South Africa was honestly not on my radar of places to see, until The Boy and I were invited to a wedding in Cape Town. A destination wedding is no fun unless you spend some time exploring the destination, so we flew over to Johannesburg two weeks early and went straight over to Kruger Park for one of my favourite parts of the trip – safari!

It was about 6am when we arrived in Jo’burg (apparently South Africans love their abbreviations as much as Aussies do) after flying all nigh, and we had somehow missed the fact that it was a four hour drive to Kruger – which actually turned into almost six hours after waiting to pick people up at various hotels and airports. So when we arrived at the camp I was feeling run down and more interested in napping than the organised sunset drive.

It was a good thing I didn’t miss it though, because it pretty much hit every mark straight away. I wanted to keep my expectations in check because you can’t just predict the behaviour of wild animals, and being a national park the drivers aren’t permitted to drive off the road. So this first safari drive blew those expectations out of the water. Impala are absolutely everywhere, and other antelope (kudu, waterbuck, bushbuck) as well as wildebeest were spotted as well. Giraffes? Hanging out by the road munching on trees. Elephants? One walked so close everyone got nervous and we had to drive off. Rhinos? Stare-off on the road before posing for a photo by the setting sun. Lions lazing on their backs. Buffalo wandering past. Giant insects literally hitting us in the face (okay, that part wasn’t so cool). We were drowning in wildlife, finding four of the ‘big five’. It was amazing, and a dangerously high standard to set right on the first night.

We stayed in a little round hut (rondavel) in Skukuza, the main camp in Kruger Park, and as part of our tour ventured out on a morning and an afternoon three hour drive each day, with not a lot to do but eat, drink and relax in between. Lacking wifi, I ended up spending happy hours sketching the various animals we’d seen that day during our breaks. The meals provided by our tour company were served in a big communal tent, with occasional visits from the local scavenging monkeys and warthog family. I chatted to people from all over the world, swapping photos and tales of the day’s sightings.

One thing I wasn’t expecting was how green the park was – apparently during the summer that area of South Africa gets a lot of rain, resulting in beautiful but camouflaging foliage. The next few days were alternately cloudy and stormy, and I gratefully accepted a hilariously gigantic thermal rain poncho for protection and warmth in the open vehicles we rode in as the rain bucketed down.

The drives after the first one weren’t quite as jam packed, but having already seen so much it all just felt like bonus anyway. We drove to the river – overflowing due to the rain – to see hippos from a safe distance. We spent ages watching two lionesses strolling in the drizzle. Even on the days when we didn’t see much big game, there were monkeys, birds, tortoises and even a dung beetle rolling his ball (and wife) across the road. Our drivers were knowledgable about the local plants and wildlife, told stories about their experiences in safaris, and were excellent at spotting animals then rolling quietly up to them for a good view.

I have to admit I was a little devastated when another group had a leopard (the last of the big 5 to see!) walk alongside their car in the morning drive, then spotted it again in the evening. And I was maybe a little jealous of those who had thought to bring a telephoto lens (I used my 24-70mm) to take wonderful closeups. But there isn’t any point in dwelling on could-have-beens – especially when it was already so much more amazing than I had expected.

I think that a safari is a must-see in Africa, unless you really really aren’t impressed at all with huge, unique, amazing animals. It might sound touristy and be more expensive than self-driving through the park, but packaged tours give you the benefit of a knowledgable driver and a relative amount of certainty that you won’t be trampled in a wildebeest stampede like Mufasa. The tall, open vehicles give the best view but can get surprisingly chilly when it rains, so bring something warm and something to pull your hair back. A telephoto lens is great to have, but I was lucky enough to have a lot of animals wander close enough to get decent shots anyway. There’s a lot of luck involved in general, so having a decent amount of time (we had 3 nights, 4 days) gives a better chance of seeing more animals.

Go in with realistic expectations, but cross your fingers for some amazing sights!

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January went by in a whirl, not least because I spent the first third of it gallivanting around South Africa! My year began with beaches, a wedding and tons of photos – a good way to continue, I think. Here’s what I’ve been up to in the last month.

“A monthly capture of my feelings and doings, in the raw.”

I’m grateful for

Having my close group of friends together again, after the past couple of years with some of us at odd ends of the Earth. I think I’ve mentioned them before, but as we get older together (the year of 30th birthdays, argh!) I realise more and more how important it is to surround yourself with great people, and the massive impact they’ve had on my in the many years I’ve known them.

Travelling to South Africa – a place which I might not have gotten around to visiting any time soon if it wasn’t for a friend’s wedding, but turned out to be an amazing destination. Beautiful landscapes, incredible wildlife, great wine and food, perfect weather – exactly my kind of place to explore. I will get around to posting about it eventually!

I’ve been thinking about

Trading in my DSLR for something a little less bulky. I’ve been feeling far less into photography lately, possibly because I know so many people who are exceptionally good at it. I feel like there are those out there who manage to get far better photos than me with far less full-on equipment, with the added bonus of it not being ridiculously heavy. These days a DSLR isn’t really necessary for taking photos of food, travel, and happy snaps as compact cameras have gotten so good. I feel like I should either put more effort into becoming a better photographer with my fancy gear, or trade down to something more suited to what I actually use it for. I’m keen to hear others’ thoughts, especially on good DSLR alternatives!

Learning that you can admire something whilst acknowledging that it isn’t for you – probably one of the bigger lessons I’ve learned in my (quickly fading) twenties. Things that I like but are not suited to me currently for various reasons: super minimalist interiors, large fancy houses, tiny houses, crazy small budget backpacking, crazy huge budget luxury travel, designer clothing, fashion blogging, being a full-time artist, being a martial artist, high heeled shoes, owning a cat… and a whole lot more. But that’s okay, because in the end I have to choose what is right for me as I am now, and others making different choice is not a judgement on my own. I’ve wasted energy being envious of other people in the past, but at least now I know better.

I’m excited for

Side Project magazine stuff – I wrote a post on the Side Project blog about our plans for 2015, and I’m so excited to see them come to fruition! Besides making 4 new issues of the zine, I’m going to be spending more time blogging over there as well as working on a stationery line and (hopefully) upgrading to a bigger and better format moving into 2016. This is stuff I’ve been dreaming of doing for years, and it’s only now that I’m part of a team that I have the drive to make it happen. It’s going to be awesome!

Aquaponics – I tend to get blank looks when I tell people about our new aquaponics system, so for the confused it involves fish in a tank and plants in a hydroponic grow bed, with water being pumped between the two. This process filters the water (happy fish) and brings nutrients from their waste up to the plants (happy plants). Ours is still new and it takes a while to become properly established but we’ve harvested some strawberries, basil leaves and jalapeños so far, and there are some promising looking flowers budding on the eggplant, squash and zucchini plants. There’s something very neat about this symbiotic system that feels very elegant to me, even if it is taking up most of our little courtyard. I can’t wait to eat our first home-grown veggies!

What I’ve been doing

I began the new year in South Africa, where I saw so many birds and animals, stepped in two different oceans (the Atlantic is freezing!), attended an amazing wedding, saw spectacular sunsets, climbed a mountain, drank a lot of wine and ate a lot of meat. Oh and listened to The Lion King soundtrack a lot, which is cliche and not even the right country but whatever.

Walking – sometimes to destinations, sometimes just for the pleasure of sauntering and daydreaming. I’ve faced the fact that running is just not compatible with my bad back, but I find walking so much more enjoyable anyway.

I’ve been reading

Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela – seemed a logical choice to read whilst travelling in South Africa. A fascinating read, not least because Mandela is an eloquent writer.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac – still going on this classic travel story.

I think I want to start reading more books by women and people of colour – classics are all well and good, but tend to be written by white men. Reading is such a great way to see new and different perspectives, and sticking to one small subset of writers doesn’t give the whole story.

I’ve been spending my money on

Clothes – I’ve given in to the urge to buy some new clothing, although I’m making an effort to stick to ethical brands. Gorman is my current favourite, with their bright colours and bold patterns!

A backpack – as part of this year’s goal to get my bad back sorted out, I’ve traded in my cute everyday handbag for a backpack. Not a fashiony one; a hiking day pack with chest and waist strap. I often walk the ~5km home from work and have a shorter walk to and from the bus stop normally, so the switch from a side bag has made a huge difference. And you know what, I see heaps of other people doing the same thing – yay backpack buddies! Best purchase of the month for sure.

I really need to stop doing this most of the way through the month – it’s hard to remember as far back as January now! Anyway, please do check out the main Head & Heart list on, and join in the fun if you’re in the mood for sharing.

Following on from my post about New Year’s resolutions, here’s the One Thing I’ll be focusing on for February – going without meat.

Personally I don’t have an ethical issue with eating meat, I don’t think that being vegetarian is necessarily healthier than an omnivorous diet, and I don’t plan to stick to a meat-free diet in the long term. So why do it for a month?

I think the meals The Boy and I cook are far too meat-centric, which results in us eating more meat than is really necessary. You could of course argue that meat isn’t necessary at all, but for those of us who do eat it the recommendation seems to be 65 to 100 grams in a serving, and not every day. I can tell you that we eat quite a bit more than that normally, as do most Australians – apparently we’re amongst the biggest meat eaters in the world.

Other reasons include wanting to eat more vegetables in general, the high environmental cost of meat production, and saving a bit of money in order to buy higher quality organic cuts.

Giving up something for a month (especially a short one like February) might seem a bit pointless, but I’ve found it’s a good starting point for deconstructing bad habits and kicking off a new one. I’m hoping by the end of this month I’ll be better equipped with meat-free meal ideas and get out of the habit of having large chunks of meat every day. The Boy will be joining me on this one (and no I didn’t force him, it was his idea!) so it’s good to have some support. I’ll report back with any great vegetarian recipes we try out, in case any of you want to try this challenge for a month or just for a meat-free day.

How are your New Year’s resolutions going? Feel free to join me in just doing One Thing a month instead of big year-long goals!

Ah Bali. Some dislike it, many love it, and at just a few hours from Perth it’s undeniably a convenient spot for a tropical escape.

Personally it wasn’t really on my list of places to visit any time soon, but with my workplace flying us all over for the annual Christmas party (who does that? Bam Creative does that) I wasn’t going to say no. The common criticism is authenticity, with Western influence and the dominating tourist trade leaving many places almost devoid of locals or establishments that they would actually frequent. Even the relatively calmer and less developed town Ubud, where we stayed for the weekend, was full of fellow Australians and other holiday-makers (albeit dressed in yoga clothes and batik rather than a bikini or hot pants). Balinese culture and food are easily avoided, if that’s what you’re determined to do.

I found that aspect to Bali a bit perplexing, but who am I to say that doing a very touristy tour of local temples, mountains and kopi luak plantations is any better for the island, or even vaguely off the beaten track? It is definitely more my kind of thing than partying and relaxing by the pool though, and I loved the monkeys, the lush green landscapes, the intricate temples, the tropical fruits, the colourful Hindu offerings and the scent of incense. When my colleagues asked what my best moment was, all I could think of was a happy moment heading back from the tour, tired and sweaty but feasting on rambutan and mangosteens bought from a roadside stall.

Getting home was a nightmare thanks to our middle-of-the-night flight being cancelled, but seeing each other tired, cranky and running out of clean clothes probably worked better as a team bonding exercise than downing cheap cocktails and getting our nails painted. That’s my positive spin on it anyway!

I don’t think Bali is for everyone, but you can have a completely different experience to the Kuta stereotype with a bit of planning. Be respectful and eat heaps of tropical fruit – those are my main pieces of advice.

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So I’m technically a little bit late for New Year’s Resolutions, but I don’t usually let that stop me.

I’ve tried a few different variations on the whole resolutions thing – from general themes with monthly goals, to last year’s complete break from resolutions altogether. Usually I make an ambitious list and then proceed to immediately break and/or forget about it. This year I’m going for a slightly mixed approach.

My number one goal and priority for this year is simple to say, more difficult to do – properly address my back problems and get it to a point where it’s at least manageable, if not pretty much healed. There’s a lot more to it than simply strengthening core muscles, although that is something I’m working on. I’m planning to go for a more holistic approach, improving my health and habits all round to hopefully get to a point where I’m not mostly immobile for a few days every month. I’m really good at addressing the problem when things are bad, but get complacent again as soon as I feel better – how quickly we forget pain! Anyway, I’m doing things like continuing Alexander Technique classes, changing running for long walks, starting Reformer Pilates, tweaking my diet and switching my day tote bag for a backpack (less attractive but far more ergonomic for walking home with). So far so good?

Apart from that, I’m going to try choosing One Thing to focus on each month – easy to remember and keep in mind. 30-odd days is a much more manageable timeframe, good for smaller goals and trying out new habits. I’m going to pick them as I go so that they’re relevant to my headspace at the time, but here’s a bunch of ideas.

Trying out a habit

Try doing one of these things every day/week for a month. Some are more ambitious than others.

  • A daily evening/morning habit (I feel the two need to go together, as 2am bedtimes don’t go well with 6am wakeups. Here’s mine, and yes I’m mostly managing to stick with it!)
  • Write/draw/paint/something creative every day
  • Take a photo a week (daily is too much for me!)
  • Read a book, a little each day
  • Daily walk or wander
  • Bring lunch to work every day
  • Eat the recommended number of vegetables daily
  • Weekly blog posts
  • Make your bed each morning

Giving something up

Going 30ish days without something feels doable! For me it’s not so much about trying to do it long-term, but to break habits and gain some perspective.

  • Meat
  • Facebook
  • Alcohol (I usually do this for February, being a short month, though not this year)
  • Refined sugar (I think this might be too hard for me!)
  • Buying things (other than necessities)

Starting a project

There’s heaps of projects that can be finished within a month.

  • Sew a garment
  • Make something useful and beautiful from wood
  • Redecorate a room
  • Declutter the house
  • Do an online short course
  • Make or rework a website
  • Create a sellable product

Obviously I won’t be doing all of these, but I thought it would be a good idea to get some options down in case I’m lacking inspiration in the moment. It’s too late for January, but I’ll write a post about February’s One Thing next week. Feel free to have a go as well, don’t worry about when you start!

Pictured above: our new bedding, which has gone from everything white to colourful pattern explosion. I’m all about the crazy patterns this year!