Gwinganna health retreat, Gold Coast review: Push pause and refresh

Read our writer's views on this property below

It would be a mistake to focus on what you can't have at Gwinganna. The rewards far outweigh the sacrifices, writes Angie Kelly.

A three-day news blackout ain't easy for a current-affairs junkie. A fatwa on coffee, tea, alcohol, salt, butter and water with meals is no picnic either. I didn't quite get the ban on perfume, but the most confronting aspect of my stay at this sprawling retreat was going cold turkey on TV.

When bedtime is 8pm, the silence of the long night ahead is somehow deepened when there is no way of breaking it.

The irony of Gwinganna - on a luscious mountain-top behind the Gold Coast - is that it looks like a resort. Seductive swimming pools; impressive gym facilities; fun activities; outdoor dining; grounds with sweeping sea views; plus a luxe spa bulging with wish-list treatments.

Unlike a resort, however, here you can't have anything you want whenever you want it. But as the Zen-infused retreat staff like to say, you just might get what you need. (Though Keith Richards certainly wouldn't make it past breakfast.)

And therein lies the contradiction of "lifestyle" retreats. The very people who can think of nothing worse than having no stimulants, junk food, late nights or digital playthings are the ones who would probably benefit most from the chance to push the pause button and focus on their health.

Like many people, my perception of Gwinganna and others like it needed an update from the lingering suspicion that on top of the aforementioned privations, these places force you into kooky activities in the name of "letting go".

While it's true that some of the activities here could zoom many a cynic way out of their comfort zone (dance play or equine therapy, anyone?), they are all optional.

If you want to lie by the pool while everyone else is meditating, that's OK. If you would rather run a bath in your room than talk about anger management, then go ahead.


In truth, what this is really about is nutrition talks with practical, take-home tips, fitness classes laced with research-based advice, getting access to naturopaths, counsellors, spa treatments and delicious, organic food. Far from being hardcore, the overwhelming vibe is supportive and nurturing.

My two-night visit is part of the new Wellness Weekend program, a Friday afternoon until Sunday noon stint where coffee and tea is allowed until 11am, and 100ml of wine is permitted with dinner.

The rationale is that there is no need to scare people on this two-day road test. The seven-day detoxers meanwhile, sign up for the total bans.

This weekend I find myself among high achievers. Smart, sassy people aged from their 20s to their 60s, each seeking something different. Many were immersed in the seven-day detox, while a handful of five-dayers had elected to stay longer for an extra dose of whatever it was they were being nourished by in the 200-hectare bush setting.

And when it comes to sharing life stories, it was to be a weekend to remember, full of wisdom and cautionary tales in equal measure.

While some guests are seeking strength to endure the big ones, such as separation, health scares and grief, others might be trying to give up smoking, cut down on drinking or to lose weight.

Others are hard-working, hard-playing corporate types who need stress-handling tips for boardroom battles or the juggle of work and family. I was told exhausted lawyers make up a fair chunk of customers.

Being here presents an opportunity to think in the absence of a to-do list. A break from responsibility and freedom to rest. The first steps towards living a healthier, more energetic life.

After a silent night in one of two large signature villas, a cheery good morning call at 5.45am got me out of bed in the pre-dawn darkness. What followed was a dream Saturday of self indulgence.

First, a Qigong session (a variation on tai chi) on the plateau with the sun rising over Burleigh Heads below, wallabies eyeing our slow, flowing movements. Next, a strength-training class. Guided bush walks were an option, as was a run up the steep mountainside.

An energising organic breakfast with eggs from the hen house, gluten-free bread and zingy juice combos set us up. A stretch class, optional boxing or tennis and water polo game - with Bob Marley tunes poolside - takes us to lunch. Broccoli and zucchini soup followed by grilled barramundi with sweet potato got my tick, as did cucumber soup with prawn salsa, baked fish with parsnip puree, quinoa and basil. Fillet of beef was also on the menu.

Afternoons are set aside for spa treatments, sleeping, swimming or chatting over herbal tea.

Even if you head straight for the barista at the airport, are deeply sceptical or adore your bad habits, it's impossible to leave Gwinganna without feeling hopeful and healthier.

The writer was a guest of Gwinganna.



Virgin Australia flies from Sydney to the Gold Coast; phone 13 67 89; see


Accommodation options include modern Orchard Suites or Villas, which come with plunge pool or steam room, laundry and bath.


Weekend Wellness program from $980 a person double share, including two nights, a 50-minute massage, all meals and snacks, morning coffee, teas and evening glass of wine, wellness seminar, use of all facilities, activities, transfers from Gold Coast Airport. Singles from $1095.

Seven-night detox from $2905 a person double share, including accommodation, all meals and snacks, two massages, one facial, $100 therapy credit, seminars, cooking demonstration, well-being analysis, use of all facilities, transfers from Gold Coast Airport. Singles from $3295.