Spa re­sort thrives as clients flee rat race

A new in­dus­try has sprung up to cater for the de­mand for well­ness’ es­capes, writes Chris Herde

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Primespace -

WELL­NESS is big busi­ness in the North­ern Rivers re­gion of NSW. Stressed- out city folk are head­ing there for a healthy get­away or mov­ing lock stock and bar­rel to the re­gion renowned for its al­ter­na­tive life­styles.

Gregg Cave was one who fled the Syd­ney rat race a few years ago to help set up the award­win­ning Gaia Re­treat and Spa with en­ter­tainer Olivia New­tonJohn and two other friends.

It opened in Fe­bru­ary 2005 and the 8.5ha prop­erty at Brook­let, 15 min­utes from By­ron Bay, is op­er­at­ing at 85 per cent ca­pac­ity and is set to ex­pand with the pur­chase in De­cem­ber last year of an ad­join­ing 2.5ha block.

‘‘ Busi­ness is boom­ing and we are happy be­yond ex­pec­ta­tions. ( Rev­enue is) grow­ing at about 20 to 25 per cent a year,’’ says Cave, who is co- di­rec­tor and gen­eral man­ager of the re­treat. And it is no iso­lated case. Ac­cord­ing to Tourism Aus­tralia, the health spa sec­tor is worth hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars an­nu­ally and is the fastest grow­ing niche mar­ket in the in­dus­try.

While Aus­tralians are em­brac­ing the con­cept, so are in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tors, with those visit­ing a health spa in 2005- 06 up 33 per cent on the pre­vi­ous year.

The North­ern Rivers re­gion, be­tween the Queens­land border and Coffs Har­bour — which has By­ron Bay at its cen­tre — at­tracts those in the well­ness in­dus­try as well as peo­ple want­ing to in­dulge, through the lure of cli­mate and scenery, plus the new agers be­liev­ing the area has a con­flu­ence of ley- lines and a gi­ant crys­tal un­der the hills.

New­ton- John, who has had a long at­trac­tion to the re­gion, hav­ing had a prop­erty there for more than 20 years, says the idea of Gaia emerged af­ter her mother Irene died in 2003.

‘‘ Gregg and I brought Mum’s ashes up to my prop­erty near By­ron. We then went look­ing for a coun­try prop­erty for Gregg and stum­bled upon a run- down re­sort called the Sanc­tu­ary,’’ she says.

‘‘ We looked at it a few times — that is a story in it­self — and be­fore too long with two friends we had pur­chased it. It was meant to be. Mum led us here, I am sure of it.

‘‘ We then de­cided to cre­ate an en­vi­ron­ment that we, as direc­tors, would love — a beau­ti­ful place to get away from it all; our own private haven.’’

Cave, who de­signed Gaia, which in Greek mythol­ogy means mother earth, says the re­treat is ‘‘ very or­ganic’’, evolv­ing ac­cord­ing to guests’ needs and re­quire­ments, which are likely to in­crease as peo­ple seek new ways of re­liev­ing stress and re­lax­ing.

‘‘ The strange thing about it is that I de­signed the prop­erty and most of the de­sign­ing came through my dreams,’’ Cave says.

‘‘ I still have the draw­ings I made when I woke up in the mid­dle of the night.

‘‘ It’s a bit scary though. It’s not when you are go­ing through it, but it is when it’s evolved and you have peo­ple say­ing to you, I love that, I love that, and I say gra­ciously, ‘ Thank you but I re­ally don’t know where it came from’. ‘‘ But we be­lieve it had a lot to do with Olivia’s Mum.’’

Gaia em­ploys 65 full- time and ca­sual staff, in­clud­ing 35 heal­ers, to main­tain its cur­rent 20 rooms, the Amala Day Spa, restau­rant and a range of ac­tiv­i­ties from yoga to sculp­ture and cir­cuit fit­ness classes.

Next year there are plans to ren­o­vate four cab­ins and on the new prop­erty build four new onebed­room suites and a small gym.

The suc­cess of Gaia and other spa re­treats in the re­gion doesn’t sur­prise Ban­ga­low Real Es­tate prin­ci­pal Scott McKen­zie, who says there has been de­mand for zoned com­mer­cial land from de­vel­op­ers want­ing to build well­ness re­treats. ‘‘ Peo­ple are look­ing for a change of lifestyle and de­mand is get­ting stronger and stronger,’’ he says.

‘‘ Tra­di­tion­ally it has come from Syd­ney but more peo­ple are com­ing here from Bris­bane.’’

But lo­cal coun­cils want­ing to avoid overde­vel­op­ment will re­strict the num­ber of well­ness re­treats and spas.

‘‘ It’s a dou­ble- edged sword. The more de­vel­op­ment that comes in, the more it will af­fect the cur­rent amenity and the cur­rent amenity is what at­tracts peo­ple in the first place,’’ McKen­zie says.

While there may be de­vel­op­ment caps in some ar­eas, peo­ple keep ar­riv­ing, whether to em­brace the al­ter­na­tive lifestyle for good or for a ‘‘ quick pick- me- up’’.

New­ton- John says the suc­cess of spa re­treats such as Gaia is a di­rect re­sult of the pres­sures of mod­ern- day liv­ing.

‘‘ At this time on our planet, there is a great need for peo­ple to slow down and take time out for them­selves — go back to the heart,’’ she says.

‘‘ Gaia is a nat­u­rally unique prop­erty, with a very heal­ing and nur­tur­ing en­vi­ron­ment, away from the pres­sure and stresses of new- mil­len­nium life.’’

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