From ancient bathing rituals to guided rainforest walks and letting off steam in a smash room, here are six unique wellness experiences that go beyond day spas and yoga mats.
Go on a global bath hop: Japanese, Finnish & other traditional bathhouses
In this fast-paced world, a long shower at the end of a busy day can feel like an indulgence. A long soak in a bath? Not likely you’ll have enough time. But in other cultures, baths are daily rituals practised to cleanse the body and spirit. In Japan, sentos (public baths) and onsens (hot springs) are culturally integral ways to relax, cleanse and socialise. Channel this at Japanese Bath House in the Blue Mountains, where the natural mineral-rich pools come with countryside views, a traditional teahouse and Japanese-style accommodation. Just 40kms down the road, a Finnish twist on wellness is found at the new . Sweating it out in the 90-degree Celsius sauna is thought to improve your lifespan and cardiac health, while an ensuing cold plunge bath releases adrenaline and endorphins. At Arisoo, a women-only bathhouse in Sydney’s Paddington and Chatswood, you can do as Koreans do and choose to bathe nude. Or not, it’s up to you. Hop between hot and cold baths, relax in wet and dry saunas, and feel renewed with a traditional Korean body scrub. Feel your skin soften and silken with a visit to Moroccan Hammam in Parramatta, where your body will be scrubbed, cocooned in a nourishing wrap and soaked in a petal-filled bath with traditional oils. Or try a European bathhouse at in Mullumbimby where you can luxuriate in the mineral pools or wood-fired sauna, enjoy a massage and then finish up with a cocktail and a plate of oysters from their restaurant.
Join the demolition crew: let off steam at these ‘smash rooms’
Not all stress relievers need to come with candles and soft music, sometimes you just need to let go of your frustrations with a bit more adrenaline. Hunter Valley Smash Room at Sutton Estate allows participants to smash crates of wine bottles to let off steam. At the end, the leftover glass and porcelain is given to a local artist who uses it to make mosaics, so feel good knowing your destruction will eventually lead to art. If smashing wine bottles seems a little low-key, throw axes at Maniax in Marrickville, Sydney; head to Smash Lab Wollongong where washing machines are up for demolition; or to in Gladesville, where you can hurl cups, brushes and balloons filled with paint in the Splash Room or don a sumo suit and enter the Crash Room to have it out with some mates.
Walk but don’t talk: join a guided, mindful walk in nature
Hands up if you’re no good at meditation? Wandering minds may find wandering among wilderness an easier way to practice mindfulness. In Sydney’s Lane Cove National Park, discover the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku or forest therapy with Forest Minds. The aim is to actively engage your five senses as you walk through lush green forest, being guided through sensory awareness exercises, creative experiences, and breathwork along the way. While at Wollongong Botanic Garden, the self-guided Go Slow for a Mo walk comprises seven exercises designed to heighten your senses, such as slow breathing, embracing your inner child and finding beauty in the little things. Of course, beauty can also be found in big things – such as the iconic sites of Sydney – soak them up with Trip Slow, whose guided active walks combine nature, culture and history.
Take an outdoor dip: soak in these natural hot springs
There’s something ethereal about natural hot springs: ancient water bubbling up through the surface of the earth; their waters soothing muscles for centuries. Add the scenic backdrop of bushland, such as at Yarrangobilly Caves Thermal Pool in Kosciuszko National Park, and the tranquillity is entrancing. Fed by a natural spring, this swimming pool is heated to 27 degrees year-round, so even during the winter months you can sink into warm waters when the national park is peppered with snow. Meanwhile in the outback, you can take an evening dip in a mineral-rich freshwater bath at one of the Lightning Ridge Bore Baths. Derived from the Great Artesian Basin, the spring maintains a toasty temperature of 41.5 degrees, which is an inviting proposition on cold, star-filled desert nights. Lightning Ridge, a historic opal town, is a stop along the Great Artesian Drive, along with Moree, a heritage town boasting three hot springs filled with the same mineral-rich water. The state-of-the-art Artesian Aquatic Centre has indoor and outdoor pools plus a soon-to-open wellness centre with treatments from massages to acupuncture.
Get active with the locals: join a running or ocean swimming club
It’s no secret that exercise is an excellent remedy for stress, anxiety and depression, releasing endorphins and serotonin, improving your health, and helping you to think more clearly. Pair your fitness session with a natural backdrop for an even bigger mood boost. Fit in some mindful exercise with a sightseeing tour with Fit City Tours who offer walking, hiking or running tours around Manly, Watsons Bay, The Rocks and Sydney Harbour. If you want to live like an inner Sydney local, tack onto one of the running groups with Rejoov Runners in Centennial Park, held Tuesday and Thursday mornings. If you prefer to wake up to the feeling of salt and sun on your skin, try out their ocean swimming groups in Malabar on Friday and Sunday mornings (suitable for beginners) and Coogee on Wednesday and Friday mornings (for intermediate and advanced ocean swimmers). If you’re not Sydney-based or on your way there for your next holiday, this directory can point you to ocean swimming groups in other beachside locations around NSW.
Let the music heal you: zone out with sound therapy
Sound healing is a guided meditation experience that’s truly cathartic for some and the tune is catching on. Heart & Soul Yoga & Wellness Retreat bordering the hills of Sydney’s Royal National Park, is an immersive yogic program, with a healing centre offering more standard treatments like massages or more unorthodox ones like reiki and sound healing, the latter of which includes a consultation, chakra exploration, guided meditation and sound bath with quartz crystal singing bowls. The extensive spa menu at Gaia Retreat in Byron Bay also offers weekly sound healing classes but with indigenous and shamanic instruments. Or book the retreat’s Soul and Sound Healing experience as a one-on-one for a more personal and potentially transformative journey.