Vanuatu certainly delivers on the incredibly beautiful landscape goods. If you like kayaking to uninhabited islands across incredibly clear water, snorkelling with turtles, diving coral reefs, hiking waterfalls, or swimming in bright blue water holes, you will never be lost for something to do in this part of the Pacific. Simply watching the sky, as it transforms the colour of the ocean in to impossible shades of blue sits up there on the top of the must experience while you are there list as well. I’m hoping the following photos suggest more than I can properly say. Port Olry felt pretty damn surreal to us! Kris
Wanting to get an insight into a different culture has always been a huge motivator for me; especially in thinking about where we hope to travel. Our trip to Vanuatu has been no different. Choosing to stay in Port Olry was all about the opportunity to live within a traditional village, a place where other tourists are scarce, and a place where our money could go directly to the community.
With a population of around 1,300 people, accommodation options are generally rustic, there are only two restaurants catering to tourists and a few sparse grocery stores. Power comes on and off at set times and the nightlife generally involves an invitation to share kava in someone’s home, a fire on the beach or a bit of star gazing. The closest atmosphere to a celebration can be found in the local Catholic Church of a Sunday, where people wear their freshest clothes and sing a few mellow hymns. If you are looking for a place with a party vibe you’ll need to keep searching.
Getting to know Angelic, the owner of our beautiful treehouse stay meant I was treated to an invitation in to her home. As Andrés stayed beachside, Angelic and I spent time in her veggie garden where she explained the traditional use of certain plants and vegetables. I learned about the leaf that is placed behind your ear to protect you from evil, an important necessity before we climbed through the ‘jungle’. We hiked through old strangler figs to the cliff top overlooking the village, all the time Angelic nursing her youngest of five children. We stopped regularly in the shade to chat intensely about our lives, and despite our different experiences we quickly discovered common ground as women. I like to think we shared some truths that strengthened both of our spirits.
As an English speaker that grew up on a neighbouring island, Angelic explained to me how socially complex the predominately French speaking town is. Families mostly live together across a few generations and they work together in a traditionally cooperative way, sharing resources and money between them as need be. With five children, growing food for Angelic is relatively secure and a growing influx of travellers helps bring much needed funds to this somewhat isolated community.
Port Olry is exactly the type of place I would love to start a community development project, so as we hiked Angelic and I threw around some ideas about how she might start to work with other women in the village to gain some much needed financial independence.
We hesitated in venturing too far from our bungalow in the first couple of days, wanting to feel out the vibe of the place; aware of stepping in to anyone’s space without a real invitation. But meeting locals in this beautiful landscape turns out to be really natural and easy, as they are some of the loveliest, warm hearted people we have ever met. If you ever get the chance to spend some time in this little corner of Santo just make sure you’ve left enough island time to mix with the traditional owners of the land and hear about how they are aiming to protect their fragile environment.
I’ve been plotting a mini holiday since final exams last year, something close to home, not too pricey. Somewhere with flights on sale and hardly any other tourists when you get there. Not to mention, a destination where we could unplug within a different culture. Ideally, it would be a place where we could surround ourselves with nature, in an intense chill down kind of way. Sounds like a big ask, I know. A week off work is all we could really afford. Then I saw a photo of an earthy, seaside treehouse, taken during a friends recent trip to Vanuatu. They had visited the treehouse on a day trip from Luganville but didn’t stay there. It was exactly what I was looking for.
Some sixty kilometres along a road that carves through an intense green landscape of coconut palms and gigantic fig trees; Port Olry sits rather remotely on the edge of an incredibly beautiful beach, looking across to several uninhabited islands. What appealed to me was the location, away from the five star resorts I have always rather discriminatorily associated with Vanuatu. Not that I can’t appreciate luxury but my camping roots, earning potential and tight arse nature mean I always seem to gravitate towards the budget option.
Predominantly a working, cooperative community, Ni Van locals work the land and sustain quite a pristine, traditional environment. There are very few bungalows to stay in so you mostly get the sense of having the place to yourselves and therefore the opportunity to really connect with the locals. It’s all a bit perfect really. I am also increasingly drawn to destinations that translate to ethical tourism and the treehouse certainly sits within that idea. By staying in locally owned and run accommodation you are supporting the community – a choice that seems to be dwindling, like everywhere, due to increasing foreign investment.
The Port Olry Treehouse Bungalows are for those of you that like the earthy vibe of camping. Right on the beachfront, you fall asleep to the crash of the water and the rustle of the trees. The stars and the sunsets are incredible and if you can wake up with the sun or snorkel at sunset, you can swim with some of the incredibly peaceful local turtles. If you are cool with no power, living on low level solar lamp, cold showers and no fan, then you’re all good. We really wouldn’t want it any other way in that kind of place. There are two treehouses that sleep a couple in the smaller bungalow, or room for a family in the larger one. The smaller treehouse has an amazing shower that is setup outdoors in the roots of the banyan tree. After swimming all day on the salty reefs, an a la natural rainwater shower feels super deluxe.
If you’re stretching the dollars: The only challenge if you’re on a budget is eating and transport. Accommodation costs are comparable to similar places in South East Asia. The beachfront area has a couple of restaurants but they are pricey by backpacker standards. We worked out late in our stay that you can ask locals to make you a home made meal and you pick it up after ordering earlier in the day. Those meals cost about 1,000 Vatu (roughly $12 AUSD). Meals in restaurants are about 1,500-4,000 Vatu and the food is excellent. If you can afford a splurge the lobster is totally memorable.
Getting there: if you arrive on Espiritu Santo Island before around 4pm you should be able to get a public bus all the way up to Port Olry for about 1,000 Vatu, a taxi for 4,000-8,000 Vatu, or you can hire a car from the lovely people at this place.
How to book: The best way to plan your stay is to contact the owners, Angelic or Jean. You can message them directly on Facebook.
You might want to bring: a good head torch, snacks, a fuel camp stove so you can save a bit of cash cooking, a game to play with the locals (like frisbee or some kind of ball game), bug spray, water if you don’t like drinking the local rain water (I drank it no problem), and any old clothes or tools to give away in the village. Even better, if you wanted to volunteer your skills and time to a community, this is exactly the kind of place that would be open to any ideas of support.
I wasn’t encouraged or reimbursed to write about this place, it was just too fabulous not to share. I also thought, while I have the opportunity to promote a community that is working together in such an environmentally friendly and sustainable way, it’s the least I can do to say thanks for our stay.
Yesterday, this proud man spoke about his life as an Aboriginal person, how he had wandered all over the country, became lost from his mob, then eventually connected with the local Bandjulung tribe of Arakwal Nation on the New South Wales North Coast. He told us how he was welcomed and accepted as one of their mob even though he was different.
Perhaps most importantly, he spoke about how proud he is to have a strong spirit and a connection to mother earth; that on Australia Day the indigenous community come together to celebrate the incredible survival of their culture. His focus was very much on the tenacity and resilience of Indigenous Aussies, looking towards the future – recognising, but not focusing on all they have lost.
The community event was held at a traditional meeting place next to the ocean at Byron Bay, where locals and travellers gathered around to hear speeches, listen to music and express themselves through the community arts projects. The audience were quick to get involved in the communal dancing and people curious about the reason for the event had an opportunity to ask questions. Overall it was an uplifting, positive community gathering that reminded me just how important it is to connect on a one to one level about entrenched social issues.
Heading in to my fourth year of social work this year I have definitely felt awakened to indigenous issues in Australia. I used to feel ashamed about how little I knew about the reality of life for Indigenous Aussies, but now I realise how not knowing is more the norm in our country. Finding out and getting involved are actually pretty easy if you want to.
No matter how patriotic you are as an Australian, I believe it’s easy to see how celebrating our way of life as a nation, on the very date that marks the beginning of the horrific indigenous massacres, the fight for land rights, and the ongoing discrimination of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, could be inflammatory. More and more people seem to understand how important it would be for us to simply change the date of Australia Day to a day that would be more inclusive and less traumatic for Indigenous Aussies.
Seeing the public support at the Survival Day event in Byron, and the record crowds at marches across Australia, I feel hopeful that understanding and respect for indigenous issues and people are growing.
Rising in the dark to walk through the bush at Arakwal National Park, the early sounds of expectant birds, chattery frogs and foamy waves guiding my way. It’s always a childlike pleasure to see the potential of a new day rise up out of the ocean, uninterrupted.
There is another woman just down the beach, greeting the day with a vigorous sun salutation – yet that all seems too busy for me. I sit quietly and look out to sea, absorbing the change in light as a surfer heads out in to the break.
Birds fly in and out of the changing glow and I take in that beautiful but always weighty feeling of being completely alone in the landscape. Lucky enough to have access to such peacefulness, I listen to my own thoughts and realise I still have plenty of ‘work’ to do.
As the beautiful poet Rumi wrote: The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you. Don’t go back to sleep.
I am listening.
About half an hour’s meandering drive from Byron; through volcanic fields of farmland, patches of forest and gigantic old fig trees, sits a little slice of watery heaven. With a macabre name that hints at the atrocities of colonial ‘white fellas’, Killen Falls Nature Reserve has been recognised as a place of environmental and cultural significance that needs to remain protected.
Protected includes no swimming, and its a rule that appears to be collectively and unashamedly ignored. Once you feel the massaging power of that fresh water falling on your back you’d understand where enthusiastic visitors are coming from. I couldn’t find any reference to cultural reasons for not swimming there, but due to the water hole feeding in to and from the local dam, you can begin to see how a few too many disrespectful humans could totally f*ck the place up.
It feels pristine. The water in the middle of the day is amazing, warm but refreshing, soft and funky as rain. There are some slippery rocks so you might want to wear sturdy shoes (I saw a few near spills in dodgy thongs!) and please, for public consumption, wear something that won’t be catapulted from your body by the strength of the falls. It happened. It was both awkward and entertaining for everyone. Having said that though, I imagine it is THE best place to have a skinny dip if you went there super early or late before the lunchtime punters arrive.
Where is it? Killen Falls Drive, Tintenbar, New South Wales. Open dawn until dusk. Free.
Where exactly? Follow Killen Falls Drive all the way down to the parking area at the end, then follow the walking trail which takes you to the top of the falls. You can look across the top of the falls down on the swimming hole below but to get to the falls you will need to turn off the main track where the path curves towards the top of the falls. There is also another trail down to the swimming hole that requires jumping the fence.
Leaving Killen Falls behind I made the drive a big loop and cut across to Broken Head Beach, just to add a little salt to all of that rainwater freshness – with a rocky view, this long, open beach is rarely ever busy. The coastline is part of a larger natural area known as Broken Head Nature Reserve – a place that deserves a few days attention in its own right.
Here’s a few more images of the waterfalls so you can imagine them from a distance!
Summer has been a total sweat fest in Brisbane this past month, with temps smashing forty right in the face. As I perspired my way through the festive season, not a seabreeze in sight, all I’ve been able to think about is running head-on in to the ocean like some kind of inland bogan monster.
The time for a beachside break from work has finally come! Unfortunately, Andrés is still on the job so I’m flying solo – but lone time is easy enough when it’s on the coast at Byron Bay. It’s a place I realise I’ve been visiting for almost thirty years now and an environment that totally feels like home. While the town has definitely gotten busier and more expensive, the dramatic landscape hasn’t changed a bit.
First things first on most people’s Byron list: walk the Cape Byron track around the coastline, look for dolphins, and along the way jump in to the ocean. For me, walking the trail in the late afternoon, seeing turtles, listening to the accents of tourists gathered around the lighthouse to watch the sky change colour, and walking through the bush as the night closed in was the perfect start to my stay.
A sunset kind of sorts out your head, and when it’s accompanied by sheer cliffs and the sound of waves smashing on to rocks it has some kind of extra magic going on. With a huge final year at university ahead of me, a little sky gazing was just the reflective medicine I needed.
So here’s a fresh look at the landscape everyone kind of raves about and a link to the trail if you are not sure where to start. Of course sunrise is absolutely stunning on this walk too – any time of day really!
Lucky for us locals, Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art is celebrating it’s tenth anniversary with an incredible exhibition – Sugar Spin: You, Me, Art and Everything. Several crowd favourites from the past decade have made a comeback to the gallery and there are a few distinctive and dynamic newbies.
Dominating the entrance to the space is a vibrant, impossible not to touch (read: dive in to) wall of synthetic hair entitled Nervescape. Another space presents a group of festive sculptural horses that will be brought to life by dancers come mid January, entitled Heard – for those passing through you can appreciate the performance projected on video.
A giant, spiralling silver slide that is super popular for kids and kids-at-heart, known as the Left/Right Slide provides a quick exit from the top floor of the gallery to the bottom.
My personal favourite is an oversized hyper-realistic sculpture of a woman called In bed which adds and extra surreal layer to the exhibition. Reactions from children ranged from visibly scared to entranced. Again, hard not to reach out and interact with this piece!
Sugar Spin runs until April 17 in Brisbane. Hope you get there!
Photos are mine, accept the first image of the artist who felt it was appropriate to dive on in to the Nervescape installation. I secretly wanted to!
After a taxing university semester and a sweaty Summer in Brisbane stretching ahead of us, we decided to take a city break in Melbourne. The idea being to escape the Brisbane humidity, catch a comedy show, mooch around the street-art filled suburbs and treat ourselves to some decadent meals.
For anyone who appreciates street art you’ll need to get yourself to the Art of Banksy exhibition that is on until January 22, 2017; it follows the rise of a British artist who has used his creativity to inspire people to think about political issues. Importantly, Banksy was not the business force behind this exhibition, leaving me wondering how comfortable he might be with anyone profiting from his work.
After only ever visiting Melbourne in the darkness of Winter, it was a totally different experience seeing the city out and about in the Summer sunshine. Here’s a look at the creative colour that made our visit all the more inspirational. You’re alright Melbs!
Some people become cops because they want to make the world a better place. Some people become vandals because they want to make the world a better looking place. Banksy.
After a whirlwind South America trip, coming down from the Colombian experience has been made all the easier by focusing on the beauty in our own backyard. With the last days of Winter reminding us very much of Spring and a lengthy visit from my parents, returning to the usual routine has been pretty special. These snap shots are more about keeping our own diary of life than really about sharing anything new. As always, it feels like the little things – nature, special food, good people – that always add the most to life. Kris