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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Top activities for Rottnest in Winter

July 29, 2022

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I acknowledge the traditional owners of Wadjemup, the Whadjuk Noongar People, and pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging. I recognise their continuing connection to land, waters and culture.

PhotographyBobby Bense | Helen Janneson Bense

Location – Wadjemup/Rottnest Island – Western Australia

Outfits – Spell Utopia Skirt + Blouse | Patagonia Torrentshell Rain Jacket (best jacket for riding to stay warm and dry yet not too hot)

How to get there – From Perth take the Sealink eco-friendly ferry from B shed in Fremantle

Where to stay – We usually book the RIA accomodation which is very modest, yet budget friendly, and it has everything you could need for a very comfortable stay.

What to doScenic flight | Sky Diving (Winter Deal) | Rent an E bike | Guided hike | Surfing | Snorkelling – Little Salmon bay, Parker Point | Watch sunset over Pinky’s Beach from Bathurst lighthouse or Oliver Hill | Cliff Jumping at Eagle Rock (with caution) | Visit the Wadjemup Museum, connect with the history and pay your respects to the traditional owners. The Breaching Whale sculpture you’ll see upon arrival at the end of the jetty has a wonderful visual and audio story to listen to.

What to pack for a day trip – A waterproof dry bag/backpack, waterproof jacket, reusable water bottle, snacks, towel, wetsuit, snorkel gear (or hire this from Pedal and Flipper), swimwear, underwater camera, reef safe sunscreen. We also bring a first aid kit. There is a nursing station on the island in the main settlement but it’s good to be prepared if you’re on the other side of the island and have a biking incident. Bring your own bike or hire a bike through the ferry company or Pedal and Flipper. It’s always handy if your bike has a basket or rack on the back to help you cart all your gear around. If you want to surf at Rottnest get yourself a surf bike rack and you can even bring along your board. If you are overpacked lockers are available at the Visitor centre or Pedal and Flipper for a small fee.

Which beaches you must see – The Basin | Little Parakeet Bay | Parker Point | Little Salmon Bay | Eagle bay – you’ll see these spots feature in lots of my photos.

Where to eat – The main restaurants are found within the town centre and along South Thomson bay. All within walking distance of the ferry. There is also a cafe in Geordie bay and food trucks at the Basin, Wadjemup lighthouse and West End, but check the time of year you’re traveling if they are open. The food trucks only offer basic food, coffee, tea but it could be a great respite after a long ride to have a warm drink. We love Hotel Rottnest for it’s laid back beach vibes and it has a decent selection of plant based foods and is open all year round. In summer, Lontara is a delicious, though pricy, dinner experience. The chef is a mastermind in the kitchen and can cater to all dietary needs. In town you have to try the bakery for fresh sourdough bread and acai bowls at The Lane cafe. They have a good selection of vegan and gluten free options too. In town you have the general store for all your food needs if you plan to cook while you’re on the island. My mum hack for food management and maintaining holiday vibes while feeding my family is packing premade food. Our family will cook a bunch of delicious meals before leaving and put them frozen in an esky for delivery to our accommodation with our luggage. This way when I’m there all I need to do is heat it up. I make the most of my holiday without having to worry about what to cook. It’s great in the winter months when you’re exhausted after a long day adventuring in the elements and just want to eat and enjoy the quiet, cosy space of your chalet and snuggle in bed.

This is my second winter experience at Rottnest and it won’t be my last. It’s such an underestimated holiday experience. The best part is the lack of crowds. Some days you can enjoy the island and beaches almost entirely to yourself. We visited over school holidays, which are also generally busier, and yet it felt like we were worlds away. Each morning as I watched the sunrise, I looked back at Perth, and felt so far removed from the city hustle, yet it’s only a 30 min ferry ride from Fremantle. There is a certain peaceful bliss that washes over you once you arrive on the island. You have to visit to experience it but take my word for it, you’ll want to book your next trip before you’ve even left.

We stayed with friends and family to celebrate Bobby’s 40th Birthday and I organised many surprises for him. It’s a great place to bring your tribe and connect for shared dinners, sunrise cuppas and everything in between. We celebrated on the day with a plant based long lunch at Hotel Rottnest. They catered beautifully for the occasion and we had one of the most joyous days with all our loved ones. It’s a great spot to stop for lunch especially if you’re traveling on a day trip and don’t have space to carry food. And then stop off for a cocktail/mocktail for golden hour before heading home on your ferry.

We experienced a mix of absolutely stunning sunny weather and some torrential downpour. We made the best of all it. Rain, hail or shine, we adventured in our wet weather gear and with the rain came the rainbows!

For the adventure lovers there is so much to do. I’ve compiled a list of my favourites activities with local tips here –

Rent an E bike from Pedal and Flipper (it’s right by Hotel Rottnest, a short walk from the jetty) and circumnavigate the island. Make sure to head to the West End and see if you can spot the long-nosed fur seals. This is a fun and easy way to see the whole island without feeling the burn in your calves for days from riding. Also ideal for photographers who have heavy gear to cart. I recommend renting a bike online in advance. From there you can rehire the bike for subsequent days if you are staying on the island. They provide you with a battery charger to charge overnight. The price per day is halved for subsequent days.

Take a scenic flight – this was our first time seeing the island from an aerial perspective and it was simply beautiful. You’ll take off from the Rottnest airport which isn’t too far from the main settlement. We went early in the morning as this was our only time frame available but I would suggest going more towards noon – 2pm as you’ll get better ocean views. Look out for whales while you’re up there. One of the many cool things about winter time at Rottnest. The flight I chose was 20 min and you do 2 laps, one higher, one lower. I felt like it was a little quick and would have loved more air time, but still worth the experience and it fit the budget for this trip.

Sky diving – For those wanting epic island views and a heart pumping experience, this is for you. Winter time also has some pretty awesome deals. My husband Bobby and daughter Jade jumped from 14000ft as part of a birthday gift surprise for Bobby. Our friends and family were driven to a local beach and we were all able to watch them jump out of the plane and land right on the beach in front of us. Bobby and Jade are already keen to do it again and my fears have been eased greatly that I’m also considering it myself for the first time ever, which is honestly so surprising to me. I swore I’d never! We will see I guess.

Snorkelling – I highly recommend you attempt winter snorkelling at Rottnest, even if you’re like me and don’t care for the cold. I thought for sure it would be freezing. And while it was cold, it wasn’t awful, in fact, it was so beautiful. I ended up snorkelling with a wetsuit on for 45 minutes and only came in because our group was ready to go. The bike riding and winter sun will warm you up quickly. Bring a beanie as it helps afterwards. I noticed much more underwater activity compared to summertime and the visibility was mostly crisp and clear. I’d recommend visiting Little Salmon bay, Parker Point, Salmon Bay and Mary Cove. Little Salmon bay and Parker Point have that beautiful pink cauliflower coral you may have seen in some of my Instagram reels. These spots have buoys to help guide you along your snorkel and it’s all quite close to the shore. If you’re new to snorkelling then consider joining a guided Snorkel tour as currents can get quite strong in winter. Always wear fins.

Surfing – Bring your board and set up your bike with a surfboard rack and off you go! Strickland bay and Mary Cove are great spots. We were inspired watching some of our friends riding around with their surfboards and enjoying the surf with pods of dolphins swimming with them and whales breaching in the background. Nothing short of a truly spectacular, wild experience.

Guided Hike – A great way to explore the lakes and beaches of Rottnest especially for your first visit. Did you know there is even a pink lake on Rottnest!

Cliff Jumping at Eagle Rock – firstly this is not recommended for the inexperienced. As you get closer to the West End there is is an unmarked turn off towards the right heading to Mable Cove. As you ride down the road, stop at the peak before you go downhill. On the lefthand side you’ll see a path down to the rocks with spectacular views. Be very cautious with both personal safety (snakes, loose rocks) and also to protect vegetation and stick to the path. If the swell is big it’s not wise to jump as you may have difficulty getting back up. Ensure you are a competent swimmer as currents can be strong and you may need to swim all the way back to the beach. It’s usually ideal in summer but on a calm winters day it’s invigorating. Even if you don’t jump it’s a beautiful spot to view the West End and Cathedral rocks, where the long nosed fur seals reside.

Wildlife encounters – Rottnest is full of beautiful biodiversity. Make sure to say hello to the friendly marsupial quokkas. Some will have babies in their pouch during this time. Please ensure you don’t feed them, touch them or leave food or rubbish behind. Watching the impacts is heartbreaking. Keep your eye out for Ospreys. We usually see them around Eagle bay and Mary Cove. We even saw one catching a fish on this trip and it was a magnificent sight. Winter also brings along migrating humpback whales. Keep an eye out for dolphins at Bathurst lighthouse. We saw them on multiple days at sunset looking out to the east feeding along the reef. One of our passions is caring for the environment, so each time we visit we ensure we do our best to leave it in better shape by doing a beach clean up. It doesn’t take much time and it’s a beautiful way to experience the beaches and do something important for our oceans and wildlife at the same time.

Photography – There are some incredible opportunities for photography across the island. I’d say get an E bike and scout it out. You will find so many gems! Our favourite spots are over looking The Basin towards Bathurst Lighthouse, Oliver Hill (sunset), Bathurst Lighthouse overlooking Pinky’s beach (sunset, though beautiful during the day too with all that turquoise water), Parker Point on the staircase. If you also walk along the beach towards the left you’ll come to a beautiful spot overlooking the most crystal clear blue waters of Porpoise Bay. Eagle rock at Eagle bay cliff jump has the most beautiful vista. If you have a telescopic lens you might capture some imagery of Ospreys and Seals.

If you do plan to stay on the island, make sure to enjoy the benefits of watching sunrise over the city. Something we West Aussies don’t see much of. North Thomson is a great spot for this. For an epic sunset spot head to Bathurst lighthouse where people gather for sunset views overlooking Pinky’s beach. Many will bring a little picnic to enjoy. If you fancy a challenging hill ride then head to Oliver Hill to watch sunset. It’s a steep climb which you can either push your bike up or walk if you can’t ride it. One of the benefits of having an e-bike is getting up this hill.

We are headed back again in Spring and super excited for the new experiences this season will bring. Please feel free to reach out if you are planning a trip and need any more tips or advice before going.

With love and gratitude,

Helen xx

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May 24, 2022

Photography – Helen Janneson Bense

Locations – Mallacoota | Gipsy Point | Betka Beach | Pambula Rivermouth Beach | Snowy Mountains

Outfits – Tiare Hawaii Holly Maxi Dress | Tessa Snow White Maxi Dress | Wave Bucket Hat (similar)| Elyse Cardigan | Hoian Crop Top | Zeplin Linen Pants

The last day I saw my parents, 2 and half years ago, little did I know a bushfire of unimaginable magnitude was headed directly to their home. Our trip came to an end that very same day and we said our goodbyes, oblivious to how long our next visit would be. About an hour into our drive to Canberra airport we received an emergency evacuation text. Bushfires were sparking up everywhere. The smoke was thick, blurring our vision, and the roads were closing behind us. We had no choice but to keep on driving. I was terrified to leave my parents, knowing there was no road out of their town. We missed being trapped by the Australian Black Summer bushfires by merely hours. But what we left behind has sat heavy on my heart ever since.

Mallacoota is my parents home, but it is also a beautiful tourist destination. One that had thousands of people stranded there over the Black Summer bushfires. My parents were the lucky ones. Their home remained, and while there was a lot to clean/fix, they had a home to return to. Many didn’t. Over a hundred homes were lost in Mallacoota. And Mallacoota was just one of so many towns along the east coast that was devastated. The loss of lives, homes, forests and wildlife was a tragedy. 33 lives were lost, over 12 million hectares of bushland lost, 3084 homes lost, 1.25 billon animals lost and 60000 koalas killed/injured. I am forever thankful for all the firefighters, emergency workers, wildlife carers that worked tirelessly to save lives. And the HMAS Choules who rescued my family.

All I needed after the fires was to visit my parents, to hug them ever so tightly, and give them my love and support through this tragedy. We all know what came next and how much Covid that has impacted the entire world. It kept families apart in order to keep everyone safe. While it was heartbreaking to wait so long, those hugs were worth the wait.

What I noticed most on my return was the impact of both the fires and covid on the town, locals and my parents. The word ‘resilience’ has been thrown around a lot and it’s fitting here too. The community has indeed become increasingly resilient through their experiences. My parents too. In Finland, where we are from, there is a word known as ‘Sisu.’ It describes certain traits and behaviours in Finnish people. Sisu is a strength, a courage, a resilience, a persevering power, a stoic determination and it was something my parents reminded me of during my visit.

My time with my family was spent slowly, moving day to day at their pace. Each morning I woke up with the sun, to kangaroos on the lawn, a mama feeding her joey, the peaceful melody of birdsong, the invigorating roar of the ocean, and crisp, clean air filling my lungs. I baked with my mum, learning how to make traditional Finnish sourdough rye bread. We picked flowers from her garden and made Anzac day flower wreaths, commemorating those who have fallen and truly sacrificed for our freedom. I walked along the lake each day with my dad, saying hi to the horses and taking in those beautiful lake and ocean views. We talked and hugged and laughed and eventually cried as we said our goodbyes.

This reunion was everything we all needed. My heart is full and I know it won’t be so long until I see my mum and dad again. If these past years have taught me anything, it’s to cherish all the moments, cherish what’s right in front of me, and trust that while there is so much uncertainty in this life experience, embracing it and remembering my inner ‘Sisu’ has been my guiding light.

With love and gratitude,

Helen xx

Ovolo Nishi

May 5, 2022

PhotographyHelen Janneson Bense

LocationOvolo Nishi | Lake Burley Griffin – Canberra (ACT)

It’s still hard to believe this was my first time leaving WA in over 2 years! This blog is part 1 of my amazing journey, one of the most long awaited family reunions. Before I get ahead of myself, I want to share my wonderful stay and experience at the luxurious, boutique hotel Ovolo Nishi.

Just a stones throw from the airport, ideally located within the Canberra CBD, near iconic landmarks and spectacular nature, Ovolo Nishi has become my number one choice of hotel stay for Canberra, and I so look forward to visiting again.

From the moment you approach the hotel you will be inspired with the creative architecture and design details. The staircase was not only a place of entry, but also a work of art people walked slowly and intentionally, taking in the marvel of this work. I love creative spaces like this that inspire creativity within. I was so impressed by the many special perks of my stay, from the all inclusive mini bar, all day snacks + a loot bag, bike use, included breakfast, free drink at social hour, attentive service, plant based water bottles (yay for no plastic!), to the hotel restaurant Monster Kitchen, which is an all vegetarian restaurant. I loved the cosy, yet expansive feel of the hotel and all the vintage touches. It felt homely and a place I could truly breathe and relax.

By far one of the most unexpected joys was hiring an E-scooter from the hotel and circumnavigating Lake Burley Griffin. I loved the freedom of riding and exploring. I watched hot air balloons floating by against the pastel sunrise skies and experienced the absolute magical stillness by the lake at sunset.

My days were filled with a build up of emotion and anticipation as I stepped that little bit closer to see my family once again. I can’t wait to share part 2 of my journey with you. Coming soon!

With love and gratitude,

Helen xx

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