Arriving at Aro Ha wellness retreat in Glenorchy on the South Island of picturesque New Zealand and you may mistakenly think you’ve stepped into the pages of “Into the Wild”, the bestselling book about an adventurous seeker and hiker who’s escapades lead him into the remote Alaskan wilderness.
If the hustle and bustle of life has you craving a break and yearning for that blank spot on the map to truly immerse yourself into an unfiltered life experience, then Aro Ha may be just what the doctor ordered.
Imagine a wellness retreat that combines delicious organic food, soul-shifting mountain hikes with natural highs, relaxing daily massages and a environment where you can let go of decision making and fall into the art of complete surrender. Sound good?
From the moment you arrive, you're encouraged to renounce all pre-conceived ideas and expectations and hand over to the beauty and magnificence of the world around you. The comfortable drive to the popular wellness retreat is about a forty-five minute ride, which negotiates through spectacular hobbit and middle earth style rolling hills, surrounded by jaw-dropping backdrops featuring snow covered alps and glacial lakes. It envelopes you with all it’s chocolate box charm and magnetism.
I was lucky enough to visit Aro Ha last month and spent five days in this spirit-lifting place. Quite soon after arriving at the retreat, we are whisked off to sit in the gorgeous communal chill out lounge, the perfect location for mingling with other guests against the backdrop of panoramic views across Lake Wakatipu.
We plonked ourselves down on the oversized floppy couch and were introduced to the ethos and run down of the retreat whilst enjoying a raw food platter with freshly made crackers, delights from the organic onsite gardens and a warming herbal tea.
After a weigh in and checks and measuring session, we're guided through the stone pathways to our rooms and left to settle in and prepare for our first hike! A little later, we meet in the designated hike area just outside the purpose built eco-designed accommodations where we gather up our allocated hiking gear and poles if required.
I’ve always had a love of nature and an adventurous spirit, but I am no mountaineer by any stretch of the imagination and as we ventured up the steep and craggy mountains on the first day, I wondered whether my jelly legs would see me through.
I was half expecting to stumble upon Alexander Supertramp’s Magic Bus so I could sneak in for a rest and to get my breath back. But there were plenty of opportunities to stop and rest and breathe in the cooling clean air if need be, and I felt absolutely no pressure to be a speedy Gonzales on my way up, with guides at the front, middle and back of the group to encourage and help you along.
When I finally reached my very first summit, the view from the top was impressive and it was then that I noticed a renewed sense of achievement and purpose, filling my senses.
Once back on ground level, we headed into the shared eating area to indulge in a picture perfect highly nutritious dinner.
This was a good time to chit-chat with fellow guests, and share experiences in a refined and natural setting, unencumbered by the usual belongings and trappings that sometimes accompany group gatherings. We marvelled at the presentation of the fresh produce and delicious offerings.
After dinner it was time for a relatively early night and armed with a warming herbal tea I jumped into the crisp and luxurious white linen sheets ready for a sound sleep.
I knew as soon as my head hit the pillow I would be asleep snuggling into the warm woven blankets and wondering what tomorrow would bring.
As I nestled into the pillow, the mindfulness tip of the day on the bed was calling out to me, encouraging me to align my body and mind. “This is going to be an interesting five days” I thought.
The paired-back décor of the cabin is restful and minimal with touches of nature weaved in from outside. I loved the natural flora and fauna that adorned the walls.
The whole retreat runs on hydro and solar power and is a welcome sustainable living approach, very much in-tune with its surroundings. The building materials are made from larch wood and local stone and blend in effortlessly with the outdoor terrain.
The yoga studio is minimal and inviting with a gorgeous opportunity to breathe in your surrounds.
The main community building houses the reception area and this is connected to a relaxing, lounge, dining room and open kitchen. The out buildings within the retreat comprise of a stunning spa area which is where the Zen-inducing treatments are carried out.
This flows through to an old school and infrared sauna, which then leads into an outdoor heated spa overlooking the sub-alpine mountains. I haven’t mentioned the icy plunge pool yet, but it's right there if you dare!
After a restful night I'm awakened by a retreat leader outside my doorway, as the chimes of a Tibetan bowl gently rouse me from sleep. Stumbling up the stone pathway, I'm met by a magnificent wooden yoga hut, centered around a windowscape which captures the stunning beauty and tranquility of the misty lake.
Our yoga teacher Mike was there to greet us with a big warm knowing smile. He’s a beautiful soul and former adrenaline junkie, who brings the yin to many of the guest’s and retreat leader’s yangs as he gently takes us through a hatha-esque guided practice, to dust off the cobwebs and align the body and senses. This is where we are again encouraged to relinquish control and trust the process of the power of healing in nature.
By the time the class was over, breakfast was well and truly calling and this insta-worthy smoothie bowl had my name written all over it! The nutritious bunch of ingredients blended and ready to set us up for the next hike of the day, three hours across country into the wilderness as far as the eye can see.
It was then that I knew it was truly time to wallow in the raw and wild surroundings and experience the pulse of life that only hiking can provide. Whilst at Aro Ha, each day a hike is undertaken, all with their own challenging elevations and distances and generally covering between 12 and 17 kms of dramatically changing Southern-Alp landscape.
Walking can do interesting things to your mind. What it evoked for me was the ability to be more open to new experiences and adventures and also to have the breathing space to be able to think more creatively and with a new perspective that the daily busyness of life sometimes overshadows.
By lunchtime, we are back at the retreat for more spectacular and empowering food, plated up with flowers from the garden and resembling the pot of gold that was at the end of the rainbow which had formed in the sky after a short rain shower, dazzling us as we ate and chatted, exchanging hiking stories from blisters to potential hamstring strains.
Afternoons at Aro Ha are packed with various classes such as cooking and horticulture, pilates and functional training and you can choose to do as much or little as you wish.
The horticulture class was fun and informative and we were invited into the world of permaculture and shown how to grow our own micro-herbs, followed by a tour of the magnificent indoor kitchen-greenhouse which captures just the right amount of light and warmth all year round for the herb, vegetable and fruit dwellers inside to flourish.
Restorative yoga kicks off at 6pm, connecting the group once again and lulling you into a soothing and nurturing space and time for reflection, much like the great lake view from the windows.
We run through a series of calming and soothing poses, the perfect antidote to an activity filled day. The class is closed with a mindfulness meditation as you melt your body even further into a deeper state of relaxation.
As you're gently encouraged to bring your thoughts back into reality, dinner is ready and it's a beautifully presented garden to plate nourishing meal.
Next it's time to head over to the sauna and spa area for chill out time, where you can gaze up at the stars and feel like you're in heaven.
Speaking of heaven, how gorgeous is this cacao breakfast pudding!
I spent five days at Aro Ha and came away with a renewed level of health and fitness and a brand new outlook on life.
My biggest realisation was:
It’s the things that challenge us the most, that become the very challenges that enable us to grow as a person and evolve.
Aro Ha gave me the impetus to reignite my love of adventure and hiking and plan loads more hikes in the future. I’ve since implemented a morning walk around Centennial Park in Sydney and am keeping my steps up along the way.
Thank you Aro Ha for a uniquely life-changing experience.
For more information about Aro Ha Wellness Retreat visit: http://aro-ha.com