New Idea (Aus) – April 14th 2007

Isabel’s African Affair

After finishing Home and Away last year, Isabel Lucas couldn’t wait to travel overseas – but becoming the next Kylie Minogue or Isla Fisher was furthermost from her mind. ‘I wanted time to explore and experience something foreign whilst doing something proactive,’ the 22-year-old says. And that’s why she recently found herself face-to-face , not with a pack of Hollywood agents, but with a herd Elephants in outer Namibia.

‘The elephants were metres from us as we were trekking in the wilderness. We had to be so careful, it was incredible and nerve-racking,’ she says. Isabel was in Namibia to do volunteer comunity work for two months. She’d signed up with Oxquest: Young Australian Adventures, an organisation for 18 to 30-year-olds that offers programs to acheive the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. ‘Its aim is to combine adventure travel with volunteer community work,’ Isabel says. ‘They travel to developing countries and set up projects that will have an immediate impact on the local people. ‘My sister Nina went to Nepal with Ozquest three years ago and I’d been wanting to do something similar since.’

So when her contract with Home and Away expired, Isabel – ignoring film and TV offers – couldn’t wait to get away and forget showbiz for a while. ‘Its important when you’re young to experience different countries through travel; it gives you a greater perspective on life and yourself,’ she reflects. With best friend Zoe, Isabel joined eight other young Aussies on an African adventure, and the group bonded over campfire meals at their base on the outskirts of Windhoek, the nation’s capital.

‘I loved our group,’ she smiles. ‘We formed deep friendships.’ Isabel’s first project was to help build a water trough for roaming elephants near one of the villages. ‘The wild elephants are a huge threat to the communities when they come to seek water,’ she explains. ‘Our job was to build a large trough at a safe distance from the people to divert the elephants.’

For 10 days they toiled, collecting rocks and sand and mixing cement to build a jumbo-sized drinking fountain. ‘We were up at 5am to be at work an hour later,’ she recalls. ‘It was very hot – up to 45 degrees. It was hard physical work but it felt rewarding as we knew what a significant difference we were making to the people there.’

Isabel’s next task was to turn a patch of sand into a vegetable and fruit garden. ‘This project was situated in Sossusvlei, where the largest sand dunes in the world are. If you saw the area we were working on you wouldn’t have believed it was possible!’ she says. The final phase for the group was a gruelling eight-day trek. ‘We carried our backpacks with bare essentials and eight litres of water through the African wilderness,’ she says.

‘We’d often go for days without bathing and we all suffered blisters and were physically exhausted, which was all part of the experience.’ Now back in Australia, Isabel is turning her attentions once again to acting. ‘I’m currently doing drama studies and I’ll be auditioning for some local and international films as well as considering theatre,’ she says.

But the young actress hasn’t forgotten her roots. ‘I’ll always be grateful for the experience on Home and Away for teaching me so much. ‘But I’m ready to dig deeper and embrace new projects, get my hands dirty with other quirky, imaginative characters.’ Isabel also hopes to remain close to ex-boyfriend and former co-star Chris Hemsworth and on-screen husband Jason Smith . ‘I’d love to stay in contact – they’re such open-minded, passionate people. I love and respect them incredibly.’