Away from it all
The peaceful gardens and gazebo at Solar Springs Health Retreat at Bundanoon. Photo: Supplied
When I was 15 my parents sent me to fat camp for six months. Or at least, that's what I like to tell them. It was actually a country boarding school with no television, a diet program, an exercise program, no lollies and no weekends. All right, there were weekends, but they were spent on compulsory hiking and camping excursions in the Victorian alpine region.
Like I said - fat camp.
I put on a lot of muscle at that boarding school. A friend kindly described my body shape as a ''tank'' by the end of the semester.
Fast forward by about 15 more years and I am a coffee-guzzling, fast food-eating, sugar-consuming, long-hours-working machine.
My body shape is nothing like the tank I once was and the last time I spent time in the actual bush was - you guessed it - not since my adventures at fat camp.
So when I was offered the opportunity to go to Solar Springs Health Retreat at Bundanoon my eyes actually watered. Get out of the office and into the pristine-looking pool and spa in the promotional pictures? I couldn't nod my head in agreement fast enough. There were facials and massages and body treatments there, I was told. My devotion to beauty products is a little bit on the obsessive side, so I was already packing my bags.
A quick look at the Solar Springs website revealed words I'd seen before, though; no televisions in the rooms, mobile phones to be turned off in common areas, healthy meals, activities.
Memories of boarding school came flooding back, but still I wasn't going to let this slip through my fingers. I was going and I was taking my husband with me. The idea of him being forced to leave his laptop behind (I told him they were banned - not strictly true, but hey, if I'm giving up TV …) filled me with a mildly sadistic delight.
So, like a true creature of habit, the night before we were supposed to leave I went straight to Maccas for the largest meal deal they would sell me. On the way to Solar Springs, I insisted on drive-through takeaway.
I used to do this on the way to boarding school after term breaks.
When we arrived at the gates and manicured gardens of Solar Springs I was full of it: sugar, carbs, fats, caffeine. All in enormous measure. I was slightly disgusted with myself; I don't usually turbo-charge on junk food as an adult.
We arrived about 30 minutes before dinner. We were late - we should have been there in time for lunch, but I had to finish off some work for the office before we could leave Canberra, so there we were, overtired, full of sugar, at health camp.
They were a forgiving bunch at Solar Springs. There was no guilt trip and we were handed the keys to our room overlooking the picturesque gardens and gazebo.
When we got to the dining room, I realised I may have misunderstood. There was a wine list on the table and dessert was on the menu. Dinner was unashamedly healthy, however: a roast vegetable and caramelised red onion tartlet for entree, baked salmon and spinach risotto cake on cherry tomato salsa for the main meal. Bread-and-butter pudding rounded out dessert.
This wasn't going to be so hard after all, I told myself. My friends - sugar and alcohol - were there at Solar Springs; I wasn't abandoned by my vices altogether.
However, the bread-and-butter pudding tasted suspiciously healthy - as though there was little sugar in it. I tried to palm it off to my husband but he wasn't buying it; one serve was enough for him, he told me.
Solar Springs had planned an easy way to burn off the calories after dinner: there was a 90-minute glow-worm glen walk at 8pm for those who cared to stretch their legs.
The trip down to the glen was dark but aided by torchlight and peppered with interesting facts from our friendly guide Karen. When we got to the bottom, the glen was lit up like a giant cruise ship at night, the effect of hundreds of glow-worms arranging themselves on rock faces.
The walk left me sleepy and it was easy to fall into the soft bed at Solar Springs, without the usual hour or so of television. I slept more deeply than usual and didn't wake up during the night like I normally did at home.
The next day I was left pondering if that was due to the exercise, the relaxation tea I helped myself to in the communal lounge room before bed, or just because it was so much darker at Solar Springs than in my own bedroom with the street light right outside my window. I felt so good, I actually got up in time for the 7.15am stretching and strengthening class the next morning with my husband.
A buffet-style breakfast was served in the dining room at 8am. There was a good selection of hot and cold foods and I immediately started looking for the hash browns. They weren't there; neither were the hotel-style pastries I was accustomed to scooping onto my plate.
''No sausages - oh right, it's the whole health camp thing,'' observed my husband, as he peered hopefully into the hot trays. There was coffee though. Thank goodness.
After breakfast we headed out with Karen again, this time for a two-hour bushwalk. By the time we got back, I was hanging out for lunch, which turned out to be a very healthy version of nachos and a very wide selection of salads.
By mid-afternoon, I'd cracked. I was craving sugar so badly that I seriously contemplated eating one of the single-serve packets of honey I had seen in the lounge room hanging out with the teas. But eating condiments on their own was a bit more desperate than I wanted to let on, so I narrowly held out until dinner - then swiped my husband's dessert so I could have two of them. He decided to let that happen because he has never liked apple tart.
Still, I wasn't done. I couldn't cope with the healthiness of it all, so we headed down the road to the shops where I bought a chocolate bar and we shared it. We didn't entirely fall off the wagon: the next day we got up early again to try out the well-equipped gym, use the tennis courts and try our luck at archery. I worked all of this in around a relaxation facial, which did great things for my skin and took my mind off my desire for fats and sugars for a full hour.
On our final day at Solar Springs, I tried a full body wrap, designed to eliminate toxins from my body. After much scrubbing and wrapping, my skin felt softer and more moisturised than ever before.
I was warned to drink lots of water after the wrap so as to avoid a ''headachy feeling''. Unfortunately, I am a headachy kind of person, so I got one. I decided I wanted some of my toxins back.
My husband had been reading a book throughout the weekend and he updated me on the highlights each time I came out from one of the beauty treatments. The hero and heroine in the book were faring well. Without the television on we ended up doing more together as a couple and talking to each other more. The long weekend felt a lot more like a full week because we fitted more into it.
It wasn't necessarily a case of ''healthily ever after'', though: we stopped at the Bundanoon market on the way home and I bought three bags of home-made chocolates for the car ride.
But hey … you are who you are. At least I'm not a tank any more.
■ Solar Springs is offering an Awesome Autumn deal of two nights' mid-week accommodation, all meals, a full-body Swedish massage and a ''solar radiance facial'' with a relaxing shoulder, head and face massage plus activities such as guided bushwalks, health talks and fitness, yoga and meditation classes. The deal is available from $1100 per couple, $600 per person if sharing with a friend in a twin bed room and $615 for single guests. Longer packages are also available.
■ Julieanne Strachan was a guest of Solar Springs Health Retreat