Pinetrees wellness retreat, Lord Howe Island: Yoga, fitness and wholefoods

Wellness week at Pinetrees on Lord Howe Island officially starts on a Monday. Monday is also fish fry night.

There are about 15 of us in the program, yet all we can talk about is dinner. Most nights are a la carte, but Mondays are buffet-style and we have been told that there will be sushi, fried and grilled fish, plenty of salads, five or six desserts … we've agreed that we want to try at least one of everything.

I quickly realise that the definition of wellness is flexible at Pinetrees. Everyone has booked because they are interested in health, but also interested in food, wine and afternoon naps. "We take a relaxed approach to wellness," Luke Hanson, who manages Pinetrees with his wife Dani Rourke, says. "We offer yoga, fitness activities and wholefood menu options, but it's up to guests how they decide to spend their holiday."

The wellness week is just one of many event weeks the couple launched in 2011. Pinetrees is the oldest accommodation on the island (it has been held in the same family since 1848) and each generation has added its touch. Rourke (a sixth-generation islander) and Hanson chose to focus on activities that would showcase the island – with a dose of "something else" added in. Food and wine weeks, adventure weeks, photography weeks and ocean swim weeks are among the options.

I'm chuffed with my wellness week choice. Lord Howe is an absolute stunner (I'm planning a photography week with my husband next) and I figure yoga will be enjoyable given the epically beautiful vistas – preposterously turquoise water and soaring mountains shaped by volcanic eruptions.

I have a trying relationship with yoga though. I want to love it. I want to be good at it. I own so many Dharma Bums yoga pants you would assume that I practise at least sometimes (truth is I wear them to spin class). But I have recently realised that so far I've only ever found yoga … monotonous. So here I am trying to change my mind.

Classes are outdoors, beside Pinetrees' beachfront boat shed, so even if nothing else piques my interest at least the view will. But it's our yoga guru who changes my mind. Charlotte Dodson, yoga teacher to the stars (Miranda Kerr and Orlando Bloom are former students), is patient, kind and funny and has me doing my first headstand (ever!) by the end of the week. Apparently, she was a little surprised when she led her first wellness week in 2011 – because guests would go straight from afternoon tea to yoga. But now it doesn't faze her. Sure, she wouldn't do it, but she is a serious yogini and usually guests are … well, not yoginis.

"I came last year," Bill, a charismatic fellow in his 80s, who is back for round two, tells the group. "I didn't think yoga was for blokes, but I've changed my mind."

"It's like quiche," Jim, a chap in his 70s, chimes in. "Designed for women."


There is no pressure to attend all the activities, but I attend morning yoga each day (I skip the afternoon sessions … baby steps) and participate in most of the post-breakfast fitness activities led by Hanson. Interestingly, both Bill and Jim attend yoga every morning too; Bill even manages a headstand towards the end of the week.

A few of us hike up Malabar Hill one stormy day and reach the summit just as the sky turns the colour of a baby eggplant. Powerful rain cloaks us, but we don't care because the view is entrancing. Jagged cliffs plunge into the wild ocean and seabirds screech loudly, as if trying to outdo the angry slosh of the sea.

On a clear day we kayak to North Bay for our morning fitness activity. Slate-coloured clouds drift across the sky; seabirds flap about; reef fish dart around in the crystalline water. I'm so entranced by the sealife I sign up for a snorkelling tour the next day.

The highlight of the week is the afternoon yoga session at Little Island, a special class usually arranged towards the end of wellness week (I skip morning yoga to stick to my one-yoga-class-a-day limit). We walk through a lush forest of palm and banyan trees until we reach a patch of emerald green grass by the sea, where we spread out our yoga mats and "om" our way through the next hour.

When the class ends a few of us linger, watching the sky transform into a kaleidoscope of pinks and oranges as the sun stoops below the horizon. Most of the group, however, dash back to the van. Dinnertime is less than an hour away, and although the yoga was magical … the food at Pinetrees is a different kind of magical.

If only I could stay for a few days longer to indulge in fish fry Monday again.




QantasLink flies to Lord Howe Island year-round from Sydney and Brisbane. See


Pinetrees is the oldest accommodation on the island, with stylish en suite rooms and cottages. There are three wellness weeks with Charlotte Dodson scheduled for 2017; prices start at $2130 a person (twin share). Alternatively, there are plenty of other packages: food inclusive. See

Tatyana Leonov was a guest of Pinetrees.