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  • Transformation at the Golden Door 

    by Nicole Lenoir-Jourdan

    When you first become a vampire, you’re fixated on the small things: you look for hours at a pattern on a carpet, a stained-glass window or even life itself – at least according to Anne Rice in her iconic novel, The Vampire Lestat. This is the book I take with me for my week at Golden Door in NSW’s Hunter Valley, and whilst perhaps the Golden Door is not the perfect place for vampires (lack of night life, in bed by nine and up at sunrise), being there does transform you into a mindful mortal. You take time to observe nature – such as the flight of the butterfly who mesmerised me with its golden wings as it flitted and danced upwards to the clear sky and back to the white flowers and large glossy leaves of a magnolia tree.

    Image courtesy of Golden Door

    Special guest Michael Hallock alerts me at his mindfulness talk to take the time to notice my surroundings: “we all have a superpower,” he says. “We can switch on and off. It’s all about living in the present.”

    Michael travels regularly from Ubud in Bali to teach his brand of mindfulness at Golden Door. One of the guests, Leanne, who is partaking in Michael’s course, tells me how she enjoyed sitting in front of a plate of fruit, breathing deeply and taking time to concentrate on the tastes and the textures of the fruit as she ate them slowly – much better than shovelling down some pasta while sitting on your phone or watching TV. Michael also specialises in the aqua dance – this is no waltz with Aquaman, but rather, a form of Watsu, the signature treatment at The Golden Door. Watsu is a form of aquatic bodywork where you are cradled in a warm pool by a therapist and stretched, moved and massaged in the water. My husband, David, described it as being in the womb, and having a form of rebirth.

    David enjoyed his time at The Golden Door as much as me, which is saying something for a man who loves his alcohol and Lindt (considered contraband at The Golden Door). There’s no coffee, no caffeinated teas, no wine and no chocolate, although we do have a small piece of sweet potato and carob cake – it melts in our sugar-deprived mouths. The food here is fresh and plentiful, with a focus on local produce. They serve no red meat and cater to all types of dietary requirements.

    Breakfast is buffet-style, with yoghurt, fruits and a choice of three mueslis. There’s also a hot option and two types of herbal teas. Lunch and dinner are both plated, so there’s no sneaking back for seconds – usually a fresh salad with fish, chicken or tofu, and an amazing sauce to heighten the taste. There are bowls of fresh fruit placed in the dining area. The stone-fruit is sweet, succulent and definitely not from a supermarket. There’s also morning tea and afternoon tea, so you won’t ever go hungry.


    Image courtesy of Golden Door

    Activities begin with tai chi at 6.30 am. Then there’s a choice of deep water running or a walk, with breakfast at 8 am. Stretch at nine and then into a variety of activities: water polo, volley ball, strength training, yoga, spin class (I particularly enjoy the disco spin with Mel –  despite having never done it before, I’m frothing for my next spin class), meditation and more. Lunch is at one and dinner at six. After dinner there’s usually a talk or activity and then you’re ready for bed. Wander outside the main building and down the path and you may see a group of kangaroos – I’m lucky enough to see one with a baby joey. There are mesmerising butterflies and dandelion heads in abundance: I catch one, blow it away and make a wish, as my mother once told me. There are plenty of ‘wishes’ to be found on the walk ‘home’, where Fronk the green frog greets me on the step of villa 14.  Inside there’s a TV so hubby can watch the Big Bash cricket, while I put my feet up on the couch and read about vampires, occasionally staring out at the panoramic view of mountains and grape vines.

    Besides activities, there’s the most pleasurable part of the Golden Door: the Spa.  Even the change rooms have my jaw dropping: they’re brimming with fluffy white towels, a steam room, sauna and a cool little machine that dries your swimming costume. There are beds to relax on, both inside the change rooms and outside in the waiting area. My concrete slab shoulders transform into play dough after a week of therapies that include a lomi lomi, deep tissue massage, and the Zen Monk therapy with Kung Fu instructor and acupuncture specialist, Dean Monk. I chat about the Shaolin temple as he scrapes me with a Chinese soup spoon, needles me and cups me. My back looks like Bruce Lee’s punching bag at the end but wow, am I Zen.

    The Elysia spa may be the house of true pleasure, but it’s the outdoor pool that steals my heart. There are no kids screaming and peeing in the pool because there are no children allowed at the resort. Bliss. You can swim or float on the blow-up flamingo and watch the kangaroos on the other side of the fence. There’s also a wonderful lap pool indoors if you want some lines to follow whilst you swim.

    Image courtesy of Golden Door

    The Golden Door is a bubble, far-removed from the stresses of everyday life. Your phone must stay in your room, and as I mentioned, there’s no wine or coffee and no kids, but you’ll notice other guests’ shoulders start to drop as they unwind. Their smiles grow and by the end of the week, the once-quiet dining room transforms into a noisy hubbub of chilled out friends discussing their latest treatments and sharing therapist recommendations.

    Sonja Bollnow comes highly recommended: “I don’t know exactly what she does, but you must go,” said a friend who has visited previously. Well, that’s good enough for me. It turns out that Sonja is a hypnotherapist who does intuitive counselling. It’s enlightening to find the future me and have a conversation with her – she’s standing inside the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh in a tweed suit, holding her latest novel. I still have the vision of her and it’s spurring me on to finish the book which is not about vampires but dragons.

    There are no dragons at the Golden Door and it’s definitely not a place for vampires, but it is a place of magic and of new beginnings. When David and I return home, we throw out everything sweet from the cupboard and the fridge, and with our Golden Door cookbook we hit Harris Farm markets and buy up – tonight’s dinner is quinoa vegie burgers with lemongrass salad, and I know it’s going to be far tastier than a slap-up pasta dinner.

    Image courtesy of Golden Door

    For more personalised information tips and advice, or to book this incredible holiday, contact your local TravelManagers’ personal travel manager here.

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