Mauritian moments

May 19, 2023

PhotographyHelen Janneson Bense


Where to staySands Suites Resort and Spa | Paradis Beachcomber Golf resort | The Oberoi Beach Resort

What to do

SEE – Visit Château de Bel Ombre and Nature reserve | Visit Seven Coloured earth and waterfall in Chamarel | Stroll along the beach at Paradis and take in the grand views of the basaltic monolith Le Morne | Visit Château De Labourdonnais | Visit the Sacred Lake Hindu Temple in Grand Bassin/Ganga Talao

EAT – Enjoy local food at Escale Creole | Dinner at Umami at Dinarobin Resort | Lunch at La Table Du Château

EXPERIENCE – Snorkel and swim with wild turtles and dolphins at the Oberoi | | Take a seaplane from La Prairie beach over the underwater waterfall illusion | Rum tasting at the La Rhumerie de Chamarel | Take a catamaran from Blue Bay Marine Park to Ile aux Cerfs | Scenic helicopter tour with Air Mauritius

Get ready for a sensory journey with a vibrancy you can see, feel, hear and taste. Feel the island energy of Mauritius. Enjoy vivid sunrises, sunsets, make sure to take in a traditional Sega performance and indulge in the incredible array of flavours in their local cuisine. It also wouldn’t be a trip to Mauritius without a rum tasting or two.

It was hard to believe that this was winter in Mauritius. The days were hot and sunny, with balmy nights perfect for summer dresses and poolside cocktails. I traveled with Air Mauritius, direct from Perth, making it easier than ever to enjoy this island paradise and trade the beanies for bikinis.

Mauritius is quite a small island nation off the East African coastline, approximately 60km in length and 45km wide. I was first struck by the breathtaking scenery, a mix of volcanic landscape, covered in lush greenery, surrounded by postcard perfect beaches. It’s a melting pot of many diverse cultures and religions, Indian, African, European and Chinese, coming together to create a rich tapestry of experience. They mostly speak French based Mauritian Creole and English is widely understood and spoken.

Hinduism is the primary religion of Mauritius and a visit to the Sacred water temple in Grand Bassin/Ganga Talao is a rite of passage as you immerse yourself into Mauritius life. An Indian Hindu priest dreamt of this sacred place many years before he traveled here. Once he arrived and recognised it from his dream, it became one of the biggest temples in Mauritius and outside of India. Many pilgrimages are made here each year.

I stayed in three different resorts in Mauritius exploring the surrounding areas of each place. My journey began in Flic en Flac in the Black River region at the Sands Suites resort and spa. An absolutely wonderful resort with impeccable service and amenities. The mountainous views over the pool were an incredible sight to wake up to. We ventured further south to Paradis Beachcomber Golf resort, located on the south western tip with majestic views of Le Morne Brabant. It had the the best white sand beach and turquoise water of the trip. It was however a very large resort, so the service was busy and did feel impersonal at times. The last resort stay was The Oberoi Beach resort, which had an incredibly high level of service, the most outstanding rooms, and the best snorkelling I experienced on the trip. The corals were healthy and colourful, and I even managed to spot a couple of unicorn fish and a sneaky octopus that I only saw on my go pro footage afterwards. You can book wild dolphin and turtle swims from the boat house, along with many other ocean based activities. The food was excellent at all three resorts and especially at the Paradis sister resort, Dinarobin. The restaurant was called Umami and for good reason. The flavour combinations, taste sensations and textures were on point. I experienced delicious plant based food everywhere I went. Heart of palm is commonly used in the local cuisine, and naturally plant based, so it appeared in many of my dishes. Its sustainability as a food source is questionable depending on how it’s harvested and has been a substantial contributor to deforestation when not grown the right way.

My favourite highlight experience of all was a visit to a Resto, a home restaurant, called Escale Creole. This was the off the beaten path experience I was craving. A truly local experience. Hearing owner Marie-Christine share her passion, her journey, her love of family, food and heritage was beyond inspirational. The food speaks for itself. It was sensational. The best vegan Creole food I’ve ever had. This is definitely an experience beyond lunch, and one not to be missed on your next Mauritius trip.

I visited some exquisite chateaus on this trip. Le Château de Bel Ombre is a refined and romantic space, steeped in old world charm. It would make a beautiful stay for couples celebrating a special milestone. Château De Labourdonnais, built in 1856, is a jewel of Mauritian heritage. After viewing the beautiful architectural and design details you can enjoy lunch and rum tasting on the grounds at La Table Du Château.

There were many amazing experiences on my itinerary for this trip. I went zip lining and quad biking in Casela’s beautiful grounds, though quad biking while feeding Zebras definitely didn’t sit right for me and was ethically questionable. The zip lining was exhilarating, an absolute rush. The suspension bridge walk to get there was terrifying. If you want to face your height fears I wouldn’t recommend this. If you love heights, then this is for you. I visited Chamarel’s Seven coloured Earth Geopark and waterfall, which was an otherworldly experience. I snorkelled at the beautiful Blue Bay marine park, an absolute turquoise haven. You can even take a full day catamaran tour from here to Ile aux Cerfs. You’ll get to swim, snorkel and visit a waterfall and I will definitely be doing this next time round. Blue bay was teeming with fish and a combination of beautiful healthy and bleached corals. Sadly like many islands these days, there was a lot of plastic pollution.

My one most important travel tip would be to pack travel sickness medication. The roads are winding and mountainous and they drive quite fast so if you’re even slightly prone to motion sickness get ahead of it. I haven’t had motion sickness for many years and it was intense, especially through Chamarel.

For me Mauritius was all about the slow, yet fleeting moments. Rainbows after soft rain showers, sunset swims, witnessing an engagement on the beach, diving into the underwater world, swaying in a beach hammock, local market shopping in the mountains, and sunset cocktails in the pool with the lovely women I had the privilege of traveling with. These are the moments I’ll remember most, and will live on in my heart when I think of Mauritius.

With love and gratitude,

Helen xx

Devasom Khao Lak Beach Resort & Villas

May 4, 2023

Photography – Helen Janneson Bense

Location – Devasom Khao Lak Beach Resort & Villas | Koh Pah Island | Similan Islands – Thailand

Experiences – Devasom Signature spa | Sunset Beach picnic | Floating breakfast | Koh Pah Island with Khao Lak Wonderland | Similan Islands with Wow Andaman

Accessories – W + Co Seashell Gold Necklace | To the Sea Bodychain | Chillbeans Round Sunglasses

This was my sixth visit to this amazing country and I was so excited to explore a new area. I didn’t realise at the time that Khao Lak is the most perfect place for me. The low key, relaxed, laid back, surf beach vibes are definitely my pace. Khao Lak is also a hub for divers/snorkelers from around the world as there are epic underwater experiences in the nearby islands.

This Thailand trip was a mother/daughter adventure with my sweet angel Jade, an opportunity for us to connect, and also to remind my almost adult teen that the world is filled with endless possibilities and that she can do anything her heart desires in life. It’s that pivotal time in her life where everything is questioned and uncertainty about our path can be overwhelming. My favourite part of this whole trip was watching her confidence grow as she leapt heart first into every experience, embracing the unknown and trusting in herself.

We stayed at the stunning Devasom Khao Lak Beach resort & villas, located just over an hour from Phuket. The location is quiet, peaceful, where the ocean and forest meet, creating a timeless sanctuary in nature. The resort name, Devasom, is derived from Sanskrit meaning ‘Angels Residence.’ I can confirm it indeed feels like the most angelic, heavenly place. You are greeted with a gong that echoes its harmonious resonance through your entire being. Every afternoon magnificent light rays pierce the sky creating picturesque views and dreamlike feelings. The kind, friendly faces that greet you each day warm your heart and make you feel at home. You’ll soon lose all sense of time as the tropical scents and soothing sounds elevate you. You’ll feel as though you are walking on a cloud. It’s been a sensory joy for me each day noticing all the sacred geometric design details, spotting wildlife, and taking in the serene nature. Every sunrise and sunset has been a deeply spiritual experience.

I really love their dedication to sustainability and to the local environment and community. They do beach clean ups every morning, source local ingredients for their restaurants, and provide a school lunch fund for nearby local schools, adding a nutritional boost to the children. They have a school scholarship initiative and employ local residents to support their community creating a happy, harmonious work environment, which can then be felt by the guests.

Devasom has many accomodation options from lower budget to ultra extravagant. All are beautifully and luxuriously designed, with all the amenities you could ever need. We stayed in both the Seaside ‘Pool Paradise’ Suite and the ‘Devasom Sky Villa’ Two Bedroom Penthouse, and both were absolutely exceptional. The spacious seaside suite has stunning views over the lagoon and beach, a beautiful pool to cool off in, and a day bed to relax on. I really loved the bedroom and bath overlooking the pool. The penthouse sky villa was another level of experience. It sleeps 6, has a separate dining room, gazebo, long infinity pool, multiple lounge areas, 2 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, a steam room, double showers, and 2 spa baths. The pool also has spa jets to relax in as you take in the ocean views. We spent almost an entire day here enjoying the space, listening to music, laughing, and eating way too much delicious Thai food. Ask for villa 11 if you book this villa type, as this one is very private, and surrounded by a palm tree forest on one side, creating a feeling as though you’re in the middle of the jungle.

There are 2 restaurants on site – Devasom Beach Bar and Grill, which is western style cuisine, and Takola Thai Restaurant. We loved them both, absolutely exceptional food and service, though we fell more in love with the traditional Thai food at Takola. The Thai curries were out of this world. The Beach bar is ideally located by the main pool and by the beach so it’s wonderful to watch the sunset from here. You can also have a beach picnic set up which is an experience not to be missed. We enjoyed the most magical Thai sunset, sipping on cocktails and mocktails, enjoying delicious vegan treats, and taking a dip in the ocean as the sun dipped over the horizon. A truly special and memorable experience. We enjoyed our breakfast and lunch at Takola most days and also in the sky villa, where we had the most amazing floating breakfast.

Our days were very full with many experiences as we wanted to visit some islands and do some snorkelling. We took two boat tours during our stay. Our first was with Khao Lak Wonderland to visit Koh Pah Island on a traditional Thai long tail boat. Koh Pah island is a sandbank island in the middle of the Andaman sea. There’s nothing but blue ocean all around you. You can choose a private or small group tour for this experience. We had a beautiful vegan lunch set up on the island, along with fresh fruits and coconuts. They set up some umbrellas and cushions so we were very comfortable as that hot sun is unrelenting. We enjoyed a swim in the crystal clear turquoise waters and then set course for some snorkelling. We saw some beautiful corals, and the cutest family of clownfish, including a little baby Nemo. This was a half day tour so it still left us with loads of time to relax at the resort.

Our next tour was to Similan Islands. This is a full day tour and one of the main reasons I wanted to visit Khao Lak. It’s the easiest place to access these islands. We did our tour with Wow Andaman and it took just over an hour to reach our first spot on this island tour. They said it would be the bluest water and whitest sand I’d ever seen. I didn’t believe them at first, coming from Western Australia, and having visited the Maldives numerous times. But they were right. It was. It was so blue. Not anything like any other islands I’ve visited in Thailand. We first stopped off for a swim and explore at postcard perfect Koh Miang, then our first snorkel of the day at Payu Island. We swam with a beautiful green sea turtle and it was nothing short of amazing. We were on such a high from this. We ventured to Ba Ngu Island and swam with more turtles before settling for lunch at Similan island and hiking Sailing rock. It’s the most picturesque spot to view the island, though be warned it gets crazy busy and everyone is lined up to get their million photos. Jade and I decided it was too crowded for us, so we grabbed a quick pic and a video and found a quieter spot on the island to enjoy. After a delicious vegan lunch we headed to more islands for snorkeling to see some beautiful corals and dreamy iridescent blue water.

While Similan island was quite crowded, and I don’t do so well with crowds, we found peace in the underwater world. I highly recommend this tour for any underwater/beach lovers as it was incredibly unique. It’s not something I have experienced anything like, anywhere else in the world.

There is really so much to do in Khao Lak, and not only tours in this area, but even at Devasom resort. You can participate in activities like yoga, stand up paddle boarding and kayak adventures along the lagoon. Take a free shuttle bus from Devasom to Khao Lak for shopping. The resort has a kids club, wine cellar, gym and a beautiful day spa. Jade and I had the most relaxing Thai massages and they were the very best I’ve ever experienced in Thailand. So definitely book yourself one while you’re here. Other tours in the area include Phang Nga Bay, visiting caves, James Bond island, Surin islands (I’m told the coral gardens here are amazing), an elephant sanctuary and sea turtle conservation tour, and Takua Pa old town markets and temples.

There are so many wonderful things I could say about this resort and this area, but it’s left me with a beautiful feeling that I can’t quite put into words. The best I can do is describe it as a peaceful, elevated, floating joy kind of feeling. I truly understand why it’s named ‘Angels Residence.’ I’m certain you’ll love this place as much as we do.

With love and gratitude,

Helen xx

Summer at Smiths

April 9, 2023

Photography – Bobby Bense | Helen Janneson Bense

Location – Smiths Beach Resort

Recommended tours – Sailing Charters WA | South West Eco Discoveries | Lake Cave

Food and Wine – Lamonts | Gralyn Estate | Cape Lodge | Glenarty Road | Amelia Park Lodge | Meelup Farmhouse | Casina | Aravina Estate

Smiths beach is arguably the best beach in the Margaret River region, a region dotted with incredible white sand beaches. What makes Smiths stand apart is its grand topography. It has a very long stretch of pristine beach with breathtaking national park as a backdrop. No matter how busy it might get, there is always a private space to enjoy. Head south and explore the hidden rock pools along the cape to cape track or north for surfing and dolphin spotting. As the sun goes down, enjoy a beach picnic from the beach, the staircase viewing platforms, or right from your very own balcony at Smiths Beach Resort.

Our top choice of accommodation for this vast region is always Smiths Beach Resort. We’ve been visiting for many years now and it continues to impress. There are many room options from budget friendly to pure luxury, all self contained, serviced and beautifully designed for relaxation in mind. Their dedication to sustainability is another reason we love this resort. Utilising the power of the sun with 270 solar panels, this is part of a continued effort to minimise their carbon footprint, increase water conservation, and protect the surrounding nature and wildlife.

Smiths is ideally located between popular towns, landmarks, beaches, wineries, restaurants and tours. Within walking distance is the Aquarium, a lagoon rock pool around 20-30 minutes hike south along the magnificent cape to cape track. The journey is just as beautiful as the destination. Read my travel tips below on how to prepare when visiting this spot.

Within 10-20 minutes drive you can visit Dunsborough, which is a hub for cafes and restaurants, boutique shopping and right on the beach of Geographe bay. Visit the ancient, subterranean caves; my personal favourite is Lake cave, which is a crystal wonderland. Set sail with Sailing Charters WA for the most scenic way to experience this coastline. It’s a small tour of max 6 people that takes you along the sheltered waters from Dunsborough to Eagle bay. Stop for a swim along the way at Castle Rock. Snorkel, swim or float on the tubes in crystal clear, turquoise water that could be mistaken for the Maldives.

For world class surfing you have multiple options from Smiths beach resort. Surf right there at Smiths, head 5 minutes away to Yallingup beach, 30 minutes north to Windmills or approx 30-40 minutes south to Gracetown or Surfers point. You can also check out Injidup for great surf or head to the natural spa for a soak, only a 10 minute drive from Smiths or approx 1.5 hour stunning hike.

The Margaret River region is a nature lovers dream. It’s teeming with wildlife, marine life and stunning flora. One of our favourite tours anytime of the year is the Woylies nocturnal tour with South West Eco Discoveries. They’re doing great things to help rehabilitate wildlife in this sanctuary zone and it offers a chance to get close and personal with some truly adorable animals. If you have dreamt of feeding and petting a wild kangaroo then this is for you. It will pull on all your heartstrings. All the kangaroos here have been rescued which is why you can touch and feed them here. Please do not attempt this in the wild.

For marine life keep your eyes peeled at Smiths beach for dolphins. From June – December keep a look out for migrating whales. Augusta and Castle rock are both great vantage points for whale spotting. For stingrays head out early to Hamelin bay where you’ll find them dotting the shoreline.

For the foodies and wine aficionados, you are in the Mecca of it right here. On the resort grounds of Smiths is Lamonts, with the best curated selection of wines you’ll find, and food created by an absolute genius in the kitchen, Kate Lamont. My favourite wineries in the area, all relatively close by, are Wise Wines, Cape Lodge, Gralyn Estate and Vasse Felix. My favourite restaurants are Meelup Farmhouse for breakfast, Glenarty Road for lunch, and Amelia Park lodge, Aravina Estate and Casina for dinner. Casina has an extensive vegan menu available as well. My last recommendation would be to stop at Eagle bay Olives for some of the regions best olives. When you’re done enjoying wines, indulging in artesian foods, and salty from your ocean adventures, you can be greeted by the comfort and relaxation waiting for you at Smiths beach resort.

Here are some of my personal travel tips for the region –

  • Plan a rough itinerary for your trip, especially in summer time, as tours and restaurants get booked out.
  • Head out early to see any of the popular spots like the Aquarium, Injidup natural spa, Canal rocks, Sugarloaf, Castle rock. In summer everywhere is very busy. If you walk around the corner of many of these spots though you’ll find your own quiet pocket of paradise, so make sure to explore.
  • Check winds to determine which side of Cape Naturaliste is going to be better for your activities planned.
  • Take a first aid kit, reusable water bottle, and appropriate footwear on all hikes. Keep an eye out for wildlife. We’ve spotted echidnas along the cape to cape track from Smiths beach to the Aquarium.
  • Take all your rubbish when you exit, and leave nature as you found it.
  • The Aquarium doesn’t have facilities so go early and go prepared with water, food and all your beach essentials. Make sure to bring your snorkel gear and underwater camera. Water shoes come in handy here as well.
  • Don’t try to see it all. It takes time on your first visit to the Margaret River region to get a lay of the land. Slow down, enjoy it and its many unexpected surprises. Just know that you can see more of it next time. I have been more times than I can count now and I still have so many more places I want to explore.
  • Bring a kayak or paddle board if you have one. Paddle anywhere along Geographe Bay and you can spots dolphins and sting rays along the way. Castle rock is my personal favourite.
  • Please be careful of king waves and tide changes, especially at Injidup Natural Spa. You can’t always tell when a huge wave will come crashing over. I’ve seen it go from super calm to dangerous in seconds.
  • Be mindful driving at dawn or dusk as kangaroos will be very active and we always see them along the side of the road. They can quickly jump in front of you so drive slowly along the roads especially at night.

And while there is so much to see and do, you’ll find that staying at Smiths beach resort is an experience in itself. You may not want to go anywhere as the resort and beach offer so much relaxation and a back to nature experience while enjoying a little luxury.

Much love and gratitude,

Helen xx

Saudi – A Desert Dream

October 10, 2022

Photography/EditingHelen Janneson Bense | Pictured – Laura from the The Blue Abaya – Make sure to check out her blog as someone who has lived in Saudi for 10+ years she has a lot of knowledge and experience

Locations – Riyadh – Fairmont | Nadj Village

AlUla – Habitas | Hegra | Elephant Rock (Jabal Alfil) | Maraya | Old Town – Saudi Arabia

Planning a trip – Get yourself an eVISA | Travel Regulations | Travel Road trip style | Transportation | Trip planner | Road signs, directions, and many shop names are in English as well. Most people I asked for assistance spoke English | Cultural considerations – read below | List of restricted items | Upcoming events in Saudi

OutfitsSnow White Maxi dress | Spell Basecamp Scarf | Spell Butterfly gown | Arnhem Babylon Dress

It’s kind of crazy that this was my first international trip since 2019! I’m not sure if it felt so surreal because of the long wait to travel abroad, or that Saudi is one of the dreamiest places I’ve ever been. The breathtaking desert landscapes whispering their ancient stories were beyond my wildest expectations.

This trip was filled with bucket list moments and highlights every single day, from flying on a private jet from Riyadh to AlUla, dancing the night away at the Azimuth festival, watching the sun rise over World heritage site Hegra, to staying at Habitas, an eco resort nestled within an otherworldly sandstone canyon.

But my amazing journey really began as soon as I stepped off the plane in Riyadh where I received the warmest of welcomes. The first thing I noticed was the kindness in the eyes of strangers. They were so welcoming and it made me feel instantly at ease. I never knew someone could smile so powerfully with their eyes. It pierced me in a way I wasn’t expecting.

Before my trip I had some reservations and definitely some misconceptions. I didn’t know a lot about the country, as many don’t. They only opened tourism in late 2019 so I was so uncertain what to expect. Uncertainty in travel is something I’ve come to embrace and even enjoy. It brings the most wonderful lessons and joys with it, especially when it challenges us. My biggest concern was about my safety. To my surprise I’ve actually never felt safer anywhere I’ve traveled. I could leave my camera or phone anywhere and no one would steal it. Saudi is actually ranked as one of the safest countries in the world among G20 countries. There are very strict laws and punishments which definitely play a part in this. Anytime I needed assistance it was there, strangers willing and eager to help. I found Saudi men appeared quite protective towards women. My tour guide explained that this protective behaviour even begins at a young age and you can see small boys gesturing with care towards their sisters and mothers. I noticed this in Riyadh and it was very sweet.

Upon arrival in Riyadh, I stayed at the beautiful Fairmont Hotel. The architecture, design, comfort and impeccable service were just as I’ve always experienced at any Fairmont Hotel. I loved waking up here and enjoying some Arabic coffee. The hint of cardamom definitely strikes a cord with me and my Finnish roots. During my short stay I enjoyed the beautiful pool and discovered that men and women were not permitted to share the pool at the same time. This was to protect the womens privacy. When I wanted to go for a swim I was actually able to book the pool, lock the door, and enjoy the entire pool to myself. I must say it was actually really amazing knowing no one else was coming in and I felt very relaxed and free. In AlUla at Habitas, it was a different experience entirely. Everyone shared the pool, just as you would experience here in Australia.

One important aspect when traveling to Saudi, and any country, is to be respectful of their customs. They don’t drink alcohol in Saudi as alcohol consumption does not align with their religious beliefs. They also dress modestly, which means wearing loose clothing, covering your shoulders and chest, with skirts/pants falling below the knees. In Saudi there is no legal requirement to wear a hijab/headscarf, niqab, burqa, or abaya, for Saudi women or tourists. The only time you need to wear an abaya is entering a mosque. Many Saudi women choose to wear these items for religious and/or cultural reasons. What I found was that a headscarf and abaya were actually protective from the elements whilst wandering in the heat of the desert.

Saudi is a place to visit with an open mind, to learn and enrich yourself with a different perspective. It’s so important anywhere you travel to ensure you respect their customs, even if they don’t align with your own. I’m always grateful for the opportunity to experience something new.

I’ve put together a list of some must visit spots, but there is so much more to experience in Saudi. If you are short on time then AlUla is a must and I would say ideally 1 week minimum for Saudi splitting your time between Riyadh, Jeddah and AlUla.


* Al Masmak Fortess – a museum to learn all about the rich history of Saudi.

* Diriyah – If you get a chance to see UNESCO World Heritage site Dirayah then do it. It’s the birthplace of the first Saudi state. Unfortunately we didn’t make it on the day due to unforeseen circumstances, but I was really hoping to see this and will be putting on my bucket list for my next trip.

* Najd village – for authentic Saudi food and experiences set in a special space designed to reflect the heritage of the past.

* Riyadh Front + the Boulevard – for shopping, food, gathering and entertainment. You may be surprised to see many of the same shops you know and love.

* Roka – the best food I think I’ve ever had! Many of their items are already plant based, but it’s the level of quality, culinary talent and service that elevates this restaurant above all others.


* Hegra also known as Mada’in Saleh – the first UNESCO World Heritage site in Saudi, untouched for a millennia is finally opened to the world for viewing. This archaeological site has 111 monumental tombs carved into the sandstone, some dating back to the 1st century BC. Hegra is an outstanding example of the Nabataeans civilisation architectural and hydraulic accomplishments, harnessing the harsh desert environment to their benefit. While much of the sandstone looks like honeycomb weathered through time by rain, the Nabateans created cisterns and pipes, which have kept the tombs well preserved for thousands of years. Once a thriving trade route, much of the Nabataean city and history is lost to the sands of time.

While you’ll need to wake up super early, arriving for sunrise is pretty special. It was magical to see the sun flares sparkling across the largest monolithic tomb known as the lonely castle. It stands 72 feet tall and is the tomb of Lihyan Son of Kuza. It was the most surreal experience to be in the presence of such ancient history and a very special bucket list moment for me.

* Elephant rock (Jabal Alfil) – As the name implies this giant geological marvel does in fact look like an Elephant. This natural sandstone rock reaches 3 storeys high, and has been shaped by over 240 million years of erosion. This is a breathtaking place to visit for golden hour. They have sunken seating, food and toilets available so you can stay, picnic and enjoy the view. This is also a great place to visit for some astro photography. The night sky in AlUla is spectacular.

* Maraya – The biggest mirrored building in the world. Maraya is a cultural centre hosting art residencies, arthouse films and concerts. The building has set a Guinness World Record in 2019 and has 9,740 mirrored panels reflecting the magnificent beauty of AlUla’s desert landscape. Arrive for golden hour if you want to get some epic photos.

* Old Town – an archaeological heritage site, with mosques, markets and houses made from mud bricks and stone dating back to the 10th century. It’s overlooked by the Musa bin Nusayr Castle, an old fort dating back to the 6th century. The most fascinating aspect of this place is that it was still inhabited until 40 years ago. They have storytelling tours running throughout the town and even fine dining at Suhail, a modern twist on Saudi cuisine.

* Habitas – the most wondrous and inspiring resort I’ve ever stayed at. Habitas is a sustainable hotel built within a living museum of AlUla. It’s a place to experience deeper connections to people, yourself, nature and local culture. Each villa is spread apart so you will experience the serenity and privacy of the desert. Your villa is equipped with an e-bike though they have buggies to shuttle you to/fro. My villa was number 46, closest to the pool/restaurant so I could walk there and also to the Desert X Art installations – the giant swings and trampoline. This is an experience reserved for your inner child that will fill your heart with pure joy. The main restaurant, Tama, which means ‘here and now’ in Aramaic, serves an array of global and middle eastern cuisine with multiple plant based options included in the menu. The best part of Habitas was definitely swimming in their grand infinity pool under the hot desert sun, surrounded by giant sandstone boulders. It was another bucket list moment for me!

The feedback from this trip has been really positive, people open and excited to learn and explore the rich history and world heritage archaeological sites of Saudi. I have received some remarks from the wider community questioning why I would travel to Saudi, in light of their history of human rights violations. I do understand where this is coming from and please know I do not condone violence or discrimination. I’ve chosen to travel to Saudi for a few reasons. It’s a beautiful country, with awe inspiring landscapes and such a long, rich history told through these heritage sites. There were many places that spoke to me, like Hegra, that I have longed to see for myself. So many countries, including my own, have a long history of human rights violations. If I let this define my reasons to explore the world, there would be almost nowhere to travel. Saudi continue to make many progressive changes and have made an effort to open up their country to the world for the first time in history, in a bid to diversify their oil reliant economy. To me this is a gesture that needs to met with the same openness. This is something I choose to support, as it’s a progressive path forward. I’m looking to the future with gratitude for the opportunity to learn and connect.

I’m really excited to see what new and exciting changes occur for Saudi as they navigate this new path. I hope you’ll be open to discovering their culture and beautiful country for yourself. A few words to describe my first and lasting impressions of Saudi people are kind, generous and friendly. They are a truly beautiful people.

With love and gratitude,

Helen xx

WA’s Wildflower Wilderness

September 15, 2022

PhotographyHelen Janneson Bense | Alexandra Casey | Sarah Went Solo | Marco Kraus

EditingHelen Janneson Bense

Locations – Pinnacles, Coalseam Conservation Park, Kalbarri – Australia’s Coral Coast

Mellenbye Station Stay , Widimia trail (Morawa), Wongan Hills, Mt O’Brien, Petrudor Rocks, Dalwallinu – Australia’s Golden Outback

Wongamine Reserve, Coorinja Winery (Toodyay), Barton park events, Laurelville Manor, Mount Brown (York) – Destination Perth

Outfits – Spell Madame Peacock Gown + Butterfly Gown | Fortunate One Land and Sky Dress + What I do Midi Dress | Vintage Spell

Accessories – Wandering Folk Grande Fleur Rug | Picnic basket | Primrose Margarita Glasses

Now is the absolute perfect time to get out there and experience these biodiversity hot spots with over 12,000 wildflowers species right here in Western Australia. I’ve prepared an itinerary here for you, but as always follow your joy and discover for yourself the wonder of the journey through wildflower country.

Set aside 1 week if you can to fully experience the beauty of this season. Otherwise a weekend or even a day trip from Perth to the Avon valley is very achievable.

Day 1 – My wildflower trip started north from Perth with a stop at the Pinnacles for sunrise. If you don’t mind waking up early, the sunrise over these ancient limestone structures will be worth it. From here stop at Dongara and tour with the amazing New Leaf Connect. They are experts and will know exactly where to take you to see carpets of wildflowers through Depot Hill and Coalseam Conservation park. They also set up a beautiful and delicious picnic to enjoy among the wildflowers.

Next up drive a couple of hours further north to one of my all time favourite spots, Kalbarri. Stay 2 nights at Kalbarri Edge Resort which is an easy, comfortable and affordable stay. They have a great restaurant on site and can accommodate for dietary needs.

Day 2 – Visit the Natural bridge to look for whales and hike the Bigurda trail as you’ll spot lots of wildflowers and hopefully Bigurdas (kangaroos) and whales along these majestic coastal cliffs. Book a tour with D’GUY Charters and you’ll get the best wildflower and historical knowledge as you experience the beauty of the national parks. Hot spot trails are Natures Window and Z bend. Guy’s star gazing tour at the skywalk is a must! Wine and dine under the clearest night sky. You’ll be mesmerised.

Day 3 – Head east into the golden outback to Mellenbye in Yalgoo. Make sure to stop along the way for photos and lunch at Mullewa Wildflower Cafe. Mellenbye has some lovely accommodation options and you’ll get to see the rare WA Lechenaultia macrantha wreath flowers right on the property. You’ll also find wreath flowers around Pindar along the Beringarra – Pindar Road. Mellenbye is a beautiful stay and if you have time I’d book more than 1 night. They have a beautiful dinner space with magical lighting and karaoke and they even have a monster truck on the property! It’s the best spot for big sky country vibes and star gazing, and if you’re into Astrophotography then this is your place.

Day 4 – Venture south to Morawa and take a wildflower walk along the Widimia trail. You’ll spot yellow and white pom poms, pink everlastings, and rare orchids. For lunch stop at The Wheatbean Cafe in Perenjori and enjoy some of the wildflower walks in the area. There’s a cute community garden in town with beautiful murals. I stayed 1 night at The Old Convent Dalwallinu Guest House which is a beautiful spot to wake up for a sunrise walk and spot local wildflowers. Check in and then head off for a sunset picnic at Petrudor rocks.

Day 5 – Just under an hour head south to Wongan hills to the Mt O’Brien lookout where you’ll get beautiful views of the canola fields. Right in town there is a wildflower walking trail for rare orchid spotting and a beautiful pink everlasting field. Keep heading south to the Avon Valley to Toodyay and enjoy lunch at the famous Toodyay bakery. They have the best vegan pies I’ve ever tasted. And make sure to check out the Christmas shop. It’s the biggest I’ve seen and out of this world. I stayed 1 night at the beautiful Victoria Hotel that overlooks the Avon river. It’s so peaceful, comfortable and picturesque. For wildflowers in Toodyay visit Wongamine nature reserve. It was historically used as a watering/stopping place and for gravel extraction and now it’s a conservation reserve. It’s a beautiful and vibrant walk and will be popping with even more colour and flowers right now.

For local wine tasting and lovely sunset views overlooking the brook plan a visit to Coorinja winery. It was established in the 1870’s and is one of the oldest wineries in the state. You’ll be able to see the historic Ringa bridge here.

Day 6 – Only 30 min from Toodyay is Northam. You can take a hot air balloon here at sunrise overlooking the canola fields and there’s a wonderful Noongar cultural and environmental knowledge centre Bilya Koort Boodja where you can learn more about history and country. Another 30min on and you’ll be in York, the quintessential country experience. Stay a night (or more if you have time) at Laurelville Manor a historical Edwardian style homestead with the best breakfast and welcome platter I’ve experienced in WA. This is only 1.5 hours from Perth and well worth a visit for the weekend. I’m still dreaming of a mid week retreat stay here. It’s absolutely spectacular. If you’re an early riser like me take the opportunity to walk to the top of the property for sunrise views overlooking the valley. The way the light hits the morning fog is breathtaking.

If you’re planning a special event, wedding, birthday etc then you must check out Barton Park Events. They have a purpose planted pink everlasting field perfect for those spring wedding photos. It’s a beautiful rural space with a dreamy, bohemian vibe. I enjoyed a beautiful day here with lunch supplied by Gather York. It was the best vegan platter I’ve ever had in Perth!

In York you can visit the beautiful canola fields in full bloom right now. Head to PetTeet Park for those dreamy photo ops with all that iridescent yellow. Please note it is illegal to photograph in roadside canola fields and it contaminates the crop causing years of issues for farmers and a loss of $$ and livelihood. There are also snakes so best to stick to places where it is allowed. If you want to take photos in canola fields you must ask permission from the farmers first or visit places like Petteet park.

While in York check out the community bushland gardens. A lovely spot created for the people, the environment and animals.

For sunset you can’t go past Mount Brown. This is the spot for epic views overlooking the valley. I was lucky enough to hear some Noongar stories from local Elders while the sunset filled the entire sky with colour.

It’s been so wonderful to experience the beauty of wildflowers but please do be careful and not step on them or pick them. Enjoy them and tread lightly. For photography aim your camera low to the ground. For your subject, have them on the opposite side of the trail and not amongst the flowers. It looks better like this and it protects the flowers.

If you have any questions or would like help planning your own WA wildflower adventure let me know. Always happy to help.

With love and gratitude,

Helen xx

Coral Coast road trip

August 11, 2022

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Photography Bobby Bense | Helen Janneson Bense

Photo Locations – Morels, Cactus garden – Carnarvon | Pink Lake | Wooramel River Retreat | Beach Shack cafe – Exmouth | Turquoise bay, Oyster Stacks, Osprey bay, Yardie Creek gorge – Ningaloo Reef

Where we stayedWooramel River Retreat (1 night) | Exmouth (8 nights) | Horrocks (2 nights) – Western Australia

What to do at Ningaloo reef Scenic flight over Ningaloo reef | Swim with whale sharks | Turtle Kayak tour | Yardie Creek boat tour | Hike and/or paddle along Yardie creek gorge | Snorkel at Turquoise bay, Osprey bay, Oyster stacks to see turtles | Watch sunset from the lighthouse (bring mosquito repellant)

My favourite easy road trip stops – Natural Bridge (Whale watching from shore) | Pink Lake | Cactus garden | Morels | Artesian Baths | Coral Bay | Turquoise bay | Yardie Creek gorge

Oufits – Spell Bo Mini Dress | Spell Utopia Blouse + Skirt | Spell Basecamp Scarf | One piece swim | Tiare Hawaii Holly Dress | Heartbreaker Maxi Dress

Accessories – Linjer Peaceful Heart Necklace | Rings | Wandering Folk Arctic Folk picnic rug + Crystal Forest picnic rug | Wandering Folk Glassware

I’ve lost count now how many times we’ve made this road trip. What I do know is, it won’t be our last. Every time is unique with new discoveries of pristine, remote beaches, unexpected wildlife encounters, and family bonding time that is more precious to me than anything else in this world. This trip had it all! My favourite part was watching my teen kids connecting, laughing, playing in the ocean with joy soaked faces like they were 5 years old again.

Our final destination, Ningaloo reef, is about a 13+ hour drive from Perth. We started our trip with an overnight stop about 8 hours north at Wooramel River Retreat. We love the slow paced, outback vibes at Wooramel and the facilities are excellent. We’ve stayed in both the camping area and the self contained family rooms with the hammocks out front. Both experiences were amazing. After the long drive we enjoyed a soak in their famous Magnesium rich, artesian baths before cosying up by the communal fire. Wooramel is such a great place to meet travellers, share stories and laughs by the fire.

Along the way we have a family tradition to stop at Morels in Carnarvon for mango ice creams. They’re delicious, plant based, nothing but pure, tropical mango, and it sets the tone for what’s to come. Close by is the Carnarvon food trail, filled with tropical fruits and beautiful photogenic spots like giant, pink bougainvillea and a super sized cactus garden that is open to the public for viewing and photos. The garden will show up on maps when you’re in Carnarvon, but it is located on South River road in case your reception drops out.

Next stop for us was Exmouth, situated close by to Ningaloo reef. Once we settled into our holiday home we mapped our must visit spots to snorkel and paddle for the week. It was about an hour drive from town into Cape Range National Park each day. It honestly isn’t that bad at all, as the drive itself is simply stunning with wildlife spotting along the way. If you want to stay closer to the park, or within the park, there is camping and some self contained chalets at Yardie Creek campgrounds. There is also camping all along the national park, though very few facilities are available at the beach campsites. For a luxurious glamping option there is Sal Salis, though there is a hefty overnight rate that comes with this option. While I liked being in town for the ease of shopping, going out to cafes, etc we did spend almost all our time on the range and reef. Next year we have booked a Yardie creek chalet and will be trying some camping out too. I found an off grid campervan for hire through airbnb and they set it up/pack it down for you. All we have to do is book a campsite and show up. Pretty excited to trial this out. Will let you know how it goes next year!

This trip really exceeded expectations. We found pristine, secluded beaches and some of the best snorkelling spots we’ve ever experienced. We paddled with dolphins and swam with more turtles each day than we could actually count. The turtles were very friendly and curious and we even saw them eating jellyfish and seagrass. We were lucky enough to see leopard, white tip and black tip sharks, giant sting rays, unicorn fish, octopus, cuttlefish, lion fish, catfish, flatfish and so many different species of tropical fish I lost count! The reef is so healthy and it’s a joy to be able to experience it thriving with life. In between snorkeling and paddling we spent some time hiking at Yardie creek gorge. It’s an ancient spot with some of the cutest little rock wallabies hopping about. At first they will blend in quite well, but if you look closely and sit for awhile, you’ll start to see them in the cracks along the rock wall. You’ll also see Ospreys flying overhead and bats hiding amongst the trees. You can take a boat tour along the gorge or paddle with your stand up paddle board or kayak.

Another really amazing new experience for us was taking a scenic flight over the reef with Ningaloo Aviation. It’s an hour long flight and every moment is mesmerising. My top tip is to go around 1-2pm as the reef will be looking it’s absolute best. We saw whales, turtles, dolphins, dugongs and sharks with great clarity. The reef itself was iridescent, glowing with all shades of dreamy turquoise and blue hues. I’d definitely do this tour again as you never know what new wildlife experience awaits.

Ningaloo reef is the largest fringing reef in the world and the perfect spot to swim with whale sharks, humpback whales and manta rays. These are season dependant, though it’s worth planning your trip around what you want to experience most. For us late June/early July is the perfect time. We escape our winter in Perth, and enjoy some sunshine and warmth. We get to see all the marine life and especially love that we make it in time to see the whales which start showing up around the beginning of July. Swimming with them is still on my bucket list so maybe next year we might tick that one off.

While there are so many incredibles stops along the Coral Coast highway, like Kalbarri, Pink Lake, Shark Bay, Monkey Mia, Shell Beach, Gnaraloo, Blowholes and Coral bay, we are always so very eager to get to Exmouth and get in that water. We usually choose a couple of these stops along the way to Exmouth and back to Perth, and each year we change it up. This year we explored a new quiet coastal town called Horrocks, which was a stones throw from Pink lake and Kalbarri. It was a beautiful way to end our trip and take in a few more majestic sights along the way. We watched some of the most vibrant sunset skies that I’ve ever seen in my life. If you’ve ever watched a sunset in Horrocks you’ll know what I’m talking about. It lasted for what felt like forever. It was an otherworldly experience for sure. I actually feel like the entire trip was so dreamlike. I’ve even noticed now, a month later, I’m still dreaming of underwater experiences. How wonderful that my mind takes me back to these beautiful spots even after I’m home.

If you haven’t visited Ningaloo reef, put it on your list. And as always feel free to reach out for travel tips, questions and help to plan your dream Coral Coast trip!

With love and gratitude,

Helen xx

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