ARO HA, GLENORCHY

Im blessed to have landed myself in the travel industry and I have it pretty good. So the idea of doing something for myselfsounds a little preposterous. But the whispers of luxury and inner peace surrounding Aro Ha seemed to have chased me from the pages of Conde Nast to my news feed on Instagram all year. Despite rumours of raw vegan food in tiny portions, intense hiking and early mornings, I gave in and booked a flight to New Zealand.

Stepping out of Queenstown airport, a kitted out Mercedes van arrives to pick us up. An hours drive, near the sleepy town of Glenorchy lies Aro Ha in all its paired back splendour. Bags disappear and we're ushered to the lounge. One of the warmer furnished spaces at Aro Ha, it has a library stocked with current wellness literature, a fireplace and countless, plush lounges with jaw dropping views.

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Chowing down on a huge welcome platter of raw delights, I think this is going to be a cinch. I opt in for a weigh and measure and my heart sinks. I was heavier than I thought. It shouldnt have been a surprise because the only way my jeans get on these days is if Im lying on the bed doing the caterpillar. But it was a blow to the ego and a tear trickled down my cheek. It was the kick I needed to fully commit to the Aro Ha program.

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Founders Chris Madison and Damien Chaparro created Aro Ha as a next-level wellness retreat. Damien, a former IT consultant turned yogi, runs many of the retreats himself. His positivity is infectious and he radiates authenticity.  We chat about the retreat and he seems to be able connect with everyone in the group. Hes proficient on the iPad and has a Spotify list (which I now follow). My fears of a separation between the yogi's and the inexeperienced (me) are put at ease. 

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Wellington based architect Tennent Brown designed self-sustainable Aro-Ha to be one with the land. Timber facades have worn over time and the interior resembles that of a chic, Scandinavian lakeside cabin. My room is huge with a sitting space looking to Lake Wakatipu, a sumptuous bed and a writing desk. My bathroom is shared, in this case with an adjoining room occupied by a friend of mine. Connecting us is a kitchenette stocked with the signature Aro Ha teas; detox, ginger and peppermint tea bags are refilled daily and theyre what keeps most of us going throughout the five-day retreat.

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There are nine guests in my group, all women except one and it feels like the perfect size. Aro Ha doesnt usually host more than sixteen guests at a time despite being able to hold more than twenty-five, allowing them to focus on the individual. Each member in my group has their own motivation for being at Aro Ha and theres an unspoken code of respect and trust. Theres no competition between us and we all feel compelled to motivate one another. It’s this support that pushes me through the hard times.

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The days went something like this:

6:30am – A staff member gently chimes cymbals outside the cabins for our wake up call. In case you continue to snooze; a very loud announcement comes through our room control panel fifteen minutes later. Okay, Im up.

7:00am- Morning yoga. Held in the heart of Aro Ha, the yoga room, instructors (either in-house or outside teachers) get the body warm and gently ease the brain in to a present state of mind. The early mornings seem cruel, but by the end it feels like the most positive way possible to start your day.

8:00am – Breakfast. A cup of house made coconut yoghurt, seeds, activated nuts and berries are devoured in a few bites. Its amazing and Im full. Raw vegan food is great I think to myself, quite chuffed that Ive thoroughly enjoyed it.

9:00am – Were off to hike the Routeburn Track with our bottles of water, raw snacks and hand radios packed away in ergonomic backpacks. Its a constant incline for most of the 12kms and I was dead last. But it was here, all on my lonesome, I could put in to practice the meditation techniques we had been learning. Counting out loud to clear my thoughts, my mind quickly wanders off to pressing matters of emails and deadlines. Its hard to get back on track of thinking about nothing but when I do, I start to truly appreciate where I am.

1:00pm – Lunch. I’m famished and the chickpea patties and salad hit the spot. I want more but the meals are portioned to ensure guestsreceive the right balance of nutrients and calories. So I turn to my endless supply of tea.

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2:30pm – Massage. The Aro Ha spa facility is absolute heaven and guests get a massage every day. Its a welcome luxury and they focus on your ailments with healing hands.

4:00pm – Fitness class. Using TRX equipment and body weight to target core smaller muscles, we get a sweat on with one of the instructors. Its fun and not too intense.

5:30pm – Cooking class. The expert wholefoods chefs at Aro Ha spend a great deal of time cooking each meal. Raw vegan food is hard to make and we get an insight into the meticulous processes that are behind creating what appear to be simple dishes. Dehydrators and pickling is key to producing meals bursting with flavour, whilst creating textures to substitute satisfying foods like bread and pasta. We get to sample our creations and Im grateful because my stomach is churning.

7:00pm – Restorative evening yoga. This ends up being my favourite part of the day. Sometimes we dance, other times we stretch. Theres a lot of sitting and breathing and it’s then that the emotions start to flood out. Anger that Ive been holding onto, stress thats weighed me down and fear seem to disappear as I focus solely on being present in the moment. Its a wonderful shift in thinking and I start to see the rewards of being at Aro Ha.

8:00pm – Dinner. A plate of rocket comes out with a hummus like dip and a cup of room temperature parsnip soup. I wolf it down and look around for main course. Nothing else is coming and I whimper in despair. I have some more tea.

9:00pm – Theres a movie playing in the lounge but I sneak off to the spa. I warm up for 20 minutes in the sauna and then jump in to the ice bath. Its freezing and I flap around like a baby seal learning to swim, desperately trying to get out. More zen is the hot spa with views over the lake. I chill out here for some time before finishing in another cold bath. You always finish on cold Im told by the staff, for muscle recovery.

10pm – Bed time. Im hungry, exhausted and sipping on yet another tea. Each night notes are left on our bed to encourage new thoughts for the next day. Mindfulness is on the agenda; genuinely listening to others and understanding a point of view without interjecting. It seems simple but in practice its not.

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Spare time, of which there is little, is spent reading in the lounge, walking the grounds and writing in our Aro Ha diaries. There are times, such as on a day of juice fasting or when we were practicing silence that I felt like screaming “I NEED CHOCOLATE”. I was irritable from the withdrawal of sugar, but once those cravings passed things felt immeasurably easier.

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On the last day I do another weigh in and measure. Ive dropped 2kgs and 13cm around my body. Im stoked as losing weight was my initial reason for visiting Aro Ha. But now, on check out, it doesnt matter anymore. Ive fallen in love with the sweeping grounds of Aro Ha and the peace it offers. Ive become accustomed to the community comfort of my group and staff. Ive started on a journey of inner peace of sorts and Im fearful of leaving Aro Ha's womb of safety. We all exchange emails in the hope of keeping in touch.

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Not a few days later, my Gmail dings. Its one of ladies from my group and I beam with happiness. It came through at the exact minute I was tossing up which Cadbury to buy in the supermarket (it was 2 blocks for $4, you know?). I decided I didnt need it and shuffled away.

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A month later Ive not had a drop of alcohol or coffee and I doubt I ever will again. Im walking in the morning and in the evening. Ive even downloaded the app, ‘Smiling Minds’ for some on-the-go meditation. Most importantly Ive learned to slow down, listen and let go of the small stuff. And I think the people who have to live and work with me will thank Aro Ha for that.

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CHECKING-OUT DEBRIEF
FEEL: Minimalist wilderness retreat.
ROOM PICK: Any - all views face the lake.
WIFI: Yes, in the rooms only. Not active in the communal rooms as there's a no phone policy around the grounds.
RATES: Retreats start at $4550 NZD for a 5 day course.
IN ROOM: King bed, writing desk, diary, water bottle, carry bag, shampoo, body wash, towels, teas, kettle.
 

I visited courtesy of Aro Ha.
http://aro-ha.com/

EICHARDTS PRIVATE HOTEL, QUEENSTOWN

On Lake Wakatipu's edge sits Eichardt's, a boutique hotel with perhaps the best views in all of Queenstown. What was once a homestead and woolshed built in 1859, Eichardt's Private Hotel now occupies the historic building with six chic rooms courtesy of interiors designer and lodge specialist Virginia Fisher.

A quiet desk and lounge sits guard to a grand staircase, which leads up to the rooms. Well presented staff mysteriously appear and check in is completed in a flash.

Rooms are open-planned, with a king bed sitting proudly a few steps up from the living area. With two TV's, multiple loungers, work desk, breakfast table and fireplace, I could have easily locked myself up for days.

The bathroom, clad in white marble and chrome from head to toe, comes with double sinks and a deep bath stocked with bath salts. Sky windows above bring in an abundance of light; it's airy and over the top, in the best kind of way.

If you're looking for romance, impress your other half by splurging on a Lake View Suite. Stepping outside, Chardonnay in hand, the views at sunset are sigh-inducing. Breathing in fresher than fresh air and watching the steam boat roll in for the evening to a background that stretches out as far as The Remarkables, felt utterly private on my balcony.

Hallways are an eclectic combination of feature chairs and dressers furnished with antiques and knick-knacks. Each nook is typical of Virginia Fisher's lodge-style aesthetic with warm textures and rich, deep colours.

Downstairs is the Eichardt's bar, serving up breakfast and an all day tapas menu. While breakfast is mostly for guests, locals and visitors fill the tiny bar around lunch. If you're not inclined to leave your room the menu is available for room service (the balcony beckons).

Bedside treats of house made chocolate fudge and Antipodes water are laid out during turn down service and if you get the munchies before that, the mini bar is included in your stay. Crisps, fruit, chocolate, cookies and drinks (excluding alcohol) kept me going all day and I'm pleased to discover it's all sourced from local New Zealand producers.

With such an intimate feel, Eichardt's really gives meaning to it's name of a private hotel. Allocated a key for after-hours entry and with only a handful of rooms, it is exclusivity in the heart of Queenstown. 

CHECKING-OUT DEBRIEF
FEEL: Luxury Lodge.
ROOM PICK: Lake View Suite.
WIFI: Yes, complimentary.
RATES: Starting at $1250 NZD per night including breakfast and evening cocktails if booked directly with the hotel.
IN ROOM: Included mini bar (except alcoholic beverages) with crisps, chocolates, fruit and soft drinks. Turn down service with bottles of water and house made treats. Molton Brown spa products.
CHILDREN: Can be accomodated for, but this hotel has an adult vibe.

Check out our picks for dining and activities in Queenstown.

I stayed courtesy of Eichardt's Private Hotel.
http://www.eichardts.com/

SHERWOOD, QUEENSTOWN

If Mick Jagger were to shack up on the south island of New Zealand, it would be at Sherwood. It is to Queenstown as Chateau Marmont is to LA, albeit run by a slick team of new generation hoteliers and hipsters. A wild blend of rock n roll, wilderness retreat and eco-designed accommodation, Sherwood has a lot on offer for the curious traveller.

Snapped up in 2014 by a trio of business partners whose entrepreneurship includes countless accolades in hospitality, property development and advertising, Sherwood was once a link in a chain of 1980’s mock-Tudor motor inns. Retaining the original façade, it’s all happening on the inside, which is where it counts.

Using recyclable and sustainable materials, the hotel’s Scandinavian-like design doesn’t leave you feeling cold. Cork panels insulate the walls; monogrammed blankets using fine New Zealand wool are draped over beds and heavy curtains keep out the Queenstown frost.

There’s a deep air of authenticity about Sherwood, with some rooms still running original Kelvinator fridges and the kitchenettes stocked with enamel crockery. Premium rooms come with a mini bar of artisanal teas and locally made granola and there’s a hostel-style quad double bunk-bed room for travelling groups. Little touches like custom wall art, manuka honey and myrtle body wash and welcome aperitifs marry the humbleness of a lakeside cabin with the intimate luxury of a boutique hotel.

On-site, Sherwood’s bio-dynamic garden grows most of the fresh vegetables used in the restaurant. Unused veggies make their way on to the restaurant’s marvelous wall of pickles and sauerkraut with the rest of the kitchen’s ingredients coming from local suppliers. Bringing in what could only be described as the ultimate hotel squad, Sherwood has a set of accomplished staff, including head chef Ainsley Rose Thompson. A wholefood specialist, she serves up a menu that draws from the earth, sea and land, focusing on natural produce, lesser known cuts and innovative combinations that are bursting with flavour.

Connecting the restaurant to a live music area is Sherwood’s long and comprehensively stocked bar. Rare liquors from around the world sit next to a selection of hand picked natural and organic wines from New Zealand wine makers. Matched with a grazing menu of the chef’s choices, it's a dining experience that leaves you nourished, not groggy. Post-dinner wander over to the stage where Sherwood host shows for renowned local and international bands.

Sherwood’s wellness philosophy continues upstairs where you’ll find a tranquil yoga and pilates studio run by yogi, Ayumi Gallagher. Small classes are approachable and open to guests and locals alike. Massages are also available, with Gallagher (a trained masseuse) providing treatments for guest’s aches and ailments. Healing massages are a favourite, with Gallagher’s ability to source tight points and release pressure. It's a relief after a day of activities around town.

Next to reception is an activity centre for those keen to explore the outdoors. Table tennis is on hand for a quick hit or book in to use Sherwood’s sauna. A dual slalom dirt track is on Sherwood’s doorstep, with bike hire available. Ski and snowboard gear can also be rented in winter on site. 

Leaving Sherwood feeling nourished and connected in both the body and soul, it's the kind of experience that's hard to come by, especially in a place that's accessible to all. Sherwood is one of those rare gems that gets under your skin.

CHECKING-OUT DEBRIEF
FEEL: Lakeside cabin.
ROOM PICK: Anything lakefront.
WIFI: Yes, complimentary.
RATES: Starting at $150 NZD per night.
IN ROOM: Each room differs, but most have kitchenette, mini bar, TV, crockery and cutlery.
CHILDREN: Yes, Sherwood can accommodate all types of travellers.

Check out our picks for dining and activities in Queenstown.
 

I stayed courtesty of Sherwood.
http://sherwoodqueenstown.nz

THE SPIRE, QUEENSTOWN

Sinking in to my bed at The Spire was bliss and that's not just the red eye flight talking. A multitude of firm but fluffy pillows (none of those thin, useless fillers here) and silken sheets have you wrapped up for a cosy stay in chilly Queenstown.

Sitting by the fire in my Herman Miller lounger, sipping on a glass of local Chardonnay, it's hard to be enticed to leave the room. A simple switch gets the gas fire going and the mini bar is included (excludes alcoholic beverages) making getting up that much harder.

Running a bath, with The Spire's Molton Brown products, I push open the bathroom shutters to a view of my TV. It's so fabulous that I forget I'm on the doorstep of Queenstown's incredible mountains and lakes.

My room comes with sliding doors opening to an outdoor space perfect for summer dining. Grab some olives and cheese from their restaurant No5 Church Lane and you have the best spot for watching the sun go down over the Gondola.

With a menu focusing heavily on grazing, pizzas and wine, No5 Church Lane serves up simple food, done well. The breakfast menu has favourites such as house made granola and local berries or french toast with poached pears and lemon mascarpone, using produce from the South Island.

Keeping it small, The Spire's ten suites, are truly luxury with designer furniture touches from Eames and Starck. The hotel itself is curated with art and decor that has an ecclectic inspiration of Japanese pieces, modern styling and abstract art, without being over the top.

Turn down comes with home made fudge (more please) and service is smooth despite Queenstown having a reputation for transient staff. Located on the quaint Church Lane, with speakeasy bars only a short stroll away, The Spire is a breath of fresh designer air in a heavy tourist town.

CHECKING-OUT DEBRIEF
FEEL: Designer.
ROOM PICK: Laneway Suite
WIFI: Yes, complimentary.
RATES: Starting at $600 NZD per night including breakfast and evening cocktails if booked directly with the hotel.
IN ROOM: Included mini bar (except alcoholic beverages) with crisps, chocolates, fruit and soft drinks. Turn down service with bottles of water and house made treats. Molton Brown spa products.
CHILDREN: Can be accomodated for, but this hotel has an adult vibe.

Check out our picks for dining and activities in Queenstown.
 

I stayed courtesy of The Spire Hotel.
http://www.thespirehotel.com/