Back in 2009, Ben Southall was considered the luckiest person on earth when he snagged Tourism Australia’s dream job of becoming the caretaker for the islands of the Great Barrier Reef. Four years later, he still has a career that anyone would envy thanks to amazing gigs as a Queensland tourism ambassador, travel TV host and all-around vagabond.
The former Brit now calls Queensland his home base and has extensively explored the state’s gorgeous coastline. In fact, he even embarked upon a four month, 1,600 km kayak trip along the Great Barrier Reef!
So naturally, we thought we’d tap into some of Ben’s Aussie expertise and ask him a bit about his caretaker experience, his suggestions for first-time visitors and of course, his favourite Queensland hotel stays:
What was the first thing you did when you found out you’d snagged the job as the caretaker for the Great Barrier Reef?
Cartwheels in my mind of course! Having just spent a year driving around Africa this was a dream come true. A new country to explore and the World Heritage Great Barrier Reef as a backyard – who wouldn’t!
You’ve since become quite a bit of an expert on the area. What would your suggested itinerary be for first-time visitors to Queensland?
There’s so many different ways to explore the GBR from the land, air and sea. But for first-timers, strapping a snorkel to your face or dive tank to your back is a must do. Taking that first peak underwater at the vast expanses of coral reef and marine life opens up a whole new world that many people don’t even know exists. If you’re lucky enough to visit between June and November during Humpback Whale season then you get the largest and smallest creatures in the ocean all in one day.
What would you say is the most important thing you’ve learned from your “Best Job in the World” experience?
That the planet is a very special place that needs protecting from ourselves. The GBR is a fragile ecosystem that could be easily thrown out of balance by mankind if we don’t do our best to look after it, stop developing great swathes of coastline, limit the shipping that passes through and stop over-fishing. We have to start thinking about whether we want this global treasure to be there for future generations.
Tourism Australia has recently started a search for six additional amazing tourism ambassador jobs. What advice would you give to would-be applicants?
Be prepared to work hard, this is a real job after all and you’re there to represent thousands of tourism operators who’ll rely on your publicity over the coming year. It will be amazingly fun work with money-can’t-buy experiences that’ll stay with you for life.
On your website, you’ve said that you’d like to write a book one day. What will it be about?
I suppose it’ll cover the last ten years of life; travel, adventures, experiences and expeditions. My day to day life seems normal to me, but to others it’s inspiring and motivating, so if I can finally get pen to paper I hope it stimulates other people to reach out and explore Planet Earth a little more.
Which hotel experiences have you most enjoyed throughout your Aussie travels?
I’ve been lucky enough to visit some of the most stunning island hotels in Queensland over the past four years, from camping on the beaches to luxury in the tropics. For me waking up to the sound of the ocean is a deal-clincher – Wilson Island, Lizard Island and of course Hamilton Island all make me think back to how good falling asleep at night can actually be.
Would you say you’ve pretty much seen all of the state, or are there still some attractions left on your bucket list?
I’ve travelled throughout Queensland but there’s always places to discover. I’ll be heading out to Birdsville later this year for a desert marathon, to Bedourie for some camel racing and I still have to drive to the tip of Cape Yorke…so no, not done by a long shot!