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Sydneysiders Sarah and Ian Fordyce visit the Reef House Day Spa in Palm Cove, Far North Queensland for some authentic spa experiences.

Queensland Quest

Smudging rituals, Vichy showers and didgeridoo music are all part of the spa experience at the Reef House Day Spa in Palm Cove – as Sydneysiders Ian and Sarah Fordyce discovered on their visit to Far North Queensland. 


We decided to spend a few days in the idyllic beachside village of Palm Cove, where the tropical rainforest meets the white beaches of the Coral Sea. It’s lovely spot for a leisurely weekend by the beach, enjoying the Queensland sunshine and the facilities of the fashionable boutique resorts. 

At Sebel Reef House & Spa, our welcome was warm, friendly and relaxed. Our spacious room was immaculately presented room, with a king-sized bed, great shower and a large hot tub in the corner of a large outside verandah. It was the perfect place to chill out between treatments in the spa or for curling up with a book and a glass of wine when the weather was not good for exploring. 


At Sebel Reef, the restaurant is ideally situated under ancient Melaleuca gum trees with views to the sea, framed by a line of swaying palms. The food was superb – an eclectic choice of dishes from around the world, fully deserving of the good reviews we had read. Service was attentive and friendly; with nice touches like chilled lemon face towels in the lunchtime heat and an honesty box in the bar so we could help ourselves to a drink. We can understand why author Bill Bryson enjoyed his stay here when writing his bestseller Down Under. 


The Reef House Day Spa echoes the timeless tropical style of the hotel with white washed walls and use of native timbers and terracotta tiles. Surrounded by water and accessed via a wooden footbridge, the small two-storey spa has five state-of-the-art treatment rooms. The exclusive Li’Tya therapies and products used are inspired by Aboriginal techniques that integrate the precious qualities of the Australian earth with its native plants and spirit.

The treatment rooms exude wellbeing and calm. In one, the central focus is a magnificent treatment table shaped like a leaf and carved from a solid piece of wood from a fallen Melaleuca tree. Above the table is a Vichy shower, a popular feature in many spas in Oz, where they are used for hydrotherapy massage and to wash off the products after mud treatments and body wraps. A Vichy shower is more infinitely more relaxing than slipping and sliding off the treatment table into a shower cubicle!

Sarah and I shared the room for our Mala Mayi signature treatment – a unique spa ritual consisting of a full body cleanse and exfoliation, followed by a warm mud cocoon, Vichy shower and a body and scalp massage. Because we were sharing use of the treatment bed, one of us was massaged while the other had the mud wrap and Vichy shower. Then we switched around so we both experienced the full works!

We were asked to select oils and mud for our treatments. Our therapists explained that our mood and emotional state that day would determine which oils appealed more than others. After selecting, our feet were washed in a footbath of warm water and aromatic oils and then the treatments began.

The Aboriginal ritual of smudging prior to our treatments was really special. The burning of a special blend of barks and leaves gave the room a subtle smoky atmosphere of calm. This combined with the sound of distant didgeridoo music and dim candlelight helped relax mind and body while the world outside became a distant memory.

The expertly performed massage used the pre-selected blend of essential and massage oils, leaving us both feeling relaxed and toned and for me, smoothed away the aches and tensions familiar to all office workers.

The next day, Sarah and I went our separate ways on the spa menu. I chose a sports massage followed by Yanko. The sports massage was superb and left me thoroughly loosened up. 

Yanko was the most invigorating treatment I’ve ever had. It began with a full body scrub using natural exfoliants of indigenous plant origin combined with refreshing essential oils. This was followed by a pulsating Vichy shower trained onto pressure points around the body. The whole experience produced a tremendous, almost ‘out of body’ sensory experience. I left feeling fully cleansed, refreshed and invigorated, ready to face the world once again.

Sarah chose the two-hour Lowanna treatment that focused on the feet, hands, face and head. The treatment began with the Aboriginal ritual of smudging and the room was lit with candles to create a calm and relaxing environment to help her unwind. A wonderful foot massage was followed by a cleanse, exfoliation and massage of the arms and hands – areas often neglected in spa treatments. A superb facial was next and the treatment finished with a sleep-inducing scalp massage. 

Sipping a cup of refreshing herbal tea in the spa when we met up after our treatments, Sarah’s words echoed my thoughts. ‘I feel unburdened, it’s as though all my tensions have been taken away. Just imagine how we’d feel if we stayed for longer… ’

You have been warned – a visit to Sebel Reef House & Spa will make you feel so good you won’t want to leave! 

The Sebel Reef House & Spa’s rates vary by room type, availability and season.For latest rates, special value offers and packages visit www.reefhouse.comGood Read: Lonely Planet – new edition AUSTRALIA

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