Even before the pandemic, wellness tourism was on the rise – accounting for about 17 per cent of global tourism, according to Travel Market Report. Now, in the turbulent wake of COVID-19, with its repeated lockdowns, ongoing anxiety and ubiquitous work-from-home policies, wellness travel is absolutely booming.
While wellness tourism may conjure images of massages and facials in luxurious spas with green juice on tap and a soundtrack of Tibetan prayer bowls, we’ve expanded the definition and there’s much more out there to help get our physical and mental health back on track.
Travellers in 2021 want more than a copy-paste wellness getaway and are seeking more unique and nuanced experiences tailored to their specific complaints. After all, wellness means something different to everyone and not everyone wants an elderflower hydration mask and a mani-pedi.
To capitalise on this, there is a growing number of bespoke getaways to cater to the demand – from intensive silent retreats, like the controversial Dhamma Bhumi in the Blue Mountains, to fitness-focused holidays, like Active Escapes which runs outdoorsy holidays in Byron Bay and Noosa.
Yoga camps, sleep retreats, meditation intensives, cycling holidays, bootcamps, foodie getaways, hiking trips – there’s an experience out there for whatever ails you. What most wellness holidays have in common is that they get you away from screens and out of your own head, a brief respite from the increasing attachment to laptops and phones we’re dealing with as a result of lockdowns, working from home and the widespread “permanxiety”.
Up until recently, the world was an oyster for travellers looking to enhance their lives. They could visit a traditional Guatemalan sweat lodge, a Peruvian ayahuasca escape, a Thai meditation retreat or a Balinese yoga camp.
Last year, the Aruba Tourism Authority offered Americans an Election Disconnection to escape the tension of the election build-up, and in Italy and the UK, you can go on a F**k It retreat, where you’ll spend time giving the middle finger to stress and anxiety.
Now, while we’re limited to our own shores, options abound, with something for everyone from fitness fanatics to inward-looking yogis in a range of styles from back-to-basics to luxury resorts.
You can’t mention local wellness holidays without nodding to Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat in the Gold Coast hinterland. One of the first purpose-designed retreats in the country, the award-winning Eco Tourism-certified escape remains a leader in the industry. Designed to overhaul guests’ lifestyles, it offers a gentle schedule of organic living, spa time, nature walks, movement classes, relaxation, organic cuisine, wellness seminars and spectacular views over the Pacific Ocean.
There are plenty more luxury catch-all wellness retreats scattered across the country, though many position themselves as catering to a specific focus.
Just outside Daylesford in Victoria, Samadhi retreat is all about mindfulness, with sessions on meditation, qi gong and yoga, alongside an indulgent spa.
Eden Health Retreat in Queensland sets itself apart as a digital detox retreat thanks to its total lack of wi-fi and mobile reception. Guests at this Hamptons-style lodge spend their days at the spa or partaking in the wide array of activities from kayaking to life-skills training.
At South Australia’s Kangaroo Island Health Retreat guests undergo an extreme detox diet alongside lots of health and nutrition lectures, daily saunas and hikes along beautiful coastal trails.
Food-focused wellness retreats are still popular, and Gaia Retreat & Spa at Brooklet in the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales is known for its gourmet food and cooking lessons, both of which draw from the onsite organic garden.
Up north, in the Noosa hinterland, Living Valley health retreat has a program of cooking classes and lectures on nutrition and, while you can choose to subsist on juice and broth for an intense cleanse, the food comes highly recommended.
For those seeking a bit of peace and quiet, silent retreats are a blessing. Happy Buddha Retreats offers a no-frills weekend of silent meditation in Wentworth Falls in the Blue Mountains, NSW, while Sunnataram Forest Monastery, near Bundanoon in the Southern Highlands, hosts a two-night silent mindfulness retreat (currently on hold until spring), with an emphasis on Buddhist teachings.
There are also Vipassana meditation centres all over Australia that hold Buddhist retreats. This style of retreat is usually inexpensive or by donation, and you can expect dawn wake-up calls, vegetarian or vegan fare and an absolute detox from screens and other vices.
If you’re looking for a similarly inexpensive option but aren’t keen on the idea of a 5am start, Griffins Hill Yoga Retreat, near Dunkeld, Victoria, has a slightly more relaxed schedule of yoga, massages and mountain walks in the Grampians.
And if you’re happy to skip the yoga entirely, Island Indulgence Retreats on Hindmarsh Island, South Australia, offers women-only programs of facial treatments, massages and nutrition workshops beside the water (mindfulness strictly optional) for less than $600 for the weekend.
Billabong Retreat in Maraylya, 45 minutes’ drive from Sydney CBD, is another reasonably priced deal, with the option of extras such as massages, facials, reiki or iridology.
And if wellness to you is all about putting your phone down and getting a sweat on, there’s Scoops Health Retreat in Rye, Victoria (which hosts small-group training sessions near the beach).
Whatever wellness means to you, there’s a retreat to get more of it in your life.