An Australian Paradise

Peninsula Hot Springs

Imagine sinking into warm water and drifting beneath an open sky alight with the splendour of sunset. Imagine a paradise of tranquillity and rejuvenation, where the cares and worries of life evaporate with the steam. Imagine Peninsula Hot Springs, a destination like no place else on the continent. Here, guests enjoy a feast of luxury and relaxation in aesthetically designed private and public pools, as well as a full service spa.

Located a mere 90 minutes from Melbourne, the day retreat contains two separate facilities designed to offer something for everyone. “Bathing is something people do from the day you are born to the day you die,” Cofounder Charles Davidson explains. “It’s not a specific target market. The target is everybody.” As such, the Bath House provides over 20 different bathing experiences, including a hill top pool with stunning 360 degree views, reflexology walk, Turkish steam room, sauna, cave pool, massaging thermal showers, and a child-friendly family bathing area. This complex offers a peaceful social experience where the cheerful conversation is interrupted only by the gentle sound of flowing water. The more private Dreaming Centre pampers guests 16 and older with world class spa treatments and tranquil bathing in a serene setting. Peninsula Hot Springs’ mineral-rich water originates in an ancient aquifer far beneath the earth, where natural conditions heat it to a delightful 54°C. On scorching summer days, the facility cools several pools to ensure a refreshing experience for all bathers.

Mr Davidson has been captivated by hot springs for over two decades, ever since he first experienced the remarkable relaxation of geothermal waters in Kusatsu, Japan. “There were trees [and] snow all around the pools. I was in the middle of nature,” he remembers. “It was amazing. And I thought to myself, ‘why don’t we have this at home in Australia?’” Mr Davidson initially assumed that Aussies were deprived of the beauty and tranquillity hot springs provide because the continent had no thermal water to offer. He was wrong. After some research, he discovered that the Department of Minerals and Energy had detected a geothermal source in Victoria eighteen years earlier – and it still lay untouched, waiting to be tapped.

From that time onwards, Mr Davidson found his passion and was on a mission. He partnered with his brother, Richard, secured an ideal 42 acre site on Mornington Peninsula, and started on a hot springs world tour to discover the best bathing practices for health and wellness around the globe. “We had the intention to create a space where people from all around the world could relax – like that experience of lying in the bath and looking out at the trees and the stars and the sky in Japan.” The brothers also wanted to cater to the local clientele. “In Australia we’ve got many, many cultures represented in the community and I wanted to create a place that would cater to all those different cultures and provide the best bathing practices from all those different cultures,” Mr Davidson explains. He found his inspiration in Yemen’s 2,200 year old bath houses, the Czech Republic’s advanced spa techniques, and countless hot springs scattered from the US to Indonesia. In total, Mr Davidson has visited thermal waters in 22 different countries in his quest for the perfect bathing experience and, from the knowledge gained, has created a world class bathing experience tucked away in Melbourne’s own backyard.

Mr Davidson had a clear vision for his warm water paradise, but the reality would prove far more difficult than expected. The brothers knew that, like a secret Sleeping Beauty, an aquifer lay hidden nearby, its untouched waters waiting to be uncovered. The only catch was that over 630 meters of earth blocked their way. The first attempt to reach the aquifer, in 1998, proved a disaster. The massive drilling project brought up nothing but hot mud and human error eventually ruined the bore. The team tried again two years later, in what the drilling company promised would be a three month job. Instead, the crew didn’t hit water for an agonizing 18 months, by which time the brothers’ promised investors were no longer available for funding. The brothers continued to believe in the project, however, and dedicated many more months to the facility’s design and aesthetic construction. Finally, with the help of new investor Norm Cleland, Peninsula Hot Springs welcomed its first guest in 2005 – a long five years after that first failed attempt to bring up water.

Peninsula Hot Springs is classified as a “Sodium Chloride Bicarbonate Spring” (NaCl-HCO3). The thermal water overflows with a host of naturally occurring minerals including sulphur, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. Many believe that the warm, mineral rich water has strong healing properties for a range of different ailments. Cultures around the world have long believed in the inherent wellness benefits released through hot springs. However, as Mr Davidson points out, “The issue with the spa industry and the natural health industry is there is no proof [of wellness benefits].” So, instead of taking advantage of thermal water treatments, most Australian medical doctors tend to “rely on drugs because the drugs are tested and meet certain standards.”

Peninsula Hot Springs is conducting evidenced based research with RMIT and South Australia University to establish an evidence base around the health benefits of wellness retreats including the use of natural hot springs. “We are trying to apply the same standards and the same rigor that is applied to the pharmacology industry to the natural health and spa industry to get an evidence base behind these wellness practices,” Mr Davidson explains. The team is particularly interested in establishing evidence that Wellness Retreats that incorporate hot springs, spa therapies, and the consumption of organic produce help the body detox from toxins, and the team is already finding encouraging signs to back up this hypothesis. Wellness centres around the world are also joining the team’s research efforts, giving the work “global implications.”

Hot springs also have worldwide economic benefits. “A lot of employment and growth can come out of warm waters,” Mr Davidson explains. “They act like a magnet. They attract people.” Peninsula Hot Springs, by far the area’s largest tourist industry employer, brings a whopping $70 million into the Mornington Peninsula region each year by both direct and flow on economic benefit. “Our economic benefit is quite substantial,” Mr Davidson remarks. “People will come and spend $30 to $50 at our place for bathing, but then they will eat at a restaurant and spend the night at an accommodation, visit a winery, go horseback riding, play golf and partake in some of the many other available activities that bring money into the region.” In fact, Peninsula Hot Springs has turned Melbourne’s summer playground into a year-round tourist destination that is no longer dependant on seasonal, beach-related revenue. “That’s really helped the restaurants and the accommodation providers and other business in the region,” Mr Davidson says. The Hot Springs also partners with local businesses to offer a wide range of packages, from dine and bathe to stand-up paddle boarding and bathe. “You name it, we’ve got a package,” Mr Davidson laughs.

The team believes in sharing their success, and they endeavour to use the economic benefits that come with hot springs to help support struggling communities. “It is part of our social responsibility to give back,” Mr Davidson points out. He is currently working to restore a hot spring in an Indian village to stimulate the local economy, create jobs and alleviate poverty. Mr Davidson has a similar project unfolding in Western Australia as well, where he is establishing a hot spring within an Aboriginal community. The team hopes to incorporate traditional Aboriginal practices such as storytelling into the business model, creating a bathing experience that celebrates Indigenous culture whilst providing economic development.

Guest of Peninsula Hot Springs, of course, are provided with the best possible bathing experience. Mr Davidson considers the facility to be only halfway built, and the company spends between $1 million and $2 million each year in upgrades and expansions. Large scale future projects are slated to create 130 rooms of luxury accommodations and a state of the art wellness centre. Currently, the team is upgrading and expanding the existing bathing facilities. Additions will increase the bathing capacity from 400 people at any one time to 500, and will add a hydrotherapy jet pool, private bathing pavilions and an open-air exercise circuit. The changing rooms are also slated to be renovated, the café size doubled, and the Spa Centre reception area expanded to create a more relaxing and welcoming atmosphere.

Mr Davidson has never forgotten the moment he first drifted into complete tranquillity on a snowy Japanese mountaintop. For twenty years since, he has been working to bring that same peace and relaxation to Australia. He wants Australians to understand and embrace the health benefits of hot springs that other cultures have enjoyed for thousands of years, and also aims to provide a serene space filled with quiet conversation and the beauty of nature. Mr Davidson’s vision comes to life at Peninsula Hot Springs, where visitors from every walk of life can find a place to escape for some essential relaxation and peace.

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September 20, 2018, 5:27 AM AEST