Here’s why one weekend tucked away in the Gold Coast’s back country can kick-start a new way of living. By Megan Arkinstall

It’s the beginning of a New Year and instead of feeling refreshed and raring to go, I am sluggish, run down and a little out of shape. Clichéd

New Year’s resolutions aside, the prospect of a health retreat has always been one that’s appealed to me, but just like those ill-fated resolutions, it’s something I’ve never actually committed to, for one reason or another.

But when I finally arrive at Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat on the Gold Coast, I realise I’ve actually been making up excuses for way too long. How many of these sound familiar to you, too?

Excuse 1 – I don’t have time

You only need three days! The Wellness Weekend I have joined runs from Friday to Sunday and, like all Gwinganna programs, includes a mix of activities for the body and mind, wellness seminars, relaxation time, a nutritious and balanced diet and the chance for you to disconnect from the outside world (figuratively and literally).

Barely three hours after leaving the Big Smoke (Sydney), I arrive at Gwinganna, a tranquil 200-hectare parcel of hinterland surrounded by valley and ocean views. Let me tell you, the Zen of this place will have you relaxing faster than you can say, “Ain’t nobody got time for that”.

I am sleeping in an Orchard Suite, built from beautiful reclaimed Australian timbers with a natural stone bathroom; on its verandah, there’s a large, cushy chair calling out for me to sink into it with a book and tea.

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Clearing your schedule to focus on just yourself (instead of family, your household, work…), even if only for the weekend, can feel self-indulgent. But as Gwinganna’s Tracy Willis advocates, “It’s hard to take care of others if we don’t take care of ourselves first.”

She’s right: throughout the weekend I realise that my health and wellbeing are my first priorities and I have to have the time for that.

Excuse 2 – It doesn’t sound like my kind of holiday

I have to admit, I winced when I first saw the schedule: each day starts with qi gong at 6:15am, followed by a one-hour bushwalk, all before breakfast! You can request a sleep-in, but practising qi gong at first light while looking out over the sweeping Tallebudgera Valley to the sparkling ocean in the distance is a lovely way to start the day; the hustle and bustle of life on the Gold Coast (and in general) merely a speck on the horizon.

Perhaps it’s the evening relaxation classes, or the peacefulness of the location and the people (the staff are so softly spoken!), or the lack of digital distractions before bedtime (mobile phone use is restricted to your room and internet access is limited), I sleep so soundly that I wake early feeling refreshed.

Despite the challenges, it seems this is the most restorative break I’ve had in a long while. Now that is my kind of holiday.
I don’t meditate.

Meditation is, of course, included in the program, as is tai chi, yoga, pilates and stretching. But there is a balanced combination of high intensity and gentle activities to benefit the body and mind.

For those who aren’t attuned to gentle exercise you can raise your heart rate with boxing, aqua aerobics, cycling, fitball and so on, so bring your active wear. Or don’t – everything on the schedule (except for the orientation) is optional.

Excuse 3 – I hate diets

Said every person who ever lived. But this is the most delicious ‘diet’ I’ve ever been on: we devour tasty dishes such as homemade baked beans and poached eggs, steak, seafood paella, and the lip-smackingly good signature tahini balls – all made with produce harvested from the gardens and orchard.

Surprisingly, dessert and a glass of organic wine are offered at dinner on the weekend retreats, but there’s no sugar or caffeine. Trust me – this can be tough.

One guest on a seven-day detox tells me that she struggled without her caffeine, cigarettes and sugar – “I felt tired, irritable, and had a raging headache, so I stayed in my room on day three. But it passes,” she assures me. That’s a good thing: I am having sugar withdrawals within 24 hours. Yikes.

Excuse 4 – I can’t sit still for too long – I’ll get bored

“You never really know how busy you are until you stop,” a guest, who is on her final day of a five-day retreat tells me. “You think – wow, we are all crazy!”

Truth be told, I wasn’t quite aware of how wound up I had become. Dreamtime (spa time) is scheduled into the program every afternoon to unwind after a morning of activity.

My first appointment is shortly after my arrival, and as soon as my therapist lays eyes on me, she calmly tells me to take a moment to breathe. (I clearly look like a crazy lady: cue red face.)

After my Rockupuncture treatment, which is an incredibly relaxing combination of Japanese-style acupuncture and hot stone massage, I sit with a cup of Gwinganna’s soothing Calming Tea and chat to the guest next to me about her experience.

She described the Spirit of the Sound treatment she had as “out of this world” – it includes the fusion of massage and live percussion. Boring? I think not.

Excuse 5 – One weekend won’t make a difference

There are more extensive five- and seven-night packages available, which can be combined to create a longer stay. Though I still find the Wellness Weekend challenging; it makes a difference to my outlook, if not immediately to my waistline.

I realise how uptight I can be, question my ‘healthy’ diet, realise that I am – cringe – a little addicted to my iPhone, and how fast life is zooming by.

But, most importantly I realise, when it comes to my health and wellbeing, it’s time to stop making excuses.


The details: Gwinganna

Getting there: Gwinganna is less than 30 minutes’ drive from Gold Coast Airport and 60 minutes from Brisbane.

Staying there: Two-night Wellness Weekend packages start from $980 per person, and seven-night Gwinganna Detox packages from $2980 per person (based on a double Heritage suite), including all meals and beverages, a 50-minute massage, wellness seminars, activities and set-time airport transfers.

Australian Traveller issue 67

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