A Stay At Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat and a return to circadian rhythm [Review]

Sponsored by Gwinganna Health Retreat

A return to the circadian rhythm is what I was told. It sounds a bit like a sexual act, doesn’t it? In a way, it is: raw, organic, the way nature intended.

If you’re not familiar with the term, it’s used to describe how you can make physical, mental, and behavioral changes in order to regulate your sleep–wake cycle. It is in the easiest terms, a way to install a healthy rhythm to your life.

woman sitting on chair looking at views of Views down to Surfers Paradise from the gardens
Credit: Tourism & Events Qld

We had arrived at Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat in the Tallebudgera Hinterland on the Gold Coast for a weekend of rest and relaxation. And to reconnect with our circadian rhythm.

We were feeling like the world we live in has messed it all up with our bright lights, gadgets, and flashing neon signs, enticing us to stay up and play like a nocturnal animal.

Our bodies are confused and restless and slowly breaking down.

But they’re designed for living in tune with the seasons that surround us and the movement of the sun.

It was time to get back to that.

That’s why we arranged to stay at Gwinganna Health Retreat, to help us switch off from the bright lights and reconnect with a healthier rhythm.

About Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat

Sign that says Gwinganna house in the forest
Credit: Tourism & Events QLD

But first, what is Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat? The Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat is a wellness haven that is located on the property of an old farmhouse that has been transformed into a bed and breakfast with a day spa.

It’s the largest spa in the Southern Hemisphere and can be found in the Tallebudgera Valley, just a 30-minute drive from the Gold Coast, Queensland.

It is owned by fitness entrepreneur Tony de Leede and is also part-owned by Hugh Jackman, the Hollywood actor.

Gwinganna respects the local indigenous people who are the original custodians of the region, and to who they dedicate their name to. In aboriginal language, Gwinganna means to ‘lookout’, which is very fitting as you have sweeping views from most parts of the property.

Gwinganna is also dedicated to ecotourism and creating as little impact on the environment as possible.

It was the winner of the World’s Best Eco Spa Award in 2022 from the World Spa Awards.

Facilities at Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat

Heated infinity edge lap pool
Heated infinity edge lap pool | Credit: Tourism & Events Qld

Gwinganna has so many facilities I don’t know where to begin! Of course, the main reason people come here is for the wellness facilities.

The Wellness Education Complex provides presentations, classes, speakers, and seminars with a long directory of programs and topics to choose from.

All the programs are targeted at some form of stress management or wellness ethos.

Aside from this, there are two heated swimming pools, a huge dining room, and several lounges and places to relax. There are also tennis courts and several walking tracks through the gardens.

The spa is pretty extensive, with three levels of programs and treatments on offer. Whether you want to ice bath in a plunge pool or take in a talk at the amphitheatre, there’s every wellness facility you can think of here.

What We Learned From Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat

Yoga class in the Mind Body Pavilion
Credit: Tourism & Events Qld

We started our weekend at Gwinganna with a talk from Sharon Kolkka, the Wellness Director of the retreat, who offered a moment to honour the traditional custodians of the land.

This area we know as the Gold Coast Hinterland did not belong to one tribe, but many as they walked from mountains to sea to stay in connection with the earth and all their bodies needed from it.

They do not want to be recognised as nomadic people, but as seasonal ones.

People who were in rhythm with how the earth moved.

Who hunted and gathered by day and, at night, sitting around a warm red light to connect and slowly ease into sleep – keeping in tune with the circadian rhythm.

We then spent two days learning about the circadian rhythm and gained some insight into how to tap into it. Here’s what we learned…

What’s circadian rhythm?

Reception welcome building
Credit: Tourism & Events Qld

In short, it’s the body clock.

The process our body moves through as the sun wakes us up and puts us to bed. We wake up with daylight (blue light), which signals our brain to start making serotonin – yep the happy drug.

No more sleeping in folks. “Rise and shine,” my mother would sing to me of a morning as she whipped open the curtains, “The world needs you Caz!”

Time to greet the sun and feel happiness.

As the sun dips below the horizon some hours of busyness later, the light turns to red and signals our bodies to start making melatonin – the sleepy drug.

It’s why they recommend a good sleep comes if you close the eyes before 10pm – four hours after the sun has gone down and your body is ready to sleep.

We keep feeding it with blue light by way of our screens and artificial lights, so it’s confusing and makes less melatonin to help us.

We become insomniacs, reaching for the glass of wine of an evening to help us drift off.

Reaching for the cup of coffee in the morning to help us wake up and then the wine again in front of the bright blue glare of the screen of the evening to help us unwind.

It’s why our bodies are so messed up when we fly and why earthing is a remedy I often suggest for

It’s why our bodies are so messed up when we fly and why earthing is a remedy I often suggest for overcoming jetlag.

“We’re so screwed up.” It was all I could think of listening to that talk. How the hell do we fix this?

How travel helps our natural rhythms

Enjoying treatments at the Spa Sanctuary
Credit: Tourism & Events Qld

I started to get a little agitated because it’s all well and good to know this and to experience this for a return to our circadian rhythm a couple of days, but we have to return back down there – to the life that consumes us.

How do we get back to the circadian rhythm when modern life is doing everything it can to stop us? My thoughts drifted to travel as they always do.

That’s why I feel so good when I travel – I mean in a long-term sense, not those whirlwind two-day city explorations or resort stays where unwinding often means late night dinners and spins of the roulette wheels.

I mean when travel becomes a lifestyle and you move slowly and in rhythm with the earth.

Our road trip around Australia had us almost in connection with the circadian rhythm. The sun goes down and we unwind as we have no TVs and only a few lights to keep us awake.

Even when Craig and I were backpacking we often went to bed not long after dark, and after a few chapters of a paperback book would fall asleep early.

We’d be up early with the sun to run along the beach and enjoy those happy serotonin hormones.

No wonder I’m always longing to return to it.

Nature makes us happy

Gwinganna activities studio surrounded by nature
Gwinganna activities studio surrounded by nature

Then we learned about fractal patterns of nature and how the research shows that it dramatically affects our health and well being.

I took a sharp intake of breath. It’s why I’m addicted to travel and why it’s so good for my health. My gaze is focused for much of the day on the fractal patterns of nature.

A fractal is a never ending pattern, and it’s easy to agree, from trees to rivers and coastlines to mountains, nature has an abundance of them.

Layer on top of that the sounds of nature and the feeling of the warm sun on your skin or the cool breeze through your hair and you have a Zen feel good experience.

Being in nature increases our happiness and modern life is taking us away from it, particularly our children, which is having frightening implications for stress and health.

We’re shutting ourselves away in our offices or lounge rooms and on our TV screens and phones which causes an unhealthy build-up of stress, which increases our blood pressure, depletes our energy, decreases our cognitive ability, and reduces our immunity.

Looking at fractal shapes generates a sense of well-being and peace in the observer. When we slow down, stop the busy work, and take in beautiful natural surroundings, not only do we feel restored, but our mental performance improves too.

It’s why I feel so calm here in my apartment looking out across the road from my balcony to the treetops and the crashing waves.

All I hear is the sound and the birds chirping and I feel at ease and happy.

Just breathe and all will be okay

Heated infinity edge lap pool
Credit: Tourism & Events Qld

I was at the retreat to learn simple ways to unplug and integrate that back into my real world.

Our Breathe and Relax wellness weekend was led by Andy, a guru of breathing and yoga. How funny to have a guru of breathing. But, as Andy said to us over and over again,

“I’m not teaching you anything new. You all know this. You all did it so beautifully when you were babies. But, then you got older and started holding your breath and forgot to tap into this power that helps remove your problems and brings you back to a sense of power and peace in an instant.”

He lead us through meditation and breathing exercises and with each one it was clear the difference that conscious breathing makes to our psyche.

He had us utilizing the power of the sigh and insisted that if we were to take one thing away from the weekend it would be that.

Every time we noticed ourselves holding our breaths, we are to let out a big sigh.

I can imagine all the faces of the retreat attendee’s colleagues around Australia now as they suddenly start sighing over and over again in the office. It was a great stress management exercise.

Our Stay at Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat

woman standing in a villa

At the Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat, you’re surrounded by the fractal patterns in nature.

From the balcony of our suite, we looked out over the old orchard garden and to the pretty face wallabies and their babies jumping about.

You know how much I love macropods and pretty faces are my favourite – is there a more beautiful fractal pattern?

kangaroo on the grass

There are no sounds other than kookaburras laughing and trees rustling, there are no strong artificial lights or imposing buildings.

There’s a beautiful blend of historic buildings and modern wooden buildings that blend in with nature.

On our first evening, we walked along the sunset track for stunning views over the Tallebudgera Valley.

The clouds covered the setting sun but it was still mesmerizing. You could see each of us slowly let go of the civilized life energy that entraps us and is welcome in the earth’s purity.

At Gwinganna, you end the day on the sunset track and start it on Sunrise Hill looking out over the ocean.

people doing outdoor yoga

From atop of the hill as I start my morning with a gentle Qi Gong class -a restorative moving meditation – watching the sun rise up from the ocean I see the top of the Burleigh high rises and I’m thinking, “I don’t want to go back there. I don’t know how I can go back there and make it work.”

Sigh out the sickness – help from the kind staff

woman walking on a brick path
Orchard Suites

A big sigh was what I let out upon arrival at Gwinganna as I started to feel a few aches and pains in my body and a sore throat.

We had a phone call from Kalyra’s school only an hour before to say she was not feeling well.


Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat gave us the most comfortable bed in our Orchard Suite, permission to sleep early, and the quietest, darkest environment to help you do that effortlessly and I spent our first evening tossing and turning wide awake alternating between fever and chills and awful body aches.

hotel bedroom

I was so grateful when the morning wake up call came at 5:30am because it meant I could get up out of that bed and perhaps focus on something else other than my sick body.

There was no better place for me to be than Gwinganna.

The care I received from the staff was exceptional. A nurse was present who put me on bed rest and gave me many supportive lotions and potions (natural of course).

They spent the entire weekend making immunity juices for me and doing everything they could to support and nourish my body.

I was impressed. If I was at home, I’d have the kids jumping over me and would not be able to allow my body space to heal.

What To Do at Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat

woman in a swimming pool
Image: Gwinganna.com

I was pretty devastated about being sick as visiting Gwinganna has been a dream of mine since I first heard of it way back in 2009. Despite being ill, I gained so much from my visit.

I’d spent the two weeks before arriving training so I could participate in the diverse activities and wellness seminars like yang classes of boxing, and integrated animal flow classes (super interesting but apparently very challenging), but I was unable to attend them.

They offer more relaxing yin classes as well, so I was able to do a gentle yoga and stretch class.

Craig went all out and attended a creative tribal dancing class and surprised himself with his coordination and how much he enjoyed the combination of movement, chants, and stretching.

board walk in a forest
The Spa Sanctuary

On the second day, I chose the luxury of sleeping instead of early morning Qui Gong. Everything at Gwinganna is about choosing what your body needs.

There is nothing compulsory, only encouraged and a range of activities to suit your body’s needs. Mine was clearly calling for sleep.

And if you visit when the weather is favourable, Gwinganna has this gorgeous infinity pool with a custom-designed edge with views over the Gold Coast.

Gwanganna Day Spa

Enjoying treatments at the gwinganna Spa Sanctuary
Credit: Tourism & Events Qld

I’m not too sure if it was the best thing for me to be sick and having all the toxins moved around my body through a massage.

But, I was not going to sacrifice that one.

If I was sick already I might as well get it all out in one gigantic bang. Better out than in right?! Well, I was sick for about 8 days in total so possibly the massage may have extended it. Who knows?

But I do know for that 80-minutes of my Hawaiian bodywork massage I loved it.

I’d not experienced a traditional Lomi Lomi massage before.

It was incredible and my therapist was amazing. She had beautiful music soulful music playing and she sang as she danced around me and massaged me. It felt like my entire body and soul was being massaged at once.

Craig chose to go with an integrated massage that combines the best deep-tissue massage techniques with acupressure, reflexology, polarity energy healing, breathing techniques, and passive stretching.

After my massage, I headed straight for the relaxation class where I allowed my body to slowly sleep into sleep.

The Gwanganna Spa also has many spa treatments and rejuvenation packages available, or you can use the gym, sauna, and steam room.

Listen and unplug

Learning what your body needs and giving it was one of the biggest takeaways for me from my visit. To listen, appreciate and love more.

To learn simple techniques to increase my vitality and reduce my stress.

It all starts somewhere. Unplugging is gradual. An hour here and there turns to a day turns to a weekend and turns to a lifestyle change.

That’s the benefit of attending a health retreat such as Gwinganna. It’s designed to bring you back to Mother Earth, to your body, to your sense of calm. You switch off your devices, hand over the cigarettes and the alcohol and succumb to earth’s natural rhythms.

It’s designed to bring you back to Mother Earth, to your body, to your sense of calm. You switch off your devices, hand over the alcohol and caffeine, and succumb to earth’s natural rhythms.

You wake up with the blue light and sleep with the red. Every meal is carefully designed and created by highly trained nutritionists so it cleanses your body and enriches it with pure energy.

Enjoy gluten and dairy free organic cuisine

bowl of Biryani on table

I was in heaven to know I could eat delicious organic food without fear of falling sick.

Don’t fear, on weekend retreats a glass of organic wine is allowed at dinner. Should you stay for a longer > week-long retreat though you’re detoxing.

The restaurant offers a paddock-to-plate ethos, where all the produce has been grown organically or locally sourced.

Everything from fruit, vegetables, and herbs has come from the on-site gardens and has been specifically chosen to improve digestion and liver detoxification as well as many other health benefits.

Before each meal, guests are given a small shot of apple cider vinegar which is said to aid digestion.

You will find a never-ending supply of detoxifying herbal teas, but there is a strict no juices or smoothies rule.

Water is also prohibited with meals (though you can of course drink after) as it’s said to hinder your digestion.

The dining room. Image: Gwinganna.com
The dining room. Image: Gwinganna.com

The Changes I’ve Made Since Visiting Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat

You can’t have an experience like Gwinganna without making changes to your lifestyle.

You can’t look into that sacred space of your health, of peace and vitality, and mother nature and go back to how you once were.

It takes time and you can’t flip your world around after one weekend, but you can make a start and implement some changes.

woman sitting on chair on villa deck reading

We’ve been home from Gwinganna for a while now and since then I’ve made the following changes:

  • I’ve had very little coffee and alcohol. Definitely not my daily dose. I feel great and in control. I learned how reaching for that glass of wine when you stressed is a lethal combination. The sugar in the wine mixes with the stress levels and together they create more stress and excess weight. Your body feels like it’s under attack and so starts stockpiling the weight to protect you. And the release of stress is short-lived.
  • I’m getting to bed before 10pm 95% of the time and set my clock for 8 1/4 hours of sleep. Sleep is the number one thing that’s required for maintaining weight and vitality. We learned all of this in a fascinating talk with head personal trainer Duncan, who ran a vitality analysis that provides a snapshot of several biomarkers that help determine your vitality, including muscle mass, quality of muscle, cellular health, and hydration, body fat percentage, basal metabolic rate, and physiological age. A great introduction to wellness therapies. Craig excelled at this, scoring a 90/100, and mine were pretty good except for verifying what I knew – my core strength could be better and I could do with losing some excess fat! It’s not a lot but enough to make me move more. I’m finding getting the required amount of sleep each night the most difficult thing to do. It’s not easy when you have kids.
woman on a scale
Duncan doing his thing
  • I’ve set a goal to move 10,000 steps a day, which equals about 6km a day, and you can accumulate that to 42km a week. I’m walking and running in order to do that. Either will burn the same amount of fat. Running just helps me hit the target quicker. I’m running two times a week and doing yoga at least three times, with a focus on core strength.
  • I’ve installed Flux onto my computer so it reduces the blue light to red light once the sun sets. I want to get off the computer for an evening, but I just can’t make it work. We juggle our business around the kids, putting them as a priority, which means nighttime is when we can get a lot of work done. It will be the same when we are on the road. I can’t be delusional; I just have to do the best I can.
  • I immerse myself in fractional patterning even more.
  • I’m leading with my heart and talking to Kalyra and Savannah about doing the same. That simply means when walking instead of having your head sticking out leading, have your heart go first. I’ve explained to Kalyra that it’s a way to use our superhero powers without anyone seeing it. When you lead with your heart you automatically feel more powerful, kinder, and open, and no one sees your heart leading, they just notice that you ooze confidence and strength like a superhero.
  • I’m sighing a lot. With a loud clear exhale. It feels good.
  • I’m using a few of the meditation breathing techniques Andy taught us to slip into sleep at night and if I wake up restless. It works a treat.
  • I’m spending most mornings gazing at the sun rising. It simply could be the best thing I’ve ever done. I’ll keep you updated on my progress.

Final Takeaway…

Of all the guests I spoke to at the retreat (there were 58 of us in total) everyone said how a weekend was not enough and how they want to come back.

Many had been before and many were staying on for a week-long detox.

They waved us goodbye with a joyful smiles as the rest of us trudged onto the bus to return to a world so out of sync with circadian rhythms, seasonal living, and fractal patterns.

We went away having learned a great deal and made some positive changes to our lives.

There can be no doubt that the Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat made a big difference for us, but of course, everyone is different.

I hope this guide helped you understand what to expect from the retreat.

Disclaimer: We’re forever grateful to Gwinganna Health Retreat for hosting our stay and opening our eyes to a lifestyle of health and wellness. Although this stay was hosted, all thoughts, ideas and opinions are our own.

You can find out all the details about what Gwinganna can offer you by visiting their website and read more TripAdvisor views here.

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Thoughts from a weekend getaway to Gwinganna Health Retreat on the Gold Coast of Australia

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