It seems nothing is too out there in global spas devoted to your relaxation, writes Rachael Oakes-Ash.
Feeling stressed? Uptight? In need of some downtime? A simple massage is no longer enough to relieve today's overworked urbanite.
Spa treatments are high on the list for holidaymakers at home and overseas and just as important as good food and service. The global spa industry has addressed the need for rest and relaxation with treatments native to the destination and often served up in exotic outdoor settings inspired by nature with a dash of the seriously "out there" for the true spa spiritual believer.
Global spas are going local, celebrating their roots with indigenous treatments using native ingredients unique to their surroundings. Expect to channel ancient spirits with therapists who learnt their craft from their ancestors.
Mirimiri at Le Spa
Sofitel Queenstown, New Zealand
Riri is a seventh-generation Maori healer and one of only a chosen few to be accredited to perform Maori spa treatments in New Zealand. She is employed exclusively by Le Spa at Sofitel Queenstown. Her speciality is Mirimiri, which is a massage technique indigenous to the Maori people that utilises pounamu (green stone) with heated native leaves and Maori herbs.
The treatment commences with a chanted Maori prayer (a Karakia) and a Maori song (a waiaita) to bring a focus into the room and to the energy between Riri and her client. Mirimiri traditionally concentrates on both the spiritual and physical and is a deeply relaxing holistic massage.
Riri is a wanted woman, so it would be wise to book well ahead.
Price $NZ169 ($131) 60 minutes, $NZ225 90 minutes, $NZ300 120 minutes. sofitelqueenstown.co.nz.
Four Seasons Resort, Sayan, Bali
Bali Usada is the local Balinese take on India's ayurvedic medicine and utilises meditation techniques with herbal remedies, body work and energy-based therapies designed to cure imbalances and prevent illness.
The Four Seasons resorts in Jimbaran Bay and Ubud have introduced the island's traditional wellness experience used by midwives for centuries, Bali Usada, to their spa menus. Chanting and meditation is a key element to the Bali Usada treatments on offer, as are indigenous herbs and magnolia essence, plus warmed local herbal oil used on the face to balance emotions and to clear negative thoughts from the third eye.
Face and body treatments are taken in riverside villas in a rainforest valley and take anything from 90 minutes to three or four hours for a complete Bali Usada experience.
Price Three-hour Usada Sayan journey is 2,500,000 rupiahs ($271). fourseasons.com/bali.
Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat, Queensland
Be warned, this is no ordinary spa treatment. Tribal Dreaming is inspired by the Aboriginal dreamtime and an open mind is required. The treatment, lasting 2½ hours, commences with an "intention ceremony" where you are invited to set an intention for the treatment.
A traditional smudging ceremony of burning native leaves is completed to clear the air of bad energy. What follows is a bodywork massage of sweeping movements designed to fully relax the body, and then a body mud mask of Australian ochre clay.
The piece de resistance is the didgeridoo healing. The indigenous wind instrument allows the sound vibrations to bring you back from "the dreaming" and into the present, a new person healed by tribal dreaming.
Price $395 for 150 minutes. gwinganna.com.
Sol y Luna Spa
Nayara Hotel, Spa & Gardens, Costa Rica
The Sol y Luna Spa is in the shadow of the Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica's most active volcano. Eight open-air treatment rooms float above the rainforest on raised platforms designed to avoid affecting the delicate ecosystem.
Spa therapies here come with a natural rainforest soundtrack of tropical birds and howler monkeys.
Treatments at Sol y Luna utilise the native ingredients abundant in Costa Rica, including coffee, and with particular attention to the mineral-rich volcanic mud and soothing stones the local earth provides.
Expect to be slathered in volcanic mud known for its purifying benefits, pummelled with heated volcanic stones to soothe muscles and scrubbed with Costa Rican coffee to help fluid retention.
Price Volcanic mud massage starts from $US150 ($154) for 75 minutes. arenalnayara.com.
The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa, Arizona, US
The desert agave plant has been used by native American Indians for generations. Known for its moisture-rich natural gel (often used to soothe sunburn), agave naturally features heavily in most treatments at this desert spa alongside jojoba, the "other" desert plant native to Arizona.
Agave extract is used in massages in order to hydrate parched skin, and jojoba beads in exfoliating treatments for gentle exfoliation as well as to enhance skin elasticity. Desert plant extracts are used in body masks for natural detoxification.
Look out for the Apache Burden Basket, a basket outside every treatment room for guests to "leave their burdens" in. The baskets are inspired by the Apache tradition of everyone keeping their worries outside their tepees.
Price 80-minute Agave Enchantment Treatment, $US189. kierlandresort.com.
Today's spas are transporting their guests out of the spa treatment room and into the great outdoors, with treatments under waterfalls, in the ocean, under the moon and anywhere else nature offers a platform.
UXUA Casa Hotel
The "wise elders" of the fishing village of Trancoso recently revealed the secret location of a natural clay pool settled at the base of coastline cliffs to the owner of UXUA Casa Hotel, Wilbert Das. The clay in the pool is high in therapeutic mineral content and now offered exclusively by the hotel.
Guests are greeted by a therapist on horseback for a ride along the beach to what they've dubbed "the blue lagoon" (no Brooke Shields reference intended). A natural waterfall provides an outside shower and the therapist then applies the natural white mud, which is left on as a body mask to dry in the sun. The ocean then provides a cleansing salt bath to remove the mud and the guests return by horseback to the hotel, refreshed, rejuvenated and thankful to those wise elders. It doesn't get more "outdoors" than this.
Price 400 Brazilian reals ($199) for the White Clay Lagoon experience. uxua.com.
Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, Peru
For a start, you have to hike here, that's outdoors (the hotel is located a day's hike from the ruins of Machu Picchu). Then retreat to the outdoor Andean Sauna, a bamboo-and-eucalyptus hut built on the side of a natural spring pool.
Step into the candle-lit hut and inhale local herbs warming on hot stones to detoxify the body, before throwing your detoxified but overheated body into the cool spring waters to tighten the skin.
Voila! A new outdoor you. Now trek back down.
Price on application. inkaterra.com/en/machu-picchu.
Hayman Island, Queensland
Hayman's Ocean Massage takes water therapy to the extreme. A massage bed is set up in the sand bed of the crystal-clear waters of the Whitsundays about 30 minutes prior to high tide.
The guest, already prepped with sunscreen, is led out to the bed by a therapist adorned in wetsuit and bathers with a therapist blouse.
Then you lie face down and witness tropical fish, stingrays and aquatic life pass by through the face hole in the massage bed. There is no whale music or Buddhist chanting, just the natural ocean sounds and chirping birds and the warm sun on the skin while a Swedish, deep tissue, pre- or post-natal and aromatherapy massage soothes the muscles.
All body parts not being worked on are covered in towels to prevent sunburn, and the entire experience is set on a private beach, so there are no nosey paparazzi.
Price $400 for a 90-minute treatment. hayman.com.au/activities/ocean-massage.
Alila Hotel, Ubud, Bali
Spa Alila in Ubud celebrates the new moon and the full moon on the first and 15th day of every lunar month with an outdoor spa. Why? Because the moon's energy is said to be at its strongest on these days.
No, you don't have to howl, but some of these treatments may leave you sobbing in a foetal position of relaxed bliss in the outdoor spa tent erected to harness the good lunar energy for spiritual growth.
Treatments start with a warm herbal tea and a Balinese prayer to calm anxiety before the therapist channels the lunar energy with reiki (healing hands of heat) and a choice of Balinese, Alila recovery, Swedish or reflexology massage. Choose from 90-minute or two-hour treatments.
Price $US66 for 60 minutes. alilahotels.com/ubud/events/moonlight-remedies.
The Wellness Garden
The Betsy Hotel, South Beach, Florida
High-maintenance folk in Florida need not travel the world for spa treatments when they can head to the rooftop Wellness Garden spa at the Betsy Hotel and let the world come to them with Global Spa Rituals performed in open-air cabanas in the outdoor spa.
The Wellness Garden has expansive, uninterrupted views of the ocean by day, should you wish to lift your head from the massage bed to sneak a peek, and star-filled skies for late-night treatments.
Therapies include a Wood Stone Treatment using chilled stones to combat the Florida heat, a Waterfalls Treatment from Canada that incorporates splashes of water, Indian foot massages and Inca-inspired facial treatments.
Only in South Beach.
Price From $US150 for the Waterfalls Massage. thebetsyhotel.com.
It is hard not to think some spas are pulling the other one with some of the treatments they offer.
There are plenty of spas that offer spiritual massage with no physical contact, therapists who blow air on the body to blow away the bad energy, and tapping on the forehead for emotional release. If you're not being covered in straw passed down from prehistoric times and painting your chakras red with the blood of a 100-year-old yak, then you're simply not living.
Like most things, the success is in the believer, so decide for yourself.
ISIKA, Crown Metropol, Melbourne
Giselle, an intuitive masseuse, has a gift. We don't know what to call it but we will warn you it involves tears. Yours. Sure, she starts with what you think is a massage - she even uses oils to knead the muscles - but somewhere between the foot and scalp massage, her magic hands find emotional scars buried deep and in need of physical release.
Let's just say you'll walk out lighter than you went in.
Price $235 for 90 minutes. crownmetropol.com.au/isika.
Reprogramming Signature Energy with Dan Chai
Chiva Som, Thailand
If you can say this treatment name three times fast, then you're already winning. The brochure says it "releases obsolete energies that no longer sustain life and harmonises your vibrational tone between mind and body". We will tell you that it involves crystal bowls, Tibetan bowls and tuning forks that are set up around a massage bed.
Dan Chai is an artist at hitting and playing, massaging sounds and vibrations out of each of these tools to send vibrational energy through your body without touching you.
This cornucopia of music goes on while you lie peacefully on your back, eyes closed and drifting off. Does it energise the body? Absolutely, as you can physically feel the sounds.
Did it reprogram our signature energy? As they say in Chiva Som - Dan Chai knows.
Price Price upon application. chivasom.com.
HD Diamond and Ruby Peel by Scott-Vincent Borba
Borba salons worldwide
The $7000 facial has been heralded by the likes of the Hollywood actress Mila Kunis, who probably never coughed up the bucks needed for "beautician to the stars Scott-Vincent Borba" to personally administer the facial treatment himself.
The skin is first exfoliated in the HD Diamond and Ruby Peel with crushed (you guessed it) rubies and diamonds. Some say that rubies work as an antioxidant (we think "some" may be fibbing) and the diamonds remove dead skin cells (which a loofah brush could also do).
The rest of the facial involves acid peels, hot and cold utensils, and the waving of magic hands. Oh, there's a red LED, too, though that might well be the ambulance.
Price $US7000. borba.com.
The Golden Door, Elysia, Hunter Valley
It is essential to "give yourself over" to your practitioner when experiencing Watsu. The therapist cradles your body (you wear a bathing suit) like a baby in a saltwater pool set to body temperature. Yes, it's beginning to sound like a womb. A series of sweeping movements through the body begin the Watsu massage as the therapist massages knots from the body and stress literally floats away.
This treatment is a truly powerful massage experience that involves trust and the ability to leave your inhibitions at the door (no pun intended).
Price $200 for a 45-minute treatment. goldendoor.com.au.
Mii Amo destination spa, Sedona, Arizona
Think of a WaveMotion Table as an adult cradle. This unique massage table is all about movement; it can rotate 360 degrees while inclining and can also tilt up to seven degrees in any direction. The end result is supposed to give the user a feeling of weightlessness.
The Kinetic Flow treatment sets the bed at a constant slow-moving motion for deep relaxation while the therapist massages the body.
The body can be set in positions that would usually take muscle strength to hold, as the table takes the weight. The body relaxes and the massage therapist can work on the muscles.
Price $US150 for 60 minutes. miiamo.com.