I’m kicking the life out of my legs, frantically scissoring them back and forward. My arms are flailing about me too, in an apathetic motion all to the beat of music that’s being pumped out of a stereo filling the room with a frantic rhythm sure to rouse even the sluggish of spa-goers. After fits of giggles and some hyperventilating-styled pool wriggling, I settle down to save some energy for the remainder of my aqua class.
It was hard to rouse myself from my deliciously comfy bed in our three bedroom, three bathroom villa this morning, but here I am with a weight belt strapped to my waist feeling like a submarine. Despite the ‘cossie wedgy’ that is creeping up on me and the mouthful of pool water that’s made its way in past my laughing teeth, this has to be the most fun anyone can have exercising. They call it ‘deep water running’, but for the eight of us clinging dearly onto the pool edge to get our breath back we aptly rename it the ‘nearly sinking’ class.
Set on acres of peaceful bush land and perched high on the hillside at Pokolbin, I am at the beautifully appointed Golden Door health retreat in the New South Wales Hunter Valley region with two friends. We have come from far and wide for a three-day weekend retreat to celebrate a milestone birthday in a tranquil setting with a little deserved luxury.
The uniqueness of the five star property is in its vista. Lush rainforest is replaced by Aussie Eucalypts and tropical birds are substituted for bunny rabbits and wallaby’s calling the plot of land in front of our villa, home. Further afield, over 100 wineries sit on our doorstep as an ever-tempting treat, just out of reach.
While I sit on the deck glossing over a magazine, gazing out over the Brokenback Mountain range (minus the Heath Ledger lookalike lounging beside me), Trish has draped herself in a fluffy spa robe and slipped out for a pregnancy massage at Spa Elysia – the relaxation and pampering haven at the centre of the property, while Sylvia is enjoying a double session with a spiritual counselor. After my full day of back-to-back activities and culinary grazing efforts starting at 6am with Qi Gong, deep water running, breakfast, stretch class, morning tea, Pilates, lunch, a facial and afternoon tea (my personal favourite), I am now enjoying some quiet time.
As a purpose built destination retreat, the Golden Door’s philosophy is centred on health and holistic wellness. Attention to body is reflected through nourishing meals, relaxation and activity options while empowerment of the mind is presented through nightly education sessions. Our days are as languid or active as we like, interspersed with epicurean moments including the Golden Door signature muesli and tasty morsel treats morning and afternoon. Right now it’s nearing 6pm, so we are getting ready for dinner with the other 20 retreat participants followed by tonight’s health seminar on metabolism.
I am impressed with the highly skilled professionals available as class leaders and instructors, each offering personal attention to guests’ needs. The activity staff are fabulous and our Weekend Coordinator with her boundless energy and positivity is a constant motivation to maximize the most of our stay. The onsite Wellness Centre is a one-stop ‘go to’ shop stocked with a qualified dietician, naturopath, acupuncturist, personal trainers and nurse, all on hand for consultations and individual program development.
Whilst the retreat weekend is designed to be a health integration into guests daily lives, signified by the no – alcohol, drugs, nicotine, sweets, food, mobile phones or coffee retreat rules, our mission is slightly different. Trish, Sylvia and I already lead healthy lifestyles so this holiday is a chance to get together, celebrate our birthdays and take part in a little pampering. Day two and this afternoons Pilates class is resultantly replaced by a James Bond secret mission to the car park to smuggle in our contraband – a cheese, fig and prosciutto platter. Oh, and did I mention the bottle of celebratory sparking red from our ‘accidental’ two hour vineyard tour today?
A guilt free day follows and we are back to the retreats Quinoa (slight overload) and taking the opportunity to try out as many of the activities as possible. I love the programs on offer including a morning bushwalk, fitness class in the great hall, a small group meditation session and even a medicine ball class with an eight-month pregnant friend. The most rewarding, however, is this mornings’ Tai Chi class at sunrise atop ‘meditation hill’. A silent walk winding up passed the lavender-lined path leading a small group of just six of us to a platform peaking out over the vineyard-coated valley below. The air is motionless with just the sounds of the birds waking from their nights sleep calling to us as we silently glide through our guided routine. It is a truly tranquil experience and well worth setting the alarm for.
It’s the last hour of the last retreat day and to best appreciate the nations salubrious spa I forgo a tarot session to squeeze in a delicious massage before my long journey home. I slide my feet into the silky slippers and float my way into Spa Elysia. Arguably, as one of the most luxuriously appointed destination spas in Australia, Elysia can make claim to 26 treatment rooms, relaxation lounges, steam rooms, spas, a Watsu pool, 25 metre heated indoor pool and outdoor pool. The setting is lovely – soothing sounds, the smell of Jasmine and a choice of infused teas.
I’m led into the treatment room where my favourite Kahuna bodywork treatment begins. The room is cold. My near naked body dresses itself in goose bumps and shivers. I cross my feet over in an attempt to retain warmth before mentioning to the therapist how ‘nippily’ it is. The routine is there but the feeling, the confidence, the connection and the flow are missing. My one-hour treatment cannot finish quickly enough. The moment she steps out of the room to reach for a cup of water, I’m in my robe scurrying to the hot showers.
Under the lather of Elysia’s luxurious shampoo I reflect back on my facial, two days ago. It too had the correct protocol, set up and moves but lacked something – like a student counting the number of strokes. The spa surrounds are certainly first class, I thought, but the price of the treatments above the cost of the Retreat weekend do not seemingly match the memorably high standards set by the remainder of our stay.
I make my way down the long driveway and out through the secure gates of Golden Door toward home. The Hunter Valley as a location has a lot to offer the region. I will definitely return to take part in the retreats’ five or seven day program – although the fields lined with leafy fruit-bearing vines might have to wait for another time.
Golden Door Retreat – www.goldendoor.com.au