Take the plunge
Cold rain is falling in north-east Tasmania, but inside the Floating Sauna Lake Derby the temperature remains a steady 90 degrees Celsius.
Through the sauna’s full-length windows, I stare across the water, watching trout and the rain disturb its surface as my body sweats out its own lake of sorts. Inside this box of tropics, I’m slowly building up courage, for shortly I will step out into the rain and dive into the lake.
Opened in July 2020, Australia's only wood-fired floating sauna is like a day-spa treatment transplanted into the wild. The sauna sits on a pontoon moored at the edge of a lake across the Ringarooma River from the town of Derby.
A mountain bike trail skims past its doors, and guests spend an hour in the high heat of the sauna but are encouraged to dive into the chilly lake every 10 to 15 minutes.
“You get an absolute natural high from the cold plunge, but the main benefit is a massive reset of your nervous system,” says owner Nigel Reeves.
“The shock of going from a hot environment into cold means your body responds by releasing a whole lot of endorphins and adrenaline into your system to fight the ‘tiger in the jungle’ that might have appeared. You sleep so well that evening because your body can only replace those hormones and chemicals while at rest.”
The concept is familiar to Nordic countries, where floating saunas line the shores of Norway’s capital, Oslo. Reeves, who has never been to Europe, first heard of these saunas during a keynote speech at a tourism conference in 2019. Even before the speech was over, he’d browsed Oslo’s saunas online and spoken to his wife, his architect and the Dorset Council about creating a floating sauna in Derby.
The sauna can only be reached by bike or on foot from Derby, and mobile phones don’t work in the heat of the sauna, so the experience is all about disconnecting from distraction and reconnecting with nature. Even the lake is a transition of sorts – once a tin mine, it filled with water during massive floods in 1929, like nature making good.
I’ve arrived feeling a little uncertain about the prospect of jumping into a 10-degree lake on a 12-degree day, but after about the third plunge I’m welcoming its frigid embrace. Mountain bikes roll past each time I resurface, but they now seem like something from another universe.
I dive into the deep lake five times across an hour, sending my body through an exhilarating series of temperature extremes. By the end of my session, the rain has stopped and the lake has stilled, as have my mind and soul.