From Dream to Reality: How Blue Mountains Sauna Became a Resounding Success

With the benefits of sauna use ranging from cardiovascular improvements, faster recovery, mental health, and increased longevity, it’s not surprising that more and more Aussies are making it a part of their overall wellness routine. Blue Mountains Sauna opened in 2022 and has been a roaring success with heat-seekers travelling from far and wide to indulge in the true Finnish sauna experience. The WNiF Writing Team headed out to Leura to see what all the hype was about and were seriously impressed. We decided to ask Blue Mountains Sauna’s founders a bit more about their business journey.

The need for a real sauna experience in Australia

Blue Mountains Sauna arose from the simple desire to see a dedicated, high-quality sauna facility in Australia. Blue Mountains Sauna is co-founded by Inga Sommerfeld who is half German, half Russian, and Nikita Miltiadou, a first-generation-born Australian with Cypriot background. Inga was as young as 6 months old when she was exposed to a sauna for the first time, and the cool down was the Siberian snow outside the hot room! After growing up in Russia and Germany, where the sauna is a big part of people’s lifestyle, co-founder Inga Sommerfeld always found it quite baffling that there was no sauna culture in Australia.

“There are saunas around, but to be honest, I was often disappointed by the lack of respect towards the hot room and did not feel relaxed after visiting a sauna at a gym, or the aquatic centre. A lot of facilities felt dirty, temperatures only reached 50-60 degrees Celsius on a good day, and throwing water on the rocks was prohibited.”

How did the idea for Blue Mountains Sauna arise?

I often thought to myself, “I just want to go to a dedicated facility that understands how great sauna is, not a spa or a large public pool, just a simple setup with a hot sauna where people enjoy the benefits of good heat on a regular basis.”

I began dreaming about a place like this when I started working as a flight attendant at Virgin Australia in 2016. I was on a hunt for a good sauna around the country and could not stop complaining to Nikita since we met shortly after.

During the first Covid lockdown in Melbourne, I got out a large piece of paper, drew the facility I had in mind, pinned it to our vision board, and forgot about it. We moved to the Blue Mountains in 2021, straight into another Covid lockdown, followed by 6 rainy months of La Nina. It was a very challenging time and all I could think about is how much I’d love to go to a good sauna. Nikita wasn’t very familiar with proper saunas at the time, but after listening to all my stories we went for a sweat at a local aquatic centre. It was a horrible experience and he instantly said: “Yep, we should do this.” As we walked around Leura, he suggested going down a lane towards the new climbing gym that was meant to open soon. The building is quite big and had some available space. I interrupted his chat with the landlord, gave him the craziest eyes, and whispered “Sauna”. We were immediately consumed by the vision!

finnish sauna in australia

What’s the aim of Blue Mountains Sauna?

Our aim is to bring a new sauna culture to Australia and “spread the good heat as we say”! There is sauna in Australia, but there is a lack of high-quality builds, sauna equipment, and most importantly, the ritual and etiquette that is prevalent throughout Europe. Sauna in these parts is all about providing a simple, neutral space for everyone from all walks of life to feel the benefits mentally and physically of sauna and cold plunge, this is what we bring to Australian sauna.

Was the process of opening your business straightforward?
Did you hit any major setbacks along the way?

Lots of amazing things aligned to bring this space to fruition. The building found us as we stumbled down a ‘Lost Lane’ in Leura one afternoon to find a co-op of businesses at the early stages of becoming a shared wellness and recreation hub in the Blue Mountains. From seeing the space to being open was 3 months in total. To say that those three months were intense is an understatement. We remained focused on the mission, to bring good sauna to the people of Australia.

There are a lot of infrared saunas popping up in boutique gyms and wellness facilities, but not many traditional saunas. How do you think the experience of using a Finnish sauna compares to an IR sauna?

It shouldn’t be compared at all, to be honest. IR is not able to be defined as sauna. In order to be a sauna, you need the holy trinity… Heat, Steam, and Ventilation. Ambient, radiant heat ensures a hygienic environment and a thermal mass capable of warming you to your bones, the Fins call this “Lämpömassa”. Steam, or as the Fins say, Löyly, provides a glorious sensation that becomes addictive as the humidity rolls across your skin triggering a deeply relaxing intensity of the experience.

finnish sauna blue mountains

Has anything surprised you since starting your business?

Yes, the response! We weren’t sure we’d be able to communicate why this is so special, yet at the same time, so everyday and regular. Thankfully, people want to come together, relax, and experience public bathing more or less as it has been experienced for thousands of years in cultures across the world. There is however, lots of education required. We’re constantly taking people through the importance of following a sauna cycle or rounds with rest in between. We call this, “Sit Sweat Chill Repeat” to help people understand the importance of heating up, cooling down and properly recovering between rounds. We also promote etiquette and hygiene such as showering before sauna, sitting on a towel in the sauna, as well as observing quiet in the hot room to provide a neutral and calming space for all.

How often do most people visit the sauna?

We have members who live in Sydney driving 1.5-2 hours 4-6 times a week! A pillar of our business is accessible wellness. Quality and quantity. Quality because once you experience sauna done right, you simply can’t go back, and quantity because as the science suggests, the more you visit the sauna, the lower your risk of all-cause mortality is. Not to mention the mental health benefits of making dedicated time for yourself to relax, recover, disconnect from everything and focus on being present in your body and mind.

Was Leura always the plan for your business?
What made you choose the location?

We were inspired by urban saunas. Places that don’t pretend to be anything they’re not. Our sauna is in an old commercial squash facility in Lerua that just so happens to have heaps of parking, amazing west-facing views of the town of Katoomba, and the right basic ingredients for a dedicated public bathing facility. We love Leura – the trees in spring blossom, and the town has a great atmosphere.

Photo by Ariel Magno

What is the best part about your job?

Sharing sauna culture with everyone! Seeing the uncertain but bushy-eyed looks on the way in, and the completely released and relaxed looks on the way out… only for them to return again and again. We love sharing how simple and pleasing good sauna can be.

Is there a particular product or software that you use in your business that you love?

We’re big fans of Notion, it’s great! It keeps us organised and collaborating as a team. The AI functionality saves us heaps of time and takes the slog out of staying organised as a team.

What is next for BM Sauna?

We’re opening our second location in Victoria soon! The location is a secret for now, but it’s magic! We’re also expanding our current offering in the Blue Mountains to feature more saunas! 

blue mountains sauna business

Sauna and Ice Bathing for the ultimate experience

For the ultimate experience, both physically and mentally, cycling through the contrast of heat and cold is an option with the Odin Ice Bath. With a built-in filtration system and chiller, the Odin Ice Bath is capable of getting down to zero degrees. Staff at BM Sauna will add a few bags of ice throughout the day to counteract the steaming bodies dipping in and out of the water, keeping the water temp at the level where it really is mind over matter. Visitors follow the process of sweat, rinse, ice bath (optional), rest, and repeat for around 2 hours with herbal tea, fruit, and water provided. There is also salt on hand for adding to your drinking water to help keep your sodium levels up.

Odin itself is an Aussie success story, with the handcrafted cedar plunge pools taking the mantle as one of the foremost ice bath products on the market. Manufactured on the Gold Coast, Odin Ice Baths have drawn worldwide interest for their premium quality.

Final words from the team at Blue Mountains Sauna:

Spread the good heat! While sauna and cold plunge are currently seeing massive growth across the world, we try to get people to remember, sauna is the great equaliser! Its benefits are for young, old, and in-between. It’s not just for gym goers and ultra-marathon runners, its benefits can be realised by anyone and everyone – that’s what makes it so great and that’s what we promote, sauna for all ages, genders, shapes and sizes!

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