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Sido Kitchin discovers Gwinganna Health Retreat

The editor-in-chief of New Zealand Woman's Weekly and Woman's Day finds a heavenly sanctuary in the famous wellness resort.

By Sido Kitchin
Watch the sun rise with a morning session of qi gong.
Like most working mums, I pride myself on my ability to juggle. Since becoming a grown up, I’ve successfully kept lots of balls in the air, every few years throwing a couple more into the mix to keep things interesting.
I’m 46 now and in the last decade, that’s included moving countries, changing careers, marriage, two children, a mortgage, a house renovation and my current job overseeing two weekly women’s magazines.
Life is a balancing act I think I’ve pretty much nailed. But at dinner one Friday night, a girlfriend of 25 years spies a rare wobble in my wellbeing – I think my lip tremble freaks her out – and the next day, she sends an email saying she’s booking me into Gwinganna.
She couldn’t magically fix my problems or shoulder my stress, but she reckons this special place might just catch me before I trip and all the balls fall around me.
So, I find myself flying to Australia’s Gold Coast one Sunday, then jumping on a bus with newfound friends for a 30-minute ride to Gwinganna, a health retreat located in 200 hectares of lush Queensland rainforest in the hills above the GC.
God, it’s a beautiful place.
To be honest, I’ve been so busy and preoccupied since booking my flights, I have absolutely no idea what I’m in for. Turns out I’m about to experience one of the most wonderful weeks of my life, seven days of self-discovery that will change me for good.
To my surprise, I soon learn I’m on a strict seven-day detox, which means no coffee, booze, sugar and carbs. Sounds scary, but at Gwinganna, this also means the most delicious and nutritious organic meals.
Hugh Jackman’s a part-owner and celebrities frequent Gwinganna, but this is the only famous Aussie I spotted.
Lots of the produce is harvested from the gardens and orchard onsite, each menu created to optimise energy and wellbeing. Perfectly balanced meals means small portion sizes of protein – vegetarian and seafood on the detox – but all the vibrant salads and vegetables I can eat. The food is heavenly.
Every morning, I’m up at a 5.30 for qi gong (similar to tai chi) at 6am on a hilltop as the sun comes up, with wallabies and kookaburras keeping us company. Then I get the choice of a yin or yang activity – high intensity or a more gentle option – and the morning walks through the bush are my favourite this early.
After breakfast, there’s a stretch class, then another yin or yang activity, and I’m more adventurous. Tribal dance, drumming, boxing, water polo, aqua jogging – I try it all. I’m wary of group exercise, but somehow the leaders make the activities accessible for all shapes, sizes and fitness levels.
At 11am each day, I’m off to a wellness talk and these are the sessions that have the most impact on me. The speakers are brilliant and topics include nutrition, sleep, stress, organic gardening, relationships, conscious living and I’ll never forget the sage words of the “poo fairy” who talks about healthy you-know-what. There’s so much information to absorb.
By the time lunch comes around, each day I’m ravenous – but I also can’t believe how much I’ve achieved in a morning. I feel great.
I’m even better once I take my daily trip into “dreamtime”. The afternoons are all about relaxation and the spa sanctuary – with treatment rooms built amongst the forest – is so beautiful, I doubt you’ll find better anywhere.
This old cricket pavilion located well away from communal areas is the only place I’m allowed to use my mobile.
As part of my package, I get two massages, a facial and a wellness therapy session. The dreamtime menu is massive and the treatments are the best I’ve ever experienced.
With so many magical hands on offer, there’s no way I can resist booking extra massages!
There’s also time for lying by the infinity pool, reading and chatting with new friends. One thing I can’t do is look at my phone. The detox means no devices allowed – and that is the hardest of all things to give up. For the first few days, I feel like my hand’s been cut off, but I soon discover how liberating it is to not be connected.
There’s an evening yoga session or mediation before dinner – and straight after the meal, I’m sleeping like a baby by 8.30pm.
As a mum and in my job, I thrive on give, give, giving. But I discover that being cared for, fed, nurtured and told where to go and what to do for a week is such a treat. I haven’t felt like this since staying at my grandmother’s when I was a little girl.
The seven-night package is the Rolls-Royce option, but plush accommodation, gorgeous meals and fab treatments are included. And there are packages that start at two-night stays, which are more accessible.
Talks with organic gardener Shelly Pryor will inspire you with her love of nature and the power of using plants in your diet.
When a week has passed, I don’t want to leave. I’m sure health retreats aren’t for everyone, but this one is for me. I return home to my family elated, truly rested and relaxed.
I feel a sense of clarity I haven’t had for ages, and I’m so calm and centred, I’m sure I could juggle 50 balls. But instead, I now know that if I actually make a conscious effort to put the balls down each day, step outside and let the sun shine down on me, I won’t turn into a crazy old clown.
Thank you, Gwinganna.
Afternoons are for “dreamtime” and you can relax in the pool – or treat yourself at the spa sanctuary.

Guide to Gwinganna

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