Spa expert and author Michelle Bennett shares some of her favourite places to relax, rejuvenate and enjoy.
If you're in need of some serious time out - or simply like to nurture your mind, body and spirit - a few nights at a spa retreat can revive the spring in your step. These kinds of retreats can be found all over Australia, and often offer opportunities to combine spa treatments with everything from skiing and swimming to wine and wilderness.
Best hotel spa
Isika Spa at Crown Metropol
Sky-high Isika Spa occupies the whole of the second-top floor at sleek Crown Metropol, and it has the views to prove it. This superb sanctuary comes with a fabulous infinity pool, plush treatment rooms with private bathrooms and city views, and special accommodation reserved for residential spa-retreat guests. All treatments at this blue-ribbon spa are top notch, but my favourite is the chakra balancing massage, a sure-fire way to realign your mind, body and spirit. A customised facial can do wonders for your skin, as can checking your concerns in at reception on the ground floor for a few days.
Melbourne, Victoria; see crownmetropolmelbourne.com.au.
Best island spa
Don't just take my word for it when I say this is my favourite Australian island spa: Qualia was voted best resort in the world in the 2012 Conde Nast Traveler Readers' Choice Awards. When the expert therapists at Spa Qualia get their hands on you, you'll understand one of the reasons this retreat is so highly regarded. Try the Signature Ceremonies White Haven, which includes an exfoliation, mud wrap, massage, facial and silk caressing your skin (a delightful sensation!). With dazzling sea views, this sublime adults-only retreat affords all the peace, pampering and relaxation you could ever wish for.
Hamilton Island, Queensland; see qualia.com.au.
Best beach spa
Injidup Spa Retreat
This coastal spa near the Margaret River wine region is the ultimate in luxury, peace and quiet. All you'll hear is waves crashing on the beach beneath your private villa's deck as you watch the sun set over the Indian Ocean - perfect enhancements to the relaxing treatments at the retreat's spa. The three-hour Revive package - a sea-salt body exfoliation, green-clay body mask, foot treatment, detox bath and 90-minute massage - is a good indication what's available.
Yallingup, Western Australia; see injidupsparetreat.com.au.
Best mountain spa
Waldheim Alpine Spa at Peppers Cradle Mountain Lodge
Beautiful Cradle Mountain Lodge, on the edge of the World Heritage-listed Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, is like a mirage in the wilderness - especially if you've just finished hiking the six-day Overland Track. The cosy stone-and-timber retreat with its roaring open fires is wonderfully complemented by the Waldheim Alpine Spa, where pampering options include massages, body wraps, scrubs, facials and "muscle- melting" baths with sensational views. Be sure to also spend time in The Sanctuary, an area within the spa that includes a steam room, sauna, hot tub, plunge pool and relaxation lounge. A post-spa buzz combined with fresh mountain air, nature, warm fires and good wine will ensure one of the best sleeps you'll ever have.
Cradle Mountain, Tasmania; see cradlemountainlodge.com.au.
Best wilderness spa
Southern Ocean Lodge
This died-and-gone-to-heaven, eco-chic wilderness retreat on the south-west coast of Kangaroo Island is definitely one for your bucket list. Very private and plush suites laid out in a line along a cliff offer up soul-elevating coastal views, and there are excellent nature tours on which to meet koalas, roos, echidnas, sea lions and the like. A boardwalk leads the way to the lodge's spa, where "journeys" incorporate massage, body wraps and scrubs, facials and water therapy. The rhythmic Kodo massage, inspired by traditional Aboriginal techniques, is divine.
Kangaroo Island, South Australia; see southernoceanlodge.com.au.
Breathtaker Alpine Spa Retreat
Right in the thick of things on Mount Buller, and with ski-in, ski-out access, it's quick and easy to get to the mountain's 80 kilometres of trails from this family-friendly retreat. After a taxing day on the slopes, a full-body rubdown at the retreat's (adults only) spa is just the ticket to see to those aching ankles and thighs, followed, perhaps, by a well-earned soak in a steaming bath with Tasmanian peat mud and essential oils. The spa is only open during the ski season, but you can stay at the retreat at other times.
Mt Buller, Victoria; see breathtaker.com.au.
Best winery spa
Combining two of life's most enjoyable ways to relax - wine and spas - Empire Retreat provides the perfect antidote to life's stresses. Its seriously stylish accommodation is incorporated into 107 hectares of peaceful pastures, bushland and the Empire Estate vineyard in the beautiful Margaret River wine region. Highly skilled staff at the retreat's spa work their magic with facials, manicures, pedicures and massages, including the deeply relaxing massage-fusion treatments, such as the one that combines shiatsu and Swedish massage. Other edible-sounding treatments, like the vanilla-and-macadamia body polish and chai-milk bath, will remind you of the fabulous foodie region in which you're lucky enough to be staying.
Yallingup, Western Australia; see empireretreat.com.
Best garden spa
About 100 kilometres from Sydney, in NSW's southern highlands, this "country house hotel and destination spa" is like something out of The Secret Garden, sitting as it does in a huge estate of elms and oaks, weeping beeches, massive hedges, rose gardens and other formal flower beds. The setting itself is enough to relax the most strung-out exec, but the hotel's opulent, European-style spa is also worth a visit for massages, reflexology, hand and foot therapies, body polishes and cocoons, hydrotherapy and the speciality, facials.
Bowral, NSW; see milton-park.com.au.
Best mineral springs
Peninsula Hot Springs
This beautiful and unique spot on Victoria's Mornington Peninsula - providing outdoor bathing in natural, hot, health-giving mineral water - would have to be one of my favourite places in Australia. There are two parts to the springs: the public bathing area, with 20-plus bathing facilities, and the Spa Dreaming Centre, a day spa with its own private springs area. The latter is the place to go if you're after peace and quiet, or visit the public area during off-peak hours (for example midweek early morning or after dark). It's incredibly well done and a great place to soak and spa away concerns.
Fingal (Rye), Victoria; see peninsulahotsprings.com.
Wolgan Valley Resort & Spa
Not only does this very special place bordering the Blue Mountains epitomise luxury, but it also pays much more than just a passing tribute to the environment through, among other things, its carbon-neutral certification, endangered species protection program, green building practices and sustainable locavore food philosophy. The treatment rooms at the spa have superb views of the surrounding escarpments and quintessentially Australian landscape. For true luxury, try the four-hand body massage or the Australian Sunset Ritual package, four euphoric hours of bathing, massage, facial and more. Exquisite accommodation, exceptional service and respect for the environment easily make this one of the best spa retreats in Australia.
Wolgan Valley, NSW; see wolganvalley.com.
Best golf spa
Palmer Coolum Resort & Spa
This five-star resort is impressively big, with no fewer than nine swimming pools, seven tennis courts, lakes galore, a village square, two kilometres of private beach, and an 18-hole golf course that was formerly home to the annual Australian PGA Championship. The resort's spa is equally large and offers a huge selection of massages, facials (the vitamin-C version leaves your skin truly luminous), body wraps and scrubs, manicures, pedicures, water, light and sound therapies, and grooming options. All up, a perfect resort for spa enthusiasts who like to balance all that lounging around with some activity.
Coolum Beach, Queensland; see palmercoolumresort.com.au.
Michelle Bennett is the author of Relax: Australian Spa Retreats (Hardie Grant Explore; hardiegrant.com.au/explore).
BEST FOR ...
Meditation Prema Shanti Yoga & Meditation Retreat, Queensland
Meaning "love" (prema) and "peace" (shanti), this secluded, eco-friendly and intimate retreat nestled in the Daintree rainforest is the perfect spot in which to practise your "oms" and centre your soul. What's more, it's very good value.
Cape Tribulation, Queensland; See premashanti.com.
Yoga Bush Creek Buddha, Victoria
This sweetly named yoga retreat, about 100 kilometres north-east of Melbourne, limits guests to eight at a time, so you can be assured of plenty of attention to perfect your downward-facing dog or triangle pose. The accommodation and setting, near the Cathedral Range State Park, are lovely.
Taggerty, Victoria; See bushcreekbuddha.com.au.
Food Cabarita Ocean Health Retreat, NSW
A stay at this boutique, ocean-side, health-spa retreat is almost worth it for the cuisine alone: who knew food could be so seriously delicious and healthy? Cabarita's food philosophy is SLOW — seasonal, local, organic and whole foods — resulting in dishes perfectly balanced for your wellbeing and tastebuds.
Northern NSW; See cabaritaoceanretreat.com.au.
Facials Saffire Freycinet, Tasmania
You know your face is in good hands when the staff performing facials are trained by celebrity facial guru Marionne de Candia — whose clients include Elle Macpherson and Kate Hudson — and jewels including diamonds and sapphires and gold are incorporated into the treatments.
Freycinet Peninsula, Tasmania;
Massage Gaia Retreat & Spa, NSW
Massages at any spa can be hit and miss, depending on who performs them. But you really can't go wrong at Gaia, where exceptionally talented and caring staff always deliver first-rate treatments at one of the most beautiful retreats in Australia. The Kahuna massage here is a must-try.
Byron Bay hinterland, NSW; See gaiaretreat.com.au.