Why Gaia is a Treat of a Retreat

Claire Chitham sits on a rock at Gaia Retreat in Australia

One of the first major health benefits of heading to this hilltop health spa for a getaway is that you have to travel to the stunning Byron Bay to get there. Driving in to this surf haven is instantly relaxing. It’s a luscious seaside town on the furthermost Eastern point of Australia. You can fly into the Gold Coast and take an easy one hour drive south to get there, or you can fly from within Australia to Ballina airport which is a 20 minute drive from Byron. GAIA offers a shuttle or limo service from this airport if required.

Byron is simply magical. The coastline is gorgeous; it looks exactly like the long, white sand and turquoise water vistas you see in those covetable Insta posts. I was coming to town for a wedding so I drove down from the Gold Coast. It’s an easy lovely drive and as you snake your way into Byron itself you can feel the atmosphere change. Byron is known to the indigenous peoples of Australia as the land of first light dreaming. There is an innate spirituality to the environment here and this quality is present throughout the town. It’s super cute, there are an endless amount of incredible restaurants and cafes to indulge in and boutiques that you’ll wish you’d saved more cash for. Those who know me were shocked I hadn’t yet made it to Byron before now, it’s kind of a wellness geeks holiday heaven.

I had a hectic start to 2019 and felt like I needed a bit of Time Out. I finally had the time. I’d heard about GAIA among a few other retreats in Oz that sounded pretty attractive. Olivia Newton-John is a co-founder - so that helps; because lets face it Grease is one of the best movies EVER. But more importantly her work behind building a cancer treatment and research centre as well as this health retreat, along with sharing her own cancer journey, has made her synonymous with holistic health on this side of the world.

From the minute you walk through the luscious gates of GAIA time slows down, the noises of nature take over and  everything around you seems to have just one function - to create relaxation in and around you. There is no reception desk to check in to, just a beautiful lounge where you are asked to hang out, chill with your choice of a gazillion herbal teas and the staff will come to you to discuss your stay. Everything is tailor-made to suit your desires. Two nights at this hilltop health spa felt like two weeks. It’s not ostentatious but it still feels very luxurious. However this place is not designed to make you feel like it’s better than you, everything here is designed to make you feel like it is here FOR you.

You are encouraged to have your own experience here. If you’re travelling alone, the staff make it easy to feel like you can chat with them if you want to connect, or make sure you have everything you need and gently be left to your own devices. Oh and devices are allowed but you’re encouraged to leave them in your room when you go for treatments or head to the dining room or the huge outdoor decks for one of your meals. The food is all organic, most of it from their own gardens just behind the kitchen; all of it seasonal and local. They will tailor-make meals for you if you have dietary requirements. It was mostly vegetarian during the day to help your body cleanse and detox but I was also offered fish and chicken for dinner. They offer wine if you want it, and they also offer delicious sounding cleansing packages if you’re coming here to get off everything but never feel a sense of lack. Oh and the breakfast table was this wellness-obsessed-foodies’ idea of HEAVEN! I honestly could live off that rainbow-coloured buffet every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. #lifegoals.

I was here by myself but I never felt alone. The staff are gentle, kind, funny and ever present if you need them. They learn your name. They are attentive and caring; especially important considering some of the people they look after here are often in recovery from cancer treatments, not just simply needing a quiet escape like moi but requiring specialized care and attention. There were a few couples, a few single guests and a few groups of women relaxing together. One lady I chatted to had been gifted the trip as a thank you from her daughter for helping to raise her triplets for the last year! Everyone is made to feel cared for in a very tailor-made way.

They offer daily yoga classes and a talk in the afternoon on a variety of topics. I took up the yoga only once out of my 3 mornings and wish I’d done more. They have a new studio and the floor to ceiling windows offer glorious views over hills and treetops while you inhale and exhale. I attended a class on breath work and tai chi, where we learnt about the importance of grounding our feet in the earth once and a while. And then I opted to spend most of my time by the pool; getting massages or lazing on one of the many bali-style daybeds that are dotted around the beautiful grounds; journaling, meditating or just staring at the view.

A gentle meander down the hill through tropical gardens takes you to the pool and treatment centre. This is a day spa and you don’t have to be a guest at Gaia to come and use it, which is why you need to book. They offer a vast array of treatments here from every type of facial and massage imaginable - to more complex healing treatments including acupuncture, naturopathy consultations, tarot readings, shamanic healings, reiki and even tennis coaching.

The rooms vary from the more affordable yet beautifully appointed single rooms to much more luxurious and pimped out suites and villas. Some have their own pools and treatment areas so you never need to leave. You can have a simply relaxing time here or an indulgent, extravagant time here. But what you will no doubt find is a haven from the pace, noise and chatter of the modern world and a peaceful, quiet escape from yours. I’ll be back next time I need a break from mine.