There is something so cosy, homely, yet chic and fabulous about slipping into a robe and slippers, sitting in a steam room sweating, sipping on herbal tea, nibbling on veggie sticks, and getting pampered head to toe all afternoon. This place has been on the wishlist for several years now so unplugging from the daily grind and detoxing from the digital world of laptop and iPhone was definitely first on the the things-to-do list. An overall digestive system re-group was also on order.

It all started with a beautiful drive through Gold Coast’s Tallebudgera Valley. Up a long, steep driveway to a 2-night health and wellness weekend at GwingannaLifestyle Retreat.


Gold Coast, Australia, April, 2007. Gwinganna Lifestyle Resort - Gwinganna Gym , April 2007


On first impression the retreat resembled a charming village, with its old-style cottages and quaint little church. As the sprawling property opened up ahead it was incredible to see how modern architecture could be integrated so sensitively into the historic landscape. In an instant, relaxation started settling in.

Gwinganna could be described as a 5-star school camp for grown-ups, with activities non-stop in the morning, exquisite super healthy meals in between, then dreamtime chill-out time in the afternoons.

The Orchard Suites were where heads would hit pillows this glorious weekend. Built from Australian reclaimed timber, the suites’ wrap-around deck provided many moments of contemplation while catching wallabies grazing and spotting an orchard of fruit. Its deluxe studio and two spacious suites were perfect for old friends; they’re joined by a shared, relaxed lounge, perfect place for a cup of tea and catch-up session each morning and night.


Gwinganna Lifestyle Resort - September 2008.


The award-winning spa sanctuary was out of this world. The range of therapies and treatments (17-page booklet to choose from) was extensive, ranging from spa therapies, wellness consultants, nutrition to stress management. Then there were the Equine experiences; working alongside horses to provide insight into how one manages challenging situations in life. Amazing.

The programs at ‘Gwinny’ – as the staff affectionately call it – have been designed to keep guests busy and get the most out of their stay.

‘Yin’ and ‘yang’ determine activity choice each day. On this occasion the gentle version was selected, allowing time to absorb all that this lifestyle is about.




The first morning started with personalised tapping on the window at 5.45am, the wake-up call for sunrise Qi Gong. Deep breathing and slow movement while the sun rises is spectacular and a great start to the day.

A walk around the property with the eccentric and loveable John the resident botanist was an absolute delight. His storytelling, humour and gentle addiction to life was contagious.

There are so many activities on the menu to get the body moving. Yoga, boxing, swimming, bosu ball and hiking were just a few. Kay’s Body Play class was next. It was a ‘dance like there’s no tomorrow’ movement, without fear or judgement of others. It was also about finding the joy in life, to smile and have fun. This class was actually one of the toughest activities for many to tackle and reinforced what Gwinganna’s core philosophy was about: to relieve stress, find peace within oneself and to let go of control for a moment. It was also re-learning how to have fun, free of toxic influences of course.

All of Gwinganna staff are amazing, friendly and nurturing. Program Manager Kay stayed closely connected the entire weekend, including meal times. She played a key part in the weekend program, taking guests on the journey to relaxation, good health and happiness.

Food glorious food. The meals were top shelf and servings were generous. Every meal is organic, clean and local and most of the produce is harvested from Gwinganna’s organic garden and orchard. The chef willingly adapts every meal for anyone who has food allergies and intolerances.


Grilled reef fish_HIGH


Breakfasts were a buffet of goodness. Gluten-free cereals, activated nuts, best fruit compote ever, and a hot brekky of eggs, sautéed spinach, mushrooms and avocado for the non-egg eaters. Morning and afternoon tea included a yummy raw slice, chia smoothies, fruit and amazing and energising herbal teas.Lunch and dinners always consisted of a little entrée tea cup of soup, a variety of salads and a protein. Weekend retreats are allowed one glass of organic red wine with dinner and organic coffee at breakfast for those who can’t give it up. Both choices were gratefully accepted. Organic wine and coffee, why say ‘no’ on this gastronomically healthy weekend?

gwin_spicy carrot dip

Meals were always located in the gorgeous dining room, with an open fireplace, views of the rainforest and overlooking one of the retreat’s eternity pools.

An essential part of the retreat was these communal meals. Learning from others and hearing their stories is all part of the journey. People on this weekend retreat were each on a different journey. Some were there for a week to relieve stress, some for the weekend, a few had very high-pressure jobs, others were regulars.

The staff service is impeccable. Their ability to foster a big family-style presence at Gwinganna is comforting.


A glimpse of Chef Dan playing his guitar in the dining room while the staff were setting up for lunch emphasised how at ease even the staff are, which helps guests settle in and relax even more.

“Gwinganna means “lookout” and was the name given to this area by the traditional aboriginal people of the region.”

So is it a life-changing experience?

Writer Vanessa Russell gives her verdict:

A weekend at Gwinganna has helped kickstart my new eating plan with ease and knowledge to maintain it. Since returning from the retreat I’ve had very little sugar craving experiences. If it does happen a fresh Medjoul Date or two come in handy. Coffee is still a must-have in the morning, but I am definitely on the right track with my health and wellbeing and have definitely detoxed more from my phone.

I am happy to shout out to the world that the dark circles under my eyes that I’ve had for years because of my intolerance are disappearing, my stomach has never felt so good and not bloated anymore, I have eliminated processed sugar from my diet and my mind is now clear and I have focus. I would say it was life changing.

I would most definitely recommend Gwinganna to anyone who has been diagnosed with health issues, stress, food intolerances, allergies and of course coeliac disease and wants to understand how to repair it, live with it and maintain a healthy and happy life.

Check out their weekend wellness or full week detox packages at

Gwin facial2


6.15am Qi Gong – the highlight of my day – watching the sunrise over the Gold Coast while enjoying the tranquility of Qi Gong, which I now practice at home every morning.

6.45am Gentle and moderate walks. Tip: If John’s the leader take his walk.

7.30 – 9am Breakfast – A beautiful buffet of porridge, mueslis, fruits, nuts and yoghurts. Catering for all needs of dairy and gluten free. Then also a hot breakfast option is provided. I was never hungry.

8.30am Dreamtime advisor – booking in your spa appointments for the afternoon session.

9am Stretch class

9.30am Bodyplay or boxing for fitness

GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA - July 2009: Gwinganna Life Style Retreat (Photo by Paul Broben/FIP)

10.15am Water polo

11am Morning tea

11.30am Pillars of wellness seminar – just a light talk about how to be a healthier person.

1pm Lunch – so much food and straight from their organic garden. You’re never left hungry.

2 – 7pm Dreamtime – Straight to the spa sanctuary to soak up your appointments and a little R&R. Even our afternoon tea was served to us at the spa, amazing. The spa experience I enjoyed the most was the Chi Nei Tsang. This was a beautiful Chinese stomach massage. I felt with all my digestive issues this was the best option for me. Highly recommend it.

6.10pm Relaxation class

7pm Dinner – Again entree, main and dessert. I never felt awkward about my food allergies and intolerances. Bliss.

After dinner it was a short stroll back to our room and almost straight to bed. No distractions, no media – just bliss.

Gwinganna Lifestyle Resort


Organic Gardening

Gwinganna’s philosophy from the very beginning has been about organic produce and skincare. Shelley Pryor, a former chef and now organic gardener manages the organic food gardens on the property – providing an extraordinary example of how Mother Nature can shine in the dining experience. Shelley’s background as a sous chef allows her to truly understand how to best support the Gwinganna kitchen needs and her knowledge of nutrition offers both chefs and guests a glimpse into the fascinating world of delicious whole foods. Shelley’s skills also extend to bio-dynamic farming, offering walks and presentations for guests, along with specialty sessions. A walk in the garden with Shelley is enlightening and inspiring, covering medicinal uses for herbs, recipe ideas and stories from her past.


John Palmer is Gwinganna’s botanist and holistic ecologist and has been part of Gwinganna since its opening in 2006. By following the animal paths around the property and through the bushlands, he developed 16 different walks and hikes. He often escorts morning walks, fascinating guests along the way with his knowledge. John shares his extensive knowledge of herbs and their respective benefits and will help guests pick and try these.

Organic food, gardens and orchard

Our food philosophy is based around the belief that Mother Nature knows best. Low human intervention food (Low HI), where the food has undergone no or minimal changes from its place in nature to your plate. For example, a piece of sweet potato, on your plate may have been steamed or roasted but is still recognisable as a sweet potato the way it came from the Earth. Too many foods today have lost this simple yet essential philosophy.

A Gwinganna experience allows guests to re-evaluate their relationship with food and to experience and learn about the meaning of true nourishment. In keeping with this essential philosophy, the Gwinganna chefs cater to food allergies and intolerances with creativity and flair. Certified organic food is served and guests are taught about the benefits to both their health and the environment of organics. Key initiatives include; growing fruits, vegetables, herbs on site, which are all used by the chefs daily to prepare guest meals, composting programs, worm farms, chickens on site, four active beehives to increase pollenation of gardens and provide organic honey for use by chefs and no chemicals or fertilisers used on the property.

Gwinganna Lifestyle Resort

Eco Snapshot

Gwinganna is recognised with Eco certification at EcoTourism level and is to date the only health retreat in Australia working towards best practice in sustainability. Gwinganna has an extensive environmental impact program in place including energy efficiency, water treatment and recycling, sustainability and the commitment to only using organic produce and skin care. Original buildings have been retained and these have an historical place in the region including an original local church, a cricket stand from the Gabba and general store all from the early 1900s. Recycled timbers are sourced from woolstores and wharves for all new buildings.


Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat – CookBook

From garden to gourmet A celebration of delicious and healthy organic cuisine for every meal of the day. Over 140 pages, it uses organic ingredients to create simple options that can be created at home.The recipes are all directly from the menus at Gwinganna and have been developed in conjunction with Gwinganna’s nutritionists.

Available Online:

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