THE Sunshine Coast is poised to set itself up as the "wellness capital of Australia".
A strong balance of natural scenery plus health-conscious businesspeople are combining to attract visitors from around the nation and overseas to the region, as well as meeting the well-being needs of locals.
Adding to our claim to the lucrative tourism title are the fact we produce quality fresh produce, host a myriad cooking classes across the region, offer a wide range of exotic spa treatments, give lessons in adventure sports such as surfing and stand up paddleboarding, put on well-regarded yoga and music festivals, and have access to walking and bicycle paths including the Coastal Pathway and hinterland walks.
Visit Sunshine Coast CEO Simon Latchford believes we already have the credentials.
"A lot of regions offer yoga and spa treatments, but there's something about the landscape of the Sunshine Coast that makes us such a 'natural' destination for health and wellness holidays," he said.
"To some extent, it is in our DNA - our tagline is 'naturally refreshing'.
"And it doesn't really matter whether you're doing yoga on a paddleboard, meditating on Mt Coolum as the sun rises, or trekking along the Hinterland Great Walk - the setting contributes as much to the experience as the healthy activity itself."
Festivals with a core health focus but offering a little something for everyone are attracting big followings - especially in the growing yoga market.
This weekend saw the 6th annual Yoga Day at Currimundi State School on Saturday. The yoga festival billed as the biggest in the country - YogaFest - took place in October at Lake Kawana Community Centre with nearly 70 workshops and presentations, and Wanderlust (also in October) is another huge wellness drawcard.
After the 2016 Wanderlust festival at Novotel Twin Waters Resort, organiser Jonnie Halstead said attendance had increased more than 35% on 2015.
He said close to 3000 people had watched Xavier Rudd perform as part of the music component to the festival.
"It's been great. We get nothing but support here on the Sunshine Coast," Mr Halstead said.
He said Wanderlust would be returning to Twin Waters for the next few years and would build on the musical aspects.
On offer at Wanderlust 2017 would be:
* yoga and meditation - yoga classes for all levels, from beginner to expert, as well as a wide variety of practice styles including yin classes, vinyasa, and a Sunshine Coast specialty in stand up paddleboard yoga or aerial yoga
* music - a variety of music styles from epic main stage performances to intimate acoustic shows, along with opportunities to participate in drumming, guitar, and other music workshops
* adventure - stand up paddleboard, kayak and surfboard lessons as well as horseback riding
* lectures and interactive workshops - with an inspiring line-up including prominent authors, yoga teachers, musicians, health experts, and filmmakers
* food - the Earth to Table Dinner signature event, showcasing local produce, plus Wanderlust Uncorked offering the chance to experience craft beer and wine.
But a number of emerging Coast businesses are offering unique approaches to health and well-being.
Among the new health and wellness adventure programs being offered are:
* Melinda Bingley has established Mind and Body Adventures including the Glass House Mountains Discovery Adventure Tour: kayaking Pumicestone Passage and scaling one of the Glass House Mountains to follow in the footsteps of explorer Matthew Flinders. The tour comes with a healthy menu and culminates with Melinda's signature star-jump exercise (http://mabpersonaltraining.com.au/adventures/)
* Waterfalls Workouts and Wine, based in Montville: a three-night/four-day getaway that includes daily walks to waterfalls such as Kondalilla, workouts with inspiring views, stand up paddle boarding on Lake Baroon and a glass of wine to end the day's activities.
* A new package from fitness trainer Leanne McCabe, who tries to combine health, fun and adventure instead of strict boot camps with boring diets. "We want to give people the chance to explore, relax and laugh. At the end of each day, we'll sit back with a glass of wine, and chat and enjoy good company. Our getaways aren't just good for the body, they're good for the soul too." (http://www.waterfallsworkoutsandwine.com/)
Venues such as the Chenrezig Buddhist Institute, Calm Living Meditation Retreat, Mt Ninderry Healing Retreat and a wide range of indulgent spas have helped build the Coast's wellness reputation and others are coming on board to give the concept a new spin.
Lift Gallery, for example, includes a sound spa, natural healing rooms, music performances and Live Cafe serving plant-based food (http://www.experiencealift.com/)
"I think it is about 'balance' - the Sunshine Coast is not some isolated area where you feel as if you're locked away in a health camp," Mr Latchford said.
"Here, you can enjoy such a rich range of activities from a complete detox through to a more blended program that can include a range of fun, though healthy activities.
"For instance, a cooking class at the Spirit House might seem indulgent to some, but it offers incredibly healthy food that feeds the mind as much as the body. You get a real feeling of 'zen' when you visit there.
"That's why the Sunshine Coast has been so popular for Asian-inspired cooking schools and restaurants - we have the climate, the scenery and of course the produce to be a leader in this field.
"Our region's reputation for organic fresh food is a natural complement to health and wellness holidays.
"We have some of the largest organic health food centres, organic restaurants and, of course, our markets, which are among Australia's best for their range of quality produce and health-related items.
"The Glass House Mountains and the hinterland really help define the spirituality of the destination.
"That's why there are so many health, spa and meditation retreats located in these areas.
"They're a natural fit. A walk up Mt Ngungun or a relaxed trek through Mary Cairncross Reserve gives you these million-dollar vistas that actually cost nothing and yet provide such an uplifting experience."
Mr Latchford said our "naturally refreshing" marketing message resonated with Europeans, who could be attracted to hundreds of east-coast beach destinations in Australia but chose us because with "our rich landscape and our health and wellness profile, we offer something very different".
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