May 2015

Aro Hã translates to “in the presence of divine breath” and it couldn’t be a more fitting name for this little slice of heaven near Queenstown, New Zealand.  My  time there was the closest thing to the divine I have ever experienced. 

After little more than a year of being open the team at Aro Hã wellness retreat have already picked up a string of accolades including being ranked at number 8 in Condé Nast Traveller’s top 100 hotels in the world, and one of the best new remote hotels for 2015.  Although no amount of accolades, pictures or words can really do justice to the Aro Hã experience, but I’m gonna give it a crack.  Here are 4 reasons you’ll never want to leave this heavenly place… 

  1. The setting is so magical you’ll want to call it home forever
    Set in remote alpine wilderness on Lake Wakatipu in Glenorchy, about 40 minutes from Queenstown, the scenery is as spectacular as it gets.  No matter which way you look, there is a view that will take your breath away.

Aro Ha mountain backdrop
Aro Hã is the realisation of a dream that was five years in the making for its founders Damien Chaparro and Chris Madison.  The pair got to know each other at The Ashram retreat in California, where Chaparro was a retreat leader, and Madison a New York hedge fund manager and regular guest seeking to balance his workaholic lifestyle.  Wanting to create an  experience for those interested in nature, adventure, self development, alternative health and fitness, the dynamic duo poured years of research, thought and passion into creating an unrivalled experience.

With 20 state-of-the art, eco friendly cabins and shared spaces for exercise, relaxation and eating there is capacity for 32 guests but retreats are capped at 15, it’s all about keeping the experience intimate and personal and this is what sets Aro Hã apart from other retreats I have been to.  You don’t feel like a guest in a resort, you feel as  you would in the home of a friend.  It’s luxurious yet minimalist. Nothing is overstated.  It’s warm and inviting, thanks to the friendly staff who know your name from day one.  There’s no dressing up for dinner,  just come as you are.

The buildings blend seamlessly into the natural surrounds and they’re all designed to maximise the views, which even the staff never fail to appreciate because they change every time you look, depending on the way the light is falling.

Aro Ha sunset

The retreat is self-sufficient, with 94% of the energy needs produced on site (they’re confident they’ll get this to more than 100% pretty soon) and everything is run on hydro and solar power.

2. It’s an experience that will transform you- whether it be on a physical or emotional level, most likely both!
Mindfulness, self-awareness and relationship to self are at the centre of the Aro Hã experience, with mindfulness exercises sprinkled throughout your daily routine from yoga, to meal times and the daily hikes.   You’re encouraged to switch off from technology and truly immerse yourself in the experience.

Aro Ha yoga

Waking up to the sound of a Tibetan singing bowl each day at Aro Hã starts with yoga.  Arriving  in darkness, we would immerse ourselves in our practice until we couldn’t help but be momentarily distracted upon seeing what the light of the new day had revealed, which,  on our first morning was the mesmerising sight of the first snow falls on the Humboldt mountains rising majestically above the turquoise lake in front of us.

Aro Ha Bobs cove
Yoga is followed by breakfast and a hike each day, each one offering different terrain and scenery that blew us away,  including seeing Mt Aspiring National park transform into a winter wonderland right before our eyes.

Aro Ha snow

The moment we reached the summit of our final and most challenging hike was one I will never forget. It was a hike that had challenged us physically, and some people emotionally too. But with views that could have been mistaken for the Swiss Alps,  the sense of achievement and reward made every second of pain worthwhile.  Not needing to be reminded to practice mindfulness, we each melted peacefully into the grass, giving each other the space and silence we needed to soak up the moment.

Jean Hut
Arriving back at Aro Hã in time for lunch, afternoons are made up of spa and sauna time – with contrast hydrotherapy plunge pools just the remedy for tired aching muscles, paired with what surely has to be the best view of any sauna in the world.  Post r & r you can expect to receive a tap on the shoulder at any given point for your daily massage.

Aro Ha sauna

There are afternoon cooking demonstrations and fitness classes too, followed by a pre-dinner restorative yoga session, intended to help you wind down – but we were feeling so energised on our final day we found ourselves begging Damien to let us dance free style to one song before settling into our yoga session.  So dance we did, like no one was watching, shaking out our natural high.

3. Food that is out of the world uh-mazing
Thirty three per cent of the food served on your plate at Aro Hã is grown onsite in the greenhouse, and is organic where ever possible.  The meals are vegan and raw  (with cooked food in winter) to detoxify your body.
Aro Ha green house
Every meal is exquisite.  It’s all nutrient rich so you’re never left feeling hungry.  And it’s prepared with the greatest amount of thought and care by Rani and Toni, the two magicians in the kitchen, whose genuine delight as we expressed our gratitude for the dishes they so lovingly created had us all wanting to put them in our suit case and take them home with us.

Aro Ha team4. The people
It is without doubt the people that make the Aro Hã experience so special.
 From Damien, the founder and retreat leader to Paula, the heart and soul of Aro Hã, Adam the fitness instructor, Angus a yoga teacher, Bruce the masseuse, and of course Rani and Toni, their passion, kindness, and genuine interest in making sure you have the best possible experience is absolutely second to none.

As we reflected on the highlights of the five days our group of 11 had spent together I was taken aback to find myself teary eyed as I shared mine and listened to other members of the group share their moments of transformation – we had all been touched on a profound level.  ‘Euphoric’ is perhaps the best way to describe how I felt – refreshed, energised and in awe of every moment and person I’d had the privilege of spending that five days with.  I think emotional release is also what happens when we give ourselves the chance to stop, connect with ourselves and the people around us.

My time at Aro Hã is never far from my thoughts – if I’m feeling stormy or need to calm my mind I only need to play Damien’s music and take deep breaths to be transported back to the state of bliss I was in then.  If I could bottle up that feeling and give you some I would, but you’ll just have to go and experience Aro Hã for yourself.

I stayed at Aro Hã as a guest of Aro Hã retreats. If  you’d like to know more about Aro Ha go to www.aro-ha.com   If  you want to see more pics of my time there, follow me on instagram

If you’re thinking about a trip to New Zealand check out my stories on Queenstown and the Milford Track too. 


Zara is a healthy home coach and keynote speaker on a mission to empower 1 million people to takes steps towards a healthier home. Zara learned about the link between our homes and our health after going through two different types of cancer. Zara is passionate about shining the spotlight on what she believes to be the least understood health challenges of our time, and sharing the things she wishes she had known, that could have prevented the illnesses she has been through. Recognised as one of Australia’s leading health influencers, Zara was a finalist in the 2014 Bupa Health Influencer of the Year Awards. She has appeared on TEN News, Today Show and The Project, been featured in the Herald Sun, I Quit Sugar, and contributed Medibank’s Be. Magazine and Fairfax health online publications. Zara contributed to the National Breast Cancer Foundation’s first comprehensive report on breast cancer in young women in Australia.

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