Australia travel during COVID-19: I banned myself from overseas travel in favour of micro-cations

Before coronavirus was even a thought in our heads, I put myself on an overseas travel ban, one that so far has lasted one year, one month and 10 days (but who's counting?). 

Why? Well, I divide the blame equally between Greta Thunberg and global activists Extinction Rebellion, the skinny polar bears I observed on my last assignment to the Arctic (my guides told me weren't getting the fat they need due to climate change), and the wildfires burning in the Amazon and Australia over the last year. 

These factors have formed a heavy stone of guilt in my belly, one that has left me questioning the effect the 20-odd tonnes of carbon I've burnt each year just on international flights are having on our stressed planet. 

What I recognised, though, was that I'd still need to find a way to work adventure into my life, not only to continue paying my bills as a travel writer, but also to avoid getting horribly depressed. Travelling for me, as for so many of us, is the air that I breathe. 

And so I take the odd "micro-cation" (silly name, excellent concept), driving a few hours from home to beaches or forests or cities to get the reset and adventure hit I need.

Which is how I find myself in a bathtub set into the deck of off-grid Heartwood Cabin, just a 30-minute drive from our Byron Bay home. An hour earlier, my husband and I had closed the door on our lives and our dog, knowing we can easily pop back to feed and walk her while avoiding the passport checking and packing required for long-haul travel. 

We wind along forest-lined roads to the tiny hinterland town of Burringbar. There, at the top of a dirt track on the side of a hill, we find Heartwood, a striking, charcoal-toned cabin that presides temple-like over 40 hectares of bushland. After investigating the honey-coloured timber-clad interiors – the kitchenette and sitting room with its wood-burning stove, the bathroom and bedroom, which have open ends drifting out onto the huge verandah – I get to work on the bath.

I spend the afternoon plunging in and out of it, lazing and reading on the shaded daybed. We start jotting down ideas for a Heartwood-inspired home, and decide we cannot live anywhere that isn't run on solar power and tank water, and isn't built from Australian blackbutt timber. At some point we manage to get dinner cooked and eat it while watching the apricot sunset, then stargaze on the deck to the soundtrack of frogs in the waterhole below.

The next morning, after a bushwalk through the property during which we see tree trunks scratched with the claw marks of koalas, we drive to nearby Wooyung Beach for a swim. 

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Our plans fade away. We want to use vouchers for an infrared sauna session in nearby Pottsville, but don't. We're dying to have lunch at Pipit, the hottest new restaurant in the Byron Shire, run by a Noma alum, but don't. To check out the antiques at Heaths Old Wares and visit a Tweed Valley cheese factory – but don't.

Instead, we spend a disproportionate amount of time looking at the silvery gums surrounding us and the resident kookaburras. We nap and talk and let ourselves ooze into that glorious full-body relaxation that really only comes on the best holidays.

By the time we close the door on Heartwood after 48 hours, we're convinced that these mini-breaks, or micro-cations, will help all of us become less harmful travellers. No house-sitters required.

Nina Karnikowski stayed as a guest of Heartwood Cabin.

This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale September 20.

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