A great escape

When was the last time you got away from it all? All of life’s decisions, all of the laundry, the cooking, the odd jobs that pile up around the house?

With a precious seven days between work assignments, that’s exactly the type of mini-break I was looking for. I wanted to escape for two nights and have it feel like a fortnight. I wanted all the pressure surrounding leaving one job and starting another to melt away.

By the light of my laptop, Gaia Retreat and Spa, nestled in the Byron Bay hinterland on NSW’s north coast, seemed to have it all. Incidentally, one of the founders was Olivia Newton-John who having gone from Sandra to Sandy in Grease, clearly knows a thing or three about transformation.

And, critically, at every touch-point, from booking in, to eventually checking out, Gaia didn’t disappoint.

The resort is hidden away amid the richly textured patchwork of green associated with a sub-tropical climate. On the drive there, macadamia plantations and grazing land stretch to the horizon. As my car winds up the long driveway, I get a sense of considered seclusion.

I also can’t help quoting Darryl Kerrigan of The Castle. “How’s the serenity?” So much serenity.

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Surrender to the tranquil beauty of a place faraway from bustling cities

From the car park, a short path edged with leafy plants, water features, bronze and stone sculptures (the resort gardens are peppered with them) leads to Kukura House where I find the office, a small gift shop, and an exceptionally comfortable open-plan communal lounge and dining room.

There’s nothing that resembles a hotel reception here. In fact, there’s nothing about Gaia that is hotel-like, other than the sumptuous accommodations and professionalism of the staff. What I mean is, rather than by-the-numbers 24-hour concierge and room service, what Gaia delivers is genuine care. This is what I realise as I’m served a thoughtful post-journey pick-me-up of warm chrysanthemum tea and fresh fruit plate.

The property was founded in 2005 by Newton-John, Gregg Cave, Ruth Kalnin and Warwick Evans. The foursome shared a dream to create a place with heart, where people could come and refocus, rebalance and truly restore.

The vibe is homely, warm and intimate. You get the sense that at any time you might find one or all four founding partners recharging here themselves.

But it seems to be a particularly special place for the Australian singer, with precious personal mementos and memorials scattered around the grounds. The torch she carried for the Sydney 2000 Olympics is discretely displayed in the gift shop. The peachy-apricot coloured rose (Floribunda) that was named in her honour trims the driveway. A tree planted in memory of the songstress’ mother and another to a dear friend can be seen on a nature walk encircling the property.

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Gaia choose fresh organic produce from their own kitchen garden

There are 23 massages on the Gaia day spa menu in addition to 50 other ways your mind, body and spirit can be buffed, polished and bathed into jelly like submission. You could say they were hopelessly devoted to you.

On my first afternoon, I experience a 90-minute Classic Kahuna Relaxation massage, a practice that I was informed, originated from Hawaii. The deeply therapeutic, whole-body treatment rendered me speechless except for a humble thank you as I shuffled back to my room and fell instantly to sleep until dinner.

Meals at Gaia are fresh and light with lots of ingredients coming direct from the kitchen garden. There’s no menu. This is a relief. I find the idea of not having to make a decision over what to order liberating. Dietary requirements are shared when you check in so the chef can work around any intolerances or downright dislikes you have.

Dinner provides the opportunity to see who else is staying here. While there are tables aplenty for the solo traveller, I made for the communal table and was happy to find myself seated with a group of very interesting women all aged 45 – 75. This, I’m told is the typical age range of guests, and why the employees are of a similar vintage - something that hadn’t escaped my attention.

I felt more at home and at ease every time a staff member scrambled around to find spectacles to read something. These were my people. Their years of experience, maturity and emotional intelligence added to the level of care delivered.

If you don’t just want to eat, sleep and visit the spa, Gaia has daily yoga classes, a gym and swimming pool. Or for the slightly more adventurous, a 40-minute walk (or five-minute car trip) will take you to historic Newrybar where you’ll find a quaint clutch of shops including an antiques store, excellent bakery and a café. Duck Creek Macadamias’ farm gate is worth a stop along the way for their flavoured nuts and macadamia flower honey.

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The daily yoga classes at Gaia take place in the open fields of the retreat

Approximately 48 hours after arrival, it was time for me to head home. On reflection, I’m amazed at how quickly I was able to unwind. I truly felt refreshed. Ready for my next challenge.

Have you ever been to a yoga or health retreat? What was your experience like?

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