In a life that is constantly busy, it’s easy to forget about ‘me’. I know that I did.

A year of long work hours, deadlines, social commitments and general life stress left me drained, with adrenalin as my deadly but loyal friend to get me through the day.

At this stage I mentally told my computer I wanted a divorce, and literally packed my bags to escape to Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat in QLD for five nights.

Relaxation here I come!

Pure beauty

High on a plateau in a hidden region of Queenslandís Tallebudgera Valley lies Gwinganna Lifestyle retreat.

The name means lookout in ancient Aboriginal dialect, which perfectly describes its 200 acres of bushland and rainforest, and stunning ocean and valley views.

On arrival I was taken aback by the sudden transition from busy streets to the stillness of the native trees and wildlife but it was a pleasant feeling. Once all 22 guests were settled, we were shown down a narrow, windy path which leads to Gwinganna’s Spa Sanctuary. 

Gwinganna is not only a haven for beauty but an architectural dream.

The sanctuary is designed in a circular shape to resemble two human vertebraes back to back.

Inside lies an enchanting sculpture of Miriyani, the bronze guardian of the spa, a myriad of treatment rooms painted in mood colours like metallic purple and gold, and a plush spa lounge with soft couches. 

Following this, we were invited to a fresh, organic dinner, where we sat around three communal tables and introduced ourselves to each other.

The entree of three, flavour exploding bites included a delicious prawn and avocado dish, followed by a main of Moroccan spiced fish with organic steamed vegetables picked straight from the garden. I could really get used to this!

A wake-up call

5.45am. You heard me right. That was the time I had to be out of bed, a far cry from the usual 7.45am alarm.

But I made a point of getting up early because I didn’t want to miss the experience of practicing Qi Gong on the rolling, green hills whilst the sun rose.

Qi Gong is the ancient, restorative art of Chinese moving meditation.

And it was an amazing, energising experience. 

We began by tapping each other lightly on the back while chanting, followed by diaphragmatic (deep), breathing to slow movements.

Following this was an exhilarating, uphill walk through the serene forest, which made me feel as though I was one with nature.

One thing that really stood out to me was when Gwingannaís general manager, Sharon Kolka, spoke about whizzing through life with little regard to well-being, and the dire consequences of constant stress on the body.

She used the analogy of a driver in a car that speeds through a red light but keeps going, which eventually becomes a permanent red flashing light, which they still ignore.

“Then eventually, the car just stops,” she said. 

This really resonated with me and only then did I stop and realise how much I had been missing out on having a exceptional quality of life.

I felt emotional and made a vow to slow down and enjoy life, as well as put my health as a top priority.


 Rejuvenation awaits

The beauty of the Gwinganna stay was that its philosophy revolves around balance.

For example activities were grouped into ‘yin’ (energetic) and ‘yang’ (slower, quieter movements), so that if you were feeling energetic you could choose to do a ‘yang’ activity like stick fighting, or tribal dance, which I did on days two and five.

Yin activities were exercises like yoga, pilates and meditation, which were rejuvenating when I was feeling tired.

Each afternoon was devoted to rest and relaxation known as Dreamtime.

The philosophy behind this is that it allows the adrenals (organs that produce stress hormones) to recover.

Besides, using the time to sleep (it was ironic how tiring relaxing could actually be!), Dreamtime usually meant a daily scheduled appointment to the spa.

The most unique therapy I experienced was Rockupuncture, which combines heated basalt stones from Ireland with Japanese acupuncture in a treatment designed to re-align energy through the bodyís meridians. 

The hot stones were soothing on the skin, and comforting to hold. They gently glided up and across my body, dissolving away tension around my neck so that when I emerged, I felt relaxed, peaceful, and ready to sleep like a baby. Also interesting was the naturopath and live blood analysis, where a small prick of blood was taken from my index finger and assessed on big screen right in front of my eyes! 

The naturopath pointed to cells moving on the screen that looked a little wobbly, saying that there was free radical damage and that I needed to increase my antioxidant intake by eating more fruit and vegies! 

I was now armed with the right tools- wholesome food, the chance to relax, activities that encouraged functional movement and seminars on how to achieve optimum well-being. 

The challenge would now be taking this information and applying the new habits once I returned home.

The humanistic element

Just when you think a health retreat is about ‘me’ time, you realise it’s not. Itís the people around you that personify and add to the experience. 

There was Shelley, the gardener who took us on a tour of the organic garden where she picked nearly every green leafy vegetable you can think of, from fresh spinach to endive and handed it to us to taste while explaining both their nutritional benefits and garden techniques. 

And who could forget John, the kind yet quirky bush walking guide who literally breathed and lived mother earth. 

He inspired me with his intimate knowledge of each and every plant and tree and his uninhibited spirit to get up and close to nature (including allowing a leech to suck his skin- it will cleanse his blood anyway he said!).

There was naturopath Donna, whose zest for life and contagious positive energy made me feel as though I could do anything if I put my mind to it. 

Not to mention the bond and compassion among the guests. This was reminiscent of the human need for belonging and love, a need so often neglected as we are bogged down in the world of busy.

Sometimes it takes a health retreat to realise that we are not just ‘humans being.’ We ought to be humans truly living.

For more information on Gwinganna Lifestyle retreat see: