The spell of Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat’s peaceful charm is cast before you even enter its gates. Flanked by vast, grassy paddocks, the winding country roads leading to the 500-acre property transport you away from the skyscrapers of the Gold Coast, into Tallebudgera Valley’s rural hinterland. Once inside, the tranquillity that permeates the resort is at once apparent and contagious. And while the retreat’s integrative wellness programmes are its hallmark, one of the key ingredients that has led to the ongoing success of Gwinganna’s signature seven-day detox package is one very simple thing: nature. In fact, nature’s medicine lies at the heart of Gwinganna’s wellness philosophy, as Compare Retreats Expert Rebecca Walker discovered during her week-long stay.
Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat’s ‘sense of place’ is one of it’s most striking qualities. Enveloped by dense Australian bushland and rainforest, you are greeted by iconic Aussie animals at every turn. Friendly wallabies hop around the grounds, koala’s chill in the local gum trees, curious kookaburras observe daily activities from the pool deck, goannas (native lizards) scurry in the bushes, and cockatoos fly overhead during morning Qi Gong practice. The sheer size of the property (200-hectares) adds to its expansive character and although it is only one hour from Brisbane Airport and less than 30 minutes from the Gold Coast Airport, the retreat feels distinctly sheltered from the ‘outside’ world.
Translating to ‘lookout’, Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat sits high on a plateau with panoramic views of the valley below and ocean beyond. The design of the retreat takes advantage of this superb vantage point and the bulk of its wellness facilities rest alongside the crest of a picturesque mountain. Along with two swimming pools (one of which is a heated lap pool), the resort’s top-notch amenities include a state-of-the-art gym, luxury spa sanctuary, yoga pavilion, sauna, crystal steam room, indoor cycling studio, wellness centre, tennis courts, meditation labyrinth, seminar hall and dining space.
Although almost filled to capacity (there were 62 people doing the detox programme), the retreat never felt busy except for meal times, in part due to the resort’s sprawling nature. Travelling solo wasn’t an issue since everyone bonds over meals and by the end of the week, the group feels like one big family. Despite the large number of participants, our retreat leader Donna attended to everyone personally and constantly checked in on each person’s progress as the days went on. The entire team, even the restaurant staff, were incredibly friendly and upbeat, which elevated the overall ‘spirit’ of Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat.
Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat positions itself as a luxury retreat and the lodging options reflect this. There are seven accommodation types to choose from: Boorabee Villas (open-plan design with private deck and plunge pool), Moonarie Villas (split-level villas with private deck and plunge pool), Billabong Villas (split-level villas with private steam room, outdoor deck and bath), Meditation Suites (open-plan design with private deck and meditation materials), Peel House Cottage (a restored Heritage cottage with two bedrooms, each with a queen-size bed and ensuite), Orchard Suites (one and two-bedroom suites with lounge areas and private patio), Heritage Houses (multi-bedroom houses with spacious living area and wraparound verandahs), and Heritage Rooms (cosy, comfortable rooms, suitable for solo travellers). All rooms are replete with contemporary furnishings, mod-cons and scenic views and even the ‘cosy’ options are lovely.
Food plays a big role in the Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat experience, especially in the detox programme. Unlike some other, more stringent, detox retreats which focus on fasting and hardcore purification practices, the resort takes a gentler approach to cleansing. For the first two days of the retreat, only vegetarian dishes are served, but from day three onwards there are meat (fish or chicken) options available such as cured kingfish with pickled vegetables or turmeric chicken with Asian greens.
Embracing a paddock-to-plate philosophy, all produce used in the kitchen is fresh, organic and locally-sourced and much of the fruit, veggies and herbs are harvested from the retreat’s own organic gardens. Specifically designed to support and improve digestion and liver detoxification, reduce inflammation, improve gut bacteria and balance blood sugar levels, all ingredients focus on low human intervention food: unprocessed whole foods that are as close to their natural state as possible.
A small shot of apple cider vinegar is given before each meal to aid digestion and detoxifying herbal teas are on offer around-the-clock, but other than that no juices, smoothies or ‘typical’ detox classics are served at mealtimes. Even water is prohibited during meals, as it inhibits the digestive process. Most dishes are gluten and dairy free and those with special dietary needs are catered to.
Seven-Day Detox Retreat Programme
As part of the retreat’s effort to support the natural circadian rhythm of guests, each day begins early at Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat. A dawn door knock wakes you out of slumber each morning (staff go from door-to-door unless you request a ‘no-knock’), and by the time the sun peeks its face over the mountaintop, everyone is already absorbed in the daily Qi Gong class. This is followed by a morning bushwalk (these range from meditative strolls to heart-pumping hikes), then breakfast.
A group stretch session is next, before splitting into Yin (moderate)/Yang (intense) fitness activities. Yin activities encompass yoga, dance, Pilates and mind-body classes, while the Yang activities include deep water running, circuit training, spinning and TRX training. A ‘stay-at-home’ option is also offered and this includes more passive activities such as organic gardening classes and meditation instruction. Morning tea is then served before the daily wellbeing seminar, which is led by a leading wellness expert and runs for about two hours. Topics include conscious living, organic nutrition, stress management, healthy aging strategies and at-home detox guidance.
Lunch is then served after which the rest of the day is yours to rest, relax or exercise to your heart’s content. And while you can do as much or as little as you want each day, the retreat deliberately schedules all activities before lunch so that the afternoon can be spent replenishing energy and nourishing the adrenal system. Subsequently, spa treatments and health consultations are all scheduled later in the day, and other than the occasional guided meditation session, there are no ‘active’ events on offer in the afternoons or evenings.
In addition to being pampered, I was curious to try one of the retreat’s ‘Insightful Experiences’, so booked a ‘Soul Path Reading’ session with Gwinganna’s resident psychic. Working with a deck of Oracle Cards and using her ability to ‘channel’ information and guidance from my higher self, Kim gave me some interesting feedback about some of my current ‘blind spots’ and supportive advice about ways to navigate them.
I also had a naturopathic consultation with one of the retreat’s resident Naturopaths. After listening to some of my health woes, he recommended some dietary adjustments along with vitamin and mineral supplements and simple lifestyle changes, to support my nervous system and get my immune system back on track.
My final and favourite experience was a ‘Group Equine Assisted Therapy’ session with renowned horse whisperer, Sue Spence. An expert in body language and personality profiling, Sue chatted about the importance of non-verbal communication and the ability of horses to reveal unconscious communication patterns and habits: horses have a unique sensitivity to human emotions, so can reflect a person’s state of mind, feelings and body language back to them like an emotional mirror, similar to a biofeedback machine.
I witnessed this first-hand as each of us (there were four other guests in the group) took turns interacting with the horse. Not only did some of my idiosyncratic personality traits immediately reveal themselves, but some big emotions (fears, insecurities, frustration, sadness) also quickly rose to the surface. In turn, the horse responded to this and it became blatantly apparent to me that my mind often dominates my heart – a habit that disables my emotional intelligence and hijacks my communication skills.
Without me saying a word, Sue started reading me like a book (by simply observing my posture), giving me feedback about ways I could improve my communication style, change my body language and regulate my emotions in stressful situations. I was absolutely blown away but her astute insights and walked away from the session feeling raw, emotional and a little bewildered by what had just happened.
I arrived at Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat feeling like a drained battery. I have two young children, so I was sleep deprived, run-down, frazzled and weary upon checking in. My nervous system and immune system have both taken a beating in the last 12 months and my exercise routine has fallen to the wayside. My daily coffee and sugar intake had crept up, along with my wine consumption. Yet after a week of nourishing food, rest, moderate exercise (I avoided the yang activities all week) and holistic healing in the spa, I felt like my tank was full again.
The first few days I experienced detox headaches, bloating and sleeping troubles at night due to the change in diet and my busy mind, but after day three the healing effects of the food, environment, activities and treatments started working their magic. By day seven my energy levels had picked up significantly. For me, being in nature and disconnecting from my phone and life outside the retreat were the two biggest contributors to a calmer mind and more energised body.
The seven-day detox package is ideal for depleted, stressed-out, worn-out urbanites who are craving a cleanse and ‘time-out’ from the rat race and want to kick some bad habits to the curb. More than a detox, the programme gives you a chance to rebalance mind, body and spirit and press your soul’s reset button. Most importantly, there is no pressure to ‘keep up’ with the schedule if a sleep-in feels necessary. Gwinganna is no boot camp. Rather, it’s a holistic sanctuary of mind-body restoration that encourages optimal wellness through evidence-based TLC.
One of the most unique aspects of Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat’s wellbeing programme is that you don’t know what’s on the day’s activity list until each morning. Even then, your options are only announced after breakfast, forcing you to choose on the spot by listening to your intuition. For control freaks who like to plan their week ahead of time this may drive you nuts, but Gwinganna intentionally does this to encourage people to live in the moment and check into what their body truly needs from day-to-day, not what their goal-oriented mind has planned for the week.
Another outstanding aspect of the retreat experience is the staff. Full of genuine enthusiasm and zest for life, each and every staff member is the embodiment of health and vitality (I’m talking bright eyes, clear skin, shiny hair, high energy, infectious positivity, fit-as-a-fiddle health lovers). Highly qualified in various clinical and holistic fields, the level of expertise supporting the detox process was impressive.
As well as being deeply passionate about wholesome living, the staff are extremely friendly, approachable and supportive of the downs (hello headaches and nausea) and ups (hello clear mind and flat tummy) of detoxing. Most of them have worked at Gwinganna since its inception—a rarity in health retreats where staff turnover is usually really high—and the retreat has a lot of repeat guests, which fosters a harmonious village community atmosphere.
Smoking and alcohol consumption on the property is strictly prohibited and the resort has a firm digital detox policy (no phones allowed in public spaces), so ensure you leave your vices at the door when you check in. Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat is also a gated community, so you can’t leave the property without permission once you’ve checked in. It is also a closed retreat so day visits are not available. For those desperate for some retail therapy, there’s a small store on location stocked with essentials and healthy lifestyle goods.
Although there is a laundrette, there is no laundry service, so either pack enough clothes for the week or be prepared to wash them yourself. Detox ‘tools’ such as body brushes, exfoliation gloves and tongue scrapers aren’t provided, so bring them with you if you plan to scour the toxins away. Some of the rooms don’t have mobile reception, so be ready to completely abandon your devices.