Leisa Davis, award-winning travel consultant and owner/manager of Helloworld Travel in Biloela, shares her Christmas adventures, memories and plans with us.
By Jen Gourley
When it comes to Christmas activities, watching a little lion romance is not the first thing that springs to mind. But for Leisa Davis, owner and manager of Helloworld Travel in Biloela, that’s just what she experienced one festive season. As well as her amazing animal encounter, Leisa also discovered that the spirit of Christmas exists in the most unlikely of places.
On December 28, 2014, Leisa flew to Johannesburg in South Africa, staying overnight at an airport hotel.
“We’re all part of the same world, but you don’t necessarily think about Christmas being such a big issue over there,” Leisa said. “At the airport hotel there was actually a whole garden lit up with lights and the path at this airport hotel was beautiful.
“The next day we flew up to Zimbabwe, and flights got cancelled and delayed. So, we ended up having to overnight at this dodgy crossing hotel halfway, but then the next day (that was about the 30th of December by then) there was game viewing for two hours through to Hwange National Park. It was amazing. Then we got there and even though you’re in the middle of nowhere, these tents appear. There’s a communal dining area and they had the most beautiful handmade wooden Christmas decorations. You’re in the middle of nowhere and there’s this wooden Christmas tree and things. It was just so simple but relevant, and made you realise how Christmas is such a widespread message everywhere, no matter where you are.
“Then New Year’s Eve was a good time to go because it’s not peak tourism season. It’s not a really busy time to go to Zimbabwe, because of the rain. Game viewing is quite difficult – everything is beautiful and green so the animals don’t come to the water holes because there’s enough water in other parts of the national parks. So they don’t have to come to the watering holes where you’d normally see them congregate.
“We went on an afternoon game drive – there was only two of us with the driver – it was our own vehicle, it was so special. And we saw lions mate, which is really rare. We’d seen them for a couple of days prior to that. But then they actually were mating on New Year’s Eve and to see that is really rare. And then we were literally metres from one of the lions. He walked under the vehicle and then kept going and just sat there and you could see all his scars and everything – he was that close. It was absolutely amazing. And even the ranger was like ‘Man!’ He was trying to take photos because this is not something that you normally see everyday. And it was just so special because there’s literally no one else around and it was just the most incredible New Year’s Eve I’ve ever had – to see nature and be able to experience that and you’re just somewhere that’s so remote but beautiful. And then that night, it was dinner, just sitting in the African wilderness and hearing the hyenas in the hills and everything like that. It was really special.
“Africa gets into your blood,” reflected Leisa. “Once you’ve been there, you have to go back again.”
Out of Africa, Leisa has other special Christmas memories, with her parents Ken and Del Stanley, and her siblings on their farm at Thangool. There would be a church service in Thangool and carols on Christmas Eve, a real Christmas tree, presents to open on Christmas morning, and Del would always cook a hot roast Christmas lunch. And then, in the afternoon, it was time for backyard cricket.
Was it competitive?
“Extremely,” laughed Leisa. “Yes. I can hit a few fours and sixes… depends who’s bowling. So yes, it’s a very special family Christmas Day.”
However, Christmas won’t be spent at the family farm this year. Instead, Leisa and her parents will be hopping on a plane on Christmas Eve to be with Leisa’s sister in Brisbane. Then, it’s time for some R&R as Leisa flies to Cairns on Christmas afternoon. There she will catch up with friends and “it’ll be warm so it’s going to be pooltime”.
While time in the pool in the tropics sounds like a most enjoyable gift for an adult, there’s one present Leisa received as a child that was a big hit.
I’ll give you a hint – do the names Scott, Charlene, Madge, Harold, Paul, Des and Daphne ring a bell?
Yes, they’re all characters from the hit Aussie TV soap, Neighbours!
Well, one year, Leisa received the Neighbours board game for Christmas.
“Neighbours was very cool, as you know,” Leisa said. “I remember playing that game. It was very cool.”
And what about future Christmases? It would be remiss not to ask a travel consultant where she would like to have Christmas if she could go anywhere in the world?
“It would have to be Europe and probably Scandinavia,” Leisa said. “I’d love to go to Santa’s workshop in Rovaniemi in Finland. And then to stay in one of the igloos and actually see the Northern Lights on Christmas Day through your igloo roof would be amazing. The igloos are all amongst the snow and they’ve got a glass dome part to them. So, one, to see the Northern Lights actually occur. But to be in your igloo seeing the Northern Lights Christmas Day or Christmas Eve would be off the charts.”
Browsing through Christmas markets is also a dream of Leisa’s.
“It would be beautiful because the Christmas markets in Europe are really big before Christmas. And I guess as kids you hear all the Christmas carols about Silent Night and the snow. Not only would there be all the beautiful markets and handmade gifts, and the Christmas traditions but you also get the real nativity scenes in the Christmas markets as well. So that would be amazing.”
Then there’s reindeer sleigh rides, and baby huskies, hot food and roasting chestnuts, hazelnuts, and cold weather for Christmas.
“We’re always so hot normally – to be cold would be amazing.”
Leisa – thank you for sharing your Christmas memories and plans with us. If I could grant you two Christmas wishes this year, the first one would be to see the end of Covid, so life (and travel!) could get back to normal, and the second one would be that, someday, you do get to pat a baby husky, see the Northern Lights from an igloo, and have a very merry and very COLD Christmas.