After an easy 50-minute flight from Sydney, we touch down at Moruya Airport. During the flight I discover that I’m in the company of newfound soul sisters when a flutter of giggles erupts as our Captain announces the name of his First Officer – Brock Hardcastle (seriously!)
The fact that the Moruya Airport tarmac runs parallel to the beach is telling of what is important on the Eurobodalla Coast. ‘Eurobodalla’ comes from an aboriginal word for ‘land of many waters’ and the lifestyle seems to hinge on water-based pleasures. Just 10-minutes drive from Moruya, Broulee is a tiny seaside village consisting of not much more than a couple of basic necessity shops (a newsagency, pharmacy, pizza restaurant, café, bottle shop, real estate agent, surf shop and a wellness clinic/ yoga school).
A couple of minutes drive outside Broulee is our accommodation at The Bower at Broulee. We are treated to a luxury version of the surf retreat that normally includes townhouse accommodation across from the beach. The Bower consists of five private self-contained ‘bowers’ set amongst native Australian forest. As the owner, Sue Berry, tells us how the architect took inspiration from the design of the Bower bird nest it becomes evident this is the perfect setting for the kind of romantic courtships the bird is renowned for. With log fires, deep spa baths, kitchen facilities and a private balcony overlooking bushland it’s a struggle to find a reason to leave if it were not for the beckoning of the surf.
Enter, our host and owner of the Broulee Surf School, Belinda Wehner. Sporty girls can be intimidating, bossy and outright scary but Belinda has something about her that immediately engenders a sense of wanting her to be your ‘sporty friend’. A Cameron Diaz look-a-like, she’s textbook surf chick – blonde, fit, tanned with the classic blue-eyed squint of a surfer.
Tidal Dreamings Surf & Yoga Retreats were borne out of Belinda’s love of surfing, yoga and travel. Since catching her first wave at the age of 12 (she’s now in her early 30’s), Belinda has chased the perfect break from Australia to Central and South America, Europe, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Maldives. With a degree in Eco Tourism she spent a season at the Delfin Amor Dolphin and Whale Marine Research Centre in Costa Rica before dedicating three years to her job as the Surf Program Director at the Costa Rica Rainforest Outward Bound School.
Returning to Broulee with experience at a Buddhist meditation retreat in Sri Lanka and yoga teacher training qualifications from Byron Bay Yoga Arts, Belinda had the perfect ingredients for the female-only yoga retreats she dreamed of running.
We meet Belinda and one of her assistants, Beth, at the yellow combi-van for our first surf lesson. Here we endure one of life’s most humiliating experiences – the wetsuit fitting. No matter how bad I think I look, I notice that my fellow Blue Crush wannabes have adopted a look that says ‘sporty spice’. We are ready. Well, kind of.
It’s cold and raining and the surf seems a little … BIG. Belinda points out a surf break on the headland that only appears when the surf is this big – on average six times a year. Gulp! But she assures us that North Broulee is the perfect beach to learn to surf. It’s gentle and forgiving to us ‘white water warriors’. On land Belinda and Beth give us the ‘how to’ of paddling, lying on the board and jumping up before sending us out to try our luck in the mass of broken waves that are the playground for beginner surfers. To our delight there’s not a soul in sight to heckle as we are flung ungracefully from our embarrassingly big ‘foamies’ (super-safe surfboards that are more akin to submarines than the scarily tiny and dangerous fibreglass boards that the pros surf on). I manage to stand – momentarily – and despite the inelegance this is FUN.
Pleasantly exhausted by the pummelling of the surf we pack our foamies back into the yellow combi and dry off for our first yoga class. Our instructor is the gorgeous owner of the Broulee Beach Wellness Clinic, Elena Rabuda. Argentinean-born, Elena moved to Australia 35 years ago and found herself in Broulee after she wished for a ‘place in the bush by the sea’. Elena is combination of a girlish charm and effervescence that defies her 60 years with wisdom that befits her years. Elena introduces us to her special blend of ‘alchemic Tantric yoga’. No, there are no weird sexual positions involved but an interesting theory about how the gentle sequence of specific poses stimulates the hormones for a restorative effect on the body.
Back at the Bower, we dine on an amazing vegetarian curry dished up by the infamous Muffin Shop and share girly stories. Belinda and her friend Angie play the guitar and sing for us and it strikes me that there is something beautifully ‘local’ about this retreat. It feels more like hanging out with a bunch of girls in their hometown than a commercial endeavour. And as Angie proclaims ‘I just love hanging out with girls’ I’m struck by the ease with which we are able to enjoy each other’s company. Belinda puts it down to the humbling nature of surfing as the great leveller and bonder between women on her retreats.
After Elena guides us through a meditation, I head back to my bower and snuggle into bed surrendering to physical exhaustion and the silent darkness around me.
I’ve slept like the dead, but in that weird way that a really good night sleep makes you crave more I struggle to get out of bed for our early-morning yoga class.
Elena takes us through our paces for 90 minutes of yoga before we hit the surf again.
We’re still in the white wash but today it is less intimidating. To my horror my form seems to have gone backwards but Belinda generously assures me that sometimes we have to get worse before we get better.
After another Muffin Shop triumph (this time Sushi) we substitute our havaianas for closed-in shoes for a kayaking adventure along the Tomaga River with Fluid Adventures. We pair up tentatively after our guide Heather warns us that the double kayaks are often referred to as ‘divorce kayaks’. The 90-minute paddle is a tough call on arms that are already screaming from our surfing efforts but worth it. As Heather tells us stories about sacred trees from local aboriginal folk lore we spot giant manta rays, coastal birds, mangrove swamps and local fishermen.
We head back to the Bower for a nana-nap and the chance to freshen up for dinner. Still on the luxury end of the experience we dine at The River Moruya. From this beautiful setting on the banks of the Moruya River talented chef trio Tim Saffrey, Peter Crompton and Tobie Patrick dish up a great menu with fresh regional produce the highlight. It’s a dining experience worthy of the status the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide has awarded it.
It’s 6.30m and we are gathered at the yellow combi for our induction to surfer samadhi (bliss) – the dawn surf. Yes, the ‘common sense’ notion of steering clear of dawn and dusk for the best chance of avoiding a shark attack was front-of-mind. I had a tête-à-tête between me (the brave new surfer) and me (the chicken-livered scaredy-cat) about the relative merits of conquering ‘out the back’ versus skulking on the beach. Brave me wins and shadows beneath the surface aside I ride my first green (unbroken) wave. I’m hooked. Two hours pass before we reluctantly head back to shore for our final yoga class and a massage at the Wellness Clinic before our departure.
I envy the simple lifestyle here. The locals seem to have a life and community unburdened by the competition of what you do, where you live and what you own that prevails in the city. I even contemplate the idea of moving to Broulee for a couple of months to write, dream and surf but instead board the afternoon flight back to Sydney. To our disappointment, there’s no mention of First Officer Brock Hardcastle but we feel energised and inspired by the past three days.
Retreat dates & bookings
Belinda’s surf & yoga retreats run throughout the year at Broulee, South Stradbroke Island, Bali and Hawaii. Prices start at $750 for a three-day Broulee retreat including basic townhouse accommodation, five surf lessons, yoga classes and all meals. Visit http://www.brouleesurfschool.com.au/surfing-australia.html for more information.
But if your stars aren’t in alignment for the scheduled dates, you can design your own D.I.Y. Broulee retreat:
Broulee Surf School offers daily surf lessons from $45 per person. You can also hire surfboards and wetsuits. 7/77 Coronation Drive, Broulee. Ph: (02) 4471 7370.
Broulee Beach Wellness Centre offers daily yoga classes and massage treatments.
7/77 Coronation Drive, Broulee. Ph: (02) 4471 8599.
The Bower at Broulee offers midweek accommodation from $350 per night and weekend packages from $690 for three nights. George Bass Drive, Broulee. Ph: (02) 4471 8666
For cheaper accommodation options in Broulee Visit NSW.
The Muffin Shop is a great spot for coffee, sandwiches and savoury muffins. Open Tuesdays-Sundays 8am-4pm (last food orders at 3pm). 31 Pacific Street, Mossy Point. Ph: (02) 4471 8599.
The River Restaurant is open for lunch Wednesdays-Sundays and dinner Wednesdays-Saturdays. Bookings essential. 16B Church Street, Moruya. Ph: (02) 4474 5505.
Fluid Adventures offers kayaking and mountain biking adventures. 46 Grant Street, Broulee. Ph: (02) 4471 6969.
HOW TO GET THERE:
Broulee is located on the Eurobodalla Coast approximately four hours drive south of Sydney or a short 50-minute flight to Moruya with Rex Airlines. The Rex Airline crew will organise a taxi to meet you for the 10-minute drive to Broulee.
* All prices are in Australian dollars.