Construction of Queenstown's first retreat centre reached
the halfway point last month, so Otago Daily Times reporter
Olivia Caldwell took a tour of the site with one of the
partners of the Aro Ha Centre.
For the past year American Damian Chaparro has lived as a
He has kayaked the Kawarau River, been white-water rafting,
hiking near Queenstown and even had seats at Eden Park for
last year's All Blacks Rugby World Cup semifinal match
against the Wallabies.
"It's a brutal game. I never knew."
While some would say Mr Chaparro's plans for the $17 million
retreat centre near Glenorchy are untypically Kiwi, he says
that it is what the country may be lacking.
"It's what New Zealanders want ... It's not a nuclear power
He said the feedback about the Aro Ha Centre had been good so
far and he has heard no negativity about his plans.
"I'm sure there are cynics - they just don't talk to me." Mr
Chaparro was not always what New Zealanders would call a
Now a yoga instructor for more than 16 years, he once worked
as a software developer and admits it was an unhealthy way of
living he would now rather forget.
After suffering mild depression, he moved to Los Angeles and
took a course to become a yoga instructor and realised that
although his pay took a cut, his life improved.
Working at United States-based Chrysalis Retreats as a
wellness architect, he met his business partner Chris
Madison, of Boston, who was a client and now funds the latest
project in Glenorchy.
"He's the bank."
The Aro Ha wellness centre will not be a holiday in the park,
he assures me. There will not be facials or manicures.
The idea behind Aro Ha is a "results oriented" experience for
the customers who will pay about $6000 a week to be there.
Activities will include yoga classes, detoxification and a
holistic health experience for a minimum of two days, or
"This is not a luxury experience. The luxury will be the
total experience. It's not somewhere you just come down and
lie around and get a massage."
Aimed at couples, corporate groups, singles and those wanting
to make a change in their life, the programme at the retreat
centre will mean staying there for the entire time the
customer has signed up for.
"For most programmes you don't just head in to town for a
drink after the day is out, you stay here and you stick with
"It's quite strict."
His aim was to bring holistic health to New Zealand, which
would include meditation, philosophy and massage, Mr Chaparro
said. He would target locals, as well as international
The resort would be "flavoured by Eastern philosophy" and he
has previously described it as a "school camp for adults".
Surrounding the retreat are a river, a vegetable patch, berry
vines, a greenhouse, a glasshouse, a cellar "not for wine", a
32-person living room and a view guests will never grow tired
Those staying could live for an entire year here without
wondering what their Queenstown neighbours were doing.
There is a main spiritual room for yoga and meditation that
can contain up to 80 people at a time and a gap has been left
for a giant glass panel to give clients a glimpse, through
their downward-facing dog pose, of Pig and Pigeon Islands and
up the Greenstone Valley.
Aro Ha sits on an 8.4ha site on the Wyuna Preserve, developed
by local man John Darby and former Levi Strauss jeans company
boss Tom Tusher, owner of Aro Ha's neighbouring land.
The centre's floor-space covers 2700sq m, it has four
buildings for 32 guests, a staff accommodation block, a spa
building and a large workshop that will be used for sculpture
and other such activities.
It is eco-friendly too.
The hope is for the centre to generate its own energy and
food through a micro-hydro scheme, which includes
photovoltaic solar panels and lithium-ion batteries to allow
it to produce its own power.
Log boilers will be fuelled by newly planted trees to heat
all the buildings from the ground up.
Mr Chaparro admits he has "poor taste" and is in the process
of employing an interior designer to give the centre the
right look before its proposed opening in December 2013.
Whether it is what Queenstown wants or needs, it will be
ready in a year, both "on time and on budget", he said.