Find bliss at Billabong Retreat
The idea of escaping to a retreat for a few days has long held appeal for me. To visit a place free from interruptions, distractions and time-sapping objects of desire sounded like pure bliss. The only things stopping me have been time, money and, well, time.
When I found out about Billabong Retreat, any reservations I had about “retreating” were rendered invalid. It’s conveniently located just a 45-minute drive from Sydney on 12 acres of private bushland, and with a short two-day program and surprisingly affordable rates, so there’s no real reason not to fulfil the retreat dream here.
To really immerse myself in the idyll, I left my laptop at home and switched off my phone. As someone who spends most of her waking hours in front of a computer screen, I thought this would be hard to do, but the moment I was greeted by Billabong Retreat’s co-owner Paul von Bergen and welcomed into the main building’s outdoor chill-out area, technology was the last thing on my mind.
Billabong Retreat was designed and built over four years by von Bergen and his wife, Tory. Both yoga enthusiasts (Paul is also a yoga instructor), they wanted to create a space and experience where people could take some time out, learn about yoga and mindfulness and return to their lives feeling rejuvenated.
The building itself is designed to optimise positive energy flow. Two circular structures — the yoga studio and dining room — are linked by a breezy lounge area that begs to be used for napping and reading in between yoga sessions. A selection of twin-room huts lines the escarpment on one side of the central billabong and has views over the water. On the opposite side, a Balinese-style pavilion on the water’s edge doubles as the spa treatment area.
The hut I’m staying in, The Treehouse, is a comfortable and airy room with an ensuite and — on the balcony — a luxuriously deep, freestanding bathtub. Even though guests of the retreat are asked to conserve water by keeping their showers short (this is an eco-certified retreat, after all), I think an exception can be made with this. There’s nothing quite like soaking in a tub to a real-life soundtrack of whip birds and kookaburras with a cool breeze brushing over your face.
While it’s all about “me time” at Billabong Retreat, there are some group activities scheduled for each day. Morning and afternoon yoga sessions run by various instructors focus on breathing techniques, gentle poses and improving mindfulness; a Japanese tea ceremony helps to focus attention on the calming ritual of drinking tea; and, in one workshop, Paul guides the group in a vocal meditation in which our chorus of ohms and repetitions of the Hindu morning mantra send me into a trance of relaxation.
Try as I might to leave desire at the door, the aromas of the chef’s delicious and creative vegetarian cooking wafting from the kitchen mean I’m first in line at mealtimes. Food is included in the retreat package and it’s a highlight. Crunchy summer muesli and fresh fruit for breakfast, a roast vegetable stack for lunch and ginger and coconut dhal with salad for dinner (all fruit and vegetables are sourced from local farms) are just some of wholesome dishes served. Fresh fruit and herbal teas are available around-the-clock and healthy sweets appear in the afternoon.
I’m not sure you can go to a retreat expecting to be magically cleansed of worries or negative habits; but what it can do is give you the time, space, support and skills to be able to reflect on these and start to make changes. As Paul says in his final yoga class: “Yoga and meditation is a personal practice. It’s your opportunity to look inward and focus on your mind and body, and it’s up to you to incorporate this practice into your day-to-day life.”
Paul leaves our group with a seven-and-a-half-minute moving-meditation sequence that he recommends we try to do each day. It’s nice knowing that, even now, as technology buzzes around me once again, I can go back to that retreat state of mind in a matter of minutes.