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LUXURY RETREAT: Aro Ha, New Zealand

German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche believed that 'all truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.' My mother is no philosopher but in times of high stress she would advise I went for a walk. When I did the world calmed down and Nietzche was right, great solutions were conceived.

Aro Ha adventure through wellness retreat in Glenorchy on the South Island of  New Zealand is all about calm.  It starts with the awe inspiring view of Lake Wakatipu and the amphitheatre of alpine peaks as guests arrive at the remote location forty five minutes from Queenstown.

aro ha new zealand in the luxury travel bible
aro ha new zealand in the luxury travel bible
aro ha in luxury travel bible
aro ha retreat in the luxury travel bible
aroha room
dining at aro ha in the luxury travel bible
enjoying the view at aro ha in the luxury travel bible

It continues with a raw vegan paleo menu featuring herbs and produce plucked fresh from an on site organic garden, sunrise and sunset yoga, daily massage and a walk. Not just any old walk either, a fifteen to twenty kilometer hike (or tramp as they say in these parts) up hills and down dales through New Zealand's finest fairy land forests, alongside raging aquamarine rivers and still lakes.

At Aro Ha it is all about the walking.  This, together with the small intimate group philosophy of twelve to sixteen guests each week, is what sets the purpose built eco chic retreat apart from other luxury destination spas around the world.

The retreat was officially opened in January of this year and has already received a prestigious SpaFinder Wellness Award nomination (winners are announced in September). The brainchild of Americans Chris Madison and Damain Chaparro, Aro Ha was devised and built over two years at a cost of NZ$32 million.

Madison provided the dollars, Chaparro the yogic brain. They met when stressed out financier Madison continually returned to The Ashram in Los Angeles, a celebrity infested health retreat that is full to the brim come award season.

Chaparro had given up a career in IT to become a yoga teacher and hiking guide at the Ashram. The two clicked and a solid friendship would morph into a business partnership as they travelled the globe searching for the perfect location to create their dream and put Glenorchy on the wellness map.

The retreat runs mainly on hydro and solar power both harnessed from the property.  Local artisans feature within the stylish walls and the world?s most comfortable bed linen is bamboo cotton.

Guests choose from a four night five day program or a six night seven day program and give up caffeine, alcohol, refined sugars, meat, gluten in a bid to cleanse the body of urban stress. Head chef, Rani Gabriel, is a magician in the kitchen delivering Michelin presentation and flavour without the Michelin calories. 

The highlight is a porcini 'soup' with onion 'bread' which more than makes up for the first day's breakfast that comes in just a glass, no spoon, no fork, no knife, just a glass.

But back to the walking.  The program is devised in such a way that each guest will be working around eighty percent of their own capacity throughout the length of each walk. 

The uber fit end up at the front, there's enough in the middle and those who like to take it slower are down the back. The individuals at each placement change each day as detox takes a toll and energy kicks in at different times.

I love the walks, even when my legs feel like lead. The pure and crisp New Zealand air feels like a spring clean for the lungs and it is during the walks that I connect with other guests and hear their stories.

Luxury Travel Review of luxury new zealand retreat, Aro Ha

Walking does things to people. When I get into a rhythm I will find myself bursting into random song. Incredible vistas will spark tears down the cheeks and on the inevitable down day my anger will be pounded out with every step as my foot hits the earth.

By the time we return to the retreat each lunchtime we are all relieved, invigorated, exhausted, chilled or happy as the mountain trails have worked their magic. Thighs are massaged after lunch by qualified therapists at the spa or dunked in the cold plunge pool and soaked in the outdoor hot tub with a view to end all views. Nights are spent in discussions round the fire or watching thought provoking documentaries.

Day three and the glow for many begins. Long lost cheek bones reappear, sallow skin becomes rosy, eyes sparkle and laughter sets in as guests connect with each other and themselves. 

Be warned though, this does take time and the process can be very confronting for some who don't realize their stress levels and the impact upon their bodies until they actually stop. For many Aro Ha is the first time they have stopped in years.

This is my second time to Aro Ha, I knew what to expect, though my first was in the height of summer and my second required thermals. I was fifteen kilos heavier at the former and therefore lighter at the latter and I felt the difference on the walks in particular, in a good way.

I tend to think of Aro Ha as a facilitator for nature. It really is the vast wilderness that surrounds the luxe comfort of the retreat property that does the healing. All you need to do is take walking shoes, as Nietzsche says the rest will come.

What: Aro Ha
Where: Glenorchy, Queenstown
Getting there: Fly into Queenstown International Airport. Aro Ha provides transfers to the property forty five minutes drive away.
How much:  NZ$4550 for a five day retreat, all inclusive or NZ$6250 for a seven day retreat.
Luxury Link: www.aro-ha.com
Rachael Oakes-Ash,  11/8/14
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