Its been a big year.
After relocating from India, I went back to my full-time job as staff travel writer at the Sydney Morning Herald. I slogged it out on four titles at once, left said job, turned 30, and starting pimping my arse out as a freelancer.
All the while, I battled an army of parasites (thanks India) and shuttled in between Sydney and the Hunter Valley while trying to keep my marriage functioning on minimal face time.
Somewhere in between I travelled to ten countries, including Singapore, Samoa, Papua New Guinea, Vietnam, Cambodia, China, France and Zambia.
At the end of it all, as I vow to have a much more calm and collected time of it in 2015, I’m reflecting on the five travel moments that made it all worth it.
Diving into the blue-green waters of the To Sua Ocean Trench in Samoa, a swimming hole sunk 30 metres into the earth surrounded by lush green foliage, made every tropical paradise dream I’d ever had come true. Samoa was full of moments like this – moments that combined deserted beaches that put The Beach to shame, gently swaying coconut palms, chilled-out people, vine-choked rainforests, magical treehouses and roaring waterfalls, in the most idyllic of combinations. It was a place I connected with instantly, that made my heart rate slow and my imagination soar. Which is all I’m ever really searching for.
MEETING A SECRET SOCIETY IN PNG
The day before I’d climbed an active volcano that blew one week later. The night before I’d been jolted awake by an earthquake. The morning of I’d waited for a hurricane to subside. And still, as I stood waiting for the Kinavai boats to pull up to the shores of Kokopo Beach in Papua New Guinea, for the commencement of the annual Rabaul Mask Festival, something happened to outweigh all of that. I got talking to one of the red-sari clad dudes who were dancing and singing on the shore, who told me he was the chairman of the Tubuan society – a secret society comprised of 190,000 people, that’s been running since the 1700s. This man told me that inside his little palm-frond clutch bag, was a potion that would make any woman fall in love with him. It was the first of many fascinating secrets he’d reveal to me, and a moment that made this frangipani-scented, wild country feel that little bit more magical.
CLIMBING PSYCHEDELIC RICE TERRACES IN CHINA
Just outside of Yangshuo in south-eastern China, hand-carved into the sides of mountains over 700 years, are Longji’s psychedelic rice terraces. Look at the narrow ribbons of rice terraces for long enough and your eyes will start to do funny things, I swear. Along the way, as I followed the path that twisted and curled towards the remote village of Ping’an, I managed to bargain my way into an epic handloom jacket from one of the Yao minority women (the women with floor-length hair who cut it only once in their lives), I stayed in a traditional stilted wooden guest house, I ate smoky bamboo rice, and I decided that this was, indeed, a real-life Shangri-La.
WATCHING DAVID DEFEAT GOLIATH IN ZAMBIA
Zambia, that little nugget of a land-locked nation on the eastern edge of Africa, was a soul place for me. You know what I’m talking about; one of those countries you arrive in and just know you belong there. It was full of unforgettable moments: watching leopards sleeping in a tree just metres away from us, following a pack of endangered wild dogs for two days, staying in luxury safari camps, paddling through the still channels off the Zambezi passing crocs, hippos and elephants. But the moment that will stay with me until I leave this earth was when I watched little Hercules, the baby elephant that could, fight off 14 lionesses in the ultimate show of bravery and overcoming the odds. A constant source of inspiration, in a country that truly reminded me of my essence.
RIDING THROUGH THE WORLD’S MOST EXPENSIVE VINEYARDS IN BURGUNDY
Cycling through the grand cru vineyards of Domaine Leflaive and Domaine de la Romanée-Conti each morning as the mist lifted and the sky went from grey to baby blue, during the month I spent in Burgundy when my husband was working vintage at Puligny Montrachet. Sometimes I’d pass grape pickers getting an early start, other times I’d make it all the way down to the canal and watch the barges floating along by the weeping willows. It was a quiet, reflective, wine-soaked time, that made me fall in love with la belle France all over again.