Australia’s biggest retreat centre offers guests a renewed sense of health and vitality
For over 25 years, Golden Door Health Retreat has been inspiring visitors to transform their habits and step into the healthiest, happiest version of themselves. Appealing to everyone from CEOs to yoga teachers, the retreat offers a smorgasbord of health and wellness activities, as well as delicious, nutritious meals and treatments to support you on your unique journey to ultimate wellbeing.
It probably goes without saying that this is not your typical Hunter Valley experience. In fact, alcohol is a contraband item (as is chocolate) so you’ll have to save your wine re-stock for the drive home.
165 Thompsons Road, Pokolbin, Hunter Valley, NSW
There’s something about the space that provokes internal reflection. Perhaps it’s the sheer expansiveness (there’s definitely no sign of any high rises on the horizon), or the meditation hill, perched in the centre and perfectly placed to greet the sun during morning tai chi.
Maybe it’s the fact that phones are not allowed in any of the common spaces, inspiring you to enjoy a little digital detox. But there’s certainly something in the air that invites you to look within, exploring parts of your psyche that you may not have visited in a while, if ever.
There’s a slight whiff of the ’90s as you enter your villa (available in one, two or three bedrooms), which feels like a charming combination of old school corporate and modern luxury. There’s plenty of space, a fully self-contained kitchen, relaxing herbal teas, comfortable beds dressed with crisp linen, a balcony overlooking the perfect views and a deep bath if you can handle any more indulgence at the end of the day.
Golden Door is the biggest retreat centre in Australia, so expect nothing less than a plentiful smorgasbord of activities to indulge in – all optional, of course. You can choose from a three-day, five-day or seven-day program, and to encourage guests to live in the moment, schedules are given out each evening after dinner.
The program boasts up to 16 activities a day, with each day bringing new activities, and at least something bound to tickle your fancy – from tai chi, yoga and meditation to seminars on healthy eating, sleep, stress and more. There’s also high-intensity workouts including fun activities bound to get you giggling, like disco cycling and ‘dance yourself happy’ classes. All up, it’s a perfect combination of stimulation and relaxation.
The staff are incredibly professional and helpful, and every effort is made to ensure that you reach your own unique goals – whether it’s weight loss, a health reset or simply rest and rejuvenation.
Think fresh, nutritious, delicious and colourful fare that will sometimes leave you feeling full to the brim, and at other times dreaming of a side plate of fries (you’d have to season them with spices though, because there’s no salt on the menu).
Prepared lovingly by the retreat’s executive chef, the menu encourages guests to experience the true flavours of wholesome food, not smothered in salt or oil (but just as delicious). Many guests come with the goal to shed a little weight or simply reset their health, and the food is perfect for doing just that, as well as inspiring you to rethink some of the less healthy eating habits you may have found yourself in. You’ll even have the opportunity to indulge in a cooking class to learn how to integrate some of these meals into your repertoire at home.
There are three treatments included in your stay – with the option to book extras if you like.
Of course, you’re spoilt for choice with options ranging from a simple Swedish massage to chakra awakening and balancing, one-on-one Zen monk therapy, and Golden Door’s signature treatment –Watsu therapy (a unique, water-based therapy known for its ability to relax you so deeply you feel as though you’re being held in the womb).
One of the highlights for many is the opportunity to make new friends. Guests consist mainly of bright-eyed middle-aged women and the occasional man. But everyone leaves their age and status at the door and there’s a very friendly and inclusive atmosphere.
Everyone seems genuinely pleased to be there – and many guests organise future stays with their new friends, even making it an annual ritual. It’s an easy place to visit on your own, as you’ll find a nice balance between solo time and socialising with others. You’ll find yourself chatting with other guests like old friends in no time, and returning guests are always happy to share their experiences and guide newcomers in the right direction.
After a few days spent here, there’s a good chance you won’t want to leave, and many guests actually return to participate in the volunteer program – a five-week commitment to living the Golden Door lifestyle and moving towards your own health goals.
The AT verdict
The perfect place to reset, refresh and renew
The setting (incredible, peaceful views and an expansive horizon perfect for sunrise and sunset). The food (light, delicious, nutritious and colourful). The incredibly friendly and supportive staff. The opportunity to meet new friends on the same journey to health and wellness.
Not a lot. The rooms are more beigey corporate-comfortable than uber luxurious, so if you’re looking for something six-star then you may think the space could use a tiny update. The only problem with the program is FOMO – you’ll inevitably end up missing out on a session or two in favour of a snooze or an extra spa session.
A three-night program starts at $2280 but this year, to celebrate its 25th anniversary, the retreat is offering a number of 25 per cent off specials. It also runs regular specialty retreats if you’d like to home in on a particular topic.
And before you go (or bring as the perfect literary companion) read Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty – a novel about nine strangers on a remote health retreat. Moriarty was writing the book during her stay at Golden Door.