Five places that made me

by Thursday, June 1, 2017


When I was 15, my ancient history teacher took us on a study trip through Egypt and Greece. We did not always behave like angels, but we had a ball. The Temple of Karnak in Luxor? I could feel the sprits. Queen Hatshepsut? I just wanted to be her. I came home dreaming of becoming an Egyptologist and settled for travel reporter … equally wonderful.


With four children, my parents were big on both drive and easy-access holidays. They’d throw us into the back of the station wagon and each Easter we’d head to the Hawkesbury, “Hire a Halvorsen” and just get lost, finding lonely inlets, fishing from the roof, rowing the dinghy to Church Point for supplies and stopping to see cousins on Scotland Island. My memories are so golden. As a Sydneysider, I feel hopelessly proud of this region.


I’m nutty for any Pacific Ocean island, but Palau is surreal – from kayaking around volcanic, limestone islands, free diving to World War II planes at the bottom of the sea, to getting buzzed with the locals on betel nut. But the flip-out factor went into overdrive at Jellyfish Lake, where a mountain fissure has allowed these golden jellyfish to squeeze through and fill a massive inland lake. Because they have no predators they’ve lost their sting, so you swim through thousands of them. It was a bizarre feeling being among something I’d been conditioned to be scared of.


So, you know how when a doctor goes to a dinner party they’re always asked about a certain ailment? When I walk out my door, I can pretty much guarantee I’ll be asked “Where’s your favourite place?”. Bhutan is right up there, where locals still dress in traditional garb and the king has decreed gross national happiness to be of more importance than product. You can stay in amazing hotels, or at a local home that no doubt has a giant erect penis, often wrapped in a bow, painted on the side to ward off evil spirits and malicious gossip. It’s fair to say I’ve never visited anywhere quite like this place and yep, I truly left a happier person.


I could barely find it on a map before visiting this massive temperate rainforest reserve, but its quiet beauty put a spell on me. A natural treasure, with towering trees, rare birds, Aboriginal history, rivers filled with platypus, you stay in basic cabins that sort of force you to be calm. Locals happily revealed they’d never ventured “to the mainland”. I could never understand that mentality. But I realised there, if you lived among such beauty, why would you bother?

This article first appeared here, recently.