As the scenery morphs from the Gold Coast’s bustling cityscape to the untamed wilderness of the hinterland within the space of 30 minutes, it’s easy to believe I’ve entered another world when my shuttle bus enters the gates of Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat.
After slowly crawling up the steepest driveway I’ve ever seen (which we will all soon come to dislike as we brave it on foot), it pulls up outside the Wellness Education Complex, or the WEC.
I’m greeted by Lucy, the Program Manager for my five-night ‘Triple S’ – Sleep, Sugar, Stress retreat. I enjoy a delicious turmeric golden chai welcome drink and settle into a comfy armchair as she gives an overview of the sprawling 200-hectare property. She also explains the optional InBody Scan and check-in procedure, which includes a consultation with a Spa and Wellness Advisor to discuss spa treatment options.
To call the spa menu extensive would be an understatement. In addition to an extraordinary range of signature facial and body therapies, Gwinganna offers couples’ sessions along with a variety of unique experiences incorporating everything from Eastern massage techniques to tarot and astrology, mindfulness and equine-assisted learning.
A warm welcome
Lucy leads us on a brief orientation stroll through the grounds before we finish up at the WEC for afternoon tea, where I have the chance to chat to my fellow guests over delicious healthy snacks and herbal tea. There is no caffeine or alcohol served during the ‘Triple S’ retreat, as the program aims to bring the body back into balance and calm the nervous system to reduce stress and improve sleep.
There is no caffeine or alcohol served during the ‘Triple S’ retreat, as the program aims to bring the body back into balance and calm the nervous system.
Equipped with a full audiovisual setup, the WEC is an educational space where all the presentations take place, including personal trainer Duncan’s short talk on interpreting the insights from the InBody Scan. Following this is the only mandatory session of the retreat – the welcome orientation.
Megan, who is also one of the equine therapists, introduces the program and Gwinganna itself, and outlines what a typical day will look like. We’re told to expect a variety of daily activities to choose from, well-balanced meals, a daily wellness seminar and, of course, plenty of time to relax and enjoy the spa and other facilities.
Room to unwind
I’m staying in a Billabong Villa (aptly named, as it does overlook a billabong). Gwinganna offers a range of luxury accommodations, each with its own unique features. My split-level villa has its own steam room in addition to a free-standing bathtub and outdoor deck. Other rooms have their own mediation pod, massage chair or even a plunge pool.
I find my suitcase already waiting for me in the walk-in closet as I explore my spacious lodgings. The king-size bed is located on the upper level facing the floor-to-ceiling view out onto the deck. Stepping outside, I’m greeted by a group of ducks swimming by.
You won’t find televisions or alarm clocks in any of the rooms – or wi-fi and mobile reception in general. Gwinganna encourages guests to switch off and fully immerse themselves in the retreat experience, and I am happy to oblige. Of course, that may not be practical for everyone, so the signal available at the centrally located cricket grandstand provides a convenient spot for connecting to the outside world.
The final part of the day is dinner in the Dining Room. I’m assigned a table with guests who will be my dining companions for three meals, after which we’ll be shuffled around. It’s a great way to get to know one another – and the place settings prevent that awkward moment when you forget who you’re talking to.
The first of the mouthwatering gluten- and dairy-free meals consists of oven-baked Port Huon salmon or tofu in an Asian broth with wokked greens, shiitake mushrooms and cherry tomatoes. It’s heaven on a plate. Every one of Gwinganna’s culinary creations is equally flavorful and generous, combining a veritable rainbow of organic and locally sourced food, garnished with herbs and flowers that are grown on-site.
Every one of Gwinganna’s culinary creations is equally flavorful and generous, combining a veritable rainbow of organic and locally sourced food, garnished with herbs and flowers that are grown on-site.
Lucy takes to the center of the room to reveal that tomorrow, the early birds will start with qi gong, a moving meditation, as the sun rises. The day’s itinerary will then be posted on the noticeboard.
My table mates and I soon bid each other goodnight and walk back to our rooms. Eventually, the lure of my bed is too difficult to resist – at about 9pm.
Rise and shine
I don’t remember the last time I willingly dragged myself out of bed at 5.30am, but I’m keen to give everything a try. I head over to the Tea Station outside the Dining Room, which is our meeting point. From the enticing concoctions on offer, I opt for a cup of Gwinganna’s Signature Tea, a refreshing lemon myrtle and aniseed myrtle blend.
Lucy explains what our qi gong practice will entail – each day we’ll learn a series of movements that we’ll combine with meditation and breathing. At 6.30am, we make our way across the dewy grass to the assembly area overlooking the valley.
I settle on a spot near the back and wave hello to a couple of friendly wallabies, who watch on nonchalantly. Lucy soon has us moving in unison as we take deep, invigorating breaths while the rising sun slowly casts its warm glow over the mountains, valley and ocean below. Definitely worth the early start.
Gwinganna translates to ‘lookout’ to the local Indigenous custodians of the land, appropriate given its position overlooking the Tallebudgera Valley from Moreton Bay to Coolangatta.
Yin and yang
The itinerary shows we have a choice of two pre-breakfast walks (gentle or challenging) in addition to a ‘stay-at-home’ activity. Following breakfast at 8am, there’s a low-impact yin and higher-intensity yang class to consider.
Morning tea follows along with a wellness seminar before lunch. The afternoon is rest time when most of us will take advantage of the spa, pool and other facilities.
Finally, there’s a meditation session ahead of dinner. Each day follows the same pattern. If classes aren’t your thing, Gwinganna’s wellness facilities include a well-equipped gym, two infinity pools, sauna, tennis courts and 16 walking tracks.
If classes aren’t your thing, Gwinganna’s wellness facilities include a well-equipped gym, two infinity pools, sauna, tennis courts and 16 walking tracks.
Lucy outlines the difficulty of both guided walks and the routes that each will take, plus today’s third option, which is beginner Pilates. In the mood to remain outdoors, I decide on the gentle trek – I’m particularly happy with my choice once I discover both walks will increase in intensity daily.
She then introduces Amy and Leo, who each describe the yin and yang sessions in detail, as these change every day. Today it’s beginner’s yoga in the pavilion or a strength and conditioning class in the hangar.
Over the course of the week, the activities vary from breathwork to booty bands, fitballs, spin and more. One of my favorites is the salsa class, which is an incredibly fun head-to-toe workout that’s much harder than it looks.
Sticking with the gentler walk every morning, I explore everything from the ancient fig tree, organic garden, orchard, labyrinth, woodland, rocky overlook trails and yes, even a stretch of that horrendous driveway.
On my travels I pass wallabies, koalas and brush turkeys, and I’m lucky enough to encounter the stunning local peacock Peter. A spot of bird watching on one walk merely hints at the variety of species that call the region home, including yellow-tailed black cockatoos whose unmistakable cries echo as they soar overhead.
Educational seminars are held at the WEC daily, as learning is an essential part of the ‘Triple S’ retreat.
Experts including Senior Naturopath Shannon McNeill and Wellness Advisor Sharon Kolkka cover the topics of sleep, sugar, stress and stress resilience in detail. I now have a notebook full of helpful notes that I find myself referring back to often.
Rounding out the presentations is a cooking workshop with specialist consulting Wellness Chef Sam Gowing, who shares practical tips on healthy cooking. Spoiler alert: she is also contributing to Gwinganna’s latest cookbook.
Nestled in among the trees and behind enormous mirrored doors lies the Spa Sanctuary, a remarkable indoor/outdoor facility that’s also the Southern Hemisphere’s largest spa.
Encased in a soft, fluffy robe, I feel the tension melt away as my face is gently cleansed, scrubbed, hydrated and massaged to a soothing soundtrack. Pure bliss.
The circular building and elevated outdoor deck overlook a lush native garden, with a rabbit warren of 33 treatment rooms hidden inside. It features a beautiful crystal steam room, complete with refreshing outdoor rain shower, and a wellness lounge with high-tech pods for LED light therapy, infrared sauna, mediation and recovery massage.
I begin with a relaxing facial. Encased in a soft, fluffy robe, I feel the tension melt away as my face is gently cleansed, scrubbed, hydrated and massaged to a soothing soundtrack. Pure bliss.
Over the next few days, I indulge in a few of Gwinganna’s unique and signature treatments, including a massage, physiotherapy and even an equine learning experience to balance both my mind and body. I regret that there’s not enough time to try them all.
Gwinganna offers a range of retreat packages from two to seven days and each focuses on a different aspect of wellness.
The all-inclusive ‘Triple S’ – Sleep, Sugar, Stress program starts at A$3,490 for a single in a Heritage room with five nights’ accommodation, wellness seminars, one classic massage, one essential facial, A$100 wellness therapy credit, all meals, activities and transfers to and from Gold Coast Airport.
I feel like a new person after my five days of pampering, relaxation and healthy eating. Now to plan my return visit.