GP Travel Diaries: What It’s Really Like To Go On A Health Retreat
Our editor has a transformative escape at Billabong Retreat in Sydney.
In the minutiae of everyday life, the pursuit of wellness often takes a backseat. Even for someone like me, a meditator with a consistent practice, the responsibilities of life and the expectations we place on ourselves can throw out our equilibrium. Ironically, the first thing that goes when the pace of life quickens are things like yoga, a walk with friends, time alone—the very things that will help us to remain resourceful when stress seeps in. I hit a moment of burnout at the end of 2023 which had me yearning for a reset and that’s how I ended up at Billabong Retreat, a sanctuary from modern life located in the outskirts of Sydney.
I wonder if how I found the retreat was how most guests do: I literally googled retreats near Sydney. I’d experienced a health retreat once before but it required me to board a plane and take time off work, things I didn’t have time for at the pointy end of the year. Instead, I felt like I needed to teleport somewhere for deep rest—so I researched the next best thing. Billabong Retreat in the Hawkesbury region northwest of the city offers that. I packed a bag, jumped in the car and arrived within the hour, ready to settle in for a 3-day retreat.
From the moment I checked into Billabong Retreat, I felt an exhale. Surrounded by the bush, the sounds of nature and the warmth of the staff helped me drop straight into a mode of relaxation. I was shown to my room and unpacked, ready for a 4.30pm yoga class.
Central to the wellness program at Billabong Retreat is the daily schedule of yoga and meditation. Guided by experienced instructors, each session became a space to cultivate inner peace. The picturesque yoga pavilion overlooking the billabong was by far the most beautiful place I’ve ever done yoga. That afternoon, we did a gentle class that focused on stretching, perfect for all levels and a lovely way to ground myself into the experience.
One of the cornerstones of Billabong’s wellness philosophy is mindful eating. The retreat offers a menu crafted with locally sourced, organic ingredients. Mealtime is an opportunity to savour flavours, appreciate the origins of the food, and engage in meaningful conversations with the chef. I learned so much about food—the biggest lesson I took home was a simple one: to ask myself, how close is what I’m eating to nature? This is something I still ask myself everyday and it helps to place an awareness on whether I’m nourishing my body with wholefoods.
Post-dinner we gathered again in the yoga pavilion for an evening meditation class. As someone who meditates with a mantra, I was a little apprehensive to let go and be guided by the teacher, but I went with it. It was one of the most powerful meditations I’ve ever had. By the time we hit lights out at 8pm, I’d only been on retreat for 5 hours but I already felt like I’d had a holiday.
My home for the retreat was a beautiful eco-cabin featuring minimalist design and stunning views of the surrounding bushland. The absence of modern distractions, such as television and Wi-Fi, encouraged a digital detox that proved instrumental in my journey toward mindfulness. I chose to take a pause from my iPhone and I’d highly recommend this to anyone undertaking a retreat.
If you’re wondering whether you’re forced to get up early on a wellness retreat, the answer is no. At least not at Billabong. The retreat offered a 7am yoga class, followed by an 8am breakfast, but everything was optional. The first day, I set my alarm for an energetic yoga class but the second day, I slept in. The best thing about Billabong Retreat is that you can go at your own pace, the schedule is there to support you but nothing is mandatory. Oh, and after breakfast, there was an optional second yoga class for those who require deep rest but don’t want to miss out.
Billabong Retreat’s commitment to holistic wellbeing extends beyond the yoga mat. Guided bushwalks, canoeing on the billabong, and nature meditations offered an immersive experience. The program of workshops and wellness talks were one of my favourite things about the retreat. From mindfulness and stress management to nutrition and holistic health, each session was informative, empowering and free of judgement. I learned about the different types of consciousness, the secret to a good night’s sleep, plus what mindfulness actually means and how to cultivate it back at home. The woman leading our retreat also ran these sessions, full of practical insights and techniques that I could incorporate into my daily life, like the fact that 40 mins of exercise per day is the sweet spot, or that we need 400gm of magnesium but only get 150gms through food.
After yoga and the morning workshops, lunch was served—beautiful salads, rich risottos, roasted vegetables and the most delicious array of chef-made condiments. Dinner was the same—I could feel my body soaking up the nourishing food and I felt both light and content after meals.
On my last day, right before departure, I had a 1-hour massage. It was bliss and really helped me move into a deep moment of relaxation before I had to head home. At Billabong, the range of holistic therapies, including massages, acupuncture, and aromatherapy are run by skilled therapists, attuned to the needs of each individual. You can sign up to a 1-hour massage like I did or speak to them about tailored treatments that address your needs.
Billabong Retreat is the perfect place to land when you need a quick escape. My time there allowed me to hit pause on my busy life and then return rested, with a newfound sense of clarity. Not only does it provide a reset, but also leaves you with practical tools to maintain your wellbeing at home long after the retreat ends. If you’re seeking a transformative escape to rediscover balance and connect to yourself, Billabong Retreat is the place.
This is an independently written review which was not commissioned or paid for by the brand. However, the retreat was provided to the writer at the brand’s discretion.