Retreating from the world

Parohe retreat is in the Hauraki Gulf.
Parohe retreat is in the Hauraki Gulf.

Travel has become more of an aspiration than an expectation. Leaving New Zealand is fraught with complications and little assurance of an easy return.  So how do we find some place within easy reach, but feel as though we’ve left the frenetic world behind?  Lindy Davis takes a look.

It's about this time of year I’m curled like a burrito on the sofa, staring wistfully at holiday packages on my screensaver. My mouse idles over images of exotic islands I’ve tagged to explore.

Then, of course, I’m brought back to my senses by the obvious fact that I’m not in any position to island-hop or for that matter even consider leaving the tarmac. But I can dream.

Leaving New Zealand is fraught with complications. So how do we find some place within easy reach, but feel as though we’ve left the frenetic world behind?

The good news for most New Zealanders? We don’t need to look too far.

Heading north of Auckland, overlooking a superb stretch of emerald harbour surrounded by native bush, wellness retreat Parohe is quite literally an island to itself.

A 25-minute ferry or water taxi from Sandspit Wharf near Warkworth brings you to the newly opened hideaway in the Hauraki Gulf. Framed by dense native bush, it feels as though you’ve arrived at your own private atoll.

"Parohe" equates to feeling in a relaxed mood and as I stroll along the jetty towards park-like grounds with mature trees, I see how the property just might live up to its name.

I’m warmly greeted by general manager Rawinia Buchanan who offers me a choice of freshly pressed juices. I choose the green immune-boost made with selected herbs from the garden.

Meditation at Parohe retreat.
Meditation at Parohe retreat.
Sensing I’m a little preoccupied, she indicates for me to join her on a tour of the property, and explains that guests are encouraged to leave the work treadmill behind, even if it’s just for a couple of days.

"We like to think you can re-balance and find a sense of positive wellbeing while you’re here."

While the retreat focuses on wellness, regeneration and adventure, visitors are equally welcome to turn up and do absolutely nothing.

"We have plenty of activities for guests who want to explore the island or get involved in one of our curated programmes. You can dive in as deep or as little as you want," she says.

It’s too soon to divulge that it’s a near-on impossible task to get me to switch off and I quietly speculate how the next 48 hours will be an interesting challenge.

There are 12 Scandinavian-inspired cabins, some with views of the harbour and others nestled amidst native bush.

The two self-contained cabanas and a three-bedroom villa with double-sided fireplace have an open-plan kitchen and lounge, with a generous deck overlooking the bay. The glass-panelled bathrooms are designed to feel as though you are showering among the trees.

The rustic but cosy 1860s honeymoon cottage positioned close to the water’s edge is perfect for a cosy night under the stars.

Morning yoga.
Morning yoga.
I take a walk through thick native manuka to discover the yoga deck, ideal for anyone who enjoys an outdoor practice. Guests can use it privately or join one of the daily vinyasa or yin classes on offer at the retreat.

"I feel pretty blessed to live and work in an environment where the sound of tuis and distant cry of gulls are my everyday norm," Buchanan says.

She says it’s not uncommon to spot wallabies, wekas and kiwis on the property especially at dusk.

We venture further down the hill to the sauna, outdoor baths and massage room in what is known as the Enchantment, behind the main pavilion.

All packages are designed to refresh, replenish and rejuvenate guests after the complexities of the past year.

Retreat French chef Jean-Phillipe Carerras blends French gastronomy with healthy cuisine using locally grown seasonal produce and vegetables from Parohe’s organic garden.

I’m pleasantly surprised to see a range of fresh beets, courgettes, kale, spinach, baby carrots and salad herbs. Other beds have strawberries, beans and peas.

Carerras is used to catering for certain dietary needs and menus can be tweaked to suit health requirements.

Other activities at the retreat include kayaking, SUP, fishing, hiking, yoga, massage and meditation.

Asked about inspiration, Buchanan says the owners recognised the negative impact of prolonged stress on people and wanted to create a feeling of total respite. They found it on an island in the gulf.

"We want people to experience something special and take a sense of wellbeing back home. The various programmes may change depending on who is leading them, but some things will always remain constant – a beautiful island, great food and guest comfort which is a priority."

Perched on the jetty late afternoon with feet dangling in the water, it was clear you could reconnect with nature here.

Woodhouse Mountain Lodge at Kourawhero Estate.
Woodhouse Mountain Lodge at Kourawhero Estate.
Driving back towards Auckland I take a detour in the direction of Woodhouse Mountain Lodge at Kourawhero Estate, 15 minutes from Warkworth.

Amidst native bush and gardens, it’s an easy escape from Auckland.

Named after the owner, Seeby Woodhouse, the renovated property offers luxurious relaxed comfort.

Woodhouse Mountain Lodge at Kourawhero Estate
Woodhouse Mountain Lodge at Kourawhero Estate
The villas are designed for privacy and have views across the Hauraki Gulf and Matakana coast. No TV or Wi-Fi here — guests can enjoy the sauna, spa, tennis court and pool. The spa offers a range of face and body treatments including massage.

Three separate lounges feature a fireplace, ideal for curling up with a good book or enjoying a bespoke cocktail.

The lodge has a conference room and a large barn that can be configured for guests involved in health retreats or a networking event.

Woodhouse Mountain Lodge at Kourawhero Estate
Woodhouse Mountain Lodge at Kourawhero Estate
The property offers plenty of scope for walking, exercising or simply lying by the pool.

Guests may want to explore the Matakana village and market, Sculptureum and the Brick Bay Sculpture Trail, just a short distance away.

Unfortunately, there isn’t time to schedule a stay and I’m back on the road with the city lights looming ahead.

It’s a fact that after a year of uncertainty we’ll all be more than ready to find a calm respite, leaving the digital world far behind.

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