Detouring

First came the light, then came the sign.  It wasn't some sort of out-of-body experience or religious vision but for a wanderer like me it was just as important.   

In just over an hour, a morning walk along Cronulla Beach, with only a mobile phone camera at hand, was enough to provide a smorgasbord of changing sun and light, ocean mist and brewing storm clouds and reminded me how beautiful this part of the world can be.   

As the heart of 'The Shire', Cronulla will always be an iconic Sydney beach with its long stretches of sand, always-alluring surf, distinctive surf club and for me, the memory of many years running its beaches and roads, sharing stories, sweat and tears with so many special friends.

But this visit was different.  After seeing the 'Detour' sign along the path, it struck me that I was spending the weekend in an area that had been part of my life for so many years and yet it was now a place that no longer felt like home.    

Friends, family and shared experiences are what makes a place special and memorable, but not necessarily different.  On my detours in search of different, I now know that 'home' for me takes many forms but it will always be the place where my head and heart feel most energised, alive and inspired at that point in the journey. 

Outside the window of the plane heading back to Melbourne, I was momentarily breathless when I saw the biggest rainbow I have ever seen - stretching from the ocean to the clouds.  Maybe nobody else saw it, but I did.  It was the sign telling me I wasn't detouring - I was heading home.   

Revisiting

Going back was a difficult decision but I did it anyway.

After having had such a special experience 'the first time', I was full of internal conflict about going back.  Being lucky enough to have the opportunity to revisit such a special place, I was filled with the irrational fear that it just wouldn't be the same the second time round and would ruin my first time memories.  I was wrong.    

Maintained by kings and queens since the 14th Century, then rebuilt in 1774, Shwedagon Pagoda is 100 metres of gold standing on the top of a hill, above the Myanmar capital of Yangon.  During the day it shines, at sunset it glows, and at night it sparkles for the whole city to see as a symbol of the devout Buddhist culture that exists across the country. 

It took my breath away for a second time and I couldn't stop looking at it.  When travelling in South-East Asia, it's easy to get 'templed-out' - particularly in Myanmar where ancient temples and pagodas abound.  Shwedagon is different and it was easy to spend time there just observing and taking in the feeling of calm that seems to radiate from it - even in the sweltering heat and humidity.  

It was a contrast of old and modern, with a new, free wi-fi zone and dramatic increase in Myanmar locals taking 'selfies'  since my last visit - all evidence that Myanmar is a country on the move after many years of being somewhat sheltered from the technology that much of Asia has embraced.  

Like many things in life, nothing will ever erase that 'first time' feeling but I know now that revisiting is not better or worse - just different.

 

 

 

 

Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar

Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar

Downtown Yangon

Downtown Yangon

Folding umbrellas

It only happens three times a day and it was a totally unexpected spectacle when it did today.

Just when you think a country can't surprise you anymore, it does.  Back in Thailand much sooner than I ever expected, I was lucky enough to go exploring with some local Thai friends and it's amazing what else is out there when you have some local know-how.

A couple of hours drive from Bangkok by van brought us to the tiny, riverside train station of Banlaem where we boarded a little old train and travelled slowly and very closely alongside seaside prawn farms and mangroves before arriving at Maeklong Station market (the Folding Umbrella Market).

My friends had told me we were going to see a local market, but they didn't tell me about the umbrellas.  Well, they're not really umbrellas, more like folding market awnings and fold they do, three times a day.  Because the train goes right through the middle of the markets  - really, really, really closely.  When I stuck my head outside the train window, I could almost reach out and grab things from the stalls.  Three times a day, the market stall owners pack up, move their wares back a metre, fold up their 'umbrellas' and wait for the train to pass.  Then the umbrellas get unfolded and it all goes back again, like nothing had ever happened.

Apart from being a great local market, it is a nirvana for true food lovers (well, it would be if I was an actual foodie, not just a photographer of foodie things) and it was fun wandering around between bowls of frogs, the freshest of fruit, an abundance of sugar-laden treats, every possible type of seafood, flowers, sock & jocks.  There was no such thing as a cup of coffee and a biscuit today - morning tea was a bowl of noodles with fish lung, quail egg, chicken blood and bamboo shoots.  I repeat, not a foodie - it was out of my stomach's comfort zone, but I went there anywhere.

I admit it Thailand, you managed to surprise and delight me.

Beneath the southern sky

Bombs?  We have unexploded bombs in Australia?   The sign was enough to convince me that wandering onto the pristine beach may not be a good idea.

It took little more than a clear blue sky this morning to get me back to Mornington Peninsula to enjoy some crisp winter fresh air.  What started as a rough plan to do some walking along the coast, ended up as a history lesson that I hadn't expected.

With panoramic views of Bass Straight, the Rip and Port Phillip Bay, there is plenty of natural landscape to enjoy when visiting Point Nepean National Park and its surrounding Marine Park but it was the military forts, tunnels and Quarantine Station that gave me a different perspective on the area.   The entrance to Port Phillip was the most heavily forted port of the British Empire during the first world war and there are still remnants dating back to the 1880s scattered throughout the park.

With calm bayside on one side and rugged, southern ocean on the other, I would have been quite happy just enjoying the scenery but then I heard it.  The music.  As I walked further into the tunnel, i could feel myself smiling and being drawn closer to see where it was coming from.  At first I thought it must have been a busker, but as I reached the inner tunnel, I discovered a recording of wartime music depicting life as the Point Nepean soldiers would have experienced it.  Quite unexpected.  It struck me that I have learnt so much about war history in other countries but have never taken as much interest in my own.  It never seemed as interesting because it was close to home - not proud to say that.  The more I see of the impact of war, regardless of where it is in the world, the more indebted I feel to our Australian soldiers for helping ensure I grew up in a free country.       

An easy day trip, only 90km from Melbourne and with unlimited options for exploring, this won't be the last time the Peninsula sees me enjoying life beneath the southern sky. 

One of almost 50 heritage-listed buildings at the Quarantine Station

One of almost 50 heritage-listed buildings at the Quarantine Station

Down the Prom

A road trip + fresh air + wonderful scenery + bread + wombats = a great long weekend.  And when that road trip was to The Prom, - well, that's even better.

Wilsons Promontory National Park (or The Prom as it is commonly known) is a place of incredible natural beauty, located in Victoria at the southern-most tip of mainland Australia.  The combination of huge granite mountains, long beaches, forest, rainforest and rugged coastlines makes it a special place that is just begging to be explored.  With loads of hiking trails, it is easy to spend under one hour or up to three days on foot.  

When the weather is less than perfect, there is something so simple and rewarding about a few slices of good, hearty bread, eaten on top of a huge granite rock after a bit of exertion walking uphill, surrounded by tall trees and huge tree ferns.  I'm always amazed at how good any food tastes after exercising in the great outdoors, but it was hard to tell if it was the bread or the chocolate that attracted the envious looks of passing hikers.  Maybe it was the chocolate.

The waters surrounding The Prom are protected as marine national park with outstanding diving, although it would take a braver, much hardier soul than me to brave the chilly Southern Ocean temperatures.  

Wildlife is in abundance and in just three days, all the iconic Australian land-based critters were accounted for.  Wombat - tick.  Emu - tick.  Kangaroo - tick.  Kookaburra - tick.   The koalas, however, were missing in action. 

Next time koalas - you don't get off that easily.  There will definitely be a next time to The Prom.

Egg-stra-ordinary day

Two hours and two hundred dollars later, I was egg-less but on my way.  The day had not gone to plan and I learnt the hard way that it is better if I take the house keys with me, than to lock them inside the house.  It became my charitable Easter act of keeping the emergency local locksmith in business.  Unfortunately, the Easter bunny couldn't get in either.  

But I had places to go and things to see - the surf was calling, the weather gods were being kind and after only a 1.5 hour drive west from Melbourne, the famous coastal town of Torquay and Bells Beach awaited.

Every April, an influx of local and overseas visitors arrive to watch the world professional tour surf competition on one of the most famous surf breaks in the world and this year, I was one of them.  

With cliff-top viewing platforms, grandstands, commentary and big screens, it was easy to be part of the action from up high on the sandy cliffs or down on the beach with the crowd.  There is something incredibly intoxicating about watching waves and knowing that no two will ever be the same.  It was equally powerful seeing some of the best female surfers in the world and being in awe of their fitness and talent.  

Spectating on the beach is great during low tide, but as the tide comes in, the crowd quickly need to find higher ground (or get wet) - their choice.  It's a beautiful, rugged and well-preserved coastline and easy to see why Victoria's Great Ocean Road has so much appeal.  

It was an egg-stra-ordinary day on so many levels.  

The coastal trail to Bells Beach - great for walking or biking

The coastal trail to Bells Beach - great for walking or biking

Bali tripping

It was the Kombi van at sunset that made me change my mind.

There are many places in the world that I have always wanted to visit.  Bali was never high on the list.  I found myself asking "what it is about Bali that is so appealing"?  On an island that has long been a favourite for Australian tourists, it is not always easy to find an 'authentic' Balinese experience away from the shopping complexes, villas and development. 

Being lucky enough to travel as part of my job, a recent trip to Bali gave me an insight into what brings the tourists in droves.  For the majority of visitors, it's much less about finding an authentic experience and more about the fun and relaxation of being somewhere different.  In a place where English is widely spoken, that is great value for money, loaded with creature comforts, bars, warmth and shopping, it's an easy first-time traveller overseas destination.  If you are that kind of traveller.  

I'm so very glad I work for a travel company that does pride itself in providing authentic and unique experiences.   On a sunny morning, we were lucky to take part in a blessing ceremony in a temple, on the edge of the beach, with the sound of the surf in the background - it was enough to put me back in the zone and remind me that pockets of Balinese culture can still be found.  I'm that kind of traveller. 

Continuing with the 'unique' theme, along came the Kombi.  I got a bit nostalgic thinking of the many months of my youth spent travelling around Europe, UK and US in Kombi vans - but I had never seen one quite like this.  This one had a fully air-conditioned, limousine-like interior, complete with blue flouro-lit drink holders, electric, retracting Esky full of cold drinks and a kick-arse stereo system - this was not your typical Indonesian taxi.  

Luckily Bali is the kind of place where you can enjoy being both kinds of traveller. 

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Flying high

“I’ve never been overseas” he said, “but I reckon we’ve got everything you could want right here”.  Today I was inclined to agree.  On a sun-filled day, when I chronologically turned another year older, I felt as young as a kid flying high on life.

The desire to wander had been burning strong and Mornington Peninsula, about an hour and a half from Melbourne, called.  Relieved that I still remembered how to drive, I also remembered that I had no idea where I was going.

It didn’t matter - that’s when fun and unexpected things happen.  Things like the Rosebud Kite Festival - a beachside celebration of kites (along with the obligatory sausage sizzle, music, massage stands and fire truck). The kites were big, small and oh so beautifully colourful.  My personal favourite was one I called ‘Evil Tweetie.  It was a sight to behold.

I went wild and crazy (after all, it was my birthday) and had a sausage sandwich.  If the queue had been shorter, I would have lined up with the kids and their Dads to get my photo taken in the fire truck …….. but I didn’t get THAT wild and crazy.

An easy drive from the city and ideal for a seaside escape, Mornington’s coastline is peppered with shallow, white sandy beaches and seaside villages on the Port Phillip Bay side.  The ocean side is equally dramatic, with rugged cliffs and clean beaches and gave me a much-needed fix of time in the surf.   

The beach shack owner was right - I did have everything I could want right there today.  Even Evil Tweetie. 

 

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Rose-coloured

I like my rose-coloured glasses.  They let me see the world as better than it probably is -  and some days that can be a very good thing.    

On a day when the city skyline was filled with smoke haze from distant bushfires, they helped to block out the reality of the hardship and tough conditions that so many bushfire-affected communities are experiencing.

Rose-coloured glasses don’t block out empathy, support or understanding - they just help me to focus on other things in the world that make it good.  Things like the Vegemite story (I’ll get to that bit).   

Taking a cruise today on Melbourne’s Yarra River was unexpectedly interesting. En route to the historic portside beach town of Williamstown at the mouth of the Yarra, the boat passes city landmarks, massive bridges, luxury apartments, industry and Australia’s busiest port for containerised and general cargo.  It is a river that supports a whole lot of action.

It also goes past the Vegemite factory ......... which brings me to the story.  I learned today that In 1928, the iconic Australian brand name was changed from ‘Vegemite’ to ‘Parwill’.  Who in their right mind would name a yeast extract ‘Parwill’?  Not surprisingly, the new name failed to gain momentum but it took 14 long years before ‘Vegemite’ once again reigned supreme.

If you didn’t think like the Vegemite story, I’ll lend you my glasses.

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Williamstown Beach

Williamstown Beach

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So very proud

I didn’t expect to see the Stormtroopers.  They came somewhere in the parade after the brightly dressed girls from Sri Lanka, before the Russians and somewhere between the visually impaired, the Chinese dragon, the Solomon Islanders and the penny farthing bicycles.   

Welcome to Australia Day celebrations Melbourne-style!  I was so very proud, not only to consider this my home, but to be surrounded by people from all corners of the globe, all celebrating the diversity and the quirky that makes this country unique.

Across the day the multicultural experience continued, watching a tribal dance band from Ghana, listening to folk singers from Bosnia-Hercegovina and marveling what a $5 million aerial acrobatic plane is capable of against a perfect blue sky.  There were six planes in total and I’m guessing it is an expensive exercise to get a manouvre wrong. 

After listening to several renditions of Waltzing Matilda and I Still Call Australia Home, it seemed only fitting to cap off the experience with a meat pie, a walk around the vintage car display and to join my fellow countrymen in admiring the Torana.  

Australia - you make me so very proud.

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People

If someone asked you “what was the most memorable moment of your year in 2013”, what would you answer?  I was asked recently and had to stop and think.

What defines “most memorable” and how could I narrow that down to just one?  What makes one moment stand out among all the other moments I had during the year?  After a fairly life-changing twelve months, I realised I didn’t have just one - every moment of the year was memorable for one reason or another. 

But I did have a defining moment.  It came when I was sitting on a hotel room bed in the ugly town of Podgorica in Montenegro, eating a Snickers chocolate bar and watching very bad cable TV.  It was the last day of my solo journey and after eight months of incredible history, sights, sounds, scenery, smells and experiences, it hit me.  The most memorable part, of anywhere I had been, was the people.

Whether it was one person or several people, whether friends or total strangers, whether through bad experiences or random acts of kindness, it was the people that left an indelible mark on any moment.  Sometimes though, it was actually the absence of people that made it most special.

Realistically, I am unlikely to do much meditating with monks, snorkelling with whale sharks, climbing volcanoes or visiting genocide sites in 2014, but I know that anywhere I am, there will always be people moments that play a part in making a memorable year. 

Welcome to 2014 and may it be full of your own most memorable people moments - be they good, bad or just different.  

I share with you just a few of mine from 2013.

On the second last day of a seven day motorbike trip in Vietnam, I was totally exhausted, covered in dust and having the worst hair day of my life.  Then they saw me.  The local tourism film crew came out of nowhere, in a one-horse town, and decided it would be good to interview me about my experiences in their country.  How could I refuse - it was such a wonderful experience to share.

On the second last day of a seven day motorbike trip in Vietnam, I was totally exhausted, covered in dust and having the worst hair day of my life.  Then they saw me.  The local tourism film crew came out of nowhere, in a one-horse town, and decided it would be good to interview me about my experiences in their country.  How could I refuse - it was such a wonderful experience to share.

In the town of Girona in Spain, getting caught up in a parade, going with the flow and singing/dancing my way through the narrow streets with the locals following 'Los Gigantes' (the giants).  

In the town of Girona in Spain, getting caught up in a parade, going with the flow and singing/dancing my way through the narrow streets with the locals following 'Los Gigantes' (the giants).  

In Matsuyama, Japan at a sacred pilgrimage site - watching a lady in traditional kimono.  I thought she was chanting prayers or thanks for having made it to the site.  But no, when I got closer, she was talking on her mobile phone.

In Matsuyama, Japan at a sacred pilgrimage site - watching a lady in traditional kimono.  I thought she was chanting prayers or thanks for having made it to the site.  But no, when I got closer, she was talking on her mobile phone.

While on a day hike in Myanmar with a small group, we spent time in a village where they were making woven fans.  When no-one else was looking, she gave me a huge smile and my own fan, expecting nothing in return.  I was touched.   The people of Myanmar were so very, very special. 

While on a day hike in Myanmar with a small group, we spent time in a village where they were making woven fans.  When no-one else was looking, she gave me a huge smile and my own fan, expecting nothing in return.  I was touched.   The people of Myanmar were so very, very special. 

This amazing war survivor in Sarajevo, Bosnia provided a tour of the city and recounted his own experiences.  His jovial spirit, friendliness and strength amazed me, but his eyes had an underlying sadness that I will never, ever forget.

This amazing war survivor in Sarajevo, Bosnia provided a tour of the city and recounted his own experiences.  His jovial spirit, friendliness and strength amazed me, but his eyes had an underlying sadness that I will never, ever forget.

The loop

I was on a big loop with no map and found myself wondering - “can you be lost if you don’t really know where you are trying to go?”

While distracted by new sights, scenery and the joy of being outdoors, my bike missed a crucial turn and took me somewhere else.  My bike and I were not lost - we were simply exploring alternatives.

Cycling around Melbourne’s well-marked 30km Capital City Trail loop doesn’t usually require a map, my bike just likes to be a bit rebellious.  I was secretly pleased.  Getting lost at home means that life hasn’t become too predictable.

2013 has been one big loop of getting lost, getting found, rediscovery, being immersed in new cultures overseas then looping back home to more wonderful discoveries in a different city. 

In the last week I have rediscovered the joy of watching a movie under the stars, explored a beautiful old convent, stared at waterfalls, ridden down twisting metal paths, listened to amazing overseas and local musicians in concert halls, clubs and the tiniest little pub I’ve ever been to.  Melbourne is a wonderfully diverse, cosmopolitan and accepting place and when I danced next to the green-mohawked, tattoo-covered, leather-clad stranger, his smile to me said it all - music transcends boundaries.  

As always, the real fun happens when you step outside the comfort zone.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Abbotsford Convent

Abbotsford Convent

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Dights Falls

Dights Falls

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A man and a girl

They were an unlikely duo.  She was moving all alone in her own special world.  Until he came along.  

The crowd was captivated.  She was a little girl in her red Christmas dress, dancing to the music of the buskers in Bourke Street Mall.  And then he joined her - a total stranger from the crowd.  He was an elderly man with a happy face and a big toothy grin.  He led the little girl through twists and twirls and ballroom dance moves.  The little girl was entranced by the man.  The crowd could not take their eyes off them.  

Melbourne continues to provide moments of inspiration, especially on sun-filled days of perfection that remind me how simple things can be so special to see. 

We don’t remember days, we remember moments.  I will remember that one.

 

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It's not about the race

It may be the "horse race that stops the nation", but it's not about the race.  It's about the hats. 

On the first Tuesday in November every year, Australia stops to watch the Melbourne Cup.  It might only be three and a half minutes long, but millions around Australia stop to watch on television, big screens and enjoy local celebrations.  This year, I was lucky enough to see it up close and personal at Flemington racecourse and the hype was justified - it is something that has to be experienced at least once.  Of everywhere I have travelled around the world, there has been nothing like it.  Sure, there are horse races all over the world, but it's not about the race, it's about the hats.

My initial plan to go 'hatless' but was quickly changed when I was told, in no uncertain terms,  "You HAVE to wear a hat".  Sure enough, every female on the train was wearing a hat.  'Hat' is a loose term, which I discovered does not mean a cap but does include flower, bow and feather arrangements of every possible shape and form and many are works of art.   

Dressing up for the races is a tradition that has stood the test of time in Melbourne.  It feels like stepping back to a bygone era to be sitting on a train at 8.30am, surrounded by beautifully dressed people (of all ages) in their finest attire (and hats).   From the moment you enter Flinders Street station, you can feel the air of excitement and anticipation as people head out to the racecourse. 

While the horse racing goes on in the background, there are special separate competitions going on - JUST for hats.  The hats seemed to get as much media coverage as the horses.  The hats had their own stage, models, lights and show.  

As much as I wanted to get photos of the hats, a big camera and zoom lens was just not 'de rigeur' with a glamorous clutch purse, so I share my simple happy snaps from a day of sunshine, racing, bubbly drinks ...... and memories of hats.

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Remembering

The thing about travel memories is that they never really fade.  All it takes is a song, a smell or just hearing an accent and I am quickly transported back to lands afar. 

This week I was transported back to Laos - a country with a special soul that captured me hook, line and sinker.  While saddened by the recent plane crash that killed many locals and tourists, I was also uplifted after seeing a movie called “The Rocket” - a beautiful, subtitled film set in Laos.  

The movie is centered around a family, how they adapt to change and tragedy in the name of progress and, as the name suggests, a Rocket Festival. The festival (Boun Bang Fai) takes place every year in Laos and involves home-made, large bamboo rockets being fired into the clouds as a call for rain and as a celebration of fertility.   

I am still amused by the irony of this real-life festival.  During the American/Vietnam War, Laos became the most heavily bombed country on earth and in a typical year experts still destroy up to 65,500 unexploded ordinances.  Every year, limbs and lives are still lost by innocent children and farmers playing in the fields.   

Despite the irony, I hope countries like Laos hold on to these local festivals.  Many places in Asia are fast losing their identity and becoming victims of the ‘help’ and ‘infrastructure’ that other countries (predominantly China) are providing.  Of course, it is purely goodwill and no self interest in it for the Chinese .........

These images show some of the reasons why I hope that Laos stays forever Laos. 

 

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Making a wish

Rolling on the grass was always going to end in pain.

But it was so lush, so green and I really wanted a picture of those little pink flowers.  Besides, the itching went away ......... eventually ......... and I will have the photo forever.

I have been wandering in my new home city of Melbourne and it has been full of unexpected delights, especially of the two-wheeled kind.  

Melbourne is a very bicycle-friendly city and the choice of dedicated bike trails is fantastic.  One of the deservedly most popular is the Main Yarra Trail, which starts in the city and runs through a variety of scenic landscape from bush to paddocks, along the Yarra River for 35km.  The combination of park, bushland, river, city views AND even some lovely cafes along the way makes for a very pleasant experience.  Did I mention that it is mostly flat?  

But just as I got comfortable cruising along on wheels, I found it - The Wishing Tree and the Labyrinth.

I had never seen anything like it - the maze-like labyrinth was too intriguing not to explore on foot.  As I wove my way around the curiously laid rock path, it was an almost trance-like experience allowing feet and mind to simply follow the path and trust that it would lead to the centre.

Next to it is The Wishing Tree (a beautiful native gum tree) which is covered in quirky symbols of peace and hope.  The wish tags, left hanging by passers-by, are seeking everything from world peace, harmony, equality, love and lots more, but the one which left me smiling simply said:  “I wish I was a pirate”. 

Maybe life really is as simple as just putting one foot in front of the other and making a few wishes along the way.


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My favourite place

It was on my doorstep all along and it is still my favourite place in the world.  

The Royal National Park, just an hour south of Sydney's centre, is one of the most diverse, spectacular, accessible, pristine places I have found anywhere on my travels.

Established in 1879, it is the world's second-oldest national park and its scenery covers coastal cliffs, heathland, forest, waterfalls, lagoons, surf beaches, native bush, wildflowers, picnic areas and trails galore.  Mother Nature threw away the rule book when she created this park and it is as diverse as they come.

Over the years, it's 16,000 hectare area has been like a huge, natural fun park for me (and thousands of others) to enjoy bushwalking, running, riding, photography, camping and kayaking. 

It's the sort of place that makes you feel like you are a million miles away from the world, yet Australia's biggest city is just a stone's throw away.  It's the sort of place that, after years of exploring all corners of the park, always manages to surprise me with its beauty.  Today, while walking the Coastal Trail, I was left in no doubt that this will always be my favourite place in the world.  

There are many incredible national parks across the globe, but there will only ever be one that is truly Royal.

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How very Australian

I love waking up to find wallabies (the furry ones, not the Rugby variety), grazing on the front lawn.  They are a smaller, cuter cousin to the kangaroo and watching them never seems to lose its “aawwww” factor. 

The grass does seem to be greener on the other side for the wallabies and although they are surrounded by native bushland, the lure of my mother’s lush lawn provides an ongoing temptation that they cannot resist.  They do love a good nibble on those juicy, green shoots.   

It is easy to forget the little things that make a place so very Australian but I find myself surrounded by them on a trip home to the northern state of Queensland.  

If the gumtrees, wallabies and an almost-deserted beach were not enough to remind me where I was, the familiar red and yellow of our iconic lifeguards left me in little doubt.

And as I am just up the road from the town of Bundaberg, home of the famous rum distillery, it seems only right that I show my support for the local economy.  

How very Australian.

 

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Fresh eyes

It had to happen eventually - my endless summer of blue skies finally ended and gave way to the colour grey. 

But there a certain beauty in grey that I've never noticed this much before.  Maybe it is just that it is different from blue?  Maybe.  Perhaps it is more about having fresh eyes in my own country and continuing to find beauty in simple things, even when the sky is not blue.

I won't lie - it feels weird.  As a solo traveller for so long, It now feels foreign being back in a place where I can understand everything people are saying, back in a place where I don't have to constantly be careful or grip my handbag, or worry about always having small change.  Weird that I am, again, just like everyone else. 

But what I quickly rediscovered is how wonderful this country of mine is.  Have Australians always been such a happy, friendly, helpful bunch of people?  Has the air always been so fresh?  Probably.  I just needed to be amongst it all again with fresh eyes - fresh eyes in a new city (Melbourne) with plenty to explore, experience and enjoy - and it feels so very right to continuing sharing the journey ahead. 

A journey doesn't always have to involve travel.

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A fork in the road

It started intentionally with no plan and “no plan” was the best possible plan I could have had.  It was the journey that mattered in the end. 

But now, after many months of solo journeying, I have reached another fork in the road and this wanderer is returning to the country that will always be home.

Through Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam, Philippines, Japan, Spain, France, Switzerland, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Montenegro, my wanderings have led to experiences that filled me with awe, surprise, learning, delight, wonder, chaos, laughter, tears and self-discovery.  

Today was my last day in Montenegro and as one of the last before returning home, it was a day of mixed emotions.  But I spent it well.  Driving through the incredible Lake Skadar National Park, along narrow backroads, was special.  Even more special was stopping at a roadside stall, chatting to the owner for ages, tasting fresh, ripe figs, picking grapes straight from the vine, 'sipping' his wares, meeting his 86 year old father and other friends who drove by and being made to feel so welcome and at home in their country.  That's why I travel. 

Pictures and words can only ever capture the essence of an experience - it is the memories of the people that have stuck with me over the years - much more than the sights themselves.  This trip has given me the opportunity to reconnect with old friends and family across the globe and for that I will always be grateful. 

As for my new friends, there is a special bond that only a travel experience together can bring, so thank you for being part of those moments. 

I have delighted in sharing the journey through my images and blog.  This blog has been my constant companion and is now part of who I am.  So it might not be as regular from now on, or be from destinations as exotic, but I will continue to share it, if only for me.  The Wandering Hart journey will never be over while there is something different or interesting to observe about life and locations. 

Thank you for joining me on an unforgettable ride.

 

"Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors.  Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” 

― Terry PratchettA Hat Full of Sky

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