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  • Shelley Dark

2. GWINGANNA day 1

The brochure says to arrive between 2 and 4pm. Exit 89 from the motorway behind the Gold Coast, then take Tallebudgera Creek Road. It’s only 9km or so. A pretty, peaceful, luxuriant green drive. There are two cafés on the side of the road. The kitchen at Gwinganna has a great reputation but I make a mental note that if I need to escape for some rubbish food, they are not far. There's the most beautiful mown picnic spot on a small creek, under shady trees. What a lovely place for locals to come on a Sunday.

The gate into Gwinganna is open, with an extremely steep driveway just beyond the view on this photo. Mental picture of a toy car on a steep incline tipping over backwards. People must do it without any problem because no one has mentioned it. Three or four very steep inclines later, I decide I won’t be going to those cafés after all. The only time I’m going to travel this road again is when I’m leaving.

Up near the top there's another electronically operated gate. I push the button and a receptionist answers. Open sesame. A T-junction up ahead. The sign says 'Welcome to Gwinganna your wellness journey begins'. How exciting!

The photos I’ve seen show the retreat on high ground with a view of the Gold Coast. Wooden construction with an eco-green feel. There turns out to be a series of separate structures, some of them relocated heritage buildings, with dirt roads encircling and connecting them.

The property has a very casual relaxed feel rather than clipped and manicured, buildings placed higgledypiggledy. It looks to have grown on itself bit by bit. There's a rough circular shape to the layout, and reception is at the far end. It looks a bit like a little country town store. Once I'm inside, the welcome is warm and professional.

There’s a big open mown space with a distant but lovely view over hills of the ocean and a few high rise buildings. I’m surprised to see a massive electric pylon here, wires traversing a gully to the next hill.

Check-in is quick and efficient. I fill out the wellness form while I wait for a room escort. A number of questions about the four quadrants of my well-being. Ones like ‘do you have trouble doing pushups’. I answer ‘yes’, and consider writing after it, ‘but I don’t want to do any thank you.’

If you score 100% in nourishment, functional movement, stress resilience and emotional wellbeing, you have a full yellow diamond. Mine is nearly full. I don’t think it should be. I’ve been honest. There's huge room for improvement.

Valerie, a friendly young staff member with an American accent hops into a golf buggy and tells me to follow her. She indicates where I should park in a grassy area under tall trees. When I'm getting my bags out of the car, I see two slabs of almond nougat on the back seat - aha - those really really long, delicious, full-of-almonds, beautiful made-in-Australia Nougat Limar ones. I leave them there, filing the knowledge away just in case. It's comforting. Valerie helps me put things into the back of the golf buggy and I’m taken to my room in Valencia Building, in the Orchard suites.

Walkways are stone setts. Lots of lovely tall trees and greenery everywhere. Fruit trees. The soil looks fertile, and growth is lush. It's very peaceful and I'm feeling calm already.

There are several separate new accommodation houses in Australian homestead style with verandahs all round.

It’s a big bedroom with high ceilings and a fan turning. Home for the next 5 days. Wooden floor, white walls, natural wooden louvres and crimsafe screen doors open on to the verandah. So you can keep your doors open at night if you like. The bed is made up tightly with a white cover. It sits on a jute mat set into the wooden floor. Neutral fabric bedhead. Airconditioning.

Floor to ceiling travertine bathroom. There’s a huge quilted cocoon-like relaxing chair in the corner of the bedroom in chocolate suede fabric. Chocolate is not my colour, but it looks very inviting.

Another couple of big modern circular wicker chairs with throw cushions on the verandah.

Back at the Wellness Centre with my questionnaire to hand in, I sit waiting on a bench next to someone also from the Sunshine Coast. She has come with a friend who has been here before. Neither of us is quite sure what to expect here.

a photo of the spa at night, courtesy of Gwinganna - the garden has matured since then

Inside, Duprise and I look at the Dreamtime menu to book my treatments for the week. It's like picking lollies in a lolly shop. I ummmmm and ahhhhhh. Durpise tells me that as the week goes on, I can cancel any treatment by 11.30am the day before if I hear about something I'd prefer. Guests do it all the time. That takes the pressure off a bit. I choose Abhyang massage, The Goddess Dancing massage,a hydrating facial, a scalp and foot massage. This is heaven! Plus an express naturopathy consultation is included too.

After I unpack I go straight to the welcome talk at 6pm with the complimentary stainless steel water bottle full of water over my shoulder - we are supposed to drink its capacity twice daily. Sounds like a lot of sloshing.

The retreat manager Sharon is warm and enthusiastic about our upcoming 5 days, wanting us to get the very best out of it. She speaks fluently and well, telling us why they don't want us to use electronic devices: they contain much of the stress we've come here to avoid and their blue light interrupts our circadian rhythm. It resembles the blue light of dawn which wakes us up and stimulates our serotonin production. So if we look at our computers at night, we get a burst of alertness just when we want to sleep. Sunsets and fires are red light which encourages sleepiness. I think the trip to India probably blew my circadian rhythm out of the water.

They’d prefer we don’t even SHOW our phones around the retreat, or at least be very discreet if we use them as a camera, because it’s disturbing to many people to even SEE a phone. We may only use them at one place, the cricket stand, and they would prefer we try not to use them at all. I wonder if she is psychic. Can she see the outline of my phone in my pocket?

Our bodies need energy to repair at night. So it’s not good to have no energy left in the tank when we go to bed. I suddenly feel very tired.

To get the most from this experience, we need to be totally in the moment, not somewhere else. Our minds are time travellers - back in the past if-only-ing, regretting, replaying. Or in future planning.

Sitting for long periods is bad for you. Guilty. A calcium test can help show how much cardiovascular damage you may already have. It can be reversed. It’s better to change your living habits BEFORE the cardio event to head it off.

Meditating calms the body down and has very beneficial effects on health. Top of my list, starting now.

Sharon says that people often come here for one thing, and end up getting something quite different out of the experience.

I also learn that we are not given water with our meals because it affects the absorption of nutrients. Eeeek. I won't even be able to get the nutrients down without water! It’s best not to drink water for 20 minutes before or after a meal. We should eat our meals slowly, not start loading our fork with the next mouthful before we have chewed well and swallowed. That shouldn't be difficult.

The tables in the dining room are set with our place names on polished wood. So nice to be able to call people by name. I'm pleased to see fabric napkins. Three at the table are girlfriends from Melbourne who arrived late this afternoon. Another two are from Sydney. They're all good company. I’m not sure about the others on the other side of the square table, because the doors are all shut against a tropical downpour, and the noise inside the dining room is very loud.

At checkin I chose the barramundi for dinner, not the vegetarian option. It’s deliciously moist and flaky. There is a large plate with an array of nicely cooked colourful vegetables for the table of 8 - carrots, zucchini, cauliflower, beans, maybe eggplant. I thought I was a fast eater, but my companions at the table are all finished before me.

I have been looking forward to dessert, which John and I don't have at home. There is none. Remember that photo of the triangular slice of chocolate pie yesterday? I am intrigued to know when that might be served. A teapot of vanilla and strawberry tea instead - really just hot water with vanilla beans and strawberries in the bottom. Pale pink and rather tasteless. I'd better get used to it.

At the end of the meal announcements are made. This is how a typical day plays out, but it's your choice how much you do:

5.30am wakeup knock on our door

6am fruit and herbal tea outside dining room

6.10 qi gong on the open lawn

6.30 choice of activity: hike or walk

7am breakfast

9.30 choice of yin or yang activity

11am morning tea

11.30am lecture

1pm lunch

2pm dreamtime

6pm talk or activity

7pm dinner

Now I’m back in my room. Because it's Gwinganna's 10th Birthday this week, they have put together a gift package from their suppliers for each guest. A nice suprise.

The shower was hot and comforting. Bed beckons. I feel a bit hungry. How long until breakfast???? Tomorrow I won’t skip morning tea or afternoon tea!

I'll set our alarm for 5am. Sleep tight buddies.

shelley dark, writer 

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