THERE’S tin and timber shacks – pops of pink, green and blue – framing the roadside lined by sugar cane paddocks and laundry swaying in the South Pacific breeze. Makeshift roadside stalls are peddling tropical fruit picked fresh off the tree and fish plucked straight from the ocean. Lush sugar cane paddocks are punctuated by skinny kids clutching soccer balls and there’s a cacophony of chooks, horses and goats. I am being driven along a potholed road, pointing in the direction of lumpy, bumpy emerald hills. The air is scented with frangipani and hibiscus.
I’m back in Fiji, home to big, bursting blue skies and Bula smiles. And I’ve returned to the Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort, one of my favourite hideaways in the South Pacific. Later this night I’ll sip a vodka spiced with Fijian rum and scattered with shards of coconut. It tastes like a sun-kissed day at the beach. But before then, I check into this 18ha resort, perched right on the Coral Sea, and my beautiful bure which signals I am home. Late afternoon, a butler will bring me champagne and canapes, before I feast on lobster and one of the finest Fijian sunsets for dinner.
The next day heralds what the Fijians call a “monkey’s birthday”, a morning of sun showers which quickly concede to sunshine which is fortuitous, as I am on the new Ecotrax tour, a 23km return cycling trip along dormant sugar cane tracks. This journey begins in a locomotive shed which dates back to the early 1900s with the beautiful Britney, who I’ve met on previous trips to Fiji. The tracks were once used by the thriving sugar cane industry but floods in 2009 put a halt to this, and many farmers have now turned to lifestyle farming.
On this jaunty journey I will cycle across 10 rickety rail bridges and past two sleepy villages at a maximum speed of 20kmh, part roaring reef and through rainforest which smells like moist mangroves. There’s even a Tunnel of Love but there’s no such luck for me on this day, as I continue on past curious children, cows, goats and villagers before arriving at Vunabua or “frangipani” beach. Enroute, our guides have collected from the villagers coconuts, in a move which encourages microbusinesses, and whose hydrating waters I sip with gusto after my cycle and bath in the warm waters of the South Pacific Ocean. There’s plenty of new things happening in Fiji since my last visit, and I drink it all in with thirst. I’ve never slept in a bure at Outrigger Beach Resort and lay awake at night, intrigued by the hand-painted tapa ceilings whose different symbols tell a story, a bit like Australian Aboriginal rock art.
A stiff south-easterly trade wind is blowing the next morning when I meet Outrigger Beach Resort Guest Activities Manager and Cultural Advisor Kini Sarai. Kini is poised oceanfront to talk about this resort’s environmental and conservation initiatives, which are part of Outrigger’s global OZONE initiative. June is world oceans’ month, and the Outrigger group takes its role in this story seriously. Here in Fiji, May is the month of tidal surges, which leads to reef erosion, something Kini, staff and guests are trying to stem. There’s a fish house made from sea rocks and concrete upon which coral is planted on top and transplanted to the reef.
At Outrigger Beach Resort, coral planting takes place every Wednesday at 10am and is an organised activity for guests. The program, which has been in place for three years, has already resulted in significant improvement to the reef with increased numbers of fish in the lagoon. By December this year, Kini hopes to have planted a football field of coral.
“We are seeing fish that used to be here, returning,” he says.
“At high tide, on a good day, we have baby reef sharks, sometimes as many as 100, that come up the beach here.
“Everybody that we take out on this program comes back very satisfied with themselves. It adds to the experience of staying here, we see it as a win/win.”
There’s more new things to see and do here at Outrigger Beach Resort, which aims to launch a refurbishment program of its rooms next January. Dine at the award-winning IVI Restaurant on a new menu which boasts the likes of sizzled scallops and prosciutto salad; sea snapper and shelled mud crab; and that old firm favourite, flaming crepes for dessert. High on the hill, where there are future plans to build private pool villas, indulge in a traditional Fijian facial and massage at the Bebe Spa Sanctuary. Like the reef itself, every time I visit Fiji I find myself rejuvenating. Nothing quite beats a big Bula hug and that feeling of home. Hope sways like a hammock here, and the hearts, well they’re as huge as a South Pacific sunset. Pure Fiji indeed.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Outrigger Beach Resort Fiji http://www.outrigger.com/hotels-resorts/fiji/viti-levu/outrigger-on-the-lagoon-fiji
To find out more about Outrigger’s OZONE initiative, go to https://www.outrigger.com/ozone-program/overview
Take an Ecotrax tour with https://www.fiji.travel/us/activity/ecotrax
THE waves are whispering off the reef, but in my half-awake/half-asleep daytime slumber, I can’t quite catch what it is they are saying. I am snatching a languid nap on the veranda day bed, listening to this seaside lullaby and the resort staff singing as they work. I have flown, overnight, on the new Samoa Airways’ Brisbane-Apia route and on the only plane it its fleet, a 737-800. The airline launched last year to replace the former national carrier, Polynesian Airlines, which ceased flying in 2005, due to financial issues.
On board, the baby blue vinyl seats remind me of the interior an old FJ Holden and the seat belts are just as tricky to buckle as well. There’s no seat 13 on this plane, and in 14F on the flight over, apparently no button to recline my seat either, despite it not being in an exit aisle. The seat pitch itself is generous, with plenty of leg room, with some saying it’s a deliberate move to accommodate for the typically larger frames of Samoans. I don’t eat on the late overnight flight, instead preferring to lay across the three seats available on this leg, but despite having my eye mask on and my pashmina over my body, am shaken awake by a male steward, asking whether I want the “beef or chicken”.
I arrive in the Samoan capital of Apia just as the sun rises and am transported across the island to Seabreeze Resort in the south. This adults-only resort is a consistent award-winner, and it’s easy to see why. Owned by Australians Chris and Wendy Booth, there’s just 12 rooms all overlooking the ocean and where the staff and service are immaculate. Over lunch, I ask Wendy whether Samoa possesses a masculine or feminine energy, and she doesn’t hesitate with her response.
“It’s got a masculine energy. Everyone looks to the father of the family,” she says.
“The mother plays a very important role in Samoa but she’s quite happy to be in the background. The women are very powerful people in Samoa.
“The men are the fathers of the family but if someone wrongs you, the father will defend your honour.
“It is an interesting society and interesting in the village. Everyone shares the upbringing of the children. It works because everybody has something to give.
“There is no ownership in Samoa. The biggest belief they have is what goes around, comes around.”
There are 2000 people in the local Aufaga village and I have the incredible privilege of meeting some of them. I attend the local school, a make-shift affair for around 200 kids while their old school is being rebuilt, and there’s a sea of pink and green uniformed faces waiting for me. Turns out they have been practising their dance moves and singing all week. The boys do the haka and the girls perform a kind of hip hop hula. I am invited to repay the compliment and shake a leg, and the kids are in hysterics. This “palagi” (white girl) can’t dance.
I visit a village family who have cooked me an entire chicken as a gift that I share with a colleague, and watch as they roast a pig underground in a traditional umu, covered in leaves. They’ve done this just for us, and it’s delicious. I’m touched beyond words. For people who have so little to give, they have shared this feast with me.
My week unfolds like the daily tropical storms. I walk through steamy jungle foliage to visit gushing waterfalls, I swim, kayak and snorkel in the lukewarm ocean, and on my last day, a Sunday, I go to church. Some of the village kids remember me, smile, wave and sing out “hi Chris” like we’re old friends. There’s a pesky lump in my throat which turns to tears when the Samoans start to sing church hymns.
Oe my last night, I check into the Honeymoon Villa, which sits on its own private point overlooking the ocean. There’s a luscious lobster with my name on it and I dine, alone, under the stars. I have lounged on plump day beds and enjoyed a facial replete with local ingredients such a cucumber, honey, lime and banana. Later, when the moon rises, I snatch a sneaky skinny dip in my private plunge pool under the night sky. There’s a stingray, sashaying through the shallows. I search for the spiritual meaning of stingray. It means protection. I look out to the ocean and silently thank Brother Samoa for looking after me on my journey across the South Pacific.
On the Samoa Airways flight home, in seat 26A, my tray table is so damaged, I cannot actually eat my food from it, as it slides right off, and I note one of the drop-down screens which displays the safety message doesn’t deploy. For a short-haul flight, and boasting some great launch specials, it’s a good option from Australia’s east coast, but don’t expect any frills. The inflight entertainment is via wifi and you don’t need to download an App beforehand. There’s a reasonable selection of movies, TV shows and games to keep you entertained on this flight which is about five-hours long. The food and beverage is also retro…there’s the beef or chicken… but despite my initial scepticism about the chicken dish, it turns out to be tasty. Alcoholic beverages are extra, and you must pay in cash, but the full glass of red wine was good value for $5.
Back in Brisbane, my luggage arrives promptly, but when I open my case back home, all of my clothes inside are soaked, despite there being no rain in Apia when I leave, or Brisbane when I arrive. With only one plane in its fleet, Samoa Airways is taking a huge punt should anything go wrong on its routes which include Sydney, Auckland, Pago Pago, Apia and Brisbane. But the airline does have plans to introduce a second plane in March next year, and an agreement with Qantas and Fiji Airways to assist should the plane not work for any reason. I really wanted to like Samoa Airways, and overall, if you are looking for a retro ride that will get you across the South Pacific, for a competitive price, and pleasant and professional staff, consider this airline. With a few tweaks, and more attention to detail, this airline could make the Samoans proud of once again, having a national carrier.
The Global Goddess flew as a guest of Samoa Airways https://samoaairways.com and stayed as a guest of Seabreeze Resort http://www.seabreezesamoa.com
The children at Aufaga Village school desperately need reading and other school material. You can donate these to Seabreeze Resort and one of the staff, who lives in this village, will ensure they are delivered.
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.
THIS jaunty journey begins at Fiji’s major airport of Nadi, aboard a stiflingly hot, crowded, 16-seater plane. Regular followers of The Global Goddess know that she finds small planes about as appealing as Brisbane blokes. Some days they turn up, others they don’t. They’re often late, are prone to leaving you stranded in a remote locale, and when things get bumpy, it’s unpleasant. On this occasion, just as we’re about to take off, the avionics screen goes blank (a little like a Brisbane bloke) and we taxi back to the hangar. I should point out I’d rather this scenario occurs on the ground, than when we’re in the air, and an hour later we’re back on board enroute to the remote northern island of Savusavu, via the capital of Suva.
On my Suva stopover I meet two colour characters: a bubbly blonde from Hobart who is off to a health retreat at which, she has been told, she will be handed a snorkel and a horse for the week. The Hobartarian confesses the retreat follows a heavenly hedonistic week in Las Vegas which ensued after she and her brother won a significant sum of cash at Hobart’s casino, departed the gambling den at 2am, and boarded a flight to Vegas with their winnings, four hours later. It was only halfway across the Pacific Ocean, when they started to sober up, did they realise what they were actually doing. Suffice to say, she needs that horse and snorkel real bad.
The other character is a young man from Utah who proudly informs me he hails from a Trump voting state. “Gawd,” I sputter, “but you didn’t vote for him, did you?” The coy look on this young man’s face teaches me a very valuable lesson: That I should never again ask an American that question (I mean, clearly, yet inexplicably, someone voted for him) and I board my next small plane flight convinced I could die next to a Trump supporter. Or worse, be stuck on a life raft out in the middle of the South Pacific, with one. I think I need a horse and snorkel.
I arrive safely in Savusavu for the wedding of my lovely friend Saskia. We met three years ago, in Fiji, just as we she was about to head to a remote island for some voluntourism work. Over breakfast, we were bemoaning the lack of decent dates back in Australia when a mutual friend walked past, heard Saskia was off to this particular island, and mentioned a dive instructor called Pauliasi who worked on that island. One day Saskia wandered down to the dive centre, met Paul, and they fell in love. You can date every bloke in Australia and your soul mate might just be sitting out there in the South Pacific somewhere. And so, on the finest Fijian Friday, they wed. The bride, channeling all of the elegance of Grace Kelly and the groom, mustering that handsome strength of a Fijian warrior. I stand under the stars and thank the full moon for this amazing opportunity. I get to do a lot of cool things in my job, but you can’t buy entry into a traditional Fijian wedding of two people you love.
We all wept. We all danced in the sand to a live band. On the dance floor I was accosted by a Fijian man who introduced himself as Solomon and who offered to show me around the island. He kissed me on the cheek and then he disappeared into the night, never to be spotted again. Minutes later I was introduced to Sonny, one of the Fijian relatives to whom I suspect I had been promised in marriage. We shook hands and then Sonny declared he was off to “get drunk.” I have that effect on men. It was only two days later, over breakfast, that Pauliasi told me that there were scores of Fijian men at the wedding approaching him to ask about the blonde woman on the dance floor (me) and trying to muster the courage to approach her. Opportunity lost, fellas.
Later that night I arrived back by boat from the wedding venue with three other Aussies, all of us in search of a cab on this remote Fijian island. A clean-cut bloke pulled up in his ute, admitted he wasn’t a cabbie, but offered to drive us to our resort. At the other end, we offered him money, be he politely declined.
“No thanks,” he said “I have to park my car for the night, I’ve just been at the wedding and I’m so drunk.”
I really need to find me that horse and a snorkel.
The Global Goddess funded her own trip to Fiji. Keep an eye out for my upcoming blog on Fiji’s luxurious Namale Resort, which was one of the most romantic experiences of my life. And in the meantime, check out some more of my Fiji photos on Instagram @aglobalgoddess
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’m flying to the Cook Islands today on assignment for 10 days. I’ll be back just after Easter with some more pics and words on my incredible adventure where I’ll be snorkelling and sailing these beautiful waters, interviewing the only female chief of one of their tribes, participating in a traditional bush beer ceremony with the men, staying in a brand new eco retreat, going on a cycling storytelling tour and visiting some of their most remote islands. I can’t wait to meet these beautiful people.
Photos and travel courtesy of Cook Islands Tourism http://www.cookislands.travel
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