As I drive south from Cairns down the Bruce Highway, with the tropical escarpment to the right and surrounded by cane fields, I am happy and I begin the inner journey to revitalisation, to a better version of me, someone who is relaxed and leading a life in balance. Even the name of the highway makes me smile – Bruce – it’s so Australian. I stop at a roadside stall to buy delicious tropical fruits – red papaya and bananas straight from the plantations and revel in the heat and the humidity.

I’m on my way to Sanctuary, an Eco resort 5km north of Mission Beach, set high on the hill in tropical rainforest. I have retreated here every year since 2004 and it feels like a second home now, a place of healing and relaxation, where I can regenerate. As I crest the hill at Brooks Beach and the panoramic ocean view opens up before me, it takes my breath away, as it always does.

Sunset at Sanctuary Retreat
Sunset at Sanctuary Retreat

On arrival, access from the car park up to the resort high on the hill, is usually by the resort’s four wheel drive ‘troop carrier’, but I choose to leave my luggage in the car park for pick up and walk up the steep 600m path through the rainforest. This will be the first of many walks ‘up the hill’ during my stay. The forest envelops me in green tropical silence, broken only by the scratching of scrub hens. If I am lucky today I will see a Cassowary. These ancient, flightless birds are almost extinct, but are a regular feature at Sanctuary. Proceed with caution, Cassowaries are large, wild animals and are unpredictable!

Facilities

The resort has a bar and restaurant with several communal dining and sitting areas, a massive balcony overlooking the sea, a self-catering kitchen and even hammocks to while away an hour (or two!) swinging and daydreaming. Accommodation consists of compact eco cabins with ensuite bathroom and small balcony, but I am choosing to stay in one of the rainforest huts. Perched on tall wooden legs and accessed by boardwalks, the huts provide the full experience of being in the rainforest. My favourite pastime is being curled up in bed with a good book during a tropical storm, with rain hammering down on the canvas roof. The huts are comfortable, but basic, and this assists in the stripping back of the layers of a complicated life, back to the fundamentals.

There are extremes of weather here and Sanctuary has been heartbreakingly destroyed by cyclones twice in the last decade. Both times it has been lovingly rebuilt and restored with very little alteration. The rainforest takes longer to recover and regenerate, but is now back to its full splendor and new guests are amazed when they see the photos of Cyclone Larry and Cyclone Yasi’s destruction.

Yoga Retreat

I am staying for ten days and incorporating a three-day yoga retreat. Sanctuary offers a huge variety of yoga retreats hosted by guest yoga teachers from around the country. The yoga room is a bubble of calm within the bubble that is Sanctuary. It is perched in the treetops, accessed down a steep path and is a sanctuary within a sanctuary. It is fully equipped and can be used by any guest outside class times.

Yoga room at Sanctuary Retreat
Yoga room at Sanctuary Retreat

I slip into my familiar routine – yoga, beach time, swimming in the pool, walks, reading, meditation, contemplation, daydreaming, and massage. Each practice unwinds me further until the tension is gone, my worries are far, far away and I am at peace. When I am ready to leave the bubble on the hill that is Sanctuary, I will drive the 5km into Mission Beach and explore the cafes and boutique stores, the Sunday market, take a walk along the main beach and catch up with the many local friends that I have made over the years that I have been visiting. The resort does several trips into town each week and guests without vehicles can hitch a lift in the troopie.

After a few days the yoga retreat begins and I am ready for a more structured day and to connect with others; morning practice, breakfast, free time for the beach or the hammock, afternoon practice, group dinner and an early night. The group gels quickly and I always find like-minded people, with a love for yoga and nature, that become instant friends.

(Digital) Detox Optional

Food. Oh my goodness the food here is divine! Hazel the chef is the epitome of preparing food with love. Every meal is a delight (and the snacks and juices in between!). There are plenty of vegetarian and vegan options and solo travellers are welcome to join the Sanctuary team for ‘staff dinner’ if they don’t want to dine alone. A highlight of my stay is the Indian feast on the last night of the yoga retreat, a wonderful array of dishes and all special diets are painstakingly catered for.

With a full bar and coffee service you will be relying on your own willpower if you wish to undertake a cleanse during your stay! There is mobile phone service, although coverage is patchy if you are not with one of the two main providers and there is free WiFi. Sanctuary is a quiet place and guests always seem to respect others’ privacy and need for peace and quiet without the need for rules about the use of devices.

Three days later and I wave goodbye to my new friends as they are ferried back down the hill in the troopie following the breakfast buffet on the last morning of the yoga retreat. It’s good to be back in a more introverted space for the final days of my stay, to luxuriate in the freedom of every minute of the day being my own, to do with as I wish. This to me is true luxury! I swim, sunbathe, read and meditate on the beach. I wander down to the yoga room for solo practice. I have a final massage to iron out the last of the tense, knotted muscles. I sit on the ‘sunset bench’ and watch the sun go down behind the range in a firestorm of colour. I watch the full moon rise above the ocean from the long house balcony, creating a ‘stairway to heaven’.

Sanctuary is a very special place; somewhere to connect with nature and reconnect with yourself, somewhere to make new friends, or spend time alone; somewhere to recoup your health and wellbeing; somewhere to call a second home, because once hooked, you will keep returning …

Jo Begbie is a business consultant who specialises in supporting heart-centered businesses. You can can find her on LinkedIn.

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