Meditation is something that we hear a lot about these days as a means to stay on top of stress, but many of us find it difficult to take even a few minutes away from work, kids, technology and the demands of everyday life. The idea of going on a retreat may conjure up images of hippies walking on hot coals at some far-flung destination, however you can experience all the benefits of escaping the rat race a mere 50 minutes from the centre of Sydney.
Billabong Retreat is a destination for novices and aficionados of meditation and yoga, so there is no need to feel intimidated if you have never downward-dogged before. The programs on offer are affordable, approachable and thoroughly enjoyable. I will warn you though, there is chanting. And you just might love it.
Billabong Retreat is an oasis for the mind, body and spirit, offering mediation and yoga programs, a Mindfulness Retreat focusing solely on meditation and a Cancer Support Retreat for cancer sufferers and their carers. Set on 12 acres of pristine native bush, owners Paul and Tory have created an eco-friendly hideaway that is home to a plethora of birds, reptiles and marsupials. The accommodation nestles seamlessly into the trees, with balconies overlooking the billabong. It is a stunningly beautiful property.
The rooms are basic but cosy, with single beds and shared bathrooms. Although this may sound a tad rustic for some people, the sense of isolation and being so utterly immersed in nature offers a real sense of luxury. Waking as the sun rises to the sights and sounds of the bush was an absolute delight. Mobile reception is not great either, so after a few frustrating phone calls from the top of a hill I decided to take a break from devices all together and really be present and connect with the surroundings.
Certified by Eco Tourism Australia, the retreat imposes minimal impact on the environment by using rainwater collected off the roof, solar power and even an onsite Biolytix worm effluent treatment plant. Guests are urged to take short showers and hot water bottles are provided to warm beds. If you can’t live without soaking in the tub then the Treehouse Cabin has a lovely outdoor bath on the deck and is as luxurious as Billabong Retreat gets.
Activities planned for guests focus on the philosophy of yoga, mindfulness meditation and breathing, and light yoga practice. Meditation in its various forms is explored throughout the weekend, with opportunities for guests to cultivate this practice alone, in groups or with mandala drawing and chanting. Initially a lot of the group including myself seemed slightly self-conscious during the chanting session, but after half an hour or so it seemed that the entire room was one loud, enthusiastic voice and the exercise finished with big smiles and an enormous sense of well being that radiated for hours afterwards.
There are plenty of breaks in the program to wander around this delightful property and take in the lush beauty of the property. Even though it rained for the entirety of my stay, it did not detract at all from the experience nor stopped guests from meandering around the many winding paths with the big umbrellas provided. Happily I did not cross paths with any of the enormous monitor lizards said to live on the property.
If you are concerned about going hungry, don’t be! The food is delicious and there is plenty of it. The menu is carefully crafted by Tory, brilliantly realised by chef Mignon and heartily enjoyed by the guests by the look of the empty plates and bowls after each meal. At Billabong, the staff are passionate about nutrition, and set a wonderful example of how absolutely delectable healthy food can be. SLOW principals are applied as much as possible, that is, produce sourced are Seasonal, Local, Organic, Wholefoods. Food on offer on this retreat was vegetarian and gluten free options were available. There’s nothing quite like tucking into a raw, sugar-free dessert and knowing that it is actually good for you.
When guests are not otherwise engaged there is a lovely outdoor deck with a huge fireplace and plenty couches to curl up on with a good book and a cup of tea. Meals are taken at communal tables in the indoor lounge area and delicious, healthy homemade treats are available to guests to help themselves to during the day. On this particular retreat a very talented local musician played acoustic guitar while guests basked in the tranquility of the surrounding bushland and post-meditation glow. There is also time to indulge in a spa treatment at the beautiful lakeside pavilion.
On Saturday night the yoga space was transformed into a small theatre for an inspirational movie. At this point in the program I did sneak off for some quiet time and will admit to thinking how lovely a glass of red wine would be. However, clutching my hot water bottle I happily indulged in another unheard-of luxury – going to bed at 9pm.
This is a wonderful starting point for somebody who has never been introduced to yoga and meditation before, and an excellent place to practice for those who have. Guests are given some simple yet valuable lessons into how to bring some inner peace and calm into their lives on a daily basis. It is hard to say what the best part of the weekend was, from the food, the stunning beauty of the property or just getting away. I think perhaps the most important thing and the whole point of the trip was the profound sense of wellbeing that I walked away with.