From Sydney, it’s a mere 60-minute flight on Virgin Australia to Ballina, in the Northern Rivers of New South Wales. A 10-minute drive brought me to the Hinterlands where Gaia Retreat & Spa, a member of the Healing Hotels of the World, stands perched above a rainforest. Gaia is owned and funded by a quartet of investors, one of which is ‘70s pop singer Olivia Newton-John.
A lime green bird with patches of indigo whistles hello from the safety of a tree branch as I enter Kukura House, where I meet and chat with Ms. Newton-John, a larakin (aboriginal term for living life to the fullest) if I’d ever met one. She was once in the realm of mega-stardom in a little cult movie titled, “Grease”, and as a singer-songwriter topping music charts with “Have You Ever Been Mellow” and “Let’s Get Physical”. Her personal battle with breast cancer fueled her inspiration to create Gaia.
Gaia means “the spirit of Mother Earth” in Sanskrit. The retreat’s exterior and interior blends elements of the earth and its healing energies along a feng shui curved trail to the Kukura (“people”) House. “Surrender yourself,” is the first order I’m asked to follow, followed by an apologetic “you’ll have to head to your room, change into a robe and head quickly to the spa for your 90-minute massage”. Paradox forgiven.
Gaia spa’s masseuse performed a miracle on my tightly knotted back muscles, and I floated back to my room with my own spirits much lifted. Dinner at the Kukura House consisted of vegan cashew “cheese,” craw-fish salad and fresh-caught brook trout with courgettes (zucchini) from the property’s own gardens. My hedonistic splurge that evening was a glass of Tasmania pinot noir worth every sip.
It was now too dark to take in the view, so I opted to light the tea candle provided, adding a few drops of lemon myrtle oil to the small bowl underneath. If peacefulness had a scent, it would be the aroma of that candle, the vase of lillies on the table and the bowl of lemons on the counter for my morning detox tonic. Aroma is everything to this world traveler, and I drifted off to sleep with those heavenly natural scents.
Birdsong woke me in the morning, and like a kid on Christmas morning, I unwrapped the view behind my room’s curtains, taking in the spectacular landscape. The tree tops of the rain forest led my eyes down to a body of water with mountains in the distance, so I plopped into the lounge chair beside my personal plunge pool and took it all in.