The first communal meal at Pumphouse Point’s inaugural wellness retreat is winding up. It’s early spring at Lake St Clair in the remote Tasmanian highlands. A few hours earlier we’d watched the sun glaze still waters and slip behind snow-capped mountains. But with nightfall the wind has quickened and is whistling across Australia’s deepest, darkest lake.
For the past few years, Pumphouse Point general manager Priya Tahere has been dreaming of, and scheming for, this three-night boutique getaway in the majestic western ranges. If she’s disappointed with the weather forecast, she keeps it to herself. “Rain tomorrow,” she explains, her expression sunny even if the prospects are not. “More the next day. Strong winds. And snow.”
When one of the group pipes up, “I’ve been looking forward to some wild Tasmanian weather!” Tahere can barely disguise her relief.
Wellness means different things to different people, she explains. To some it might involve a frigid plunge in the lake, a session of restorative yoga, a bike ride, bushwalk, or the “moving meditation” of Qi Gong; to others it might be unaccustomed solitude with a book, or watching wild weather, glass in hand, beside a blazing fire. We are given permission – and this is a great relief – to pursue our own ideas of rejuvenation.
Connection to nature is at the core of wellness, no matter how you define it.
“This is an opportunity to be supported by nature while focusing on the self,” says Tahere, who has an extensive background in the wellness industry. “It’s about stripping back the things we don’t need and clearing the mind of clutter to build on a connection with self and with others.”
Anyone craving a juicy T-bone will have to wait. The menu free-ranges from vegan to pescatarian – flavoursome yet light. That’s deliberate, says Tahere. With a session of gentle yoga scheduled an hour after dinner, spice levels and richness have been dialled down.
I re-cork a bottle of shiraz chosen from the honesty bar and head to the class – my first BYO yoga. An hour later I’m making a lakeside dash beneath an umbrella bullied by the crisp wind. At the end of a 250-metre jetty, the Pumphouse is a splendid piece of 1930s art deco industrial design with cosy rooms and a lounge warmed by a roaring fire.
When I wake at six, for a morning “breath work” class, snow flurries whip across the lake and fall – gentle as a mantra – on Pumphouse’s new glass and wood-lined “pod”, built for classes such as this.
“Connection to nature is at the core of wellness, no matter how you define it,” says Tahere later, while leading a “forest bathing” session by the lake. The Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku, or “taking in the forest atmosphere”, is simple and surprisingly effective, an invitation to experience the elements slowly, silently and through all the senses, rather than just plodding through the landscape. In the silence, we hear water lapping the shore, feel the roughness of bark and the velvety cushion of moss. Suddenly, every element – every tree, every rock – takes on fresh importance. It’s like seeing a forest for the first time.
I confess to a touch of apprehension about Franke’s sessions. I’ve come to the lake country for the uplifting scenery, hoping to leave with a few tools to pursue mindfulness, rather than my typical evenings of winefulness. But I haven’t counted on a session with a therapist.
Franke turns out to be a delight. By turns wise and funny, she introduces the concept of mindfulness with the benefit of 30 years of experience as a psychotherapist. “Old-dog wisdom,” she calls it. This spirit of intent, of mindfulness, sits at the heart of contemporary ideas about living well and wellness, and it’s the common thread throughout our retreat. But mindfulness, as she explains, is never disconnected from the body – or at least the senses. She admits to a hang-up about body fat – baggage from a difficult childhood. “This is a neurotic body type,” she says, gesturing at her slender frame.
Next, in a splendid piece of psychotherapeutic burlesque, she asks for an audience member to come forward and follows her around the room berating her for her appearance, her insecurity, her weaknesses, in imitation of the needling, cantankerous superego. The group is in stitches. “We are,” she concludes, “hardest on ourselves.”
This is all done lightly, with a storyteller’s panache, and a satisfying mix of gravity and levity. Along the way, Franke talks of the pure joy she experiences when she takes the hand of her granddaughter. We can all “create joy”, she insists.
With the weather darkening – the landscape is at least 50 shades of grey – I return to the Pumphouse after lunch to find most of the guests gathered around the fire, glasses beside them, overlooking the lake. Friendship is one of the unexpected pleasures of the retreat. Some guests have come in couples or small cliques, some as singles, and thanks to the communal dining tables, new alliances form over every meal. I meet a woman beside the fire with a book about the future of democracy.
“Does it have a future?” I ask. “I certainly hope so,” she smiles. And we trade views, beside the cold grey lake and the snow drifts on the uplands, about one of the world’s most pressing problems.
But not for long. I have a therapeutic massage scheduled mid-afternoon with Sophie Hanley, a Hobart-based nutritionist and massage therapist. Delivering a talk on gut health earlier in the day, Hanley had explained that the catchphrase “you are what you eat” should be rephrased as “you are what you digest”. It occurs to me, too, that touch is its own kind of therapy, and vital to well-being.
Our last session is with Franke, and she talks again about the burdens we place on ourselves, and on others, illustrating her point peripatetically. As she strolls around the room, she picks up half a dozen bags, hoiking them over her shoulders until she is as burdened with baggage as a packhorse. In a touching final moment she asks us all to befriend the child within – the child who had perhaps been formed in less-than-ideal circumstances. “Close your eyes and imagine you are meeting your younger self,” she says. “You take the hand of that child, and befriend it.”
I open my eyes just as the sun bursts brightly from the clouds. The lawn glows tennis-ball green, the lake glitters like mica and the crags glow softly in the distance. An hour later, when we come to leave, the bad weather has returned and confetti-like flurries pursue us from Pumphouse Point into a strange world where the air smells of chilled eucalyptus and the ice blue lakes are bordered by fresh snow.
Need to Know
Pumphouse Point will hold a “week of wellness” this summer comprising a three-night weekend retreat from February 25 to 28, followed by a four-day one from February 28 to March 4, as part of a schedule of four seasonal retreats throughout next year.
The lead-in rate is $3581.00 a person, all-inclusive, for the three-night February wellness retreat, staying in a Shorehouse Waterview room.