A week at perfectly programmed wellness retreat Aro Hā in New Zealand’s Southern Alps is the perfect way to experience healthy habits that will help you thrive for life. Compare Retreats Founder Dervla Louli shares her experience after a week of detoxing at the retreat…
I created Compare Retreats in a quest to unearth the world’s leading luxury wellness retreats. I’ve covered almost every continent in my search, and the wellness properties within our collection are the fruits of those labours. Aro Hā in New Zealand has been on my radar for a long time and I had a feeling the retreat founded by Damian Chaparos and Paula Ryan would be a game-changing experience.
Perhaps that is why I waited so long to visit: I think I knew in some way that many other retreats would pale in comparison. I was right.
A Winter Detox
I arrived, post-Christmas, feeling less than my best self from a few too many celebrations, and left the retreat happy, healthy, and armed with an insatiable curiosity about creative plant-based cuisine and cold therapy.
The modern luxury resort is located 45-minutes away from Queenstown in a remote, lakeside setting with sunrises perfect for sun salutations and sunsets best viewed in the hot tub post infrared sauna session.
If the magic ingredients for being well and thriving in life are community, nutrition, sleep, mindfulness, nature and movement, Aro Hā has discovered the master recipe that brings them all together in perfect harmony.
Retreats run year round during set dates and range in length but the average is five nights. My favourite time of year to visit is between April to November thanks to warmer temperatures and longer days.
Rooms and facilities are spacious, spotless and sleek. In some of the accommodation, two suites share bathroom and shower facilities, but if you would prefer more privacy the team will do their best to accommodate.
Getting outdoors is encouraged and little floral-filled pathways connect suites to the spa, library, gardens, dining room and multi-purpose yoga and movement facilities.
Plant-based wholefood and gut-friendly meals sans dairy, grains and refined sugar are served up three times a day alongside herbal teas, elixers and small mid-afternoon snacks.
The masterful kitchen staff can cater for all dietary requirements, and I opted to forego all natural sugars (including fruit) during my stay for a more intense cleanse. Meals are enjoyed at a communal table and groups are capped at 20 people, which proved to be a perfect number.
Every day at Aro Hā is different but most include massages, morning and evening yoga suitable for all levels, picturesque hikes along New Zealand’s most beautiful routes, spa therapies, movement classes, mindfulness, journaling, down-time, and educational wellness talks ranging from gut-health and sauerkraut making sessions, to negative behavioural pattern elimination discussions.
The team is highly qualified and are walking wellness encyclopedias who can answer almost any wellness question you have. I especially appreciated the medical journal reference notes when we were learning about the healing benefits of bentonite clay.
The best part was that the advice was easy to incorporate into my daily life and there was an emphasis on teaching us how to do this once we left the perfect confines of the retreat that was optimised for healthy living.
Upon arrival, every guest is given a notebook, and mine was full of incredible notes when I left. Between learning how to practice gratitude on a daily basis, to perfecting Aro Hā’s Kombucha recipe, to finding out how to balance my hormones naturally, I learnt a lot.
The Art of Letting Go
Letting go of habits and addictions that no longer serve us and replacing them with healthier habits was a big part of our five-day journey. Aro Hā’s remote location and perfectly programmed schedule makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to access any ‘toxins’ not on site.
The group struggled together through caffeine, alcohol, and sugar withdrawal symptoms, and, by day three when the migraines and fuzzy heads had subsided we came out the other side feeling fresher, more energetic, but most of all proud of our group effort.
We were well fuelled for our hikes, yoga, and movement classes and because the cuisine was so delicious and interesting we didn’t miss the animal products missing from our plates. Weigh-ins, BMI, and measurement sessions happen pre- and post-retreat, and all of my numbers reduced.
Less is More: Silence & Fasting
My favourite day of the retreat was day three, an optional silent and fasting day, something that I had been curious about and craving for a long time. The benefits of fasting are quite well known by now, and it’s a practice that I incorporate into my routine often. I follow the 18:6 method most days, and do extended fasts up to 48 hours if I feel my body needs a deeper reset. At Aro Hā, guests are invited to do an optional 24-hour liquid fast, forego it completely and eat meals regularly, or opt for something in between.
On this day we did a powerful cacao ceremony, which proved to be a highlight for many of us and enjoyed teas, broth and other delicious liquid concoctions like peppery ginger and turmeric shots. We were also invited to practice semi- or full-silence on the same day. The day of silence was something I enjoyed immensely: I thought I would find it difficult but it fed my curiosity about doing a silent retreat for a longer period of time and was exactly what I needed.
In the evenings and during downtime the group gathered in the library area around the fireplace surrounded by shelves packed with books designed to help you live your best life.
The ones on healthy hormones ended up in my bedroom and I realised that by removing caffeine, alcohol, processed food, stress, red meat, dairy, and instead fuelling us with organic plant-based wholefood cuisine, movement, mindfulness, sleep, time outdoors, hot and cold spa sessions, and natural probiotics, the team had helped me get my usual out-of-whack hormones back in check.
I wrote pages upon pages of notes on how to better balance my hormones by managing things within my control like sleep, stress, and nutrition once I left the property.
On the last day, as we gathered in the yoga room looking at the picture-perfect postcard window framing the glacial-blue Wakatipu lake and sun-capped mountains, we all agreed that the week had been a brilliant experience.
We lost track of time for six days and five nights and underwent mini hero’s journey by pushing past our own individual comfort zones. The team shepherded us through the week as supportive coaches, teaching us new things at every step of the way.
We went home curious and craving for more knowledge on how to be happier and healthier, but most of all knowing how we could all do our best to thrive in our daily lives.
Aro Hā caters to individuals, groups and families of all ages and fitness levels and is located 45-minutes from Queenstown Airport. The property can be booked for private group bookings.
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