In the heart of New Zealand’s Southern Alps, a groundbreaking wellness retreat aims to heal through nature—and hard work
By Rachael Oakes-Ash
Thrusting skyward from the shores of an azure lake, granite peaks create an amphitheater within which a cluster of low, contemporary buildings rest. This is the Aro Ha wellness retreat outside Glenorchy, a 45-minute drive (and a world away) from the après-ski action of Queenstown on New Zealand’s South Island.
Three years in the making, Aro Ha is the brainchild of American business partners Chris Madison and Damian Chaparro. The two met when Madison, a stressed out hedge-fund manager, looked for respite at The Ashram retreat in Calabasas, California, where Chaparro was a yoga teacher. Over the course of a dozen visits, they got to talking about creating a wellness center of their own. After a year of scouring the globe for the perfect location, they discovered the Glenorchy area, where they purchased an 8.4-hectare site and invested millions in the development of this sustainably designed property, a first of its kind for New Zealand. The entire place is run on hydro and solar power, with eco-friendly buildings constructed of larch wood and local stone. Most of the ingredients for its organic vegetarian cuisine are grown in on-site gardens and greenhouses and then stored in naturally cooled cellars.
There’s only one road into this alpine wilderness on the northern shores of Lake Wakatipu, and the surroundings inspire relaxation. Like The Ashram, Aro Ha specializes in intimate retreats, hosting up to 16 guests at a time. But be forewarned: if you are looking for pampering beauty treatments, Aro Ha is not for you. Improving one’s mental and physical fitness is the key goal here, and that, for most of us, means hard work. You have to earn your rest; nature is meant to heal you here.
A typical day starts with sunrise vinyasa yoga, breakfast, and a guided 10- to 17-kilometer hike lasting for three to four hours. There’s some downtime after lunch, followed by a massage session, seminars, Pilates classes, and a dusk yoga session. Mealtimes in the main lodge (where the kitchen, lounge, and reception are housed) offer unexpected delights, with nourishing, detoxifying cuisine presented beautifully on the plate: vegan-paleo pad thai, zucchini bread with macadamia-nut cheese, salads of wild field gatherings and garden greens with pear-shiso salsa.
Beautiful too are the views from every corner of the property, be it the picture-windowed yoga studio, the icy outdoor plunge pool, or in the lounge beside the fireplace. Dawn wakes under a rose-hued sky, and at night, mountain ridges are silhouetted by the moon, standing sentry over guests as they slumber.
Aro Ha (64-3/442-7011) offers four- and six-night retreats year-round from US$3,820 per person, all-inclusive. Specialized programs are also available, including a heli-ski retreat scheduled for August and September.
This article originally appeared in the June/July 2014 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Higher Calling”).