Stark naked with a rock star

No BlackBerry, no booze - Shelly Horton surrenders her A-type personality to experts on the Gold Coast.

I go to swanky parties for a living. I'm addicted to my BlackBerry. As for keeping fit, well, I do calf-raises by wearing stilettos. So when I was invited to Gwinganna Health Retreat (cue angelic music) and their Optimum Wellbeing program, I jumped at the chance to clean up my act.

Perched on a mountain in the Gold Coast hinterland, Gwinganna is considered the Rolls-Royce of health retreats. That suits me.

But as my brother drove me up the retreat's steep driveway - it could double as a black-diamond ski run - my casual optimism disappeared. There's no television, no radio, no newspapers, no pass-outs. That's right, they lock you in. I immediately wanted a cigarette and 400 Lindt balls.

The grounds were magnificent and tranquil and the staff serene and smiling, even though the nicotine and alcohol cravings had me screaming, "It's a cult!" on a loop in my head. My panic eased when staff told me I could use my BlackBerry in assigned areas. "No," my brother told them, "she's a CrackBerry addict." The staff took it and cheerfully locked it in the retreat's safe.

I went to my room and was immediately distracted by the opulence. The king-size bed was princess-worthy with about eight pillows and a mattress so comfortable you just wanted to starfish across it. The room's veranda overlooked the macadamia orchard. I couldn't stop myself from saying, "How's the serenity?"

I felt as though I'd been dropped off at school camp and desperately hoped someone would want to sit with me at little lunch. We were welcomed with fresh juices served in martini glasses. I chose the beetroot juice. The ridiculously healthy-looking general manager of Gwinganna, Sharon Kolka, explained that those who chose beetroot normally felt guilty for abusing their livers. I think I felt mine weep with gratitude.

Kolka said the week was about letting go, with mornings of exercise and afternoons of "dream time" treatments. But here's the rub - she wanted us to be less rigid and more spontaneous. We'd hear of the options as they arose, not ahead of time. But I'm a list-maker; I exist for deadlines. What if I didn't choose the spin class on Tuesday and it wasn't offered again? When I raised my concern, Kolka cocked her head to the side and, with a hint of pity, said: "It's important for A-type personalities like you to release and go with the flow."

I wanted to put my hands around her throat and teach her a thing or two about flow.


Luckily it was dinner time, so we filed across to the dining room. I knew it was all organic and healthy and was expecting birdseed and tofu but instead was impressed with delicious mushroom pate, cucumber soup and fish curry. Truly five-star quality.

At 5.30am there was a chirpy knock on my door. I'm normally coming home at this time. Each day started with a form of tai chi, then a hard-core activity such as a spin class or boxercise. Breakfast started with a shot of apple-cider vinegar to boost digestion, then fresh fruit followed by either muesli or a hot meal such as beans on toast. Either but not both. Bugger.

Then there was more movement - a compulsory stretch class, deep-water running, yoga or Pilates. We snacked each day at 11am and 4pm - one tahini ball or a small juice with spirulina. Most days I was so knackered I didn't have the energy to steal more.

After that came lectures until lunchtime. My favourite was nutrition, led by Caroline Scott. She even taught us a new swear word - white bread. Lunch was always a clear soup followed by creative salads with a dash of protein.

Then it was dream time. Chill-out time. Gwinganna's spa is out of this world. First up, I met with massage therapist Craig. "What drew you to experience Sound and Stone?" he asked. "It sounded the whackiest," I grinned. He asked if I'd be comfortable removing my clothing. "Are you kidding? I'd love to nude up and try some weird stuff."

The room was decked out in drums, bells and other ancient instruments, with speakers fitted inside the massage table so that you were enveloped in sound. Craig used hot stones to massage me in time with the music and occasionally played the drums or shook maracas over my body. I did my best to be respectful and not giggle. When it was over, I felt as though I'd been part of a street theatre performance where my body was just one of Craig's instruments. I walked out with a stupid grin on my face that lasted for hours. Loved it.

Gwinganna's staff offer counselling and coaching, too. I saw the intuitive and extraordinary Paul Dodd and in just 90 minutes managed to detox a few ghosts from relationships past. I also undertook Soul Search and Goddess Wisdom with Laura. The soul bit involved reflexology and a reading of angel cards; the goddess part required you to visualise your inner goddesses supporting you. I couldn't get into this, especially as my sexual goddess looks like Jessica Rabbit and my career goddess is Oprah. Too much pop culture and not enough spirituality. Silly me.

I spent five days at Gwinganna. Who would have thought working out and eating well could be fun? I felt lighter, too. I'm not sure if I lost weight but my skin is glowing. I plan to go back once a year to relax and take the time to smell the dandelion tea.

The writer was a guest of Gwinganna.


Getting there

Fly to Coolangatta or Brisbane airports, from which transfers are provided for guests.

Staying there

Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat, 192 Syndicate Road, Tallebudgera, Queensland. See, phone 1800 219 272. The Optimum Wellbeing program, with a five-night stay in an orchard suite, starts from $2885.