Saturday, 30 May 2009

Frolicking in the sunshine on the Isle of Wight

In the run up to leaving the UK at the end of June I've kept myself as busy as possible and finally after a few months of trying have made it to FARM-Africa and IDE-UK to present them with the remainder of the funds which Afritrex raised last year, the total for all three is now just over £20,000.


BBC INSIDE OUT FILMING - THE ISLE OF WIGHT


Time to take on a new challenge Ben and this time not a physical one but a mental one - how about appearing as a guest presenter for the BBC......eeek, not an opportunity to be passed up. So my girlfriend Bre, Jane the producer, Joe the cameraman and Ian the soundman all headed to the Isle of Wight (just off the south coast of England) to film a program all about this gorgeous little gem of an island and what is has to offer as a tourist destination.

I remember when I was about 5 years old (yes a stupidly long time ago I know) my Grandma and Grandpa sent me a postcard from the island and it looked something like this.....

...describing the Wonders of the Isle of Wight, I still remembered four of them and they are:
  • "Lake" where there is no water.
  • The "Needles" you cannot thread.
  • "Ryde" where you walk.
  • "Cowes" you cannot milk.
  • "Freshwater" you cannot drink.
  • "Newport" you cannot bottle.
  • "Winkle street" where there are no Winkles
  • "Newtown" which is very old
Coasteering

First stop of the day was to be Freshwater Bay to try something I've always wanted to have a go at, Coasteering - the process of jumping over rock archways, swimming through wave filled gaps, climbing up cliffs and ducking under water into invisible caves.

Arriving at Isle of Wight Sea Kayaking we met Owen our instructor for the day as I tried to persuade Bre to take to chance to dip into some freezing cold English water....for what I guaranteed her would be some fun!

We kitted up in our wetsuits, buoyancy aid, booties and helmets and all trundled off along the promenade towards the waves which were crashing onto the chalk cliffs making the heart rate raise just a little as we dipped our toes into the ocean full of expectation for the experience which lay ahead.

The waves continued to build as we swam out into the swell keeping close to the cliffs but just far enough away not to be pummelled into them and as we turned the corner the first of the caves came into sight. Owen leading us very expertly all the way offering guidance on the best way to take on this new form of adventure with a BBC underwater camera strapped to the side of his helmet.

We continued for another half an hour along the coast, clambering up the sharply hewn rocks, jumping off the higher ledges and swimming through some amazing caves and tunnels until I turned to look at Owen....and the camera was missing, oh crap there goes the best of the footage then!

Back on dry land we made our apologies for loosing the camera, dried off and headed back to the Colonel before leaving for the other side of the island after a wicked experience attacking the coastline with a very different and exciting approach to water sport.

Steephill Cove

Steephill Cove is a little piece of treasured history which really hasn't changed for the past 500 years and when you arrive down the steep footpath you can understand why - its the only means of access, apart from by boat, to the collection of fishing cottages. The Wheeler family have owned the vast majority of these amazing little houses since the 1400's along with the cafe and restaurant, Dave being the oldest member of the family. His official name is Dave Wheeler MBE, or the Island Caretaker! He was presented with his MBE a few years ago for services to deckchairs of all things, and when given the opportunity to go to Buckingham Palace to receive it he refused saying he didn't want to leave the island. In the end the Royal Family sent a Lieutenant to present it to him!

Dave's extensive family live here and every day his two sons Jimmy and Mark head out in their boat to check the crab and lobster pots, the catch from which supplies their wives with the supplies to run the cafe (famous for its Crab Pasties) and the restaurant. Real cottage industries which thrive here during the warmer months of the year.

Simon from the Ventor Blog stopped off to meet me and as we wolfed down a pastie he explained to me the tools of the trade I need to be employing to make my blog writing more interesting and interactive to all of my followers. He and his wife have been publishing their works on the internet for a number of years and were great to chat to. Thank you to them for their information.

Sea Kayaking

We raced back across the island to meet Owen and Tim who'd kindly offered to take Bre and I out Sea Kayaking for the last activity of the day, we launched just past Yarmouth and as we paddled along the coast trawled some lures for anything we may be lucky enough to catch in time for dinner.....wishfully thinking, we caught nothing and instead headed to the Fish n Chip shop for a guaranteed catch!

Bre and I retired for the evening to a fantastic cliff top campsite called Grange Farm where the owner had very kindly reserved the sea-view site for us and for the first time since January we erected the tent atop the Colonel. A little warmer than last time from -5c up to 15c, excellent.


Red Squirrels

Our last day on the island had more adventure and new experiences tied into it, starting with a visit to Alverstone Mead Nature Reserve to feed the resident red squirrels.

video

Red squirrels are the only squirrel native to the British Isles. They are disappearing from the mainland fast and are being replaced by the introduced American grey squirrel.

The Isle of Wight is an important stronghold as the Solent provides a barrier to grey squirrels. However a grey does find it’s way to the Island sometimes, so we need to be vigilant. There are contingency plans for dealing with greys that arrive on the Isle of Wight. Not only do grey squirrels outcompete reds, they carry the deadly squirrelpox virus, which is fatal to the reds.

It is illegal to bring a grey squirrel into red squirrel territory. The penalty is 2 years imprisonment or £5,000 fine. It is also illegal to release a grey anywhere, once it is caught.

Talk about cute, these little red-haired creatures rock and truly do feed right out of your hand, as soon as you crack a nut they come scampering across the roof of the hide and peer at you through their little black eyes. If you give them a whole nut the effort of breaking into it is all too much and they disappear off to bury it in preparation for the winter...in somewhere they no doubt forget about!

John and his group of volunteers had done an amazing job at preparing the woodland which surrounds the hide and provides a multitude of different environments for the local wildlife to thrive in.

Airstream Caravans


Another little hidden gem on the island, Helen and her husband have been running Vintage Vacations for a number of years in a quiet little field in the centre of the island offering a little taster of yester'year and the opportunity to stay in one of their immaculate Airstream aluminium caravans, or Land Yachts.

Talk about bright on a day like today, the sun glared off the perfectly polished body but as I walked inside a 1960's decor made me feel much more welcome...as did the swiss roll which we all munched by the plateful!


Triptracker GPS recording of our route around the Isle of Wight


Click on the link below to see exactly where we went on our little adventure.....




Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Some strange and wacky things from the past few weeks....

There's been a few little gems surfacing since the announcement was made, here are some of my favourites.



Have a look at this link from The Daily Mash - pure gold!

Have a listen to this...if you speak french or just like a good song! "Sur Ton Ile"

video

Off to the Isle of Wight today for a little adventure in the Colonel, should make for an interesting blog post in a few days time....

Ben

Friday, 22 May 2009

Warsaw and more.....

Yesterday was the end to an era, I finally left Turf Centre where I'd been working on and off ever since coming back from Afritrex at the beginning of the year. Thank you so much to George, Roy and Beverley for giving me the chance to earn a few pounds while I decided what to do with the rest of my life!

Exploring new places, that's what its all about, right!?? So when Anita from Dzien Dobry TV in Poland called at the start of the week to ask if I'd like to visit their studios in Warsaw I jumped at the chance.

Early starts every morning are the norm for me, I usually wake just before my alarm goes off at 05:30hrs and head to the swimming pool shortly after, but a flight out of Luton Airport at 08:10hrs meant a 4 o'clock start which was ridiculously early even for me.

Simple enough through the usual airport procedures, I just wish that the UK's airport officials would smile a little more - I know they're at work and I know its a serious job they're doing but come on people!

After limited sleep the night before I fell asleep as we cleared the coastline of the east of England and awoke with popping ears as our plane dropped the final few hundred metres towards the runway with another new country appearing to me through the clouds below and initial impressions were good; an organised, green landscape with small villages everywhere and as we approached the city confines light industrial units gave way to the more expected cityscape. I was about to land in Warsaw.

Swiftly through customs and passport control and into the arrivals area where Anita was waiting for me and whisked me away to the studio's car which whisked us, at the speed of light, into the city centre passing ugly high rise apartments overshadowing some of the more traditional older buildings which had survived WWII. Something like 90% of the city was flattened during the bitter struggle which shaped this part of the world 60 years ago resulting in a very new city but one which looks like it was rushed together, understandably to house the masses of course, but slowly new more attractive development seems to be replacing the architecture of the 60's and 70's....never a bad thing!

I checked into the Mercure Hotel, a very modern designer pad right in the centre of town and importantly only 5 minutes walk from where I have to be in the morning for the program! Free internet in the room too, excellent!


Time to explore....with map in hand, backpack on and a sense of adventure returning I hit the main street heading for the famous Palace of Culture and Science, a 30 storey feat of architecture built by the Russians between 1952 and 1955. Its the eighth tallest building in the EU and the tallest in Poland so I had to get to the top and after paying the Z30 shot to the top in one of the high speed lifts for an awesome view of the surrounding city and sights beyond. It offers incredible views of the surrounding city and allows you to see well past the River Wisla to the countryside beyond.

On the way into the tower I spotted three Land Rover's parked up in formation outside the building, all customised ready for an expedition, one even had a rooftent on top - I had to find out more! The guys were from a group called Podroze 4x4 and organise expeditions within Europe and are currently gathering recruits for an expedition to Yugoslavia in September, shame I won't even be in Europe by then otherwise I'd have joined them. We chatted for nearly an hour about my Afritrex expedition, the highs and lows, how are different vehicles were kitted out and exchanged business cards and the commitment that we'd keep in touch in case there could be a possible future expedition together somewhere down the line.


Plenty more to see in this city I thought with a few hours to go until sunset it was off again, following my nose feeling happy to have met some like-minded people and with a spring in my step I trundled through the main park filled with people on their way home from work on sunny Friday afternoon...for now.

On a couple of occasions I thought to myself 'time to head back to the hotel now Ben' but kept stomping, my inquisitive nature getting the better of me as I wound my way past statues, monuments and fountains eventually popping out in the old town - a how pleased I was to have kept going!

The rather drab prefab buildings had now given way to older, more architecturally inspiring delights all rising four floors from the street below and adding a new element to the city for me...history at last, I watched as tour groups filed past me; up to 50 people following the pointing purple hand the tour guide thrust towards the heavens in a vain attempt to grasp every one's attention and focus. I even thought about tagging on the end but decided against it in favour of a particularly quaint little restaurant nestled in the corner of the main square...just in time as the heavens were about to open too.


After a seriously good portion of pork ribs, sweet cabbage and roast potatoes I considered the route home...at least an hour's walk and the rain was really dropping out of the sky at quite a rate of knots which meant only one thing, getting seriously wet. I pitied the band who were assembling en masse in the square even more though...the start of what would probably end up a total wash-out!

Back at the hotel I stripped off, showered and pondered the thoughts of the day and the great city I'd just had such fun exploring, hit the sack just after midnight ready for the day ahead.

Usual story - body clock wakes me up before the electronic version and 20 minutes later breakfast arrives; a very Polish breakfast but good all the same, with rye bread, cornflakes and yoghurt - certainly enough to keep me going until lunch anyway.

The studio where TVN film the Saturday morning show was a simple five minute walk away and as I made my way into the room I was greeted by a bunch of yet more friendly English speakers making me feel very welcome with morning coffee, cereal and make-up, yuk.


Why do they have to make you appear quite so ghost like!?! It baffles me and even made me giggle silently as the lady applied a liberal coating of hair spray to my usual messy hair, the first time I'd had this on since dressing up for a school play I think. In the ad break the two hosts made their way over to me and introduced themselves, sat me down in the standard green-room sofa and then we were live, me chatting away to them understanding everything of their perfect English!

09:37hrs - my slot on national Polish TV. It drew ever closer and as it did I felt more confident about the new environment I'd been thrown into over the last few weeks, I strode up to the table I'd be filmed at and took my place in between the fake fruit and designer bowls ready for the stream of questions they'd be firing at me, 3...2....1 and we're off again.

Five minutes of good conversation and only one slip up from the host, I'm not living in Coventry, I was born there!! Excellent job all round and off set ten minutes later before being escorted downstairs to another interview with the internet side of TVP, this time a little longer and more in depth and I will stick a link up here once I get it from them I promise.

Its amazing to me that you can fly to the other side of Europe and back in 48hrs all for 20 minutes of interview, still that's the crazy world we live in.

Just about got to the airport in time to get my flight home after an extended lunch with Anita, the excellent host who'd been looking after me since I arrived, and once the thunderstorm which delayed our take-off by 30mins had passed I was off back to the UK.

Well done Poland, a really damn fine experience all round.



Thursday, 21 May 2009

Been away from my laptop for what seems like ages...

This really is the first time I've managed to put my fingers onto a keyboard to try and update you on whats been happening in the world of Ben every since I left the delights of Brisbane on May 12th! My heartfelt apologies and I'll try very briefly to summarise my movements ever since but firstly I do have to show you some of the amazing images Dave Biddulph, my dive buddy in the picture below I have my arm around, took whilst diving off Straddie Island.







On arrival back in the UK the BBC, who had been filming a documentary for the last 10 weeks all about the Best Job process, had an amazing suprise for me as they'd arranged for my girl Bre to be flown over from Canada to meet me at Heathrow and I was truly gobsmacked having not seen her for nearly 6 weeks. I was so good to hold her and excitedly tell her all about the last two weeks and what our future 6 months together potentially hold. We giggled like school children at the opportunities on offer....

The emails haven't stopped, friends from yesteryear are appearing out of the woodwork like there's an outbreak of some 'ihavetocommunicatewithyou' disease and generally I'm trying as hard as I can to fulfil all interview requests for the multitude of people around the planet who all want to know a little bit about how it all happened. Its been full on and I've tried really hard to keep all of the local requests as happy as possible, the radio and newspaper's who covered my Afritrex adventure so extensively whilst I was away during 2008.

Requests and sponsorship opportunities continue to come in and TQ are doing there best to sift through them to find the best and most brand-effective ones which I can utilise over the next few months....all very exciting really.

Will post some more after the weekend as I'm off to Poland tomorrow early to appear on Saturday morning TV.....

Have a great weekend :)

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Sunday 10th May 09

If you'd asked me a fortnight ago what exactly I'd like to be taking away from this whole experience I'd have told you having to opportunity to dive in the warm clear waters of Queensland to give me some sort of perspective after dropping below the surface in Cornwall, South West England a few weeks ago.

My great mate Dave Brown is a Dive Instructor at Porthkerris Divers and as a little refresher I experienced my first ever dip into the rather cold ten degree waters of the Atlantic Ocean but loved every second of it...12m of visibility, kelp beds, a plethora of life and my first chance to dive with a friend since Bre back in November.

Manta Lodge and Scuba Centre are based at Point Lookout on North Stradbroke Island, Dave collected me from the reception of my hotel at the ungodly hour of 06:15hrs - but the sunrise was incredible, the swell slight and the anticipation extremely high which got me out of bed as soon as the alarm went off!

On arrival at the centre we went through the safety procedures, collected my equipment and got to know my fellow divers who were mainly there to complete their PADI Open Water certification and were as excited as I was to be getting in the water. The tractor towed our RIB down to the beach and we after a simple surf launch we were out on the ocean finally!

Dave Bidduplh was to be my dive buddy, a funny little man who helped me get all of my kit on and eased me back into the routine of the correct procedures I needed to complete before heading into the stunning underwater world below the ever increasing swell. Then with a gentle splash I dropped in and was finally beneath the waterline, in went my regulator, out went my BCD air and down I dropped into the colourful world below...awesome!

Once I'd slowed my breathing, checked my buoyancy and left the group of other divers, Dave and I headed out around Flat Rock to investigate its surroundings and I wasn't disappointed. A Hawksbill Turtle launched itself off the ocean floor in front of me gracefully powering itself off into the clear warm water, thousands of bait fish swirled around my head and the multitude of corals and weird little creatures were everywhere, fantastic!

As we started to near the end of the dive a big shoal of Barracuda cruised towards us from a distance and only 5m away split down the centre and swam at speed past our heads - totally incredible and another first.

Once back on the boat with all my kit off I thought to myself how lucky I am just to have experienced this part of the day with still another dive to come.....and six months of huge adventure still ahead. WOW.

The ever increasing ocean swell resulted on four of my fellow divers turning a little green and they generously contributed to the fishes breakfast over the side of the RIB, so Tim our skipper turned the boat and powered it to Shag Rock; a more protected dive site inland of our current position. That should sort it out and after a superb 10 minute skim across the surface we arrived.

Keeping in accordance with our dive tables meant we'd have to wait on the surface before descending again, we fed on soup and snake sweets and joked together about the usual Pom v Aussie rivalry...this is going to be fun again after my South African ten years of getting used to it!

Shag Rock is a much shallower dive with depths up to 12m and the increased chance of seeing some rays and yet more turtles in the clearer visibility which was somewhere around the 15m mark. Safety checks completed Dave and I again headed into the watery world which was sploshing around us.

This was the best dive I've ever done for a number of reasons; its dive number ten for me and I felt totally comfortable with everything - equipment, buddy, breathing, the environment etc and enjoyed every second of it!! Dave took his professional underwater camera down this time and snapped away throughout the dive and I hope to have the images up on this blog and also www.afritrex.com as soon as I receive them!

Yet more turtles, wobbegong's (a beautifully ugly carpet shark which rests on the seabed), thousands of bait fish and stunning coloured worms and corals all littering the rocks and surroundings making it truly the most enjoyable dive yet. No sharks still for me, no rays or whales but they will come - this for now was good enough, I can't have too many emotions at once or I'll pop!


Back on dry land I said my thanks yous exchanged email addresses and met Sharon who was there to whip me away back to the hotel in time for a filling lunch at Look Cafe Bar just down the road.

The generosity of people here is almost overwhelming, John Henson the owner had been kind enough to give me a bottle of complimentary bubbly on the table and we enjoyed a yummy portion of Barramundi for lunch - good to be eating fish now and not looking at them. Everything in moderation of course.

Then before I knew it we had to go, the Big Red Cat wouldn't wait for us and we filled the car with our belongings and drove the short distance across the island to the slipway and sat in line with the other weekend fun-seekers. What a total blast I've had.

I can leave Australia this time around happy and content that I've done what I intended to do - get another dive in!!

Saturday 9th May 09

We headed back to Brisbane yesterday after saying goodbye to my fellow islanders, the remaining TQ staff and Hamilton Island for the meantime, checked back into the Stamford Plaza overnight and awoke to a magnificent sunrise after my first good nights sleep in around a week!

Today symbolises the start of two days of rest and recuperation after the brilliant madness during the last week of controlled chaos. I grabbed some breakfast in the room whilst desperately trying to find time to get this blog up to date to let all of you know just what’s been going on….I have to keep you in the picture!

Sharon Raguse was awaiting my arrival in reception, these TQ staff are on time you know, we did the formalities, checked a couple of my bags in as the sheer amount of gear I’ve picked up over the last few days has meant trying to haul around far too much excess baggage, and headed in the car out of the city – my first experience of rural Aus!

I’m loving the buildings, the space of each plot, the uniqueness of each house and the cleanliness of the roads – no wonder so many people move out here! We arrived at Cleveland and had a couple of photographers to satisfy before jumping on the Big Red Cat which would whisk us across to North Stradbroke Island or Straddie as its affectionately known to the locals.


Driving on board we quickly found a comfy seat and grabbed a choco milk as one of the staff came up and asked if I’d like to head up to the bridge to see the view – of course I said and raced up the stairs! Mick the captain even let me drive the massive beast as we turned out of the main channel and headed across the gorgeous blue water passing mangroves and jumping fish, amazing!

As we pulled onto the slipway I said my thank yous and we drove the short distance to the Stradbroke Hotel through stunning gum tree lined roads and finally past the all important WARNING KANGAROOS sign which I’d been waiting for – a true icon.

Another friendly person welcomed us into the reception and gave me the keys to the apartment I’d be staying in overnight…plus there’s a cheese selection in the room as an appetiser! Amazing service.

This has to be one of the biggest WOW’s yet…what a superb place, three double bedrooms, two bathrooms and a balcony overlooking the ocean with BBQ and open plan kitchen and living area – fit for ten people at least!







The superb tailor made schedule which TQ has put together for me over the next two days gives me the chance to enjoy the quiet away from the flashlights of the cameras and it started off exactly as I hoped it would...with another 4x4 adventure!

'Barefoot Dave' was there to meet me at reception and we climbed onboard his Toyota Landcruiser and set off around the island, along the beaches, through the bush and over the huge sand hills with Dave telling me stories the entire time about the flora, fauna and vehicles the whole way. What a great afternoon of adventure!



Once we arrived back at the Stradbroke Hotel I freshened up and Sharon drove me up to the Amis Restaurant for dinner with chef/owner Peter conjuring up the most incredible delights for both of us...no choosing off the menu here, this was all about allowing him to serve us whatever he wanted - and he didn't fail to deliver; kangaroo, scallops, prawns, duck and then a range of exquisite deserts! I left feeling rather stuffed but extremely honoured to have had such a superb range of delights!

Tuesday May 5th 2009

On a day like today when the heavens open you need some total self indulgence …and that’s what I got!

There’s no messing in the world of TQ, out of the hotel, down to the harbour and onto Voyager, another luxury motor launch. Cranking up the power as we left the marina the 2000hp engines
roared into life, lifting the bow of our beast out of the clear blue sea and onwards towards Daydream Island only 30 minutes away….

Arriving at the resort we had some hungry mouths awaiting, not our own for once…a pool of stingrays and sharks tame enough to feed by hand! Loaded with prawns I dipped my hand in allowing Pancake the Stingray to take a mouthful as I petted the top of his head leaving George the Cod looking on jealously – your turn will come! My nephews would love it here!

With the rain hammering down I headed to the luxury surroundings of Daydream Rejuvenation Spa to be pampered and preened into a state of relaxed nirvana by the highly trained staff.

Stripping down to the bare essentials I indulged in a ‘Daydream Delight’ – a sensory journey including an exquisite exfoliating salt glow and scalp massage releasing all muscle fatigue and stress and relaxing me like never before!

YOU REALLY HAVE TO TRY THIS, IT ROCKS!

Having cameras in my face 24/7 is an experience so we turned the tables on the journalists subjecting them to a little of their own medicine…see how you like that guys!

My legs barely working I staggered downstairs to Mermaids Restaurant to be greeted by a banquet of Aussie delights – rare moist beef, succulent lamb chops, humongous prawns, fresh oysters, lobster and a plethora of salads to boot, a feast good enough for Atlantis himself.


Another whirlwind tour of an incredible island and one that needs another visit sometime soon, thank you TQ!!

Wednesday May 6th 2009

Never normally one to suffer from nerves I awoke with a strange feeling in my head and body…there were only two hours to go until the final 20 minute interview with the selection panel and I was starting to feel it, yikes!!

Ok get into some sort of routine here Ben…down to the pool for a few lengths to get the blood pumping, that should sort it out. And so it did…for at least 20 mintues!

As I started the walk to the interview room my legs almost turned to slow motion as I closed in on the door and the interrogation I was about to receive…what a pleasant relief though as I entered the room to a casual sofa, sunny balcony and a smiling row of judges – no bright lights in my face here at all.

We chatted away for what seemed like literally three minutes and then it was over…all of that fuss and worry for really nothing at all, a total relief and as I left the room I suddenly felt 30cms taller – the weight of the world was off my shoulders with nothing further I could do to better my application for the position now. It was out of my hands.

Time to totally relax for the first time in a few days, Ben H from France and I headed to the beach for a swim away from the media and prying eyes and really the first opportunity to enjoy the warm waters of the Coral Sea, we swam, snorkelled and kayaked around soaking up the sunrays and atmosphere of it all – whatever happens now its been an amazing adventure and something I’ll never forget!

The Outrigger Centre 15:00hrs – The Big Decision

Nerves were everywhere, people looked worried, last minute concerned were talked about and we were even briefed on how to greet the first lady of Queensland, The Premiere Anna Bligh – ‘Premiere’ and nothing else!

As the 16 of us filed out onto the stage area we entered a room the likes of which I’d only seen at some of the largest sporting events in the world – and it was all about this the biggest decision of our lives!

It all started simply enough, the pre-arranged questions which each of us had to answer as Anthony Hayes came to us went by without issues and then Anna…sorry the Premiere, took the microphone to start the speech which would change my life.

“…..and the new Island Caretaker, from the United Kingdom, Ben Southall!!!”

TOTAL UTTER DISBELIEF AND AMAZEMENT WAS ALL THAT FOLLOWED!!

I walked to the centre of the stage and was mobbed by the other 15 finalists all very genuinely offering their thanks and tightest hugs imaginable which only added to the wobbly feeling my knees had in them, once the applause had died down from the 200 gathered pubic, media and TQ staff I took the microphone from the Premiere and prepared myself to address the entire planet about my new life!

I’ve always shied away from public speaking but will also reluctantly do it if pushed and this was one of those occasions…time to show them all why you’ve been chosen Ben.

With the initial thank-you’s out of the way I turned to my fellow finalists and thanked them all still rather blown away by the decision and the fact that I was now experiencing the start of an amazing journey together with 8hrs of interviews with news and media from around the world.

I lost count after I’d spoken to the tenth camera crew and interviewer as to quite how many feeds were being beamed across the world to channels and shows all following this the greatest PR stunt the world has ever seen….CNN, FOX, BBC, Reuters, Time magazine, CTV, The Times, Channel 7, 8, 9 & 10 they were everywhere and the more it went on the better it felt as my responses became more practised and the adrenaline was replaced by satisfaction and pure smiles. My cheeks were starting to feel it….stop smiling all the time Ben!

Once we’d cleared the final live feed, sometime around 21:00hrs I raced back to my room changed into something a little smarter and more presentable than the standard Best Job in the World t-shirt and made a beeline for the huge party that TQ were throwing in the Toucan Tango bar with all of my fellow finalists, supporters and all the others celebrating the end to an amazing four month adventure.

The music was pumping, the food was mouth watering and the drink was flowing for everyone except me….too many interviews still to do tonight you know, until I was ushered out of the function room and back to face the next of the feeds as America was just about waking up and needed to know all about the new Caretaker apparently.

I finally hit the hay around 23:30hrs and struggled to get to sleep as the adrenaline was still pumping around my body from the total excitement of the day.

I took the time to call Bre, away from the cameras, to let her know quite what the next few months involved and how I couldn’t wait to be back with her again so much sooner than expected. The unhappiness of not knowing when that would be had been replaced by the joy of a new job, and date to work towards. We are going to have such an adventure together!

The world of crazy coverage didn’t stop there though, before I knew it my alarm was ringing and it was suddenly 05:30hrs, time to get back down to the media centre for the next of the interviews…BBC World Service, BBC 4, BBC Solent, local radio in Aus, radio in Columbia, Malaysian TV, CNN again, the list went on and on! And then at 08:30hrs a break and the moment I’d been waiting for…time to get the keys to my new house – The Blue Pearl!! WAHOOOOO

Sitting down in the golf buggy with Ems driving we headed to the house I’d looked around just over three days ago but this time there were no other finalists there – just me and the world’s press again. I walked through the doors and suddenly the place seemed huge, in fact so big I’m scared I’ll loose Bre down one and of the house and not be able to find her!

Plenty more photos followed and then my first chance to dip into the spa to test the water and carry out my first task as Island Caretaker – cleaning the leaves out of the pool! This is the best spa I’ve ever been in, it has a lap pool built into it so put the motors on and it turns into a current machine which you can swim against as exercise – totally awesome!

Walking around the house there’s so much here, huge sofas, three double bedrooms, spa bath, state of the art media centre, fridge with cold water and ice (I’ve always wanted one of them!) and of course a view to die for over the Coral Sea. Thank you TQ so much from the bottom of my heart.


Our day continues....

Just as quickly as it all started it was almost over, the current of the outgoing tide pulling me swiftly towards the Reefworld platform where I grabbed my camera and slipped back in for just another few minutes in the underwater paradise clicking away at as much as I could. Before I knew it the call was coming to get back on dry land and it was over….for today anyway.

Being treated as well as we are by TQ on this little adventure, a water departure was on the cards - but in a very different capacity to our arrival. An awaiting seaplane was moored just offshore and as we boarded the anticipation grew once more….another unique experience was about to commence.

The sound of the engine firing gradually built the speed of the plane until we were finally hoisted clear of the ocean and into the blue sky above. After a brief taxi we awaited the arrival of the other seaplane and two escorting helicopters by flying out over Heart Reef (a location made famous by TQ in their promotional material) then we joined into a perfect formation and headed towards Hayman Island, the location of our next incredible experience.

It’s only when you climb up into the sky the sheer vastness of the Great Barrier Reef becomes apparent, I’d been lucky enough to experience a tiny part of this 2300km long ecosystem and can only start to imagine what the rest has to offer. The length of it means it passes through 3ยบ of latitude giving a totally different environment along its length…I will have to return to see more sometime very soon.
We splashed down in the waters outside the luxury five star resort that is Hayman Island and our pilot from Air Whitsunday skillfully taxied the seaplane into the harbour and then very surprisingly up the slipway to the car park area where we awaited the arrival of the other plane. Incredible flying/driving there Sir!

We were greeted by the staff and management of the Hayman Resort and for the second time that day my jaw dropped to the ground as the opulent luxury of the place hit me. Perfectly manicured lawns, crystal clear waters of the largest pool in Queensland and the backdrop of another stunning beach…can’t you Aussies learn to share a little more and give us some in the UK?

By now our hunger levels had raised to insatiable and the arrival of varied foods from around the world representing the nationalities of the countries the final candidates, couldn’t have arrived quickly enough. The intricate detail, quality and varied flavours of what we were presented with gave an insight into quite how well you would be treated if you were lucky enough to book a stay here! Crab noodles, Barramundi, Sushi and Maple Syrup ice cream to finish off were enough to satisfy even the largest of appetites!

Before we had a chance to gather our thoughts we were off again, using the obligatory golf carts which are such fun, we headed down to our arrival area and this time boarded another new means of transport…the good ship Sun Goddess, a luxury motor launch.

The friendly staff welcomed us onboard, offered us yet more exotic food and drinks and ushered us into yet more luxurious surroundings! A trip to the top deck was exhilarating enough as the salt air swept through my hair and the media interviews continued unabated. A chance to gather my thoughts on the day came as I retreated to the downstairs hospitality area and sat on the comfiest chair I’d found all day. What a pleasure!

We pulled into the dock at Airport Harbour back on Hamilton Island, our departure point a few hours earlier having experienced the most fantastic day of my Australian adventure. If tomorrow is even half as good as today I will return to the UK a very happy man and a perfect ambassador for the Great Barrier Reef!!