This is a guest post.

Almost every purchase we make forces us to choose between convenience and doing the right thing – for animals, ourselves and future generations. If you’ve lost makeup while travelling or just forgot to replenish and found yourself in a hurry, you can almost guarantee to find cruelty-free, environmentally friendly makeup will be tougher than dropping the cheaper, and far less ethical, alternative in your basket. 

Maybe you’re lucky enough to find cosmetics that aren’t just packaged to look cruelty-free – they actually have the certifications to back up them up. Then you spot that it’s surrounded by non-recyclable packaging; you might have saved animals from the laboratory, but not necessarily conserved the environment for them to return to.

There’s no doubt that making ethical purchasing decisions can be downright inconvenient. But the more of us who buy right, the more pressure will be applied to companies to do the right thing too. More than a third of women</a> may be insisting on purchasing cruelty-free cosmetics right now. Theirs and our choices will already be applying pressure on cosmetics companies to change their practices, and prioritise using the more than 50 safe, cruelty-free testing alternatives to put their products on shelves.  As if that wasn’t motivation enough, making ethical choices right now has real health benefits for you too – here’s why.

It can improve your mental health 

Speak to any mental health professional or wellness expert and I can guarantee they will agree on at least one thing: our everyday decisions, even the ones we don’t think about, have a bigger impact on our mental health and wellbeing that we probably realise. 

If you’ve meant to decrease your meat consumption or switch exclusively to cruelty-free beauty but haven’t got around to it yet, how fulfilled, satisfied or excited do you imagine you would feel if you made the change today? 

The link between your mental and physical health is both well documented and profound – and you don’t need to be experiencing mental illness to improve your mental wellbeing. Just like your diet and cardiovascular health, your mind can always be healthier – and making more ethical choices could make a big difference to your happiness and self-esteem. 

It can stop your skin absorbing concerning additives

Buying from companies that are good for animals is often better for you too. Manufacturers rely on additives and chemicals they think require animal testing because it makes bringing products to market faster, and therefore cheaper. Choosing products that don’t contain these ingredients won’t only push corporations to adopt a cruelty-free approach – it will keep nasties out of your skin.

Here’s just one example. Parabens are the most common preservative you can find in beauty products – and they wouldn’t have been used as widely without animal testing. Despite parabens not causing immediate problems like rashes or skin irritation in most people, there is genuine concern about a potential link between products containing parabens and breast cancer.

Ethical brands are less likely to contain concerning ingredients like parabens – and cut out the number of chemicals we’re putting in our bodies.

It can create a better, safer world around you

Purchasing more cruelty-free products will force companies to innovate more with natural ingredients available to them, not exclusively, but certainly more. And that will create a cleaner world around you – and better health for all of us.

If cosmetic industries were forced to include more natural ingredients like almond butter and coconut oil – and these two alone have dozens of amazing properties between them – then environmentally harmful factories and laboratories would close, and planet-improving agriculture would increase. That would mean cleaner air to breathe and safer water to drink, across the world.

Some people when they’re turning 50, climb Mt Everest. Me? I’ll be lucky to climb out of bed. We’ve all been there, that 4.45am wakeup, a deep grumbling of anxiety churning through us in waves. I used to worry about things that were happening a week from now, until the list of things that I worried about grew so long, I had no choice but to take things one day at a time. Which has worked out well really, because living in the moment is about all I can deal with.

I have lines, I’m chubby (sounds cuter than it looks) and my hair is greying. I haven’t had it coloured for over a year because there’s a part of me trying to embrace aging gracefully. Plus, I cannot bear the affront on my youth when they pull out the colour chart and try to match my layers to a drab tone of sepia. My wild russet auburn hair had been my trademark for years before it slowly turned blonde, or grey or just dull. And I can’t find anything graceful either about the onset of menopause staging an all-out attack; ghost period pains, phantom cramping, palpitations, flushes and indigestion. Am I what you call a hot-mess? 

Along with fine lines and scars of the heart, vulnerability is something that’s crept up on me too. Far from the years wearing next to nothing in the middle of winter, immune to both the cold and criticism, there’s been too many days where I’ve felt the ground shift and the earth sink away. On some days I don’t know where to place my feet or in which direction they should tread and what seem like easy steps for other to take, feel like icebreaker ships to me. My mid-life crisis has been more of a crisis in faith, in humanity, in myself. 

I’ve been judged, had abuse hurled at me and misunderstood like nobody’s business. Well, it really is nobody’s business, but what hurts more is being ignored by people who I thought mattered. People may know of an action we take, but with their most imaginative thinking caps on sitting in a google inspired think tank, could never conceive of the reasons that drive us there. The blade of the daggers have been no less sharp just because they’re being thrown from the sidelines. If the litany would have been heard, maybe the tide would have turned and I might have had a sea of support, not a tidal wave of obtuse, ill-informed judgments. Maybe everybody’s just chasing headlines.

So, I dabbled in some feel-good cosmic energy boosters to even things out. I found an Aveda calming spray meant to pacify my chakras. Day one, squirts in eye. The calming aps on my phone worked only until I turned them off or fell asleep. I ran through a morning routine of self-talk, packing into my daily affirmations a wish list including year-long holidays and weekly lotto wins. I even attended a 2 day happiness conference. Yes, an entire corporate event with “happiness and its causes” front and centre. I soon worked out it was a kindred gathering of other women turning 50, collectively trying to handle anxiety, too much chocolate and cramps. It was enlightening though and I loved the energy in the room. Turns out that happiness is just the in between bits of everybody’s anxiety and trauma. But we might be onto something if we can learn to be less unhappy. 

As a mum, I hear myself telling my son stories of when I was a kid, comparing the cataclysmic differences that defined my younger years. I’ve started to tell him about the road trips we took as kids. If the absence of a screen wasn’t bombshell enough wait ‘til I tell him about the time we went for a day trip bushwalking…in the bush without swings and slides, treats and hot chocolate.

Instead we thumbed the leaves, dragged sticks through the mud to make tracks and entertained ourselves with made-up singalongs. I don’t recall once ever being bored but I do remember the fresh smell of tea tree and eucalypt that filled the bush air. The real jolt came when I told him that that as kids, staying at our Grandmother’s beach shack, going to the loo in the night meant we peed in a pot that slid under the bed. It was the late 70’s. No, not the 1870’s, but like much that characterised my childhood, feels like a world ago.

Apart from that and the fact that all of sudden my mother’s advice makes sense, there are other reminders that I’m edging towards turning 50. I was in a hip Asian restaurant the other night but for the noodles tossing in the open kitchen, our table could have been plonked in the centre of a dance floor. Beautiful atmosphere, but I could hardly hear myself order and they must have thought I’d asked for a shot of merlot not a glass. But I’m grateful they took our order at all, rather than us surfing a menu tablet sitting on the table. I’m still not sure why everything but the rice could be doggie bagged, something about a health risk. What was left made it to a plastic container (thumbs down) but I didn’t have to pay extra for it (thumbs up).

Tolerance builds with age. The snappy energy you have as a thirty-something year old slowly mellows. As you fall in and out of so many experiences, it finally sinks in that we’re all mostly dealing with the same stuff and playing on the same side is a far gentler way to live. Except that I have so much less tolerance with everything, from big egos to small talk. That makes getting older something to leap towards, finding the emotional and metal clarity that stops you tripping over your own emotional baggage. Though the stakes are higher and there’s more to worry about, the little threads of self-assuredness you gather along the way help build a safety net.

I still feel like the sands are shifting, I can’t predict what next year or even next week might look like. Heck, at this rate I don’t even know what I’ll look like next. I grabbed a tea after the morning school run yesterday, and in an effort to make small talk the server asked if I was on my way home from night shift. And here I was feeling refreshed! No response could have been a better measure than my outburst of laughter.  If there’s one theme that’s woven its way through everything so far, it’s the ability to find, grasp and hold on to a sense of humour and a good dose of positivity. 

Life seems to come in a series of episodes, maybe that’s why Netflix is so popular. As each new episode plays out, I often feel that in many ways the previous one hasn’t taught me much at all; I seem ill-equipped to handle the latest emotional ambush and I have no more mindfulness techniques than I ever did to stop me from slipping. I’m no Sasha Fierce, but I do know this, I get through. The slight tattoo I saw imprinted on a colleague’s wrist the other day that read “this too shall pass” is the only flag I know how to wave, but maybe that’s enough.

There’s a lot we pick up on the way in addition to the years and experiences; important things like self-worth, self-love, self-acceptance and of course love itself. I understand now what it all means. I get that when you judge you become part of the story that tears someone down and that’s not a nice place to be. I think I finally understand why the things that matter most are the people we love and how much our everyday wellness, in every sense, is key. I get why authenticity and belief in yourself is enough and how the practice of gratitude gives you more. I know that there is always so much to be thankful for.

And though turning 50 was far more complicated than I thought, it turned out to be quite a simple mantra in the end; cut the bullshit, don’t let anything scare you, honour your heart, put yourself first and love in abundance! At 20 I would have thought these words were nonsense, at 30 I would have thought them selfish, at 40, a few randomly inspired wordporn quotes but now maybe, just maybe, they’re the words that will carry me the rest of the way there…

Explore Port Douglas

Plonked right on the coastline of the Coral Sea in Far North Queensland, the town of Port Douglas is nestled between the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest, creating a perfect spot for your tropical adventure. About an hour’s drive north of Cairns, Port Douglas offers a backyard for some of the world’s best-loved stretches of coastline and hinterland all in one. And though it might be an adventure packed playground for some, for others, the town is a laid back natural wonderland and vacay spot that travellers everywhere have come to seek out. 

Locals refer to Port Douglas simply as Port, and like the gentle hint of its after-dinner namesake, this breezy township along Queensland’s tropical coast is a welcome holiday escape. It splashed its way into travel brochures in the mid 80’s when flashy businessman, Christopher Skase developed The Sheraton Mirage, stamping Port Douglas as Australia’s upmarket resort getaway. It’s now home to three major resorts that back the beach, together with golf courses and a marina. Though some of the gloss has since worn off, the influx of eco-lovers has helped Port Douglas settle down into a relaxed township and gateway to Australia’s famed natural wonders.

Here’s your best ways to explore Port Douglas.

4 miles, a million adventures

Four mile beach

Curving south of the town centre, the stretch of sand and the uninterrupted ocean views make 4-mile beach the drawcard of Port Douglas, even if it is 4 kilometers not miles. Pressed alongside the township at the northern end of the beach is the Port Douglas Surf Life Saving Club where the broad views are surprisingly natural and unencumbered. Pristine waters and bleached fine sand are home to sun seekers everywhere. Whether you’re keen to explore the nature trails or simply lay a picnic blanket on the grassy bluffs to watch the world go by, it’s barefoot luxury at its best!

Daintree Days

Covering around 1,200 square kilometres, the Daintree is a part of the largest continuous area of tropical rainforest in Australia. It’s UNESCO World Heritage listed so there’s plenty of day tours to choose from to explore its beckoning wilderness. The trees sing with the chatter of birds and the flitting of rainbow butterflies creates a rich ecosystem that soars from ancient roots into a deep blue sky. Day tours take in the renowned Mossman Gorge, with an easy guided walk and optional cruise along the Daintree river. The boat cuts through the mangroves and abundant river life, sailing towards a gently setting sun.

Train Whistler

Karunda Train

The old world charm of a scenic train journey blends beautifully with the placid pace of rainforest and village life. The Kuranda Train & Scenic Railway is an unforgettable 1 hour and 45 minute journey. Winding its way at 300 metres above sea level it rides along the mountainous range from Cairns City to Barron Gorge and the whimsical village of Kuranda. Full of old world character, the Kuranda Scenic Railway captures the pioneering spirit of early Australia.

Reef side

From Cairns, the Great Barrier Reef Drive heading north to Cape Tribulation is a few hours of magnificent road trip beauty, with the Wet Tropics Rainforest on one side and the reef on the other; at times the way the road hugs the coast it’s as if you could wind down the window and let your fingers dip in the cool water. Other than dive head first into its depths, there are plenty of ways to appreciate the Great Barrier Reef. To really experience its vastness, day cruises, luxury sailing or chopper ride are always on hand. 

Port Douglas Marina

The underwater coral gardens are a silent wonderland and with subs and wall to wall viewing on day cruises, there’s nothing you can’t experience up close. Tour operators have become savvy enough to genuinely cater for everybody. You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to boat hires, snorkeling and diving tours, each one taking you on an underwater journey that is truly sublime. Through the glass you’ll see turquoise and lime colored corals, little nemo and angel fish darting around curiously and maybe even a reef shark.

Adventures are not reserved for the young. The real adventure holiday is about that of the spirit, where we gather reflective experiences that connect us to our world. For the true adventure seeker, the northern tip of tropical Queensland is an abundant playground. Twilight beach walks, lazy days poolside or journeying by train or river cruise through the age-old rainforest lets you explore Port Douglas at the gentle pace of a tropical holiday.

Discover more of Queensland’s tropical escapes on Fitzroy Island.

While many international travellers head to Australia for the dusty orange desert drives, or the frothy waves of its signature surf spots, it’s also a nation famous for taking its coffee very seriously. Everyone’s new favourite coffee, The Flat White, originated from Down Under, and you can be sure to find a hipster coffee connoisseur on many a street corner. The Secret Traveller at 1 Cover has hailed pretty much every Australian as a coffee snob, but where is it that locals find the perfect brew? If you’re travelling around New South Wales, then we’ve got you covered. Here is our hand-picked selection of the best coffee shops.

Photo by Catarina Sousa from Pexels


Reuben Hills – This quaint coffee spot in Surry Hills serves a delicious brew, not least because of the shop’s unique relationship with their growers. Their owner Russell Beard has scoured the world for the best beans to serve up in his shop, so that every cup made up is rich with international flavours. Specialising in Central and South American brews, they host ‘cupping’ sessions every Saturday at 10am.

Brewtown Surry Hills– Another popular spot in the Surry Hills area, Brewtown offers a selection of African and guest coffee beans, as well as a neat but well-chosen wine list. The few tables in this spot make it a sought-after place, but if you can squeeze in then be sure to pair a cup of coffee with one of their delectable baked goods.

Sample Coffee St Peters– This suave warehouse space in the south of the city offers the rare occurrence of coffee roasted in-house. The smell of this place will blow your mind, and the atmosphere will make you feel at ease while you enjoy your caffeine fix. Pair your drink with something from their unique seasonal menu, which changes every two weeks to ensure it’s always up-to-date.


Bun Coffee, Byron Bay– After going for a surf, be sure to head to Bun Coffee. They provide a selection of international and Australian coffee beans, and after 14 years of practising their own secret recipe, you can be assured this will be the perfect post-surf refuel. 

Cassiopeia Coffee, Blue Mountains– There is nowhere more idyllic than the Blue Mountains, and the perfect place to watch the world go by in this great destination is Cassiopeia. Just a few minutes from the Three Sisters, these guys roast their coffee in house to ensure it is of the highest quality. They’ve got a few shops in The Blue Mountains National Park and surrounding areas, including Windsor and Springwood.

This is a guest post. For more on getting out and about in Sydney, discover the perfect weekend here!

High on Hunter

Hunter Valley balloon flight

The golden hour

Hunter Valley balloon flight

When the tour guide assembled us all for our Hunter Valley Balloon Flight and said no chit-chat on board, for a moment my curiosity was sparked even more; would it be too loud, too shaky, too windy to hear? But half an hour aloft and riding effortlessly across the breeze I understood why; taken in by the expansive Hunter Valley skyline and gentleness of hot air ballooning, there is simply little to say. Except perhaps “excuse me” to the passenger across from you, so you too can click the ultimate landscape shot or selfie. Against a backdrop of balloons bobbing on a crest of wind, who wouldn’t be clambering for the best photo-op. With a swag of happy adventurers soaking up the experience, it was best appreciated in silence.

Catching the breeze

There are plenty of cheesy words though to describe the serenity and exhilaration of ballooning, but the thrill of the flight is best felt in the quietness that comes from breathing in the air at 3,000 feet. Strands of mist lay carpeted through the valley, settling like thin clouds on the floor below. Weaving beneath and through the Eucalypts, rising just enough to let the light in.

To one side, facing into the sun, four or five balloons yo-yoed in the pale orange light. On the other, a clear blue sky stretching to the horizon with familiar towns, like small blocks, packed neatly below. Farmyards and empty paddocks, vineyards lined with clusters of trees, thin charcoal roads bending over the hills, and us, taking it all in. Sometimes the balloon dips so low, you feel you could touch the tree tops.


Sunrises, for all the effort they take to see, never fail to reward. And ballooning at dawn takes some effort. The convoy of tourist vans, loaded trailers and balloon baskets peel into the assembly point. The crew busily check the weather conditions and agree on the field of departure. A weather balloon is released and when it’s course is chartered, the trucks and trailers scatter in response and it’s all go. I don’t know that I’d given any thought to how big a hot air balloon might be: certainly not  from the ground while its being inflated.

I’m sure I’d never thought about what a 55,000 cubic litres of air, 30 metre high balloon of colourful nylon might look like, as the hot blasts of propane give it shape. Now I know, the scale is overwhelming. Standing in the middle of a field where 6 or 8 balloons are being inflated is like a dress rehearsal for an opening night show. Bolts of bright fabric twisting and turning as the air shoots in, crew with ropes and trailers and an audience, like paparazzi, clicking every moment. Curtains raised, balloons aloft!

Hot air balloon Hunter Valley

Time to fly

There are plenty of times throughout the year to enjoy the experience of a Hunter Valley Ballon Flight; September to November when the wild flowers are in bloom, February to April with cooler breezes and low lying mist and some say that the even winter sunrises are still spectacular. Pokolbin in the Hunter is 2.5 hours north of Sydney and heart of wine country, with over 150 vineyards spread across the regions countryside. Thanks to the wonderful crew at Balloon Aloft for a truly memorable morning.

How to reach the Hunter Valley from Sydney, see here.

Like to read more about exploring the Hunter Valley? Check out our Tour Guide Tips here.

Hunter Valley balloon flight
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