This story first appeared in Vacations & Travel magazine, autumn 2019, issue 110
At a time when many Australians are stressed out, working long hours and glued to some sort of device for most of the day, wellness retreats have never been more necessary – or in demand.
From rituals nodding to the traditional owners of the land to therapies inspired by far-flung cultural practices; from hydrotherapy to mud therapy; from reiki to intuitive healing to hypnotherapy and equine-guided sessions – Australia’s wellness scene is at once innovative and holistic. Here’s a selection of health retreats to reconnect and unwind at, with tips on what to enjoy when you arrive.
Set high in the hills of Queensland’s Tallebudgera Valley (a 30-minute drive from the crashing waves of the Gold Coast), Gwinganna fills 200 hectares of rugged bush. Offering two- to seven-day programs, this place is for people seeking a fast health tune-up as well as those looking for a paradigm shift. Days begin in lovely villas or new meditation suites with a 5.30am wake-up call for sunrise qi gong; they end early in the restaurant, where organic, vegan meals are created on principles of low-HI (human interaction) – essentially, featuring produce that has undergone minimal or no change from its place in nature to its arrival at the table. In between there are rainforest walks, stretching classes, meditation, dancing and “dreamtime”: allocated hours to explore the spa. The wellness menu is one of the most extensive, not to mention innovative, of its kind in the world, targeting everything from emotional wellbeing to nourishment to stress resilience and functional movement. Try the Tribal Dreaming, incorporating didgeridoo healing, ochre clay body masks and massage that involves chi nei tsang elements.
Byron Bay is well known for its alternative lifestyle practices and focus on wellbeing, but Gaia – a 20-minute drive from town in the hinterland – takes things up a notch with its idyllic setting, up-scale accommodation and unwavering dedication to holistic health. Launched by Olivia Newton-John and her interior-designer friend Gregg Cave, the property’s luxe lodgings include three Komala Villas, replete with enviable views over the valley, deep-soaking tubs and salt-water infinity pools. They’re laced by fairytale gardens of tropical flowers, soaring palms, avocado trees and Wollemi pines that scatter down to the ocean. The serene surrounds are the ideal place to relax into a ‘healing retreat’, where you can do as much – or as little – as you like. Explore the rainforest on bike, book a boxing class, savour vegan superfood salads or bliss out in the spa. Here, the Gaia Goddess begins with a body polish and cocooning mask and ends, 4.5 hours later, with a scalp massage, facial, and hand and foot pampering.
Harmony Harvest Wellness Sanctuary, Tas
What began as a company producing beauty products using organic, raw and wild botanicals and minerals has evolved into a wellness retreat on the outskirts of Margate, 20 kilometres south of Hobart. Harmony Harvest’s remote setting on a 20-hectare patch of Tasmanian wilderness is best admired from the window side spa bath in your cottage, where the only distraction is the dramatic view over the southern state’s mountains. You can check in for a single night, but best results are achieved on one of the multi-day detoxes. Stay for a week and you’ll drop weight thanks to the calorie-restricted vegan meals on offer; your skin will glow thanks to the use of the infra-ray sauna and organic amenities; and your mind will become clear during daily yoga and meditation classes. You’ll de-stress even further in the spa, where treatments range from chakra healing to ayurvedic massage.
Golden Door Elysia Health Retreat & Spa, NSW
While most people visit the Hunter Valley for hours filled with wine and cheese, others arrive to say goodbye to these indulgences. Two- to seven-day packages at Golden Door are all about detoxing the body and mind, through low-calorie cuisine, informative seminars on topics, and a range of activities: think pilates, deep water running, hiking and boot camp. There are also specialty retreats throughout the year, with guest practitioners delving deep into themes such as mindfulness and healing or men’s wellness. While it’s easy to spend lazy afternoons relaxing in light-filled villas, it would be a shame not to make the most of the facilities, which include watsu treatment rooms and an expansive spa.
Known for its healing mineral waters, the Victorian town of Daylesford is a natural fit for this holistic health retreat. The time-pressed can come for the day and make the most of small-group talks, yoga sessions, pranayama breathing classes and spa treatments – the four-hour Ultimate Bliss ritual guarantees head-to-toe rejuvenation. There are also themed experiences targeting chronic fatigue and burnout, as well as overnight Life Enrichment Retreats designed to help you start thinking differently about your health and wellbeing for lasting results. You’ll bed down in beautiful cottages and sit down to healthy meals prepared using local Macedon produce, with your stay supplemented by guided sessions helping you to unwind and explore pathways to emotional freedom as well as manage complex life challenges. There’s also a focus on reconnecting with nature and recharging through long forest walks, reiki and chakra balancing.
Injidup Spa Retreat, WA
With a chef on hand to prepare healthy meals in the privacy of your villa, this spa resort in the heart of the Margaret River area is as indulgent as it is blissful. Accommodations come with plunge pools on patios overlooking Injidup Beach; inside, there’s an open fireplace, a kitchenette and a bedroom with enough space for a massage table. If you do make it to the Bodhi J Spa, you’ll be rewarded with ocean-facing suites where you can try body and face therapies such as the Li’Tya Kodo Rock Massage, using techniques inspired by Australia’s Indigenous heritage. Set aside half a day for the Tranquillity package, incorporating a body wrap, hydrotherapy bath, massage and facial, with a glass of champagne to top it all off – wine has antioxidants, right?
Kangaroo Island Health Retreat, SA
There’s only one thing on offer at this Kangaroo Island wellness haven: a Dynamic Detox that promises to help you take control of your life, reset habits and re-energise your body. The seven-day program is touted as being a journey to self-awareness, featuring individually tailored offerings that range from nutritional workshops to culinary lessons. Before you get there, you’ll have to go through four days of complete detoxification, kick-starting a week of weight loss, improved sleep and circulation, hormone stability, lymphatic drainage and correction of the digestive system. You will leave here transformed, and ready to be a better person.