With a frozen Coke in my hand, an empty cupcake wrapper scrunched up near my foot and singing The Archie’s ‘Sugar, Sugar’ a little too enthusiastically, my week-long detox was probably off to a bad start.
Mum had packed a bag of grapes but like a crazed junkie, I was desperate for one last hit of sugar—even if it meant I’d be suffering the consequences for days to come.
While most of the country indulged in sweet glorious chocolate and sleep-ins over the Easter break, I put my willpower to the test at Queensland’s Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat.
For seven days I would go without sugar, dairy, gluten, TV, my mobile phone (for the most part) and social media.
And I would be woken at 5.30am. Every day.
But if you’re going to give up all your vices at once, I highly recommend doing it at the retreat recently named Best Health and Wellness Property in Australia at the coveted Luxury Travel magazine Gold List awards.
Generally when you tell people you’re heading off to spend a week at a health retreat, they laugh and joke about whether you’ll be hugging trees, growing your armpit hair and sitting around a campfire singing Kumbaya.
But Gwinganna is not that kind of health retreat.
Instead it is a five-star haven; a relaxing, eco-friendly hideaway in Tallebudgera Valley where health and wellness are the focus, the food is organic and both gluten and dairy free and where people are healed—whether they be physically, emotionally or just metaphorically broken.
I was the metaphorically broken kind of guest; I wasn’t in any way broken, I was just tired. A bit ‘over it’ with it being pretty much everything. I was neglecting my health and living on a diet of toast, chocolate and cookies. And I was suffering for it.
I also had noticed that the tension in around my neck was so intense, my shoulders were sitting up near my ears.
Dubbed the ‘Rolls Royce of lifestyle retreats’ the seven-day Gwinganna Detox package has been designed to allow the body time to cleanse, regenerate and renew.
“Leave with whiter eyes, increased vitality and glowing skin. You will feel sensational,” the website proclaimed.
Can’t wait, I replied to my computer (looking a little like a crazy person).
As the gate closed behind us and we weaved our way up the long winding driveway (which features in one of the week’s morning runs, if you’re game), mum breathed a sign of relief—happy to leave the worries of the world behind her and know that for seven days, she didn’t have to organise a thing other than what colour combination she wanted to wear each day.
I soon discovered that the relief she felt is common among returning guests; they know that for the next however many days, there are no tough decisions to make besides what spa treatment to have and whether to do a high-energy class or something quiet and calming.
Handing over control, and not knowing what the next day holds, seemed disconcerting at first but it quickly became blissful as watches, mobile phones and plans were metaphorically (and in some cases physically) cast aside.
“Don’t worry about the time, we’ll make sure you always get to where you need to be,” we were told on our first night.
Within four hours, I had decided it was time to bid farewell to (most of) the outside world as I logged off all my social media accounts for the first time ever. *gasp*
For one week (that’s seven days, 168 hours, 10080 minutes or 6014800 seconds) I would not access my Facebook, Twitter or Instagram accounts.
I would stop uploading, downloading and re-loading. I would simply be.
Just before 5.30am the next morning, I heard the unmistakable crunch of golf-buggy wheels on gravel. Footsteps along the wooden veranda followed and then came the knock from one of Gwinganna’s team of volunteers.
“Good morning, Brooke,” the voice rang out.
I quickly learned that if you didn’t answer loud enough, they’d knock again.
That first day, I wanted to yell back an obscenity. It was cold, dark and I was on holidays. Goddamnit.
“Yeah, good morning,” I muttered as I held a pillow over my head before rolling out of bed and into what felt like 15 layers of lycra.
I soon stumbled into the darkness with mum to make our way to our first session—Qi Gong on the mountain top.
Thankfully, it wasn’t just me who looked a little shell-shocked to be up and moving so early, I quickly noticed my fellow guests—especially for the first timers—were also stunned to be out of bed and outdoors before the sun was up.
But as the minutes passed, our ‘camp mother’ Donna took us through the moves of Qi Gong—a range of self-healing practices, grounded in the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine—and our faces were bathed in sunshine.
As the sun rose over the ocean in front of us, serotonin flooded our bodies and the stress of the early start disappeared. Well, it did for me.
Come outside and see a brand new day; the troubles in your mind, will blow away.
—Pet Shop Boys—
Once everyone was awake and the blood was pumping, we swapped the leisurely practice of Qi Gong for a morning walk and what I saw took my breath away (well, that and the energy I had to exert getting there!)
Filled with false bravado, I opted to do the 3km ‘challenging walk’ while Mum chose to take a leisurely walk with Gwinganna’s resident nature guru, Johnny Palmer.
Given the ‘medium’ rating, our leader/instructor Carl gave the walk, I figured it couldn’t be so bad and it wasn’t—until we hit the first incline and I practically slid backwards because it was so steep.
Having come from a mostly flat neighbourhood where the only incline I face is the steps to my front door, I wasn’t quite prepared for the uphill battle I was facing and my calves sure as hell hated me in that moment.
But there was an upside to my struggle—I made my first friend, Kate from Melbourne.
As Kate and I trudged up the hill huffing and puffing, we discovered we were both the daughters of publicans with families who own racehorses.
We also shared a similar sense of humour, an overwhelming desire to have a good time and (as we discovered during a game of waterpolo), a competitive spirit.
We finally made it to the Yoga Deck—2300 metres above sea level and were rewarded with views that stretched from Coolangatta across to Tamborine and up towards Brisbane.
There’s something pretty magical about life on that mountain; the air is cleaner and the colours more vibrant—its like the grass and the sky are made from a totally different palette to the ones I normally see back home (I haven’t enhanced the colour on any of my images).
Wallabies bounce around the property and, if you’re very lucky, you’ll spot a koala. If you’re unlucky, you might stumble across a snake.
Despite being just over an hour from Brisbane’s CBD, I felt like I was in another world.
Needless to say, after that first ‘challenging’ walk, I instead opted for the easier walks with Johnny or organic gardener Shelley.
With a double dose of exercise done, it was on to breakfast. In case you missed my earlier food porn post featuring Gwinganna, check it out here.
As Donna had explained to us on our first night, we would be given what our bodies needed, not what we wanted but I was always pleasantly surprised by the breakfasts on offer with a range of gluten-free cereals and dairy-free, platters of fruit and nuts on every table and a hot dish which ranged from a poached egg with homemade baked beans, to vegetable frittata and avocado on toast.
Each day after breakfast we had the option to take part in a stretching class, followed by the day’s yin and yang activities. The ‘yin’ were the more inwardly focused activities such as yoga, pilates and dance while the ‘yang’ tended to be more outwardly focused and involved increasing the heart rate.
In case you couldn’t tell, I’m a total yang-er and figured I was going to use the week to supercharge my metabolism and give my body a heavy dose of movement and exercise to counteract the eight hours a day I spend sitting at a desk so I was keen to throw myself into as many crazy activities at I could including deep water running, waterpolo, Jedi frisbee (like normal frisbee, but we made it cool) and tribal dance.
I ran, I swam, I danced and I drummed.
Fit ball drumming, taught by Gwinganna’s general manager Sharon Kolkka was my favourite class, even if it did involve doing 180 squats in under an hour.
Each day followed a similar pattern of movement—although the activities were always changing (aside from the stretching class)—and lunch was always proceeded by a wellness seminar covering topics including sleep, liver health, nutrition and so on.
I can’t actually remember the other topics because after falling asleep in the first two sessions (and do the always classy head bounce as I’d wake myself up) I opted out of the remaining sessions, preferring to spend my time floating around the infinity pool.
Afternoons were dedicated to ‘Dreamtime’; a time for for everyone to switch off and embrace one of the fundamental elements of better wellbeing; strategic rest.
Guests could use the time (about five hours) to do whatever they wanted; go for a walk, have a rest, swim in one of the heated pools or participate in their chosen spa/wellbeing activities.
Because of my ambitious list of preferred spa and wellbeing treatments (well, a touch of pampering on holidays is to be expected, right?), I spent most afternoons wandering around the spa in my waffle robe and slippers looking like a blissed-out, glowy version of my former self.
Like everything at Gwinganna, the $6.5 million Spa—the largest in the Southern Hemisphere—was designed to highlight the surrounding environment and spread across its architecturally-designed eco-friendly treehouse-style building are 33 indoor/outdoor treatment rooms.
It features a Crystal Steam Room, an outdoor monsoon shower and a lounge complete with comfy lounges, an amazing feature light piece and views toward the three ancient eucalypts in the centre of the complex.
The spa is also one of the few in the world that is completely self sufﬁcient in terms of water consumption and collection relying purely on rainwater collected from run off of its vast roof structure.
It was also recently named Best Luxury Destination Spa for Australia and Oceania in the World Luxury Spa Awards 2014, so I knew it was in good hands.
Keen to make the most of my week, I booked in for a Balancing Facial, a manicure, a Yanko body scrub using Australian native aromatic oils blended with desert salts; a remedial massage and a hot stone massage; a Chi Nei Tsang abdominal massage; Naturopathy and Live Blood Analysis and a visit with the Tarot reader. (Two massages, a facial and a $100 credit towards a wellness session are included as part of the Gwinganna Detox package.)
It’s also the place I had my first (and most likely last) colonic, but more on that later … or perhaps, never. Although let’s just say you’ve not really lived until you’ve had a tube stuck up your butt and watched your poo float past while someone points out what you’ve eaten recently.
Have you eaten beetroot in the past few days?
Uh, no not for weeks.
Oh hold on, could it be red cabbage?
Yes, that could be it.
Oh, thank god.
Yes, that actually happened.
Colonic hydrotherapy aside (and we later discovered that was probably due to some crazy food allergies I had going on), my Dreamtime appointments were amazing.
My body was buffed and polished with the body scrub, the massauer who did my remedial actually managed to released the knots in my shoulders returning them to their ideal position rather than up near my ears and I fell asleep in my manicure because I was so relaxed.
Halfway through our trip it was mum’s birthday and to celebrate we shared her birthday Tahini ball and we decided to walk the Sunset Track so that she could say she’d watched the sun rise and set on her birthday.
And it didn’t disappoint.
Although the mosquitoes were biting so, to keep from being eaten alive, we had to dance. And, just to set the mood, I chose the song from the Sandra Bullock movie, The Proposal.
So there we were, in one of the most beautiful places in Queensland, dancing in the bush to ‘to the window, to the wall, till the sweat drips down my balls’. It was actually pretty funny and I don’t think either of us will ever forget it.
Despite long proclaiming that my sugar addiction was beyond my control, and having failed to partake in the recommended ‘winding down’ of any banned substances (ie. sugar, alcohol etc) prior to arriving at Gwinganna, I actually didn’t suffer any side-effects from the detox, aside from a mild headache in the morning on Day 3.
Not drinking coffee also seemed to work in my favour as some guests struggled after going cold turkey on coffee, sugar and cigarettes. Although there were a few afternoons when I missed having a TV, more so for background noise than to actually watch any shows (which were waiting for me when I got home … thank you, Foxtel IQ).
And although my body wasn’t used to being exercised for four hours a day, it thrived on being pushed and pulled. I quickly realised that I feel pretty damn good when I’m sweating and even after just one week, I could already see minor changes in my body shape.
Given all of these benefits, it’s fair to say I didn’t want to leave and I practically needed to be pushed into the car and armed with a lunch snack pack for the road and enough Tahini balls to last three weeks.
Not only had I met an amazing group of people and been able to relax and rejuvenate in one of the most picturesque and supportive environments in the country, but I came away feeling happier and more in tune with myself than I had in a long time.
Now that I’m back home, it’s time for the moment of truth, right? I’m four weeks post-Gwinganna I’m guessing you want to know whether one week away has changed my life.
Well, it has—even if I did indulge in pizza and vodka two days after I re-entered civilisation (sorry Donna!).
But that doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten what I learnt.
Some of my key learnings weret:
- It’s okay to say no.
- Sometimes we need to stop and take a breath.
- Fructose is not my friend.
- Hugging a tree can actually make you feel better.
- I won’t die if I don’t check my social media accounts daily.
- I am ridiculously competitive.
- It’s time to forgive. Forgive everyone, everything and mostly forgive yourself.
- Despite claiming that I have a core made of marshmallow, I can actually balance while kneeling on a fit ball (new party trick).
- Nothing brings people together like a detox.
Basically, when it comes to food I’ve cut back on my fructose, gluten and dairy consumption after the naturopath identified that I suffer from fructose malabsorption and if I feel the need for a sugar hit, I try to do it in moderation (I write while eating a Mrs Fields cookie).
My mobile phone now sits on silent most of the time and while my anti-social media stance continued for a few days after leaving Gwinganna, it has slowly crept back up to a more frequent level—but that was expected given that dealing with social media is part of my job.
Getting more exercise—and more sunshine—is also back on the agenda and so is taking more notice of the circadian rhythm by switching off my lights and limiting my ‘screen’ use at night because the brightness of the LED screens can throw off your natural sleep rhythm.
But most of all, I’ve started thinking about which organ I can sell to get back to Gwinganna sooner rather than later.
Just kidding … well, kind of. How important are kidneys?
Thank you to everyone who made my week at Gwinganna so enjoyable including Donna, Johnny, Kylie and Paul, Carl, Dreamweaver Carl and Kay. And especially to my amazing fellow guests and new friends: Kate, Sherree & Jeannie, Nicole & Jason, Frank, Sarah, Evan & Veronica, Lisa & Damian, Georgia, Jan & John, Heinz, Sue, Rachel and Julia & Michelle.
Editor’s note: The trip to Gwinganna was paid for by the author (well, the author’s parents … thanks mum and dad!) All views expressed are the author’s own.