The best wellness retreats on Sydney’s doorstep offer everything from day-spa pick-me-ups to longer stress-free sojourns.
Best for... a unique treatment
The Anchorage, Port Stephens
Framed by lush bushland on the coast just north of Newcastle, you’ll feel a wave of calm wash over you as you arrive at The Anchorage. The boutique hotel has just undergone a multi-million-dollar refurbishment, with revitalised suites and eateries (be sure to visit The Wild Herring for the degustation dinner), but taking centre stage is the serene, split-level spa. Spa Lucca’s treatment menu features the usual relaxing facials and massages but for something you won’t find at every other spa, try the 75-minute body polish, wrap and spa jet capsule experience. You’ll enjoy a slow, meditative facial cleansing and scalp massage with Sodashi products before entering the Vichy spa capsule: a pod with water jets that change temperature, pressure and speed for a truly unique full-body experience. Pre and post-treatment, relax in the light-filled wellness lounge with a stack of glossy magazines and indulgent vegan chocolates.
Corlette Point Road, Corlette, Port Stephens
Best for… yoga
At two in the afternoon, where else would you want to be but soaking in Epsom salts in a freestanding tub on a timber verandah, staring up at gum trees and eyeballing a golden-brown beetle as it scurries by? It’s only about a one-hour drive or train ride from Sydney’s CBD but Billabong Retreat feels like a true bush escape. The Deluxe Cabins are decorated plainly but elegantly and are built from plantation pine and recycled hardwood. There are also Lodge and Treehouse rooms, all discreetly tucked around the billabong, where bellbirds ring, kookaburras laugh and water dragons are behind those occasional splashes. Teachers adept at reading a room and coaching a beginner lead excellent yoga classes, which are held in an airy bower constructed from telegraph poles and second-hand doors, with bamboo flooring. The food is also exceptional – colourful, vegetarian and glorious – and a return visit just for the bliss balls is totally understandable.
41 McClymonts Road, Maraylya
Best for… gentle discipline
Golden Door Health Retreat & Spa Elysia
In theory, it’s possible to treat your stay at what is arguably Australia’s best-known health retreat like a low-key, pampering getaway. No-one will stop you spending your days in a cabana beside the pool or indulging in back-to-back Babor facials. But once you’ve been woken at 6am for tai chi, followed by a brisk march around the property and had a how-can-this-be-good-for-me clean-eating breakfast (the rice porridge with coconut and lime is a standout), it suddenly makes sense to keep up the good work. Guests are encouraged to try everything on the daily schedule, from yoga to vigorous weights and cardio. The retreat is set high on a lavender-strewn hill in wine country and the irony is not lost when you realise there’s no alcohol served at dinner. “Change your life” is the philosophy here and by the end of your retreat (which can range from two to seven nights), you’ll emerge determined to do just that. Whether or not you resist picking up a few bottles of Hunter Valley semillon on the way home is entirely up to you.
165 Thompsons Road, Pokolbin
Best for… food-lovers
Bannisters Day Spa
￼It’s perhaps fitting that a spa sharing cliff-top space with Rick Stein’s eponymous South Coast restaurant uses skin therapies that sound like tasty treats. We’re talking cleansers that contain blueberries and lemongrass, hydration masks with redcurrants and raspberries and moisturisers that deploy sour cherries or persimmon and cantaloupe; there’s even a treatment that involves paprika and cinnamon. Do not be alarmed: the scents are divine and the results impressive. The spa at Bannisters by the Sea – the hotel itself is a whitewashed monument to Zen – has four treatment rooms, plus a semi-alfresco cabana for couples’ massages (this place is popular with the babymoon crowd), a hammam steam room and rain shower. You won’t find lasers, light-therapy gadgets or machines that blow steam in your face. What you will find is a team of therapists as sweet and gentle as the Éminence Organic Skin Care products they use and, depending where you lie, nature’s soundtrack of crashing waves. Is it relaxing? Let’s get real. Is it possible to be stressed in a place called Mollymook?
191 Mitchell Parade, Mollymook Beach
Best for… a serene escape
Bells at Killcare
Is it conceivable to feel the soothing effects of a retreat before you even get there? Yes, if the hideaway in question is Bells at Killcare. The drive to the property, through serene coastal towns and lush Bouddi National Park, is enough to calm your senses. The boutique hotel’s 25 Hamptons-esque rooms and cottages and its refined restaurant are reasons enough to visit but the day spa is the biggest drawcard. All massages and treatments are inspired by Indigenous traditions and start with the burning of wild-harvested native flora, enveloping you in the fragrant smoke of gumleaves and paperbark. Follow up with the Kodo rhythmic body massage, which combines long, gliding, continuous movements and native aromatic oils to relieve muscle tension and stress.
107 The Scenic Road, Killcare Heights
Best for… a digital detox
Spicers Sangoma Retreat
If you’re looking to stay connected between massages, this isn’t the place for you – mobile coverage can be patchy and wi-fi is limited to the main building. But if you’re craving a digital-detox weekend, the all-inclusive Spicers Sangoma Retreat – nestled in the foothills of the Blue Mountains, about 90 minutes’ drive from Sydney – is ideal. From the moment you arrive, you feel the stress slipping away, particularly if you’ve nabbed the Chief’s Suite with a private plunge pool, wood heater, well-stocked minibar, freestanding Philippe Starck bathtub and panoramic views across bushland to the city. The dining room is a destination in its own right, thanks to gourmet breakfasts and five-course dinners that include dishes such as seared duck breast with beetroot purée, cumquat sauce and pickled red cabbage.
70 Grandview Lane, Bowen Mountain
Best for… a day break
Gillian Adams Salon & Spa
Step beyond the ornate Art Deco façade at Gillian Adams Salon & Spa and the roar of the Pacific Highway fades, replaced by tinkling music and the hushed tones of neatly uniformed therapists. One of Australia’s first true day spas – and, believe us, you’ll want the whole day – Gillian Adams is a 40-minute drive or train ride from Sydney’s CBD. It’s been the Upper North Shore’s temple of pampering since 1994 and for good reason. The idea is complete transportation: an initial steamy soak in the Roman-style pool with its waterfalls and massage jets washes away day-to-day cares; a massage, facial, peel or Omnilux light-therapy treatment provides further contentment; then lunch, served in the sunny courtyard garden (with wine, natch), results in the abdication of all cares. Finish with a blow-dry at the upstairs salon before you re-enter the fray, highway traffic and all, in a state of untouchable wellbeing. ￼Alex Greig
1356 Pacific Highway, Turramurra
Top image: The pool at the Anchorage, Port Stephens
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