May/June 2004 



Above: Golden Door Health Resort

by Catherine Beattie


ustralia is renowned for its relaxed outdoor lifestyle and holistic approach to health and wellbeing. Which is why it is surprising that until recently this nation of 18 million had no modern spas. Only in the last decade or so have Australians woken up to the benefits of ‘spa,’ a transformation that has created an exciting and vibrant new industry.

According to spa guru Kirien Withers, the nation’s love affair with the spa began in 1988 with the opening of the Hyatt Regency Coolum, the pioneer of the spa industry in Australia. Kirien explains, “Aware that international wellness trends would ultimately reach Australia, the Hyatt Regency Coolum Resort development team built a resort for the future. Its spa environment was bigger and better equipped than most of our new Australian day spas. At that time in Australia, the term ‘spa‘ still meant a ‘bubbling bath’, so the spa was named the Health Management Centre. This housed beauty treatment rooms, wet rooms, a lap pool and a full range of health and fitness diagnostic equipment

Above: Observatory Hotel, Sydney

“We want people to realize that spas have a part to play in everyone’s personal health maintenance.”

Palazzo Versace Hotel

Above: Palazzo Versace Hotel


A spa industry survey by Intelligent Spas ( in 2002 gives an intriguing insight into the now booming Aussie spa scene
-Over two million people visited Australian spas in 2002, including 100,000 international tourists, generating AUD165 million in spa revenues.
-Australian spas are smaller than their counterparts in Europe and the US; seven treatment rooms is the average.
-Men account for only 25 per cent of spa visits.
-Aromatherapy, massage and mud therapy are the most popular treatments.

Today, over 360 spas cover the length and breadth of this vast and varied continent, providing professional spa treatments and services – in cities and holiday resorts, in dedicated health retreats, and most prolifically on the Queensland coast and tropical islands. One exciting future project is the geothermal bathing and relaxation center at Bathe in Victoria, where naturally heated mineral water from an underground lake is to be pumped into a series of outdoor pools, creating Australia’s first thermal spa. And that is just the beginning. Economist Paul Zane Pilzer, author of The Wellness Revolution and The Next Trillion predicts an exceptionally bright future for spas ‘down under. “Australians now spend $12-15 billion a year on the wellness industry, of which spas are a vital component. This is likely to increase to $75 billion by 2010.”

and programs designed to facilitate wellness. The format was designed not only to be a source of great value and pleasure for the general resort guest, but to serve the corporate conference market. Even back in 1988, it offered a full health assessment and direction, and a comprehensive pampering partner program.”

In the early 1990s, other pioneering spas opened, notably The Temple of Body & Soul, a women’s spa and fitness club in Sydney and the Aquarius Roman Baths in Launceston, Tasmania. By the year 2000, a trickle of spa developments had turned into a flood of over 140 new spas.

In an effort to regulate the fledgling spa industry, Kirien set up the Australasia Spa Association (Aspa) and became its first president. “By the year 2000, we had sufficient spas to warrant an association for the new industry,” recalls Kirien. “We wanted to draw everyone together and encourage the industry to pursue natural health and beauty options. One of our first tasks was to categorize Australian spas under three main headings: Day spas, Destination spas, and Spring spas, each with its own definitions and sub-categories.”

Most Australians still view a visit to a spa as an indulgence or an occasional treat for special occasions, a perception Kirien wants to change. “Another of Aspa’s aims is to educate the public,” states Kirien, “We want people to realize that spas have a part to play in everyone’s personal health maintenance.” The media too is helping promote spas to the Australian public; features extolling their benefits and advice on spa etiquette appear regularly in the lifestyle pages of newspapers and women’s magazines, helping fuel a demand for all things ‘spa.


Above: View from Shangri-La Hotel, Sydney

As I sipped herbal tea after a treatment in one of Sydney’s new day spas, I recalled the lack of spa facilities on a previous trip ‘down under’ in 1997. The Observatory (, then Sydney’s only hotel spa, offered travel weary guests a Jet Lag Recovery treatment, a half-hour floatation followed by a half-hour massage. This treatment is still available today, albeit on the Day Spa’s much expanded menu of spa packages and acclaimed Li-Tya Aboriginal treatments (more about these later).

The Angsana Day Spa ( is located in the heart of Double Bay Village, an exclusive area of Sydney with low rise shopping boutiques and pretty cafés. Housed in a three-storey Victorian house, the spa is designed as an idyllic retreat for the inner self. Asian health and beauty remedies are carried out in treatment rooms painted in uplifting shades of purple, orange, lime green and yellow and furnished with authentic Asian artifacts. Gracious spa therapists from Phuket and Bali, tiptoe about on the polished wooden floors, their very presence creating an exotic yet calming ambiance. No less than 28 holistic massages, health treatments, beauty wraps and tropical scrubs are incorporated into the spa menu. Signature Treatments start with a floral foot bath and include the Angsana Massage to relieve tension and aid circulation, Natural Thai Herbal Wrap to solve skin problems and the Tangy Tamarind Scrub which gives skin a refreshing boost.


Above: Golden Door Health Resort

The Golden Door Health Retreat ( (no links with the US spas of the same name) first opened its doors in 1993. Set in lush native bushland in the hinterland of Queensland’s Gold Coast, it is a haven from busy city life – a holistic retreat designed to refresh mind and body. Five or seven night stays are carefully tailored to suit individual needs and include a choice of therapeutic massages and a facial.

“The Golden Door entices you to make lasting changes,” explains the resort’s MD, Brooke Ramage, “You can relax, unwind and adopt positive lifestyle habits. The awareness and vitality you feel at the end of your visit stays with you long after you've left.”

Guests stay in comfortably equipped modern chalets with private bathroom. Rates include all meals (mostly organic), use of the swimming pool and exercise facilities, educational seminars, exercise and yoga classes and guided bush walks. You can opt for extras like Chinese medicine, naturopathy and other complementary therapies or indulge in some additional beauty treatments from the extensive spa menu. Choices include an 80-minute Golden Door Signature Facial, designed to delight the senses as well as deliver powerful results. You can enhance the facial with a cleansing foot massage,  have warm heat packs placed around the body to release tension, or even treat your tresses to an aromatic oil hair wrap.

No television, caffeine, alcohol, nicotine or mobile phones (except in the privacy of your room) are allowed at the retreat. And you need to be fairly mobile, as the site is very hilly and some chalets are a long way from the main facilities.

The Golden Door Group has now opened three other spa resorts in Australia – two in New South Wales (Cyress Lakes and Elysia) and one at the Sheraton Mirage resort on the Queensland Gold Coast.


Above: Palazzo Versace Hotel

Australia’s most glamorous address has to be the Palazzo Versace Hotel ( and Salus Per Aquum Spa. Located on a private marina surrounded by five shallow swimming lagoons, the world’s only Versace hotel is the epitome of luxurious extravagance, boasting spectacular Italian architecture and 205 luxury rooms and suites. The elaborate décor, furnishings, and staff uniforms are all Versace designed. The overstated elegance continues down corridors lined with portraits of supermodels to the entrance of the Salus Per Aquum Spa. Inside the spa, the ambiance is hushed and tranquil. The spa offers a wide range of hydrotherapy, body wraps, facials and massages, beauty services, personal training, yoga and fitness classes. Facilities include a heated indoor pool, sauna and steam rooms, Vichy shower, candlelit treatment rooms and a romantic couples suite. For such a sophisticated venue, the changing rooms are on the small side, and the location of the unisex Vichy shower in the women’s area is not ideal. However, the treatments are amazing, carried out by highly motivated therapists who look after your every whim. My therapist had studied massage in Hawaii and performed my Kahuna treatment to swaying hula music using continuous strokes and long sweeping movements to oxygenate and energize my body.


Above: Silky Oaks Lodge & Healing Waters Spa

Silky Oaks Lodge & Healing Waters Spa ( North Queensland’s exclusive wilderness retreat is situated on the Mossman River, on the edge of the World Heritage Daintree rainforest, the earth’s oldest living rainforest. Guests stay in spacious tree-houses with spa baths and polished wooden floors, easily accessed from footpaths that wind among king ferns, cyclad palms, and tall silky oak trees. The restaurant and lounges are open to the elements to let the warm tropical breezes flow through, giving a sense of dining in the treetops.

The Healing Waters Spa is located in a large timber tree-house, recently extended with two new massage rooms, Vichy shower room, and a double signature treatment room with sunken bath and views over the rainforest. Inspired by ancient Aboriginal wisdom that celebrated water as a life-giving force, the spa has a unique spiritual ambience; authentic Li’Tya products are used in all the nature-based treatments and therapies.

Our signature couples treatment proved disappointing for us and a salutary lesson for our therapists. Following a warm-up session in the sauna, we had an invigorating massage on side-by-side tables, with individually chosen body oils. Then we were enveloped in therapeutic mud, wrapped up like mummies and left alone. The idea was that we would take off our wraps after ten minutes for a romantic soak among the flowers in the sunken bath. The mud quickly cooled so we felt chilly and exposed as our muddy feet slithered across to the bath. Stepping into the water we found it unpleasantly cool. Cold and thoroughly uncomfortable, we abandoned the soak (one of the ‘highlights’ of this spa experience) and dived back into the sauna to warm up.

Above: The Sebel Reef House & Spa

The Sebel Reef House and Spa ( is situated in the picturesque cosmopolitan beach village of Palm Cove in Northern Queensland. Author Bill Bryson stayed here when writing Down Under;  it is easy to see why he was so smitten. The hotel nestles in tropical gardens under ancient melaleuca trees, its white wicker interiors, handcrafted artifacts and candlelit corridors reflecting the romance of a bygone era. In 2003, a new health spa opened with five state-of-the-art treatment rooms, one with a magnificent leaf-shaped melaleuca wood massage table and two with Vichy showers and private Jacuzzis.

The spa offers Gayle Heron’s exclusive Li’Tya range of therapies and products combining ancient Aboriginal philosophies and healing techniques with indigenous plants, fruits, desert salts, muds, and herbs to cleanse, enrich and pamper. Li’Tya means ‘Of the Earth,’ and Gayle was given permission to use the name by Aboriginal tribal elders, in the spirit of sharing Australia’s natural wealth and resources with others. For maximum therapeutic benefit, Li’Tya products are made from the highest quality earth ingredients, pure essential oils, and native flora derived from organic plantations. They contain no petroleum, mineral oils, animal products, or artificial colors and fragrances.

My Mala Mayi body rejuvenation treatment lasted 90 blissful minutes. It started with a full body exfoliation and warm mud envelopment (with optional scalp massage), followed by breathtaking ‘rain therapy’ (a pulsating Vichy shower). Finally my relaxed and warmed body was given an invigorating massage with therapeutic oils. In all my years of visiting spas, this has to be my favorite treatment.

Catherine Beattie is a UK-based health and travel writer/publisher with a lifelong interest in spas. Her credentials include writing and publishing several consumer guides including Healthy Breaks in Britain & Ireland (the UK's first spa guide) and The Really Useful Guides. Catherine was founding editor of Spa Health & Beauty magazine and contributes to many UK national newspapers and magazines including The Sunday Times, The Express, Here's Health and Harpers & Queen. She is a member of the British Guild of Travel Writers, Guild of Health Writers and Spa Business Association.




© 2004 Spa Review Magazine