SCUBA Diving Dumaguete Philippines with Diving for Life

Another incredible week of SCUBA diving, fundraising and hanging out with dear friends took place during Diving For Life and its 25th anniversary celebration in Dumaguete Philippines. The diving was quite wonderful with loads of creatures I have never seen before and just as many memorable moments were made on land (in and out of costume). And the best part: we raised over $95K USD to donate back to LGBTQ non-profit health organizations around the world! Here’s a video and photo summary of the week. The first video is a bit longer form as I normally try to steer clear of a 12-minute video but there was just so much to see! Hope you enjoy!

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Thanksgiving Visit to the USA!

Hi friends & family! We will be in the USA from 19-26 November traversing Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas for the Thanksgiving holiday. I’m so freakin’ excited!  I’ve dropped in a Google Maps overview of the road trip below as well as a dated breakdown. If you’re around and the timing fits, we would love to see you! Even if it’s just a quick coffee and catch-up.

  • Saturday 19 November – arrive in Dallas, TX via Sydney at 1:30PM; evening time with friends & family
  • Sunday 20 November – drive from Dallas to Norman, OK to visit my alma mater, The University of Oklahoma
  • Monday 21 November – drive from Norman to Bristow, OK and on to Tulsa, OK
  • Tuesday 22 November – drive from Tulsa to Eureka Springs, AR
  • Wednesday 23 November – drive from Eureka Springs to Mountain Home, AR
  • Wednesday 23 – Saturday 26 November – family time in Mountain Home
  • Saturday 26 November – drive from Mountain Home to Springfield, MO; fly back to Dallas and then continue on to Sydney
  • Monday 28 November – arrive back in Sydney at 6AM! Yikes!

USA or bust! XOXO -JW

 

Hiking Katoomba Falls and Furber Steps | Blue Mountains NSW

On Sunday, Daniel and I were on the road by 6:30am to go hike the Blue Mountains – something I’ve been dreaming about doing since January! In less than 2 hours, we had travelled from Sydney to Katoomba (a central spot in the Blue Mountains region) and were enjoying the sites. We started off at the Echo Point viewing station which offers a quintessential panoramic view of the Blue Mountains, including the Three Sisters rock formation. It was one heck of a windy day so we were quite happy to progress from Echo Point on over to Katoomba Falls and have a fantastic 1.5 hour hike past the falls, down the Furber Steps and on to the Scenic Railway.

First up, the view from Echo Point. Yea, I slapped a load of Instagram filters on this but you get the point! It’s so gorgeous, even au natural.img_2568Then we did the hike from Katoomba Falls Kiosk down to the Scenic Railway. Along the hike you will see – obviously – the Falls but also be surrounded by rainforest and have frequent views in to the southern range of the Blue Mountains.img_2501img_2507img_2515img_2518img_2520

img_2526At about the halfway point, the hike gives you the option to turnaround or continue down the Furber Steps, which is the path we chose! You should do the same. The rocky outcroppings are amazing and you’ll be able to check out Vera’s Grotto which I could have spent all day at just reading a book and listening to the water bubble on by.img_2531img_2533img_2535img_2543After you complete Furber Steps, you’ll be down at what’s called the Scenic Railway and the Scenic Walkway. Although this part gets a bit touristy, I highly suggest doing the trek around the Walkway as it’s a really cool raised boardwalk through the forest that’s quite peaceful. And you can reward yourself at the end by taking the $19 AUD one-way (and semi-harrowing) trip back up the Railway!img_2550img_2558

Incredibly, we were back in Sydney by 12:30pm the same day – just 6 hours after we had left. This makes me realise that day trips to the Blue Mountains are absolutely plausible! Next up: another day trip to check out Wentworth Falls as well as a weekend stay over to really get to know this incredible national park. Thanks for reading! XOXO -JW

Getting Tattoos in Melbourne (Again)

Daniel and I decided to go back for another short weekend in Melbourne with one singular focus: visit Jamie August of Big Boy Pinups again and get more ink. I wanted to add a villainous counterpart to my bearded merman from the last visit, and Daniel wanted to 1.) cover-up/evolve a small tattoo he got 20+ years ago and 2.) get something new for himself to signify his recently discovered love of scuba diving. We booked Jamie from 1030am-530pm on Saturday and made ourselves comfortable in his new location, BlackTide Tattoos on Smith Street in Collingwood. Let the pain begin! 😉
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First up: Daniel decided it was time to enhance a small heart tattoo he had on his left pec since he was in his early 20s. He and Jamie had already brainstormed this a bit on the previous visit and arrived at a really smart and fun way to pay homage to the original heart but evolve it in to something meaningful and within the Big Boy Pinup style. I watched him during this tattoo and could tell there were moments where it was really quite painful – makes sense though given the number of nerve endings that would be present on your chest! Ouch! He toughed it out though and was rewarded with an entirely new take on his historic tattoo.
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Because Daniel’s DNA was already all over the tattoo gun, it made sense for him to sit through his 2nd tattoo for the day back-to-back rather than taking a breather. For this one, he wanted to get a merman and have him carrying a scuba flag. The hilarious part about this tattoo was how many times we had to flip arms and flip designs to make sure the scuba flag would be ‘floating’ in the right direction! The worst thing you could do was put it on as mirror-image and be left with a strange ‘see-through’ approach to the flag. Thankfully, Jamie and Daniel got it all sorted out and the final piece looks so cool!
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Finally, I was in the chair to add an antagonist to my brave, bearded merman hero. I had known for some time that I wanted octopus or cuttlefish tentacles in some capacity on my body. Then it hit me: what if we flipped the script on Ursula from The Little Mermaid and put a big, bearded, beautiful version of her/him on the right arm. Jamie of course designed the perfect art to match the concept and we were in business. We went back and forth a bit on the right color choices but I ultimately listened to Jamie’s instincts and was very glad I did. The final piece is a sassy, furry Ursula balancing out the good with the evil on my arms. And if you’ve ever wondered – YES, tattoos do bleed. When working with darker inks, it’s really hard to tell during the process. But with yellow, purples, oranges…WOW does it stand out.
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So there you have it! We had a fantastic Saturday being inked by Jamie and were 100% exhausted by the end. It’s crazy how much the pumping adrenaline can sap your energy. Now we just have to keep the tattoos protected from sun and water for the new few weeks before we get to the Philippines for some scuba diving with the Diving For Life family! Hooray!
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Thanks for reading, lovelies. XOXO -JW

Tasting Wine in Hunter Valley NSW

Let’s be honest. Before moving to Australia, I thought the wine here was going to be absolutely, astroundling craptastic. I’ve had a long-standing, fathomless love of California reds (Zinfandel…mi amor…) and my opinion of Aussie wine was almost entirely influenced by the gag-inducing Yellow Tail you can buy magnum size at Safeway for $8.99. Nearly nine months later, I’m here to convert you, gentle reader, and make the bold statement that Australian wines are some of the very best in the world. I haven’t had a Zinfandel since January and have taken a new lover in to my wine glass: Shiraz. (You’ve heard of this wine as Syrah before as well – apparently, they are one in the same when it comes to grapes.) So it was with great pleasure that Daniel, his mum Caroline, and I hopped in the car one Saturday afternoon and drove the 2+ hour drive north out of Sydney up to Hunter Valley to taste some of the best wines in this part of Oz.

We started off our adventure at Peterson House – known for its sparkling wines, we enjoyed the Bubbly Breakfast with effervescent rosé. The food was delicious, the portions quite large but really it was all about the bubbles!
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Following brunch, we journeyed down the road to Audrey Wilkinson, which not only boasts being one of the oldest wineries in the region but also has some really stunning views of the countryside to enjoy. The 2014 “The Lake” Shiraz was a huge hit.
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We took a breather there at Audrey before continuing on to Tamburlaine, which we absolutely adored. The wines here are organic and it was exceptionally hard to pick a single favorite…so we ended up buying a case with a variety of ones we loved during the tasting. Truly, this place is special. The inside of the tasting room is fairly austere compared to other spectacles you might see in wine country but the wines…superb. Just look at the legs on this Chardy! (One of my fave Aussie slangs words for Chardonnay…although Cardonnay without the “h” might be the real winner.)
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By the time we left Tamburlaine, let’s just say we were feeling…relaxed and oh-so-giggly. But we had one more winery to visit before we could cease-fire on the wine sipping. Our final tasting of the day took place at Brokenwood, which had a wonderful Semillon, a beautiful Pinot Noir and a fantastic Shiraz.
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By this time (clearly) we were desperately in need of food and absorbent carbs. We continued over to our final stop of the day: a really good fromagerie. This one pulls no punches with its name and conjures all of the cheeses you can possibly imagine. We put together a quintessential wine country picnic and sat outside on this gorgeous day.
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After devouring thousands of calories of cheese and carbs, it was time for the journey home. I’m extremely thankful to Daniel for being able to get us back safely! And despite my journalistic integrity, I promised Caroline I would not post the picture of how comfortable she got en route back to Sydney. So alas, no photographic evidence will be shared there.

Long story short: Hunter Valley is a no-brainer day-trip for those with extra time on their hands during a Sydney visit. The wine is spectacular, the wineries are extremely accessible to each other and you will have a fabulous day eating, drinking and being merry.

Thanks for reading, peeps! XOXO -JW

Unwinding for a Weekend on Fitzroy Island

Daniel and I have been to Cairns not once but twice. We really love traveling up to Far North Queensland as it’s a quick 3-hour flight from Sydney and just like that…you’re in the tropics. We went back up that way for a weekend visit with his mum and decided to spend a couple days on Fitzroy Island and get away from the mainland. Happily, Fitzroy Island is also a national park on top of everything else that makes it special. Here’s what went down:

Getting to Fitzroy Island is super easy – you book tickets on the Fitzroy Island ferry (in advance or via the resort) and 45 minutes after departing Cairns Wharf, you’re on an 800 acre island paradise.
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We spent the weekend on Fitzroy at the Fitzroy Island Resort, which had absolutely stunning views off our balcony. The rooms needed a bit of updating in terms of soft furnishings and such but really…on an island like this you better not be spending too much time in your room!
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The weekend consisted of lounging by the pool or beach during the day, a couple of easygoing, shallow SCUBA dives for me and Daniel, a fantastic hike and lots of eating and drinking in the evenings whilst enjoying the sunsets. It’s also an ideal place for people who want to snorkel – there are two reefs flanking the western side of the island immediately off shore. As a word of caution: be prepared to pay resort prices for food and alcohol! It was definitely a lesson for us. If we go back, we will bring some simple breakfast and lunch groceries to fiscally ‘ease the blow’ a bit. Also, you cannot bring alcohol on the island from offshore so probably not worth the risk trying to sneak it in!

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Despite all of the water-based activities, the highlight of the weekend for me was when we woke with the sunrise and headed out for a hike up Lighthouse Road in to the forest. The bush walk was shockingly steep in some areas and we got totally, wonderfully drenched when a surprise rain storm hit but the reward was worth it: a gorgeous view from the lighthouse looking due east toward the open ocean.
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So there you have it! If you’re up in the Cairns area and want to sneak away for a couple days, Fitzroy Island is worth the adventure. It’s laid back and everything you want in an island escape. If we ever head back there, we plan to use it as a jumping off point for some other Great Barrier Reef diving spots. I’ll keep you posted! XOXO -JW

Getting Inked in Melbourne

It took 36 years, but I finally got the nerve to get a tattoo. I had a vision in my head of what I wanted for ages…and then I saw a BuzzFeed article showing the fantastically quirky Big Boy Pinups from tattoo artist, Jamie August. His approach and edginess were spot-on! The trouble was – at the time I first saw the article, I was living in the U.S. and Jamie was based 10,000k away in Melbourne, Australia. So it was never going to happen…then by twist of fate, I moved to AU and voila – all of the pieces of the puzzle fit. When Daniel and I spent a weekend meandering through Melbourne about a month back, I took the opportunity to meet Jamie and become permanently inked.

We first popped over to visit Jamie at Blue Lady Tattoo on Saturday afternoon. We talked about the concept, where I wanted the tattoo placed, etc. and it was as simple as that. The following morning around 10am, we were back at the parlor and after a few very minor edits to the mock-up of the piece, it was time to feel the tattoo gun for the first time…and to my extreme surprise, IT WASN’T. THAT. BAD. Here’s the summary based on questions I’ve been asked a few times:

  • Was it painful? Not exactly. It’s more ‘bearably annoying’ I’d say.
  • Ok, so how annoying was it? Moderately. And it started to peak around the 1.5 hour mark. The outline is the toughest part to get through but the colouring was – by comparison – a breeze.
  • What did it feel like precisely? A friend described it as “being slowly scratched by a cat for hours at a time” which is profoundly descriptive of the experience. 
  • How long did it take? Just over two hours.
  • Would you do it again? HELL yes. In fact, I’m scheduling again with Jamie in just about 2 weeks and so is Daniel! 😉
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    And there you have it! The finished piece. My buff bearded merman riding a weedy sea dragon. Homage to beards, the ocean, CrossFit, SCUBA diving and Australia all at once. Can’t lie – now that I’ve lived through my first ink, I’m ready for #2, #3…and so on until who knows where it ends. I’m a bit obsessed and can completely understand (finally) why people get so many pieces of body art. Will keep you all posted on what gets imprinted next! XOXO -JW

One Hour in Adelaide Australia

It’s been a while since I had just one hour to explore a city during a business trip, but it happened again in Adelaide, Australia. We landed and had a team dinner planned, leaving me just 60 minutes to hit the town and see what I could see. Here’s the brief summary of my sprint through the streets of this quaint but bustling South Australia capital city!

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Adelaide CBD isn’t on the ocean but it’s only about 10 minutes away from beautiful beaches (also near the airport!)
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My hotel, the Hilton Adelaide, stands out quite nicely on Victoria Square.
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A short walk north of Victoria Square is the historic Adelaide Town Hall which has a beautiful breezeway you walk under and the clock tower is stunning.
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Continuing north past Town Hall and turning right on Rundle Mall will bring you to a very popular shopping center.
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As with most cities, Adelaide is full of statues. This one is for John McDouall Stuart who was an incredibly successful explorer of the inland parts of Australia. He was pivotal in exploring what would become South Australia and trekked all the way South to North and back! Impressive gent!
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Victoria Square is a large public area in the center of Adelaide. The view here reminds me of mid-size towns in Texas for some reason…Dallas but not quite!
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A statue of Queen Victoria overlooks the aptly-named Victoria Park. She was erected here in 1894 (giggle).
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Exploring Adelaide for one hour was great but I must admit…seeing the inside of the wine cooler at Coal Cellar + Grill was truly a thing of beauty! I desperately tried to get locked in here overnight but alas…
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Dinner at Coal Cellar was spectacular. It was the unveiling that evening of an entirely new menu which made it exciting to be first to try it.
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The experiential journey through Adelaide wrapped-up with drinks Collins Bar. The bar is gorgeous but the coolest feature here is that the windows open almost fully out toward Victoria Square so you can have a drink and enjoy fresh air simultaneously. A nice combo!

And that, my friends, is the brief summary of my extremely short visit to Adelaide, Australia in SA. I know this city has even more to offer and can’t wait to go back for a future visit, particularly to get further out of town and go exploring through South Australia’s world famous wine country. Next time! XOXO -JW

Meandering through Melbourne Australia

Immediately upon moving to Australia I learned there are two competing viewpoints here: people who love Sydney vs. people who love Melbourne. There are tons of differing opinions here and they span everything from which city is more laid-back, more beautiful, has better food, better coffee, better art, better attractions, happier people, better weather…you get the point. Well in this post, I’m not taking ANY sides whatsoever. I’m simply going to share a summary of two trips I took to Melbourne (one business, one pleasure) and you can arrive at your own conclusions. Enjoy!

Melbourne’s Alleyways & Artwork:
Probably the most famous feature of Melbourne is its astounding variety of quaint and curious alleyways. Some are absolutely covered in gorgeous graffiti, some are simply nirvana for foodies. You’ll find them throughout the CBD and one thing is certain: you could spend an entire weekend in Melbourne exploring them and doing nothing else. Below, you’ll see images of Centre Place, Hosier Lane and a photo shoot caught-in-action.
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Melbourne Food:
Whenever people talk to me about Melbourne, I’m always told how stunningly incredible the food is here. It’s thoughtful, it’s experimental, it’s modern, hey, maybe it’s even a little bit overtly hipsteresque? Well whatever the case, I can now attest that Melbourne’s food scene is fabulous and absolutely delicious. Below, you’ll see images of Melbourne’s top coffee spot Duke’s, lunch at the mouth-watering and soul-satisfying Belles Hot Chicken and a tapas-style heavenly dinner (and fantastically friendly staff) at MoVida Nextdoor.
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Melbourne Attractions:
Like any major city, there are endless attractions you can experience in Melbourne to fill-up your brain (and lighten your wallet). From my journeys, two main attractions stand-out: the Royal Exhibition Building (a World-Heritage Site originally constructed in 1880 for the Melbourne International Exhibition) and the Melbourne Museum (which had a sub-par Jurassic World experience that was thankfully overshadowed by the astounding array of bones, bugs and mammals on display).
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Melbourne Architecture & Buildings:
I am lucky in my job in that I end up on the rooftop of hotels quite regularly during visits. You can enjoy the Melbourne architecture and structures from the ground but hopefully some of these shots breathe a little extra life in to the vantage points! You’ll see St. Paul’s Cathedral, various day and evening views along the banks of the Yarra River from South Wharf and the famous Flinders Street Railway Station. Melbourne is one heck of an attractive city!
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Long story short: when it comes to Sydney vs. Melbourne, I still have ‘no comment’ and no hard line to draw in the sand. I think each city has spectacularly unique elements and should be individually adored for those very reasons. I can say that Melbourne is one of those cities that definitely sticks in your mind and follows you around – mesmerising and so easy to love. But then I think about Sydney’s harbour and the beaches and the weather…and I fall right back in love all over again with Sydney. Guess these two cities will just have to remain a tween romance novel for me and pull me between them. Now which one is a vampire and which one is a werewolf…I’ll let someone else decide. XOXO -JW

24 Hours in Canberra ACT

After spending nearly 10 years in D.C., it was a nice adventure to go check-out Australia’s capital, Canberra, for a brief city break. It’s located in the appropriately-named Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and a quick 3-hour drive from Sydney. We hopped in the car one Saturday morning along with our friend, Anthony, and headed southwest to spend 24 hours exploring. Here’s the short story, with some highlights and recommendations:

Lake George dried up
When you get near Canberra, you’ll see Lake George right off the Federal Highway. It’s 25 km long, 10 km wide and extremely shallow. Let’s just say the Great Lakes in America are totally unimpressed. 😉
National Capital Exhibition model of Canberra
Definitely make a stop at the National Capital Exhibition before heading in to Canberra. It has this awesome light-up scale model that explains the history of the Capital as well as the design, layout and architecture.
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The National Gallery of Australia is also a must-see in Canberra. Many Aussie artists are on display as well as a variety of rotating exhibitions. If you take your time, you can easily spend a few hours enjoying the abundance of art here.
High Court of Australia in Canberra
After the National Gallery, you can walk by the High Court of Australia (the equivalent of the U.S. Supreme Court). If you have a case in the AU, this is your ‘final destination’ for appeals!
Gardens in Canberra
The landscaping throughout Canberra is well thought-out and attractive. This little stretch is in between the High Court looking across Reconciliation Place toward Questacon.
Old Parliament House in Canberra ACT
Not the best photo given the distance, but standing at the peak of Reconciliation Place you can see Old Parliament House. The center of Parliament from 1927-1988, it’s now a museum (and the new Parliament House took its place on Capital Hill). In front is the Aboriginal Tent Embassy that has maintained its assemblage since 1972.
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Following all the walking, we stopped at the National Library of Australia for afternoon tea. It’s a beautiful building with stunning stained glass along the sides. Our attire helped us blend in nicely to the surroundings, too! I definitely recommend stopping here for a coffee during your journey through Canberra.
Canberra architecture
Hands-down, my favourite feature in Canberra was the architecture. So many lines and angles to enjoy. Here’s a small geometric sampling.
Canberra Centre bubblemaking
After exploring the main attractions in Canberra, we spent some time wandering through Canberra Centre enjoying the sites (and, naturally, the bubble-making). This area is full of shops and probably a bit touristy but hey…there’s not a whole lot else to do here anyways so might as well enjoy all the bits!
Dancing in gay nightclub Canberra cube
We couldn’t visit the ACT without experiencing gay Canberra! This included pre-party drinks at 16West with some local gay friends we made followed by several hours of dancing at Cube (pictured). We had an absolute blast or at least that’s what I’m told. #cheers
Lake Burley Griffin
The next morning, Anthony had a fashion photo shoot to conduct so Daniel and I walked across the street from the Hyatt to Lake Burley Griffin. This entirely man-made lake is an excellent place for a stroll or a run, particularly on a quiet Sunday morning. It’s hard to believe that it didn’t even exist until 1963!
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The fog settling over Lake Burley Griffin with rowers steadily pacing themselves made for a memorable ending to our 24 hour Canberra visit. Peaceful and just a little bit eerie. A favourite combination of mine.

To wrap-up, 24 hours in Canberra was just about the perfect amount of time to spend for a weekend getaway. Not too much, not too little. We definitely didn’t see everything the ACT had to offer but I know we took a really, really decent bite out of it! Perhaps a future visit is in store in the autumn. XOXO -JW