We’re on the peak of an active volcano, jumping in the air like extras in a car commercial. Eight women, aged from 25 to 55, have just climbed 1717 metres to the top of Mount Batur, as part of a “new way” in health retreats called Sharing Bali.
An hour from Ubud, this peaceful property, studded with sculptures and rice paddies, is at the heart of a boom in “wellness tourism”, worth $462 billion globally and growing by 9 per cent each year.
“We don’t believe in the detox and deprivation model,” founder Karen Willis says. “This is simple luxury; a celebration of healthy living.”
Women from the local village cook the nightly buffet, with fish caught from the river, chicken satays grilled over a fire of coconut husks, and tofu and tempe sambal. On the first morning, we wake at sunrise for a game of Survivor.
The challenges, attached to coconuts, include translating basic Bahasa, identifying ingredients in Balinese food and ranking snacks in order of calories.
The trainer Jo Sharp is the perfect combination of nurturer and Nazi. And, as a middle-aged mum, she understands that – love them as we do – it’s nice to have a holiday away from the kids.
“Do you know, this is the first time I’ve had time to myself in about 10 years?” one of the women laments. “This week, it’s all about me,” another grins.
Funnily enough, many of the activities made us feel like we’re kids again. There’s an outdoor circuit class, using coconuts as weights, a slip-and-slide for commando crawling, and bamboo for hurdles.
“Crikey. I’m 46, not six!” I laugh, looking at the adult playground.
After our hard work, we’re given a traditional body scrub, used by Balinese royalty, comprising rice, cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, cloves and macadamia. Back at my bungalow, under the outdoor shower in a rainforest canopy, I don’t have a care in the world.
No “You know I hate broccoli!” or “Mum, did you forget my swimming costume again?” Instead, the gentle croaking of frogs and clicking of cicadas. Bliss – until 2.30 the next morning when the alarm goes off for the volcano walk. Scrambling up the broken black lava and sliding along some that’s smooth and red, we huff and puff our way to the top.
Each of us carries a rock, representing something we want to rid ourselves of: memories of a broken relationship; mourning over a lost loved one; or unresolved issues at work. There is no better feeling than hurling those bloody rocks over the edge.
Later, in a bath filled with petals after a traditional massage, I reflect on Karen’s story about why she left Sydney to create this piece of paradise.
“We believe health and fitness retreats should be affordable and accessible to everybody,” she says.
Now, I really feel on top of the world – and ready to face the children again.
Mama Holiday travelled courtesy of Virgin Australia and Sharing Bali.