THE year was 1978 and my eight-year-old self was sitting in the old Coolangatta cinema on seats strung with scratchy hession bags, about to experience my first ever movie on the Big Screen. Grease was the word and from the opening scene I was so hooked on the movies, and on Olivia Newton-John, I’d forgotten I was slouching on an old bag of potatoes.
Thirty-five years later, and around an hour down the road, I am about to become a personal guest of Olivia at her Gaia Retreat, in the Byron Bay hinterland. Well, she doesn’t actually know I exist, but I can’t help but feel we are old friends. I drive south through towns so deliciously named you just want to wrap your mouth around them like a huge, buttery, salty tub of movie popcorn. I meander around Mooball, bump along Billinudgel, tumble through Tumbulgum, before nestling in Newrybar, just behind which sits Gaia, named after the spirit of Mother Earth.
Things are looking pretty good. The fact Olivia isn’t actually at the retreat doesn’t really matter, as I can feel her everywhere. I just can. She’s in the little personal touches such as the magic metal box of Australian Tea Tonic in your room where you can sip on brews such as ginger, lemongrass, Echinacea and white tea. There’s also lemon myrtle oil for your burner, and plush, chocolate bathrobes perfect for lounging on your day bed, or when you alight from your bath replete with rose petals and a cushion for your head. Yes, Olivia has thought of everything and I feel like she has personally plumped my pillows.
You expect rainforest music on your CD player, but Olivia isn’t tacky (well, there was that little head band and leg warmer stage in the 80s but who wasn’t guilty of that?) Instead you’ll find So Fresh Hits of Autumn 2013 and you’re flat out finding a self-help book in the extensive library, which instead houses a wide range of contemporary reads and DVDS. What I do discover is Olivia’s “Livwise easy recipes for a healthy, happy life book.” If I’m going to look like Olivia, I have some work to do. And Gaia is the perfect place to start.
Indulge in breakfast such as scrambled eggs in fresh herbs with smoked salmon; a lunch of chickpea tagine with cauliflower squash with yoghurt dill on the side; and snapper for dinner with a poached pear and chocolate dessert. And there’s even an extensive beer and wine list, including Gaia’s own organic wine range.
In between, simply have some fun – there’s nothing hardcore about this place – as General Manager Gregg Cave says “all you have to do is surrender.”
Each evening, guests are handed their personal schedule card, outlining any treatments they may have booked in the day spa, or just general activities throughout the day. You can do as little or as much as you want.
Yoga instructor Danielle speaks of “pushing the edge” – the point between finding your point of stretch and indulging the ego and pushing yourself too hard, resulting in pain. “The longest relationship we have in this life is with ourselves, so learn to love yourself,” she says. Nicollete, an “esoteric practitioner” extolls the benefits of becoming your “inner most” and operating from your “inner heart.” In her treatments, she looks at the root causes of symptoms in the body and what buried emotional issues may have triggered these.
“What we need to develop is a much stronger sense of self love in our body. Most of us don’t realise the importance of that,” she says.
“Often we put the needs of others before our own. You have more information to make more choices in your life and do things that is more loving for you.”
There’s a wide range of treatments in the Gaia Day Spa, but The Global Goddess recommends the 4.5 hour Gaia Goddess/Gaia Man signature experience. Billed as a journey of “complete surrender” among other things you’ll undergo a body polish, cocooning body masque, warm oil scalp massage and full body massage.
There’s also an interesting esoteric breast massage for women and an esoteric shoulder massage for men, designed to tap into self love and if you so desire, a milk bath somewhere on the property. (The Global Goddess did fantastise about laying in a field naked in a pool of milk like Cleopatra waiting for her Julius Caesar but realised she’d have better luck finding a Caesar salad on this trip).
Drawing on her Aussie roots, Olivia has built a retreat that is empathetic to the 10 hectares of manicured Australian bushland on which it stands, replete with its own fresh herb garden, pool, sauna, spa bath and gym. Walk to the Samira Lookout at the top of the hill and you are at the highest point in the Byron Bay Shire, from which you can scan the Lennox Headlands and Pacific Ocean beyond. Here there’s also a Buddha and labyrinth for reflection and meditative thoughts.
You’ll find plenty of day beds dotted around the property, as well as hammocks strung between giant eucalypts from which to honour the rising and setting suns.
During my four-day journey I meet Olivia’s personal jeweller, who designs jewels for the retreat, and her comedienne friend Sandy Gandhi, who performed at Olivia’s 60th birthday a few years ago, and who is waiting for fellow comedienne Ruby Wax to finish her spa treatment. Ruby walks into the dining room, but there’s still no sign of Olivia and it doesn’t really matter. By the time I leave, I’m learning to love myself and it may have been 35 years, but Olivia I still love you…I honestly love you.
ENTER A COMPETITION TO BECOME YOUR OWN GAIA GODDESS…
As a special treat for Global Goddess readers, and courtesy of the Gaia Retreat and Spa, The Global Goddess is offering readers the chance to win an amazing prize valued at $1585.
This lovely prize package includes two nights accommodation staying in the Layana Room double/twin; all gourmet meals and snacks; spa gift on arrival; daily yoga and all retreat activities; and use of all the facilities.
To enter, simply go to:
and sign up to receive Gaia Retreat newsletters. The competition runs for two weeks, and will close at 5pm Australian Eastern Standard Time on Monday, September 9, 2013. Gaia will draw the lucky winner, who will be announced on The Global Goddess blog on Tuesday, September 10, 2013.