x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

An island sense of well-being

Spa talk Lord Howe island's two imposing volcanic mountains are set against a shell pink sky, the sea to their right shifting from turquoise to a cornflower blue as I watch.

Like most people, I have a fully-fledged busy brain - what Buddhists call a "monkey mind" - and it flows freely for most of my days and nights. Even during my morning yoga practice I find myself making lists, and it takes all my effort to get back to the asana in hand. Despite having travelled all over the world to beautiful havens, it's rare that I find a place where my thoughts stop for longer than a post-massage lull. Lord Howe is such a place.

Surrounded by sea and set apart from the rest of the world, the tiny island puts me curiously at ease. It is gracefully placed in the middle of the Pacific Ocean 690 kilometres from Sydney. Nothing much happens there. The island has only been settled since 1833, and its main claim to fame is as the native home of the Kentia palm, the ubiquitous 1970s hippy houseplant. I arrive after a month's travelling, with my shoulders up around my ears and my eyes stinging from that unpleasant mix of air-conditioning, mid-flight dehydration and computer-screen tiredness. Yes, I am looking good.

The island's two imposing volcanic mountains are set against a shell pink sky, the sea to their right shifting from turquoise to a cornflower blue as I watch. My view is framed by the floor-to-ceiling windows at the nautically-inspired and contemporary Capella Lodge, which has a dinky spa with an outdoor hot tub and one treatment room. Here I lay myself out for a much-needed Kodo massage, devised by the Australian spa brand Li'tya. A rhythmical body therapy inspired by Aboriginal techniques, the massage mixes pressure-point stimulation with spiralling movements to work deep into the muscles and simultaneously soothe the psyche. That's better.

Becalmed, I spend the afternoon exploring the pretty and deserted Middle Beach. This is nature's spa, where I swim carefree in the clear seawater, and indulge in a do-it-yourself sand body scrub at the shoreline. I follow this with a meditative walk in search of shells, then lie on my kikoy for 15 minutes without thinking one thought. This is what Lord Howe does - slows you down to appreciate its stillness, and the art of doing very little.

I feel safe, unhurried and nourished - as you should at any self-respecting spa. Most people get about by bike, and I haven't bothered to lock my hotel room door, on the advice of the locals. I cook a meal with a friend at one of the public beach barbecues, where some kind soul piles wood each day for anyone to use. The sky is that dappled pink again, the air as fresh as the line-caught kingfish we eat.

The next day I discover an ayurveda spa, set in a handmade cedar and pine yurt and surrounded by peaceful forest. It's part of the family-run Arajilla hotel and open to outside guests. I have to the Indian head massage, followed by an inventive facial which uses leaves of real silver to cleanse and calm the skin. Both are expertly carried out by the newly-graduated Kim using Ayurda, products designed by the New Zealand-based ayurveda practitioner Dr Ajit, with whom Kim and her boyfriend Scott continue to train. Ayurvedic dietary and lifestyle consultations are also on offer, though I just needed to be nurtured.

By day three, my internal list had shortened to four words - go for a walk. Two thirds of the island is natural forest, and as a rejuvenating antidote to being indulged, there are a surprisingly number of varied walking trails for so small a place, where the coast is always just a glance away. I pass along a ridge and up the side of a mountain, where I stare at the horizon and watch the shadow of reef sharks swimming out at sea.

The British doctor William Bird, who has studied walking and the natural environment, can explain why walking near the coast is so enjoyable. Deep inside the most primitive parts of our brains, he says, we recognise that there's water available, and feel safe being able to look down on our surroundings. On Lord Howe, the elements are responsible for my gorgeous sense of well-being, surrounded as I am by water, trees and open spaces at every point, just as our ancestors would have been when they roamed the plains of the Savannah. I haven't left yet - I am tranquillised by happiness.