Home » Inside my 7-day Wellness Retreat: Part 1

Inside my 7-day Wellness Retreat: Part 1

Day 1: Arrival

It’s Sunday and the thud of my car door marks the beginning; 7 whole days of filling my cup with time out at Billabong Retreat. It’s a pretty big bucket-list of mine to take what feels like such an indulgent amount of time away from life and its schedules. But with some careful planning (and my husband’s encouragement and enthusiasm to take on a week of school drops, lunch boxes, BookWeek and netball commitments) here I am. I’m embarking on three mini retreats woven together: Meditation Essentials (Mon-Wed), Stress Management (Wed-Fri) and Living with Ease (Fri-Sun). These are individual programs you can take making it very accessible to the time poor (and who isn’t) or those who can’t be away for an extended period.

If I don’t come back more centered and zen after this, rehab might be my only option.

The journey there…

Billabong Retreat is an easy 2.5 to 3-hour drive from my home in Newcastle and a 45 min drive from Sydney, NSW. I loved the drive. Smooth highways, picturesque Hawkesbury River scenes and of course the traditional revive spot of the ‘Twin Servos’. With my green juice and sweet potato snack pack (thanks Oliver’s) I cruised through a less than packed Pennant Hills Road normally famous for traffic jams.

I reach the outer northern areas of Sydney. Driving into the suburbs felt a little awkward, given my expectation for physically retreating amongst gum trees and water views. But Billabong Retreat is tucked a respective 10-minute drive down the road from Windsor. If being too far from civilization has been holding you back from checking into a retreat, it’s here you can leave those worries behind.

First impressions…

A right turn onto McClymounts Rd and I’m taking in views of enormous luxury homes on my left and sprawling acreage land on my right. “Who lives here… seriously?”. I finally see a sign for my destination and pull into a driveway buzzing with activity. Guests getting in and out of cars and staff carrying cleaning buckets and linen. It’s blurring the backdrop of a traditional but cosy-looking cottage and neighboring wooden buildings blending with the bush. It’s clear this pop-up haven has tucked itself away and isn’t elitist in the slightest. Everything is far too earthy, handmade and fit-for-purpose giving off a true sense of the word “retreat”. I spot an official-looking person with paper sheets in-hand heading back behind glassed doors. “Check-In,” I remind myself.

The subtle entry to Billabong Retreat hidden behind bushlands.

Stepping into reception I’m taken aback by the smell of essential oils and musty incense instantly oozing a calm and alternate kind of lifestyle. Jacqui kindly welcomes my check-in and personally hosts me to the main building, wellness centre and dining areas with sprawling decks, a log fire and deep cushy couches to curl up with a book. Stepping up and into the balcony that gives gorgeous views of the treetops and billabong takes my breath away (along with any pre-getaway worries I might have had). I was not regretting my retreat decision from this standpoint.

The main building and it’s furnishings instantly welcome with soft and homely energy.

Settling in…

Straight into it, I grabbed a cup of herbal tea from the gorgeous dining area warm with wooden floors and afternoon sun. The open kitchen showcases your retreat chef and kitchen team buzz over stove tops and stainless steel benches. It’s a cozy atmosphere perfected with fresh produce collected in stone and wooden bowls waiting to be prepared.

The tree tops wrap around the deck providing peeks into the billabong below.

Taking a seat back on the deck in the overly cushiony couch by the fire, it’s so soft and fluffy you need a HEAVE-HO to get out of it. Clearly, it’s designed to get you to stay put, snuggle in and take in the bushland views. I’m sharing seats with a lovely work team of early childhood educators who’ve almost finished their day retreat. They’ve clearly shifted their state of minds talking about the wellness activities they ‘should’ and ‘could’ start but have found so hard and difficult to stick to. They’re comparing notes on the challenges they’re about to go back to. From their shift in mindset in just a day, they’re taken back when I mention I’m here for a week. “You’ll be a different person!” says one. “That’s the plan,” I respond.

Anyone can feel at home here.

Retreat Tip 1:

Smile. Make eye contact and say hello. You could be meeting your new best friend.

Minutes after, our Welcome Talk begins. There’s around 15 or so people standing around the fire and there’s so much to take in! Basia (reminds us her name rhymes with Marcia) is our Retreat Host and stays onsite to run yoga and meditation sessions. She explains as a communal space there’s a lot to keep in mind to harmonize the use of facilities: Keep devices inaudible and voices low (people like to take naps in the open apparently. Probably the cushy couch). No foreign objects in the pipes (toilets are an eco-friendly composting system. Naturally.) and remember to scrap your plates correctly (they go to the pig farm down the road, minimizing food waste) and finally bring your cups back to the kitchen (so there’s plenty for all). Pretty simple stuff.

With an hour to spare before the first yoga class I make my way to my cabin. And I’m pleasantly glad I drove there! The newly built king deluxe cabins are a 5 – 8-minute walk from the main building via an internal road around the Billabong. You don’t want to be carrying luggage this far.

Retreat Tip 2:

Confirm the location of your specific accommodation.

I made my way up and down the steps to the Deluxe King Cabin – well worth the extra step count.

By the end of the week I’m sure I’ll come to appreciate the walk but a quick look at the schedule and I’ve quickly assessed I’ll need to do this at night. In the dark. By myself. I haven’t walked by myself at night through the bush (ever) until now. My first moment for growth, I guess.

The road back to my cabin from the main guest centre.

The Afternoon Flow…

The 4.30pm restorative yoga class was superb, especially after a long drive. Billabong holds a 3.30pm and 4.30pm class everyday designed to be slower and restful as you near end of day.

Basia catered for all levels but this permanent class on the schedule truly is perfect for a new yogi having just arrived at the retreat. Really, it’s no more than a set of poses for relaxation (or sleep). In fact, I’m pretty sure the person next to me took corpse pose seriously and went to sleep.

Image: Billabong Retreat

Weary of my walk back to the cabin I stuck around the warm log fire for the 30 mins before dinner. And here I met my first fellow retreat-e (refer to Retreat Tip 1).

B is from south-east Sydney. A mum and wife she’s here for a break for herself too while also hoping she can reestablish her commitment to yoga and general wellbeing. She’s taken a few months of work to reset her body’s ability to deal with the autoimmune disease known as Lupus. On day 1 her 5-night stay here is already feeling like it’s not going to be quite enough. “When I booked it, afterwards I really felt like it wasn’t going to be enough,” she says with concern. “But hey you can always come back?” I offer. We chat until there’s gathering of hungry bodies in the kitchen.

Dinner all around…

Niko is one of Billabong Retreat’s alternating chef’s and he calls the group in around the serving pass to introduce tonight’s dinner creations. He explains that Billabong uses a S.L.O.W food philosophy: Sustainable, Local, Organic and Wholefoods. Meals are always vegetarian and sometimes vegan. I had little trepidation about going vegetarian for a week, in fact, I was excited. I’m not fussed about eating meat especially if someone else has the know-how for more than a plate of steamed vegetables.

And this meal did not disappoint! Dinner was superb in flavour, texture, colour and service. Each plate is served for you in front of your eyes taking a little of each dish to cover the entire plate (caution there is no portion control). I never knew vegetables could taste so good!

Tahini Meatballs took the main stage dolloped on top of a Celeric and Parsnip Mash. It hugged against a fresh and crunchy fennel and blood orange salad with freshly made chickpea gravy, chilli sauce and fermented radish. This homestyle meal was beautifully vegetable-based and had me going for seconds. B and I and the other 4 guests on our communal dining table were all in awe at how satisfyingly substantial the meal was yet light to consume. My wish for guilt-free comfort foods had been granted.

Retreat Tip 3:

Steady your intake. It’s easy to ingest so much delicious and nutritious food but there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

The bedtime routine…

Exhausted and food drunk (if that’s possible here) I opted to skip the meditation session at 7.30pm and head back on foot to my cabin for a long hot bath. As nighttime came, I was keen to start catching up on that alone time I’d planned for. My ‘down-time’ from retreat was already taken care of: a portable DVD-player and the boxset of every Sex and City episode seasons 1 to 7.

Day 1 and I’m feeling tired (from my general state of being and not untypical for a Sunday) but I completely content knowing I’ll be here for the next 6 nights. Let the work begin…

Stay tuned for Part 2: The Wellness Work on Retreat

Stephanie Hudson
Stephanie Hudson

Pro-Torque Director ⚙️| Yoga Teacher 🧘‍♀️| Freelance Writer👩🏻‍💻| Wife.Mum 👩🏻| Wellness Seeker🌀

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