New Zealand’s high-end wellness retreats will see you return from holiday refreshed – and might just jump-start your health and fitness.
Ever returned from a trip needing to recover from your holiday? You’re not the only one. Globally many more travellers are adding wellness retreats to their itineraries. And where better to take time out than the golden beaches, national parks and mountain ranges of New Zealand?
In recent years, some of these high-end retreats have become primary destinations rather than just stop-offs. They're not all about spas and massages, also encompassing bodywork like yoga and Pilates. Increasingly, they focus on the brain too, particularly through mindfulness meditation to help ensure you’re really in the moment. Whether you want to recharge the batteries, create healthy habits or make life changes, here’s where to do it.
Split Apple Retreat, Nelson
Doubling as a luxury lodge, this destination retreat in the Abel Tasman National Park near Nelson opens onto two golden-sand beaches, one with a rock formation that resembles a split apple. Wellness packages of between three and seven nights include a health consultation, nature hikes, cooking lessons, Pilates, massage and guided mindfulness meditation; or you can opt for a personalised programme. Co-owner and chef Pen Lee makes healthy dishes taste sinful, and her doctor husband Lee Nelson promises that blood tests on key health markers will improve. Good luck tearing yourself away from the infinity pool that spills over the horizon.
Five hours’ drive north of Christchurch, and a short flight or ferry trip and drive from Wellington, Nelson is New Zealand’s sunshine capital. An artsy, relaxed city known for its Saturday market, it’s also a handy base to explore nearby beaches, three national parks and outdoor adventures like kayaking and scenic flights.
Aro Hā Wellness Retreat, Queenstown
If any place can inspire wellness, Aro Hā is it. This multi-award-winning retreat, on a subalpine plain in Glenorchy, near Queenstown, offers ‘Wellness Adventures’ that don’t separate the body and the mind. It runs two or three group retreats each month except June. Typically lasting five, six or seven days, these programmes involve nature hikes, yoga, body-strengthening classes, plant-based meals, spa therapy, massage, and mindfulness meditation. Founders Chris Madison and Damian Chaparro believe that reconnecting with nature and being present in the moment can create life-altering change. Most guests– including honeymooners – fly in especially to stay at the retreat, in eco-friendly cabins with lake and mountain views.
Less than two hours’ flight from Auckland, Queenstown is New Zealand’s outdoor-adventure capital. It’s particularly busy in mid-summer and during the June - October ski season, but there’s plenty to do and see year-round. The 45-minute drive from Queenstown to the small town of Glenorchy boasts scenery straight out of ‘The Lord of The Rings’ films.
Shunyata Retreat and Day Spa, Christchurch
Overlooking Diamond Harbour, a secluded bay near Christchurch, Shunyata (meaning ‘openness’) aims to help you ditch unhelpful behaviour patterns for lasting change. Warm, welcoming owner Paru Clarke, who speaks fluent French and Spanish, has trained in just about every wellness practice imaginable, and works one-on-one. While she can personalise retreats, the set packages are the most popular: from three-night tasters, to five- or seven-day cleansing, detoxing and weight-loss retreats. Think yoga, meditation, counselling, sugar-free meals and bodywork sessions; you can take or leave alternative therapies such as ‘The Journey’ (‘transformational’ sessions). You may prefer a pampering-only package, or romantic couples’ retreat. journeyessence.com
Explore volcanic beaches and coastal walks near Diamond Harbour, on Banks Peninsula’s northern coast. It’s a 10-minute ferry trip to the wee port town of Lyttelton, and a 45-minute drive to Christchurch, where restaurants, cafés, arts projects and a shipping-container mall have risen from the rubble of the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes.
Tikapa Moana Eco Spa Retreat, The Coromandel
Marilyn and Bill Brownell’s organic lifestyle block doubles as a retreat for anything from time out to life change. You can decide how long to stay, and talk to Marilyn about which treatments you want. Her massages, which draw from Lomilomi (Hawaiian massage), reflexology and acupressure, sure unknot those muscles. With her Watsu treatment, an aquatic therapy combining massage, shiatsu (Japanese acupressure) and joint mobilisation, Marilyn bends, stretches and swirls your body in dance-like movements in a solar-heated pool. Sweat out those toxins in the far-infra-red sauna, savour the spa, devour the endless tamarillos, and enjoy the feeling of utter relaxation.
The quiet, peaceful Firth of Thames (aka Tikapa Moana) has kayaking, cycling, a bird sanctuary and hot springs. It’s a 50-minute drive south-east of Auckland’s main metropolis, and is on the coastal route to the Coromandel Peninsula, where city folk flock to beaches and boats over summer.
Soul Journeys, Queenstown
It’s all about soul at Queenstown’s newest retreat, though the body isn’t ignored. Yoga teachers and holistic-wellness experts Amanda Woolridge and Sandi Murphy run what they dub ‘real treats’ from Murphy’s central-city Nadi Wellness Centre (they don't provide accommodation, but have some recommendations). Choose from two-day Wellness Weekends or five-day retreats (‘Awaken Me’, ‘Inspire Me’ or ‘Yoga Detox’), which are run monthly in groups of 6 - 12. Therapies and activities include yoga, meditation, massages, hikes, shiatsu (Japanese acupressure), life-coaching, and meals together at leading restaurants. You get out and about in Queenstown while learning how to create mini time-outs in everyday life.
Less than two hours’ flight from Auckland, the South Island resort town of Queenstown has jet-boating, bungy-jumping, canyoning, fly-fishing, horse riding, kayaking, mountain biking and vineyards on its doorstep. The town’s busiest during the ski and snowboard season from June to October, but its top-notch restaurants and bars are humming year-round.