Ah, that’s more like it

Inner balance: yoga on the beach.Sue Williams relishes the relaxation offered by a no-longer militant health retreat.
Shanghai night field

A woman stands crying and shaking with fear on a remote hilltop in the Gold Coast hinterland.

Terrified of heights, she’s about to take a turn on the longest flying fox in Australia. Why? Because she decided to visit one of the country’s oldest health retreats for a tranquil, relaxing, healthy break – and hadn’t factored in one of the personal challenge features on offer.

Ten minutes later, after leaping off the hillside with a harness and an exceptionally loud shriek, she says she’s very glad she did it.

“I never imagined I’d ever do anything like that in my life,” she says, with a grin. “But it was an incredible experience, and I think it’s definitely changed my view of myself.”

And that, after all, is what the Eden Health Retreat is all about.

One of the first health retreats to open in Australia, 29 years ago, as Camp Eden, back then it just had a different way of going about it.

In its early days, the hideaway in the lush rainforest of the Currumbin Valley was a strict, puritanical regime where guests would stay in rough bunk beds, four to a hut, eat only vegetarian food, be threatened with a bucket of cold water if they failed to rise at 5.30am for the obligatory exercise, would be sent home if discovered in possession of alcohol, chocolate or magazines, and were compelled to take part in every activity – or else. The physical “challenges” were an integral part of the boot camp-like program. Nearing its 30th anniversary, it’s been remodelled as simply Eden and, after a $7 million revamp, the accommodation nestled among the hills and trees is luxurious, there’s even fish and meat on the menu and all activities are optional.

The extensive range of spa treatments now have top billing, there are lessons with a life coach, the early-morning exercise is only if you feel like it, and contraband (these days updated to include mobile phones and laptops) is discouraged, but no one is sent home in disgrace for possession.

Some things, however, remain the same. Eden remains the only retreat in Australia that offers a full program of activities all day, every day, from 6am to 8pm (although they’re now elective), there’s the same great pool and spa, and those “challenges” remain for those who want them.

“That’s a unique part of our program,” general manager Stuart Bell says. “It’s about challenging yourself and building your confidence. Some people don’t want to do them, and that’s fine, but others like to try something they’ve never tried before, or maybe never even considered. They can end up on such an emotional high as a result; they’re doing cartwheels for the rest of the week.”

The rest of the retreat is a great deal more tranquil. While, by 6am each morning, most are being led through a qigong session – a mix of gentle exercise, stretches and deep breathing – by the infectiously jovial Frank, a 67-year-old bundle of good humour and extraordinary flexibility, others are having a lie-in.

A brisk walk follows along one of the paths through the rainforest and then everyone piles into the shared dining room for a wholesome breakfast, the first of the five excellent meals and snacks of the day, with portion control for those wanting to lose weight.

Spa sessions are decided at the start of the week and are scheduled into everyone’s personal daily rundown, provided the night before. These range from the signature facial, which includes a back massage and an aromatic

hot-oil hair and foot treatment, to peels, anti-ageing collagen treatments, wraps, scrubs and a Chinese health assessment with acupuncture.

The massage menu is also vast, with the retreat’s headline Kahuna bodywork one of its most popular: a sublimely slippery Hawaiian experience that really does transport you to another world with an almost magical mix of massage and stretch performed rhythmically to music.

The day’s activities are varied, with exercise, walks, a bike ride, meditation and every which type of yoga. “Laughter yoga” was a new one on me – a session of pulling funny faces and playing silly games that left everyone in hysterics and exercised, we were reliably informed, all our internal organs, as well as the funny bone.

And as a postscript, everyone’s encouraged to write themselves a letter home that arrives two weeks later, reminding them of what they’ve learnt. So, where’s the nearest flying fox?

The writer was a guest of the Eden Health Retreat.

TRIP NOTES

GETTING THERE

Fly to the Gold Coast or Brisbane airports or catch a train to Varsity Lakes, where transfer vehicles will be waiting, or drive yourself. It’s 30 minutes from the Gold Coast Airport.

STAYING THERE

The minimum stay is five days; maximum … there is no maximum. A five-night stay starts at $2690 twin share, which includes the choice of one of two treatments, and goes up to $3390 for single occupancy of a deluxe king room. Seven nights from $3090 to $4400.

MORE INFORMATION

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The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.