Set amongst the beautiful surrounds of the Kimberley coast is a retreat that inspires tranquillity and life affirmation.
I could well be in the prettiest yoga studio in Australia. It could also be the most remote. In front of me are vibrant colours of the Kimberley landscape and beyond that, the Indian Ocean. Our closest neighbours are 120kms away, in the town of Broome, which itself is one of the most remote places in Australia. As I settle into Vrksasana (Tree Pose), I watch in awe as nature paints its full palette of colours–the rocky coastline of reds and pinks, sands that shift from gold to yellow-white and a sea that changes from duck-egg blue to aquamarine and sapphire. It’s hard to keep my eyes focused on just one point with a view like this.
Located in Cape Villaret, in the northwest corner of Western Australia, Eco Beach Wilderness Retreat is the creation of business partners Karl Plunkett and Natalie Kimpton. Plunkett discovered Cape Villaret on a fishing trip in 1994 and fell in love with the place; two years later, the original Eco Beach opened after overcoming the many challenges of remote area development. By 1999, the retreat had attracted numerous tourism awards and was attracting thousands of visitors every year. Then in 2000, a devastating tropical cyclone destroyed almost all of the accommodation.
As testimony to Plunkett’s entrepreneurial spirit and unbreakable passion for the place, he did it all over again, and in 2008 Eco Beach Wilderness Retreat reopened. “It was the realisation of my dream to create a remote, isolated hideaway in harmony with the natural environment,” Plunkett explains.
The result is a wilderness retreat that is authentic, sustainable and intimate. It feels like a personal invitation to experience a part of the Kimberley region by people who know it intimately. And as a long-time yoga student, Plunkett knew that yoga would be the perfect ingredient to help guests relax, unwind and prepare themselves for experiencing this uniquely Australian landscape.
Choose Your Own Adventure
All of Eco Beach’s accommodation is built to show off the landscape, but there are degrees of luxury to be had. At the upper end of the price scale, solar-powered eco-villas offer air-conditioned comfort and ample living space with lounge rooms and decks, many with stunning ocean and beach views. At the cheaper end of the scale, eco-tents offer a unique experience that is a hit with the kids and grown-ups alike. This is camping with all the comforts of a good hotel–big bed and ensuite bathroom, but the added bonus of being a little bit more at one with nature.
In both the villas and tents, however, TV and telephones have been abandoned to encourage guests to focus on mother nature–and she is definitely at her most dramatic here, with pristine beaches, colour-soaked sunsets and visitors that include nesting flatback turtles and migratory birds from as far away as Siberia.
Every morning the activities blackboard offers a menu of things to do, ranging from fishing for barramundi to beach, bush and cliff walking, guided indigenous tours, whale and turtle watching (in season), kayak safaris, stand-up paddle boarding, sailing and snorkelling.
The one activity that doesn’t change, however, is the daily ritual of morning yoga, held in the Dragonfly Sanctuary with the previously mentioned gorgeous views. Eco Beach generally has two yoga teachers on staff at any one time. My main teacher during my stay was Peter Day, a vinyasa and Iyengar influenced teacher who doubles as an eco-guide at the retreat. “Yoga in the morning prepares people to engage with nature during the rest of the day,” says Day.
Day’s classes are gentle and accommodating to the vast range of experience in the room, which included four-year old munchkins in the front row and stiff businessmen hiding in the back corner. I’m nursing a knee injury, so am happy with the back-to-basics approach. It reminds me how rewarding it is to be gentle with my body and not constantly challenge myself. For those yogis who do want a more intense yoga experience, Eco Beach offers retreats throughout the year hosted by teachers including Jessie Chapman from Radiance Retreats in Byron Bay and Dik Mayhew from Broome Yoga School.
Beauty and the Beach
Off the mat, the isolation and stillness of Eco Beach’s location makes it the perfect place for contemplation. There’s a “meditation cave” located at one end of the beach for some serious reflection, but peace of mind can also be found by lounging by the pool doing absolutely nothing.
Yoga in the morning prepares people to engage with nature during the rest of the day.
If you’re in the mood for some pampering, the retreat offers massage treatments including Thai, Swedish, Huna, remedial, reflexology and lymphatic drainage. My favourite treatment, however, is self-inflicted, something my massage therapist explains to me as the “Scrub, Mud and Fun”. I head to the beach, exfoliate with sand before lathering myself in smelly, mineral-rich mud from nearby Jack’s Creek. Then I lie in the sun until the mud dries, jump in the sea to wash it off and marvel at how soft skin can be.
The other big indulgence is the food. Executive chef Kenneth Clapham dishes up a menu that showcases fresh organic produce and local seafood, including Cone Bay barramundi, prawns and threadfin salmon. His barramundi with Asian-style pawpaw chutney is a particular highlight. Meals at Eco Beach are a combination of buffet and à la carte options: breakfasts are buffet, lunch and dinner are à la carte and there’s a twice-weekly barbecue dinner buffet.
Fuelled by the constant challenge to source fresh produce, Clapham took the initiative to create organic gardens onsite, and they’ve become a highlight of the retreat’s eco-ethos. The gardens are currently yielding 30 to 40 per cent of the produce Kenneth needs to feed his hungry guests, but he’s aiming for that figure to be 80 per cent. The pumpkin, tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, lettuce, rocket, Asian greens and herbs that are enjoyed by guests on a nightly basis are all grown on site, while any vegetable scraps go to compost via the well-fed chooks who produce some of the resort’s eggs.
It’s been a labour of love, and at Kenneth’s admission is still somewhat of a trial-by-error project. “It can reach 38 degrees in the shade here and everything—from people to plants—have got to be tough to survive,” he says.
In a place like this, you feel more like a guest than simply a visitor. Maybe it’s because you are their only real contact with the outside world—the staff take a special interest in guests and share tales of those they’ve met before.
I hear stories of people turning up disillusioned with their work leaving with plans for a new career; or how, over the course of their stay, families become families again. I believe them all. It’s not hard to–after all, Eco Beach is a place that itself admits that it is not perfect yet, and invites you to be part of their constantly evolving vision.
Kris McIntyre is the host of Yoga TV. She teaches Ryoho Yoga in Sydney and runs retreats around Australia (www.krismcintyre.com). Kris travelled as a guest of Eco Beach.
Yoga in Broome
Broome is a two-and-a-half hour flight north of Perth. With its fame and fortune built on the pearling industry of bygone years, these days it’s a mecca for travellers seeking a top-end Australian adventure. It’s packed full of eclectic characters, Aboriginal art galleries, adventure tours to the Kimberley, heli-fishing trips for barramundi and pearls, pearls, pearls. It’s also a treat for yoga lovers with Iyengar yoga classes on offer at Broome Yoga School (www.broomeyogaschool.net) and hatha yoga classes at The Loft (12 Frederick Street) and Buddha Sanctuary at Cable Beach Club
Eco Beach Wilderness Retreat is a 90-minute drive south of Broome. Rates range from $165-$270 per night in an Eco Tent and $250-$780 per night in an Eco Villa. Price includes daily yoga and some activities. Meals and some activities are charged separately. Yoga retreats at Eco Beach are held regularly, with one coming up in July. Phone (08) 9193 8015 or visit www.ecobeach.com.au
When to go
High season is from June to November when the weather is generally cooler and accommodation rates are higher. The retreat is closed during the wet season (January 10–April 1).
Eco Beach Wilderness Retreat is accessible by car via the Great Northern Highway but you don’t need wheels once you arrive, so it’s best to opt for one of the transfer options from Broome: either a shuttle bus ($30 per person), private 4WD ($200 per vehicle) or catamaran across Roebuck Bay ($60 per person, available Wednesdays and Saturdays only).