Hepburn Springs, Victoria
Ph: +613 5348 2030
A few years ago I visited Kyoto and Hiroshima in Japan to research a new novel – which is still gestating.
Hiroshima , still scarred by the atomic bomb that flattened and melted it and killed and maimed and burned thousands of people, was an awesome, sobering experience. A deadly reminder of the brute force that a nuclear weapon can wreak on a place.
Kyoto was a telling counterpoint. A tranquil, peaceful place with ancient, imperial palaces and Shinto temples and hemmed in on three sides by hills. It was autumn when I was there and those hills were blood red, blanketed with autumn leaves.
I stayed in a replica of a traditional Japanese guest house. The walls were made of rice paper, the floor of the guest room covered with matting and outside was a pristine, aesthetically pleasing and tranquil Japanese garden with rocks and pebbles and truncated bonsai trees.
The living area was transformed into a bedroom at night with a ritual by two attendants in traditional kimonos rolling out a futon on the floor, lighting candles, and arranging fresh flowers.
A second small room was a personal bathhouse with wooden walls and a deep wooden tub and the smell of cedar and other aromas. You immersed yourself into a bath that was too hot by western standards and, once acclimatised, rested the head on a wooden pillow and languished. Occasionally using a wooden bucket to sluice hot water over your head.
Flash forward. I had a pretty good re-enactment of that experience recently in, of all places, country Victoria in Australia .
At Hepburn Springs -- best know for its world class mineral water and mineral spas – we stayed at a Japanese country spa retreat. It was pretty authentic.
Private rooms, each overlooking a private Japanese garden, had rice paper shoji screens, matting floors and replica wedding kimonos as artistic wall hangings.
The low, carved, polished wood table and cushions with wooden back supports were moved into a corner at night for a futon to transform the room into a bedroom. For aesthetic reasons a bar fridge and coffee pot were hidden behind a sliding screen.
You could eat cross-legged on the floor or dine in their Japanese restaurant – which we did.
Sure, the place had private spas but, in deference to western tastes they were gleaming white with jets that had to be turned off at 10p.m. so the drumming noise didn’t disturb other guests.
And I missed the wooden bucket.
Several other clues that this is a western-Japanese experience – apart from the gum trees on the property’s perimeter. Closer to the buildings and in each Japanese gardens were real oriental plants and (again being autumn) flame-red autumnal trees.
Also tame kookaburras on the wooden porch and a troop of kangaroos feeding on the lawn are a dead giveaway. I wondered what you called a group of wallabies. A herd? A tribe? A clan? Officially it’s “a troop” although you can also call them “a mob”. Sounds more Aussie. I’ll stick to that.
Being a “spa retreat” Shizuka gives you the option of a number of types of massage like shiatsu and reiki and deep tissue massages. The new Mrs. Hinch and I opted for the one-hour “relaxation massage” which cost $85 for a very good professional masseuse. It may sound mild but once they ascertain that you want some probing into your neck and back then they will oblige.
It was so good that I did succumb to the pampering and the tranquility and subtle music and exotic oils and dozed off about halfway through. It was so good that Mrs. H went back for seconds 24 hours later.
My treat was, that on our final night there, I found the wooden bucket. And had a “ Kyoto moment”.