Monique Muusers and her trusty sidekick Frankie the turtle have been delighting locals and visitors with unique gourmet experiences and winery tours for almost two years.
A reminder of Monique’s time running tours up the east coast of Australia, Frankie is the real star of the show. He gets up to all sorts of mischief with the guests – you’ll see him on Facebook stuffed into wine glasses, driving the bus and checking out the local breweries. “He’s my friend and business partner, and someone I can blame if things don’t go so well,” Monique laughs.
Monique’s own travels have taken her on some amazing adventures. After growing up on an ostrich farm in Inverell, she came to Port Macquarie to complete her final years of high school.
Being half-Dutch, an exchange semester in the Netherlands in 2010 helped Monique connect with her ancestry and also gave her the itch to travel.
Monique studied a Bachelor of International Hotel and Tourism Management from the University of Queensland. Holidays were spent travelling and working, including a three-month stint on Dunk Island, a ski season and summer camp in America, and some English teaching in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
“When I finished my degree, I thought I’d have it all figured out, but all I knew was that I didn’t want a normal job, so I went backpacking through South America.”
Having fallen in love with South East Asia, Monique applied for a job as a tour guide there. After six months of pestering, a four-hour interview and with no local language skills or tour guiding experience, Monique finally landed the position.
The job involved running 30-day loops through Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos with groups of 16 international tourists. “I thought, if I can do that, I can do anything!”
Always keen to run her own business, at age 24 Monique opened a bar and restaurant in Battam Bang, Cambodia. Named Buffalo Alley, the hotspot employed 13 people at its peak and lured guests with an international karaoke bar upstairs.
“That business was a huge challenge. There are hardly any rules and regulations in Cambodia, and everything is negotiated, even the price you pay for rubbish collection, but I didn’t speak the language. Now I see all the disasters as valuable lessons.”
Monique returned to Australia and got her bus licence in Sydney over a gruelling two days. Working for tour companies, she ran tours through the Blue Mountains and Hunter Valley.
She also ran east coast tours from Sydney to Cape Tribulation over 22 days with 20 passengers, driving the bus and a trailer, coordinating the itinerary, preparing meals, tour guiding in each location with no rest.
“I realised that if I wanted to set my own rules, I’d need to run my own business.”
Port has always been home for Monique, so with a strong family connection, plenty of experience and a bucket-load of enthusiasm, Frankie’s Travel was born.
Monique now runs small group tours for tourists looking to explore the area, and local groups celebrating birthdays, family reunions, hen’s days or Christmas parties. The possibilities are almost endless for private groups, and Monique loves customising tours to suit.
“I love meeting new people every day. The guests are always out to have a fun day, and I get to be part of their celebrations. What I don’t love is dealing with the rare mechanical issue or flat tyre!”
After the success of her local tours, Monique has recently purchased a second 13-seater bus and is set to start operating winery tours in the Hunter Valley soon.
7:00am Walk on the breakwall with my Cavoodle, Sassy.
8:00am Check emails and respond to customer enquiries; call potential tours or bookings.
10:00am Get ready for today’s tour, vehicle inspection and clean, print out run sheet, call suppliers to confirm times.
10:30am Start up the bus and pick up my guests.
11:00am Arrive at Cassegrain and enjoy a wine and cheese tasting. Go behind the scenes for a sneak peek of the winery.
12:15pm Take guests to Seasons Café and Restaurant for a delicious two course lunch with a glass of wine.
2:00pm Back in the bus to visit Long Point Winery, where guests enjoy wine tasting and explore the art gallery.
3:00pm Head to Black Duck Brewery for a beer tastings paddle and a tour with Al. Or, we might visit Vickers Fudge for sweet treats, Whalebone Wharf for a waterfront lunch, Roses Vineyard for wine tastings or Bago for wine, hen’s party games and a run through the maze!
4:30pm Back to accommodation or out on the town if guests want to keep partying. Guests receive a wine glass gift etched with Frankie the turtle.
5:00pm Check emails and send through thank you email and feedback survey. Post photos on Facebook. Refuel and clean the bus.
6:00pm Finally, it’s my turn to have a glass of wine!