Spa and Sauna Culture in Australia

Australia is one of the hottest, driest countries in the world. For that reason, water sports, swimming and going to the beach are popular activities, especially for the 85% of the population that live near the coast. As mentioned in an earlier post about Weekends in Canberra, not only is Canberra an Inland city, it is the coldest capital city in Australia.

From my travels, particularly to Scandinavia and Turkey, I have now a great love of the bathing cultures that exist in these locales. When I was in Helsinki, every morning I would spend 20 minutes in the sauna before jumping in a cold shower. Similarly, when we have travelled to Turkey, I much enjoyed losing a couple of hours in the Turkish Hamam, especially places that also had a sauna. My preference is for separate men’s and women’s facilities, as I feel like I can truly relax.

Saunas are not that popular in Australia, due to the hot climate  – if you are lucky you will find one at a gym or when you visit a health spa as part of a massage package. Unless you go to a women’s only gym, then it is likely that the facilities will be mixed rather than separate for men and women.

This week we decided to go the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS), which has had a sauna and plunge pool for many years. But no more – for health and safety reasons the sauna has been permanently closed. Undeterred, we then went on a quest around the Belconnen region to try to find a sauna. We were told that Kaleen Sports Centre might have one – no luck. Then we called the  Canberra International Sports & Aquatic Centre (CISAC) and they said that they had a sauna. We turned up very hopeful – only to find out it is a steam room. There is a big difference between a sauna and a steam room. Personally I do not like the damp air and smell of a steam room, preferring the dry heat and delicious timber smell of the sauna.

Anyway, we finally found a great place which does have a sauna – foot&thai in Weedon Close in Belconnen. When you have an hour massage treatment, the sauna is complementary, and $5 when you have a half hour treatment. We opted for 1/2hr Foot Reflexology Massage + 1/2hr Head, Shoulders and Back Massage – it was divine. When you arrive you are given an outfit to wear: a loose shirt and trousers like a martial arts outfit. For the foot massage, the chair reclines and you are also given a sarong to cover you and an eye mask, so you can really relax. For the first time, I had the experience of a masseuse walking on my back – which was really good and unravelled all my knots. I have had Balinese, Swedish and Turkish massage, but never the Thai style where you get walked on. It probably is not for everyone, but I really enjoyed it.

As an ardent fan of the sauna, I think it would be fantastic if there were more facilities in Canberra, we certainly have the climate in winter. But I am impatient. After talking about getting a home sauna for years, we are finally going to get one – if the rain holds out, it should be delivered this weekend – I can’t wait!