First published on 2 Oct 2013. Updated on 4 Mar 2014.
It’s very effective, seeing the imposing wooden gates of the Cabarita Ocean Retreat swing open in front of you. The effect is: you’re about to leave the outside world behind.
The group of us picked up from Gold Coast Airport are driven into the grounds, past native trees peppered with black cockatoos, to a spotless white building, subtly shaped like a fish. Over to the right, a tennis court and a pool with loungers catches the eye, but before we can get sidetracked, Sandra glides up to meet us in a pristine white dress. She’s the operations manager and ensures everything runs so smoothly as to not trouble your cortisol levels.
The back story:
Cabarita is the big dream of developer and entrepreneur Susie Peterson, cofounded in 2011 with industry expert Brook Ramage. Tragically, Peterson died of cancer, but she lived to see the first intake of guests. Her parents appointed Ramage as the general manager, based on his long career in health spas like Camp Eden in Currumbin and Golden Door in the Gold Coast hinterland. His wife Victoria, a beauty therapist, has long worked alongside him.
Cabarita Ocean Retreat lies just outside Casuarina, on a stretch of the North Coast that counts Kingscliff and Salt as its neighbours. The grounds back onto a bicycle track (you can request a bike for free to explore at will), behind which is the beach itself, a mere 30 seconds’ walk away. The fragrant grounds are filled with native plants, and you’ll spot plenty of exotic-looking birds (among the bush turkeys), ducks, water dragons and blue-tongued lizards.
We’re given a tour of the five-star building. The lounge area, with a large hearth, has comfy sofas with throws and cushions. This whole end of the room can be opened up to the elements, with window seats overlooking the small waterfall outside. The large dining area – everyone sits together at a grand table – overlooks the kitchen, so that the chef can explain the process and ingredients behind each dish. The emphasis here is keeping guests on the right track after they have left Cabarita. They follow the ‘paleo’ or ‘caveman’ diet here – so there's nothing processed, and no caffeine, gluten, wheat, sugar or alcohol. The dishes have enough texture and flavour to light up the brain like a Christmas tree, however. Indeed, a celebrity chef stayed here the week before and pronounced them excellent.
The signature suites are generously sized – each with two double beds and a bath with a view – and all themed after a different location: India, Caribbean, Bali, Santorini, France… The only rule is not to use your phone outside of your bedroom, but there is free wifi. (It feels like technological karma, though, that I break an expensive-looking lamp trying to plug in my laptop.) Those who panic at the thought of entirely leaving behind their routine will be pleased to know there are also newspapers and Apple TV – perfect for an impromptu movie night in the main lounge.
There are ten of us staying here (the maximum number of guests can be a little over 20). A handful have visited in the retreat’s first year and were impressed enough to make it this year’s destination; then there's a fella who owns a vineyard and wants to detox fast before returning with a cleanish slate; a busy GP/mother-of-two in need of a breather away from the clan; and a couple recovering from serious health issues.
When it becomes apparent that every morning our group of ten will be exercising together from 6.30am until lunch at 1pm (you can opt out but few do), I wonder if things will quickly descend into a Lord of the Flies scenario. We’re a disparate group – will we get along? Will we form factions? In fact, as we slip into a routine of morning walks along the shore (you're going to spot a lot of whales), tai chi, stretching, aqua class, cycling, paddle-boarding, yoga, a food as medicine demonstration and boxercise, I realise I’m going to get to know and trust this little band of people intimately. We’ll certainly see each other in enough compromising positions. If I stay long enough for the drumming workshop on day four we’ll basically all become one loving organism, I’m sure of it.
For those who really don’t like sticking to timetables, there are surfboards, fishing rods, boogie boards, a gym and a volleyball court to take advantage of. On Thursdays, there is a group trip to Byron Bay to visit the Farmers Market. There are always at least two options when it comes to fitness activities – to account for guests’ varying fitness levels – and in Byron you have a choice of a surfing lesson or walking to the lighthouse. When Mount Warning was open (it’s been closed off due to storm damage), there’d be a hike up there. There’s often evening entertainment – a meditation lesson, a talk from an Aboriginal ranger with didgeridoo in tow, a drumming workshop.
No health retreat would be complete without pampering. At Cabarita you receive one massage or facial for free and then can add on all sorts of extras, from body scrubs, to pedicures, acupuncture, eco-tans, personal training, life-coaching, a session with a naturopath and rolfing. French-born Izzy, who takes care of many of the body and facial treatments, gives me the sort of intense massage using organic lotions and potions from Sodashi that leads to an incredible, life-changing idea popping surreally into my head, before it disappears off into the ether a second later. Ah well. Most of Cabarita’s guests are shuffling around in robes in a similar glaze-eyed reverie.
You're looking at spending three or four grand staying here for five or seven days (exact prices below), but given that you'll have all three meals and snacks included each day, as well as a full morning’s worth of activities for free, that's pretty reasonable. And, of course, you'll receive thorough training – if you want to – on how to make this visit the beginning of a new you.
Those in my group are certainly all vowing fiercely to rehaul our diets and reboot our lives. In fact, I nearly ruined my new manicure being dragged kicking and screaming to the airport.
Double: $2,750pp (five nights)
Single: $3,225pp (five nights)
Double: $3,430pp (seven nights)
Single: $4,025pp (seven nights)
There's an 'early bird special' – book by 15 Oct for travel between 27 Oct-3rd November and receive 25% off.
Cabarita Ocean Health Retreat, 768 Casuarina Way, Casuarina, NSW. 02 6674 3111.