It’s early in the morning and around 20 people have braved the coastal chill to attend a 90-minute yoga session that marks the beginning of each day at Gaia Retreat and Spa. But before we get to the yoga studio our instructor takes us on a detour up a hill and to the highest point in the Ballina region where we can appreciate the soft dawn light, the sets of green rolling hills and the gentle, still atmosphere. He explains that the volcano we can see in the distance has created the undulating landscape and that the whole area is made of volcanic rock. “We’re actually standing on a giant, healing crystal,” he tells us and suddenly it all makes sense.
The feeling of relaxation and rejuvenation starts as soon as you reach Gaia. The attentive welcome, complete with a small pot of herbal tea and a selection of fresh fruit to nibble on, sets the process of unwinding in motion. I follow this up with an hour-long massage then a light lunch of organic soup and salad and realise that only three hours into my four-day stay I’m breathing more deeply and walking more slowly. I’m surprised at how quickly Gaia has had an effect on me and it isn’t until day two, when our yoga instructor mentions the volcanic rock and the healing history of the area, that I understand why I immediately feel as nurtured as I do.
Gaia, as I find out when I get to know some of my fellow retreaters over various laughter-filled meals at the communal table, is a place where people come for a change of pace, a change of diet or a change of life. There is no strict roster of activities that a guest must follow, but a wide variety of options available to each person so they can set their own agenda and meet their own needs. On my first afternoon I have an hour-long consultation with a naturopath who advises me on small alterations I can make to my diet to improve my health. Later that evening the dinner provided by chef Todd Cameron fits exactly within these guidelines and I realise that making the changes, once I get home, won’t be so difficult.
Gaia also offers access to psychologists, personal trainers, nutritionists and healers and each day brings the chance to try pilates, art classes, tai chi, guided meditation or cardio fitness workouts – whatever you need to help achieve your goal during your stay. Of course, for relaxation the first stop should be the Amala Day Spa, which offers luxurious treatments as well as therapeutic massages, reiki and craniosacral balancing among many other therapies. There is also the sauna, spa and heated pool available for a touch of hydrotherapy.
But, by far, the most healing facilities are the hammocks and day beds dotted around the property that look out over sublime vistas. It is during these moments of quiet solitude that internal shifts and fresh insights come to gently and irrevocably alter a person. These are the places that, as manager Gregg Cave tells me when I arrive, you are truly able to relax and surrender.
The writer stayed as a guest of Gaia Retreat & Spa.