Down by the Billabong
Immersive oasis Billabong Retreat offers eco-minded luxury in a stunning bushland setting. Just outside Sydney, it’s the perfect escape to reset and revitalise.
Alliance Magazine - Aug/Sept 2019
Words: Sarah Hinder
I drive north, away from the mad dash of a Sydney Monday morning. As the cars thin to a drizzle and my route becomes one winding, single-lane road through paddocks of hay-chewing cows and trotting horses, the weekday hubbub fades away. I’m on my way
to a secluded retreat designed to immerse guests in nature.
Not long after the road plunges into unperturbed bushland, I spot a humble wooden sign that reads ‘Billabong’. Turning into the driveway, I see welcoming log cabin-like buildings with smoke rising from the chimneys. A woman in chef’s garments smiles at me as she carries a carton of vegetables across the yard. At reception, I’m greeted by the lovely Jess. Full of energy, she takes me on a tour around the grounds, from the treetop yoga room and the cosy dining hall to my deluxe cabin lodgings, all the while explaining a little history of the retreat and just how everything works.
Surrounded by trees, shrubs and ferns, the eco-cabins are set upon stilts on a rocky outcrop, blending almost seamlessly into the bushy landscape. From their efforts to build the retreat infrastructure to fit in with the surrounding environment, to the rainwater tanks and gas cylinders fitted to each individual cabin, owners Paul and Tory von Bergen successfully realised their vision of establishing a fully certified eco-retreat.
Stepping into my cabin, I draw breath. Key still in hand, I skip across the timber-floored room straight to glass double-doors, which throw wide open onto views of twisting and towering gum trees. Down below the tree line stretches the gorgeous rippling billabong – certainly the largest and most full of life that I’ve ever seen. The sounds of whipbirds, bellbirds, rosellas and other natives fill the trees (it’s certainly not all magpies and mynas here), only to be briefly interrupted as a flock of noisy geese cut across the water. A freestanding bathtub stands to one side of the covered balcony, while table and chairs – a perfect reading nook – rest in the other. Hold that thought.
I unpack my belongings into a beautiful mahogany-coloured wooden chest, throw on an extra layer and head straight down the ‘tough’ rocky track to the billabong (there’s also the option of a more level round track). I keep an eye out for wallabies, monitor lizards, blue-tongues, possums and other resident locals while the leaves above hum with birdsong. Reaching the water’s edge, shrouded by waterlilies and reeds, I slowly pad my way down the light path that sidles unobtrusively along the shore of the billabong. A few ducks glide across the water, while I spot the geese making nests on the far side.
Returning to my cabin, I spend some time relaxing on the balcony with a good book and a cup of tea, simply taking in the serenity. Next up is yoga at sunset. Stepping into the pleasantly warm yoga room with mats and blankets awaiting, I make my way over to a vacant spot and take in the expansive studio, facing a floor-to-ceiling wall of windows. Now, in the very treetops, the upper branches of the giant gums sway gently behind the glass as Kirsty, our yoga and meditation teacher, quietly speaks with each of us to understand our experience and comfort level. We practice Yin yoga, a meditative and slower-paced style, where poses are held for longer periods and deep relaxation is the aim of the game. My favourite part: we finish off with a full 20 minutes of guided meditation as an orange sky melts away behind the trees. Naturally. There’s no need to rush here.
Later that night we each slowly drift towards the dining room from our scattered cabins. I now can’t help but find myself surprised there’s even a dozen people here. From the undisturbed silence, one could be forgiven for assuming they’re the only person for miles. We sit down together along homely long wooden tables. The room warmed by a welcome gas heater, we calmly chat and learn a little about each other while enticing smells drift in from the adjoining kitchen. Just before we eat, our chef Tash joins us to say a few words about what’s motivated her to cook tonight’s healthy wholefood dinner. I head to bed full and satisfied, listening to the sound of an easy silence, dissolved only by the occasional hoot of a nearby owl.
I wake well rested and head straight up to the yoga studio for the early morning practice as the sun rises. Then, unable to resist, spend the rest of my stay soaking up the view over my beautiful balcony. As I head back to the carpark, well wished by sunny receptionist Jess, I hear the sounds of laughter and bright chatter drifting from the nearby kitchen window. Through the bushland and back onto the road, I drive away feeling elated. Reset and revitalised.
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