Review: Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat
Seriously good health spa in Australia's Queensland Hinterland
(This review first appeared in queenofretreats.com)
Set high on a mountaintop, just over the Queensland border from New South Wales, Gwinganna is one of Australia’s very few Eco Tourism Certified Lifestyle Retreats with a generous focus on overall mind and body wellness. The ethos adheres to the SLOW principles of the best of seasonal, local, organic and wholesome, and everything is done to secure guests’ comfort and wellbeing. The annual retreat calendar has numerous options from weekend wellness retreats to week-long detox, womens health, heart and brain programmes and many more. But regardless of the length of stay, the fully inclusive packages combine early morning walks in the cleanest air, gi gong, yoga, dance, swimming and plenty more, or very little indeed, in line with Gwinganna’s Dreamtime philosophy. The place works, seriously well.
Who it's best for:
Most people coming to Gwinganna are looking to improve their life in some way. The annual calendar comprises a varied programme of retreats with something for almost every age and interest – as long as health is top of the agenda. Parents often bring their older teenage/young adult children too as they can learn so much about wellness and set themselves up for their adult life in one of the most uplifting environments in the world. It’s also brilliant for anyone who needs to radically reboot their physical or emotional selves – or to boost energy levels and refocus.
What you can do:
Gwinganna offers options for all tastes and fitness levels. No activity is compulsory, but some come very highly recommended by the staff. In fact the only obligatory activity is the afternoon Dreamtime, which in Aboriginal speak translates as an understanding of the world, its stories and our journey through life, but to those there means nurturing yourself from within, between the hours of 2-6pm or thereabouts, by doing as little as possible, preferably in the spa.
An early morning start to watch the sun rise across the Pacific Ocean practising the ancient art of Qi Gong or moving meditation is a must as it calmly energises the body and sets you up for the day ahead. Then it’s a brisk walk/ climb up a (small) mountain – with plenty of options here from 2km brisk walks to more arduous hikes through the hinterland. A well-earned breakfast follows, a stunning combination of flavours and optimum, organic nutrition. You could happily spend the rest of your day in the spa but its worth experiencing some of the numerous activities on offer from dance bodywork (a gentle guided session that encourages guests to let go of judgement and self-doubt and be more comfortable in and about themselves) to yoga, stretching, boxing, pool exercises, gym and more.
After mid-morning tea there is usually some form of wellness seminar – with the focus being nutrition, stress, fertility issues, insomnia, heart health or whatever fits best with the theme of the retreat. Then after another power-packed meal its afternoon Dreamtime, generally at the spa. Those inclined can work up an appetite at the yin yoga or stretch session just before dinner. Then its star gazing under the clearest sky imaginable before lights out.
Where you stay
The former country retreat of an Australian publishing magnate, Gwinganna is made up of new buildings and suitably renovated heritage houses offering different accommodation options: Heritage (renovated mud-brick cottages), Orchard Suites and five Signature Villas (with private plunge pool, a stand-alone tub and steam room).
Home for us was a signature villa, set back from the main living area of the property, and our little buggy became our weekend companion, much to the envy of others staying closer to the retreat epicentre. Calming muted tones, all the essentials you could possibly want and the crispest, cosiest of sheets led to peaceful sleep and a comfortable stay.
Indigenous animals roam the grounds, including kangaroos and a few koalas – earlier this year two injured koalas were released back into the wild at Gwinganna. Such a remote-feeling place, and yet the retreat is about 30 minutes drive from Gold Coast airport and 60 minutes from Brisbane.
I attended Gwinganna Weekend Wellness retreat on which days are full on but no activity is obligatory. That said, most of our group (about 30 in total) did the majority of activities on offer. Early morning rising (5.45 to be exact!) to watch the sun rise over the Pacific Ocean while practicing Qi Gong’s meditative rhythms, followed by a brisk walk or hike culminating in a wonderful breakfast combination of flavours and a decent cup of coffee (the only one we are offered in the day). I befriended a few like-minded folk, some going through some serious challenges in their lives. We shared experiences and a few resolutions for our journeys ahead.
The real highlight for me was the spa – undoubtedly amongst the best I have experienced from the comprehensive menu of facials, massage, scrubs, wraps, reflexology, manis and pedis to a full complement of bespoke treatments and rituals as wonderful and diverse as the talented therapists. From Reiki, Crystal Healing and the indigenous Spirit of Sound ritual, to the powerful Integrated Massage Therapy and Tribal Dreaming Ritual – these truly were top class (and that says a lot as I have been visiting and reviewing spas for close to 15 years now!).
I am always on the look out for something different, something that resonates with the environment I am in, and I was not disappointed. My 80-minute Rockupuncture ($240/£110) session with the hugely talented Kerrie Krieger was the real highlight. This powerful fusion of hot Basalt stones from the Atlantic Coast of Ireland (my birthplace) and Subtle Japanese style acupuncture, delivered by Kerrie’s safe and experienced hands, was powerful and instantly eased my chronic shoulder/neck concerns leaving me feeling well restored. The Goddess is Dancing (110mins/$310 (£140)) was another treat. This deeply sensual full body rhythmic massage and hot stone experience left me chilled and almost dazed to the core.
And then there’s the Whisper lounge – if I hadn’t had young children and four flights ahead of me, you would still find me happily lying on the lounge’s sofa bed hoping I wouldn’t be spotted.
What we took home: A resounding message of wellness, and of being our best selves. We were asked to set an intention at the start of the retreat – mine was to get a little peace, and that I certainly got.
Would we go back: As I was on a Gwinganna Weekend Wellness I left without wholly embracing this delicious place. Without doubt I will go back and, if I could, I would be a regular visitor and would bring my children when they’re a little older, for they too could learn a lot.
The Gwinganna team are all hugely experienced and obviously really enjoy what they do. The attention to detail was tops. Kerrie Kriegeer (my Rockupuncture therapist) was a true expert. Kay Tarrant, our weekend team manager, was super-organized and enthusiastic (even at 6am each morning!), and I cannot fail to include the erudite and hugely entertaining John Palmer, Gwinganna’s resident botanist and social ecologist – or Botanist Bushman as we christened him – who entertained his troupe with fascinating facts and humorous stories from the Bush during our morning hikes.
Food at Gwinganna is a sublime mix of healthy seasonal and local foods, with just traces of wheat and diary. Much of the food is grown on site in the seriously impressive organic vegetable/herb gardens, lovingly attended by a core gardening team and some willing volunteers. Mornings started with a shot of apple cider vinegar (to promote internal acid/alkali balance – a fundamental nutrition message). We were hugely impressed with the creative combinations of foods and flavours coming from the kitchen – from pumpkin porridge served with toasted coconut, walnuts, cinnamon and a nourishing fruit compote to veggie Moussakas, quinoa bean casseroles, salad combinations alive with freshness, poached eggs with the richest of yolks, local reef fish with a colour combination of superfood accompaniment, finished off with chia seed mousse (delicious!) and a glass of biodynamic Cullen wine. In all, some seriously powerful superfoods – once again showing that with a little thought, we can all improve our eating habits and ultimately feel better and stronger in ourselves.
What’s queenly: There’s something very spiritual about Gwinganna. Local folk believe that the soil from Mount Warning is sacred and that along the route between former hippie hangout Byron Bay and Gwinganna a feeling of peace and stillness prevails – and this we grasped in an instant.
What’s lowly: Gwinganna is a tease – 2 days left us craving so much more. A second glass of organic wine would also have been appreciated with dinner (please note Gwinganna team!).
Insider tip: Although 5.45am is an early start to any day, especially when on holiday, practising the ancient meditative art of Qi Gong as the sun rises over the Gold Coast is not to be missed.
Price per person with a companion: Two-night Wellness Weekend packages start from $980 (approx £450) per person sharing double accommodation) and include a 50 minute classic massage (you can upgrade this to another treatment), all meals, activities, transfers to and from the Gold Coast Airport and a wellness seminar.
Price per person going solo: 2-night Wellness Weekend for single person start at $1095 (£500) inclusive of above
Value for money: Excellent – the food, the quality of treatments and added extras included are amongst the best on the market.