Wolgan Valley Resort highlights Aussie luxury resorts have a place, despite our egalitarianism: Christopher Joye

Wolgan Valley Resort highlights Aussie luxury resorts have a place, despite our egalitarianism: Christopher Joye
Wolgan Valley Resort highlights Aussie luxury resorts have a place, despite our egalitarianism: Christopher Joye

I travel a lot for work and also try to take time out to see new places with my family, who have had a few health scares of late. For example, in the last four months I’ve been to the truly mind-blowing, six-star Wolgan Valley Resort in New South Wales twice.

Wolgan Valley needs to be seen to be believed. Emirates spent about $100 million building the place in one of the most aesthetically beautiful (and world heritage-listed) parts of the state. Frankly, I never thought that you would be able to find such majesty inland of Sydney. The first two pictures of Wolgan you can see were shot from my own Blackberry.

It’s expensive, no doubt: the rack rate is $1,900 per night, but that includes three meals for two people, and all drinks and standard alcohol. Every “house” comes with its own heated, indoor 10-metre swimming pool plus uber-luxurious bedroom, lounge room, bathroom and sprawling indoor/outdoor veranda. And don’t get sticker fright at the price: it includes loads of extras, like horse-riding, biking, and hiking, and the impressive general manager, Joost Heymeijer, is open to negotiating significantly better deals.

A few weeks ago a member of the family had a health fright, so I thought I would dig into the possibility of going to a “wellness retreat”. I did a fair bit of due diligence on the Golden Door, Gwinganna, and Gaia. I was looking for a place that possessed world-class facilities, was serious about its health beyond a simple “spa”, and yet not draconian in imposing its vision unilaterally on guests.

After wading through many third-party reviews – there is no more useful site than Trip Advisor – Byron Bay’s Gaia Retreat seemed to fit the bill. If you are wondering, “Gaia” means spirit of mother earth. And it’s exclusive, to be sure. Guests have included Pink, Delta Goodrem, Erica Packer, and billionaires like Lang Walker. It is also jointly owned by singer Olivia Newton-John and three other Australian heavies: Warwick Evans, Ruth Kalnin, and the in-residence general manager, Gregg Cave.

Now I am not normally a fan of domestic resorts, and have a working hypothesis that Australia’s cultural commitment to egalitarian ideals and iconoclastic resentment of authority make really top-notch customer service hard to deliver, unlike luxury Hawaiian retreat Kukio.

But Gaia seems different. Situated at the highest point in the Byron Bay hinterland on 10 pristine hectares, Gaia has 20 villas, all of which meet the standards of a good five-star hotel. The two larger “suites”, which are shortly being expanded to six, are in the six-star league. It has an amazing spa with every imaginable treatment, dedicated yoga centre with gorgeous views, swimming pool, walking trails, gymnasium, and even an in-house koala.

Unusually for Australia, all the staff are exceptionally well trained, educated and experienced. I literally had my personal trainer, a boxing specialist called Damien, consulting with my nutritionist, who was guiding the chefs on tailor-made meals. The clincher, as always, is tenure.

I cannot remember speaking to any staff member who had not been working at Gaia for at least two years, and most have been there for around six.

The genius behind Gaia is two-fold: it is run by its owners, who are genuinely engaged with the property, and the attention to detail is, therefore, outstanding. My suite looked like it had been rushed off the pages of an interior design magazine.

The other strength is that in contrast to more hard-core health retreats, Gaia firmly believes in free will. They don’t offer coffee, but you can have it if you ask. Alcohol is available with meals. No activity is compulsory. And Gaia’s people seem to be sincerely committed to advancing your health.

A final comment is that it is relatively well priced. Prices are all-inclusive of meals/drinks. The flight from Sydney was an easy hour to Coolangatta, which was succeeded by a super-scenic 45-minute drive along the coast to Byron. If you want to detox, get fit and recalibrate your mind, Gaia’s worth considering.

 Christopher Joye is a leading financial economist and a director of Yellow Brick Road Funds Management and Rismark. The author may have an economic interest in any of the items discussed in this article. These are the author’s personal views and do not represent the opinions of any other individual or institution. This material is not intended to provide, and should not be relied upon for, investment advice or recommendations.




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