The headaches are beginning so I’m skolling cups of herbal tea and aloe vera flavoured water like they’re bottles of Veuve. Detox tea, dandelion tea, peppermint tea: maybe they’ll help with the ache behind my eyes that feels like a cheap white wine hangover.

But then, this is the the day our caffeine and sugar (and booze) withdrawals and cravings are at their worst; from here on in, I’m told, it’s an easier ride to the finish line.

No-one’s promising me Nirvana, mind you – but they are providing me a heck of a sanctuary in a world gone mad. If ever we’ve needed a cocoon to hide out in, it’s now while this global pandemic rages outside.

Though this is hardly a resort or a lodge, it’s a lifestyle retreat – or rather: a place designed for me to retreat from my lifestyle. Not that anyone’s preaching at me, or trying to get me into some cult – just because a Hollywood A-Lister (Hugh Jackman) part-owns Gwinganna doesn’t mean it’s designed as therapy for the world’s poor rich people.

So far my childhood hasn’t been analysed for clues to any feelings of inadequacy. So far I haven’t sat around in rooms chanting ‘ommm’ with complete strangers. There has, however, been bizarre chats about how to make our colon work better with an expert dubbed Poo-trina (her actual name’s Petrina, I’m told).

I had preconceptions about health retreats, and the kinds of people who come to them. I pictured a retreat full of stressed, red-faced executives and wannabe hippies living large on trust funds, munching on pumpkin seeds (none of them have come true).

Then when the gates closed behind me on my drive up to the top of Gwinganna’s 200 hectare property (it’s a 25 minute drive from Coolangatta Airport, in the Tallebudgera Valley) – four days seemed a life sentence. Oh… and did I mention already the no-alcohol, no-caffeine policy?

But Gwinganna say they use the gates not to lock us in, but rather to lock the world out. In the meantime giving up my liberty means living organically in five-star comfort in the Queensland bush (I just saw a wallaby leap off beside my suite, spooked by a metre-long monitor lizard) while  looking out over Australia’s glitziest tourist strip.

On my first morning at sunrise looking east to the ocean, I picture myself down there on the coast: sipping lattes…downing bacon and egg burgers, contemplating lunch ahead. By day three I’m discovering… with some shock… I’d prefer a cup of detox tea, a massage, and a lie-down after a soak in the bath in my suite that’s big enough for three.

Gwinganna is billed as an ‘organic lifestyle retreat’ for those looking to live a healthier life. Or for those at least wanting to live a healthier life while someone’s doing all the work for them. There’s a variety of retreats – from two to seven days. I’ve opted for a four-night Sleep, Sugar and Stress retreat.

I start each morning with a session of qi gong (a form of tai chi) on a lawn overlooking the Gold Coast. Gwinganna build programs around guests following a circadian rhythm (up with the sun, do the most strenuous activities early, then power down before an early night, just past sunset).

There’s energetic strolls across the property, and there’s yoga, Pilates, boxing, water aerobics, spin classes and more (you’ll have to make the choice yourself).

There’s an education hour beginning after 11 with workshops aimed at making improvements to your life. In weeks… maybe even days… this new-found desire to fix things in my life may be superseded by the temptations of late-night booze sessions and kebabs served on the way home; but least I’ll know what it is exactly I’m doing to my sleep cycle, and my general health while I’m doing it.

The brain strain ends after class. Wind-down starts early at Gwinganna, lunch is a slow affair served with the best local produce (it might be light on wine and coffees, but the meals served are some of south-east Queensland’s finest fare). Then Dreamtime starts. It’s become my favourite time of the day. It’s a time for siestas, slow walks through the forest, long, hot baths, staring at trees and clouds, and spa treatments.  There’s over 100 treatments at Gwinganna’s spa – from basic massages to equine therapy, using horses to gain insight into behaviour that runs in people unconsciously.

There are sessions at Gwinganna for those who things a little cosmic (The Journey is a session that takes you right back through your life to sort out underlying issues you have today). But that’s the true appeal of Gwinganna – it’s like a choose-your-own-adventure for (wannabe) healthy people. There’s people here who’d much prefer a pedicure. There’s a woman here who thinks I’m crazy for choosing equine therapy, she says she just comes for the food, and the peace and quiet.

Gwinganna is what you want it to be; it’s as cosmic as a mung bean farm in Nimbin, or as mainstream as a five-star couple’s retreat. I like it somewhere around about the middle.


Getting there: Fly to the Gold Coast with Virgin Australia, Jetstar or Qantas – you’ll be picked up at the airport for the half-hour journey.

Retreat packages: Choose from a range of retreats from two days to seven days, staying in a choice of suite types – all meals are included, see

A hike at Gwinganna