This February I took some time out to visit Billabong Retreat, a wellness retreat located 45 minutes from the bustling city of Sydney, Australia. I booked a stay for early '18 while knee-deep in the frantic lead-up to Christmas, and a few days blissed out in the Aussie bush, with a schedule dominated by yoga, delicious food and no available wifi (godspeed buzzing emails), sounded heavenly. Merry Christmas future me.
Billabong Retreat, which is appropriately nestled above a lily-pad dotted billabong, offer a variety of yoga, meditation, mindfulness and health themed-stays, so your time is educational and inspiring, but still ultra relaxing. I think this is exactly what you want out of a health retreat - an immersion environment, where you're relaxed and open to change. When we step out of our busy colourful lives, and then stop, actively quieten ourselves, and just be, things can look a little different. Of course, this stillness is always inside us and accessible any time - we just sometimes forget.
As a fully certified eco retreat, Billabong Retreat operate with environment impact at the front of their mind. They collect rainwater, utilise recyclable materials for buildings, have solar electricity, and reminders on the bathroom wall to keep showers short. My room was beautiful and bright. It was elevated, overlooking the billabong and surrounded by dense bush, like a treehouse.
On offer are a variety of rooms to suit all tastes and budgets. They don't do wifi, but I promise this is a great thing. Relinquishing the need to reply to emails/texts/social media, and instead putting your out-of-office on and switching to airplane mode, can leave you feeling a little lost at first...but by the end of the day you feel weirdly free, and by the end of the retreat SO deeply rested.
As I was on NZ time, I'd be up early as the sun crept over the trees and sounds of bellbirds filled the air - it was magical.
Food, glorious food
Billabong Retreat offers a vegetarian-only menu with an emphasis on whole foods (foods that are natural or as natural as possible), organic eating (food free from artificial pesticides, chemicals and antibiotics), and supporting local growers - they're mindful about environmental impact, with much of their produce sourced from a nearby farm.
I learnt that their decision to only serve vegetarian cuisine isn't to strictly promote this way of eating, but because they believe veggies should make up the bulk of our diet - and so the goal is to inspire guests during their stay on just how yummy and satisfying plant-based meals can be.
Food was displayed buffet-style, so you could help yourself to as little or much you liked. I'm not vegetarian, so it was fun to experiment and go full-blown veg for a few days - and the dishes were exciting, colourful and full of flavour. My gut bacteria would have been having an absolute party with all that dietary fibre and varietry of plant-based foods.
A typical day at Billabong Retreat
7 am: Morning AM yoga. After a few mornings of this my body felt so good.
8 am: Breakfast! All whole food, local and nutrient-dense. On the menu was typically muesli, yoghurt, chia pudding and fruit, or a cooked frittata option with sauteed greens.
9 am: I did Billabong's mindfulness retreat which was centered around daily workshops. The content was informative, super inspiring, and had a good balance of theory to practical work (i.e. learning about mindfulness vs practising mindfulness). The themes were also carried over into other aspects of the retreats e.g. mindfulness exercises during yoga, or mandala colouring in the afternoon.
12 pm: Lunch - fresh salads galore!
2 pm: Treatment time at the wellness spa. Optional, but a lovely add-on. I had a relaxing massage and facial.
3 pm: Yoga or free time. The yoga sessions were an hour and a half, so a decent amount of time to get really immersed in the practice - you'd feel like you were floating afterwards. Afternoon tea was usually put out at this point - there would usually be some kind of whole food-style baking, like banana cake. Some afternoons I would just take a walk around the property or read a book somewhere quiet - so lovely!
6 pm: Dinner was typically something cooked, comforting and with loads of spices, like a dahl or curry. There was dessert each night too - crumbles, mousses and cakes, all made with nutrient-rich ingredients, so a small portion would totally satisfy even the sweetest of sweet tooths.
To summarise - Billabong Retreat is an awesome spot to venture too near Sydney, when you're after a restful break away. The importance of mindfulness really sunk in this trip - it’s so easy to be worried about all of the things you need to do (in the future), or stuck thinking about all the things that have happened (in the past), that you forget to just enjoy what’s actually happening right now (the present). Mindfulness is simply about paying attention - to the moment at hand, whatever that is, right now. Because usually in this moment, all is well.