Thursday 31 December 2015

2015: A year of living simply (sort of)

End-of-year greetings to you, my fellow travellers. For even if you went nowhere this year, we all went somewhere: around the sun in 365 days. How was your trip?

What could be simpler than
an island in the sun (in Tuvalu)?
People often say life is speeding up, and that every year goes by too fast, but whenever I do these end-of-year posts, I'm reminded of how long a year really is. (Did all that happen in just 12 months?)

Most nights, before I close my eyes to sleep, I think of the highlights of the day, to ground myself in my own experience of it and remember all I have to be thankful for.

Now I seem to have got into the habit of doing this at the end of the year too.

2015 was a year of trying to live as simply as possible - without living out of a duffel bag - which is a bit of an ongoing mission for me. Of course life loves to mess with our plans, teaching us lessons along the way, but most days the simple things are my highlights, particularly: spending time in the sea and with people I care about, and doing work I love.

To be more specific, a few of my favourite simple things from this year:

Colourful street art in Lennox
1. Living in one place. This was a bit of a novelty for me, particularly after my year and a half as a digital gypsy. It was also new to live in regional Australia. I'll always love Sydney, but I love my new hometown, Lennox Head, too, because living in a small town does simplify life to some extent. The pace of life is different, it seems as if there's more time and space, and fewer distractions. Here are 10 more reasons I love the Northern Rivers.

2. Hatchlings at Heron Island. I fed my travel bug with a few domestic trips this year including, in late March, a few days on Heron Island, at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef. I first went to Heron as an undergraduate Zoology student in about 1985, and I've been there twice since, but this was the first time I saw turtle hatchlings emerging from a nest, en masse, which is a humbling thing to see:

Earth-rendering a
strawbale wall
3. Learning to build a cabin. In June, I did a 4-day natural building course, in a big shed at The Farm, in Byron Bay. In my travel-starved state, it felt like taking a short trip - to a place I'd never been before, but had long been curious about - and it was fun to learn about something completely new to me. I learned the basics of strawbale building and inched a little closer to my dream of one day building my own cabin (or tiny house).

4. Turning Japanese. In the spirit of keeping things simple, and local, I wrote a bit about northern NSW this year - about Byron Bay, about hotels like Rae's at Wategoes, about beekeeping and, most memorably, about Japanese culture in the Northern Rivers, which reconnected me to a headspace I was in when I lived in Japan 20 years ago and had a year and a half of surfing and teaching English.

Outback sunrise
5. Uluru sunrises. There's nothing like the centre of Australia to strip life back to its essential elements; light, space, existence. And there's nothing like an outback sunrise to make you feel connected to the earth and cosmos all at once; they're always worth getting up in the dark (and cold!) for. It was also great to see my travel mates again at the Australian Society of Travel Writers conference and to touch the Rock with my bare hands (one of my top 10 ways to "do" Uluru).

Immersed in the Maldives
6. Swimming in the Maldives. Finally, some international travel! Having not been overseas for a year (Dear world, I miss you - 13 reasons to love travelling), going to the Maldives on assignment was a real treat. I've long wanted to go there, and it's even more beautiful than it looks in the pictures, the water even more turquoise, and you get to swim with turtles and manta rays without even trying. Here are 8 more watery reasons to go to the Maldives.

(I helped paint this banner!)
7. Beach-walking for Change. On Sunday 29 November, I walked barefoot with 300 others along Lennox's Seven Mile Beach for action on climate change, our local People's Climate March, the day before the start of the Paris climate talks on 30 December. I loved helping to organise it and felt so proud to be part of this community that cares about the natural environment we all depend on, wherever we live in the world.

Girls outside church, Tuvalu
8. From here to Tuvalu. My last trip of the year, just before Christmas, was to the small island nation of Tuvalu in the Pacific. It was exciting to visit a place most people know little about (except perhaps that it's threatened by climate change) and where life is fairly rustic: I got around on the back of a motorbike, stayed on a couple of islands, went to church... (Blog post coming soon!)

Of course every year has troughs and valleys in between its peaks, but that's the way life is, and for all its craziness, to paraphrase Desiderata, it is still a beautiful world. Thanks for following my travels this year and I hope 2016 brings you all peace, love and new adventures of all kinds.

Tuesday 15 December 2015

Have yourself a merry eco Christmas

At the risk of getting all Christmassy and entering the end-of-year pressure-cooker (do this, buy that, before the world ends on 25 December!), I've been inspired by my travel writer mate Briar Jensen, who just wrote about gifts that give twice (handicrafts she buys when she travels), to write a little post on green gifts. Ho ho ho...

If you celebrate Christmas and you’re going to climb aboard the gift-giving train, you might as well give something that helps the planet - and the people and animals living on it. We're all connected after all. You could give an Oxfam Unwrapped goat, or 10 wool blankets where they're needed most (via Unicef). Or adopt an endangered tiger (through WWF). Or donate to, say, the Indigenous Literacy Foundation. So many options...

I'm going to keep it simple. Here are three new "green" gifts I've stumbled on lately (disclosure: two of them have been created by friends of mine).

1. Green Games: Taking out the Trash
This is the first in a series of clever and beautifully designed ecological card games designed to teach kids about issues that are going to affect their future, including pollution, green energy and genetically modified food. This one's called Taking Out the Trash and is all about composting and garbage. The cards are made in Australia using soy-based inks and chlorine-free post-consumer recycled paper. See 

Don’t judge this book by its textbook-like cover. It's beautiful on the inside, with photographs taken around the world (compiled by Sydney-based photog Natasha Milne) and insights from people of all ages, some famous, some not, who were asked three questions: What issue gets you out of bed, what are you doing about it, and how can we all help? It would have been nice to see the content organised into chapters relating to, say, animal issues, climate change or humanitarian work, but the way it is makes every page a surprise. Inspirational reading. Available in print and as an ebook. See

Pic: Operation Crayweed
You might not have heard of Operation Crayweed, but it's a project run by UNSW and Sydney Institute of Marine Science to reforest 70km of Sydney coastline to restore its biodiversity - by planting crayweed, a type of seaweed wiped out some 30 years ago by poorly treated sewage pumped into the sea. There's a cool video explaining what it's all about. It's the first scheme of its kind in Australia, and you can help by "buying" an underwater Christmas tree (or a forest!) on their Pozible crowdfunding page or through their website:

That's it. Told you it was going to be simple. No mess, no fuss. Wishing you all peace, love and plenty of nature time this Christmas.