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I’m not sure what to expect other than it will be beautiful, and that there’s no caffeine (eek!).
Lake Wakatipu is distractingly beautiful as I drive along the Glenorchy-Queenstown road, through the retreat’s electric gates. The cedar-clad retreat buildings sprawl across a high knoll above the lake, looking out over Pigeon Island/Wawahi Waka. It’s a landscape straight out of The Lord of the Rings, so stunning that it’s hard to believe it’s real.
Manager Paula Ryan greets us in the lounge with herbal tea and tempting snacks which, like all the cuisine at the retreat, are entirely made from plants. We sink into massive sofas, not able to take our eyes off that incredible view. Slowly we start to let go of the rush of the world outside. I’m not a big lover of herbal tea normally, but here it tastes delicious.
After yoga, we run over to the dining room for breakfast. Each meal is so beautifully presented that it almost seems a shame to eat it, but it doesn’t hold us back for long. The table is set with a bowl each of dried blueberries, coconut yoghurt, banana, gluten-free muesli and fruit. Like all the food at the retreat, it’s absolutely delicious, and an eye-opener into how satisfying and filling plant-based food can be.
Despite its sub-alpine location, the retreat grows a lot of its own food. Even in winter, our meals include kale and greens grown in the greenhouse and conservatory. During the summer, an orchard and vegetable gardens provide approximately 35% of the food eaten during retreats.
One morning we head up to Jean Hut, built about 80 years ago from a patchwork corrugated iron. The roof is held down by giant boulders on the end of chains, like a hut in a fairy tale. It bears witness to the harsh weather conditions that the people who built and stayed in these huts endured. About eight of us crowd into the tiny hut, blowing on our fingers as the tussock outside is still covered in frost. A couple of hours later, I’m warming up in the sauna with a view, which seems even more luxurious compared to the basic shelter up in the hills.
We’re encouraged to pay attention to the simple things around us: breath, food, nature. It’s not so hard when everything is so beautiful. Gravel paths lined with tussocks link the chalets, each with four bedrooms. The wooden-clad Scandinavian-style buildings are toasty warm, with triple-glazed windows. The retreat is self-sufficient in energy, with its own solar panels and water turbine, which banishes my Dunedin-bred guilt about walking on beautifully warm wooden floors.
Too quickly, the last day arrives. The reset has done its job: my body feels younger, my mind feels clearer, my jeans fit better and (apparently) even the whites of my eyes are whiter.
Which makes it not just a luxurious holiday to remember, but one which I’ll be appreciating for a long, long time to come.
- Gina Dempster was hosted by Aro Ha.