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
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.’’