Occupying a commanding position on top of a hill in the Tallebudgera Valley in Queensland is one of the best Australian health retreats you’ll find.
Two hundred hectares of private nature reserve set the scene. Here tall, ancient trees meet the lush vegetation of the rainforest. Packed full of life with birds, koalas, wallabies and other native wildlife, it brings a sense of calm from the moment you arrive.
Despite having uninterrupted views across to the famous Gold Coast glitter strip, up here at Gwinganna Wellness Retreat, we could just as well be in a different world.
Why it made perfect sense to visit Gwinganna Wellness Retreat
Being unable to travel this year didn’t really worry us at first. We had a physically demanding year of international travel in 2019, businesses to run and a new one in the development stages. I saw the early stages of 2020 as a chance to regroup, to catch up on some writing and get the new business launched.
Then COVID hit. Even then, we surged through the first quarter and even the second. One eye was on the evolving health pandemic and my feet firmly on the accelerator. I was pleased to have nowhere to go, nowhere to be. I was so focussed on getting things done.
I’m a bit of a maniac when it comes to working. I enjoy it. I look forward to it. I love the challenge, the learning and the innovation that it brings. After retiring from our corporate lives, we were meant to be taking things a lot easier. But, my Type A personality drives me, even subconsciously, to a point where often I don’t know how to stop, even if I want to, even if I need to.
With more flexibility in our lives than we had ever had, we’d become too inwardly focussed on work. It became harder to find the time to have a chat. Without having to commute, we could be in our office by 6 am (or earlier) and with no traffic to fight on the way home, we could work later.
We’d stopped exercising as much as we used to. “There’s no time”, I would say. Or, “I’m busy”. We still loved eating and drinking and whilst we generally eat well, hours and hours of sitting on our butts at a desk eventually takes its toll.
Without any prospect of significant travel in 2020, we decided that we’d use this unusual time in our lives to refocus on us. A visit to Gwinganna seemed very appropriate.
This is how our time at Gwinganna went as we threw ourselves head first into a three-night ‘Organic Living’ wellness retreat. Take the time to take it all in. There’s plenty here to share. Would we do it again? Follow our story through to the end and we’ll be sure to let you know.
We were fortunate enough to have former General Manager Sharon Kolkka in residence as our Program Manager during our stay. Sharon and Gwinganna have been almost one and the same since she was invited by the owners back in 2004 to assist with its establishment.
Opening in 2006, Sharon took the helm, both operationally as the GM and also as the Wellness Director. It’s a role she coveted until earlier this year when, for personal reasons, she took a step back from the executive position. Today, she remains firmly in charge of designing the programs and remains an integral part of the management team.
Many of the buildings on the property are original (you can pick them out by their coloured tin roofs). The former owner also had a passion for acquiring old buildings from other locations, like the Tweed Heads Methodist Church.
What is a health and wellness retreat?
Health and wellness retreats are often thought of as detox centres. You know, the kind of places where you are made to fast or survive on lettuce leaves. They can be thought of as places for curing addictions and for weight loss. I am the first to admit that before spending time at Gwinganna, they were some of my thoughts too.
Fear of starving, being forced to eat food I didn’t want or like, and to be corralled into a program I’m not keen on is most likely why I have never sought out such a place before now.
This couldn’t be further from the truth, and the extensive range of programs offered by Gwinganna, covering both physical and mental health and wellness support this. People come here for all kinds of reason. Sure, there are specific detox programs to deal with an overabundance of such things as alcohol, nicotine, caffeine and sugar.
But, it’s also somewhere to escape from the world, if only for a short time. Here you can remove yourself from your busy world, leave the kids at home, leave work behind, even do a real digital detox. That part actually wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be.
During our orientation, Sharon assures us that they don’t practise any “EWS” here. As I looked around the room at the 50 or so of us who had collected here together, I could see they didn’t understand either. “Extremely weird stuff”, said Sharon with a smile. That’s the icebreaker many of us were happy to hear.
The choice is such that it’s quite challenging to narrow it down to one program. Many people join two or more programs together to maximise their time, impact and outcomes.
During our stay, several of the guests we spoke to had just finished a seven-day Women’s Retreat, whilst others were staying on for the seven-day detox. It was common to find Gwinganna regulars who cobbled two programs together as a regular habit.
Programs here can be as little as two nights (there are 2, 3, 4, 5 nights) or a maximum of seven nights.
As a minimum, all programs are fully inclusive, meaning the rate you pay covers the following:
- Scheduled activities & facilities
- Key wellness seminars
Other packages may include spa treatments and credit vouchers for Gwinganna programs.
Each program is built around a central theme with key educators running relevant wellness sessions throughout the entire time. Examples include an equine retreat, winter detox, genes for health, Triple S – “Sugar, Sleep, Stress.
Nothing at Gwinganna is forced or compulsory. No one is cracking a whip nor are they recording where you’ve been or what you’ve done. It’s not a cult. There’s no coercion.
In fact, if sitting around the pool all day, dipping your toes in and out of the water whilst looking at the magnificent view is all you need, then you are free to do so. Or perhaps you’d like to read a book by the crackling fire in the lounge during the peak of winter and then quietly doze off. That’s allowed too.
As first-timers to this wellness adventure, we seized it all with both arms, fitting in as much as we could, although I will admit to stuffing a copious number of red frogs into my mouth as we drove from Brisbane to the Gold Coast.
We wanted to explore every part of the property and engage in as many of the scheduled activities as possible. Alas, with only three nights here, it just wasn’t possible, but we gave it a good crack. Now, we have added incentive to come back for more.
Gwinganna is many things to its guests. One regular said, “I’ve been coming here for seven years and it saved my life”. Some will open up to you about their life and health battles, sometimes telling you more than you really want to know. Others keep their distance. New friends are made here, old ones come together. Everyone, however, is here for a reason, it just might not be the same as yours.
How our day unfolded at Gwinganna
5.30 am – We are up and at it early. There’s one thing for certain. We are in tune with the circadian rhythm, the cycle of getting up with the birds and going to sleep with the sun that all programs at Gwinganna are designed around. Mornings are loaded up with activity, giving away to a more gentle run into the evening as our bodies start to wind down.
6 am – The day kicks off with some meditative exercise in the form of ancient Qi Gong. Standing out on the grassy field, we watch the sun rise over the mountain and let our bodies and minds relax. Our program director Sharon, who has been practising Qi Gong for over 20 years, leads us on a discovery of intention and attention.
Why are we here this morning? What are we trying to achieve? What are we focussing on? As she takes us through a series of slow, intentional movement, we hand ourselves over to nothing but the sounds of the birds and the feeling of the wind on our face.
As we close our eyes and focus on deep breathing, the mantra of “I’m here to recharge my energy and my life force” repeats over and over in my head. It’s a beautiful way to start the day and perfect for someone like me who finds it difficult to sit still and relax my mind and my body.
6.30 am – There are only a few minutes to grab a quick cup of herbal tea and a piece of fruit before heading off onto a walk. Around 15 walking tracks are woven throughout the property here. They offer a chance to explore the rainforest and ancient trees that have lived here for centuries, whilst getting your heart rate up.
Like everything at Gwinganna, there are walks to suit everyone’s level of fitness, mobility or state of mind. Ranging from easy walks that amble over some of the flatter terrains right through to the steep walks that will see you climb up some very steep hills. If you are feeling adventurous, you can grab a guide later in the day and hit the “not so beaten path” through the scrub.
Always up for a challenge, and having been walking 15 kilometres on average every day for months, we were keen to tackle the more energetic walks. Like Brown’s cows, the large group that had joined with us, were climbing the very steep driveway that was once the original point of entry to the retreat.
I don’t think there was a whole lot of looking at the trees and surrounding natural landscape as I focussed on my breathing and putting one foot in front of the other. Eventually, we came to the Yoga Deck and some magical glimpses through the trees of the Gold Coast.
We backed up the next day with the “Driveway Climb”. The driveway at Gwinganna comes with its own reputation. As you drive it for the first time on your arrival it seems a little arduous, but walking it is a whole other matter.
Our walk started with a long descent – what goes down must come up – until we reached the bottom of the driveway. Guide and trainer Anthony, proudly stated “only the first bit is a pinch, then it flattens out into some undulating sections!”
Anthony I soon realise is completely mad (or just very fit). The pinch is definitely that. A sharp incline that has you working your little heart out. The promise of rolling hills doesn’t eventuate and when Anthony says “run” you know you are definitely putting in the big ones. Still, at the top, when Anthony states we have done it 15 minutes faster than a previous group, we know we’ve earned our breakfast.
8 am – Returning from our walk, we find a tray of apple cider vinegar portions outside the dining room. Organic, unfiltered and with “the mother”, we take this 15 minutes before eating to aid digestion. There are a few funny faces pulled as guests take the shot glass to their lips and swallow.
A solid morning of exercise makes us more than ready for a healthy breakfast. Fruit and homemade muesli or quinoa porridge is likely to adorn our table. This will be followed by avocado and tomatoes on nut bread, buckwheat crepes or poached eggs.
During breakfast, the Program Director lets us know what is in store for our day. At Gwinganna, timetables and scheduling is kept to an absolute minimum and on a need to know basis.
Even with time-specific events like spa treatments or wellness sessions, guests don’t find out the time until breakfast each day. This stops people like me always being switched on, and allowing guests to be a little more free-flowing.
9 am – After breakfast, we have the opportunity to break out into some yin and yang. For approximately two hours, we can let our bodies succumb to the gentler and mindful rituals of yoga and pilates (the yin) or get our heart rate going some more with high-intensity yang sessions.
Even though I know I should head over to give the yin activities a try when the trainers tell us what they are doing in their yang sessions, I’m instantly drawn to them all.
My overworked leg muscles require the stretching sessions each morning. Different trainers run the sessions each day, offering their own insight, experience and training practices. We do weight sessions using our own bodies, stretching with thermabands, boxing, BOSU ball training and deep water running.
By the end of it all, we are completely spent, but as I look around the training room, everyone has a smile on their sweaty face. Everyone is here because they want to be, and everyone has just achieved something, even if it’s just turning up!
11 am – Morning tea comes next. It’s a chance to have a quick breather if you’ve been attending all the morning sessions.
11.15 am – Following morning tea, there is a wellness session. The nature of this will depend entirely on the program that you are on. For us, being on the Organic Living program meant we got to hang out with resident food gardener, Shelley Pryor.
Shelley is literally Gwinganna’s ray of sunshine, with a smile that runs from ear to ear and a personality that would make gardening exciting even to those who have never had the desire to grow anything in their life.
Shelley is a Gwinganna long-termer too, having started her working life here as the resident chef. These days, she spends her time working across the four gardens and liaising with the chefs for daily menu planning.
Under the bright sun, we walk with Shelley through her gardens, her pride and joy. From the Gwinganna organic vegetable garden to the chef’s kitchen garden, the herb garden and the orchard, we leave no stone unturned when it comes to improving our knowledge on how to grow our own food.
12.30 pm – A delicious lunch is served as everyone gathers in the dining room to discuss the morning’s activities. There’s plenty of homegrown salad items and vegetables on our lunch plate along with a lean protein for us.
1.30 pm – This is officially known as “rest time”. Every afternoon at Gwinganna is entirely free to organise as little or as much as you like. It’s the time when guests head to the spa or wellness centre. It’s the time to head back to your room to relax, read or sleep. Or for those with energy still to burn, you can head off on one of the walking tracks yourself, have a swim or hit the gym.
6.30pm – Dinnertime. We look forward to this each night. Usually, it’s because I’m hungry, but it also means I’m not far away from going to bed. Dinner rounds out the day with beautifully cooked, fresh food and a cup of herbal tea, usually made with various items picked from the gardens. It’s the final health component for the day to aid with digestion.
Dining at Gwinganna means you never have to apologise for leaving the table early. There’s no judgement here. Everyone is as exhausted, or relaxed, as the next person, and everyone wants their own space at the end of the day.
Without any screens to watch, we have the evening to relax, reflect, chat and read without a care in the world. Our deep bath provides relief for our weary muscles, as does the plunge pool. With the blinds drawn and only the natural sounds of the bush, we are gently lulled into a deep and welcome sleep.
Spa Sanctuary at Gwinganna
There are spas and then there is the Gwinganna Spa Sanctuary. I have spent some time in many resorts and hotel spas around the world but this one is like no other. The natural environment is an integral part of this 33 room facility, the largest in the southern hemisphere.
Trees take centre stage in the middle of the outdoor circular deck. It’s both a stunning centrepiece and an important extension of their wellness and environmental culture.
A quick preview of the brochure (or a book as I like to call it) of possible spa treatments reveals approximately 82 treatments. They offer to care for your face, hands and feet with a range of facials, manicures and pedicures. There are experiences unique to Gwinganna with names such as Rockupuncture, Aloha Lomi Lomi Ritual and Holistic Kinesiology. Everyone loves a good massage.
From the remedial massage Stirling received to alleviate his tired muscles, to hot stones, shiatsu and Thai. Speciality therapies like Reiki Healing, Chi Nei Tsang and Zero Balancing are completely unknown to me. I’ve never seen so many different types of treatment.
I settle for Marma Point Relaxation Therapy, a blend of Ayurveda, another ancient healing system with aromatherapy. My therapist Lisa, also a Reiki Master, needs only a minute to look at my muscles and put me in the naughty corner.
Long neglected and over-used, my yang life has presented her with a knotted mess of tense muscles to work on. By the time she gets around to my follow on therapy of Chakra Balancing, I’m feeling physically relaxed, still according to Lisa, my insides are showing the signs of a body that I push too hard.
I’m not an outwardly anxious person, but the personality that drives me to over-achieve constantly is tangible to her in a way that I can’t see. I make a mental note as I leave the sweet smell of my essential oils behind that I need to be kinder to myself.
The treatments at Gwinganna aren’t only physical. Supporting once again their underlying philosophies of helping guests remediate and repair their mind and spirit as well. Stress and emotional wellbeing programs target stress management and personal transformations.
They sit alongside tarot card reading, astrology and numerology. You can consult a naturopath, do a live blood screen or a body scan that gives so much detail on the composition of your body it made my head spin.
You can get personal coaching on your posture, learn how to breath more effectively and if that’s not enough, there is a sauna and a crystal steam room.
The food at Gwinganna
When I told friends and family that I was going to Gwinganna, the jokes came in thick and fast. “How would I go eating mung beans all day?” asked one. “Do you get to eat anything else other than vegetables?”, was another common one. “You’re going to starve”, was a reasonably adamant statement. Actually, I wasn’t sure I wasn’t going to either.
These comments represent one of the biggest myths about attending a health and wellness retreat. The food here is exceptional. The daily menus are prepared by onsite chefs and are relevant to each program.
Seasonal, fresh, local and organic are integral to the Gwinganna food philosophy. Of course, with the abundance of fresh fruit, salad items, vegetables and herbs grown in their gardens, a large proportion of the daily food intake is generated from here. It doesn’t get more seasonal, fresh, local or organic than this.
Guided by their nutritionist, all food prepared at Gwinganna is dairy and gluten-free. It’s effortless if you are a vegetarian or vegan, but protein is still provided for those who are not. The meals are also put together with a view to assist digestion, improve gut health and detox the liver, amongst other things.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served in the dining room each day. Snacks for morning and afternoon tea provided in the general gathering areas on the deck outside.
Exercise programs at Gwinganna
There’s no shortage of physical activity options here. From the swimming pool to the gym, the exercise rooms and walking, to the calmer, meditative practices of yoga and pilates. Exercise programs are changed around throughout your stay. Even if you choose to do yin or yang sessions for several days in a row, the formats will mean you are never doing the same thing twice.
All trainers here come with a set of very serious credentials and experience. Since we were only here for a short amount of time, we didn’t get to spend time with more than a few. You can see their expertise below. I can honestly say that I would just come to Gwinganna for the exercise programs.
Matt has a degree in Myotherapy and is accredited in Selective Functional Movement Assessment (SFMA) Level 1 and Kinetic Link Training (KLT) level 2, and utilises these as a basis for screening and rehabilitation. He is a certified personal trainer, group fitness instructor and remedial massage therapist. Matt has a keen interest in rehabilitation and a holistic approach to health and wellness.
Anthony studied Sport Management at Griffith University before going on to study to be a Personal Trainer. He has worked around the globe as a trainer and completed a Yoga Teacher Training Course in India. Until recently, Anthony spent his days (and years) as a guide and adventure tour leader working on riverboats in Europe. Covid changed all of that, and Gwinganna now has the privilege of his expertise.
Accommodation at Gwinganna
Flexibility and choice are important at Gwinganna and it is evident when it comes to accommodation. Whilst the fundamental part of each package is the same, accommodation options can be kept simple or upscaled, depending on the guest’s preferences and their budget.
All options should be considered as premium, with beautiful designs and use of eco-friendly materials. They all provide a personal sanctuary when you aren’t engaged elsewhere on the property.
If you don’t mind being in closer proximity with other guests and would prefer to spend your budget on more spa treatments or wellness sessions, then a suite in the Orchard might be just your style.
Or, if total seclusion is what you seek, along with a private plunge pool or steam room, a premium villa would be perfect.
If you are coming to Gwinganna in a group? There are various options on-site including three and four-bedroom heritage houses to keep everyone close together.
We stayed in the Boorabee Villas, one of three sets of premium villas, built for ultimate luxury and privacy.
Modern, spacious, light and nestled in amongst the trees, they are perfect for taking time out of the day’s activities and having some quiet time.
The villas are open plan, with a large living area that opens up onto a rear deck. There are many sources of natural light in the villa. All windows and doors are protected by heavy curtains or Roman blinds for a total blockout or sheer ones to let the light through whilst still maintaining some privacy.
The villas are fully airconditioned, with reverse cycle to keep you warm in winter. Missing here are the usual “hotel” trappings of media screens or equipment.
A very comfortable king size bed makes sleeping easy. Ear plugs are provided but I would suggest they are only necessary if you are susceptible to the early morning call of the beautiful kookaburras. Other than that, not a sound could be heard up here.
Warm lighting allows for a relaxing rest in the deep bath, and bright reading lights by the bed cater to those who like to read a little before catching some well-needed rest. The bathroom is an extension of the open plan area, with a seamless transition from the bedroom area.
On the double vanities, you’ll find single-use toiletries that are organic and free of nasty chemicals. As part of the COVID requirements, all are replenished by housekeeping daily.
There is an excellent supply of towels, and given Gwinganna’s commitment to being waterwise (and our own knowledge from living in drought-ridden Australia), it’s easy to save water and reuse our towels during our stay.
Having a heated towel rail also means there’s no excuse for having wet towels.
A feature of our Boorabee Villa was a private plunge pool outside on the deck. The water is filtered with sand and blue light, and is soft to the touch with no sign of chlorine. Heated to 36 degrees Celsius, they are also a dream come true for someone like me who loathes jumping into cold water.
It’s perfect for a last-minute dip after dinner before jumping into bed.
If hanging out in the pool doesn’t take your fancy, the outdoor day bed might be just the thing. Have a nap here in the afternoon following lunch, or while away a few hours reading your favourite book.
Staying in one of the villas also gives you exclusive use of an electric buggy. Whilst getting around the Gwinganna property is not difficult, and exercise is obviously encouraged, sometimes we just had to get back to our room quickly to pick something up. The villas are located further away than some of the other accommodations, so the buggy was quite useful.
The villa also had a small kitchen area, enough to make a cup of tea with the Gwinganna Signature tea blend (made by the Byron Bay Tea Company) of lemon myrtle and aniseed myrtle.
Other accommodation options at Gwinganna
As the name suggests, these beautiful timber suites are built around the Gwinganna orchard. With names like Mulberry and Lychee Suites, there are several of these deluxe studios or two-bedroom suites dotted in amongst the fruit trees.
Options include staying in a heritage room, or in heritage house Mimosa. Mudbrick house, with four bedrooms, is actually as the name suggests, made out of mud bricks and recycled timber.
Peel House is a grand, fully restored heritage house with two bedrooms.
Also nestled in the orchard, these standalone suites mirror the contemporary, open-plan design of the Boorabee Villa. These suites come with some additional meditation equipment to help make the most of your stay.
Similar to the Boorabee villas that we stayed in, these have either a private plunge pool or steam room. The view may also change slightly. There are two Boorabee villas, one with direct Gold Coast views. Ours had glimpses through the forest to the Gold Coast.
The Moonarie Villas have excellent views across to the Gold Coast. The Billabong Villas are so named as they sit right on the billabong.
Facilities at Gwinganna
- Spa Sanctuary (including a steam room and sauna)
- Two heated swimming pools
- Wellness Education Complex
- Dining room and lounge
- Activities room and gym
- Mind Body Pavillion (yoga, pilates)
- Wellness Centre
- Tennis courts
- Equine program
Shopping at Gwinganna
If you’ve forgotten an essential, you’ll find a small range of products including toothpaste, toothbrushes and sunscreen here. Mostly though, the shop is packed full of beautiful books, clothing, and items such as candles, tea and beauty products that make lovely gifts for yourself or others.
Eco facts about Gwinganna
Gwinganna walks the talk when it comes to looking after the natural environment, as well as the health and wellness of its guests. Part of the beauty of the Gwinganna offering is the well cared for natural landscape that we get to be part of, if only for a short time.
Gwinganna is Eco-Tourism certified and promotes this avidly through its programs, culture, words and actions. They do so in a way that doesn’t make you feel as though you are being belted over the head with it. As a guest, we were happy to hear what actions and innovations they are making to protect their environment further, and we are also pleased to do our part.
Gwinganna takes its role with water very seriously indeed. As well as operating its own water treatment plant, they also only use rainwater on the entire property.
Every roof on the property carries infrastructure to harvest rainwater and deliver it into its own water supply. At the time of writing, Gwinganna had around 4.5 million litres of rainwater storage capacity and may seek to increase this in the future.
The rainwater is also completely drinkable, adding another level of nature to the program. There’s no bottled water in sight here, and all guests are encouraged to bring their own water bottles and fill them from the tap.
The gardens on the Gwinganna property are magnificent. They are used for the generation of food and the support of natural wildlife.
As you might expect, all food waste is collected from the kitchen and used in some way in the gardens. Resident horses supply nutrient-rich manure and recyclable paper is shredded and also used in compost.
Greywater is recycled and purified at their treatment plant, and once processed is used for flushing toilets and in the garden.
Where is Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat?
Gwinganna is tucked away in the Tallebudgera Valley in the Gold Coast hinterland. It’s about as private as you can get and the serenity of this private estate only adds to the overall ambience and your ultimate relaxation.
LOCATION: 192 Syndicate Road Tallebudgera Valley QLD 4228 Australia
How to get to Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat
Gwinganna feels like a secret Gold Coast hinterland retreat tucked away where no one will ever find it. Despite this, it’s very simple to get to.
If you are living in Brisbane, Sunshine Coast, Gold Coast or Northern NSW, you are most likely going to arrive by car. Similarly, those in the west from areas such as Toowoomba, the Lockyer Valley or Scenic Rim locations will find driving the most practical method of transport.
From Brisbane or Northern NSW
Follow the M1 and take exit 89. Turn right at Tallebudgera Creek Road and follow this for around 8 kilometres. When you arrive at Syndicate Road, turn left and follow for approximately 1.9 kilometres.
When you see the Gwinganna sign (you can’t miss it), head up the steep road for another 1.6 kilometres. Along the way, you’ll see another gate and an intercom. Here you will need to advise of your arrival so the team at reception can let you in.
This last part of the drive is a private road and access into Gwinganna is only by appointment/booking.
Once you are through this final gate, follow it through to a T-intersection, and another welcome sign. Turn right and you will arrive at the reception building.
Follow the Warrego Highway until the turn off for the Logan Motorway (M7). Use the left two lanes to take the M2 exit (signed for Brisbane Airport/Logan/Gold Coast).
The M2 becomes the M6 and eventually, you will merge onto the Pacific Motorway (M1). Take Exit 85 (Varsity Lakes/ Burleigh Heads) and then follow Old Coach Road until you reach Tallebudgera Creek Road where you will turn right.
*Follow the rest of the directions as noted above for Brisbane to arrive at Gwinganna. You can also take exit 89 as per the Brisbane instructions.
Guests can fly into the Gold Coast Airport (domestic and international) located at Coolangatta or the Brisbane Airport. Brisbane has a separate domestic and international airport.
If you are driving from the Brisbane Airport, take the M1 from Nancy Bird way and follow the directions for Brisbane above.
Taxis and Uber operate from both airports. Gwinganna also operates a private limousine service that is available by appointment only.
Tips for making the most of your time at Gwinganna
- Pack simply. Gwinganna provides you with a pre-arrival packing checklist and it is an accurate piece of information for basic packing.
- It’s a casual environment and this includes what you wear. Whilst I’ve personally never been a fan of people wearing exercise clothes to do anything other than exercise, here, it’s a different matter altogether. Given the nature of the location, the programs and the activities, you will spend a large portion of the day in your activewear. Most people definitely come to breakfast and lunch in it.
- Dinner is a little different though. Whilst it still doesn’t matter (and I’m sure some people were still in their exercise gear), most people got changed for dinner. It’s still very casual. There’s no need to dress up. Women hardly wore makeup. There were no heels. It was common to see people at dinner straight from the spa, with greased back hair, full of essential oils, or shiny faces from their treatments.
- You will get to meet other people in the dining hall over your meals. Groups attending together are seated together where possible but if you are a single or couple, expect to share your mealtimes with some new-found friends.
- If you are planning on getting involved in a lot of the activities before lunch, pack a day bag with all the things you will need. There is a bag area outside the dining room where you can leave your belongings, making access to things like hats, sunscreen, different shoes etc throughout the day, without having to go back to your room. The time between activities is very short, so if you’ve forgotten something important, it might mean missing the start of a session whilst you head off to retrieve it.
- eg Qi Gong (activewear, running shoes) >> Hike (change shoes to hiking shoes, water bottle, hat) >> Breakfast >> Yang session in activities room (change shoes back again, water bottle, leave hat) >> Swimming session (swimwear, sunscreen) >> Education program (hat, notebook) >>Lunch. All of this happened one after the other between 6 am and 12.30 pm and having access to all of the above made it much easier for us.
- Take your own water bottle. The tap water here is filtered rainwater and there are also several filtered water units available for refilling.
- Suppose you are used to drinking (alcohol and caffeine) and smoking. In that case, it’s a good idea to start winding it back a little before you get to Gwinganna, even if you aren’t on the seven-day detox program.
- Gwinganna is up in the hills so it can be much cooler here, especially in winter. Take some layers with you, even in summer.
- Do your spa and treatment research well in advance. Gwinganna will tell you it’s important to book ahead and they mean it. The spa and wellness program sessions book up fast, especially if a large group is in residence. Many people take the opportunity to have multiple sessions, so the demand for them is high. Some programs involve the use of external practitioners who may only be available onsite for specific days. don’t expect every session to be available to you on a whim.
- Don’t arrive before your scheduled time if you can really help it. Gwinganna runs a very well oiled ship at check-in and check-out time. Everything from the cleaning of rooms on check-out day, to settling accounts etc is done with absolute precision, in order to get the current guests out and a new lot in. If you arrive early, you’ll get caught up in the flurry of people leaving.
- On the day you checkout, the program officially ends after lunch. We didn’t realise this, but you can actually stay on at the property for a little while longer if you want to chill out a bit more and eke every last drop from this amazing location. The only caveat is you need to be out by the time they lock the gate at 5 pm, ready to look after the new group of guests.
- Take an open mind and get involved. There’s no point going to a place such as Gwinganna without one. Rest, relax and learn new things.
- Finally, set some reasonable expectations for what you want to achieve both during and after your time here. Motivate yourself by learning and applying some new skills or learnings. It’s not realistic for people, in general, to make quantum leaps in terms of their health and wellness behaviour. For example, there’s no way I’m ever likely to become a vegan or even a vegetarian, so why would I even have that as a goal. Motivation sticks with you through the achievement of small, accessible goals, but not audacious ones that sound great but deliver little.
FAQs for attending the Gwinganna health and wellness retreat
The packing list says no alcohol, no cigarettes and no caffeine. Are they serious about this or can I sneak some in?
There are really very few rules at Gwinganna but taking any of these onto the property is not negotiable, and they are deadly serious about it. Don’t do it.
Whilst you will be advised to leave all digital equipment at home, having a mobile phone is sometimes required for safety reasons here (eg if you are walking in the bush on your own) or in case of emergencies. Mobile phones and other digital equipment may be used in your own rooms and in one special area on the property only. Everyone is here for their own R&R and they don’t need someone hanging outside their villa or at the dining table having a chat.
Yes, provided all of this is given to the team at Gwinganna prior to your check in. All food prepared at Gwinganna is dairy and gluten-free. Vegetarians and vegans are also well catered for.
No, you can’t. The cuisine experience here is not a la carte. People with food intolerances and special health issues will have meals designed to allow for this, but otherwise, all guests will eat the same meal. At dinner time, however, there is a choice of two dishes; one vegetarian and one with protein.
Absolutely. The structure of all programs means that they are suitable for anyone; groups, couples and singles.
The rate you pay for your program at Gwinganna consists of the program, accommodation and meals. Some of the programs will also have some add ons, like massages and credit vouchers. Generally, the things you would need to pay for include additional spa or wellness sessions and items you purchase at the general store or wellness centre.
Yes, you can if you really need, but the retreat is different from staying in a hotel for example. It’s not usual for guests to come and go. Staying onsite for the entire duration of the retreat is part and parcel of the program, and removing yourself from this environment “breaks the good spell”.
Gwinganna has access to a range of professionals including nurses who visit the property. There is also someone on call 24/7 in case of emergencies.
Before attending Gwinganna, I would have said to choose something that you like and resonates with you. However, having now been, I know that this doesn’t need to be the case. As a specific example, we were on the Organic Living program, where three sessions were held over three days with the onsite food gardener.
Whilst we loved every minute of this and chose it on purpose, there were other guests that didn’t have gardens at home or weren’t really into gardening. You can opt out of these sessions, or come along and learn something new. The remainder of the program focuses on all the essential Gwinganna philosophies around food, movement, rest etc.
Some guests chose the program we were on merely because it aligned with the time that they could attend.
No, you don’t. Programs of activities are designed around each individual program including a range of physical activities. All of it is entirely voluntary.
Would we visit Gwinganna again?
Our answer validates why it’s important to keep an open mind if you are a first time visitor to Gwinganna. Despite being a little unsure before arriving, I left it wanting more. There is so much to experience here, that doing only a three-night retreat means there’s still so much left to do and explore.
I totally understand why seasoned guests tack two programs together. Once you have completed a few days here, you are in the “bubble”, and starting another program straight away means you are heading into it already relaxed and acclimatised.
There is nothing at Gwinganna that is not to like. The entire team who work here and are the face of this brand are united. It’s visible at every touchpoint, in everything they say and do. Their level of customer service and guest care is five-star, just like the retreat.
We returned home refreshed, revitalised and motivated to do better for ourselves. We didn’t jump straight back into technology. We read and cooked from the books we bought in the book store. Stirling started making and drinking green smoothies that I know is good for you, but equally, know it will never cross my lips! I ordered medicinal herbs to add to our garden and we have spent weekends reinvigorating our already highly productive food garden. Would we go back to Gwinganna? Hell yes.
Life after Gwinganna
I decided to wait several weeks after our return from Gwinganna to get a realistic overview of whether our time there had impacted us in any way. With a background in business (Stirling in engineering), we are both pragmatic people. We aren’t followers, but we aren’t trendsetters either, and we can see through BS in a heartbeat.
I’m also the first to say you can’t change anything in three days. You certainly can’t change a lifetime of behaviour and habit. But can you change small things? Can you make adjustments that will positively impact your life and give you a foundation to work on?
Instead of me doing all the talking, I asked Stirling how he felt. Here’s what he had to say.
“I feel as though we have a lifelong connection now to Gwinganna. Before we went, we knew we were going to enjoy being part of the organic gardening program, but we got so much more out of the entire experience.
I’ve been focussed on eating better and exercising more this year, and arriving at Gwinganna I was already in a good place having lost 14 kg since June. Learning more about the way in which we eat food particularly as it relates to the time of day was very useful and something that I have continued to work on.
I took the opportunity to do an InBody Assessment to understand the composition of my body better. The scan only took a minute but the wealth of information I received from this was mindblowing. Not only did it look for muscular imbalances, and measure bone mass and how hydrated my cells were, but it gave me very detailed information on the fat composition of my body and the areas I can continue to work on. I loved the analytics of all of this and it’s driving me to do better. Poor Kerri lost an hour of her life listening to me tell her all about my results.
Buying the books also helped. Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a huge book fan, but these are practical guides and a cookbook is nothing new in our house anyway. We’ve already created many of the Gwinganna dishes.
So I guess you could say there are many touchpoints where I feel what I did and learned at Gwinganna is now something that I will carry with me.
It’s not an inexpensive process but I believe it represents value for money. This will of course be different for different people, but for me, the opportunity to attend Gwinganna, especially during what has been a difficult year in so many ways, has been priceless.”
Our post-Gwinganna shopping list
- A Taste of Gwinganna – everyday recipes used at Gwinganna. Dairy and gluten-free.
- Wellness at Home – interviews with Gwinganna’s wellness experts, practical movement guides, meditations, and health and wellbeing information.
- How can I use herbs in my daily life? – comprehensive details on how to grow herbs and how to use in a culinary and medicinal sense.
These books plus more are available at the Gwinganna online store.
We’ve belonged to a gym for years but covid put an end to that, so we started walking a heap and doing some things at home. Our exercise programs at Gwinganna gave us some inspiration to buy some of the equipment we used.
- BOSU ball – without a doubt my absolute favourite thing to use. I currently have one on order from Amazon that will arrive from the US very soon.
- Therma bands – so versatile for exercise and stretching. We had some very heavy duty ones at home. I’ve now bought some that are a bit easier for me to use.
- Deepwater swimming belt – these were a new thing for us and given we have a large, deep pool at home, these will be perfect for some summertime exercise. You can buy them quite cheaply on Amazon but I went straight to Hart Sport, the supplier of the ones we used at Gwinganna.
- Boxing kit – good fun and really gets your heart rate up. Amazon sells all of this equipment too. We just purchased locally from Rebel Sport.
- Yoga mat – we decided to buy a decent one that was almost long enough for Stirling and provided a bit more padding than we had been used to.
- Foam roller – so good for stretching out muscles
The Mud Brick Herb Cottage was recommended to us for our organic herb requirements. We’ve got all kinds of new, previously unheard of herbs growing now, with an aim to use these for food and medical purposes.
Beer and Croissants were guests of Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat. Of course, this might make people think that we are paid to say we loved it. We were not and we did not.
If you’ve read this article all the way through, you will see that there is enormous detail here, as we tell you exactly why we loved it, how we’ve used what we’ve learned, and why we would go again. It still won’t make me eat tomatoes, or avocadoes, or mushrooms. It won’t make me the person to go to for health advice and you won’t hear us preaching to others about their health. What we can say however is that we honestly loved every part of it.
As always, all editorial, images, videos and opinions are entirely our own, unless otherwise noted. In this instance, some of the images have been kindly provided by Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat as it was just not possible to get my own.