Travel

My Holiday in Esperance

May 9, 2024

Photography – Helen Janneson Bense

Location – Esperance with My Holiday

Stay – Esperance Island View Apartments

Tours – Le Grand 4X4 Beach Adventure + Pink Lakes Scenic Flight

I’ve found the ultimate holiday experience just a short flight from Perth in the peaceful and breathtaking town of Esperance/Kepa Kurl in Western Australia. With kms of pristine coastline and friendly kangaroos roaming on white sand beaches, it’s understandable why so many beaches in this region have been voted as the best in the world by travel experts.

Picture endless crystal clear blue waters interrupted by a multitude of steep granite boulders and islands that stretch across 230kms. Off the southern coast of Esperance you’ll find the Recherche archipelago made up of 105 islands and 1200 rocky outcrops. Woody island is one of the only islands in the region with public access. It’s a great spot for snorkelling, swimming and spotting marine life. The best way to see the magnificence of these views is by plane. You’ll get to enjoy that incredible birds eye view, snap a million pictures, spot marine life, and gain a greater understanding and perspective of this amazing region. All of this can be effortlessly organised by the travel experts at My Holiday.

Utilising the amazing travel knowledge and skills of the team at My Holiday, I was on a plane, checked in to my resort, with a hire car ready to explore, all with effortless ease. They seamlessly take care of all the details – all you have to do is show up. It’s a perfectly packaged holiday created to impress even the most discerning travellers with some great inclusions. You’ll always enjoy something a little extra.

They organised some incredible local tours in the region. The 4WD tour to Cape Le Grand national park is a must. You’ll cruise along long stretches of white sand beach, exploring Lucky Bay and the local friendly kangaroos, have thrill seeking adventures in the white sand dunes and drive up giant boulders at Wylie beach, all while swimming and spotting wildlife along the way.

I stayed at the lovely and very convenient Esperance Island View apartments. My self contained apartment had a beautiful spa bath to enjoy after long days of adventures. It was perfectly situated along the Esperance foreshore with ocean views, food trucks, restaurants and shops all within walking distance. Right on my doorstep were e-scooters allowing me the flexibility to venture a little further.

Within walking distance I enjoyed some delicious plant based food at Siam Thai restaurant, Taylor St Quarters and amazing acai bowls at Sir Juice food truck on the foreshore. A short drive out of town you’ll find Lucky Bay Brewery, perfect to visit for a Sunday afternoon sesh of live music.

My days were filled with ocean adventures, peaceful moments, connections with locals and travellers, wildlife encounters, great food, and wholesome nature experiences. My must visit recommendations are –

Lucky Bay – a stunning white sand beach visited by friendly local kangaroos and dolphins.

Hellfire Bay – a beautiful beach for some boogie boarding and swimming. It has a lovely scenic hike to Little Hellfire Bay that can’t be missed,

Esperance Stonehenge – an exact replica of the original Stonehenge from 2000BC. This is an impressive sight made of 137 stones.

Frenchman’s Peak/Mandooboornup – hike the peak when the winds are low and take in some scenic views over Cape Le Grand National Park. It’s a grade 5 level hike with some very steep parts and takes approx. 1-2 hours.

Twilight Beach – a popular swimming beach with unique boulders for some rock jumping fun. This beach is one of the easiest to access without a giant staircase, so good for anyone with mobility issues.

Blue Haven – this is one of my favourite local spots for a swim. I often see dolphins here and in whale season it’s a beautiful spot to keep an eye out from the top of the steps.

Eleven Mile Beach – a protected lagoon ideal for swimming and watching the sunset.

West Beach – a great spot for surfing, long beach walks and watching the sunset from Rotary Lookout.

Wylie Beach – a stunning scenic spot where two bays merge surrounded by white sand dunes. This is a great spot for some 4Wding.

Observatory Point – a breathtaking elevated spot to watch the sunset. Best enjoyed when the winds are low.

There is one more place that deserves special mention and I highly recommend. Wharton Beach is what I believe to be the most beautiful beach in the world. It’s located just an hour out of Esperance and well worth the extra effort to stray from the beaten path. To many of the locals, Wharton Beach is their absolute favourite too. And I totally understand why. Its crystal clear waters, whitest sand imaginable and perfect waves set against a jaw dropping giant granite backdrop make it a mermaid’s playground. While you’re exploring this way ensure to pop into the Condingup Tavern, a local spot built by a resident Esperance family, rich with history and stories.

These are the kind of untouched places that are harder to access yet provide a richer and even more beautiful travel experience. It wouldn’t have been possible without the help of My Holiday. They organised a hire car for me so I could have the freedom to explore at my own pace and seek adventures close to my heart. They provided me with their travel expertise and suggestions for places to visit which helped guide my entire trip. I had so much fun exploring this region and discovering so many gems like this.

As many of you know I’ve been battling chronic illness for almost a year now. When it comes to planning trips, I need all the help I can get these days. The endless planning and researching can take a lot of time and energy. My Holiday created an amazing flexible itinerary with loads of suggestions specifically suited to my needs. From experience I know not all holidays are created equal, and sometimes there are important things that can be missed. It’s always helpful to talk to a trusted expert to create an experience that aligns with your needs and wants and will be unforgettable. This way you’ll get the holiday of your dreams without compromising yourself in any way. And that is what this holiday was for me. Effortless, easy, enjoyable and one I’ll never forget. I’m so grateful for the team at My Holiday for making it so easy for me and ensuring I still got to see and do everything I wanted.

Esperance is a wild place and it definitely left a deep imprint on me. Even just that small glimpse into local life made me fall in love and even picture myself living here one day.

Edge Luxury Villas

December 27, 2023

Photography – Helen Janneson Bense | Bobby Bense

Locations – Edge Luxury Villas | Clairault Streicker winery | Vasse virgin soap factory | Injidup Natural spa | Eagle bay

Dress – Linen floral maxi dress

Picnic gear – Rug | Umbrella | Cooler bag | Towel – Use discount code HELENJ10

A brand new, unique gem has opened up in the golden triangle of the Margaret River region. Welcome to the Edge Luxury villas. A private oasis of peace and serenity, perfect for a romantic getaway, special celebration or some healing retreat time.

These new luxurious, adults only, overwater villas are one of kind. They are ideally located, central to world class food, wineries, art, surf, immaculate beaches, with nature right on your doorstep. 

These spacious villas are so beautifully and thoughtfully designed, created with such a high standard and attention to detail that enhances the entire experience. All the quality furnishings and appliances add an extra layer of luxury. Enjoy your coffee and tea on the deck using Smeg appliances, or a lakeside picnic with Wandering folk picnic rug and glassware.

There are 4 villas on this 132 acre property, with Villa 1 being accessible for anyone with mobility issues. Each villa is incredibly private from the next and you’ll feel like it’s just the 2 of you. They are situated overlooking the most pristine lake that will be beckoning you to take a dip. The lake water is so clean and refreshing, perfect for swimming, paddling or even a jump off the bridge or jetty. At sunrise watch the colours of the sky dance across the lake as you enjoy your morning cuppa with complimentary locally made Margaret River coffee and teas. At sunset take a romantic stroll across the bridge to the little island or explore the beauty of the forest and spot wildlife.

For some serious relaxation enjoy a soak in the stone bath with some locally made Vasse Virgin bodycare, while watching the sun sparkle on the water. This bathroom lake view is definitely my favorite spot to relax.

Before retiring into the most comfortable bed you’ve ever slept in, step outside, turn off all the lights, and gaze at the dark night sky. You’ll have one of the best starry night views here and hear a chorus of wildlife sounds from the surrounding forest.  

For delicious food and wine you will be spoiled for choice. My top pick is Clairault Streicker which is just a few minutes down the road. We enjoyed one of the best plant based lunches I’ve ever had in this region. You absolutely have to order the vegan tiramisu. You won’t be disappointed. The entire meal was world class and definitely deserves a visit on your next trip down south. 

In the neighborhood, just a 5 minute drive away you’ll find Vasse Virgin soap factory. They are a passionate family business creating natural olive oil skin care products that were originally made to help their daughter combat her eczema. They are absolutely beautiful products that smell and feel amazing. The lemon Myrtle body scrub is my new favorite.

Margaret River has an abundance of beautiful beaches to visit. Within a 10-15 minute drive from the Edge luxury villas you can visit some of my favorites – Injidup beach and natural spa, Yallingup beach, the Aquarium (natural rock pool) and Smiths beach. In summer and during school holidays some of these spots can get really busy so I always recommend going early to avoid crowds and then enjoying your afternoons back at your beautiful accommodation.

The Edge is the kind of place that will create those core memories for you and your loved one. It’s incredibly special. And it was designed and intended to be that way. I hope you’ll experience the magic of this magnificent place for yourself.

With love and gratitude,

Helen xx

Mauritian moments

May 19, 2023

PhotographyHelen Janneson Bense

LocationMauritius

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.

In RIYADH

* 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.

In ALULA

* 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

Up to 30% off tours, activities & things to do | Backpacker DealsThe-Nest-700px

All rights reserved © Helen Janneson Bense · Theme by Blogmilk + Coded by Brandi Bernoskie