Ever feel like life and the cooler weather is getting the better of you? Call time out for yourself and kickstart a healthier lifestyle at a detox retreat, writes Emma Krieger

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To say I like my vices may be downplaying it a little, so the idea of living without my twice-daily caffeine hit sends me into a panic spiral. Coupled with no chocolate, no Friday night glass of wine and (gasp!) no internet, I’m about ready to rethink the whole idea of a week-long detox.

But I’ve agreed to accompany a friend on her quest for cleaner living and as I stand bleary-eyed outside my apartment at 5am waiting for a taxi to the airport, I realise it’s a little late to turn back.
We’re off to Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat, set in the beautiful Gold Coast hinterland on over 400 acres of untouched bush.

I am a health retreat novice and the closest I’ve come to a detox is trying the cabbage soup diet – I lasted three days. But I’ve been assured that there’s plenty of food at Gwinganna (albeit, mainly vegetables) and that after a week I will feel energised, refreshed and that my long-term insomnia will be a thing of the past.

Suite deal

After arriving at Gwinganna via the shuttle bus service I’m shown to my Orchid Suite, a gorgeous private room with high timber beamed ceilings, a natural stone bathroom (with a mammoth tub) and, best of all, sweeping views of the mountains. There are aromatherapy candles burning and a seriously inviting canopied bed overloaded with dozens of plush white pillows.

My room opens up onto my own private veranda overlooking tropical gardens that shelter birds and wildlife, and the cushioned recliners call me to curl up with a good book and enjoy nature.

A day in the life

Day one at Gwinganna dawns frighteningly early – 5am to be precise – when we’re herded to a nearby mountaintop overlooking the valley for a session of Qi Gong (similar to Tai Chi). After ‘saluting the sun’, we trundle through the bush for a brisk 45-minute walk – Gwinganna has 16 different nature walks – before sitting down to breakfast (I am starving by this point).

The meal starts with a shot of apple-cider vinegar to aid digestion and some fresh fruit, followed by either muesli or a hot meal such as beans on toast.

All of the food at Gwinganna (and there is indeed plenty of it) is organic; red meat and dairy (both of which I indulge in regularly) are off the menu. Each meal is mainly vegetarian based, with a bit of seafood on alternating days, and even too much fruit is frowned upon as it’s full of sugar.

The daily program features a morning session of Qi Gong, a short hike and an elective physical activity before 11am, morning tea and an information talk (or ‘lifestyle seminar’) for an hour before lunch. This is followed by ‘dreamtime’ in the afternoon, which can involve pampering sessions in the spa, reading, sleeping or general free time. Dinner is at 7pm before guests turn in for a (very) early night.

Ying and yang

Gwinganna’s philosophy dubs physical exercise ‘movement’ and provides ‘yin’ and ‘yang’ options. Yin is more inwardly focused, with activities like yoga, Kinesis and Pilates, while yang is more outwardly focused (advisable if your goal is kickstarting weight loss), with more energetic activities and optional gym sessions. I have chosen the latter as I’m keen to start a more regular fitness routine once I’m home.

The lifestyle seminars aim to educate you about your health and wellbeing and you can also opt to have private one-on-one sessions, which are akin to emotional therapy.

On my first day I meet with a nutritionist after breakfast and after evaluating my diet she suggests some meal ideas for when I return to the real world, and also recommends some supplements to substitute for areas in which my diet is lacking.

My post-lunch pampering session at the 33-room Spa Sanctuary is what has been getting me through the day so far, and as I change into a fluffy white robe I figure I can make up for a few of my lost zzzs from this morning.

However, the 90-minute remedial massage is strangely invigorating and I opt to spend my ‘dreamtime’ afterwards doing belly dancing, before a silent walking meditation through the bush – definitely not something I would do at home!

Day one was certainly the hardest, but with each successive day I start to feel more alert, clear-headed and energetic – just as promised.

What has definitely helped is the variety of activities available at Gwinganna. The aforementioned belly dancing was a hilarious way to inject some movement into my day, while other activities like pool Pilates, bushwalking and deep water running are all outside the realm of the standard one-hour gym routine. As my main deterrent to exercise is boredom, this helps my motivation levels enormously.
The acupuncture, hot stone massages and aromatherapy sessions I’ve opted for are no doubt also responsible for the ease with which I nod off to sleep at night…that and no coffee.

The verdict

By the time my seven days are up I do feel thoroughly cleansed and definitely more energetic. I’ve also lost two kilos. Back home friends comment on how clear and bright my skin and eyes are.

Three months on, I’ve tried to maintain the philosophies on inner wellbeing I leant from my stay – mainly to think hard about everything I put into my body and whether it’s a help or hinderance, and learning to slow down instead of going a million miles an hour – as I’ve always been guilty of trying to do too many tasks at once.

I’ve so far gone without coffee (except for a couple of slip-ups) and I’m trying to incorporate as many vegetables into my diet as possible – but I will never be a vegetarian.

Learning to adopt healthier habits has been more difficult than I thought – it’s easy to slip into long-ingrained habits such as your morning caffeine boost – but a detox such as the one offered at Gwinganna is a great way to kick-start a healthier mindset and help you to understand what it is your body really needs. c

Trip notes

Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat
192 Syndicate Road, Tallebudgera Valley QLD
Prices Two nights in a double room from $980 per person (all inclusive)
Getting there Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin Blue fly to Coolangatta Airport and complimentary transfers meet some flights.
For more information visit www.gwinganna.com