Set across 25 acres of lush gardens near Bangalow in Byron Bay Hinterlands is Gaia Retreat. Owned by Olivia Newton John and her friends, Greg Cave, Ruth Kalnin, Warwick Evans (who have given themselves the very appropriate acronym GROW), this enriching escape has a loyal and devoted following who return year after year – every time they wish to hit the reset button. While the spa itself hasn’t changed much since it opened ten years ago, Gaia have just added three luxurious villas to the property. Sigourney checked in and checked them out.
I arrive at Gaia late on a Sunday so I miss the usual welcome process and group meditation, but as soon as I step through the carved wooden archway I can feel a sense of calm begin to wash over me. There are windy pathways through the palms leading to various villas. James, a strapping sandy-haired young man carries my suitcase with ease up the hill to the newly-built Komala Villa where I’m staying. He’s the first of many staff members who are suspiciously healthy-looking. They’re all clearly drinking from the Gaia fountain of vitality, because not only do they look like they have wheatgrass pumping through their veins, they’re also perky and full of beans. I want what they’re having.
The three Komala Villas enjoy stately views from the top of the property over the tropical gardens below. Stepping inside, I take in the vast ceilings, the cosy living room with TV and DVD player, a deep indulgent bathtub, roomy king size bed, a double shower, and the piece de resistance - a sun-drenched balcony with a generous private plunge pool. Bronze fittings, corrugated iron and reclaimed timbers give it an earthy, eco-chic feel. Almost every wall boasts fly-screened louvred windows, so you can literally invite the outside in (minus the six and eight-legged friends). I think I’m going to be very happy here.
Stepping into the Kukura House, where meals are served and activities are set, I choose to sit at the communal table and bump into a colleague from Sydney, I meet her lovely friends and we happily chatter away as we’re presented with a three course Vietnamese inspired meal. I inhale my entrée of papaya salad with nam jim dressing and peanuts followed by the most delicious prawn and veggie Pho noodle soup. Dessert is a dark chocolate mousse with toasted coconut. For something so healthy, the whole meal is incredibly decadent and delicious. The best part? They serve wine. Unlike many health retreats that put a ban on alcohol and coffee, Gaia chooses to leave that controversial little decision to the individual.
At dinner we are given little cards for the following day, which have all our appointments written on it and the days activities. After such a clean meal, I slip between the sheets at 9.30 and, enjoying the ocean of sheets in the king sized bed all to myself, fall fast asleep. I wake up in good time to make the 7.30 yoga class. We head to a pavilion on a hill that enjoys another stunning view. The class is gentle and satisfyingly stretchy – unkinking all my pregnancy knots and niggles. After an incredible breakfast of corn fritters and poached eggs, I head to the spa for my manicure.
The path to the spa is down a hill and through a rainforest. As I take in the towering palms and bright crimson Birds of Paradise, my nose is teased by the scent of ripe gardenias and wet foliage. Light filters through the leaves, giving everything a rich, emerald glow. The spa is through a heavy wooden gate and overlooks a sparkling pool. A verandah dotted with dishes containing rose quartz (to bring about loving energy, I imagine) encircles the building and I clock a relaxation area off the side, fringed by bamboo fence and overlooking a tinkly water feature. Inside it’s all buddhas and frangipanis, bronze and chocolate tones and pots of tea. My manicure is done in a semi-recumbent position and I gaze out the windows to the leafy outlook beyond.
The spa uses Gaia’s new skincare range Retreatment. The line, which was developed by Olivia and the GROW syndicate is 100% organic and features local and highly potent Australian native extracts. Based on soothing and hydrating ingredients like Aloe Vera Juice, Olive Leaf Extract and Coconut Oil combined with potent actives and botanical AHA’slike Kakadu Plum, Lilly-Pilli Fruit, and Australian Sandalwood, it feels and smells beautiful. Formulated in the pristine Byron Bay Shire and featuring locally grown organic ingredients, it’s also been accredited by “Choose Cruelty Free” and assessed “Vegan” by the UK Vegan Society. Perhaps this is the secret behind the staff’s juice-cleanse glow? General Manager Greg Cave tells me that Olivia has been raving about it to anyone who’ll listen and has just gifted all her friends with it.
I take a break from my pampering to eat lunch at Kukura House. Today it’s a delicious roast vegetable and quinoa salad with nutty dollops of tahini dressing and something crunchy and delicious that I can’t quite place. Note to self – must get the recipe book. And then it’s back to the spa for a pregnancy massage. I love that they have a pillow with a hole in it for my belly so I can lie on my stomach. My therapist, Kim, is sweet and gentle, adjusting the pressure when I beg her to go harder. It’s over way too soon and I trudge slowly up the hill, wishing I had just one more day in paradise.
Gaia is a wonderful way to invite a little health and vitality into your life – without having to go fully down the road of deprivation and restriction. The healthy food, the daily yoga and meditation will leave you feeling refreshed and ready to rejoin the rat race- even if you’re there for a short break as I was. And we love that it doesn’t involve detoxing from coffee or pinot in the process.
933 Fernleigh Road
Brooklet NSW 2479
(02) 6687 1216
Review by Sigourney Cantelo