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LUXURY RESORTS: Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat, queensland, aUSTRALIA
Style: A mix of heritage and architect-design
Scene: secluded Gold Coast Hinterland, South-East Queensland
Seen in the lobby: stressed executives, weary mums and spa devotees

I'm the sort of gal who'll touch up her lippy to pop to the shops just for milk. So I'm surprised to find myself in public (sort of) waltzing around in a robe and slippers with hair that looks like I've taken a dip in the Gulf of Mexico - slick and sloppy from a recent hot oil hair and scalp treatment - while totally relaxed about it all. No doubt the Integrated Massage and Balance Aromatherapy facial has something to do with my carefree attitude, as I delay showering to flick through magazine after glossy magazine in the Spa's Whisper Room, overlooking tranquil bush.

gwinganna spa
gwinganna spa
gwinganna lifestyle retreat
gwinganna pool at sunrise
gwinganna signature villa bedroom
gwinganna the villas
gwinganna villas deck

Later, still in the 'zone' and dripping from a visit to the steam room (where I spent 10 minutes marvelling at the southern constellation of twinkling crystal lights above) I wrap a sarong lazily around me, slip on my runners (sans socks, heaven forbid!) and drive up a small hill in my complimentary buggy (missing a bounding wallaby by centimetres) to further immerse myself in the heated, velvet waters of my villa's infinity-edge plunge pool. Cantilevered over verdant regrowth forest, I'm rewarded with a spectacular sunset and stunning views stretching across the valley to the Gold Coast's towering skyline and Pacific Ocean beyond.

This was quite a contrast to the day's early beginnings.

It was still dark when a knock on the door of my villa and a scarily cheerful, 'Good Morning' woke me at 5.30am.

I managed to mumble a polite reply as I blindly pulled on the tracksuit and runners I'd had to dig out of the farthest reaches of my wardrobe to pack a day earlier.

The morning started with a form of 'restorative moving meditation' known as Qi Gong. Once we'd greeted the sun, we had the option of a light or challenging bushwalk (joined by resident ecologist John Palmer) to stir our appetites and appreciation of nature. After breakfast, a gentle stretch class warmed the muscles for the weight training and boxing class that followed before lunch.

It was not quite what I thought I'd signed up for when I booked my two-day spa weekend, but incredibly, I was having fun and feeling more alive in those few hours than I'd felt in years . Exhilarated, but suitably 'pooped', the Dreamtime spa afternoon was perfectly timed.

As I watch the lights along the coast below begin to turn on, I think how well a glass of wine would finish things off nicely.

I will have to wait - but only until dinner.

When it comes to wellness retreats, Gwinganna is a far cry from those restrictive 'boot/fat' camps of old. It may be security gated, but perched on the peak of a hill overlooking the Tallebudgera Valley, this 'lifestyle retreat' differentiates itself from the strict regimen of a health retreat and holiday resort offering unlimited indulgences, with its relaxed, but managed attitude to alcohol and caffeine. Thankfully, a standard glass of wine (200 mls) is offered with dinner during Spa Weekends and coffee and black tea is served until 11.30am to avoid detox headaches over short stays. Forget the ciggies though, because you will draw unwanted frown lines from the incredibly fit and glowing staff. A healthy balance is maintained with a wide variety of (entirely optional) indoor and outdoor activities (both gentle and dynamic) and the delicious chef-prepared meals, which feature only organic foods (including meat and seafood). In fact many of the vegetables and fruit are grown onsite and guests are invited to tour the gardens.
... this 'lifestyle retreat' differentiates itself from the strict regimen of a health retreat and holiday resort offering unlimited indulgences.

A personal 'desire to live a better life' was behind Gwinganna owner Tony de Leede's reasons to purchase the 200 hectare property eight years ago. The former director of the Fitness First chain of health clubs in Australia, not only built a home here, but teamed up with 'lifestyle specialist' Sharon Kolkka to create a destination where others could do the same - over two days, a week or longer.

Some come to detox, some come to soul search, others to bond or get fit. My weekend turns out to be a popular escape for mothers and daughters and girlfriends, while one lucky (and deserving) mother of four from Victoria was surprised by her husband for her 50th birthday.

Stylishly and minimally furnished, Gwinganna's accommodation is an eclectic mix of restored Heritage cottages, reclaimed-timber Orchard Suites, and more private Spa and Signature Villas offering luxury features like plunge pools, hot tubs and private steam rooms. But don't bother looking for a flat screen TV (or a radio) because there aren't any. The use of mobile phones and laptops - while not banned - is also discouraged so guests are free from outside distractions. For the first time in a long time I manage to read more than one magazine cover to cover - uninterrupted.

Spread across land once cleared by timber cutters and later replanted by a banana growers' syndicate, most of the heritage buildings (including the Wellness Therapy Centre , which used to be the Tweed General Store, and Methodist church) were saved from demolition and moved here by the property's original owner, Australian publisher Kevin Weldon. As part of the purchase deal, de Leede agreed to make them a functional part of Gwinganna. As well as additional accommodation, he built a state-of-the-art gym with pilates and kinesis equipment, an infinity-edge pool and separate lap pool, indoor/outdoor dining and lounge area, boutique, open-air Mind Body pavilion known as the 'hanger' and by far the most impressive building of all - the $AUD6.5 million Spa Sanctuary, the largest in the Southern Hemisphere with 33 rooms. Built over several levels and in harmony with the surrounding environment, the most stunning features of the circular Poune Design spa complex, are three towering eucalypt trees which rise up in the centre, ensuring you experience nature from every angle. The treatments offered are also designed not just to pamper but change lives . there is a broad range of therapy options ; some incorporating ancient and modern healing methods including indigenous Australian rituals, American shamanism and clairvoyance. You can even experience horse whispering.

For me, simply having a king bed all to myself was enlightening.

Check in: Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat, 192 Syndicate Road, Tallebudgera Valley, Qld 4228, Australia. Tel: +61 75589 5000.
Ultimate Luxury: The two studio villas and one two-bedroom villa perched on the edge of a ridge overlooking the valley come with two private plunge pools, king beds and exclusive use of a buggy to get around the property. Two Signature Villas sitting side by side and overlooking a natural billabong (pond) feature a private steam room and either an outdoor hot tub or deep bath. All villa guests are offered a complimentary ipod to connect to the surround sound system in their rooms.
Most Indulgent Moment: Definitely spending an entire afternoon in the Spa.
Insider Secrets: The freedom to hang out in cap and t-shirt and switch off from the outside world has made Gwinganna a favourite haven for Australian celebrities like Keith Urban, Nicole Kidman, Megan Gale and Hugh Jackman who retreated here in between performances of the Boy from Oz and returned in prepared for his popular X-Men role as Wolverine.
The Spa Sanctuary is the world's first totally self-sufficient spa - relying purely on rainwater.
The Little Things: Courtesy coach transfers to and from the Gold Coast airport; the buggy to get around; the views and resident wildlife; not worrying about what you look like or having to dress for dinner.
Junior Luxies: The minimum age for guests is 16 years.
Dress code: Casual. Yoga or Tai Chi pants are de rigeur.
Perfect luggage: Look the part with a Lorna Jane rustic sports bag.
Dent in the platinum:
Luxury Resorts Links: www.gwinganna.com
Debbie Neilson-Hunter 9/7/10
Photos: Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat
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