WWOOFing at Sanctuary Retreat – Australia

Mission Beach - Australia

Mission Beach – Australia

WWOOFing at Sanctuary Retreat – Australia

One of my very best WWOOFing experiences took place at Sanctuary Retreat, a small rain forest eco-resort perched on the steep hillside of a tropical rain forest overlooking the Coral Sea at Mission Beach, Queensland, Australia.


WWOOFing - Australian rain forest

lush Australian rain forest

Sanctuary Retreat was created on 50 acres of Australia’s precious rain forest with a mission to help preserve the rain forest and its inhabitants, particularly including the endangered but spectacular Southern Cassowary bird.

The owners designed, built, and continually maintain the entire resort to have minimal impact on the environment. The whole resort gives guests the distinct feeling of living right in the heart of the rain forest.

I stumbled upon my WWOOF position there purely by luck. While staying with a newly-made Australian friend in the area, we asked all his friends and acquaintances about WWOOFing opportunities nearby.

Someone or the other mentioned Sanctuary Retreat, so I promptly went over to inquire. Within a week I found myself happily brewing up espresso coffees, baking gourmet muffins and running the Retreat’s breakfast bar.

Sanctuary quickly became one of my favorite WWOOF gigs ever, as well as a place I often think back on very fondly. Why did I love it so much?

I have to admit a lot of that was pure luck too, one of those great things that just happens from time to time. It just happened that the owners and I really clicked from the start. I guess they liked my cheerful vibe and fuchsia hair. So they gave me one of their best jobs- opening the resort restaurant every morning and running the breakfast bar.

Sanctuary Retreat long house

Sanctuary Retreat Longhouse

My five-hour daily shift lasted from 7 am til 12 pm. At noon I was already done for the day! I always felt like I had the entire day free to do as I pleased.

I wandered jungle trails, cycled up and down nearby hills, strolled Sanctuary’s private beach, visited Mission Beach attractions, and lounged around the lovely resort common area reading books, writing travel stories, and admiring sweeping views over the rain forest and the Coral Sea far below. Talk about a cushy volunteer job!

A few weeks into my WWOOF gig, the owners offered me more work on top of my usual WWOOF hours, for which they paid me. So I earned a bit of pocket money for my remaining travels around expensive Australia.

Besides my great job and work shift, Sanctuary Retreat itself and the staff were really wonderful. After all, there I was in the middle of a lush rain forest, in a rather luxurious boutique resort built of all natural materials, that serves healthy gourmet foods and promotes a healthy outdoor lifestyle. Just my kind of place!

Sanctuary Retreat consists of one large main building, called the Long House, several stand-alone cabins perched around the steep hillside, a large yoga / massage center, 50 acres full of walking trails and a private beach on the calm Coral Sea.

The Long House is built of gorgeous timber with three walls of ceiling to floor glass windows. It’s perched at the top of the densely forested hill with sweeping views over the forest and the Coral Sea beyond. Inside the spacious building is the resort’s reception area, a livingroom-like lobby, their gourmet restaurant and breakfast bar. That’s where I got to work every day!

Sanctuary offers two types of rooms. The ‘Canopy Cabins’ are rather plush cabins, just what you’d expect from an upscale resort.


Sanctuary Retreat - Adventure Hut - Mission Beach - australia

Adventure Hut

But the ‘Adventure Huts’ are an entirely different matter! Essentially, they are large permanent tents set on hefty wood platforms, perched on stilts on the hillside. Inside each is a plush double bed and basic interiors, much like a regular room.

But with only screens for walls, sleeping in the ‘Huts’ feels more like camping. In fact, you feel like you’re sleeping directly in the forest, where you’re serenaded to sleep by loudly buzzing insects, wind in the trees and random night time forest noises. I really lucked out when I arrived. I got to stay in one of the ‘huts’ my first night there since all the WWOOFing accommodation was full.


Southern Cassowary - endangered bird - Australia

Southern Cassowary – an endangered bird native to Australia

One of the most important ecological missions of Sanctuary is protecting the endangered Southern Cassowary birds, who have been rapidly losing their habitat due to development. With Sanctuary’s low-impact policy, 50 acres of Cassowary rain forest habitat has remained intact.

Cassowaries are quite remarkable birds. They are huge, flightless birds related to ostriches and emus that stand almost as tall as humans at 1.5-1.8 M (5-6 ft). Some even reach 2 M.

Unlike the bland-colored ostriches, cassowaries have startling blue heads and necks with red nodes dangling from their throats like turkeys, and a peculiar head ‘cap’.

They are considered the most dangerous birds in the world! With their very powerful legs and three clawed toes, they have a habit of kicking.

In fact, they’re generally quite shy and avoid people. But when they feel threatened or when foolish people try to feed them they have a reputation for attacking. Many people have been injured and some killed on occasion.

cassowary - head shot

Cassowary up close

Despite that, I was thrilled to see several cassowaries in the forest at different times during my one-month stay. Believe me, when confronted up-close by a bird in the wild that’s as tall as yourself, sports a huge beak, beady eyes, and obviously strong stocky legs, it’s a bit scary.

I can’t imagine wanting to approach or feed one of those beasts! But they are strikingly beautiful with their bright blue and red coloring and massive head helmet.

So, as you can see, I had a marvelous time staying at Sanctuary Retreat for one entire month. The WWOOF gig was great fun and I had plenty of exciting explorations during my free time. Highly recommended!



If you’ve ever done WWOOFing, what was your best gig? Why was it so great?

If you haven’t tried WWOOFing yet, would you like to? Any particular places?


* If you’re considering WWOOFing, I highly recommend you read my post about my one disastrous WWOOF gig, Volunteering Gone Waaayyy Wrong, where I assess what went wrong and offer suggestions on how to avoid such a mess yourself.

(* Flickr CC photo credits:  istolethetv  /  Sam Schmit  /  Kris*M  /  Paul Toogood  )


If you’re interested in volunteering around the world, whether WWOOF ing or other volunteer opps, check out my friend Shannon O’Donnells great guidebook. It will really help you find the best volunteer gigs for you:


Volunteer Traveler's Handbook - Shannon ODonnell - A Little Adrift

Volunteer Traveler’s Handbook -by Shannon ODonnell of A Little Adrift

The Volunteer Traveler’s Handbook  by Shannon O’Donnell of A Little Adrift

In Shannon’s own words, “The Volunteer Traveler’s Handbook guides new and veteran travelers through the challenges of finding, vetting, and choosing their ideal volunteer experience. The book’s practical advice is interwoven with first-person narrative, stories from a wide range of volunteers, beautiful photography, and expert interviews to help interested volunteers find meaningful ways to give back to communities all over the world-through volunteering, but also through social enterprises and supporting sustainable tourism practices.”

Click here for print book               Click for Kindle version



2 pings

  1. Paul Toogood

    Great article and thanks for the pic credit. I live on the other side of the hill from Sanctuary Retreat so you almost were in my backyard!

    The pic with coconut palms was taken in front of Castaways Resort & Spa Mission Beach and shows the view over to Dunk Island.


    Paul Toogood
    Mission Beach

    1. Lash WorldTour

      Thanks Paul.

      You bet- I always give photo credit if I”m not using my own photos.

      Your resort looks amazing, too. :)

      (Ironic both resort owners are named Paul!)

      cheers, Lash

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