Home DESTINATIONS Guide to Fiji’s best nature-based activities

Guide to Fiji’s best nature-based activities

by Fiona Harper

[vc_row][vc_column][penci_container][penci_column width=”11″][vc_custom_heading text=”Fiji’s best nature-based activities” font_container=”tag:h1|font_size:42|text_align:center|color:%233a3a3a|line_height:1.2″ google_fonts=”font_family:Playfair%20Display%3Aregular%2Citalic%2C700%2C700italic%2C900%2C900italic|font_style:400%20regular%3A400%3Anormal” css=”.vc_custom_1635977598878{padding-right: 50px !important;padding-bottom: 15px !important;padding-left: 50px !important;}”][vc_separator color=”custom” border_width=”3″ el_width=”10″ accent_color=”#d89145″][vc_column_text css=”.vc_custom_1635978228655{padding-right: 50px !important;padding-left: 50px !important;}”]When serial adventurer and author Paul Theroux lobbed into Fiji while paddling the Pacific he observed in The Happy Isles of Oceania that ‘loud laughter was the Fijian way of conveying the bad news that something was impossible.’ It’s hard to imagine good-natured Fijians being disagreeable. Along with their trademark ‘Bula’ greeting, Fijians are known for warm hospitality – wide-mouthed smiles that invariably precede laughter.

Their easy going nature almost guarantees that a Fiji holiday is going to be good fun. Toss in an island archipelago with an abundance of natural beauty and Fiji’s heart and you’ve found Fiji’s heart and soul. Here’s our top picks for getting your nature fix in a tropical paradise.

Hike to the Wailing Rock & send a message on the coconut telegraph

Long before mobile phones dominated our lives, Fijian warriors were using nature’s own coconut telegraph to communicate. Using a hollow wooden log Tui Lawa elders would strike a wailing rock called Vatu Tagi, much like a drum and which has a distinct ringing sound, to send messages during times of war. The sound would reverberate around Malolo Island, informing elders to convene for a chiefly meeting.

There’s a Fijian saying that translates to ‘Malolo is where the sun comes to rest’ based on a belief that it appeared that the sun was resting as it set behind Malolo Island. The wailing rock is located on a large rocky outcrop high atop the summit of Malolo and is accessed via a narrow track. The hike is popular as a pre-breakfast appetiser or at dusk to witness the sun rest upon the Pacific Ocean.

Get there from Malolo Island Resort

Celebrate an ancient turtle calling ceremony

Villagers at Namuana Village on Kadavu Island perform an emotional sacred turtle calling ceremony high on a headland above Udelevu beach. Legend has it that a princess and her daughter were out fishing when they were captured by warriors and tossed into the boats’ hold. When a storm threatened to capsize the vessel the women morphed into turtles and escaped.

Today, colourfully dressed women summon their descendants by dancing, chanting and singing to call turtles home. When a turtle surfaces and makes its way shoreward the laughing, singing and chanting reaches fever-pitch as the whole village celebrates the reappearance of their ancestors.

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Get castaway on an uninhabited island

Tom Hanks along with his bearded bedraggled character Chuck Nolan have a lot to answer for. Ever since he washed up on uninhabited Modriki Island (also known as Monuriki) after a plane crash, travellers have been flocking to the island he was marooned on in the 2000 movie Cast Away. It’s understandable. Beyond the obvious ‘Insta boasting-worthiness’ of the islands serene beauty, a forest clad peak tumbling into a swathe of white sand kissed by an emerald sea are the drawcard. Snorkelling, swimming, beachcombing and daydreaming of an uncomplicated life on a tropical island keep most visitors enthralled.

Get there on a day trip from Likuliku Island Resort.[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”14915″ img_size=”large” alignment=”center” css=”.vc_custom_1635978527711{padding-right: 25px !important;padding-left: 25px !important;}”][vc_column_text css=”.vc_custom_1635978569870{padding-right: 50px !important;padding-left: 50px !important;}”]

Wash away your cares in a therapeutic mud bath

There’s no denying the allure of therapeutic warm spring-fed mud pools at Sabeto Mud Baths. Fed by geothermal spring water from an inland volcano, the outdoor baths have a distinct sulphuric aroma typical of therapeutic pools.

The mud bath ritual is not for the squeamish. Wearing a swimsuit (tip: do not wear white!) visitors step into the warm muddy waters of a small pool as soft mud squishes between their toes. After soaking in tepid waters bathers are then lathered in mud the colour of dark chocolate and the texture of clotted cream. It’s then a matter of standing around in the sun for around 20 minutes while the mud bakes firm and dry. Then it’s back into the pool to wash away the mud before hopping into a much cleaner and larger pool to soak away your cares (and any remaining mud).

Is the mud bath therapeutic? It’s hard to say, but it’s certainly good clean (eventually!) fun. It’s certainly relaxed in true Fijian style.

Get there by private car from Nadi or Lautoka

Hike to waterfalls in the rainforest

There is no better place to cool down from tropical heat than in a fresh water pool fed by a tumbling waterfall. Head to Tavoro Waterfalls in the Bouma National Heritage Park on Taveuni Island where a three-hour hike will take you to three waterfalls. The first swimming hole is a mere ten minutes from the trail head and has a large pool fed by a waterfall plunging about 25 metres. Leave the crowds behind and carry on hiking the forest trail where you’ll come to two more falls and swimming holes. The smallest waterfall has a pretty pool at its base inhabited by fresh water prawns. The trail can get a bit overgrown and slippery so sturdy hiking shoes are a must.

Nearby Lavena Coastal Walk is another splendid hike complete with coastal views, a swing bridge river crossing, and a waterfall reached by a short swim-through a grotto.

Get there from the Taveuni coastal road[/vc_column_text][vc_single_image image=”14914″ img_size=”large” alignment=”center” css=”.vc_custom_1635978357549{padding-right: 25px !important;padding-left: 25px !important;}”][/penci_column][/penci_container][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner]

I’ve recently been road tripping around south east Queensland Australia, looking for interesting photography topics, scenes and destinations. I’ve been following the coast mostly, and these photos reflect that. It’s no surprise to anyone, least of all me, that boats in all states of neglect or otherwise feature. Find me a boatyard, a marina, an anchorage or a boat harbour and I can amuse myself for hours.

These images were captured somewhere between Burrum Heads in the south and Bowen in the north, and many ports in between. Bundaberg turned out to be the biggest surprise package, with a surf culture I had no clue existed. Admittedly, it helps having a cyclone brewing off the coast to generate surf-worthy waves. And, as my surfing-mad brother pointed out, Bundaberg is no Gold Coast when it comes to waves. But Bundy surfers happily take whatever swell comes their way.

I hope you enjoy viewing these photos as much as I enjoyed making them.

If you’d like to see any of these images displayed on your own walls, please drop a comment below or contact me in the usual way – I can make it happen via my online store at mitribe.shop.

Fiona x

The stories behind the photographs

Capturing photographs from my travels around the world, I love the serendipity of heading out for an adventure to see what I may discover.

I’ve been road tripping around south east Queensland, looking for interesting photography topics, scenes and destinations. Mostly I’ve followed the coast and the photos reflect that with a water or maritime theme. It’s no surprise to anyone, least of all me, that boats in all states of neglect or otherwise feature. Find me a boatyard, a marina, an anchorage or a boat harbour and I can amuse myself for hours.

These images were captured somewhere between Burrum Heads in the south and Bowen in the north, and many ports in between. I hope you enjoy them! If you’d like to see any of these images displayed on your own walls, please drop a comment below or contact me in the usual way – I can make it happen…

Fiona x

The equipment I use

My main camera is a Canon 5DM4 with my go-to lens being a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 ( I absolutely LOVE this lens!). I also travel with a Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L which works for wide-angle, and a 100-400mm which is great for wildlife.

Usually I travel with a Manfrotto tripod, though I also have a Manfrotto monopod which works well with the 100-400mm lens.

For calibrating my screens once I start the editing process I recommend either of these products:

Calibrate ColourChecker (sells for approx AUD250)

Datacolour SpyderX Pro (retails for approx AUD260)

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Auckland marathon, New Zealand

Let’s face it, running a marathon is hard, no matter how pretty the scenery is.

Some of the world’s most beautiful cities are recognisable by their bridges.  The scarlet struts of the Golden Gate Bridge are synonymous with San Francisco. Venice’s Rialto Bridge rivals Paris’ Pont Alexandre III. Though I think Melbourne gives both of them a run for their money with stunners like ancient Princes and funky Webb as well as the unmistakable statement of the Bolte Bridge (here I am, over here!).  Sydney is universally recognised by its Coat Hanger, as is London with its Tower Bridge.

Running across the Auckland Harbour Bridge

Pedestrians are often given the short end of the stick though as most are designed primarily for vehicular traffic. The well-travelled folk at Lonely Planet rate Auckland Harbour as the country’s top visitor attraction so it’s a pity that pedestrians are banned from its Harbour Bridge for 364 days of the year.

Oh sure, you can jump off it with a bungy cord strapped to your ankles if you’re game. I’m not. But don’t try and walk (or heaven forbid, jog) between the north shore and the CBD. No, if you’ve a desire to tramp (as the Kiwi’s say when they mean hike) across the 1,000 metre span of asphalt you’ll need to run a marathon, or at the very least a half marathon. The only day the bridge is open to foot traffic is during the annual Auckland Marathon starting from pretty Devonport waterfront on the north shore.

Which is how I found myself at the crest of the southbound ‘clip on’ lane 16 km into a 42.2 km run looking down upon the City of Sails that I’d called home 18 years ago. I’d fallen hopelessly in love with an Aucklander whilst sailing in Darwin and joined him in New Zealand rather impulsively when he later returned home. No matter that I was recently married, nor that I had a home, a much loved dog, friends, family and my own yacht back in Australia. All-consuming, heart stopping, breathless love knocked me off my feet and I was powerless to do anything beyond follow my heart.

Running a marathon: 26km to go.

Both passionate sailors, we raced and cruised the Waitemata Harbour below me, fuelled by a yearning to sail together wherever the prevailing winds took us. At the risk of offending Sydneysiders who lay claim to the finest harbour in the world I beg to differ: Auckland is a serious contender. Particularly when explored by sea, but as I now appreciate, equally spectacular from the perspective of a marathoner.

Sitting centre stage in the Huaraki Gulf, Waiheke Island peers out from behind the perfect volcanic cone of Rangitoto Island – a landmark readily identifiable with Auckland.

Auckland marathon, New Zealand

Barrelling down the bridge’s off ramp (blessed downhill relief!) it’s hard to miss the largest marina in the southern hemisphere, home to countless booze-fuelled yachty parties when Westhaven Marina was my stomping ground. Sailors and rum go together like wine and cheese but the only drinks I’m thinking of as I run past familiar sail lofts and chandlery stores is where the next Powerade-fuelled station is located. Roadside, muscled young men in traditional dress stomping out the Haka with all it’s tongue poking & wide eyed drama make me smile, reminding me of the city’s strong Maori heritage.

Viaduct Basin has changed much since I was here last, thanks mostly to the Kiwi’s bringing home the America’s Cup in 1995 then again in 2000, much as it did for Fremantle back in 1983. The downtrodden old port has been transformed into a funky precinct bursting with waterside restaurants, cafes and apartments along with my hotel of choice, the Sofitel Viaduct Harbour which is conveniently located at the 21 km mark. It’s tough to run past it knowing that a king sized bed, bathtub and delectable room service could so easily be mine again should I veer a mere five metres from my route. It’s even tougher the second time I scoot past, fired with adrenalin with the finish line in sight with almost 42 km behind me.

Leaving the CBD behind, my 3,000 fellow marathoners and I continue our waterfront slog along Tamaki Drive, the glorious harbour dotted with yachts on our left, Hobson Bay marina on our right. Boats bobbing on moorings tantalise me with memories of sailing, gin and tonic in hand, bound for a deserted anchorage somewhere in the Gulf. We pass through bayside suburbs of Mission Bay, then finally trendy St Helliers. The waterfront café strip shaded beneath far reaching limbs of Pohutukawa trees is our our turnaround point before returning to the CBD and the finish line.

Running a marathon: 10 km to go

Seeing families lingering outside Kelly Tarlton’s Sealife Aquarium I’m seriously tempted to pull up a cramp-relieving chair and smash an ice-cream or five. I’m seriously questioning my sanity and physical limitations the second time I run past it. Or more likely shuffle,  as agonising calf cramps test my pain threshold. It’s starting to get ugly.

Running a marathon: six km to go

A cacophony of Taiko drummers whip their bodies into a well-timed frenzy as we enter the CBD. Quay Street, where I boarded a ferry to Devonport hours ago pre-dawn is now throbbing with travellers embarking for destinations unknown. Inhaling the delicious aroma of frying onions from a street side cart I almost swoon with hunger. I’m ravenous. I’m also completely sick of sucking on sickly sweet energy-infused gels that have kept me going for a little over four hours.

Running the Auckland marathon

Running a marathon: two km to go

At the bottom of Queen St last night’s party goers mingle with supporters lining the streets. The last time I was in Auckland I was one of them, rolling out of bars pre-dawn tottering on heels, reeking of smoke and alcohol. How things change.

Passing the Sofitel again, there is less inclination this time to quit and retire ungracefully to my bed as I surge with the exhilaration of success. With the harbour bridge a distant memory and the finish line in sight I’m more inclined to call into Sabrage Bar for a celebratory champagne. Which is exactly what I do later as part of my unconventional recovery strategy. But not before I check into SoSpa for gentle ministrations from talented masseuse Rona and her soothing hot greenstones.

Completing and running a 42.2 km marathon is as much to do with what’s going on in your head as your legs. Running non-stop for more than four hours provides ample thinking time. Wise multi-marathoners often say that a marathon doesn’t start until the 32km mark. Sure the last ten km’s require strong legs and a fit body but an even stronger determination is required to clutch that coveted finisher’s medal.

Unexpectedly I burst into tears after crossing the finish line of the Auckland Marathon. I’m so relieved to have achieved my goal, despite being well outside my ‘dream time’. But perhaps too the emotions of running through a city in which I had invested so much passion has also played its part.

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Ushuaia, Argentina, base for Antarctic cruises. Image Fiona Harper travel writer
City at the Bottom of the World | South America


Ushuaia is the jumping off point for Antarctica cruises across Drake Passage, and is located at Tierra del Fuego. Notorious Cape Horn with its fearsome reputation amongst sailors for often treacherous conditions is to the south west of Argentina's southernmost point.

Travel writer Fiona Harper spent time exploring Ushuaia as she waited to board her ship, Ocean Endeavour with Chimu Adventures, for Antarctica. Enjoy seeing the southern city at the bottom of South America through the images she captured from the city and surrounds, including Martial Glacier in the foothills of the Martial Ranges and Andes Mountains.

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Martial Glacier forms a mountainous backdrop to Beagle Channel

Martial Glacier is the poster child for the Martial Mountain range which forms the backdrop of the city of Ushuaia. The mountains in the foothills of the Andes Mountains are in Isla Grande de Tierra del Fuego (translated to English as ‘land of fire’), an island that straddles both Argentina and Chile. The mountain range lies east of the Cordillera Darwin mountain range and lines the Beagle Channel which forms the entrance from Drake Passage and the Southern Ocean. Beyond this landmass lies the great white continent of Antarctica.

Cruise ship passengers bound for the Antarctic peninsula enjoy the calm water cruising of these sheltered waters before heading into Drake Passage and the often-treacherous crossing of the Southern Ocean.

Ushuaia is the world's southernmost city

Waiting for my ship to come in, I’ve found plenty of opportunity to explore downtown Ushuaia and the foothills of the Martial Mountain ranges which rim this picturesque city at the bottom of South America.

Much of the mountain areas are protected as National Parks which lure adventure-seeking travellers to its flanks. Hiking, trail running, mountain biking, mountaineering and sailing are all popular pursuits with both locals and visitors. There’s even an Ushuaia Trail Marathon, which unfortunately I’ll miss by just one week!

Port of Ushuaia, Argentina

According to Cruise Critic, more than 300 cruise ships call into the Port of Ushuaia each year during the cruise season (October to May). Most of these ships are bound for Antarctica, though some ply the coastline of Patagonia. Indeed, the only other time I’ve visited Ushuaia was during a Patagonia cruise when we popped over to Ushuaia for lunch. Rounding Cape Horn twice in one week was an exceptional opportunity and one I treasure.

At Club Nautica on the waterfront I chatted to a dock worker named Uka, who, when he discovered I was Australian, beckoned me into his workshed. Proudly taped to the wall was a photograph of himself and Steve Irwin, aka the Crocodile Hunter, which was taken when they were both in Antarctica. 

Ushuaia, Argentina, base for Antarctic cruises. Image Fiona Harper travel writer

Hiking to Martial Glacier, Ushuaia

Martial Glacier is a popular hike for visitors staying in Ushuaia. It’s approximately 15km return if you walk from downtown Ushuaia to the start of the ice at the foot of the glacier. An easier option is to take a taxi to the car park at the now defunct cable car station and hike from there. Walking trails wind ever upwards, and the trail is well marked, with a couple of stream crossings. The walk is rated difficult, mostly because of the steep ascent, though the trail itself is easily negotiated for anyone of medium fitness.

Take food and water and wear multiple layers that can be stripped off or added to when required. The weather can change rapidly in these mountains and the wind chill factor even in summer can cause problems for the unprepared.

All the way along the walking trail the views over Beagle Channel and the Port of Ushuaia are extraordinary.


More like this...

Fiona Harper travel writer and Travel Boating Lifestyle
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Antarctica search for colossal squid
Argentina | Antarctica

The search for colossal squid in Antarctica

Fiona Harper joins a research project seven years in the making which aims to photograph elusive colossal squid (not to be confused with lesser sized giant squid) deep beneath the Antarctic ice cap on a ground-breaking expedition.

Chimu Adventures teams up with KOLOSSAL, an ocean exploration and conservation not-for-profit, on an ambitious three-year marine conservation project looking for colossal squid in Antarctica.

What we'll be covering

Ground-breaking expedition with Chimu Adventures

I’m travelling onboard Ocean Endeavour with Chimu Adventures on a ground-breaking expedition to photograph the elusive colossal squid. Researchers from KOLOSSAL will be deploying deep sea cameras for the first time in Antarctica, aiming to photograph colossal squid (not to be confused with their smaller cousin the giant squid) in Antarctic waters almost 100 years since the species was first discovered inside the stomach of a sperm whale. They’ve never been photographed in their natural habitat and many unanswered questions remain about these elusive creatures which inhabit the deep dark depths of the Southern Ocean.

In the words of Matt Mulrennan, CEO of KOLOSSAL, ‘This isn’t just a monster squid hunt, it’s a call to action for better understanding and protecting our ocean.

The deep seas are earth’s final frontier—according to UNESCO, only 5% of the planet’s oceans have been explored. The dark marine abyss is almost completely unknown, especially in Antarctica’s Southern Ocean.

What do colossal squid look like?

These behemoth-sized squid are the largest invertebrate on our planet. Eyes the size of dinner plates, hooked tentacles to ensnare its prey and an ability to illuminate itself with glow-in-the-dark bioluminescence makes them formidable Apex predators. Imagine a pair of soccer ball-sized headlamps mounted on a small bus lit up like a Christmas tree, arms askew waving crazily like a puppeteer on drugs, and you’ll get the idea.

colossal squid have never been photographed in their natural habitat before

Image courtesy of Alexander Remeslo of a juvenile colossal squid caught in a trawl net, 1981.

Citizen scientists help researchers track changes to the environment

Chimu Adventures encourages passengers to become ambassadors for the earth and its natural environment with a citizen science program. Spearheading the program onboard is mathematician, author, comedian and card-carrying science geek Adam Spencer. Sightings of cloud formations, bird sightings and whale tails amongst others are sent to NASA, Oxford University and the Happy Whale foundation to contribute to research into the Earth’s climate system and the crucial role the Southern Ocean and Antarctica plays.

Squid & octopus are enjoying a real 'moment'

Thanks to media attention through documentaries like My Octopus Teacher and internet celebrities like Paul, a famous octopus who was known for his winning 2010 World Cup predictions, cephalopods like octopus, squid, and cuttlefish are becoming better understood, but the colossal squid is still very unknown. Scientists don’t know how common it is, nor if, indeed, it is endangered. That’s why this unique and innovative project will not only increase researchers’ knowledge of the colossal squid, but has broader impacts for the marine environment.

“The colossal squid is an oversized poster species for how little we know about the ocean”, said Matt Mulrennan, Marine Scientist, Founder/CEO of Kolossal, “It’s the largest invertebrate on our planet, with the world’s biggest eye, hooked tentacles, and likely glows in the dark, does it get any cooler than that? Studying this species in this remote region is a truly challenging adventure. So let’s ‘get kraken’ on this exciting scientific expedition!”

What equipment is used to photograph colossal squid?

SubC Imaging is installing the research technologies on the tourism vessel of the ACKBAR II (A Camera for Kraken Baiting and Recording), as well as a custom made crane, and oceanographic winch. This is an essential step in the search for the colossal squid, with this photgraphic equipment to be used during Antarctic expeditions.

AKBAR underwater photographic equipment
ACKBAR II underwater photographic equipment

Antarctica is the elephant in the room of climate change

By better understanding the habitat, population numbers, and behaviours of the colossal squid, Kolossal and marine advocates hope to increase restrictions on commercial fishing in Antarctica’s marine reserves, particularly for Patagonian and Antarctic toothfish and mackerel icefish and also increase support for the High Seas Treaty Dialogues, which aims to improve conservation and marine protections in international waters, currently unregulated. 

Antarctic protection treaties stand to preserve the white continent against tourism’s impact. But there is also a sound argument that one must experience Antarctica responsibly with minimal impact to truly understand why it needs protection. Visiting the white continent is one sure fire way to develop ambassadors who advocate for change. Hearing about the impact of the climate crisis is one thing but seeing human influence with our own eyes is the crucial catalyst. Looking away is no longer an option.

DONATE to this project.

NOTE: Fiona Harper travels as a guest of Chimu Adventures.

Fiona Harper travel writer and Travel Boating Lifestyle
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Ultimate girls road trip on Great Ocean Road. Image Fiona Harper

Road tripping from Adelaide to Melbourne

An epic Australian road trip along the road less-travelled: from the Adelaide Hills, through the Limestone Coast to the Shipwreck Coast, the Great Ocean Road and the lush ancient forests of the Great Otway National Park.

“Come outside, you’ll want to see this,” Hellen called as she knocked on the motorhome door. Daylight was still not peeking through the blinds, but I threw warm clothes on, grabbed my camera and stepped outside into a dawn ablaze with colour.

The surface of Fellmongery Lake was like a mirror, tinted a deep purple as it reflected the colours of pre-sunrise dawn. Tendrils of foam whipped up by last nights wind was banked up on the shore, now tinted purple too. As a first sunrise on our road trip between Adelaide and Melbourne, it was an absolute cracker.

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Day 1 road tripping: Adelaide to Robe | South Australia

After a thorough briefing by Michael at Let’s Go Motorhomes’ Adelaide branch we hit the road, bound for Melbourne, anticipating lashings of fun ahead. While our route follows Australia’s south-eastern coast with its famed Great Ocean Road which draws tourists from all over the world, we’re planning to take the road less travelled wherever possible.

Our wheels are a Jayco 4 Berth Royale motorhome, which at over 7m long and with a slide out Queen bed and ensuite bathroom provides a plush base for road tripping adventures. 

Road trip Adelaide to South Australia. Image Fiona Harper. Lets Go Motorhomes
Road trip Adelaide to South Australia. Image Fiona Harper. Ottos Bakery Hahndorf
The three of us have assembled in Adelaide for the Ultimate Girls Road trip: myself from Hervey Bay, Helen from Sydney and Carolyne, who calls Adelaide home. We’ve barely left suburban Adelaide behind before the town of Hahndorf in the Adelaide Hills lures us off the highway. Otto’s Bakery claim the podium for an ‘award winning vanilla slice’ according to a sign near the door. It’s not clear which award they’ve won, but I take them at their word and purchase one anyway. It is delicious, with a sticky sweet icing, firm custard that’s not too sweet all sandwiched between flaky pastry. Like any self-respecting vanilla slice, it ends up everywhere and my hands are a sticky mess by the time I’ve finished.
Road trip Adelaide to South Australia. Image Fiona Harper. The Coorong

Continuing southeast we past through the low-lying country of the Coorong, made famous in Colin Thiele’s Storm Boy, but also featuring in a plethora of other books and films. We stop to admire the scenery and pose for a photo beneath behemoth Larry the Lobster at Kingston. Wangolina Wines in the Mt Benson Wine Region is a delightful diversion where we taste a selection of prosecco, sauvignon blanc and a rose, stocking up on wine for the rest of the trip.

Later we check into Robe Lakeside Tourist Park where we have both a lakeside powered site and a two-bedroom cabin set amidst leafy grounds surrounding Lake Fellmongery. After settling in we head downtown to the Caledonian Inn for dinner where a fire creates a lively vibe in the bar and slow-cooked lamb shanks are melt-in-your-mouth tender.

Where to stay in Robe

Lakeside Tourist Park
24 Main Rd, Robe South Australia

Road trip Adelaide to South Australia. Image Fiona Harper. Robe
Road trip Adelaide to South Australia. Image Fiona Harper. Robe
The Big Lobster at Kingston. Image Fiona Harper

Day 2 road tripping: Robe to Mt Gambier | South Australia

Robe is a beautiful town set upon a stunning coastline known as the Limestone Coast, best viewed from the Bowman Scenic Drive. Which is exactly where we head after waking early to see Lake Fellmongery turn a deep purple beneath a breathless dawn.
After getting a chai latte from the beautifully restored coffee kombi outside Drift, we joined the queue outside Rise of Robe where sourdough bread is perfectly baked: crunchy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside with just the merest hint of tartness. The Portuguese Tarts were a big hit, so too were the croissants – again I made a complete mess of it all with a lapful of crumbs evidence of the croissants’ crisp exterior.

Road trip Adelaide to South Australia. Image Fiona Harper. Robe

Driving southeast from Robe we headed to Beachport where more stunning coastal shorelines kept us captivated. Before stopping for morning tea beside the Blowhole I stripped down and jumped into the Pool of Siloam, a salt lake tucked in behind the sand dunes, said to have therapeutic qualities due to its intense saltiness. I can’t speak for its health-giving attributes, but I can say that with a water temperature barely into the teens, immersion in the lake certainly kick starts the heart rate! A tour through the Beachport Old Wool and Grain Store Museum is an absolute ‘must do’, if only to see if you sense the spirit of a young girl reputed to haunt the former living quarters upstairs.

Road trip Adelaide to South Australia. Image Fiona Harper. Robe

Driving into Mt Gambier, we parked the van overlooking Blue Lake to enjoy an afternoon ‘cuppa’ before walking walked around the lushly landscaped grounds of Umpherston Sink Hole with its near-underground gardens.

After checking into our cabin and powered site at Pine Country Caravan Park, sundowner drinks were enjoyed around a fire pit as chilly darkness descended. The park grounds are beautiful with plenty of shady trees, grassy areas, and there’s even a herb garden and a pair of friendly alpacas. Lucky Helen, who was on her first ever motorhome road trip, got to make her dump point debut here. I won’t say she loved it, but she did manage to empty the toilet cassette without any pesky spillage which is all you can really hope for.

Here’s how I made my own Dump Point debut in north Queensland.

Where to stay in Mt Gambier

Pine Country Caravan Park
2-16 Kilsby Rd, Moorak Mount Gambier, South Australia

Road trip Adelaide to South Australia. Image Fiona Harper. Great Ocean Road

Day 3 road tripping: Mt Gambier to Warrnambool | South Australia & Victoria

We timed our departure from Pine Country Caravan Park for opening time at Scroll Queen just a few doors down. Here, baker Dylan McQueen is killing it with his own recipes for delicious, sweet and savoury doughy scrolls. Fresh from the oven is definitely the best way to enjoy them!

Leaving the highway route behind we drove south towards Port MacDonnell and South Australia’s most southerly point. Again, the stunning coastline was mesmerising with weathered limestone carved into monoliths and sheer-sided cliffs plunging into the maelstrom below. Crossing the South Australia/Victoria border, the jaw-dropping scenery just kept getting better. Lookout spots at The Grotto, Bay of Islands and intriguingly named Bay of Martyrs are worth calling into, as is London Bridge which famously saw one of its arches plummet into the sea in 1990 leaving two bewildered sightseers stranded on its remains (they were rescued by helicopter). Known as the Shipwreck Coast, in between the plummeting cliffs, there are walking trails offering beach access to tiny coves bookended by cliffs or sweeping stretches of beach.

Road trip Adelaide to South Australia. Image Fiona Harper. Mt Gambier

At Port Fairy we order a hearty pub lunch (the mouth-watering steak sandwich is burger-sized) at The Caledonian Hotel, also known as the Stump Pub (for reasons which can’t quite be pinned down), but more commonly known as Victoria’s oldest licenced hotel. Sadly we don’t have time to explore the delightful shores of Moyne River before continuing westwards to Warrnambool where hot springs await.

Deep Blue Hot Springs sounds like a tranquil sanctuary for relaxation, and I’m sure if you visit outside school holidays or mid-week, it’s a haven of tranquillity. Our mid-Sunday-afternoon visit meant it was teeming with adults and children. But it’s a gorgeous setting with geothermal open-air mineral rock pools, sensory caves and waterfalls which evoke therapeutic bathing rituals.

At Discovery Parks Warrnambool, positioned in a great location with park surrounds and Beach Kiosk Cafe a few minutes away, we check into a modern two-bedroom cabin with a motorhome powered site conveniently adjacent.

Where to stay in Warrnambool

Discovery Parks Warrnambool
25 Pertobe Rd, Warrnambool, Victoria

Road trip Adelaide to South Australia. Image Fiona Harper. Great Ocean Road
Road trip Adelaide to South Australia. Image Fiona Harper. Great Ocean Road

Day 4 road tripping: Warrnambool to Apollo Bay | Victoria

The most popular section of the Great Ocean Road lies between Warrnambool and Apollo Bay. Here, the famed Twelve Apostles hog the spotlight, but there are plenty of other sights to see along the stunning coastline. We planned to visit the dormant volcanic plug of Tower Hill, where an Indigenous walking tour is a must do, but alas, road works and inclement weather make it difficult to navigate the steep road so we carry on eastwards.

The damp and dreary weather is relentless, adding a definite moodiness to our photos as stop at lookout points like the Razorback, Island Arch and Loch Ard Gorge. A burrowing echidna intent on sourcing lunch near the pathway steals the show despite the dramatic scenery at its back.

Leaving the coastline behind we savour the lushness of the Great Otway National Park and take a rainforest walk at Maits Rest. Hugging 300 hundred-year-old trees, some fallen, while others stand tall, we duck beneath the seductively curled fronds of mammoth tree ferns glistening in dewy rain.

It’s late afternoon by the time we arrive at Apollo Bay where we check into the Apollo Bay Holiday Park. A newly renovated cabin and a nearby powered site are welcome digs for the night as we savour the hot showers before heading out to the Great Ocean Road Brewhouse for dinner. While house-brewed Prickly Moses and more than 100 craft beers may be the main attraction, it was the Apollo Bay Gin Distillery which captured my attention and my tastebuds.

Where to stay in Apollo Bay

Apollo Bay Holiday Park
25 Cawood St, Apollo Bay, Victoria

Road trip Adelaide to South Australia. Image Fiona Harper. Great Ocean Road

Day 5 road tripping: Apollo Bay to Melbourne | Victoria

Apollo Bay has long been a safe harbour for fishermen working the often tempestuous waters of Bass Strait, making it a great place to pick up fish and chips from the Fish Co-op at the harbour. Eastwards from Apollo Bay the Great Ocean Road wraps around the shoreline with Bass Strait to the right, while on the left, rolling farmlands alternate with steep forest-clad hills. For drivers it’s a little unfair as there is spectacular views in every direction but the winding road requires maximum concentration. We stop for lunch and a retail fix at trendy Lorne where cashed up Melburnians spend their weekends at what feels a little like a coastal South Yarra. It’s not hard to find a decent coffee and there are restaurants aplenty with ocean views. Head to historic Lorne Sea Baths for its outdoor swimming pool, salt and hydro therapy and waterfront restaurant.

Leaving the coast behind at Torquay we turn our motorhome towards Melbourne, losing the country vibe with the first set of traffic lights we’ve seen since departing Adelaide five days ago.

In Melbourne’s north-western suburbs, Discovery Park Melbourne awaits as a family-friendly sanctuary in Australia’s second largest city. Sadly, Melbourne also marks the end of our ultimate girls road trip.

The laughs have been plentiful, the food and drinks divine. But the star of this road tripping show has indisputedly been the stunning landscapes we’ve travelled through. From the Adelaide Hills, through the Limestone Coast to the Shipwreck Coast, the Great Ocean Road and the lush forests of the Great Otway National Park, we’ve had an absolute blast. Our camera shutters have gone into overdrive capturing the beauty, the sights and the characters.  I can’t wait to hit the road again and explore more of Australia’s lesser-travelled regions.

Where to stay in Melbourne

Discovery Parks Melbourne
129 Ashley St, Braybrook, Melbourne Victoria

Road trip Adelaide to South Australia. Image Fiona Harper. Great Ocean Road
Road trip Adelaide to South Australia. Image Fiona Harper. Great Ocean Road

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Disney World Orlando. Image Fiona Harper
Orlando | Florida

Florida stands for Fun with a capital F

Florida is undisputedly USA's Fun Capital. Whether your idea of a god time is ziplining over alligators, rollicking through theme parks.

Orlando is the only place in the world where you can have a private meeting with the legendary Mickey Mouse (he’ a REALLY big deal in these parts), zip across alligator-infested everglades in an airboat, cast a Harry Potter-worthy spell in Diagon Alley, dine with rock music legends at Hard Rock Cafe and enjoy spectacular fireworks after dinner – all in one day. But that’s not all. Orlando is known for its theme parks but the whole city itself is like one big party on steroids. If you can’t find something to tickle your fancy in Orlando, you probably don’t have a pulse. Here’s seven uniquely Orlando adventures to float your holiday boat

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1. Fireworks shows happen every day of the year

Orlando does fireworks like Melbourne does coffee, Venice does gondolas, like London does Wimbledon. Making time to view the nightly fireworks spectacle is mandatory after-dark entertainment when in Orlando. From the “Disney Enchantment” show at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom and “Harmonious” at Epcot, to Universal Orlando’s nightly “Cinematic Celebration,” fireworks shows happen at various locations city-wide. Then there are additional seasonal displays to add to the enchantment. Expect fireworks displays to ramp up a notch on the Fourth of July, New Year’s Eve and during Halloween – whenever there’s a significant date on the calendar, expect the fireworks gods to deliver big time.
Firewords display at Disney World. Image Visit Orlando

2. Spoiler alert: it's all about Mickey

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for much of the past five decades you’ve probably heard of the loveable big-eared rodent called Mickey Mouse.

Eternally youthful with his unlined face and a grin that lights up a room, the world’s most popular rodent, Mickey Mouse has been around for almost 100 years. His spiritual home is Disney World and its Magic Kingdom, which celebrates 50 years young this year. Disney World is an enchanting destination dedicated to fun where a Cinderella Castle illuminates its surrounds with a dazzling glow sparkling like fairy dust. Spectacular fireworks shows each evening add to the magical atmosphere. Book a photo session with Mickey or any of the popular Disney characters to take home a cherished memento.

3. Rockets are not just for astronauts

Nowhere else in the world can pay your entrance fee and rock up to watch a real live space rocket being launched. You can in Orlando. Head down to Kennedy Space Centre at Cape Canaveral to get the low down on USA’s space history and to watch a launch up close and personal if you time your visit right. Or alternatively, watch a rocket being launched from Kennedy Space Centre from a unique vantage point across the city. Wheel at ICON Park or Exploria Stadium in Orlando are excellent places from which to view a live rocket launch spectacle.

4. EPCOT: where a utopian community became a fun park for all

EPCOT is an acronym for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. If you’re thinking that’s an odd name for fun-filled theme park you’d be right. The original concept conceived by Walt Disney himself was to create a utopian community devoid of crime, unemployment and pesky vehicles which produced pollution.
The experimental community quickly evolved in a theme celebrating people and cultures from across the globe and explores the magical wonders of science and technology. Theme park rides include classic favourites themed on Frozen or the hilarious Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure or the breathtaking exhilaration of Guardians of the Galaxy rollercoaster. A Beauty and the Beast ride takes you into the mysterious world of storyteller Angela Lansbury while a virtual hang gliding adventure takes travellers on an exhilarating airborne global soiree. Nemo and his maritime pals feature on a jaunty underwater experience without all the peskiness of getting wet.

5. “Congratulations, you are being rescued” at Disney’s Hollywood Studios

In a galaxy far way at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, you’ll find an array of Star Wars Experiences (if you can ignore the presence of the Orlando city skyline as a spoiler) where you’ll go down a rabbit hole of outer other-world adventures of the galactic kind. Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge where you’ll be immersed deep into legendary Star Wars stories on an interactive adventure. Even if you’re not a Star Wars fan (confession time: I’m not and have no clue about who the characters are).

But Disney’s Hollywood Studios is not just about outer-galactic thrills. There are a host of thrilling and family-friendly rides, attractions, restaurants, cafes and parklands. If you can’t find something to suit your fancy at Hollywood Studios you’re probably not trying hard enough.

In the words of K-2SO in Rogue One: a Star Wars Story, ‘congratulations, you are being rescued.” Enjoy the ride!

Hollywood Studios, Orlando. Image Fiona Harper
Hollywood Studios, Orlando. Image Fiona Harper

6. Fly on a zipline with 'gators

Ziplining is probably not the first thing you think of when you think of alligators (if you give them any thought at all). But after visiting Screamin’ Gator Zipline at Gatorland and you won’t be able to think of anything else whenever a gator pops up in your social media feed or on TV. Gatorland is the unofficial alligator capital of the world with thousands of alligators, crocodiles and many other reptiles in the park. If you’ve seen Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (is there anyone on the planet who hasn’t??), you’ll possibly recognise some of four-legged A-list reptilian stars ziplining above the gators offers a unique perspective to see these prehistoric creatures.
Gatorland Florida

7. Orlando is for Art

With glitzy, gaudy and garish theme parks hogging the spotlight in Orlando, you could be forgiven for thinking the city has no classic arts culture. Think again. The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art is noted for its fine collection of art nouveau, including a significant collection of works by stained glass artist Louis Comfort Tiffany. Amongst many outstanding exhibits is a restored Byzantine-Romanesque chapel interior complete with exquisite leaded glass which Tiffany designed for the 1893 World’s Columbian Expo in Chicago.

The Downtown Orland precinct is the hub of the city’s arts precinct with the Dr Phillips Center for the Performing Arts the venue for some of Florida’s most exceptional performances.

Downtown Orland. Image Fiona Harper

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Selina Hotel St Kilda, Melbourne. Image Fiona Harper
Melbourne | Australia

Hotel Review: Selina St Kilda

When does a travel hostel become a hotel? When hotel group Selina take over a former hostel and give it a makeover, while retaining the friendly traveller vibe. Selina St Kilda is for digital nomads, travellers and global roamers who prefer to immerse themselves in a place with like-minded adventurers.

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Selina St Kilda is located in the midst of St Kilda’s bustling boho beachside precinct, a short tram ride away from downtown Melbourne. Stepping out of the elegant façade of Selina, St Kilda’s many sides are on show. From elegantly restored Victorian mansions, graceful old pubs and public buildings – some beautifully restored, others in varying degrees of decay. To boho boutiques, lively bars, trendy cafes and exquisite waterfront restaurants, with a bayside backdrop and a soundtrack of the clattering rollercoaster and squeals of Luna Park, St Kilda has something for everyone.

Located on Grey Street, which was once the favoured location for European Aristocrats to build their elaborate mansions. Number 51 is one such example, whose 1850s-built residence was once described as being one of the finest homes in the new colony, is now home to a French Language School. The building housing Selina was once a traveller’s hostel, and still has the vibe of a travel hostel, despite the Selina branding. At its core is a grand old building divided up into rooms and dormitories, some of which would be equally at home in a hotel rather than a hostel. Even though it’s branded as a Selina Hotel, the hostel-like friendliness and casual vibe is what draws travellers in from around the globe.


With over 160 destinations, Selina provides travellers with great places to stay, travel and work abroad indefinitely. Digital nomads love Selina but so too do travellers who prefer to immerse themselves in a destination while meeting like-minded global roamers.

Selina properties blend beautiful, unique or quirky accommodation with coworking, recreation, wellness and local experiences. Selina is all about providing guests with a global network to travel and work anywhere across the globe.


Room options vary from shared dormitories with shared bathroom facilities through to spacious private rooms with ensuite bathrooms and their own sitting areas.

My second floor room (#211) is designated as The Suite, and is spacious enough to have a Queen bed, sofa which can be converted to a single bed, a mini fridge and a small work desk. Power sockets have both 240v sockets and USB outlets beside the bed and at the desk. The ensuite bathroom with its step in shower, while compact, was perfectly adequate with good lighting and ventilation and plenty of instant hot water.

Private Rooms are smaller than The Suite, minus the sitting area and have a private ensuite bathroom. The Micro Rooms are the most basic room option, akin to a cabin on a ship or train, with a bed for two adults and a desk. Bathrooms are shared between groups of four Micro rooms. Shared dormitory rooms are configured for sleeping four, six, eight or twelve adults in single bunk beds. Power sockets and reading lights are located within the bunk ‘pod’ Private lockers are provided to store belongings and bathrooms are shared.

Note for travellers with cumbersome luggage – there are no lifts in the building

Arriving guests are required to download the Selina App prior to arrival, and fill out a pre-arrival checklist. It’s a rather annoying mandatory requirement, which felt a lot like a marketing upsell opportunity and I couldn’t wait to delete the app from my phone once I checked out.

Selina Hotel St Kilda, Melbourne. Image Fiona Harper


Regular, complimentary activities are available for inhouse guests, including yoga and meditation on the rooftop terrace, Salsa dancing, movie nights and happy hours in the onsite bar.

A communal kitchen has cooking facilities, fridges and storage areas to make self-catering easy, and theirs a communal lounge adjacent with comfy sofas, book library and board games.
A Coworking room can be utilised for a fee (daily hot desk starts from AUD20, weekly cost from AUD77 and AUD150 to rent a desk for a month). High speed wifi in included in the fee as is tea and coffee facilities.

St Kilda itself has an endless choice of activities and entertainment. From eating at drinking at one of the suburbs countless bars and restaurants, riding the classic roller coaster at Luna Park, swimming in Port Phillip Bay or strolling St Kilda Pier. If you run out of things to do in St Kilda (highly unlikely), catch a tram to Melbourne city or anywhere else in Melbourne, which has an exceptional public transport network across trams, trains and buses.

Selina Hotel St Kilda, Melbourne. Image Fiona Harper
Selina Hotel St Kilda, Melbourne. Image Fiona Harper


Within Selina itself there is a small convivial bar with stools and tables, making it a great spot to meet fellow travellers. A small café which is open sporadically and fronts the street has a simple menu.

But, this is St Kilda, one of Melbourne’s most lively suburbs, where entertainment, dining, clubs, pubs and bars are open 24 hours a day. If you can’t find somewhere fun to eat or drink in St Kilda, well, you’re really not trying.


24 Grey Street St Kilda, Melbourne Victoria, Australia


NOTE: Fiona Harper travelled as a guest of Selina


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Hotel Roanoke, Virginia USA. Image Fiona Harper travel writer and travel photographer. Travel Boating Lifestyle
Virginia | USA

Hotel Review: Hotel Roanoke

Hotel Roanoke is a grand historic hotel of centuries-old elegance where celebrities, United States of America Presidents & Miss Virginia pageant queens stay when in Virginia. Long the destination of choice for holiday makers seeking the coolness of the Blue Ridge Mountains during Virginia's summers Hotel Roanoke exudes elegance across its historic panelled lobby.

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LOCATION - Where you'll stay

The Hotel Roanoke has occupied prime position in the city of Roanoke Virginia for almost 150 years. Known affectionately as ‘the grand old lady on the hill’, the elegant hotel is exquisitely preserved, with its stories of hosting distinguished guests and dignitaries almost as interesting as the hotel itself. The first Hotel Roanoke opened its doors in 1882 beside the railway line when the city then known as Big Lick and was the headquarters for Norfolk & Western Railway.

The hotel quickly became popular with travellers, with businessmen and out-of-towners flocking to the grand hotel to enjoy vacations in the cool mountainous climate. Deep, shady verandahs draped with flowering wisteria vines protected guests from summer sunshine. Since the 1950s the hotel has hosted the annual Miss Virginia pageant along with United States Presidents amongst many celebrated guests.

The city was an important junction for the rail line (indeed, it still is), in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Appalachian Mountains whose spine runs the length of North America. The famed 3,540km/2,200 Appalachian Trail for hikers passes north of Roanoke while the Blue Ridge Mountains are dotted with walking, running, mountain biking and horse riding trails. The Blue Ridge Parkway is a scenic drive which passes through Roanoke between Afton Virginia and into North Carolina where it ends at Cherokee in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

ACCOMMODATION - Where you'll sleep

The luxurious Hotel Roanoke has over 300 recently renovated rooms and elegant suites to choose from. Lead-in room categories start with a Queen/King/Twin room which have a work desk, complimentary wi-fi, side tables and wardrobes along with a large oversized sitting chair with an ottoman. Corner rooms are slightly larger.

My room was a King Room on the second floor which had a leafy outlook over the garden with the Mill Mountain Star atop Mill Mountain visible in the distance. A marble bathroom with step-in shower and large vanity, antique wardrobe and plush upholstered chair with ottoman along with a large work desk made it a very comfortable home-away-from-home for six nights.
Executive Floor rooms are similarly furnished and come with the added inclusion of access to the private lounge and added amenities such as robes and slippers.

Junior Suites have a separate living room with sofa bed, which connects to a bedroom. Larger Parlor Suites and Premium Suites have full sized living rooms with dining areas making them idea for entertaining small groups. If you’re full cashed up and ready to spoil yourself, book the two-bedroom Penthouse Governor Suite with its own fireplace, dining room and kitchen along with a rooftop terrace.

Hotel Roanoke, Virginia USA. Image Fiona Harper travel writer and travel photographer. Travel Boating Lifestyle

ACTIVITIES: What you can do at Hotel Roanoke

The gardens of the Hotel Roanoke are extensive and meticulously manicured. Walk through the gardens to get to the outdoor swimming pool and heated hot tub. Work out in the adjacent gym or check into the Spa for a treatment. Body scrubs, facials and massages are a specialty in the Spa which utilises organic, nutrient-rich seaweed based OAEA products.

A complimentary shuttle service is available to take guests to any place they would like to go within the city centre, as well as to and from the airport. Though the hotel has easy access to downtown Roanoke via the elevated walkway across the rail lines, the shuttle service is particularly valuable after an exhausting day walking around the galleries, museums and parks of Roanoke.

Museums and galleries within walking (or shuttle) distance that are well worth checking out include Virginia’s Museum of Transportation, O Winston Link Museum, Roanoke Pinball Museum, Taubman Museum of Art, History Museum of Western Virginia and Marrison Museum of African American Culture.

Hotel Roanoke, Virginia USA. Image Fiona Harper travel writer and travel photographer. Travel Boating Lifestyle
Hotel Roanoke, Virginia USA. Image Fiona Harper travel writer and travel photographer. Travel Boating Lifestyle

RESTAURANTS & BARS: Where to eat & drink at Hotel Roanoke

The Regency Room is Hotel Roanoke’s signature restaurant with its glamorous setting and antique furnishings softened by potted palms. Southern USA’s staple grits are given an upmarket twist served with shrimp, old bay butter and creamy cheese. The Regency Room is open for breakfast and dinner with dining on the veranda a popular option during summer.

The 1882 Pine Room is a bistro style restaurant adjacent to the stylish 1882 circular bar with its galaxy-painted ceiling and subtle lighting. Burgers and hearth-fired pizzas are popular accompanied by a ever-changing cocktail menu with an astounding selection of drinks. Channelling local hero railroad photographer O Winston Link is the Hotshot Eastbound cocktail with vodka tinted with hibiscus, or try the Stone Mountain Mule, inspired by the fullness and vibrancy of summer.


EXPLORE: What's in the local area

The Blue Ridge Mountains are a popular drawcard for hikers, mountain bikers and day trippers wanting to picnic lakeside amongst nature.

Roanoke Mountain Adventures has outdoor gear for hire or purchase, including mountain, electric and road bikes, camping equipment and clothing. Roanoke is a bike-friendly city with plenty of trails through parklands, alongside streams and all the way to Mill Mountain with its famous Star overlooking the city. 

America’s premier Women’s professional cycling Team TWENTY24 are based in Roanoke, training year-round to add to their already bulging trophy cabinet.

My visit in May was timed to coincide with a trail marathon called Conquer the Cove run by local adventure outfit Mountain Junkies. Along with the 42km/26m marathon, there’s also a 25km run, which is the most popular distance through stunning forest trails around Carvins Cove. 

Visit Black Dog Salvage for one of the most extraordinary recycling store you are likely to see. Selling an eclectic collection of upcycled, recycled and unrestored items of all descriptions, from books, homewares, household building materials, art and gifts, it’s a collectors dream store.

Approximately one hour out of Roanoke is Eupepsia Wellness Resort, an award-winning health retreat of 256 acres in an idyllic country setting surrounded by rolling hills and lush farmlands. The retreat is based on Ayurveda science and is an excellent add-on to a stay at Hotel Roanoke with its therapies centred around fresh farm-to-table cuisine, massage, yoga and relaxation therapies.


Hotel Roanoke – 10 Shenandoah Ave Roanoke, Virginia USA www.hotelroanoke.com

Visit Roanoke

Visit Virginia

Fiona Harper travelled as a guest of Visit Virginia and Hotel Roanoke.

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Roanoke, Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia USA
Roanoke, Virginia | USA

Running the Conquer the Cove Marathon

Would you travel 14, 900km just to run 42km? Fiona Harper flew from Queensland Australia to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia USA to run a challenging trail marathon. It turned out to be less stressful than leaving her Roanoke hotel.

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What is your Emergency?

‘Nine one one. What is your emergency?’

‘Um, hi,’ I stammer, trying to keep a lid on rising panic.

‘I am in a lift, and it’s stopped moving,’ I say slowly. Trying not to sound hysterical, I enunciate each word carefully. In the six days that I’ve been in Virginia, I’ve notice that some people cannot understand my Aussie accent. Blank looks or confusion have met my questions or observations. Always politely, I might add. Without exception, southern Americans are nothing if not impeccably polite and respectful, thank you Ma’am.

‘The lift stopped on the way down, and now it seems to be hanging in mid air,’ I explain.

Roanoke, Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia USA
Hotel Roanoke, Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia USA. Image Fiona Harper

The operator’s reassuring voice is confident and calming. She speaks with careful precision, asking me questions to find out where I am.

The truth is, I don’t really know where I am. Oh, I know what city I’m in. And my sense of direction is usually pretty good. But trying to explain where I am from visual observations proves a little tricky. I flew into the city of Roanoke, Virginia from Australia five days ago. Moments ago I had walked through the lobby, then the gilded front doors of the Hotel Roanoke. Waving a cheery hello to the bell boys (who had made casual conversation about my accent, seemingly laying private bets on it origins), I’d walked across the elevated walkway straddling the train tracks, pressed the lift button to go down three levels, stepped into the lift and watched the doors close.

Roanoke, Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia USA
Roanoke, Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia USA. Image Fiona Harper

It's deadly silent as the elevator hangs in mid air

Now, the mechanical whirring has been replaced by silence. I think I can hear my heartbeat, but perhaps I’m imagining it as adrenalin speeds up the blood coursing through by body.  Then the lights go out. I will myself not to panic and take deep breaths. Making myself stay calm, I slide gently down the wall, my legs folding beneath me until I’m kneeling on the floor. My quadriceps and butt muscles scream in agony. I shuffle around on my knees to ease the pain.

In the past few days I’d walked straight past this lift, always eschewing it for the stairs, whether I was going up or down. It was only three floors. I’m a runner – we don’t take lifts, we always take the stairs!

Roanoke, Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia USA
Conquer the Cove Marathon. Image Jay Proffitt

With marathon-weary legs, I take the lift instead of the stairs

But, after running a marathon yesterday I ignored the stairs and took the lift. The Conquer the Cove Marathon’s course took me up some pretty steep inclines in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was a tough trail run with plenty of elevation on tricky trails. The day after the race my legs, nay my whole body, was feeling weary. Conversely,  I felt I had a metaphorical spring in my step as I planned a leisurely walk around downtown Roanoke as a sort of ‘recovery effort’. I was still feeling the runners high, fuelled by the exhilaration that comes from crossing the finish line of a marathon. That endorphin fix is no myth and is what keeps endurance runners going back for more.

I’d heard about the Conquer the Cove Marathon while planning a trip to the USA as COVID-19 released its hold on travellers. The timing worked perfectly, slotting in nicely with plans in North Carolina and Florida. Perusing the event information online, and talking to friends who knew the area, I was excited to sign up for the run. A challenging trail run taking runners through the magnificent scenery of Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia is just the sort of challenge I relish.

I’d never visited Virginia, and knew little about the state beyond its intriguing tag line ‘Virginia is for lovers’. The Blue Ridge Mountains with their forest-clad hills woven with hiking, mountain bike and running trails looked like my kind of place.

The Blue Ridge Mountains formed some of soundtrack to my childhood which was swamped with American and country music crooners. The likes of Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash and of course John Denver thanks to Dad’s musical tastes were etched into my DNA.  Mention Blue Ridge Mountains and my brain immediately connects it with Shenandoah River. Start singing ‘take me home’, and I’ll finish the line with ‘country road’. John Denver’s ode to country roads is waltzing through my head as I’m typing.

Joining a couple of hundred runners on the start line in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the tune was on repeat in my mental soundtrack. The marathon course took us from Carvins Cove reservoir through the delightfully named Happy Valley where forests filtered the air and every leafy shade of green was on display. Up until the mid-1940s Happy Valley was home to nearly 50 families who lived in the village of Carvins Cove. A thriving community complete with a school, church, farms, orchards and all their homes once stood beneath the lake lining part of the course. William Carvin was the first white settler in the area, setting up home in 1746. The Cove Baptist Church hosted weekly sermons as early as the 1890s.  Carvins Cove cannery had been canning tomatoes, green beans and apples since 1915. Today, generations of family graves and the remnants of chimneys are all that remain. The village and its history was submerged when the valley was flooded in 1946 to create a water catchment reservoir.

Conquer the Cove Marathon. Image Fiona Harper

Conquer the Cove marathon traverses the Blue Ridge Mountains

Looking over the lake at the start line, I chatted with other runners, trying to get an insight into the the hills  (were they mountains or merely hills, I wanted to know) ahead of us. I was intimidated by the course profile, which had two significant climbs, the larger of the two at the business end of the marathon. I love running hills and had incorporated hill training into my plan, but who was I kidding? I’m a 57 year-old jetlagged woman, here to have fun and just make it around the course without breaking any bones.

I’d flown almost 15,000km in order to run 42.2km, and was going to take as long as it took. Though admittedly, it took longer than I anticipated, requiring all the determination and single-minded doggedness that I could muster to cross the finish line. My right knee blew up in some sort of agonising protest, willing me not to go on. When the ‘sweep’ caught up with me, it was the push I needed to keep going and not throw in the towel. I limped across the finish line in a pained shuffle, tears welling in my eyes with relief.

The pain receded once I stopped running, but now that I was kneeling down in this elevator, the agony of post-marathon muscle damage returned. But the pain in my legs was overruled by my need to stay calm. 

Stuck in a dark, unmoving lift, I was in a pickle. Bizarrely, not for the first time since I’d flown into the USA, I felt like I was playing out an American movie. Fed an endless diet of American sit-coms, drama, movies and pop culture since childhood, the lines had often seemed to blur between cliches and real life America. Calling 911 definitely fell into that realm.

FIONA HARPER_Roanoke-Virginia_220529_0097 (1)
Conquer the Cove Marathon. Image Fiona Harper

'The fire department is on the way'

The light on my phone highlights a red button with ALARM spelt out in capital letters. I press it and hear pealing bells. It’s loud and piercing and I imagine people running towards it. But when I release my finger, I hear no footsteps. The silence, to coin a cliche, is deafening.

The operator tells me reassuringly that she’s in contact with the fire department. When I tell her about the elevated walkway from the hotel across the railway line she says she knows exactly where I am. Hunched down on the floor, I take more deep breaths and relax a little when she says, ‘the fire department is on the way.’

Then, without warning, the lift chugs back into life. The box I’m suspended in whirs and shudders. It makes reassuring lift-like sounds. Without preamble, I feel the lift descend ever so slowly, shuddering slightly as movement stops, as though that was our intention all along. Magically, the doors slide open and I’m bathed in dazzling light.

Rising unsteadily to my feet, I’m unsure whether to laugh hysterically or burst into tears. A young guy waiting for me to vacate the lift before he steps in looks at me oddly. I step over the lift threshold and into the foyer. Still clutching the phone to my ear, I let the operator know that I am safe, that I am out of the lift, and I thank her for being so kind.

‘You have a nice day, ya hear,’ she drawls politely, as I step deliriously into magnificent sunshine beaming down upon the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance. John Denver pops back into my head…  ‘almost heaven…’ he croons.

Later, returning to the walkway which will take me across the tracks and to hotel I’m confronted with a decision. Do I take the lift or the stairs up to the third floor?

Recalling yesterday’s gritty marathon and the mental games I played with myself, I press the up button. Getting right back on that horse seems like my only choice. While I’d hardly ‘conquered the cove’ with my six-hour finishing time, I had at least conquered my pain. Mentally my game was strong, even if my body had wavered.

Despite the soreness in my legs causing me to walk like a hundred-year-old woman, I seriously consider walking up three flights of stairs. Yesterday’s marathon suddenly seems easier than the mental ping-pong I play while plucking up the courage to ride the elevator again.

I take a deep breath and step into the lift. 

Image Jay Proffitt

Fiona Harper travelled to Virginia USA and Conquer the Cove marathon as a guest of Virginia Tourism and Mountain Junkies. 


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Fiona Harper travel writer and Travel Boating Lifestyle
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Australia's best sun hat

At Travel Boating Lifestyle we’re all about getting outdoors in the sun, the wind and the rain. Fashion rarely comes into the equation when we’re outdoors, as it’s all about comfort and practicalities. The same goes when we’re travelling.

So, when the good people at ooGee Headwear suggested we put one of there Australian-made sun hats through its paces, we leaped at the chance.

But first, lets’ find out what’s behind that strange name? ooGee is pronounced ew-gee and pays respect to the Indigenous people of Australia. The word ooGee means headdress. The designs are a celebration of classic Aussie styles, shapes and colours. They are designed with style and are made tough for Aussie conditions, whether in the bush, at the beach or hunkering down poolside at a tropical resort (our favourite use for an ooGee hat, if you really must know).

We tested a ooGee hat on long haul travel

How did a ooGee hat stack up while travelling across the globe? Not bad, actually. 

One thing that sets an ooGee hat apart from its rivals is as a travel hat. You know how you pack some sun hats carefully into your suitcase, and unpack at the other end to find a squished contraption that no amount of gently manipulation gets it back into shape? Not so with ooGee. Their trademarked FLEXIBRAID is designed to ensure hats return to their original shape. I simply rolled mine up, tucked it in with all my other rolled up clothing and sent it down the checked baggage travelator.

Australia's best sun hat

Can a sun hat bounce back from being stuffed in a suitcase?

In a word, yes.

I’ll admit, I wasn’t confident it wouldn’t be pretty at the other end of four flights from regional Queensland to the Middle East, with my soft-sided bag being tossed around the baggage handling bowels of four different airport. But I was pleasantly surprised. Unpacking my bag in Doha, my ooGee hat needed little more than a little unfurling, a swish around and it was ready to hit the sunlounge poolside in the sweltering Qatari heat.

Well play ooGee, well played.

My hat (Hunter Creek style in the colour of Burnt Clove, thanks for asking) has since travelled many thousands of suitcase miles and continues to bounce back fresh as a daisy. I only wish I had such stamina after a longhaul flight across the Pacific Ocean.

ooGee hats are lightweight, comfortable and are designed in popular shapes that resonate well with their Australian audience. As well as being very stylish, they’re practical too and are scientifically tested to rate as UPF50+ to cope with Australia’s harsh conditions. Hats are made from Australian cotton, leather and recyclable materials.

Who is behind ooGee hats?


The ooGee brand was established by headwear veteran Peter Walcott in 2022 to reinvigorate local manufacturing and to ensure the future of traditional hat making in Australia. Peter knows a thing or two about headwear after 40 years in the industry. He knew there was a market for hats which were made from breathable materials, would provide good sun protection and fit well to avoid blowing away when the wearer was out bush or on a windy coast.

Along with the aforementioned FLEXIBRAID which allows hats to travel well, ooGee developed what’s termed Comfy-Fit. I know it sounds a little like the type of underwear your grandmother might favour, it’s a little more sexy than that.

Comfy-Fit relates to a discreet internal adjustable elastic strap that sits inside the brim. It can be adjusted to ensure the perfect fit, whether you need it snug and tight when riding a horse or loose and floppy when poolside.

FIND your ooGee hat here

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Travel Boating Lifestyle is managed by Fiona Harper

We acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the land and waters on which we live, work and travel. As people who seek meaning and knowledge through storytelling, we recognise that the First Peoples of this land have been doing so for over 60,000 years. We pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging.