Sunrise at Gwinganna is a special time
A trip to Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat is about self-discovery, a journey that begins as soon as you set foot on its mystical earth, nestled deep within the lush foliage of Queensland’s Gold Coast hinterland. Even filling out the arrival questionnaire was a revelation, and I surprise myself with the results. The ‘Triple S’ programme is designed to facilitate a better understanding of the relationship between sleep, sugar and stress, and how just one thrown off kilter can hinder our response to situations effectively.
With almost double the amount of boxes ticked in the ‘stress’ column it becomes clear which element of the well-being equation needs attention. My aim for the days ahead will be restoring balance in my routine, including a digital detox to just ‘be’ instead of ‘do’ which has become such an all-consuming part of the modern lifestyle.
If you are looking for five-star luxury, this is not it. Rustic, homey and charming are better ways to describe the accommodation. What is five stars is the knowledge, wisdom and enthusiasm of the staff. The group setting makes it feel a bit like camp for grown-ups, and at the end of the four days, it’s almost impossible not to leave with new friends.
As one of the only international guests on the programme, I arrive earlier than most Aussie guests, and am whisked to the spa immediately for Mala Mayi, the ideal antidote to hours spent sardine-like on a plane. Australian LI’TYA products are used for body rituals. Designed to rejuvenate, it begins with an exfoliation using Australian desert salt and aromatic oils, presented on a tray so you can select the one that appeals most.
A mineral-rich body mud wrap follows, and while the idea of being enveloped in thick towels and layer upon layer of product may seem a little claustrophobic, the zing of the menthol counterbalances the snugness of the cocoon, while a scalp treatment comprising indigenous ingredients soothes. After showering the delicious concoction of native plants, flowers and fruits off, I am slathered with nourishing moisturiser, diminishing any plane-induced dryness from the journey.
I sit next to the delightful Sharon Kolkka, general manager and wellness director, at dinner, spellbound by her story of being an impatient and results-driven, and her steps she has made towards becoming a peaceful, accepting one, now capable of quietening a chatty mind. The person she used to be reminds me a lot of myself.
It’s made more evident as I find myself hiding at the one spot on property with Wi-Fi, while everyone else retires to their rooms for the night as I relish a last (for tonight anyway) dip into virtual reality. Liquid-only diet? Fine. Three hours of exercise? No problem. But take away my only connection to the outside world and I apparently fall apart at the seams…
Despite the verdancy, blue skies and crisp air, I have a feeling this is going to be a challenge. Every element of the programme has been designed to encourage living in the moment – no schedule for tomorrow, no alarm clock, no Internet – a planner’s worst nightmare, leaving everything to chance. Returning to a room with no television to offer comforting white noise, and absence of YouTube as a back-up option, makes the silence deafening.
It’s still dark when I hear the knock at my door. It’s about the personal touch here, no wake-up calls, and volunteers are tasked with personally waking each of the 60 guests on the programme (unless you request not to be). Each days starts with qigong on the front lawn with Donna, a moving meditation to awaken the vital organs through methodical tapping to clear the mind. She reminds us to be kinder to ourselves and let thoughts of self-doubt fall to the wayside. It’s a spectacular way to take in the views, which aren’t just stunning, but have a calming effect on our nervous system and serve as a natural antidepressant.
Staying on-site for an underwater running class is offered, or two options for walks – one through the garden or the more challenging hike into the valley (my choice), ensuring there’s something for everyone. Breakfast follows – brown rice porridge with a fruit compote and a delicious, perfectly executed poached egg.
A variety of yin and yang activities follow the group stretch session, as guests are encouraged to assess how they feel in the moment, and listen to the kind of activities their bodies naturally crave. The bosu ball class with Ali is fun and she offers modifications depending on fitness ability to ensure everyone is challenged.
Afterwards, bubbly Shannon gives the first of our daily two-hour talks on the importance of deep sleep and the vital role it plays in mental clarity, emotional intelligence, cell renewal, balancing hormones and burning fat. We learn how alcohol, caffeine, nutritional deficiencies and dehydration can be potential roadblocks for quality sleep, and are given ‘sleep hacks’, such as mindfulness, journaling and conscious breathing to ponder next time we are tossing and turning.