We check into Australia’s best health retreat and find Eden

Eden Health Retreat

There’s something almost spiritual about the beauty of Currumbin Valley.

We start to feel it as we follow the tree-lined country road to Eden Health Retreat. Hidden away at the end of the valley, Eden is cocooned in rainforest and feels a million miles from the glitz of the Gold Coast. As the retreat’s gates open for us, the magic really takes hold. It’s the combination of perfectly manicured lawns, lush greenery, bubbling streams and local bird life that makes for a beautiful welcome. Wild, but not too wild. Our mobile phones lost signal a few kilometres back, and it feels slightly unsettling to be cut off from the outside world. I start to wonder what lies ahead – and honestly, part of me is a little nervous. A whole seven days and six nights with a group of strangers, separated from my trusty iPhone, starts to feel more than a little daunting. Is a week too long to disconnect? 

But onwards and upwards, time to delve in. First, a tour of the main facilities, including a massive Hamptons-style clubhouse with a sparkling heated pool, gym, tennis courts, basketball hoops, a steam room and sauna. All very promising…

Eden Health Retreat
A calm green welcome awaits guests as they enter the retreat.

While the rest of our cohort – 38 men and women of all ages, around a third of them couples – are off for a gentle stretch class to ease into the week, we linger to discuss treatment options with the retreat’s nutritionist, Kate. The spa menu is extensive and the team of therapists is world class, many of whom have worked at Eden for years. As Australia’s first health retreat, established in 1985, you may have heard of Eden. However, the health retreat of today is very different from the original offering. This is worth noting, as I had a family member visit in the ’90s and they returned with stories of boot camp-style weight-loss programs and regimented schedules. Not really our style – and no longer Eden’s, either. 

Today, this award-winning escape has evolved to offer a nurturing philosophy of healing and wellness, recognising each of us has different needs physically, spiritually and emotionally. Expect to choose your own wellness journey rather than follow a strict schedule. There’s plenty to fill your days – classes from 6.15am, rainforest walks, wellness talks, Pilates, and a vast range of therapies, activities and adventures (how does zipping through the rainforest on a flying fox sound?). Your only job is to relax and become healthier in whatever way that means for you.

Eden Health Retreat
Eden is surrounded by Cougal Mountain and Boyds Butte to the west, and Tallebudgera Mountain to the north. A dazzling 380 acres of tropical rainforest cradle the retreat, weaved with relaxing walking trails to explore.

This concept is described in detail after dinner on the first night, when manager Chris van Hoof explains a little of what lies ahead, without giving everything  away. In an interesting twist, we learn that each evening we’ll discover the schedule for the following day via a note left in-room. This, apparently, helps to release the all-too-common need us humans naturally have for ‘control’. I start my week with an open mind – and much like I’ve been living life of late, I’m up at the crack of dawn. The morning E-motion and qigong class with Dr Jonathan Dao, resident Chinese doctor and acupuncturist, is a lovely starting point. Allowing the body to loosen up as the sun makes its appearance over the mountains, perfectly framed by the glass doors of the Eden Room, is certainly energising. However, I find my mind still playing its old tape, running to-do lists along with worries about all that could go wrong at home while we’re away. I try to let the thoughts run their course. Baby steps, right?

Yoga at Eden Health Retreat
Yoga in the open air.

Tuesday is a whole new story. Physically I feel terrible – coffee withdrawal and headaches. Why didn’t I take the retreat’s advice and wean myself off caffeine before checking in? That’s right: because I had too much to do! I skip the morning qigong class and lay in bed, listening to the birdsong and marvelling at the view.

After breakfast, I join the group circuit class with the retreat’s fitness guru, Kane. It seems my body was craving movement and I feel amazing afterwards. Some of the guests clearly have a lot more energy than me, though, and follow up their gym circuit class with a Zumba session straight after morning tea.

Later that afternoon, I enjoy one of best spa treatments of my life – the Aloha Healing Session with the very gifted Rachelle. Originally from Hawaii, Rachelle is a natural healer, and everyone’s Aloha therapy is personalised (my partner’s treatment is quite different to mine, and they love it just as much). Rachelle does my numerology chart and passes on some truly insightful advice before melting away any remaining apprehension with an incredibly deep, flowing massage combined with trigger point therapy that does wonders for my headache. I leave any lingering thoughts of my overcrowded inbox on the massage table.

Eden Health Retreat
Lush tropical gardens enhance the serene feel at this secluded luxury retreat on the outskirts of the Gold Coast.

While you’re undoubtedly welcomed to relax here, Eden also invites you to face fear and pain to reach a new depth of self – and a new sense of health. Whether that be taking ‘the leap of faith’,flying through the treetops on a swing while your new friends cheer you on, or experiencing some of the more unique healing therapies, like Dr Dao’s chi nei tsang (Chinese organ massage).

Although there’s a level of discomfort associated with massaging the (often ignored) internal organs, don’t let that deter you. Dr Dao is one of the retreat’s most sought-after practitioners. I met one couple who missed seeing him on their last stay and had booked in advance for this intense and often emotional and profoundly liberating experience. I didn’t sign up for chi nei tsang (next time, perhaps), but I did consult Dr Dao about the mysterious allergies I’ve been battling and receive some sage advice on gut health along with acupuncture to help my ‘sluggish’ spleen.

By mid-week, I find I’m sleeping 10 hours a night – remarkable for someone who was an insomniac before checking into Eden! Part of this, I’m sure, is the digital detox. It’s not just the iPhone, but also the laptop, Netflix, even the local radio. I start to understand the magic in the only rule of Eden Health Retreat: Unplug yourself. The other thing I’m realising is that, while I thought I needed coffee and always stop drinking it at midday, my three-cups-a-day habit could be contributing to my persistent insomnia.

Room at Eden Health Retreat
The Deluxe Valley View suite is pure indulgence with its private balcony and tub with a

Room with a view
Want to sink into a bath full of bubbles while gazing at the mountains? Or commune with the rainforest on your private balcony? Eden offers three room categories and a variety of price points to suit singles, twin-share or couples. Beautifully appointed, the rooms have been created with comfort and restful contemplation in mind. Unsurprisingly, there are no televisions, perfectly in keeping with Eden’s unplugged approach.

Our home for the week was a Valley View Deluxe Suite: Eden’s premium category, boasting a deep bath with valley views, private balcony and its own laundry. Sitting here writing, it’s that view I miss the most. Each afternoon I’d find myself slinking off for a deep bath where I’d almost meditate over the rainforest vistas, before retiring to my incredibly comfortable bed to read, again with that peaceful outlook right by my side.

Food at Eden Health Retreat
Food is colourful and healthy, but never boring.

Food for the soul
First, let it be said – you won’t go hungry at Eden. Just because this is a wellness retreat doesn’t mean your meals will be tiny portions! If your goal is to lose weight (and many people naturally do, due to the wholesome food and extra activity) just let the retreat know before checking in. The kitchen will happily incorporate this goal for you.

When it comes to food and our relationship with it, Eden reminds us that indulging yourself doesn’t have to be bad for you, and celebrates organic, seasonal food focused on healing and rejuvenating the body from within. Their head chef and resident naturopath works with local purveyors and farmers to source the freshest fruits, vegetables, beans, grains and legumes, which are often organic. The food at Eden is actually a highlight for many guests. A typical day sees a hearty breakfast offered up at the main dining room: think eggs and fresh juices or homemade granola – every day is different. Morning tea is served down in the main lodge as most guests spend their first few hours enjoying activities or treatments. Lunch is back at the dining room and is equally indulgent as breakfast.

The chefs work hard in the afternoon to create a dinner that tastes as good as it looks. And it looks good! From vegetarian delights to fresh seafood and lamb, the menu is designed to provide a balance of protein (higher than the recommended daily intake), and bio-available nutrients to promote wellness and reduce cravings. With teas on offer all day long, we didn’t consciously miss our daily coffee (besides he headache, which did subside!) or the regular glass of pinot noir with dinner. Essential to the retreat is allowing guests the space to try new things so they can take a little slice of Eden home when they leave. It might be a new favourite way to exercise through the many class offerings, from yoga to boxing, supplemented with guest teachers for a deeper understanding of physical practices. For others, it’s the healthy approach to eating and recipes (I’ve already replaced my daily chocolate habit with Eden’s decadent raw chocolate slice).

For me, it was relearning how to unplug from the world – how to listen to the signs and step back before a sense of overwhelm claimed the best part of me. For the first few months after leaving, I felt ready to face anything with a new-found sense of peace and clarity. Even now, many months later, I have maintained a sense of calm that was lacking before the retreat. The fact that so many guests return each year is testimony to Eden’s program, refined and honed over decades of experience. I’m already planning my next visit and hope to make it an annual event. As for that coffee habit? Let’s call it a work in progress. Baby steps, right?

Eden Health Retreat
Nature invites guests to unplug at Eden Health Retreat.

The Details

Top Tip
Go with an open mind and be prepared to try new things. Activities such as forest bathing, crystal bowl healing, flying fox and jumping off a seven-metre pole to catch a trapeze are pursuits most of us have little experience with. Feel the fear and do it anyway – it’s part of the journey!

The facilities at Eden are comprehensive, but worth mentioning are the herbal steam room, fitness centre, heated saltwater pool, walking tracks, outdoor spa, sauna and Club Mud (an area where you can paint yourself with mineral-rich mud and lounge on sun chairs while it absorbs toxins and softens your skin).

Getting There
Located at Currumbin Valley, Eden Health Retreat is only half an hour from Gold Coast Airport. If you are flying into the Gold Coast, the retreat can arrange transfers. Or, if you are driving, there is an area to park your car for the week.

Packages + Prices
Eden offers seven-day, six-night packages that include all meals, activities and $400 worth of spa and wellness treatments. Rooms start at $3050 per person, twin share. Good to know: Eden Health Retreat was voted Australia’s Best Wellness Retreat in the 2019 World Spa Awards. edenhealthretreat.com.au

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