Great Southern

April 22, 2021

PhotographyBobby Bense/Helen Janneson Bense

EditingHelen Janneson Bense

Location – Albany, Western Australia

Where to stay – Private Eco friendly Cottage | Lodge | Homestead

Where to visitFrenchman Bay | Goode Beach | The Gap & Natural Bridge | Bald Head walk | Little Beach | Albany town

Everything about this trip was unexpected. It took us to breathtaking, wild places we never imagined.

We went to Albany with very low expectations, having only briefly visited once before on a somewhat dreary day. When I started looking for holiday spots everything was pretty much booked out. I didn’t realise at the time that I was actually booking us into the most incredible stay ever!

We arrived to this stunning bush property, 650 acres of land and coastline to explore before us, an actual private retreat. There was a private beach, private lagoon, private lake! It was pure paradise with so much space, wildlife and wilderness to explore.

There are 3 accommodation options starting with a budget friendly, eco friendly cottage overlooking the lake and the ocean. It boasts spectacular sunset views, daily kangaroo visits, and if you look up you might even spot a sea eagle. It accommodates 4 people and has everything you need for a sustainable, comfortable, self contained stay.

This lodge is pure luxury. It has space to accommodate multiple families, 10 people in total, and has 360 degree panoramic lake and ocean views. It’s the ideal place to stay with family friends. And that bath view is spectacular!

The last option is Maitraya Homestead, built on the cliffside overlooking the ocean and your very own private beach directly in front. It can accomodate up to 16 people and is ideal for weddings, reunions, birthdays, retreats and special occasions. The homestead is full of character and history, complete with it’s own atrium and indoor swimming pool. The fabulous Lady Gaga also stayed here and they have a music room in honour of her.

Our days were very full exploring the grounds of Maitraya, stand up paddle boarding and kayaking daily on the lake, swimming in the private lagoon, and wandering the majestic coast line. A trip to Albany wouldn’t be complete without witnessing the natural marvel that is The Gap. An absolutely astonishing spot where you can experience the true power of nature. The 25m granite rock, once connected to Antartica, formed around 1300-1600 million years ago. The viewing deck is not for the faint hearted. It definitely made me squeamish at times.

What I loved most about our location was the vicinity to Little Beach, in Two Peoples Bay Reserve. You’ll need to pay a small fee to enter, but it’s worth it. Pack for the whole day, you won’t want to leave. It’s tempting to spend your day at the main beach, but beyond the beach, is an even more amazing beach that is a little more private, a little less wavy, perfect for swimming and rock jumping. Around another bend was a whole lot of rock pools with a big turquoise lagoon. We were completely surprised by this beauty, and that it wasn’t overcrowded. It’s always worth taking those extra steps to see what’s around the next corner.

I highly recommend a visit to the Great Southern. We only saw a handful of spots in this region, but we explored and enjoyed them thoroughly, knowing we will revisit and discover something new next time.

With love and gratitude, Helen xx

Copyright text and images Helen Janneson Bense 2021

When the stars aligned

April 14, 2021

It’s only now that I can look back and realise that the day I met my beloved Bobby, we were cosmically destined for one another. We lived oceans apart, yet everything aligned time and time again to bring us together.

Our first meeting was in a café in San Jose, California. I was saying goodbye to some old friends and Bobby was our waiter. A mutual friend introduced us and mentioned that Bobby had just booked open-ended travel to Australia and that we should  connect when I return. 

I agreed, and in the true spirit of those pre mobile phone days, I handed my email address on a tiny ripped piece of paper to this mysterious and ridiculously handsome guy.  

A week later, at a bar in San Jose, as I celebrated the end of my 6 month USA road  trip, our paths crossed serendipitously once again. And lucky they did, as he lost that tiny piece of paper with my email on it. I once again wrote it down on another equally small piece of paper. He vowed he would not lose this one and still to this day it holds a special place in his wallet.  

About a month after I returned home I received an email from Bobby updating me on his travels. I passed on my new home number and said when/if you make it to Melbourne, let me know and I’ll show you around. 

One day out of the blue, Bobby called on my home phone. He let me know he’d made it to Victoria and that he was hanging out at a little café called Leroy’s in the town of St. Kilda. He wondered if I was anywhere close to this place and if we could meet up. Little did he know that this was where I was living and that he was at my new local coffee spot! Both of us were amazed as I mentioned that I was only a 5-minute walk away. It also happened to be my only day off work for that week. And it also happened to be Valentines Day, yet neither of us realised this until much later.   

As we stared at each other over coffee, I couldn’t help notice the intense reaction I was having to him. I had never felt so affected by another person before. It was like strings of energy were pulling us closer together and sparks were flying everywhere. The moment I mentioned going for a walk, he agreed almost too quickly. 

Years later we talked about how overwhelming that moment was for us both. I was overheating; my heart racing and I could barely hear what he was saying. I felt like I was both floating, yet tethered to him in some way.  That connection is what has grown into the deepest love I’ve ever known. 

This was the beginning of our relationship. We faced many challenges over the years with long distance, different time zones, visas, families, and navigating a path for ourselves, knowing we wanted to find a way to be together. Every day as we talked on the phone, we embraced the uncertainty and focused on the connection and love we had, knowing a way would become clear when the time was right. And it did. 

Even when things were so uncertain, we held on to the hope in the certainty of our love. 

Bobby was able to finish his studies thanks to an international program here in Western Australia. He moved countries so we could give our love a chance. I moved  from Victoria having never stepped foot in WA. 

We have clearly both fallen more in love with one another over the years, married, had 2 beautiful children and are so grateful that we ended up in this incredible part of Australia, that is now our home.  

I love capturing photos of our relationship together. Every chance we have had to travel and explore, we ensure we have our Fujifilm instax mini LiPlay along to capture all these precious moments. For older memories, we print our photos with the instax mini Link right from my phone. It’s always such a gift for us to print our memories and reflect upon creating this magical life of love together. 

Infinity Chalet

March 8, 2021

PhotographyBobby Bense/Helen Janneson Bense

EditingHelen Janneson Bense

Location – Margaret River, Western Australia

Where to stayInfinity Chalet – just a 3 hour drive south of Perth

Outfit Details – One piece (similar) | High Low Skirt (similar) | Jasmine Strappy Mini Dress

If you’re looking for a romantic getaway, a bestie adventure, or solo retreat then look no further than this immaculately and luxuriously appointed chalet. Every attention to detail is considered and you will leave feeling well rested, rejuvenated and content.

Infinity Chalet is perfectly situated on the picturesque Margaret River, a short drive to the river mouth and the breathtaking Surfers Point. A wonderful spot for the whole family, with swimming, snorkelling, kayaking, rock pool exploring and surfing.

We decided to do some off road exploring on this trip and discovered some of the most secluded and exquisite rock pools and beaches. We couldn’t believe there weren’t any crowds as it was the height of summer school holidays. It just goes to show there is a little slice of paradise for everyone here in this region. I’m not going to geotag and share the exact location of these spots as I feel they are most likely some local gems. I will say that it is worth exploring those off the beaten path tracks and always walking around that next corner.

After our days of exploring we welcomed the comfort and luxury of Infinity chalet. We loved the steam shower and stunning spa bath with that amazing sunset view. We spent our evenings unwinding with a plant based, sunset picnic overlooking Margaret river, enjoying the peaceful vibes of the fireplace before melting into their luxurious king bed.

If you can’t already tell we really loved our stay here. It was faultless and I look forward to the next visit.

With love and gratitude, Helen xx

Copyright Images & text 2021 Helen Janneson Bense

The Staycay

February 17, 2021

PhotographyBobby Bense/Helen Janneson Bense

EditingHelen Janneson Bense

Location – Cottesloe, Western Australia

Where to stay Golden Sands Beach Apartment | Cottesloe Beach House | Cottesloe Aqua Retreat |The Mariner

Outfits – Honey Strappy Midi Dress | Sydney one piece | Boho Skirt (Similar)

Picnic – The Throw Down Dreamy Summer cushion/rug

I’ve underestimated the true value of the staycay up until this past summer that is. It might be the fact that international borders are closed, interstate borders are in a constant open/close flux, and that we are looking to our own backyard for experiences. But I also feel it’s more than that. We were literally transported to a tropical paradise over the summer holidays and we were only 20 minutes from home.

Having lived in Perth for 14 years now we have come to know many of the local treasures. During our most recent stay in North Cottesloe, we were kind of shocked that we don’t spend more time here. The white sand and the crystal clear water are reminders of Wadjemup/Rottnest Island, which was once part of the mainland around 7000 years ago.

Over the past few years we’ve stayed in a few different apartments along the Cottesloe coast, all with varying budgets. Every experience has been amazing. The beach is simply stunning. We really loved our stay at Golden Sands Apartment, ideally located across the street from Peter’s pool – a turquoise lagoon, perfect for snorkelling, swimming and stand up paddle boarding.

The sunset views from the balcony were so peaceful after our long sun kissed, salty days frolicking in the ocean. There was a pinch me moment on our final day realising just how good the staycay is on so many levels. It’s affordable, accessible, relaxing, easy, has a lower carbon footprint, and best of all, you can still catch up with all your friends down the beach. Be amazed and allow yourself to be transported to paradise, at a fraction of the cost and energy of flying, and without the health safety concerns that have become our new normal.

Perthians, have I inspired you to book a Cottesloe staycay? And for those looking to visit Perth when the borders allow, make sure you book a Cottesloe trip. It’s definitely one of my favourites beachside spots to enjoy in the Perth metro area and these apartments are all so ideally located.

With love and gratitude, Helen xx

Copyright images & text 2021 Helen Janneson Bense

Retreat at Smiths

October 3, 2020

PhotographyBobby Bense & Helen Janneson Bense

EditingHelen Janneson Bense

LocationSmiths Beach Resort | Yallingup | Castle Rock – Western Australia

Bare & Wilde Love & Light Wellness Retreat – Email HERE to find out about the next one

Outfits – Rihanna Maxi Dress | Salsa Leora Dress |Matching Hi Lo Skirt + Swimwear |Embroidered Paradise Dress | Seaside Long Dress

Picnic Setup – Namastay Tipi Picnics | Plant Based Food by Valerie Gamer and Jessica Lowe | Vegan platter Lamonts

A retreat at Smiths Beach was an idea that instantly felt right. Having spent so much time at this beach and this immaculate resort, it’s become a home away from home. It’s tranquillity and back to nature environment is something I’ve really needed this year, like so many of us.

The retreat was above and beyond everything we needed. We feasted, we shared, and we connected, with ourselves, with nature and one another. There is something so powerful about women sharing. When we create safe spaces, free of judgement, and find the courage to share, we instantly give permission for others to share. We begin a circle of hearing one another with compassion and empathy. The healing power of sharing in this way is immeasurable and incredibly profound. I always walk away from these experiences feeling empowered by the bonds of sisterhood, and awakened to my own inner courage to face my fears and step into discomfort. What I always discover is that on the other side of discomfort is absolute peace and joy. I’m learning how to make friends with my uncomfortable feelings, allowing and embracing my anxieties and fears. I loved being able to facilitate a safe sharing space and look forward to doing this more within our community.

Our days were filled with retreat activities from beach walks, meditation, aromatherapy, plant based cooking, abstract art, feasting, hiking, yoga, creative conversations, sharing sunsets and sound healing with the amazing Julian Silburn. Julian’s healing magic is something I hope everyone gets to experience. He truly is a modern day shaman.

I am so grateful to our amazing, talented chefs; Valerie and Jessica who created plant based deliciousness for us all, and shared their inspirational journeys. We enjoyed the most beautiful array of wholesome, real, soul foods, all presented so beautifully. It was nourishing and healing on all levels.

During our wonderful retreat we stayed in the amazing 3-bed ocean view villa with breathtaking ocean views overlooking the pool. Each evening I’d watch the sunset from the comfort of my villa, enjoy a long luxurious bath, sip on delicious tea by the fire, and melt into a deep sleep in the most peaceful bed. Smiths Beach Resort really is the perfect place for retreat and relaxation.

After the retreat my family and I stayed on for a few more days to explore some local spots. We hiked the Cape to Cape trail once again, though this time we had an entirely new experience. We encountered a colourful array of wildflowers, a very friendly echidna and a bobtail lizard. The trail hugs the coastline and all paths lead to turquoise water. We always stop at our favourite lagoon, the Aquarium, for a snorkel and to enjoy the views. All you need are good walking shoes, lots of water, some nutrient dense snacks, wetsuit, towel, warm clothes, snorkel gear and first aid is always important whenever you travel remote. And don’t forget your camera because there are so many spots to take photos along the walk and when you arrive at the beach.

Another amazing spot we enjoyed was Castle Rock in Dunsborough, a 20 minute drive from Smiths Beach Resort. The weather was in our favour this day. Calm seas, crystal clear water, and sunshine made for the perfect combination for some stand up paddle boarding. While I paddled and looked for whales, my family enjoyed climbing all the giant boulders. They are all really into bouldering, something they do multiple times per week at home, so this was such a happy spot for us all. And while I didn’t see any whales, the views, the warmth, and the family connection were all filling me with so much gratitude for this day.

In between sunsets, hikes, supping and climbing, were all the quieter moments; moments of connection like preparing food together as a family, playing cards by the fireplace, sharing jokes, and braiding each others hair. It was so wonderful to enjoy this slow time together in the luxurious ambience of Smiths Beach Resort.

I’m filled with the deepest gratitude as always to the wonderful Smiths Beach Resort for hosting us. It’s always a phenomenal experience staying with you and we love you! Thank you to the amazing Amy from Bare and Wilde for organising and holding space for such a smooth, healing, empowering and relaxing retreat. My heart is overflowing with love. Sending a huge wave of love vibes out to you all :)

With love and gratitude,

Helen xx

Komodo Islands

August 19, 2020

LocationLabuan Bajo, Komodo Islands – Indonesia

Photography Helen Janneson Bense

Where to stay – Labuan Bajo Sylvia Resort – Liveaboard – opt for an air conditioned private room. All your meals will be included and they were able to cater to my plant based diet, yet you might want to grab a few supplies and snacks from Labuan Bajo before you set sail. They have filtered water on board you can refill with your reusable bottle.

What to bringReusable water bottles, straws, food containers, food wraps, cutlery, wet/dry bag, backpack, snorkel gear (I’m a fan of Scubapro), bikinis and cover ups, modest clothing, underwater camera, hiking shoes, flip flops, reef safe sunscreen, noise canceling headphones (for the boat noise), sunhat, sea sickness medication, snacks

2020 has been a year! While there has been so much heartbreak, we’ve experienced a worldwide awakening. The emotional challenges have been a catalyst for some deep personal growth and healing. It’s really brought into focus what matters most. I’m filled with gratitude for my life, connecting with my family, and supporting our global community in need. I’m thankful that I’ve been able to slow down, create more intentionally and breathe for a while. It’s been a chance to exhale deeply. Time has also been a treasured gift to reflect upon some of my amazing experiences that I never fully integrated and shared. I love that by sharing my experiences here; I get to create a permanent space for them to live once again. After the year it’s been so far, it fills my heart with joy to relive this adventure from what feels like a lifetime ago. And yet this was just last year, and an almost completely different me.

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine a place so otherworldly like Komodo Islands. Accompanied by a wonderful group of bloggers, members of Indonesian tourism, experienced local boat crew, we set sail for 3 days to explore the islands. We set off from the main hub of Labuan Bajo, the westernmost tip of the Flores island. Our first stop was Kelor Island. I was first struck by the multiple shades of turquoise water and the breathtaking landscape. As I looked closer, I saw local children playing soccer with an old plastic water bottle. I soon realised that the rubbish that lined the shores at Labuan Bajo, was also making its way to this once pristine island paradise. We climbed the many steps to the top and were rewarded with grand views of the surrounding islands and ocean. It was an easy climb, however I would recommend good shoes and a beginner-moderate fitness level to get to the top and back down again.

From here we set sail to Kalong island to settle in for the night and watch the sunset while the bats took off into the night sky. It was such a sight to see! For over 15 minutes, hundreds upon hundreds of bats flew from the mangroves across the sunset sky, some with a wingspan of up to 1.5m!

I would love to say that first night was a good night’s sleep on the boat. Boat trips always take some adjustment for light sleepers; the motion, the generator sounds, the smell of fuel. We had a 4.30am wake up to hike to the top of Padar Island for sunrise. I was a little worse for wear to say the least, but I was up and excited for adventure. This hike was probably one of the more challenging I’ve done. It feels like a million steps to get to the top, though it’s roughly 700 steps. I would suggest a moderate fitness level for this one, good hiking shoes, sunscreen, setting off as early as you can, and taking lots of water because it gets very hot. It’s about a 2 hour boat trip from Labuan Bajo if you don’t want to go for sunrise or sleep overnight on a boat. For me, it really was worth every bit of muscle pain and bad nights sleep to watch that sunrise over the water and light everything up. As the sun rose, tears of joy ran down my cheeks. I watched the pastel colours changing with the light over the majestic island landscape. With black, white and pink sand beaches, Padar island is one for the adventure bucket list for sure.

Next we headed off to the very Instagrammable Pantai Merah, also known as Pink beach. Why is the sand pink? A microorganism, known as Foraminifera, produces the pinkish red colour pigment on nearby coral reefs. The broken coral then washes up onto the beach. The intensity of the pink colour varies due to the amount of coral found in the sand. The contrast of pink sand and vibrant turquoise water makes it feel otherworldly. It’s worth mentioning that even though you might not see Komodo dragons here, they are known to live on the island and they are also very good swimmers, going from one island to another within Komodo National Park. I didn’t realise this while I was having a relaxing float in the water by myself that Komodo dragons could be swimming by me!

The next part of our journey was to Komodo Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to see the Komodo dragons up close and personal and meet the locals in Komodo Village. I was once again stunned by the amount of plastic rubbish along the shores. We met some local children from the village who were playing here with these mounds of plastic junk. I’ve included some pictures showing this because I feel it’s vital we realise that these beautiful places will only stay pristine if we keep them that way. The strong currents are constantly bringing more and more rubbish to the shores, killing marine life along the way. We must be mindful of plastic use and disposal during our visit to places where proper waste disposal systems are not in place. Your best option is to bring your own reusables and choose eco tours like If you do use plastic, please collect all your rubbish and take it home with you to recycle properly. Placing it in a local bin means it will most likely end up in the ocean. Taking your plastic rubbish home may feel inconvenient, but please look at these pictures; the beauty and the pollution and think about the larger impact of leaving your rubbish behind.

Komodo island had a very eerie feel to it. I’m not sure if it was because I knew that deadly Komodo dragons were here in their natural habitat and I felt like the intruder. As I took part in the very touristy experience walking along with a guide, and stopping for a very staged photo op with a Komodo dragon, I started to feel uneasy about this entire experience. It didn’t sit right for me. I didn’t want to take a photo. I soon learnt Komodo dragon numbers are in the decline. The over polluting, the poaching, burning of their habitat, relocating, climate change (rising temperature impacts on the survival and sex of their offspring), and over tourism (feeding the dragons, affecting their mating habits) has endangered the species. Concerns have arisen that Komodo dragons could be extinct within 50-100 years. In 2019 the Indonesian government had called for a closure of the island for 1 year to help replenish numbers and then back flipped on that move. As much as I loved learning about Komodo dragons, I also feel like there are parts of this world that I’d rather not be able to see, knowing that my lack of presence will work towards protecting these species. My hope is that a sustainable eco-tourism approach will be maintained moving forward.

After this wild adventure with the dragons, we set sail for one of my favourite spots of this entire trip – Taka Makassar; a sandbank island amidst the archipelago. We settled in for a much-needed sleep after a huge day. After a much better sleep, I woke before sunrise to the calm and soothing sounds of the ocean. I watched the sunrise from the top of the boat with 360 degree ocean views. After breakfast we set off in a smaller boat to Taka Makassar for some snorkelling and swimming in crystalline blue waters. It’s a tiny sandbank that gets very busy, so it’s best to visit early in the morning. We experienced some of the cleanest waters I’ve seen. It reminded me of the Maldives. From here we took our small boat to Manta Point to snorkel with the Manta rays. I was amazed at how many there were as soon as I dove into the water. Snorkelling in and around this area was absolutely amazing, and in hindsight I’d probably spend a lot more time here next time I visit.

For the afternoon we visited Kanawa Island. Another fabulous snorkelling spot with crystal clear turquoise waters. We spent the afternoon hanging out on the beach, doing some painting and relaxing together. This was the last of our island stops before heading back to Labuan Bajo.

Labuan Bajo has such a rich cultural history. Make sure you head to the Melo village to experience the mesmerising Tetek Alu and Caci dance with the local tribe. These dances are an important part of their cultural identity and ceremonial life. The ocean vista from high in the mountains is breathtaking. Supporting locals is an important part of sustainable tourism. When we visit these places, we must show respect and consider the impact to the locals. A few ways to show your gratitude for being able to visit these beautiful places – buy your art and treasures directly from the locals, show respect for their customs and cultural protocols, and always take all your rubbish with you.

I’m grateful for having this space to share this beautiful adventure with you all. I hope you enjoy the pictures and this post. Feel free to ask any questions. I’d love to help you create your dream Komodo Island itinerary when it’s safe to travel again.

With love and gratitude, Helen xx

Copyright images and text Helen Janneson Bense 2020

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