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AroHa review | Health spa, New Zealand

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Exceptional, eco-luxe wellness retreat in New Zealand mountains

The Quick Read: AroHa is an extremely beautiful and effective wellness retreat near Queenstown, New Zealand. You get to stay in refined eco-designed spaces, eat sublimely good raw vegan food, practice yoga and receive massage daily. Without deprivation or so much as a glimpse at a gym machine, you lose weight and start to glow with new-found fitness. The secret is the location – steep, untouched mountains straight from Lord of the Rings which you walk daily, breathing clean air to get fit and lift the spirits. You pick up the philosophy and practice of natural, balanced wellbeing – a truly natural high.


AroHa New Zealand interior

Don’t be fooled by the luxury, you are here to work

Who it’s best for: People go to AroHa to give their whole system an active cleanse in one of the most uplifting environments in the world. It’s brilliant for anyone who needs to radically reboot their physical state – to kickstart fitness and weight-loss, to detoxify – or to lift energy levels and refocus. People often arrive doubtful about their ability to exercise, practice yoga or detox – this is a place where the stretch will also be a pleasurable treat. The buildings themselves are alluringly sumptuous, yet it’s not for those who just want to relax and drop. You’re immersed in nonstop sub-alpine hikes, yoga, massage and movement.

AroHa New Zealand hike

3-4 hours of hiking daily is routine

What you can do: Mornings start early with flowing vinyasa yoga practice in a lofty, silent space with a massive picture window looking over lake and mountains. Then it’s time to hike. AroHa sits amongst lakes, braided rivers, flower meadows, forests and gold mines; this is where you walk. Though steep, you’re breathing pure air, and you’re free to move at your own pace with your walkie talkie. It’s so beautiful that 3 – 4 hours of strenuous exercise actually become a delight.

After lunch each day, you’re scheduled for an hour’s deep, soulful massage, and there’s time for soaks in the infinity hot pool.

Delightfully, you move directly from yoga mat to meals; there is never the call to dress up – indeed, it’s discouraged. Instead, you’re taught to give mindful attention to your senses as you start to eat, which somehow creates a happy, open conversation amongst the group at meals.

Afternoons are filled with playful movement classes involving group antics with weights and foam sticks – the only artificial things you touch all week. There are inspiring lessons on growing micro-greens, and raw ‘cooking’ demonstrations from the passionate permaculture gardeners and cooks.

An enlightening thread of life-purpose and self-awareness questioning pops up, in short, subtle exercises throughout the days. You stretch again in the evening with meditative yin yoga as the sun goes down.

AroHa New Zealand dining room

The dining room shows off the semi-Scandi style

Where you stay: AroHa is an intelligent and stunning building, faintly Nordic, with great sweeps of matte wood opening onto rooms with vast lake views. A long, blond dining table overlooks the kitchen and greenhouse, connecting you to the provenance of your food. The library has feather-filled sofas and pure possum blankets as well as brilliant reading matter.

Bedrooms are housed in timber buildings spread across the slopes. Inside furnishings are simple, woody and white, and every detail is refined. The beds are so well endowed with feathers both below and above the sheets that it feels like being tucked into the breast of a bird. Every room has huge square windows giving onto lake or mountain splendor. Laundry is whisked away and returned daily.

Surprisingly, each room shares a hallway, en-suite tea-making kitchenette (hand-made teas of course) and a granite wet-room with one other. There’s so much space that this minor sharing just makes for a friendly sense of home.

AroHa New Zealand view

The lakeside spa

Passive House design principles keep the climate regulated and soundproof while a futuristic intercom keeps you updated with the schedule so you can absolutely relax, know that when you’re needed, you’ll be called. A handsome stone and timber spa hangs over the lake with wonderful sauna, infra-red room, hot and plunge pools.

Inspiringly, AroHa delivers luxury with minimal cost to future generations: it generates 90 percent of its power and hot water with microhydro and NZ’s largest private photovoltaic array. The water is from an onsite spring. 58 percent of the food comes from its permaculture organic gardens and the centre is nearly zero waste

Rosie didn't want to come home - and we don't blame her

Rosie didn’t want to come home – and we don’t blame her

How was it for us: As a wholesome eater, I never imagined that I’d glean much from detox. I harboured scepticism (and doubtless some fear) about accelerated weight loss. But the raw vegan diet at AroHa rocked my world.

Intense and varied flavours sang out from start to finish of every meal. I learnt that small portions could be perfectly filling when rich in nuts and luxurious oils. I relished the colourful, flower-scattered presentation of our little meals. And although this was some of the most revelatory, delicious eating I’ve done in my life, I lost 24 centimetres from around my body, and 2.5kg in 5 days.

Engaging physically at least seven hours a day – in epic hikes, yin and vinyasa yoga, massage and other movement classes – every cell seemed to come alive. I rediscovered vigour I thought I’d lost through age.

You’re allocated a different masseur each day and they’re all excellent, but I particularly loved Bruce’s strong hands and Hector’s healing energy. Somehow, the teachers set a tone of joyousness rather than sacrifice – and I think it was this that clicked me into a more energizing way of living.

What we took home: Six days radically reset my relationship with both exercise (I can do more) and food (I want less, and different). And gently, through the founders’ clearly-held philosophy, quirky evening talks and subtle teachings, our entire cohort left with open heart, high spirits and an invaluable clarity for the year ahead.

Would we go back: I would return like a shot if I had the budget. Ideally once every six months.

People watch: Damian Chaparro, founder and designer of the retreat, stands out as a top calibre facilitator. Whether on or off the yoga mat, he articulates wellness and spiritual concepts with such balanced humility and humour that anyone can understand why they matter and give them a try. As he’s masterminded the entire adventure wellness programme and the ecobuild, expect illuminating conversation over dinner.

AroHa New Zealand flowers

Don’t be surprised to find flowers in your food

Food watch: Food is a highpoint of this retreat. Sophisticated tastes and textures more than compensate for modest portions, and defy all expectations of vegan healthfood.

Grating, dehydrating, activating, sprouting, fermenting and infusing mean that raw (below 40 degrees) vegan ingredients produce memorable, multilayered dishes: bento boxes of sushi; ravioli where semi dehydrated beetroot wraps almond ricotta; sea-spaghetti with pesto and parmesan made of fermented pine-nut; mushroom balls, carrot hummus, porcini soup with macadamia butter. Breakfasts included maca blueberry smoothie with bee pollen, grated apple fennel coconut muesli, savoury rice-wafer stacks with avocado…and so it goes.

The organic kitchen uses detoxifying food that is nutrient dense, enzymatically active, and carefully combined – grown with permaculture practices onsite– and laced with nourishing oils like flax and hemp. We had to drop caffeine and alcohol a week before arrival. Delightfully, we were urged to take one mindful, silent bite at the start of each meal – it always merited it!

crown What’s queenly: Walking along a turquoise river in gnarly forest on the famous Routeburn track. Restoring our shocked calves with daily massage. No houses in sight for a hundred miles!

AroHa New Zealand landscape

Gorgeous, but certainly not local to the UK

What’s lowly: It’s in New Zealand. So it’s not near enough to the UK or Europe to enable those who don’t dwell a short flight away to go there every month, or whenever we need. Sob.

Insider tip: Pack just yoga and walking clothes – you won’t need anything else. Although there are wonderful Evolu hair products, moisturiser is not provided, so bring that.

Price: NZ$4,550 (£2,260) per person for four nights; $6,250 (£3,100) for five nights, whether alone or sharing a room with a companion. Includes all food, guiding, daily massage and two daily yoga sessions and other activities.

Value for money: Price is one thing – but value for money is quite another. This optimal living retreat is worth whatever it costs. It brings the kinds of thing that money can’t buy.

© Queen of Retreats

Reviewed by Rosie Walford

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Aroha New Zealand pose

Not a bad way to start your morning

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