GAIA RETREAT AND SPA, AUSTRALIA
FOUNDED IN 2005 BY OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN, GREGG CAVE, RUTH KALNIN AND WARWICK EVANS, GAIA RETREAT & SPA OFFERS A RETREAT WITH PROGRAMS TAILORED TO THE INDIVIDUAL.
INSPIRED BY THE HEALING CULTURE OF THE BYRON BAY REGION AND ITS ABUNDANT AND FRESH LOCAL ORGANIC PRODUCE, GAIA IS SO MUCH MORE THAN A HEALTHY HOLIDAY; IT IS A UNIQUE RETREAT AND SPA EXPERIENCE – WITH HEART. AT GAIA, IT’S ALL ABOUT CHOICE; YOU CHOOSE, AND THEY HELP YOU DESIGN YOUR OWN PERSONAL, PURPOSE-DRIVEN RETREAT, WHETHER IT’S ACTIVE AND ENERGETIC, TRANQUIL AND SERENE, OR A CLEVER COMBINATION OF BOTH.
WORDS BY KRIS ABBEY, PUBLISHING EDITOR SPA LIFE MAGAZINE
I was a little apprehensive about my visit to Gaia Retreat and Spa. I must confess I don’t always believe the hype – hey, I work in media! – so I figured the rave reviews were probably more about showing ‘our Liv’ our support than Gaia being so great. But anyway, as editor of a Spa magazine, it would be remiss of me not to experience what is touted as the country’s best Spa retreat.
My scepticism was laid to rest the minute I drove through the gates and started up the winding drive to the main lodge, Kukura House. Funnily enough, Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven started playing in my head. And if I hadn’t arrived in Heaven, I had certainly arrived at a place you could call home. To greet me as I walked through the front door was Gregg Cave, one of the owners and Man of the House. “About time you hauled your arse up here” he welcomed, with a grin from ear to ear. I felt like I was home. No airs or graces, just a warm jibe and a hearty hug. I wanted to flick off my shoes, curl up on the couch and stay in this moment.
You can tell there is a lot of love and soul in this place. Gaia is the ‘meant to be’ place for both Gregg Cave and his dear friend, Olivia Newton-John. An accidental destiny. Not long after Olivia lost her mother, who was also like a mother to Gregg, they were driving in the Byron Bay hinterland regaining perspective on life. “A property in the country, a nice retreat to escape life, and somewhere to hang out when we retire was really all we were thinking,” says Gregg. “Both Olivia and I had even dreamt about it!”
When they saw the For Sale sign, it immediately ignited a little fire. They drove up the driveway, parked at the top of the hill, and with one look at the view and one taste of the air, they knew this was the place. Unfortunately, it was the property next door that was for sale! But like every ‘meant to be’, that was the day Gaia Retreat & Spa became more than a dream.
It was funny, as Gregg says: “By the next morning, after we had fallen in love with the property, Olivia had dreamt about the name and announces ‘Let’s call it Gaia Resort.’ We’re not calling it a ree-sort, I said.” Gregg’s fine acting talents add to the story as he tells it. “So we settle on Gaia Retreat.” (And later add ‘& Spa’).
So how does an actor, city slicker, art dealer and talented decorator end up owning and running one of the best Retreat Spas in Australia? A shrug of the shoulders and another ‘it’s meant to be’ explains away the transition.
After my lemongrass tea and chat with my long lost friend (as I feel Gregg has become in the space of an hour), I decide to take in the scenery and get the lay of the land. This is when I realise Gaia is truly unique – special and breathtakingly beautiful. Being raised on a farm, the minute my lungs get a dose of country air, it takes me back to my childhood, evoking a sense of inner peace and calm. Gaia is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘Mother Earth’, which has meaning for me.
Gaia spans 25 acres across the highest point in the shire. If I look east, I can see blue skies and the ocean beyond Byron Bay. If I look west, I see green valleys, green trees, green crops, and more and more green. It is lush and tropical and absolutely stunning. There are strategically-placed day beds throughout the property, for whenever you want to stop and take in the view, or simply relax in the serenity. Sometimes I find it hard to relax, but not here at Gaia.
Often when we visit a Spa or retreat, it is for a purpose. I wasn’t entirely sure what my purpose was. I came with no expectations or game plan for what I wanted to achieve. And that’s OK. As Gregg explains, “we don’t want to impose rules on people or have a structured program. People get enough of that in their daily lives. When they come here, they can do what they want, when it suits them. We just provide the ingredients to help them get balance and to recharge.”
From time to time, there are specific retreats at Gaia, but for the most part, you can book yourself in and create your own retreat. The maximum number of guests is 40, so you almost feel you have the place to yourself. There is daily yoga, tennis courts, bush walks, gym, pool, a few organised activities if you want to partake, and push bikes for those who want to go for a ride. (Yes, you are allowed off the premises. And I must admit, I snuck away on a bike and found a quaint coffee cottage at Newrybar and enjoyed a coffee! I suspect if I’d confessed to Gregg, he would have rapped me on the knuckles for not getting him one too).
And then there’s the Spa. The Spa is set in a separate building by the pool with a view eastward. When I was there, the outdoor Spa villa was under construction, but no doubt it’s now complete, so you can enjoy your treatments to the chirping of birds and soft valley breeze. The Spa menu offers a plethora of treatments, from wet and dry to face and body, then a host of healing modalities too. The choice is overwhelming, with various energy healing options, acupuncture, cupping, craniosacral balancing, shirodhara, naturopathic consults, stone therapy and even Australian Flower essences therapies. I opt for a Royal Kahuna massage.
Oh my goodness! It was such a dynamic treatment, the therapist used his whole arms and elbows in this rhythmic dance over every inch of my body. Even though all I had to do was lay there and enjoy the treatment, there was so much energy being shifted, it was one of the few times I actually experienced what was happening to my body during a massage, as opposed to relaxing so much I nod off to sleep.
I’m not sure if it was the treatment, or the peacefulness of Gaia, or the pure country air, or a combination of each, but that night I slept so well I missed the morning gong to announce yoga would start in the Yoga Pavilion in 15 minutes. It wasn’t until I heard the low murmur of conversation as other guests made their way to the pavilion that I woke up. There was no dragging myself out of bed to get there, I bounced straight out and skipped across to join the others, totally rested and rejuvenated.
After yoga, we went back to Kukara House for breakfast. It is here in the main building that we enjoy our delicious meals, either inside or outside on the long verandah. You can also curl up with a book in the lounge area, or do some retail therapy in the boutique. This is where you get a large taste of not only the finest Spa cuisine, but Gregg’s artistic talent for decorating. As a lover of interiors, I found myself just absorbing the beauty of each piece and the clever way they all worked together to create a sophisticated, yet relaxed, space. It is open and breezy, colourful and bright, while maintaining a cosy, comfortable, homely feel which is often hard to achieve in such an open, multifunctional space.
I realised the best Spa is not necessarily the most opulent or architect-designed space, or set in an exotic tropical oasis. Sometimes it’s something you can’t put your finger on… it’s just something in the air (or earth), combined with the love and passion of the people who work there, a certain je ne sais quoi. Whatever it is, Gaia has it in spades!
The other thing that makes for a great Spa is consistency. I decided to have another Royal Kahuna massage to see if the first one was just a freak of nature or whether it’s consistently that good. I did receive a reprimand from Gregg for not trying something different, but hey, it is my retreat after all. Well, it was just as good again. (Actually, slightly better, which I thought would be impossible).
So the hype about this place? Believe it! It passed the test of a good, no great, Spa. No wonder it’s won all those awards.
Before I head back home, I take one last, deep breath and prolong my warm embrace with Mother Earth. She sets me on my way, feeling like whatever happens out there in the big world… is meant to be!