Sangoma Retreat

10 Jan

Sangoma Retreat is quite literally nestled in the foothills of the Blue Mountains*, past Richmond and Kurrajong, and down a one-car-width-wide street with gumtrees looming overhead, daring the sunlight to enter.

There’s a fence on the right at number 70, a sign, and a buzzer. Amidst the enveloping bush, you could be forgiven for being surprised by the loud, happy voice on the other end after the three hour drive from Canberra, and the person attached to the voice opens the gate and encourages us to drive on through. Beyond where the few cars are parked, there are subtle creeks with small waterfalls, and an entrance marked by rocks and tall sticks. It’s the first introduction of the Australian bush/African fusion throughout the property.


Four separate suites and a tent house—each a decent distance from the others—are almost camouflaged by the surrounding native Australian bush. The main house is a more dominating structure but following the same architectural lines as the suites: slanting rooves opening up to the east, with the happy marriage of stone, wood and tin, and floor-to-ceiling glass windows and sliding doors which open all the way.

Bush suite

Bush suite

Tent house

Tent house

Our hosts, Michael and Zenga, are as much a part of the architecture—it’s their warmth which brings Sangoma (meaning ‘witchdoctor’) to life. This 2012-13 New Year’s Eve weekend is our second trip to Sangoma, having spent same in 2011-12 (which is probably as good an endorsement as any!) and they greet us with hugs, while the happy Rhodesian Ridgeback Pundah thuds her tail against the wall.



Sangoma Retreat is perhaps better described as resort retreat: the ‘escape’ or ‘other world’ factor is beautifully balanced with the suites’ luxury. We stay in the Bush Suite; being almost entirely surrounded by bushland , it’s the most secluded of the suites. Each suite contains fur rugs and pillows; thick, crisp white sheets and doonas on a king bed; fluffy pillows and bathrobes; a stocked, entirely complimentary minibar with cheese, champagne, crackers, cookies and rocky road.  Bedside tables are replaced with drums, and lamps which would normally go on them are instead huge and suspended from the ceiling. The oversized bath (big enough for two people) is nestled into a corner jutting out into the bush, so beyond the three sides of louvred windows are views of bush, bush and more bush.



A shower head hangs from the roof by the bath against glass walls. There are no doors throughout the suite, except for the toilet, and with the glass walls it literally feels like you’re showering outside.


On the first night, we celebrate in the room with wine we purchased earlier in the day from Lerida Estate before we briefly meet the rests of the guests on the deck of the main house overlooking Sydney 70kms away. Michael serves drinks and we’re served duck and shitake mushroom spring rolls as appetisers. Dinner is served outside, the tables lit with Neoz Owl cordless lamps. We begin with mushroom soup, and a banquet style self-serve of a chorizo and chicken dish, risoni and delicious peas (and I hate peas).


Our second day is a relaxed affair. The morning is a leisurely arrival at the main house for breakfast, which includes a layered glass bowl of muesli, ancient grains, yoghurt, mango and dried mango, as well as thick slices of bread and orange juice.


Michael organises tea and coffee, and Zenga brings out the morning’s second creation: baked eggs with tomato and cheese, in a bowl of prosciutto.


When you’re going with the flow, time seems to rip by, and after lazing in bed and enjoying beer overlooking the balcony view, it’s time for my kahuna massage at 2pm.

View from our balcony

View from our balcony

View straight up from our other balcony

View straight up from our other balcony

Jae (the masseuse) has a table set up in the basement of the main house with soft music playing. A kahuna massage is an unusual experience if you haven’t had it before, where the use of heat (including hot rocks) and manoeuvres helps you both let go and rebuild in the hour. I didn’t like it the first time, but knowing what to expect the second, fell into it. The lap pool – you guessed it, overlooking Sydney – is warmed by the sun and the small sauna is its welcome complement.

View from the pool over Sydney

View from the pool over Sydney

The second day ends with candles lit and champagne in the bath, with the only music the hum of cicadas. We enjoy appetisers against a fire (the weather’s turned!) and dinner within the main house.


Beautifully cooked

Beautifully cooked

The hero dish is the dessert – any description I give it won’t do it justice:



New Year’s Eve breakfast is a serving of seven ancient grain muesli, thick slices of bread and Zenga whips up eggs done our way (poached please), bacon and cherry tomatoes in a range of colours.


We feel energetic and head out to Mount Tomah botanic gardens before the day’s heat drives us back into the sanctuary of Sangoma in the early afternoon, with another helping of sauna, pool, bath and beers.

Mt Tomah botanic gardens

Mt Tomah botanic gardens

Mt Tomah botanic gardens

Mt Tomah botanic gardens

Back to the pool

Back to the pool

The New Year’s Eve meal has been prepared by the former owners of Lochiel House – Monique Maul and Anthony Milroy – which was awarded two chef’s hats under their guidance. The appetisers are goat’s cheese in roasted capsicum and salt and pepper prawns, and we’re pleased to see that some of the Sydney guests have brought a bottle of Clonakilla (Canberra region) wine to see off the year.

New Year's Eve dinner

New Year’s Eve dinner

Roasted capsicum and goat's curd

Roasted capsicum and goat’s curd

Salt and pepper prawns with NYE Bollinger

Salt and pepper prawns with NYE Bollinger

We dine on the main house’s balcony looking straight down the horizon.


We begin with slow roasted pumpkin with sheeps milk yoghurt dressing and sorrel.

It’s followed by the signature dish – steamed dashi custard with scallops, seaweed and eel.


The main is slow roasted ocean trout with white beans and zucchini (delicious):


And it was capped off with black sticky rice, mango, peanuts and coconut cream – but no photo because it was too dark.

We send off the year with an 11pm swim before standing on the deck and watching fireworks light up the horizon – both close at Richmond, and further away we see the sky above Sydney and Wollongong full of blossoming colours.

The final morning is Zenga’s famous, fabulous brunch, where every dish is a masterpiece: spicy baked pumpkin, frittata, kohlrabi, zucchini flowers and a pork dish which I can’t pronounce or spell. It’s a farewell fit for kings.



For the amazing experience it is, there’s also something raw and authentic about it all – in a good way. Michael and Zenga remain professional and courteous throughout, but their chats, good humour and honesty, and the sense that every bit of Sangoma – from the idea and the sacrifice they’ve made for it, through to its stunning realisation – is theirs makes it all the more special. Their presence ties the whole weekend together.  It almost physically hurts to leave.


Date: Saturday, 29 December to Tuesday, 1 January

Attendees: T1 and Boyfriend

Worthwhile factor: Highly worthwhile

Cost: $2249 + $250 deposit. This included drinks purchased (four beers, and three bottles of wine) and a $20 corkage for bringing our own wine one evening. The price includes the massage (for one – an extra one can be purchased for $140, and many people do), and three nights. Normal weekends are two nights (Friday and Saturday) and is $1490 for the weekend for two in the bush, pool and stone suites, and the two storey (with plunge pool!) chief’s suite is $1950.

Want more? Sangoma Retreat website


* The author experienced considerable angst trying to determine if Sangoma Retreat qualified as being within the ‘Taratory’ region, but it seemed too good not to share.


5 Responses to “Sangoma Retreat”

  1. Gary Lum January 10, 2013 at 8:52 pm #

    Looks amazing

    • inthetaratory January 10, 2013 at 8:55 pm #

      I thought you’d be impressed with the food 😀

      • Gary Lum January 10, 2013 at 8:56 pm #

        I am 😉

  2. Zenga BUtler January 10, 2013 at 10:31 pm #

    We are touched. Moved and inspired to read this INCREDIBLE account of your weekend here at Sangoma Retreat . the attention to detail is just amazing and we feel quite humbled at your sensitive observations .We don’t quite know what in the Tarantory is or means ? thank you Tara and your handsome Hamish for gracing our retreat
    Kind regards Zenga and Michael

    • inthetaratory January 10, 2013 at 11:03 pm #

      Anytime Zenga – was happy to be able to share it! Taratory is a play on words – we live in the Australian Capital Territory and because my friend and I are both called Tara it becomes ‘Taratory’ (basically ACT and surrounds) – we review things to do in and around Canberra. I think Sangoma qualifies as a wonderful Canberra ‘escape’ – hope other Canberrans feel that way too after reading this!

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