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.
HO, HO, HO! With just over one month until Christmas, I’m busy packing to head to Finland this week, where I have my most exciting interview all year…with Santa! I have a few things to discuss with old mate, including why he’s ignored 9 consecutive years of me asking for a boyfriend. Is it the type of beer I’m leaving out for you, Santa? Would you prefer an Aussie shiraz?
Want to find out all about this naughty and nice trip to the North Pole? Keep an eye on this blog (and my Instagram account @aglobalgoddess) over the next few weeks. Speaking of nice, how good is this… My trip has been organised by 50 Degrees North – a niche, independently-owned, specialist travel company, which designs tailor-made itineraries for travellers. I’ll be taking reindeer rides, meeting huskies, staying in an igloo under the Northern Lights, the works. https://au.fiftydegreesnorth.com
And to top off my last long-haul travel writing assignment of the year, I’ll be flying Business Class with Finnair – http://www.finnair.com
No reindeers for me on this journey from Australia, instead, it’s an Airbus A350 XWB, with a Nordic-styled cabin to set the tone for the story ahead. Finnair was the first European airline to fly this aircraft type, so I’m looking forward to travelling with a carrier with which I’ve never flown before. Put the beer on ice, Santa, I’m coming for you!
I REALLY should have written this tale days and days ago, but there were other forces at play. I’m standing by the Hawaiian ocean, listening to Sheraton Kona Cultural Tour Officer Lily Dudoit talk about her heritage, when I get “chicken arms” as the locals like to call goose bumps. Lily has just mentioned the Menehune (pronounced Men-ay Hoon-ay) and I’m instantly intrigued.
“Everywhere in Hawaii we are known for our myths and legends. We have the little people who only come out at night to do their work. We call them Menehune and they are said to have reddish skin colour,” she says.
“There was a couple who had their wedding photo by this tree and when they had the photo developed there was a Menehune peeking out from behind the tree.
“They like to make trouble. Sometimes things go missing or they move something. You don’t find them. They find you.”
I’m on Hawaii’s Big Island and the thought that I could be sharing space with a bunch of mischievous, mysterious men is nothing short of exciting. Sure, they’re apparently red and short, but beggars can’t be choosers. Lily’s also let slip that the Menehune like to eat Manju – a type of biscuit full of red beans – and so that night for good measure I leave two, as well as a beer, figuring if it’s good enough for Santa and the Tooth Fairy, it might just be enough to entice the Menehune to my boudoir.
I wake up disappointed but determined. The beer’s still there and so are the biscuits. But I remain as fascinated to meet a Menehune as I am to encounter a decent Brisbane bloke. Yes, because I believe in miracles. The next day I meet Nancy Erger, my tour guide and a local location scout for the film industry. Given her role, I ask her what she can tell me about the Menehune.
She laughs and tells me they turn up when “generally something needs fixing.” I pause and ponder this. Does this mean I am fixed? Or I need more fixing? And why didn’t they drink that beer? What kind of man doesn’t like beer?
Pretty soon our conversation turns to other men, as Nancy reveals she was a location scout in the latest series of Hawaii Five-O starring that big hunk of spunk Australia’s Alex O’Loughlin as Steve McGarrett. I’m so excited I want to lick her arm. Curiously, when researching locations, Nancy happened across the original series and by chance realised her grandmother was an extra in the old show, sneaking out of the house and catching a bus down to location without her husband’s permission. When Nancy reveals she was involved in shooting the commercial Liquid Aloha for the Hawaii’s Longboard Lager I have so come to love, I realise we will be friends for life. We pause for a shaved ice and in deference to the Goddess of Fire Pele, who is spraying volanco lava languidly around the island, I choose a Lava Flow concoction of coconut, strawberry and mango.
Two hours later Nancy deposits me at Lokahi Garden Sanctuary, a sustainable organic farm and botanical sanctuary run by Richard Liebmann and his wife Natalie Young. Richard and Natalie prepare lunch plucked straight from their garden, starting with a mocktail of fresh ginger, turmeric, honey, coconut oil, peppercorns, lemon juice and aloe vera. Natalie, who also delivers natural therapies using herbs, flowers and fruit and vegetables from the garden, asks me what I think I need for my treatment.
“I’m looking for love,” I say for the hundredth time this year on a trip.
She dashes back to the lemon myrtle and lavender plants, picking flowers and leaves like her life depends on it. We sit on her front deck, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, and she soaks my feet in the flowers. I close my eyes and she performs a healing “for your traveller’s feet,” she says gently. A few minutes later she asks me what thoughts have come to my mind.
I tell her I had a flashback to being a backpacker in Rome, 22 years ago, when I was 22. And it’s been exactly 22 years since I’ve been to Hawaii.
“The Aloha spirit is alive and well, you really can feel that here,” Natalie says.
“A lot of Hawaiians view you from where you are in your heart. When you come with an open heart they are very welcoming.”
Days later, still frustrated about not seeing any Menehune, I sit down to write this story. Inexplicably, my computer is completely dead and I’m forced to soak up Hawaii instead. I swim, do a stand-up paddleboard lesson, and partake in a sunset yoga class by the ocean, instead of working. I remain baffled by this technological glitch until I remember those little red men. Back home in Brisbane my computer works beautifully. Maybe the Menehune found me after all.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Hawaii Tourism. To book your own escape go to http://www.gohawaii.com/au; stay on the Big Island at The Sheraton Kona http://www.sheratonkeauhou.com; and take a retreat at Lokahi Garden Sanctuary http://www.lokahigardensanctuary.com
Twas the night before Christmas
And all through Brisbane
The Global Goddess continued
Her hunt for some men
Her stockings were hung
On the back deck with care
With hope she could catch
Saint Nick in her lair…
MY Christmas tree is older than me. And, if possible, even daggier. This story begins some 46 years ago, when my parents were first married and bought their first Christmas tree. Every year that tree would come on holidays with us to the Gold Coast, shoved into the Kingswood with me, my three sisters, and our budgie. And every year it would return home with us. Until one day, one of our uncles gifted us a brand, spanking, new tree, and our original tree was retired.
Some years ago, I somehow stumbled across it and adopted it like a long, lost family member. I am not a particularly nostalgic person, and yet I love this tree. It speaks to me of sublime summers on the Gold Coast, hot, scratchy nights with sand in the sheets, sunburn on the skin and mozzies. Of bleached hair, sandcastles and waking up on Christmas morning to new summer swimmers, pink pyjamas and adventure books. That’s the thing with memories. You can’t muck around with them.
The other day a friend was telling me about a sad scene he encountered while out shopping. Picture two little kids and their mother in a wheelchair. The kids were skipping along the path, excitedly chattering about the new clothes they were about to buy for Christmas. Until they arrived at the store and it was closed. The store was St Vincent’s de Paul and, being run by volunteers, was operating on limited hours. But these little kids didn’t know this and started crying. Their wheelchair-bound mother had what appeared to be a slight seizure. My friend froze. Impotent with the scenario unfolding before him and, with a wallet full of credit cards but no cash, unable to assist. He came home and wept.
An acquaintance of mine talks about his work Christmas party the other night. In a bid to survive the bullshit and big egos which have dogged him all year, he decided to bring his own festive cheer in the form of an illegal substance. It was this illegal substance which he was casually dipping into his drink when his bully of a boss came over, demanded my acquaintance hand over the drink to his boss, who couldn’t be bothered to wait at the bar for his own. Apparently, the boss was in an uncharacteristically jolly mood for the rest of the evening.
Everyone I talk to seems to speak of a tough year. The headlines have been peppered by sadness, loss, tragedy. Global economic conditions seem to have spawned a new breed of bully bosses. More and more people such as that woman in the wheelchair are buying their children clothes from charity shops.
But I also believe it’s a season for hope. I’ve personally asked Santa for a hot tradie under my daggy old Christmas tree, which, if it happens, could possibly constitute a break and enter, if not a miracle. It’s a time to rejoice and to reflect. Look towards the future with optimism. Try to be a better person. Express a bit of gratitude.
On that note, I wish to thank everyone who has followed, read, laughed and cried with The Global Goddess this year. I’ll be back in 2013 with more stories, more travels and, if Santa knows what’s good for him, maybe even a bloke or two.
If you have your own Christmas story to share, I’d love to hear it, via a comment below.
In the meantime, I wish you peace on earth.