I’ve discovered my new “must visit” spot in Australia . . . Gaia Retreat & Spa. Perhaps you’ve heard of it? It’s co-owned by Olivia Newton John and was featured on Oprah’s Australian extravaganza. But that’s not why I went. I usually spa annually in Mexico but when planning my most recent trip down under, I thought why not try to combine two vacations in one and find a place I could take a few days out to just relax on my own. After a bit of research I chose Gaia because it is one of the few places you can arrive on any day of the week. You can stay as little as 2 nights or as many as you like. I chose a 3 night stay starting on a Wednesday. Three nights of sheer bliss. In fact I was so relaxed and so into the groove of doing nothing, I’m afraid I barely took any photos.
Upon arrival I was whisked into lunch in the main building, Kukura House. I sat with a lovely woman who I learned was a writer & mother, on her third day of a week long stay, just out of a body scrub treatment (looking radiant I might add) and when I asked her what was her favorite thing about her experience thus far she said, without hesitation, “The food!”
I have to agree. The food is magnificent. Three serviced meals are offered each day. Breakfast consists of buffet style fruits, toasts, porridge & mueslis. Freshly blended fruit or vegi juices are whisked out to you along with the cooked breakfast of the day — usually some sort of egg dish. Lunch is always a lovely salad. And dinner is a 3 course affair: salad, main and dessert. Portions are more than ample. Wine is optional for an extra charge. A great self-serve selection of teas are on offer all day long (along with fresh baked muffins in the afternoon) but no coffee. All the food is fresh & local (the produce coming from their own organic garden), most of it gluten free and not only delicious but beautifully presented. And don’t worry if you have special dietary needs. They cater to all. In fact, I think every single person I met was on a special food plan (detox, weight loss, gluten free, garlic free, paleo, etc . . . ) which made the nightly ritual of ordering a bit humorous. But the friendly wait staff is prepared with notes on all the guests going in.
The guest count is low which makes the individualized service possible. I was there during the busy season and I don’t think I counted more than 20 people at any meal, if that. And to my surprise, most people take meals alone. There is one common table (where I dined with a lovely group of 6 other women each night), several two tops with a few couples but mostly solo visitors enjoying quiet time. And that is what I loved most about Gaia. It is truly a place to have some alone time and recharge.
The days are minimally scheduled and you receive a personalized card every night at dinner outlining the next day. There is yoga every morning at 7:30 am. Partake or not. It’s up to you. I did not this time around. There is also one scheduled activity each morning following breakfast — usually an exercise class but it could also be a cooking class. I hear the exercise classes are quite challenging. Again, I didn’t partake. In the late afternoon there is one more scheduled activity — something quiet like mediation, Chi Gong or a talk of some sort. Otherwise the day is yours to do with what you want. And that can be a visit to the spa (more on that below), private exercise classes, a dip in the pool or a steamy sauna. Walk around the beautiful property or into the nearby village or do nothing at all. I spent one afternoon walking on the beach in nearby Byron Bay — a private car service can be arranged or if you are staying in one of the resort’s villas, use of a car is included with your stay.
Let’s talk spa . . . Some of the best treatments I have ever had and the topic of most discussion amongst the guests. We all compared notes and mostly raved that our service provider was the best. From what I could tell the lymphatic drainage massage and body polishes were the most popular treatments. I had three different treatments:
- Shirodhara — warm oil poured over the third eye in a continuous stream then rolled back and forth over the entire forehead. When that warm, thick oil rolls off your forehead back into your hair it is like sheer heaven and may qualify as the most relaxing thing I have ever done. Not to mention the 30 minute head massage that kicks it off. It was something new for me and the perfect way to start the most relaxing 3 days I’ve had in quite some time.
- Kahuna Massage — a 90 minute full body massage incorporating ancient Hawaiian techniques using not only the hands but the entire forearm, rubbing the body with long strokes from both above and below with a lot of breath regulation. It’s hard work on the part of the practitioner and not for the bashful. I don’t know who needed a shower more afterwards, me or Tim my masseur. I can venture to say he walked away exhausted and me rejuvenated.
- Reflexology — this is my favorite thing of all time and I do it whenever and wherever I can. Therefore, I am qualified to say that Angelica is a master at it. She said it was her favorite thing to do and it showed. I don’t think most people give this type of massage enough credit. But the feet are connected to everything else in the body. So not only do you get the sheer ecstasy of somebody rubbing your feet for an hour, they are also aligning and working on other parts of the body at the same time. At one point my head suddenly filled with static and my ears starting ringing with the simplest touch of the palms of her hands to the palms of my feet. “I’m working on your third eye and balancing the two halves of your brain,” she said. Well that explains that. Then I walked out on cloud nine. Simply the best!
The spa also acts as a day spa for people in the area so on weekends it will seem busier with unfamiliar faces in the waiting room. In fact, I would venture to say that weekends are probably busier than weekdays at the whole retreat. So if you are looking for a quieter time maybe choose a weekday stay; a little more social activity, choose a weekend.
Here are some other tips I gathered on this first visit:
- Fly in and out of Ballina/Byron airport and free shuttles are provided to & from the spa at times that coordinate with standing flights. An unscheduled transfer will cost you AUS $50. The ride is apprx. 20 minutes.
- Treatments are generally scheduled at two times a day: 11:45 am or 2:30 pm. Unless you plan to partake in lots of private exercise classes or take an afternoon to go do something specific, I recommend requesting your treatments in the afternoon to fill your day a bit more evenly.
- Just down the road in walking distance (apprx. 30 min) is the darling little hamlet of Newrybar, est. 1881. If you are inclined to miss a meal at Gaia schedule lunch at the very nice Harvest restaurant or grab a coffee (if you are having withdrawal) at the sister deli/bakery right next store. The town, if you can call it that, also sports a couple of shops, an antique store and is always bustling.
- Byron Bay, the famous laid back beach town is also close by but must be reached by car. There are other small towns along the coast as well, good for a shop or a look around. But beware, it is very expensive catering to a high volume tourist trade. We opted to just take a long beach walk and save our pennies for more spa treatments.
- Don’t pack much. A robe is provided in your room and more are available at the spa. A bit of yoga gear and casual fare for dinner although many don’t even change out of their exercise gear, nor is it necessary. I was the only one that packed a sweater which was the cause of jealousy on a couple of cold rainy evenings. But how much do you need to sit around and read a book, take a little walk or get naked for a massage? There is also a small shop for anything you may need — from clothing, to books, to Gaia branded food items, to that allusive Olivia Newton John CD.
Gaia Retreat & Spa 933 Fernleigh Rd, Brooklet NSW 2479
Logo Image Courtesy: Gaia Retreat & Spa