Active travel in the Sunshine Coast

With Wanderlust Taupo kicking off in just a few months, Emma Clifton trials the famous yoga festival in the beautiful Sunshine Coast.
Yoga in the Sunshine Coast

It would be safe to say I am quite tense when I arrive at Wanderlust on the Sunshine Coast. I initially had grand plans of arriving with perfect, Instagram-worthy yoga outfits, a clear mind, a tanned body, ready for a body-nourishing, soul-expanding four day retreat.

But best laid plans often go astray and I instead arrive at the Twins Water Novotel the absolute worst version of myself – grouchy, snappy, and fighting off a persistent cold for what feels like months. Also, after a particularly embarrassing shopping expedition to buy new tights, only to accidentally split the butt while testing them in a squat… the fancy outfits didn’t quite make it either.

However, the resort is surrounded by water, it’s 25 degrees and I’m about to embark on four days of yoga, one of my favourite things in the world. So my mood lifts pretty darn quickly as I let the Wanderlust spirit start washing over me.

Wanderlust was started by a group of college friends in America in 2009, with festivals now held around the world that combine yoga, meditation, and an assortment of wellbeing activities and lectures. There have been only three festivals in Australasia so far – Sydney, Taupo, and the Sunshine Coast festival I’m attending.

With another Taupo Wanderlust already lined up for February 2016, it’s safe to say the concept has been a hit with those down under; and the natural beauty of the scenery attracts the biggest names of the yoga world. And with classes called Budokon Love Warrior, Yoga for the Vagina and Yoga Ninja, this isn’t your standard vinyasa.

Designed to test your limits but also put the fun back into yoga, it’s a packed schedule and I’m keen to get started – so why not go straight in and try working on water?

It’s a beautiful day as we head out to the lagoon, which lies in the middle of the resort. Floating on the water are six paddleboards, and our group nervously compares notes while waiting: the good news is, none of us have ever done it before. We’re lead out onto the water by Kat Harding, an Australian yogi who looks like a dainty mermaid as she demonstrates a series of moves on top of the board.

It’s fun but challenging, and even though I’m fairly confident in most yoga moves on dry land, it’s no surprise to me that I’m the first to fall off my board. Everyone gets the giggles and the mood gets even more playful – nobody wanted to be the first to fall off but my graceless collapse while attempting a side twist has broken the ice completely. What can I say? I’m a selfless team player.

I’m very excited to have ticked ‘Sup Yoga’ off my Wanderlust bucket list and next on the agenda is Rock Star Vinyasa Flow with Eoin Finn, a Californian yoga teacher and surfer who looks like a curly-haired Mel Gibson and has the personality of Robin Williams.

Obviously I love him from the word go, and as the distinctive drumbeat of Queen’s We Will Rock You blares from the speakers, the class immediately turns into a party. Lou Reed, Guns ‘n’ Roses and Pink Floyd are some of the artists featured in the class – doing the ‘wild thing’ yoga backbend to Wild Thing was a particular highlight – before the class sits in a circle, holding hands, with a group singalong to Imagine. This, as I will come to learn, is very Wanderlust – high energy and high emotion often go hand in hand, so do your best to leave your cynicism at the door.

I had been warned by a friend who attended the Taupo event earlier this year to expect two things: by 8pm, you won’t be able to walk properly and that you too will start crying in class. The former hits me on the first night, and I fall asleep at 8.30pm. But the feelings don’t hit me until a class with Mary-Louise Parkinson, where our all-female class is lead through a series of poses that reflect our development.

There’s some pelvic floor work (‘think of your pelvic floor as a beautiful flower’), and some sensual-style twirls around the room, which start off as a tad embarrassing but become more freeing as we continue. Following that, we form a long line of linked hands, ordered from youngest to oldest and we move around the room like a long human ribbon, staring into each other’s eyes as Mary-Louise tells us, “This is the circle of life, ladies. Isn’t it beautiful?” Again, it starts off quite confronting but then something unexpected happens.

As the energy in the room becomes overwhelming, one by one we all start crying. It’s the strangest thing, but it feels perfectly normal at the time, and friends who are also at the festival all admit to similar experiences. One theory from yoga is that we hold emotions in particular places in our body (“Issues in our tissues,” as Eoin Finn calls it) and that doing so much yoga brings all of this to the surface – hence the crying. Whatever the release, it’s working – between the sun, the swimming and the stretching my mood has never been better, and I’m no longer waking up with a sore throat.

Several of the teachers warn against getting ‘Wanderlust FOMO’ and packing too much in, and after doing roughly six hours of yoga for each of the first of the two days, I can – wincingly – confirm this. It’s one of the reasons the festivals are held in scenic areas; you’re encouraged to take time out to enjoy the surroundings, to appreciate the magic that also happens in between the classes.

There are tents with squishy bean bags, covered areas and sun lounges, all with the purpose of helping you relax. And every night there’s live music – at our festival we had Donavon Frankenreiter and Sneaky Sound System. I wouldn’t know, because I never managed to stay awake past 9.30pm, but I heard very good things about them.

But an early night means an early start, and with the sun rising before 6am, it’s perfect for the morning sessions held out on the beach. A group of sleepy yogis – myself included – congregate on the beach in front of Swami Govindananda, a Kiwi-born meditation teacher who takes us through a mediation practice.

I’ve always struggled with meditation, and today is no different, but it’s easier to be present when you’re on a sunny beach, with crashing waves as the only sound around you. Afterwards, I take a quick dip in the sea and then stretch out in the sun to dry off – all this, and it’s not even 9am yet. Please can I never go home?

After seeing so many Aussie and American yoga teachers in action, I’m super excited to have my next class with our own yoga hero Nikki Ralston. She takes us through an energetic flow and I’m surprised to find I’m feeling stronger than ever in all my poses, even the ones I usually struggle with due to injury. And this is well timed, because the next class requires all of my strength and then some.

Taken by Cameron Shayne, a former bodyguard and trainer to the stars, it’s the most badass yoga I’ve ever done, combining the flow of yoga with fierceness of martial arts. I may look like a sweaty girl in floral tights and a t-shirt but in my mind, I am Uma Thurman from Kill Bill, wielding a sword and nailing crow pose for the first time in my life. It’s probably a good thing that Twin Waters Resort is removed from the rest from the Sunshine Coast, because at this stage I’m so amped up I feel like taking my warrior poses to the street to fight crime.

And this is the full circle of Wanderlust – it’s the perfect mix of zen, fun, friendship, reaching new heights with your poses and, yes, having the occasional crying bout in public. The whole festival is filled with good vibes, and I find myself chatting aimlessly to the people next to me on the matt, or on the beach, or as I walk around the resort in the early morning.

Yes, there is a lot of Lululemon and yes, there is also the risk that you will become the kind of person who says ‘good vibes’ (sorry about that). But the ‘Wanderlust’ glow has yet to fade, and I feel happier in spirit and stronger in body than I have for a very long time. And hey, being able to wear yoga pants for four days is a pretty good incentive too!

Click here for more information and tickets for Wanderlust Great Lake Taupo, 2017

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