Nina Karnikowski. Freelance travel writer, treasure hunter and blogger at travelswithnina.com
Words by Bly Carpenter
Photography by Steven Foster Photography
Freelance travel writer and creator of travelswithnina.com, Nina Karnikowski lives the kind of existence most of us can only dream of. Frequently on assignment in remote and exotic locales, the former Fairfax journalist and now freelance travel writer for the likes of SMH Traveller, YEN, Virgin Voyeur and SKY News, balances her often hectic work itineraries with a beautifully simple and organic lifestyle when home.
Home, for Nina, reflects the nomadic nature of her career. She and winemaker husband Pete Windrim divide their time between a one bedroom apartment in Sydney’s Coogee and their charming ‘Chateau Tracteur’, located amongst the vineyards of Pete’s family winery – acclaimed biodynamic operation Krinklewood in the Hunter Valley.
Nina’s love of travel emulates from every corner of her homes. In fact, crossing the threshold of her gorgeous Coogee apartment is akin to being enveloped in a deliciously familiar yet foreign culture. Indian music drifts gently through the diminutive yet uncluttered space, perfumed with incense and revealing a treasure trove of artefacts, books, artworks and traditional ethnic clothing collected throughout Nina’s journeys. We love her knack for displaying her collections gallery-style as wall art.
Like Nina herself, this space abounds with warmth, sincerity and beauty. It is rich with layers and textures, yet feels balanced, peaceful and grounded. We’re completely charmed – by Nina and her home! Here, we chat to Nina about her interiors inspirations, how she forged her enviable career, and her tips for restoring balance and ‘grounding’ herself in between international assignments.
What led to your career as a travel writer?
I first fell in love with travelling when I lived in France in 2006 as part of my journalism and international studies degree. I did what we Aussies do best and squished in as much European adventuring as I possibly could that year. I never imagined it could become a career, though. Well not until after I’d been working as a lifestyle writer for four years at Fairfax Media and was then offered a position as a writer on the travel team. It was a total dream right from the start – in my first two weeks I covered a meditation retreat in the mountains of Ubud and a luxury adventure around New Zealand. Just a few months later my husband, then an art director, got offered a job at GQ India, so we packed our bags and went to live in Mumbai for a year. I continued writing travel stories for the newspaper which took me all around India and to Sri Lanka and Nepal. I finally went freelance and started my site travelswithnina.com just over a year ago, and I’ve had some of the wildest adventures of my career since – to places like Morocco, Zambia, Turkey, Papua New Guinea, China, Russia and more.
Did you travel extensively as a child?
Definitely not! I didn’t venture overseas until I was 16, when a school trip took me to France. Adventures with my family until then largely consisted of heading out into nature, to places like Byron Bay, Barrington Tops and Berry. I had a morbid fear of animals and anything remotely adventurous back then; I remember standing frozen at the top of a hill in Berry, where my sister had ridden me on her bike, for hours because I was petrified of walking past the cows in the paddock at the bottom of the hill. I also remember going to Thredbo and not skiing because I was scared of that; and to Byron and not getting in the surf because I was scared of that, too. Ironically, my job now sees me doing things like rock climbing up waterfalls in New Zealand, surfing in Bali and riding horses in Mongolia, so the adventure side of things is something I’ve really had to work on!
Do you ever find your nomadic existence unsettling?
It can be, which is why I really try to listen to my body which usually tells me when it’s time to stop for a while. A couple of months ago I came back from a trip to Malaysia and was sick as a dog, bedridden for three days. I took it as a sign to chill out for a bit. I have a pretty chilled life when I’m at home, I wake up very early and ground myself with meditation and yoga, and do lots of walking swimming, lots of home cooked meals, and lots of down time with my loved ones. When I’m in Australia I’m a real home body, probably because I’m out and about so much when I’m away.
What is your favourite destination and why?
India. From the moment my feet touched Indian soil I felt very deeply connected to the country. I’d been warned that I would find it confronting and overwhelming, but actually I felt immediately at home, more so than I usually do in Australia, in fact. The explosion of colour, the constantly bipping horns, the marigold garlands strung up everywhere, the rogue cows on the street, the women shrouded in glittering saris, the scent of turmeric and masala hanging in the air… it was all just poetry to me. One of my favourite travel writers Pico Iyer says, “home is not just the place where you happen to be born, it’s the place where you become yourself.” India was the place where I dropped into who I really am, and for that reason I will return there again and again, for the rest of my life.
What is your next dream destination, who will you travel with, and why?
I’m heading to the rainbow coloured Vinicunca Mountains, hidden in the Peruvian Andes, in November on assignment with Crooked Compass. They’re a fantastic boutique travel company who try to get their travelers off the beaten track and have a very strict responsible tourism policy that I really connect with. We’re hoping to see condors, pumas and bobcats, bathe in hot springs, visit Sacred Valley tribes, and of course explore the incredible red, orange, ochre and turquoise rainbow mountains.
How has your career and your travels influenced your interior style?
I’m a treasure hunter by nature, a real bowerbird, so my eclectic interior style is a real reflection of all the places I’ve been and loved. You’ll find Turkish kilims, Moroccan wedding blankets and Indian throws combined with skulls, horns and pelts we’ve found locally at the farm, and I use a lot of exotic clothing and jewellery to furnish my spaces, too. I love to feel comfortable and relaxed, which means loads of indoor plants, pillows, throws, blankets and nooks for tea, tarot and girlie hangs.
Whose style (interior and/or fashion) do you most admire, and why?
I’m a huge fan of the photographer Peter Beard, I think I always have him in the back of my mind when I buy things for my home, and I’m always trying to get those African tent vibes into my life. A couple of years back I stayed at Chinzombo Camp in Zambia where the designers had used leather, raw wood, muslin and black and white photography in a way that got as close to my idea of interiors heaven as you could possibly get. I often find inspiration in the lovely hotels I stay in around the world actually – Samode Haveli in Jaipur, India, and Scarabeo Camp in the Marrakesh desert were other recent stand-outs.
You divide your time between two homes – can you share with us how you have styled each of them?
The farm has more of an earthy vibe with a few skins, lots of deep oranges and reds in the rugs and Turkish kilim floor cushions, skulls, horns, feathers and cowboy hats on the walls, as well as jugs, bottles and jars filled with local wildflowers. Coogee has more of an ethnic vibe with a bit of beach thrown in – one of my friends once joked it feels like an underground Ethiopian bar circa 1964 and I think she hit the nail on the head! There are shell and coral accents around the place, including a big shell chandelier I bought in Bali a few years back, mixed in with exotic textiles I’ve picked up on my travels and pieces from my Bazaar decorating the walls.
We feel a real sense of responsibility for both houses – the farm sits on Pete’s family’s vineyard and the Coogee apartment used to belong to my Hungarian grandparents, so we try to take care of them as well as we possibly can.
What do you love most about living on a vineyard?
Being immersed in nature. There’s really no substitute for it, and I find I crave it more and more as time goes on. My father-in-law and my husband Pete have created such a sanctuary here; being a biodynamic vineyard they work with the idea that the land is one big ecosystem where every living being plays a part, which means it’s incredibly abundant. I love watching the peacocks, chooks, geese, ducks and swamp hens look for their breakfast out on the lawn of a morning. I love walking down by the river with our big white Maremma sheepdog Minty. I love watching the cows go crazy over hay bales, and I love weeding the vege patch at sunset. Time spent here tucked away beneath the mountains is a true tonic for the soul.
What do you love most about living in Coogee?
Being by the ocean, and being close to civilization! When I’m in Coogee I go for a walk or run by the ocean every morning, and when it’s not too cold I take a dip in the women’s baths. I feel very connected to the ocean, it washes away any stresses I might be feeling and is hands down the most uplifting thing I can do for myself. Being able to see my family and friends easily, to walk up the road and grab a chai, or to get to a yoga studio that isn’t a 90-minute drive away, is a real treat when you’ve been rural for a few weeks!
What interior pieces do you covet, for which of your homes, and where would you place it?
We’ve just about finished converting an old feed shed next to our house on the farm into an apothecary, so I’d love to track down one of those big old apothecary chests with all the tiny labelled drawers where we can stash our dried herbs. For Coogee, I’m hoping to source a special handwoven rug for the dining room on my upcoming trip to Peru.
What would your dream home look like?
I’m pretty content with the way things are right now. Sure we could always use more space, and a few upgrades in the kitchen bathroom arena, but really my dream home is one that’s filled with love and laughter, family and friends, and beautiful objects that remind me of all the adventures we’ve had in our lives. Which is why, right now, I wouldn’t change a thing.
Pictured below is the charming ‘Chateau Tracteur’ ~ Nina’s second home in the Hunter Valley…