She is a believer in experiences that connect people with nature. A little kid planting a tree for the first time, guests discovering the countryside on horseback or simply gazing at a canopy of stars in the stillness of the night, and she’s forged a twenty-year career in tourism and outdoor leisure, joining the Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley in 2010 and leading its sustainable luxury and conservation-based tourism ever since.
Join us as we discover Simone’s work and her love for travel!
Meet Simone Brooks
GLH: Hello Simone. It’s such a pleasure to have you answer a few of our questions and give us a real insight into sustainable, nature-based tourism. So, where did your passion for nature stem from?
Simone Brooks: My love of nature started from childhood. I was very fortunate to spend lots of free time outside, either on the farm with my grandparents, or off in the bush all day riding horses with my family. Working as a Field Guide was very much a natural progression for me.
GLH: How did you begin your career in the conservation and wildlife industry?
Simone Brooks: When I finished my studies, I took a break from work and backpacked around the world; it was during this time that I had a life-changing experience and realised that I wanted to work in sustainable tourism. I was seeing the way tourism was changing people’s lives for the better through countries that had gone through conflicts, and how sustainable, nature-based tourism can transform entire communities.
GLH: And why this area of the Greater Blue Mountains?
Simone Brooks: The Greater Blue Mountains is an ancient landscape – there is a true sense of timelessness as soon as you get off the beaten track, which I truly admire. The sheer diversity of fauna and flora, and the landscape has so many contrasts to it – there’s harsh ironstone country with jagged sandstone, contrasted with the most sensitive, fragile, pristine rainforest and gullies. I am fascinated by it.
GLH: How do you bring guests close to this local wildlife and landscape?
Simone Brooks: I ensure that each and every guest experiences a full sensory immersion when they are participating in any conservation or nature activities at the resort through a very hands-on approach. My team of Field Guides are very passionate about sharing their extensive knowledge and genuine love for the environment that our guests become very open to learning about it. Whether they’re the youngest little kid that is planting a tree for the first time, or taking off their shoes to walk in the creek for the first time, right through to well-educated and knowledgeable guests, each experience is deeply personal.
GLH: What would you say is the most important trait when working in the conservation industry?
Simone Brooks: You must be 100% dedicated to inspiring people through your love of nature and be extremely resourceful. It’s all about empowering people in a world where there are a lot of mixed messages around sustainability.
GLH: Who and what would you say are some of your biggest inspirations?
Simone Brooks: Three people have been the biggest inspirations to me.
- David Attenborough – how can he not be an inspiration? His work in educating and inspiring people is something I truly admire.
- Sylvia Earl – referred to as the voice of the oceans.
- Sophy Roberts – a travel writer whose work focuses on remote parts of the world where she can report on wildlife conservation, threats to eco-systems and fragile cultures.
GLH: Sustainability is incredibly important to you. Tell us about some of the work you have done so far?
Simone Brooks: The most significant one for me is the move to zero single-use plastic at the resort. A long-term goal for us is to minimize the waste sent to landfills and maximize recycling, which guides all of our actions and initiatives. Additionally, three outdoor filtered water stations were installed in 2018 to encourage guests to use the complimentary, multi-use bottles provided in each villa on arrival. Guests are also encouraged to take these bottles home to continue this practice.
GLH: Are you currently working on any projects?
Simone Brooks: We are currently working on the mapping of significant, hollow-bearing trees on the property. The reason this is so important is because these older, significant trees (most over 150 years old) provide homes for so many different species of wildlife, so if we can collect some baseline data, it will help us to learn more about the impact of the 2019 bushfires on some of the wildlife.
Another project we are working on is habitat restoration with guests. This involves us moving and shifting around coarse woody debris to improve habitat complexity, again important following the bushfires.
GLH: In your free time, what do you enjoy doing?
Simone Brooks: I have been lucky enough to be here for nearly 10 years so I’ve explored more nooks and crannies than most and that would be only a tiny percentage of what’s out there to be explored.
I enjoy hiking so the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage-listed Area is perfect for this. Even a short hike can provide an amazing sense of peace and deep connection with nature. I am a bit of a fan of some of Australia’s gliding marsupials, so am always on the lookout for Yellow bellied or Greater gliders that may be in the area. Other than that, you can often find me somewhere near the water, usually with a good book.
When it comes to the experience of living in Wolgan Valley, it’s an amazing privilege to be able to learn about nature from nature – to be able to see the behavior of the kangaroos and of other wildlife, and to witness how the environment will try to heal itself given the opportunity.
GLH: And are there any secret spots you’d like to share?
Simone Brooks: This is such a special landscape and there is so many wonderful things to experience in the Blue Mountains region. I recommend travelling along Bells Line of Road to sample some of Australia’s fresh produce and idyllic scenery. Mt Tomah Botanic Gardens is one of my favourite attractions as it provides an incredible insight into Australia’s native flora, including the heritage of the Wollemi Pine.
Above all, I would recommend some of the wilder places that are best explored on foot, starting with our very own backyard, the Wollemi National Park.
GLH: Fill in the blank: When in Wolgan Valley, you must …
Simone Brooks: Visit the stables and meet some of our very special, four-legged friends – we have an amazing team of horses and there’s no better way to explore the reserve than on horseback. I also think guests need to explore the reserve on foot. There is something about travelling slowly, walking slowly and really absorbing the sights and smells of nature, with the magic that the Valley has to offer.
GLH: And finally, what are some of the places on your travel bucket list?
Simone Brooks: I’ve been very fortunate to have had a lot of amazing travel experiences – I’ve travelled through Eastern Europe, Sicily, Italy, Greece and most recently I’ve been to Rwanda twice to visit the other incredible One&Only resorts. I was lucky enough to be part of the opening task force for both One&Only Nyungwe House and One&Only Gorilla’s Nest, where I worked with the team to establish the resort’s nature based and conservation programs. South America is on my bucket list though -because of the Gondwanan association – and I hope to be able to travel there some day.
For more exclusive interviews, stay tuned!