Reef, you can do just that. Between November and January, head to Mon Repos Beach and watch the lady loggerhead turtles lay their eggs, and then, between January and March, you can encounter the hatchlings as they erupt from the nests. Carefully managed by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, join a ranger on a guided tour at night on the beach and your life will never quite be the same again. https://www.bundabergregion.org/turtles/mon-repos-turtle-encounter
8. Hang out with some cool Cats
If you’ve ever wanted to witness Africa’s Big Five, this is your chance. And at Sabi Sabi Luxury Safari Lodges, you can do this in style. Plonked within South Africa’s Kruger National Park, each day you’ll head out on two safaris, one before dawn and the other before dusk, for your best chances of seeing animals in their wild habitat. Again, I was initially worried about being mauled by a lion, but you are in a four-wheel drive with a ranger and a spotter who are fastidious about safety. And, by the end of my trip, I was even going on walking safaris, out in the open, with the exceptional guides who will explain animal tracks and the stories behind them.
AND ONE I CAN’T WAIT TO DO
9. Swim with the Whales
Last year, I was all set to slip into the Pacific Ocean off of the Sunshine Coast and swim with the whales, but wild weather prevented that adventure. But each year, between July and October, when the humpback whales are migrating from Antarctica to breed and play in Queensland’s warm waters, visitors have the opportunity to go out with Sunreef Mooloolaba to get wet with the whales. You hold onto a floating line attached to the boat, and then it’s up to these mammoth mammals as to how close they wish to get to you. Watch this space…
What animal experiences have you done that you’ve loved or want to do? My list doesn’t end. At number 10, I want to swim with the whale sharks and do a shark cage dive
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 AM cycling along Caloundra’s Coastal Pathway, scavenging snippets of conversation from the people I pass, like a cheeky seagull snatching fish and chips. On this wondrous winter day, someone is pontificating the benefits of full cream milk versus skim. I glide past without catching the answer. The air is seasoned with sea salt and pine needles on this retro ride which takes me from Moffat to Shelley Beach, and back pedals 50 years to when the Sunshine Coast was known as the Near North Coast and no one drank skim milk, nor did they smash avocadoes.
My journey back in time begins in a baby blue kombi van which dates back to 1962 as we wind our way from Maroochydore, Alexandra Headland and through Mooloolaba to Caloundra. The Eagles are crooning Peaceful Easy Feeling and I alternate between staring at the ocean and our long-haired driver Michael Turner, whose blonde locks speak of surf and sunshine. In Michael’s Deluxe Kombi Service, you can perch on a bench seat of a split screen Kombi, without a seat belt, open the sunroof and invite the Sunshine Coast in. After he’s dropped us at our accommodation, Michael plans a sneaky swim before his next appointment. Michael is my kind of man.
We arrive at Rumba Beach Resort, which was once the site of a former Salvation Army summer holiday camp, but these days boasts boutique one, two and three bedroom apartments which maintain that old-fashioned hospitality. Upon arrival, you’ll receive a “Rise and Shine” card which entitles you to complimentary coffee and muffins on your first morning. General Manager Bill Darby says Caloundra still carries a “country town” feeling where you can park the car and not touch it for a week.
“Caloundra is a relaxing, Queensland seaside holiday. It is not the kind of place where you feel you have to get dressed up,” he says.
“It is just beautiful. It is vintage. It is going through that renaissance.”
Over at Caloundra House Boats, Bruce Boucaut is putting the finishing touches to Australia’s first “water glamper”, a floating camping site with all of the benefits of land glamping, and which will be located anywhere in the inshore waters around Caloundra and the Pumicestone Passage. We eat afternoon tea Sunshine Coast style – Moreton Bay Bugs, Mooloolaba prawns and locally-caught sand crab – while Bruce shows us his latest projects, as well as a house boat which is already in operation and ideal for a weekend on Caloundra’s calm waters. Bruce will even pop over with a seafood platter for you, should you so desire. This is pure seduction, Sunshine Coast style.
It’s all hops and hipsters at the Moffat Beach Brewing Company whose brews have recently picked up one gold and two silvers in the National Beer Awards. In this casual, retro setting (there’s even a Space Invader machine), you’ll find the likes of Psychotic Girl, Hipster Doofus and Fu-Manchu on tap here. Owner and brewer Matt Wilson opened the café five years ago and immediately installed beer taps as “there was nowhere to get a beer around here.”
“I started brewing at home to educate myself,” he says.
“We thought we would do something different and it has worked for us. We wanted and needed to be different. That’s the opening we saw.”
Pull up a perch, have a coldie with Matt and watch the blue waters of Moffat Beach.
Later that night I find myself in Spinners Bar & Bowl, one of Caloundra’s newest attractions, which offers state-of-the-art ten-pin bowling facilities and a juke box with retro selections to convince you leap on to the dance floor replete with smoke machine. The joint is pumping with a colourful crowd which likes to adorn itself with piercings and tattoos. Fifty years ago, only sailors had tattoos and pirates wore earrings. (I’ve never actually met a pirate but I’m sure I’d find them fascinating). I feel slightly underdressed with no ink and only two modest ear piercings but with a bar and pizza menu to boot, pretty soon I am walking on sunshine on this journey through time with my new mates.
The next morning, it’s breakfast at Sandbar Café Kiosk overlooking Pumicestone Passage before we kit up and head across the passage with Fishing Australia’s Rob Paxevanos, an Aussie angling expert. There’s plenty of boat hire operators around these parts and the bream, flathead and whiting are apparently biting. I spend a good hour lure fishing from the beach off the tip of Bribie Island with a pitying pelican the only witness to my fishing frustration. Actually, I haven’t felt this calm in ages, simply standing on the shore, the sun on my back and the breeze in my hair. I’m fully focused on my fishing and I realise it’s just like a meditation class, with a pole. I haven’t jagged any fish but I reckon I’ve caught Sunshine Coast fever, and like so many Brisbanites over the past 50 years, I’ll be back.
The Global Goddess was a guest of Sunshine Coast Tourism http://www.visitsunshinecoast.com; and Tourism Queensland http://www.queensland.com
We travel, not to escape life, but for life not to escape us. Anonymous.
TRUE masters of yoga believe it’s not about bending your body into a certain pose, but what you learn about yourself on the way down. The more you allow your body to unravel, rather than push it, the better the results. Go with the flow. Learn to sit with yourself, and any discomfort. Find your edge. In essence, it’s all about the journey, not the destination. Sound familiar?
I am in a yoga class and I am brimming with fear and loathing. It’s cold, my muscles are stiff, I have a headache, and my regular teacher is not here today. Instead, her replacement is what I’d call “hard core”, the yang to my yin. And I’m hating on her and the rest of the room.
Why do they have to breathe so hard? And why, oh why, does the woman in front of me have to stand at the back of her mat right on top of me? Go to the top of your mat, the instructor said. Get your bum out of my face. These are the vicious voices which are dancing in my head. I have become the poster girl for “observing my thoughts” and today, they’re not pretty. But that’s OK. As long as I don’t attach.
The more I practice yoga while I’m not travelling (and often when I am) the more I realise how closely the two concepts are aligned. Travel writer Freya Stark said: “To awaken alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.” When it comes to yoga, think of your body as that strange town. Want the ultimate freedom? Jump on a jet or go to a yoga class. Want to challenge your body and mind? Head to a new destination or get back on the mat. Need to relax? The list goes on…And recently I have noticed an Australian company which has combined the two philosophies.
YogaEverywhere, created by Remy Gerega, has produced a range of stunning yoga mats and accessories inspired by the Australian landscape. They are eco-friendly, biodegradable and recyclable with 100% natural tree rubber bases and a micosuede top printed with water-based inks. And these all-in-one yoga mats and towels are popping up everywhere.
Boasting 15 designs, mainly showcasing Australian beaches including Coogee, Bondi and Manly, I decided to test the Whitehaven Beach mat which pays homage to my home state of Queensland and one of the most spectacular beaches on the planet. These mats promise to buck traditional yoga mat trends in that the more you sweat, the better you grip. And so I stepped on to my Whitehaven Beach mat where I was surprised at how it felt like the silica sands of this iconic Whitsundays beach itself. Had I encountered a magical mat? Was this my new flying carpet?
For someone who leans towards cooler yin yoga, which is mostly floor work, I found the 3mm thick mat a little too hard for me. (I am used to a thicker mat I call “the sponge”). I was also a little worried about messing up my pretty design with my sweat, although these mats can be washed. (I use a gripped yoga towel which is easy to wash on top of the sponge). However, if you are more inclined to do a lot of standing power poses in a hot class, this could be the mat for you. Certainly the scenery will help you when the going gets tough. And I can see how this mat has grip and grit. At $129 a mat, they aren’t cheap. They’re also quite heavy, weighing 2.2kg but are easy to carry with a clever dual-purpose stretching strap which is included. My verdict: I’ll keep “the sponge” for my regular yin classes, but the Whitsundays is now a firm favourite for my home practice, and looks spectacular on my polished timber floors. Robert Louis Stevenson said: “For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” And so it is with yoga.
The Global Goddess was gifted her Whitehaven Beach mat by YogaEverywhere. Photos of the mats in this blog courtesy of YogaEverywhere – http://www.yogaeverywhere.com.au
“This year I do not want the dark to leave me. I need its wrap of silent stillness, its cloak of long-lasting embrace. Let the dawns come late, let the sunsets arrive early, let the evenings extend themselves while I lean into the abyss of my being,” Joyce Rupp, Winter’s Cloak
IN summer, we learn to live again. In winter, we learn about ourselves. And the presence of a wild snake on one’s back deck is, arguably, one of life’s great teachers. I used to be scared of snakes, having grown up in country Queensland where scorching summers were punctuated by frequent snake sightings. Red Belly Blacks and King Browns were the order of the day out there, the type of rebellious reptiles that could easily kill a small child. And so I learned to fear those slithering serpents of my youth. But several years ago, when I first spotted a carpet snake on my back deck, I decided to finally face my fear. On the one hand, this was made much easier by the fact it’s a harmless common Eastern Australian carpet python. On the other hand, a snake is still a snake.
Anastasia arrived first, who departed only to be replaced by Sylvia, who grew from a one-metre juvenile in the first year, into a three-metre monster by her third. Too fat to fit back into the ceiling cavity, she departed, only to be replaced by Saskia, who arrived about a year ago. Saskia, like Sylvia, was also slim, but with a ready diet of bush rats and possums right out the back, she too has grown. And now she’s possibly the fattest snake I’ve ever seen. My anaconda girl also measures about three metres long, but sports the beer belly of a Brisbane bogan. Lay off the possums, I want to advise, particularly given I gain great comfort from their roaring thunder along my timber roof late at night. To me, that’s the soundtrack to living in Brisbane, and I love it.
So, what have I learned from my snake this winter? The first lesson is that it’s important to slow down. While my snake is still surprisingly active, even in winter, she moves at a slower pace. She basks on the back deck in the winter sunshine, that I, too crave. Learn to love the softer light, she seems to whisper to me. Take the time to laze. Stretch. Sleep. We need these seasons to rejuvenate. Reflect. Retreat inwards. For in a place like Brisbane, where the summers are long and lusty, it’s too easy to keep running. And run out of steam.
My sassy Saskia has also taught me while it’s important to eat, don’t eat too much. Fuelled by her latest possum catch, and a ridiculously distended belly, she tried and failed many times to return to her ceiling cavity the other afternoon as the sun signalled its early afternoon departure. She crawled and wiggled and pretty much looked like I do every winter when it comes to trying on that first pair of jeans. Eventually, she gave up. And whether she will return is anyone’s guess. I’ve learned to grow OK with that too.
She’s taught me to shed my skin a little. Be vulnerable. And she’s taught me to face my fears. In an ideal world, there would be no wild snakes on my back deck. But history has taught me that not long after one has departed, another one arrives. They are territorial like that. And so, I must embrace this paradigm. Just as winter follows autumn, the seasons will keep on changing. I used to hate winter too. The short days, the cold mornings, being constrained by too many clothes. By nature I’m a summer frock girl who loves being in the water. Those beautiful balmy evenings, bare feet and ice-cold beer. But I’m slowly learning that life is also about embracing the shadow side. Not only in nature, but in myself and others. Instead of rejecting the things I dislike about myself, learning to acknowledge them as a part of a greater sum.
I’m back on the yoga mat this winter, a nourishing alternative when the water is too cold in which to swim, and last week we celebrated the winter solstice in the southern hemisphere. The days are starting to grow longer and pretty soon, they will grow warmer again. But for now, I’m going to relish the words of Joyce Rupp: “Let me lie in the cave of my soul, for too much light blinds me, steals the source of revelation. Let me seek solace in the empty places of winter’s passage, those vast dark nights that never fail to shelter me.” Wherever you are in the world, whatever the season of your soul, I hope you find solace too.