NEW ZEALAND’S ARO HA WELLNESS RETREAT IS NOT FOR THE FAINT- HEARTED, BUT YOU WILL LEAVE FEELING REFRESHED AND REJUVENATED. BY AMY MILLS
The gentle chimes of a Tibetan bowl awake me from my deep sleep, followed by a soft voice outside my window announcing sunrise yoga.
I throw on my yoga clothes – as well as a beanie, boots and down jacket as it is only a couple of degrees outside – stumble out of my room and make my way to the cedar-clad main building under a star-filled sky. Retreat leader Chris leads us through a flow practice, and as the class draws to a close, I can now see Lake Wakatipu and the surrounding snow-capped mountains out of the large glass window. I sit for a moment, and take in the breathtaking scenery and the solitude.
This is how days begin at Aro Ha Wellness Retreat, a “transitional space” located at Glenorchy in the sub-alpine glacial valleys of Central Otago, about 40 minutes from Queenstown on New Zealand’s South Island.
A morning yoga class would usually be followed by my beloved double-shot flat white, but coffee is banned at Aro Ha, as is wine, refined sugar, gluten, meat and dairy. That said, chef Jenny prepares delicious, nutrientdense vegan cuisine, using produce grown on-site and sourced locally, and the three plant-based meals each day are one of the highlights of the five-day retreat.
Each day consists of a three- to four-hour hike; some of which have me cursing my decision to visit, especially on day three when the 6km trek up Mount Judah is practically vertical. Afternoons at Aro Ha involve lunch, strength training, massage – which sounds luxurious but is more of a necessity for my aching muscles – a range of workshops, contrast spa therapy (saunas, a spa and an icy outdoor plunge pool) in the plush Obsidian Spa, a restorative yoga class followed by a group dinner.
All activities and meals at Aro Ha are enjoyed as a group, which helps build a sense of community and friendship that gets you through the challenging moments.
Admittedly, it isn’t for everyone – there was a day of silence and a juice fast involved – however, for those with a genuine desire to immerse themselves and start genuine changes to their lifestyle, this Zen-like utopia is the ultimate place to reset.