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Spa break destinations down-under (image: Pixabay) Spa break destinations down-under (image: Pixabay)

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Spa Break Destinations Down-Under

Spa break destinations down-under (image: Pixabay)

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Modern life can often feel a bit stressful. You’re running flat-out, trying to juggle your career, your friends, your family — it’s not often that you get to take a few moments out for yourself, just to relax and unwind, to decompress and get ready to get back in the game and do it all again.

A spa break vacation is the ideal way to slow down your pace of life, even if it’s just for the weekend. Whether you’re heading off solo for a bit of me-time, taking a partner for some romantic relaxation, or just hanging out with a friend or two — the idea of sitting in a spa pool, having a massage or a facial, and allowing yourself a little time to pause, reflect, and breathe is incredibly appealing.

If you’re in Australia or New Zealand, or planning an expedition or vacation in that direction, you might want to consider adding a few days of spa time into your itinerary — there are some fantastic spa-break destinations to consider in this part of the world.

Here are a few of my favourites.

The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs

  • The Lodge at Kauri Cliffs offers one of New Zealand’s best spa experiences.
  • The spa is nestled in a Totara forest, overlooking a fern-fringed stream. You’ll feel like you’ve immersed yourself in a different world, a different time.
  • You’ll find Kauri Cliffs almost at the northernmost tip of New Zealand’s north island, on Matauri Bay — not too far from the capital Auckland.
  • As well as the full range of treatments, the spa also offers a sauna, hot tub, heated indoor lap pool, and a fitness centre.

Hepburn Bathhouse & Spa, Hepburn Springs

  • Hepburn Springs is Australia’s original spa resort.
  • The original bathhouse opened in 1895 to enable visitors to the area to benefit from the healing properties of the Hepburn Mineral Springs Reserve.
  • Today this is a state of the art spa facility offering all the treatments you could imagine in impressive facilities.
  • Easily accessible from the southern city of Melbourne, Hepburn Springs is a popular weekend mini-break destination for locals.

One & Only Resort, Wolgan Valley

  • Nestled between the Wollemi National Park and the Gardens of Stone National Park in the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area, the One & Only Resort is located in a unique part of the world.
  • The resort includes a fully equipped spa complex that uses chemical-free products from Australian brand Sodashi.
  • Wolgan Valley is inland from the gate-way city of Sydney, leave the city lights behind you and immerse yourself in the unique surroundings of the Australian bush.

Empire Retreat and Spa, Yallingup

  • In the remote region of Margaret River in Western Australia, the Empire Retreat is an adults-only destination that epitomises rural luxury.
  • The spa includes bathing suites with large stone baths, a steam room, and rainforest shower suites. Packages are available for individuals or couples.
  • The town of Yallingup is part of the Margaret River Wine Region — one of Western Australia’s major tourist destinations. It takes 2.5 hours to drive from the state capital Perth to Margaret River.
  • As well as luxury accommodation such as the Empire Retreat, the Margaret River region offers some fantastic beaches, top restaurants, and of course some spectacular wines.

Waiwera, Auckland

  • Just 35 minutes from Auckland, on the Hibiscus Coast of New Zealand’s north island, the natural thermal pools of Waiwera offer opportunities for a full range of spa treatments, but they also have outdoor pools and hydro-slides.
  • This is Auckland’s most-visited water destination. They’ve even got a movie pool where you can watch a film with your friends while soaking in the thermal water.

Isn’t it time that you put yourself first? Isn’t it time that you prioritised feeling relaxed and refreshed? If you come back from your vacation feeling like you need a few days to recover, then you’re probably doing it wrong. Next time head for a spa-break destination, and ideally head down-under to Australia and New Zealand.

Read more from Gareth Johnson

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Sunday Surgery

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Photo by Jesper Aggergaard on Unsplash
Photo by Jesper Aggergaard on Unsplash

Are we living in a post-HIV world?
In recent years we’ve seen a seismic shift in the effectiveness of treatment for HIV, as well as the emergence of PrEP — medication that prevents you from acquiring HIV.

This combination of factors has contributed towards a dramatic change in the attitude of gay men towards HIV, health, and sex.

It’s been difficult for public health policy to keep up, but it’s also difficult for older gay men like me to get our heads around the changing landscape of sex.

Official reports indicate that AIDS has killed over 35 million people worldwide. It’s estimated that around the world there are currently over 37 million people living with HIV.

In June of 1981, when the beginnings of the HIV pandemic were first being identified, I was approaching my ninth birthday. Lucky I guess, too young to be impacted by the first devastating waves of the virus that killed so many young gay men.

As I was beginning to discover sex, the public health messages very strongly articulated that sex without a condom equalled death.

It’s a bit hard to describe how that constant fear of infection and death shapes your view and experience of sex. I guess I’ve got no way of knowing what things would have been like without that — I like to think that it might have been something like San Francisco in the 70s, or a long, lust-filled summer on Fire Island.

I survived. I was careful. I was lucky.

It wasn’t until I saw the 2003 documentary The Gift that I became aware of the fetishisation of HIV, and a growing movement of men who embraced the risk and health consequences of fucking without condoms, of letting guys cum in you, the thrill of raw, or ‘bareback’ sex between men. It was an uninhibited hedonism best captured by the porn of Paul Morris and Treasure Island Media.

It’s easy to judge and disapprove of risk-taking behaviour, but there was something incredibly compelling about this type of no-holds-barred sex — no fear, no care for consequences.

The improvements in medication and the emergence of PrEP have now made bareback sex the norm. Not only in porn — where it’s now highly unusual to see anyone using a condom — but also in everyday life.

Health professionals sensibly remind us that condoms are still worth wearing as they protect us from a whole range of sexually transmitted infections, not just HIV, but the reality is that for many men sex is better when you don’t have to wear a condom.

For me, it’s a bit of a mind-trip that testing positive for HIV is no longer a death-sentence, that you can have sex without a condom and not worry if one of you might have the virus. That you can have no-holds-barred sex, with no fear, and no care for consequences.

It’s fantastic that today’s young gay guys, who are just beginning to discover and explore sex, don’t have to worry about HIV. Obviously they need to learn about it, they need to have access to PrEP, and they need to understand the full gamut of sexual health, but it’s just part of life.

Let’s not forget our history, let’s not forget the people we’ve lost, but let’s be thankful that young guys today are growing up in a world that’s something a bit like San Francisco in the 70s, or a long, lust-filled summer on Fire Island.

We may now be living in a post-HIV world.

Read more from Gareth Johnson

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