Para Para Paradise: 6 Days of Whitsundays

Joe and I were long overdue for a couple’s vacation. We realized that we haven’t gone away, just the two of us, for longer than an extended weekend since our honeymoon three years ago. We left work on Tuesday and geared up to start the celebration by watching the Coldplay concert in Melbourne. Their “Para para paradise” song sent us on our way with our pasty skin and beach bags ready for the wonders of Queensland, Australia to celebrate my 30th birthday and our first out-of-Victoria excursion together.

Colorful wristbands lit up the energy filled stadium at the Coldplay concert in Melbourne

Day 1

Our trip to the Whitsunday Islands started at Hamilton Island where we flew in just to catch a ferry to our first destination: Daydream Island. Upon our arrival, a bottle of birthday bubbly and some chocolate along with a note reading “Estas son las mañanitas…” (Joe thinks of everything) awaited us in our ocean front room overlooking the other islands nearby. Napping on a hammock is one of my favorite past times (not that I have many hammocks around my life), so luckily hammocks are easy to find along every corner of the island. Joe and I cozied up in a nice spot to watch the sun set on our first night of our much-awaited vacation. Some long legged birdies and wallabies even joined us for the fantastic view!

Arriving at the Hamilton Island Airport

Hammock time

Our sunset viewing party

Day 2

I met two sea turtles while paddle boarding in the ocean! Hard to believe our trip could get any better than this… but it does, just wait… it does! Joe went out on a kayak and I tried paddle boarding for the first time (LOVE!). While out on the water we burned some calories and saw some sea turtles come up for air. The small island had plenty of activities to go around including put-put golf, several pools, a nature hike, water sports, cricket, beach and pool lounging, and of course… hammock naps. Hammock nap No 2 happened on day 2! Elevated above the ground, feeling so light and unattached to any worries on earth, our vacation was doing exactly what it is meant to do. At least it was until a kangaroo running by at what seemed like 30mph interrupted our peacefully swaying hammock. No kangaroos or humans were harmed, but it was a close call.

Coral beach on Daydream Island

Stingrays at the live reef on Daydream Island

Sharks at the live reef on Daydream Island

Day 3

Nothing but gold skin and smiles as we boarded a “Cruise Whitsundays” boat, “Seaflight”, to the Great Barrier Reef. The cruise took 250 people out to the reef to snorkel, scuba and sightsee around the Reef World Pontoon floating just above the Great Barrier Reef. Scuba diving was the highlight of the morning while the 248 passengers departed in the mid-afternoon; leaving just Joe and I on the pontoon was the highlight of the afternoon. The ocean breeze kissed our sun drenched skin as we watched the tide drop on the reef, leaving the coral that was once below the crystal water visible above the ocean. Looking around we could see nothing but the horizon. The sun eventually met the sea and the stars shone brightly on what was a bright blue canvas throughout the day.  After the sun disappeared and the stars showed their bright lights, we had an amazing dinner in the pontoon’s underwater viewing room. Our butler babe (aka Nina) did an amazing job looking after us, cooking for us, and ensuring we had nothing to worry about during our overnight stay as the only “Reef Sleepers” that night. As a 400kg Grouper (largest boney fish in the Reef) watched us dine in style, we could not believe we were out in the middle of one of the 7 Wonders of the World. What an incredible life this is!

Cruise Whitsundays Boat

Exploring the pontoon

Ready for scuba diving!

Enjoying the view

Enjoying the sunset with the best compliments of wine, cheese, and Joe

Blue sky turns to gold as the night falls

Birthday dinner in the underwater observatory

Our friend George, the Queensland Grouper

Day 4

On our first day out at the Reef I noticed that most of the tourists didn’t look as excited as we were feeling to be out experiencing such an incredible place. Ticking off boxes is life’s way of tricking us into thinking we’re enjoying our experiences. Scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef, sitting back and watching the sun set over the horizon, enjoying dinner in an under water observatory with a 400kg fish as our dinner guest, star gazing over the ocean and waking up to see the sun rise over the blue horizon, coloring all the clouds in the sky 50 shades of purple – no boxes ticked there, just memories engrained in my mind forever. The beauty and serenity out at the Reef is impressive, at least it was until the mid-morning when the cruise arrived with a new set of noisy tourists who were there to “tick off their box”.  Despite our disrupted silence out on the pontoon, we were able to escape the chatter for a quick helicopter ride to see the famous heart shaped reef.  No words can describe how surreal the experience was. All there is to see are endless miles of expansive bright turquoise reef and crystal clear water. The water is so clear you can see straight through, revealing even the stingrays hovering over the sand.  Truly incredibly natural beauty.

Sunrise over the Reef

Coral above the water during low tide

Ready for lift off

Heart shaped reef view from the helicopter

No wonder it’s one of the Seven Wonders of the World

Our amazing crew helped make the Reef Sleep trip super accessible

Day 5

The best kinds of vacation days are those filled with absolutely no commitments… and great ocean views. We checked in to our last destination of the trip: Reef View Hotel on Hamilton Island. Our room on the 14th floor dawned over breathtaking views of the Whitsunday Islands and welcomed us again with a bottle of bubbly wishing me a happy birthday (Oh that Joe!). Our lazy day on the island consisted of lounging poolside, more paddle boarding – this time mixing it up with some yoga moves balancing on the water, drinking at the swim-up bar, and an afternoon snooze on the pool chair. We ended the day laughing our socks off at each other’s ridiculousness at dinner together.

View from our balcony at the Reef View Hotel

Lounging poolside enjoying some live tunes

Delicious and laughter filled dinner at Romano’s

Day 6

Whoever said all good things must come to an end must have gone on a lot of really great vacations. We made use of every last sunshine filled moment on our last day on the islands, but doesn’t it always seem like you could use just one more day of holiday? Heading to the airport we must have looked like the long faced tourists we saw in the departure lounge upon our arrival. Our fate caught up to us and the tables had turned – now envying the pale-skin, happy-faced new island dwellers just getting off the plane that was about to take us away from the lovely sun and sea we enjoyed all week.

Can’t we just stay?

Off to the Races

Glamour, funny hats, champagne, and oh yea… horses too. The Spring Racing Carnival arrived in Melbourne! November is full of excitement with the sun coming out and the horse races under way. The Carnival lasts for a couple of weeks, and Victorians even get to enjoy a day off work for Melbourne Cup Day.

The festivities start with planning the most important accessory of the season… a fascinator! In the search for my perfect one, I came to find that these accessories cost a fortune! Especially if you want a statement piece (and why wouldn’t you?). Designers create incredible art works out of tulle, flowers, and feathers to adorn race goers noggins. Unwilling to dish out $400+ for a fancy headband I found the nearest craft store and loaded my basket up with some essentials and a hot glue gun. And voilà, a one-of-a-kind fascinator for Oaks Day (Also know as Lady’s Day… so now widely recognized as Blokes Day).

Joe’s office organized the Oaks Day outing at the Nursery Car Park. It is similar to a very long tail-gating party, except people dress up and pay top dollar to get in. The day was filled with sunshine, bubbly, and horse bets (no winners this time).

Failure isn’t failing

What happens when we fail? This is a question that came up a lot for me a couple of weeks ago as I sat in on my first leadership conference experience at my new company. The chair I sat in hadn’t been reserved for me, but the spot opened up out of an eagerness on my part to be involved in broader activities at lululemon. I reached out to the conference planning committee (putting my past life as a conference planner to good use) and offered to help with anything, small or large, that they had coming up in anticipation for the conference.

All the heavy lifting was done… and they had done a damn good job at that. They planned the agenda, sent out the invitations, booked the speakers, reserved the venue, and ordered the catering. The conference had all the perfect elements to result in a huge success, but there was still a spot for me. I was thrilled to help make drink cards (new-found love for pixler by the way), order copies, and organize transportation of supplies to the conference venue. After completing all the to do’s for the committee, I thought my part was done, but they asked me to continue helping and come to the full two and a half days of the conference to coordinate the presentations. “Easy peasy,” I thought… I’ve done this before and am happy to be involved at any level,  but I could not have dreamed up what treats were in store. From inspirational stories to real deal leadership skill building, I learned that this company walks the talk… and does it in style!

A co-worker and friend, Lindsay and I, decked out for the futuristic closing party (apparently people wear blonde bob wigs in the future)

Being at the conference didn’t feel much like work. It felt more like the treat that I allow myself to have once a day. It seemed to be the treasure I take as a reward for doing something good. Working on my personal growth after doing a good job felt similar to treating myself to dessert after a good workout at the gym. But in any case, the personal growth from the conference was nothing short of brain indulgence.

How can it feel like work with a fun photo graffiti wall and these babes?

So what does failure have to do with any of this?  Failure is the elephant in the room we choose to ignore most of the time, but without failure, we would never learn how to succeed. In one of the conference sessions, we were asked to write out our failures and pin them to the “Failure Board”. Posting my failures up on the wall for everyone to see (even the CEO) was daunting,  scary, and seemingly shameful, but celebrating failure takes it into a new light. Although this may seem like torture, the action of sharing our failures was in a sense celebrating them. When we celebrate failure, we open ourselves up to vulnerability – and it is so liberating! The vulnerability of letting others see us for who we are, the vulnerability of saying, “I’m not perfect either.” If you haven’t already, I would highly recommend watching Brene Brown’s talks on vulnerability and shame on Ted Talks. Do it now! and if you’ve already watched it, watch it again!

So here it is, posted for the world (literally) to see… I have failed at:

–       Sharing my pain, letting others hold me up

–       Over performing under stress (again, failing to rely on others)

This matters because it impacts the people around me. My hubs, my co-workers, my family and friends. I fell (a long long time ago) into playing a role of strength. Strong when things get tough, strong when Joe got paralyzed, strong when family members pass away, strong for friends going through tough times, and strong and reliable in a work environment when shit hits the fan. I realize now that this is my strength, but in my strength also lies failure of letting others take the reins. People around me need to be there for me just as much as I need to be there for them. Letting go of the reins is something I have to work on.

The move to Australia sparked a tremendous change in our lives. It removed us from our comforts, physically separated us from our loved ones, and opened up a whole can of life I never knew existed. In recognizing my failures, I am committed to opening myself up for vulnerability, sharing my failures, and not showing only the glowy amazingness that Australia is offering us. I am committed to be real and show the real feelings and experiences moving so far away offers, both the good and the bad. But most of all, I’m committed to working towards creating a life I love. I’m happy to be well on my way!

So, what happens when we fail? We learn how to succeed! We learn about what we truly love.