Judging by some of Australia's best-known exports -- "The Crocodile Hunter," Russell Crowe, Foster's Lager -- one might reasonably conclude that the place is a living paean to testosterone. One need only visit to be proven wrong. While the Y chromosome is hardly endangered there, the country's soft side is in ample evidence: The spa scene is positively thriving, and given the Aussie national mantra ("No worries!"), the tranquility boom makes perfect sense. Rather than yield a thousand McSpas, however, the trend seems to favor distinctive, eco-minded, holistic retreats -- thanks, perhaps, to a countrywide surplus of natural beauty and open space, and an emerging respect for once-dismissed Aboriginal wisdom. Of course, the definitive Aussie spa guide would be more a treatise than a column, so what follows here -- a parabola of pampering, as geography would have it -- is merely an introduction. But oh, what an introduction.
Bay of Fires Lodge, Launceston, Tasmania
If you want to get as far away as possible but don't have personal ties to NASA, the Bay of Fires is ideal. Located on the island-state of Tasmania, land of the namesake devils and all other things wild, the lodge is the very embodiment of otherworldliness. Just getting there is an experience and requires a two-day beach hike that makes even jaded travelers giddy. The water -- a Bulgari-worthy blend of aquamarine and sapphire -- serves as a backdrop to bright orange boulders, stark white shells, and perfectly placed dunes. Bonus sightings include showy whales, beached shark eggs, and ridiculously cute wallabies. Though plenty of fine food is provided en route, your constant slack-jawed state is hardly conducive to eating.
Eventually, you arrive at an eco-luxe lodge. And we do mean eco-luxe: you'll find celebrity-chef-trained cooks and House of Windsorâ€“caliber High Tea under the same roof as compost toilets and pump-'em-yourself showers. More Zen retreat than official spa, the lodge offers a meditation room, palpable calm, and the sunset to end all sunsets. Also available: kayaking, swimming, and late-night sessions of the Charades-like game "Articulate."
Additional info: bayoffires.com.au
Daintree Eco Lodge & Spa, Daintree, Queensland
The world's oldest living rain forest, Daintree has been around for more than 135 million years -- but only in the past 10 has it boasted a Director of Tranquility. Also known as the lodge's spa manager, she'll help you navigate the menu's offerings, many of which are Aboriginally inspired, as is Li'Tya, the product line of choice. Instead of the standard-issue head massage, for example, there's the Milkanga Kaday (Come Back to the Mind), a showcase for the shine-enhancing, scalp-soothing quandong berry and worthwhile for the scent alone.
Not that Daintree's Aboriginal experiences are restricted to spa treatments. The three-day, off-campus Aboriginal Expedition takes you to the Nugal-Wara rock art sites, the historic Cooktown settlement, and several other places of Aboriginal import. Should you not want to abandon your amenity-laden treehouse of a villa for the expedition's rugged dune encampment, you have plenty of lodge-based Aboriginal options: interpretive walks, spear-fishing lessons, art and storytelling workshops, and more.
Additional info: daintree-ecolodge.com.au
Voyages Brampton Island, The Whitsundays, Queensland
Brampton Island, a sleepy, 12-beach outpost -- the majority of which consists of protected national park -- has a single tenant: the eponymous resort and its attendant Sodashi Sea Spa. And while the treatments are great (the exfoliating and detoxifying Aqua Marine Wrap feels particularly effective), the setting alone is a stress reducer of the highest order.
The surrounding water -- one big turquoise invitation -- can barely conceal the spectacle therein. Strange and assorted rays are visible from the shore, and if you swim out a few feet to "the fishbowl," you'll find a color-saturated snorkeling scene that would make Peter Max call for restraint. Land and sky offer live entertainment, too: Indecisive, rainbow-colored lorikeets busily weigh the merits of every palm frond; kangaroos patrol the golf course; and bats take to the night sky en masse. But arguably the best local display is the crowded colony of papery, peeling, ancient melaleuca trees on neighboring Carlisle Island. The "Enchanted Forest Walk" promised there seems to be quite an understatement once you arrive.
Additional info: voyages.com.au; sodashi.com; brampton-island.com
Pinnacles Resort & Spa, Airlie Beach, Queensland
Though it's populated equally by backpackers, latter-day hippies, and families that seem to have missed the turnoff to Disney World, the town of Airlie Beach somehow avoids disjointedness -- and instead oozes charm. Above the village, your perch at the aptly named Pinnacles Resort (a satisfyingly quad-killing trek from the center of town) reveals only green hills, blue bays, and the perfect sprinkling of yachts. You can check any lingering sense of reality at the door of the resident Endota Spa. The billabong footbath is the standard greeting, and its combination of steamy water, essential oils, and gentle touch form a three-part mental "off " switch.
If you do manage to retain any stress, you'll finish it off during your inevitable trip to the Great Barrier Reef -- especially if you take the new Cruise Whitsundays catamaran. In addition to the staff marine biologist and dive instructors, there's a gifted massage therapist who works on deck (and who books up pretty quickly). Once you arrive at the appointed section of the reef, any apprehension about jumping in will be rightfully gone. There, amid Technicolor dream coral and its innumerable denizens, you'll find not only Nemo (check inside the anemones) but also a local fish called the maori wrasse, a gentle -- if mixed-up-looking -- giant.
Additional info: pinnaclesresort.com; endota.com.au; cruisewhitsundays.com
Moondance Lodge, Margaret River, Western Australia
A lodge that was designed only after the local Aboriginal elder stateswoman gave the owners her blessing -- and her personal map of the property's energy fields -- Moondance clearly places a premium on the spiritual. Little wonder, then, that Brugh Joy, M.D. -- of Heart Centered Transformation fame -- is a frequent retreat-leader-in-residence. Of course, plenty of the permanent offerings -- from the Didgeridoo Meditation to the seaside morning yoga -- are also aimed squarely at the soul. Meanwhile, the body hardly suffers, thanks to exhilarating dune runs at the beach; fresh, organic fare at the restaurant; and transcendental massage in the coziest imaginable treatment room.
Lest the above paint too New Agey a picture, however, consider that Moondance is actually a five-star luxury retreat that caters as much to type A execs as to veteran spiritual seekers. The property's 33 acres of garden, orchards, and famed Western Australia bush are served up with high-speed Internet access, DVD players, and flatscreen TVs. And the lodge's location -- it lies smack in the middle of the famed Margaret River wine region -- doesn't hurt either.
Additional info: moondancelodge.com
Merribrook Retreat, Margaret River, Western Australia
Just down the road from Moondance is Merribrook, another beautiful, nature-engulfed retreat. There you'll find plenty of compelling reasons to stay on campus: the fresh-baked scone scent that wafts from the kitchen, say, or the sound and feel of the bush-rustling breezes that graze your back during an open-air massage. But Merribrook Adventure's eco-excursions and multi-day treks are equally tempting. The half-day rappelling and rock-climbing excursion -- suitable even for beginners -- will probably yield some of the most dramatic photos of your life. Think: you, leaning back off the top of a 110-foot cliff with crashing waves and surfing dolphins in the background. The Cape to Cape Walk, which goes from the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse to the Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse, is a much bigger time commitment (six days, generally) but is said by all to be worth every minute.
Additional info: merribrook.com.au
Getting there Many airlines, including United, Hawaiian Airlines, and Air New Zealand, offer flights from the U.S. But with 46 U.S. to Australia flights per week, Qantas is your best bet. Go to qantas.com for more information.
For additional info go to Australia's official tourism Web site, australia.com.
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