An 'off the grid' retreat

20:20, Feb 12 2014
Southland Times photo
Aro-Ha wellness retreat co-founder Damian Chaparro.

The decision to build the $30 million Aro-Ha health retreat near Glenorchy came about after a globe was spun and stopped on New Zealand.

The globe spinning session happened after a long lunch in Zurich between Aro-Ha founders Damian Chaparro and Chris Madison, when the spark to start a cutting edge retreat sticking to timeless principles of holistic health struck.

After six months spent scouting New Zealand locations, the choices were narrowed down to Kaikoura and the winning location near Glenorchy, past Bennetts Bluff.

Water, mountains and a dramatic and inspiring, but grounding landscape were all qualities the duo needed, but in the end close proximity to an international airport and Queenstown's huge international profile won out.

Aro-Ha had its opening ceremony on January 9 and last week finished its first run of five-day and seven-day retreats.

Mr Chaparro said he was thrilled to have people take up the fresh and unique opportunity Aro-Ha had on offer so quickly.


''So far its been a great mix of Kiwis, Aussies and Americans, but I would expect that will shift over time to a more New Zealand and Australia focus,'' he said.

''We don't target or market towards any one demographic, but what we see is that 70 per cent of our customers have been women between 40 and 60, but we accept people aged from 18 to 70.''

Clients pay $1000 per night for a holistic experience that covers many areas of physical health and wellbeing.

There was a common misconception that Aro-Ha was a yoga retreat, Mr Chaparro said.

''Aro-Ha is about much more than yoga, and is a physically and emotionally challenging experience that is designed to be highly beneficial to those who take part.

''Our programme is quite regimented, and I think a lot of people are surprised by how physically and emotionally challenging it is.''

Days start at 5.30am, and by 6am a Vinyasa Flow Yoga session has started in a studio with sweeping views of Lake Wakatipu's Pig and Pigeon Islands.

Breakfast is at 7am, followed by a quick change of clothes for a three to four hour hike led by Queenstowner Bas Smith.

Lunch is followed by spa sessions and a few hours of down or ''me'' time, then t's time for classes.

At some point in the afternoon clients are pulled into an intensive therapeutic massage session.

Dinner follows, and evenings are taken up either by spa time or classes.

Meals are a high point, and major point of difference to spa and health retreats worldwide.

''Our meals are predominantly raw, paleo-based enzymatically active, probiotic foods and we ferment a lot of our own ingredients. The food has proven to be a real high point, and people have been really surprised at how happy and satiated they feel after our diet.''

Also Aro-Ha is ''off the grid,'' almost self-sufficient, with New Zealand's largest privately owned photovoltaic array, which harnesses solar power, and a non-burning of petroleum products policy.

Aro-Ha was built from the ground up using sustainable permaculture practise, and features multiple greenhouses growing organic food.

While clients have so far come from afar, Aro-Ha's resource consent allows for 10 single-day retreats per year, which will be a good opportunity for people from the Wakatipu and surrounding region's to sample what Aro-Ha is all about.

''The single day events haven't been scheduled yet, but we are definitely looking forward to seeing more local faces here when that happens,'' Mr Chaparro said.  


The Mirror