>  Destinations   >  Australia   >  Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat review

Like many of the people I met during my stay at Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat, I had been to this beautiful haven of healthiness before. However, I couldn’t help but wonder if I would get as much out of it this time as I did on my last visit. In February 2014, I drove through the gates of the retreat not realising what an out of control, stressed out, workaholic, sugar junkie I had become. I made plenty of changes to my health, diet and lifestyle when I returned home six years ago. Would Gwinganna work its special kind of magic on me again now that I was healthier? 

Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat - Orchard Suites
Orchard suite accommodation

Despite the fact people come here to unwind it can feel somewhat stressful entering a health retreat when you’re a newbie. When I drove through the gates this time, I felt happy and relaxed to be returning to a place where I felt comfortable and knew my way around. I stayed in one of the Orchard Suites which are located in the heart of the retreat which makes it easy to go back to your room to change between activities or grab something you’ve forgotten. Just like my last visit, all of the staff members were refreshingly down to earth and there was no pressure to participate in activities. One major change I noticed from my previous visit was the beautiful new Wellness Centre. This light and airy building is surrounded by bushland and has a large purpose built room for daily seminars and private consultation rooms for chats with Gwinganna’s wellness staff. On arrival, everyone makes their way here to fill out a ‘tick a box’ questionnaire which covers key areas such as Stress, Diet, Sleep, and Fitness & Flexibility. Don’t be tempted to ‘cheat’ when you fill out the questionnaire. You’ll get the most out of your stay if you’re honest with the staff (and with yourself) when you’re assessing where you’re currently at with your health, nutrition and fitness.

It was as I was filling out my questionnaire that I began to realise this visit was going to be different to my last stay at Gwinganna. In a really good – and also a not so great – way. It was a thrill to discover that the positive changes I had made after my last stay to reduce my stress levels and limit my sugar intake were still in place and working like a charm. I only had a few ticks indicating areas for improvement on the Stress and Nutrition pages of the questionnaire which made me proud of myself for sticking at it. Unlike last time, I also didn’t have any sugar or caffeine withdrawal headaches which was a bonus. Those who do can visit the nurse who is available during mealtimes to dispense natural remedies like magnesium to ease any unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.

Gwinganna food
Zucchini noodle salad with pesto

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Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat food
Mushroom soup

However, while some sections of my questionnaire were greatly improved, the fitness and flexibility section was a different story. There were loads of ticks on this page, indicating a much reduced level of fitness and flexibility since my last visit. While this was not exactly a surprise it explained why I had so many aches and pains for a woman my age. A combination of reduced physical activity and sitting for long hours at my desk had taken their toll on my body and it was time to do something about it. The other thing that was different about this stay was that it rained. And rained, and rained, and rained. Days tend to begin early at Gwinganna and the sound of raindrops on the roof greeted us every morning. Setting my alarm for the 5.15am wake-up for Qi Gong was surprisingly easy as everyone tends to go to bed early at Gwinganna. However, instead of looking out at an ethereal sunrise like I did on my last visit we watched mist roll over the valley from inside a workout room with wrap-around windows. It was still a wonderful way to begin the day but I missed doing the class outside with the gentle morning sunshine warming my shoulders.

There is a full program of activities including aqua aerobics, organic garden walks, interval training, deep water running, and more unusual options like Nia which combines the joy of dancing with yoga, martial arts and pilates. Pushing any scepticism aside and leaving yourself open to new experiences yields unexpected benefits at Gwinganna. No one was more surprised than I was when tribal dancing ended up being my favourite activity during my last visit. This time I skipped Nia to attend a joint mobility class which was a tough choice to make but the right one for me this time around. Lectures on topics such as stress management take place at 11.30am every day and are delivered with a light and often humorous touch. I suspected these would be exactly the same as the seminars I had been to on my previous visit but the sessions had been updated with new research and were more detailed and targeted to the Triple S program.

Gwinganna stretch class
Gwinganna stretch class

There was no need for staff to preach about what people should focus on to improve their overall wellbeing as this was revealed during their stay or on arrival during the one-on-one consultation as was the case with me. This time around I was on a mission to look at long term ways to improve my fitness and flexibility and take home plenty of hints and tips. On my last visit I struggled to fill my time without the constant distraction of social media. It was obvious that I needed to do a digital detox and learn how to relax. Each afternoon is devoted to rest and rejuvenation at Gwinganna which made my task easier on my first visit (as did the poor mobile coverage in my room which was a blessing in disguise). Choices range from reading a book or sitting by the pool to an afternoon nap or indulgent spa. This time ditching my phone was no problem and I enjoyed reading a novel while I listened to the rain on the roof and looked forward to my upcoming spa treatments. I remembered how good the Gwinganna spa was and booked some additional treatments on arrival as I knew from last time that appointments often book out. No surprise when you consider the Gwinganna spa was named the World’s Best Eco Spa in the 2020 World Spa Awards.

Gwinganna Spa
Gwinganna Spa

It is always hard to choose which treatments to have with so many tempting ones on offer. I opted for the same hot stone massage I had last time and a facial, the first I had been game to try since I was diagnosed with rosacea, a skin irritation that causes redness and blemishes on the face. The retreat uses organic Vanessa Megan products and someone checked with Vanessa herself to ensure the Gentle Repair Facial was suitable for my skin before I booked the treatment. I was worried that it might aggravate my rosacea but it ended up doing the opposite, toning down the redness and restoring moisture to my parched skin. I bought a Vanessa Megan night cream to take home and my skin is still looking much improved. I wish day visitors could book into the spa as I would love to return for another facial to ‘top up’ my skin and keep it looking great.

On the third day it was time to test myself with a hike up the driveway. On your way to the retreat you drive up this winding bitumen road which is a mountain masquerading a driveway. It is very, very steep and those who tackle it as part of the morning exercise program go down (it’s about 1.2km one way) and then back up again. I managed to get up the driveway at a decent pace last time and held my own in the middle of the group. This time was going to be different. I felt a little puffed jogging up the gentle incline to my room to avoid the rain the evening before so there was no way that I was going to be a hero. I asked the trainer leading the walk if we could have a ‘slow’ and a ‘fast’ group. Fortunately, there were enough takers and half a dozen women joined me to start walking back up the driveway straight away while the ‘fast’ group headed up the road for an extra 1km walk before commencing a much speedier trip back up the driveway to Gwinganna. I was puffing after less than a minute and alarmingly slow, even for the slow group, but I made it to the top. Eventually. We weren’t sorry that we opted for ‘easy’ when we saw the pained faces of those who chose the ’hard’ option but probably should have joined us. Walking up the driveway isn’t something your legs will forget in a hurry but the buzz of making it to the top will stay with you long after you return home.

What surprised me about this stay at Gwinganna and the one before was the way the retreat magically gives you exactly what you need whenever you visit. My joint mobility class was a case in point. It was exactly what I required to improve my flexibility and I was also able to book a one-on-one session with a specialist sports physiologist. I came away with an understanding of why I was so sore all the time and a tailored rehabilitation program (with video demonstrations of the exercises recorded on my phone) which I’ve been doing since I got home. There’s no quick fix when it comes to back problems and I’ll need to stick at it but I’m already seeing improvements and feeling better. Learning how to be good to yourself at Gwinganna is not bad at all. The new perspective on life and healthy habits you take home from this holiday are the best souvenirs you’ll find anywhere in the world and far more meaningful and long lasting than any ‘I love Bali’ t-shirt.

Gwinganna Hints & Tips:

  • Reduce your intake of caffeine, sugar and alcohol prior to arrival.
  • Pre-book a massage for your first day.
  • Opt for comfortable rather than fashionable clothes.
  • Avoid the temptation to watch movies or surf the net in your room.
  • Try at least one activity that is outside your comfort zone.

Disclosure: The writer stayed as a guest of Gwinganna. She enjoyed her stay so much that she has booked her husband in for a relaxing two-night Wellness Weekend which includes spa treatments and a little coffee and wine for a truly indulgent weekend away.

Looking for some Gold Coast accommodation? Read our reviews of the Hilton Surfers Paradise, Oaks Calypso Plaza, The Darling, Surfers Paradise Marriott, Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat, The Star Grand, voco Gold Coast, Wyndham Hotel Surfers Paradise, AVANI Broadbeach Gold Coast Residences, Rydges Gold Coast Airport, Oaks Gold Coast Hotel, JW Marriott Gold Coast Resort & Spa, and the retro La Costa Motel. If you’re visiting the Gold Coast, don’t miss our Ultimate Guide to the Gold Coast.

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Dr Tiana Templeman is an award-winning food and travel journalist, travel author and media industry academic. She is the creator of The Travel Temple, writes for Australian and international media outlets and appears on radio talking about where to go, what to see and travel industry trends.