There are seminal times in your life that are meant to happen. You may not will them to, but when they occur your attitude determines the outcome – positive or negative.
Gwinganna was one of those events for me.
I had made a fresh start to 2021, declaring it ’The Year of Me’. As a family, we had made a tree change, began yet another renovation and I began to focus more on my own wellness, both physically and mentally, putting behind me the last few years of high stress at work, losing four family members, not to mention the pandemic.
Then, right on cue, came an invitation to attend a Wellness Weekend at Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat, a relaxing two-night stay at the world-famous retreat.
In truth, though I agreed immediately, the idea of a health retreat was a bit daunting. Would I feel out of place? But life is about grasping opportunities when they arise, moving out of your comfort zone to achieve growth and striving for positive outcomes, I reminded myself, launching into the journey.
Only half an hour from home, Gwinganna is nestled high on a mountaintop in Tallebudgera Valley at the end of a long winding driveway. Set on 500 acres of semi-tropical bushland, it’s the largest health retreat in Australasia, beautifully appointed and maintained with a mixture of restored heritage buildings and stunning new ones surrounded by lush gardens.
I breathed a sigh of relief when the long, winding driveway reached the resort, the view opening across the valley to panoramic vistas from Burleigh Hill to Palm Beach.
Purpose of the Retreat
The Wellness Weekend’s goal is to build resilience and joy. It’s an ideal short break to detox from technology and substances, to step away from our busy lives and refocus on personal health and wellbeing. At the same time, it’s not hardcore, with coffee available during the morning and one small glass of organic wine served with dinner. Immediately I could see an alignment with my values.
Upon arrival, I checked in and filled out a questionnaire about my present health and lifestyle (nothing too challenging), then took a walk to familiarise myself with the resort.
There is a range of accommodation at Gwinganna, from heritage houses to private villas set high up on the hill. My Orchard Deluxe Suite is well-appointed close to the centre of the resort yet with complete privacy. There is a sitting area, ensuite with shower and French doors that open onto the verandah, where there’s a deep outdoor bath.
An exclusive retreat for up to 64 guests, each person’s stay, regardless of length, is fully inclusive with organic meals, a wellness seminar and a diverse range of ‘Ying and Yang’ activities. These may include a spa treatment, yoga, pilates, a range of bushwalking and hikes with varying levels of difficulty, stretch classes and guided relaxation, meditation, boxing, health seminars and Qi Gong.
Further activities and services, such as additional treatments in their award-winning spa and a body scan analysis, are available at additional cost.
An early riser, I had no difficulty waking to grab a cup of herbal tea before learning some Qi Gong moves at 6am. We stood on a gentle slope looking out to expansive views and the newly risen sun, our bodies bending gently like trees in the wind. It’s all very zen, calming and relaxing; a great start to the day.
There was still time for a walk and freshen up before breakfast at 8.30am, the later start giving our stomachs a mini-fast overnight. Then we embarked on with our chosen activities for the day.
There is a lot of choice, with very few compulsory activities. For me, the gentler walks were enough, exploring the orchard and kitchen garden of herbs and vegetables (which are maintained by Shelley, a horticulturalist and former chef), chatting with other participants, filling the rest of my day with a facial and massage at the Gwinganna Spa, body scan and educational talk around meals, morning and afternoon tea.
The InBody Composition Analysis scan involved standing on a biometric analysis machine which then gave you a breakdown of your body’s composition, such as a whole and segmented muscle-fat analysis as well as a body water analysis. For me, the results showed me that though I had made changes this year, I needed to continue on the path to better health.
The Gwinganna Spa
Having not been to a day spa before, the Gwinganna Spa was a definite highlight. Moreover, I was starting with the best. In a first for Australia, Gwinganna won the World’s Best Eco Spa in the 2020 World Spa Awards. After a brief tour of the spa on my first afternoon, I made two treatment bookings for the next day.
Designed in a curve, its outstretched arms embracing the rainforest, the building itself is a wonder. Over thirty treatment rooms are situated within its arms. The rooms can be dimmed, the coolness and low light were relaxing in themselves, even before my treatments began. From facials to aromatherapy, Eastern therapies to equine experiences, the spa offers a wide range of therapies to suit your needs.
My Essential Naturaceuticals™ Facial used natural skincare products from the award-winning Vanessa Megan Naturaceuticals range. The goal is to cleanse, hydrate and deeply nourish your skin and that’s exactly how I felt. It’s a treatment not to be missed!
Later that afternoon, the relaxing full body massage eased any tension and stress I had brought with me to the retreat. In retrospect, a massage on arrival would have been a fabulous way to relax and begin the weekend.
Food at Gwinganna
Mid-2021, Gwinganna appointed Dane Chatani as their Executive Chef. Trained as a Le Cordon Bleu chef, Dane gained qualifications in clinical nutrition in 2018, bringing to the Gwinganna table the amazingly powerful combination of these two areas of expertise.
Dane’s resume includes roles as Head Health Chef to the Royal Family of Saudi Arabia, Consultant Head Health Chef at Solar Springs Health Retreat, founding The Nutritional Chef catering and consultation business as well as a food business (Dane’s Delights and Muriel’s Muesli).
Gwinganna has always had a focus on seasonal, local, organic wholefoods.
What Dane adds to the mix is ‘food synergy’; ways to maximise healing by bringing foods together. As we chatted, I realised that the knowledge of which combinations of food should be used together so that the body can absorb nutrients fascinates me. Black pepper increases the absorption of turmeric and curcumin by up to 2,000 per cent; lemon juice helps extract the calcium from broccoli. It’s a knowledge bank that we rarely tap into when preparing our food, let alone when we dine at a restaurant.
Gwinganna’s food is not just delicious, it also uses exciting combinations of organic food, much of the produce grown in the garden with the additional asset of being synergy-focussed.
It was not stated when we sat down to a meal, but there was a lot of planned synergy on each plate. Greens are served with eggs to maximise the absorption of Vitamin D, K2 and calcium, which are all fat-soluble. Confit duck has been slow-cooked to break down the proteins, then served with beetroot marmalade to widen the blood vessels to aid nutrient absorption.
There is planned seating in the dining room, making catering for people with food intolerances and allergies seamlessly discreet. Gluten free and dairy free (but not vegetarian or vegan except by special request), the menu aims to help support and improve digestion and liver detox, reduce inflammation, improve healthy gut bacteria and balance blood sugar levels. Not only that, but meals are also beautifully presented and delicious.
Snacks of nutrient-dense treats at morning and afternoon tea help tide over those with a large appetite. Many of these recipes can be found in their cookbook ‘A Taste of Gwinganna’, available from their store.
Single events can be a reset in our lives. Often these are negative events, such as illness (as several other participants pointed out to me on the weekend), however they could just as easily be positive, such as an investment in yourself.
A Wellness Weekend at Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat is a ‘reset’. It’s time away from the stresses of everyday life and the distraction of electronic devices, a time to focus on health and gentle exercise, learning techniques to help us live our best, most fulfilled life. Even a short stay can have significant impact, allowing us to stop and decompress, to change or renew intentions, or realign lifestyle to philosophy. So I’m not surprised to learn that approximately half of Gwinganna’s retreat participants are return guests, eager to reclaim the experience.
Gwinganna may not yet have featured in your plan for your busy life, but it might be just what you need. It was for me.
Gwinganna, 192 Syndicate Rd, Tallebudgera Valley, Queensland 4228
Ph: +61 7 5589 5000 Toll Free: 1800 219 272
Note: Good Food Gold Coast was a guest of Gwinganna. Spa photo credited to Gwinganna.